Funny how the forgotten words of Harold Wilson fit so well in this modern era.
I think of all the terms used to describe the Labour Party, at the moment, a crusade is probably not one that would come up with too great a frequency.
The incipient panic (among policy twonks and politicians) that flows whenever strong terms invade the blandness of well spun political dialogue is probably a key to the problems we face. We being a political society. When all the parties play by the same triangulation and focus group code it is small wonder that the differences seem marginal at best.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for a ‘Red’ revolution or a ‘freedom for Tooting’ type of political dialogue. I am, however, sure that blandness and spin to appeal to ‘mondeo man’ or ‘Joe the plumber’ is a self-defeating spiral that has left an electorate disillusioned in the extreme and one which is disengaging with the current parties. The impact of this schism is a rise in the extremity parties and single issue parties. Democratically reflective of what the electorate think? probably not.
So back to my crusade (in the week that the last of the Jarrow marchers passed away), when did the zeal for change get lost in the sea of management speak? When did pragmatism become the master and principle become the expediently forgotten relative? I can pinpoint it fairly closely.
The morning after John Major managed to beat Neil Kinnock in the General election. It seemed to many on the left that it was impossible to shift the Tories from power without appealing to middle england voters. A wooing as it were. A ‘Don’t frighten the horses approach’ that tied Tony & Gordon to the Tory spending plans for a while. A ‘trust us’ we’ll be better Tories approach.
Living standards for many have risen over the years of selfish neoliberal economics and some have become fabulously wealthy. I for one am not comfortable with the massive gap in distribution. We have more ‘Stuff’ but that merely hides the long slow decline for many as worklessness bites.
So Crusade. For what? Wilson had the big fights for better workers and civil rights, better living standards, workplace improvement and raising living conditions after the post war era. funnily enough we have similar fights. Although these seem to have been forgotten.
Workers rights are being eroded, benefits and welfare support under attack, disabled being vilified in the press as scroungers, pensioners choosing between heating and eating, unemployment structural and difficult to shift, hopelessness among the young, a crisis of confidence in the establishment. A lack of social housing or care for the elderly, mistreatment of the mentally ill,foodbanks the only growth in the economy, flatline growth, the list can go on and on.
Into all of this we are fed a diet of lowest common denominator populist drivel with a ‘what plays well in the press’ approach. If a different approach is used, the vociferous criticism soon shuts it up. Johann Lamont found this out quickly. Asking hard questions on affordability but got punished by the spectre of means testing.
Why then is the radical party of the UK (ie the Labour party) so timid? Because we have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before. The Sun killed Kinnock after the Sheffield Rally and we have been carefully media friendly ever since.
Balls and Miliband (et al) are trying a ‘don’t spook the Souff’ approach which may work but will not yield a crusading Labour Government. It will yield a slightly more left approach and a pragmatic core. Not at all whats needed. This same don’t scare the horses approach is the same one used in the Independence referendum campaign for Yes. Don’t panic it’ll all be the same. No it wouldn’t and hopefully the electorate won’t be taken in.
So I say to Ed, Ed, Andy, Douglas, Harriet and the rest, its time to put on our campaigning boots and drive an agenda that is radically different from the Coalition programme. Be bold on principles and keep banging on about where we want to go. Political triangulation is what has cost us over the longer term (membership and vote declined rapidly after 97) its a tool but not a roadmap. Focus groups need to be replaced by doorknocking face to face interaction. Activism is the key.
We made some reforms, now its time to fight to make reforms that matter.
Crusade or nothing. It’s a simple choice.