Monday, 1 October 2012
Whatever happened to the Labour Party?
Colleagues, there is a great, short piece in today's Independent by Owen Jones, author of Chavs, and now a leading light of the UNITE-GMB backed think tank CLASS (www.classonline.org.uk). As the Labour Party conference kicks off in my home town of Manchester today, the piece asks a simple question. Who does the party represent?
As a party, like many others globally, created organically from within previously established trade union movements, today's Labour Party is radically at odds with any traditional notion of whom the party fights for and represents. In reflecting on the Party's loss of the last general election, and an eye on the electoral base critical to success in 2014-15, Owen writes:
In part, the Labour leadership has not come to terms with why it lost the election. New Labour strategy was based on keeping so-called “Middle Britain” on-board, which didn’t mean those living on the median annual income of £21,000, but affluent types living in leafy suburbs. But while five million voters abandoned Labour in its 13 years in power, the Tories only won a million more. According to Ipsos-Mori, there was only a 5 point drop in support from middle-class professionals; among skilled workers, it was a 21 point drop. If Labour can’t win back these working-class voters, it will never win another general election.
The full article is here and well worth readng: www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/whatever-happened-to-the-labour-party-8191251.html
The troubled relationship between the Party leadership and a traditional working class core isn't a new phenomenon, but what concerns me most is the future relationship between the two traditional wings of the movement. Over the weekend Miliband sought to trash Len McClusky's attack on Balls' statement on how 'ruthless' Labour will be in government in tackling the deficit - including the retention of the public sector pay freeze.
In Miliband's own words he would have no time for 'sectional interests', a very interesting term, and one that tells you everything about where the sees the relevance of the trade union movement in the Labour Party's future.
In a scorching critique of New Labour's debilitating effects on the UK labour movement from 1997-2010 Gary Daniels and John McIlroy (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415426633/) helped shape an understanding of the legitimate demands that trade unions could and should make of a future Labour government.
In particular the trade union movement, as the largest single civil society organisation challenging the basis and impact of austerity in the UK, carries a legitimacy that the Party cannot simply ignore. Moreso, a positive engagement with the coherence of the movement's message on austerity offers the Party a credible, rational means to claw back some sense of identity and location in British political life.
Any comments/questions welcome.