Saturday, 1 April 2017

Whither Labour?

The New Statesman asked forty liberal intellectuals to say what they want from an opposition. All are gloomy, though none depressed enough to suggest the return of Blair. Collectively they provide the longest shopping list in history but mostly for the satisfaction of the liberal intelligentsia who want a return to the European yesterday rather than a better tomorrow.These are Waitrose shoppers who don't know the coop or the coroner shop.

None grasp the real problem.We win when the government screws up and Labour offers the prospect of a better life for the mass of the British people. That was the formula for each of our previous victories. It will be for the next.

We can't  do much about the first requirement. Events and disunities may or may not take care of that.Nor can we  be relegated to fighting a long rearguard action on behalf of an EU no one much loves. That can be safely left to the Lib Dems the SNP and Sinn Fein. Yet it's surely not  beyond the whit of even the most timid of parties to offer prospects of betterment to a benighted population weighed down by debt, casualised employment, unaffordable housing and ever shoddier public services.

We did it in 1945 and even 1964 but then our class base was firmer,and we're all middle class now. So the broad general demands of those who simply want better lives have been drowned out by the clamour of feminists, environmentalists, ethnic groups, disarmers, internationalists and euro-enthusiasts,(though, surprisingly not vegetarians on  the NS&N's monaers' charter). Like Tony Blair they take the support of our traditional base  for granted . Like him they assume that the aim is to win the support of business and the better off by replacing social democracy with nicer neo -liberalism and equality by meritocracy and markets

The divisions between members and parliamentarians, the loss of Scotland and working class support in the North all followed from that failure. Yet the PLP only awoke from it when it found that most Labour constituencies voted Brexit, against the vacuous Euro-enthusiasm of their MPs.

Which makes this a time for a reconciliation with our base and our role.The essential needs are an end to the underfunding of health and education, a huge building programme focussed on public housing for rent for those who can't afford to buy, and a big investment programme ,concentrating on the depressed areas and aimed at bringing down unemployment

Ever negative pundits will ask how it's going to be paid for. The answer is increased taxation, making the tax system more progressive, borrowing and printing money through quantitive easing to pay for specific contracts rather than being stashed in bank vaults. We could also remove the nastier restrictions on benefits such as the bed  room tax and the caps, though a return to fuller employment, the best form of social security, will reduce the need for a benefit bonanza and will have to do until the economy grows to accept the burdens we've placed on it

Economists will flinch and pundits snear but Crosland would have asked "what does it do for Grimsby?" That question is still central today and here is  a supercharged version of what the government is timidly doing and what we're likely to come up with eventually from Labour's arcane policy procedures .It's  more attractive than any rag bag of middle class tid bits and more saleable than  trying to make ourselves respectable by posing as caring neo-liberals It's certainly far more useful than milling round moaning about leaving the EU while undermining the British case in EU negotiations we can't influence. Unless it's to help the other side. Here's a policy which can win in the real world. That's much better than sitting in a crumbling middle class fantasy land moaning about Jeremy Corbyn.

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