The Left needs to get over Labour

Posted: Friday, 15 January 2010 by Chris Hyland in

In the run-up to the General and Local elections, various left groups are attempting to put forward candidates and alternative to the main parties. Some of these look quite promising, some not so much. While a lot of the left has called for a vote for these coalitions, Respect, the Green's etc; there still seems to be the assumption that the default vote is a vote for Labour and that the most important consideration in the next election is that Labour wins. I really can't be bothered to spend time debating the finer points of Tory vs Labour policy (I reckon it balances out: eg scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance vs ID Cards) what I want to say is how much this outdated assumption damages the Left in general.

I was born in late 1982, and the first memory of Margaret Thatcher I have is someone coming into my primary class and announcing she'd resigned, we cheered but I didn't really know why. Consequently not only is the only experience of Tories I have John Major, who at the time I knew wasn't very good because he had a grey face and a funny voice; and my only experience of Labour has been the New Labour government. Granted the majority of people who will vote in the next election remember Thatcher all to well, but I know a lot of people my age and younger who are planning to vote Tory due to being taken in by Cameron and finding the Thatcher counter-argument quite insulting. Similarly there is a growing number of people who's only memory of Labour is of neo-liberal warmongers.

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More importantly though is that the primary argument by the left in support of Labour, that they are the mass party of the working class, wont be seen as a particularly good one by the majority of working people. People care about policies rather than theory, and therefore don't see any real difference between Labour and the Tories, and will vote for the Tories simply because Labour has been awful in power for a long time, or more likely not vote at all. I don't find it particularly convincing myself: Labour has less than 200,000 members, and got less than ten million votes at the last General Election, or 22% of the electorate. That's slightly less than the number of people who voted in the most recent X-factor final, and slightly more than make up the Labour affiliated trade union membership, the mention of which is usually the last resort in the Labour-is-the-working-class argument*. Not to mention the fact that Labour has it's fair share of dodgy millionaire backers.

An interesting example is this post on the peoples charter, a document which will hopefully be a useful rallying point for left groups at the election. It essentially is a list of progressive (although rather tepid) policies, which finds a common ground between most of the left, which the author of the blog piece describes as

not a party political position but a 'class vote'.

Fair enough, but we come back to the problem that I have touched upon before, which is that all of the charter's demands are currently Green Party policy, and none of them are currently Labour Party policy. Point being that the working people abandoning Labour in their millions care about whether a party acts in the interests of the working class, and are rightly insulted when the left tells them that that party is Labour.

I'd even go as far as to say that this attitude on the left has damaged the idea of the party of the working class in the minds of most people as to render efforts to build a new party based on this principle ultimately doomed to political failure. What needs to be done is for the left to support candidates of parties and independents who's policies will most help working people: and in most constituencies that wont be the Labour party.

*Interesting article here about how the unions are basically the only thing propping up the Labour party.