What is the point of today’s Labour party?

by Dan McCurry

Way back in 1992, at the TUC conference, John Prescott stunned the socialist movement, by making a forceful speech in favour of John Smith’s proposed trade union reform. He attacked the unions for even questioning the motives of the Labour leader. He shamed them into submission. He showed that his loyalty is to the party over the unions and as a result, was rewarded with the deputy leadership when Tony Blair later rose to power.

He is the closest thing there is to Labour party royalty, and he just accused the party leader of being ineffective. This is not unreasonable. Everywhere I look I see the government’s economic policy being attacked. The Economist magazine calls the right to buy policy “A daft new government-subsidy scheme”, but what did we hear from Labour? Nothing. Not a dickie bird.

Look at the way the non-aligned commentators judge Osborne’s policy. Here’s Frances Coppola, an economics blogger, and academic of the Cass business school,

As my regular readers know, I am determinedly politically non-aligned, so what I am going to say now will probably shock a lot of people. Osborne’s behaviour both angers and frightens me. He is playing brinkmanship with the UK economy to achieve political ends. Nothing he does makes much sense from an economic point of view – which is why the flagship Help to Buy scheme has been universally panned, even by his own department and by people from his own party. But if you view his actions as entirely determined by his desire to secure a Conservative victory in 2015, it all makes perfect sense. He is dangerous.

Osborne knows full well that his policy of subsidising debt and boosting house prices is totally against everything the Tories said previously, but it could win them the election if he gets away with it. However, he will only get away with it if the opposition Labour party are totally ineffective.  I imagine Osborne considered the question of Labour’s effectiveness for no more than a few moments, before chuckling to himself and then pressing ahead with creating a false boom ahead of an election.

Labour’s existence is counter-productive. If, through a wave of my magic wand, the opposition party no longer existed, then the media would fill the vacuum of scrutiny and be much more vociferous in pursuing George Osborne’s hypocrisy. As long as Labour exists, but with only marginal effectiveness, then the Tories are free to create a debt bubble without scrutiny, and therefore without losing the support of the voting public.

My mum says that they always knew who was a leader in her youth, because all the politicians had served in the war. In the modern day, we source our politicians from think tanks, so only find out if they can lead once they are doing the job. In the case of Ed Miliband it is imperative that he now starts to lead. Because failure to do so will almost guarantee that the Tories will win in 2015.

Dan McCurry is a Labour activist who blogs here

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15 Responses to “What is the point of today’s Labour party?”

  1. swatantra says:

    A few less Policy Wonks and more Sons and Daughters of the Soil and Toil might help the Party regain its raison d’etre.

  2. John says:

    The job of the opposition isn’t to attack bloody stupid policies which are popular. It’s to attack bloody stupid policies that the public know are bloody stupid, win an election, and change both sets – indirectly if necessary in the first case.

    I know it’s tough. I think excessive land and housing costs are the biggest economic barrier to the UK being a success story in the 21st Century. Bigger than our education crisis, bigger than our dodgy bankers.

    I would love, in my heart, a party that said to the voters “for the good of the country and your children, your house needs to be worth less than you paid for it, not more”. But I know such a party would come in fifth place, at best.

  3. Peter Scott says:

    You are correct. Labour need to up their game and offer alternatives. Set out objective of return of utilities into public ownership. Do not sell RBS. No Trident use money for housing and urban regeneration. Target balanced budget in 10 years and debt reduction when unemployment below 5%. Reduce tuition fees back to 0 and introduce graduate tax. Combine income tax and NICs removing upper limit. All tax allowances at 10%. Tackle Obesity by taxing sugar and its products. Allow Councils freedom to set their own rates and answer to their voters every 3 years.
    Coalition policy not working.

  4. Terry Casey says:

    Labour has a problem with credibility they will have a job convincing people they will make changes that will help the low paid in this country, Last time they came in that didn’t happen they kept to Tory spending limits and depressed wages, yes they did some good things, minimum wage, improved Hospital and school infrastructure but on the bigger picture they watched the continuous dismantling of our manufacturing base while allowing the city to run rampant that eventually left us with no manufacturing and a banking system not fit for purpose, they fell between two stools.
    It has to be remembered the Tory Party would have done exactly the same with no visionaries in that party saying it was the wrong course of action, in fact they wanted looser controls on the City.
    Ed Miliband has been quiet and it has to be said so has many more in the Party, Big John and Andy Burnham have tried to push the party into action and TBH many many people have been pleading with Andy for some reassurance over the obvious privatisation of the NHS however the coalition are dressing it up with their denials, if the party can not reassure the public on this one issue more and more people will disenfranchise themselves, Andy is a good man and he is being a lone voice, the stories he will be moved on will be a mistake.
    I have talked myself into the fact that Ed is waiting for this seasons conference to attack the government and that may appease some, but as John Prescott says we should be making a concerted attack now.

  5. Robin Thorpe says:

    It is hard to disagree with the article; I like Ed Miliband and I generally agree with him what he speaks about, however I tend to agree that overall he has not shown significant leadership.

    Perhaps, as Swatantra says, this arises from both his and the shadow cabinets lack of life experience (John Trickett is a notable exception and I would like to see him get a bigger job in any reshuffle). The submersion in concentrated political life could mean that they are paralysed by indecision with the knowledge that voters have contradictory and paradoxical demands.

    What, then, can Ed M and his team to provide impetus and present a Labour vision for the future? The boffins at IPPR (sorry another think-tank) have suggested that they concentrate on values rather than on policies. Focusing on voter’s contradictory demands can never yield a manifesto that will resonate widely; by focusing on values it is easier to convey the message that Labour can be trusted to provide a secure and optimistic future.


  6. McCurry says:

    This bloke Osborne, wants to place the British economy on a roulette table and spin the wheel. If he wins, he gets to be in government again. If he loses, the economy goes to the wall.
    And you say that this is not important, or that the British people don’t need to be told this?

  7. Henrik says:

    @swatantra: can’t argue with that, it might just work this time around.

    @John: good point, well made – but incredibly unpalatable, as you say. Bit if a toughie for the comrades.

    @Peter Scott: ah yes, the true and pitch-perfect cry of the idealist is heard. No-one’ll vote for any of that, because, well, they won’t believe a word of it, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s GOOD and RIGHT and the TORIES are all BABY-KILLING BASTARDS and it’s just so UNFAIR.

  8. John says:

    Never said it wasn’t important, but “the British people need to be told” is the attitude of the nightclub DJ who believes the audience need to hear all his favourite obscure bands. First there’s nobody on the dancefloor, then there’s nobody at the bar, then there’s nobody in the club at all.

    A political party is not a religious cult. It has to convert a plurality into preferring it to the available alternatives, not a small segment into passionate believers while the others regard is as just a bit peculiar, a home for oddballs.

  9. John says:

    This is a better way of addressing the issue. Why aren’t new houses going up? Chimes well with Persimmon’s results yesterday which showed that they own 75,000 plots of land but are only currently building on about 300 of them.


  10. Ex-labour says:

    The question was what’s the point of the Labour Party?

    The job of any opposition is to oppose but to do so with ideas and policies which present an alternative to the electorate. The problem that Labour has is that it has become a party of protest offering nothing to the electorate.

    I see the usual comments from some about going back to some socialist utopian vision as an alternative but the British public will not wear that one.

    The real problem is Miliband – let us all at least be honest for once and put aside political differences. He has nothing to offer as a leader and comes across as a nerdy political wonk – which is exactly what he is and the public know it. Moreover he was put there by the unions which again the public are well aware of.

    Sometimes in life you have to hold your hands up and say “we made a mistake” and make the necessary change in personnel. I note this is also called for today by ex Labour ministers.

    Labour and politics in general need strong opposition from strong leaders, it’s good for politics all round. However Miliband is not the answer, that much is abundantly clear to all who are prepared to look.

  11. paul barker says:

    Both the article & most of the comments seem to me to be missing the point; Labour is having trouble saying what it wants because it wants so many different, often contradictory things. Leaving out Faschism & Anarchism Labour cover pretty much the whole Political spectrum.
    Traditionally the glue that held Labour together was Workerism, a vague, sentimental attachement to The “Working Class”. That glue has been getting weaker & Millibands proposed reforms would dissolve it altogether.
    If the reforms pass Labour will be left as a smaller, Social Democrat Party, minus the Far-left & The Unions.
    You have to ask if Britain needs two Social Democratic Parties ?

  12. John p Reid says:

    Well said John

  13. McCurry says:

    @Swatantra, problem is nobody knows how to create some sons and daughters of the soil and toil. People like John Prescott came from the unions. The unions promote people who can speak and then teach them the art of rhetoric. But they don’t seem to come through in reasonable numbers from that route.

  14. Compost says:

    Labour have lost the economic argument as far as I can see, more positive news on the economic front today. Ed Balls is a man who can oppose anything and everything, but doesn’t know why he opposes it. We need less of him and more intelligence in the shadow cabinet. I’m not sure where/how Labour could attack the Tories on the economy at the moment, simply because we don’t seem to have any policies or alternative ideas. Public spending could be one area, but could Labour really become the small-state, low public spending party?

    Labour now need to start pushing new ideas, left-wing ideas, that appeal to people who work bloody hard and finding their quality of life diminishing. At the moment, they have no real ideas.

    Ultimately, it’s down to EM to sort out and sort out his team, but I hate to say it, I just don’t think he knows what to do right now. He needs help, not from other Labour politicians from similar backgrounds, but from outside.

  15. #YOLO says:

    What a load of bollocks

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