Labour’s right is rumbling. Not before time.

by Atul Hatwal

Since 2010, one of the most successful operations mounted by Ed Miliband’s team has been to convince journalists that the party is at peace. That Labour has avoided the type of bitter in-fighting that characterised past ejections from government and is united around the leader.

This point is so core to the Miliband narrative that he repeats it in his stump speech to Labour audiences.

However, while it is true the 1980s haven’t been re-run, the absence of conflict is not the same as the presence of unity.

The reason Labour’s divisions have not been visible has been  a temporarily effective but ultimately unsustainable party management strategy; one that has combined Ed Miliband avoiding taking definite positions on the most contentious political questions with a concerted marginalisation of Labour’s right-wing.

When Gordon Brown was defeated in 2010, his electoral demise bequeathed two questions to Labour.

In a world of limited spending, what would Labour prioritise and what would it cut?

And how could more, be achieved from less, in the areas where money was to be spent?

From day one, Ed Miliband has run from these questions, in part for good reason.

Hamstrung by a lack of support in the parliamentary party and reliant on the unions’ succour to bolster his position, he has had to tack left to retain his union support while not straying so far from the more centrist concerns of the electorate that Labour’s poll rating collapses.

For Ed Miliband, to answer has been to lose – either the electorate or his political life support system on the left.

There has been a licenced debate permitted in the party on the questions, but it has only encompassed the left and the soft-left.

The left has been clear in its opposition to all cuts and reform in the belief that extra spending will bring growth and remove the need for anything resembling a tough choice.

The soft left have accepted the needs for cuts and reform in principle, but then retreated from the difficult specifics of policy into comfort zone verbiage on models of capitalism.

Missing from this debate has been what would have once been the position of the Blairites or indeed the broader Labour right.

Where pragmatism and centrism would have prompted a more robust stance, mapping out a sense of the cuts Labour would make and the types of public service reforms the party would implement.

Something, anything to give wavering swing voters a sign that Labour would be prepared to take difficult decisions in office.

This apparent excision of the right has been a deliberate act of Ed Miliband’s party management, an essential part of his survival strategy.

Any murmurs of dissent were denounced as a return to the bad old days of division. Witness the manner in which Liam Byrne’s attempts to recalibrate Labour’s position on welfare were savaged.

All the while, attacks from the left, such as when Len McCluskey singled out Liam Byrne, Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy for the sack, were tolerated as an acceptable part of a constructive debate. Let’s not forget what happened to Jim Murphy and Liam Byrne at the subsequent reshuffle – in the words of the song, “two out of three ain’t bad.”

The unions’ attempts to outlaw Progress were the political equivalent of a punishment beating – an example to the right of what happens if they were to step out of line.

All of this was tacitly sanctioned by the leadership to stifle a full debate on the central questions which would have forced Ed Miliband to pick sides and destabilised his leadership.

Now, finally, after almost four years, the situation is about to change. The catalyst has been the dwindling poll lead.

Many Labour MPs have long thought the party’s aversion to backing any specific cuts is foolish, Uncut understands some are now edging towards saying so. One MP confided to Uncut that, “Something’s got to give. People have bitten their tongue for too long and look where it’s got us.”

The lack of answers from either left or soft-left on Labour’s vanishing lead has opened the space for the right to offer an alternative.

The initial moves are likely to be tentative. A call for clarity on spending priorities, a plea for Labour to listen to its own voters on issues like welfare. It will be the start of a process for the right.

The immediate response from the left will be to attack these early outriders as splitters, the soft-left will curl into a ball and rock backwards and forwards with its hands over its ears humming sweet mantras of the de-commodification of relational capitalism, and the newspapers will write of divisions in the Labour party.

They will be correct, but these fault lines always existed. They were just divisions delayed.

The Labour party will finally have started to have the debate on the tough questions it needed in 2010, the discussion that should have defined the last leadership election.

Four years late and after what history will record as a mostly wasted parliament for Labour. But better late than never, the right is about to stir.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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24 Responses to “Labour’s right is rumbling. Not before time.”

  1. Robert says:

    This article is a strange sort of right-wing impossiblism. The terrible result in 2010 meant that Labour was never going to win a majority in 2015. Miliband has succeeded in wining back voters who were alienated by New Labour, so Labour has a chance of being the biggest party in 2015 and a hung parliament is likely. A more Blairite approach would alienate those voters again without gaining many new voters.

  2. John Reid says:

    I thought the headline said a rumbling, I had to re read it, when I’d got though the article any proof, that so called Blairites,labour right, have started to come alive to comment on admitting there’s got to be cuts,I don’t think the compass, Blue labour letter, was a Blairite,right of the party view,

  3. Henrik says:

    Comrades, good to see this. Those of you with advanced tolerance skills and long memories will recall that I’ve been encouraging you to have your civil war and get all that bad stuff sorted out – to quote the great Don Corleone, gisted, “these things need to happen every few years”.

    It’s now too late for 2015 and if you’re very lucky indeed, you’ll be faced with another Coalition government until 2020. Increasingly, though, I sense you’ll be dealing with a Conservative majority government, in which case, bye-bye to your electoral advantage once the constituencies are recalibrated and you’d better hope you don’t give the impression that you’re hoping for an economic downturn for your own advantage, the electorate is changing and things are moving Rightwards.

    Still the very best of luck with your internecine feud. In an ideal world, you’ll end up with coherent answers to the two key questions I and every other voter will be asking:

    “Why should I vote for you jokers?”

    “How do you see the country looking five years into a future Labour government?”

    Note here that “Because we’re not as crap as the evil Tories” is not a convincing answer to the first question.

  4. John reid says:

    Robert,I hear what your saying,but it wasn’t just left wingers who deserted labour in 2010 slot of the middle ground Who came over to blair in 97′ left too, and they’ve got to be win back, that’s why I was glad Ed,rather than David win, as David didn’t understand this

  5. Renie Anjeh says:

    @ Robert – Rightwing impossiblism? What! To say that the terrible result in 2010 automatically means that Labour can’t win a majority (btw, the election hasn’t happened yet) is nonsense. 2015 is Labour’s for the taking but it seems like the party has missed that chance. The voters who left in 2010 were people who had voted for Labour under Tony Blair for 3 elections such as “Worcester woman” and “Mondeo man”. They decide elections and right now they are not content with the Labour. Simply winning back former Lib Dem voters and resting on our laurels, is not a recipe for victory but adds to the comfort zone mentality.

  6. swatantra says:

    Great stuff from Atul. Thanks for reminding us about those ‘swing voters’ which qiuite a few Labourites have forgotten about or ignored or simply dissmissed as of no value; we do so at our peril because its they that make and break Govts. somehow we have to bring them into our confidence and the best way is to admit that the next 5 years are not going to be an easy ride and we may not have all the answers but our hearts are in the right place, and that if you are deserving and work hard then you’ll find your situation improving; and Labour will be working for you.

  7. paul barker says:

    Len McCluskey must be quaking in his boots. The moderates are coming & they are prepared to complain, quietly.
    Labour are heading for a terrible result next year, substantially worse than 2010 & you say that moderates in your Party are planning to do what exactly ?

  8. Robert says:

    John, I think that we agree.

    Renie and Paul, I disagree. The election in 2015 looks like it will be close and if the Tories do not get a majority that will be a good result for Labour.

  9. My comment will revolve around Labour’s problem regarding its stand, especially during less spending era. I believe that Labour should get back to basics to consolidate its basic supporter base and that is written in the party’s name itself. Though there has been a constant tendency of the companies towards ‘unorganisation’ of labour. So, the party should try to concentrate on their basic supporter base among organised as well as unorganised labours. as general populace can’t distinguish between the policies of Tory and Labour, it is becoming easier for the former to attract a large vote bank of disillusioned Labour supporter. I hope this comment helps the Labour.

  10. Robert says:

    Labour has been steadily lost support after 1997, although it did win in 2001 and 2005. Working class support was lost in 2001, liberal-left support was lost in 2005 and the floating vote was lost in 2010. The latter was due to the recession and Gordon Brown’s unpopularity.

    The current situation is that Labour has mostly regained the support of the first two groups but not the floating vote. The latter probably think that the coalition parties are clearing up the mess left by Labour and they have a point. It is for this reason that Labour should continue its current left of centre strategy because the floating vote is probably lost for the short term. This will hopefully be less serious than usual in 2015 due to a split right-wing vote.

  11. Tafia says:

    Fiona you are spot-on. There is not a cat in hells chance that I will ever vote Labour until it reconnects with it’s roots and origins. I am a union workplace rep and I know from the records that none of my membership (over 100 people) donates to Labour and I know virtually none vote Labour or have any intention of doing so because they do not regard them as being different to the tories and they do not regard them of having shown enough remorse over Iraq (which is still an issue ), not being willing to demand prosecution of bankers, and not being willing to clamp down on their own MPs pay, pensions and allowances.

    Labour still takes it’s core support for granted and thinks it can retain them even if as a party it moves to the right. It can’t and that is all there is to it. When there are viable left wing alternatives their core drifts away and rightly so.

    It needs to go back to it’s roots and sell that message rather than fanny about being a souless marketing exercise.

  12. steve says:

    “the right is about to stir”

    About time too!

    Now that Miliband has dumped the trade unions Labour should get busy with misrepresenting the interests of ordinary people.

    Now is the time for Labour to show that they are able implement Tory policies better than the Tories themselves.

  13. Ex-Labour says:

    @Fionna

    I think you will find that there is clear daylight between the parties and following the emphasis in the budget on those who work as opposed to those who choose not to and those who save, the Labour lead is crumbling.

    Siliband is scared to upset his union paymasters and hence there are no real policies which the population can identify with Labour. Atul is correct that discontent with Siliband has been bubbling under for some time and will eventually burst out as the GE approaches and Mr Laconic is still in his Zen like state.

    @ Robert

    Head in sand stuff from you. If this is what Labour supporters really think then its all over.

  14. Chris Manners says:

    So the upshot is Labour’s not being frank about what cuts it would have to make?

    Like Cameron was in 2010?

    You seriously can’t see why Miliband would wait till the last lot of figures to do that? They improve slightly, then the Tories say “see we’ll fund this, Labour said they won’t”. If they get worse, Labour are stuck with unaffordable spending promises.

    If you regard Ed Miliband as left wing, you’re in the wrong party.

    Please go.

  15. Renie Anjeh says:

    Are you seriously saying that another Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition is a ‘good result for Labour’?

  16. John reid says:

    Robert 11.18′ brilliant

  17. Robert says:

    A hung parliament would be a good result for Labour and hopefully there would be a Labour-led government. Another Conservative-Lib Dem government would be worrying because Labour would not have a chance if a right of centre pact was agreed for 2020.

  18. Robert says:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/30/labour-party-factions-ed-miliband-ed-balls?CMP=twt_fd

    A good article by Andrew Rawnsley. I am a 35 per center, realist, devolver and zennist. I am not sure about the Ed v Ed. On previous Labour divisions, my guess is that I would usually be in the centre and depressed at the silliness of the right and left.

  19. John P Reid says:

    This is getting naval gazing, and we’re not looking at policies, where we went wrong, and how to appeal to swing voters, or why,those trying to oust other wings,or slur them by accusing them of being closetTrots / Tories,

    Having looked through what Libdems are likely to keep their seats , the ones most likely are people like Charles Kennedy, so in Hughes, who wouldn’t go into coalition with the Tories, so if they’re the biggest party,they’ll have to go it alone for a couple of years, as if there’s a minority Tory Govt, then I can’t see the public wanting to have 2 elections,

  20. steve says:

    John P Reid: “This is getting naval gazing”

    There’s not much else to be done. Labour/Progress has dumped the unions and signed-up to Tory policies. Labour/Progress is now slumping in polls. And Miliband looks set to be even more of a disaster than Michael Foot.

    Best to adopt a zen approach – sit quietly in a corner, make a virtue of inaction and meditate on the relinquishment of all ambition.

  21. Danny says:

    “Siliband”.

    Comedy genius from Ex-Labour. Did it take you long to come up with that hilarious little nickname? Seriously, I am in awe. I bow to your comedic wisdom. You must be a real intellectual giant to come up with such a side-splitting moniker.

    I’m not sure what has made me laugh the most, your witty play on the Labour leader’s surname or the condescending, patronising nonsense that Atul’s finger’s have typed out on his keyboard.

    Progress are a busted-flush. Tony Blair is a busted-flush. Other than a few noisy internet dwellers, most of the right of the party have either left, shifted left, or have the decency to quietly whimper in the corner as their messiah displays his true colours through embarrassing news story after embarrassing news story.

    To listen to and comply with the desired direction for the party that idiots like Peter Mandleson and his dwindling band of online disciples such as this article’s author and many of his Uncut chums proffer would make even a 35% vote share a distant fantasy.

    Labour’s right can rumble as much as they wish. The majority of the party (accept, of course, Atul’s trusted and persistently nameless “sources”) will ignore them, safe in the knowledge that if you wandered around the country’s supermarkets, parks and pubs and asked for some adjectives for the term “Blairite”, you couldn’t televise your answers before the watershed. And this is before Chilcot is released.

    Still, rumble on with your articles on Uncut; if nothing else, they provide a platform for Ex-Labour to exercise his rapier like humour. After Siliband, I’m on tenterhooks wondering what hilarity he can come up with next.

  22. swatantra says:

    Nothing annoys me more than thickos who think they are so clever coming up with names like ‘silliband’ and ‘bliar’ and ‘nu- labour’ etc, There are more inventive and imaginative ways of insulting people if you really put your mind to it.

  23. john reid says:

    Steve, apart from Progress are even more of an unimportant magazine now than ever ,and allegdly Blair accepted Tory policies, before the change on union funding ,the idea that Cutting the opt out clause , doerns’t mean Miliband has accpeted Tory views,

    the Micheal foot comparison, seems odd,M parents fans Of Gaitskell still voted labour in 83, didn’t agree with a word of it, and Labour still did better in 2010, despite the far left wanting to destroy labour,than whenthey had their go in 1983

  24. Landless Peasant says:

    Fuck Labour’s Right-wing. They’re the reason I won’t vote Labour! Labour have forgotten their Working Class roots and are no longer a truly Socialist party. I blame twats Like Glasman.

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