Sunday, 2 August 2015

If Labour is not seen as an effective opposition, why will voters believe it will form an effective government?

Something that struck me just now is that Jeremy Corbyn, as the oldest of the 4 leadership candidates, experienced the Labour Party pre-Blair, as did I.  We were there during the Wilson years and the Foot years, we listened to Tony Benn, Ian Mikado and Dennis Skinner, and then we saw the rise of  Neil Kinnock and the arrival of Tony Blair and his cronies. At the time some thought that supporting Blair was the correct thing to do - he was young, charismatic and personable, the opposite of John Major, the grey man, and an antidote to the severely formidable Margaret Thatcher. Many thought that Blair was the new leader that the Party needed, that he would bring Labour values back to politics and lead the Party to the Promised Land. How wrong that turned out to be! 

Over the three terms of their government, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown and their teams moved the Party further away from the core values of the Labour Party. To be fair, for the first 3 years Blair's administration did some good work:  it brought in the National Minimum Wage Act, the Human Rights Act and the Freedom of Information Act. It was the architect of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly after the Good Friday Agreement.  They did not, however, rescind the anti-trades union legislation brought in by the previous Conservative government, but they did bring in changes in student fees,  welfare payments, and increased police powers of arrest and dispersal, and the taking and retaining of DNA samples. It can be argued that those areas indicate Blair's shifting to the right, politically speaking.

Blair's involvement in bringing peace to Northern Ireland needs to be recognised as a significant achievement, but his administration's subsequent meddling in Afghanistan and Iraq, in cahoots with the Bush administration in the USA, was nothing short of a disaster which has helped to destabilise the political situation in those countries and led to the deaths of far too many military personnel and civilians both there and in the subsequent terrorist attacks on British and American soil.

That their first landslide victory in 1997 (winning 418 out of a total of 659 seats) showed huge support for Tony Blair's policies and manifesto is not in dispute. He was hugely popular, and seen as the saviour of the nation by many. His second term as Prime Minister (2001 - winning 413 seats), which started with the invasion of Afghanistan and later of Iraq alongside the Americans, brought huge opposition from the public to the use of British troops and to the interference in the affairs of another nation state in effectively invading both countries. The third election which Labour won under Tony Blair in 2005 (with 355 seats), was the start of the real decline of Labour, and that opposition to war dented Blair's popularity and brought about his subsequent stepping down as Leader in 2007, when he was succeeded by Gordon Brown, formerly Blair's Chancellor.

If anyone was destined not to be PM it would be Gordon Brown. He, like Michael Foot before him, has a brilliant mind and is a most able man, but he did not inspire the country to suppport him. In many ways he inherited a poisoned chalice, as the tide had already turned against the Labour Party and he was too closely identified with the policies brought in under Blair. The public were disillusioned with policies which were only marginally less-Tory than those of the Conservatives themselves, and what were perceived as attacks on working people, whilst the Labour Party politicians themselves were viewed as political fatcats taking advantage of MPs expenses, allowances for housing, subsidised food and alcohol in the Palace of Westminster, and a host of other cosy benefits that made being an MP such a pleasant and lucrative occupation. Meanwhile, the very people whom the Labour Party professed to represent were suffering reduced incomes and increased housing and educational costs. Was it any wonder that Labour lost the next election in 2010?

Losing 91 seats in 2010 (down to 258 out of 650 after constituency boundary changes)  mainly to the Conservatives, should have been a wake up call to the Labour Party, but it wasn't. The reason being that many of the new intakes of MPs under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were of the same ilk, despite the change of leader to Ed Milliband.  They were not true Socialists, but were what has come to be referred to as pinky-blue Labour MPs. Much more to the right of the party, some being so-much so that questions have been asked as to why they ever joined the Labour Party in the first place! These MPs continued to support the Tory-lite policies of austerity, without providing an effective opposition to the new Conservative / Liberal Democratic coalition government. The removal of policy making from the Party conference to the Parliamentary Labour Party was an indicative of a schism between the members and its MPs, but this was apparently air-brushed over - something which was to lead to the catastrophic loss of seats in the 2015 General Election, where Labour lost all but one seat in Scotland, and dropped to a mere 232 seats overall out of the total of 650. 

This defeat triggered yet another leadership election, this time with three candidates who have been described as being from the pinky-blue group, and one lifelong left-wing Socialist, in the form of Jeremy Corbyn. Unlike Jeremy, the other three candidates have only ever known a Party run under Blairite lines. They are too young to have known pre-Blair Labour, so cannot really be blamed for the pinky-blue stance they have taken. But, and it is a huge but, if Labour is to regain its credibility with the people of this country and have a chance of once again forming a government it needs to move away from the pinky-blues. It needs to establish that it is a credible opposition, that it is not the Tories or Lib Dems under another name.  It is not enough to abstain when the Government introduces a measure which Labour disagrees with, it must oppose the measure with every means at its disposal.  It must fight to reverse the damaging measures which are being brought in by the current government: the welfare cuts, the privatisation of health services, the cutbacks in education, the slashing of public services. If Labour is not seen as an effective opposition, why will voters believe it will form an effective government?

It is my view, and here I am nailing my colours to the mast, that the only leadership candidate who has any hope of bringing the party back into credibility and gain the support of ordinary people in this country is Jeremy Corbyn. We need a Leader who is seen to be honest, open, genuine, credible, and ethical. What we do not need is another cloned Westminster bubble politician on the same gravy train as the other lot.

If you agree, please support Jeremy Corbyn's campaign here: http://www.jeremyforlabour.com/

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