As long as Labour believes it can take working class voters for granted, nothing will change

Salman Shaheen, a member of Left Unity's national co-ordinating group, replies to Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth, who wrote a piece for the Guardian yesterday in which he argued that the left should stick with the Labour Party.

Salman Shaheen, a member of Left Unity’s national co-ordinating group, replies to Left Foot Forward editor James Bloodworth, who wrote a piece for the Guardian yesterday in which he argued that the left should stick with the Labour Party.

Long before I’d ever been on an anti-war march or read any Marx, the first spark of left-wing thought emerged in my brain as I was growing up listening to The Levellers.

It was this Brighton-based folk-punk outfit that provided the voice of a generation opposed to repressive Tory rule, sticking two fingers up to the state and fighting back against the injustices of the Criminal Justice Act.

Backstage and starstruck at a Levellers gig few years ago, I caught up with lead singer Mark Chadwick to find out if he still held firm to all those ardently sung beliefs that had first inspired me. It wasn’t much surprise to hear that even this archetypal old anarchist would vote for anyone just to keep the Tories out.

After all, his was a generation that had lived through the dark ages of the Thatcher years, whose way of life in free parties and protests had come under assault from a Conservative government with diametrically opposed values and a monopoly of violence to enforce them.

Equally, against the climate of austerity, I can understand why James Bloodworth wrote in Comment is Free yesterday that the most urgent task of the left is kicking the Tories out in 2015.

But while I agree that this vicious bunch of out-of-touch toffs waging all out class war on Britain’s most vulnerable people should never be allowed near a red briefcase again, I do not think stopping the Tories should come at any expense. Not if that expense is the left adopting Tory policies.

As I’ve previously argued, New Labour has done far more to entrench a Thatcherite consensus in this country than John Major ever could. By transforming Labour from a party that represented working class people into a party that represented free-market interests, Tony Blair ensured there could be no opposition to the neoliberal policies that spectacularly wrecked the global economy and plunged those Labour was founded to speak up for deeper into poverty.

When Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership with the support of the trade unions, there was a glimmer of hope that we could see the return of a genuine Labour party that could provide genuine opposition to Tory policies. Not only would this be good for the poorest sections of British society, it would be good for democracy. Voters need a choice.

But Miliband abstained on workfare, he committed himself to Tory spending plans, he turned his back on the unions and, most damning of all, he utterly failed to make the argument that it was bankrupt neoliberal economics that ravaged Britain’s economy not welfare spending or state intervention.

Returning Miliband’s party to office in 2015 will, then, only enshrine an austerity consensus.

Would I prefer to see a Labour government rather than a Conservative one? Would it be ever so slightly nicer, ever so slightly kinder, its policies wrapped up in ever so slightly more understanding language than that of the Etonian class warriors? Of course.

But kicking the Tories out will seem a Pyrrhic victory for the left when the Labour government they campaigned for implements its own cuts.

As long as Labour believes that it can take left-wing and working class votes for granted, irrespective of how far to the right it lurches, nothing will change.

This is why I support the new Left Unity movement.

Far from kicking the injustices of the 21st century into the long grass as James argues, it is tackling them head on, because it recognises that the most urgent task of the left is not stopping the Tory party, but stopping Tory policies. To do that we must reinvigorate the left, within and without Labour, not leave it languishing stultified in the middle of the road where it will be run down and crushed.

37 Responses to “As long as Labour believes it can take working class voters for granted, nothing will change”

  1. swatnan

    Left Unity will fizzle out like a damp squib. Best to throw in your lot with Labour.

  2. Salman Shaheen

    Liberals probably said that of Labour a century ago. Left Unity has a lot to prove, I agree. I hope it proves it.

  3. George Hallam

    “Liberals probably said that of Labour a century ago.”

    If they did say that then why did they do a secret deal to nurture the infant Labour Party?

    “In 1903 an agreement was made between Herbert Gladstone (then Chief Whip of the Liberal Party) and Ramsay MacDonald (Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee) that, in thirty constituencies, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would not stand against each other, and thus risk splitting their vote. As a result of this agreement, in contests against the Conservative party, 29 Labour MPs were returned at the general election of 1906.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lib%E2%80%93Lab_pact

    It’s just a thought, but perhaps they were afraid that LRC really would “fizzle out like a damp squib” and then be replaced with something far more serious?

  4. Salman Shaheen

    They did a deal because they recognised working class voters were falling away from them because there was an entire section of society which was going unrepresented by the two main parties. We now have three main parties, but once again we have an unrepresented section of society and a space to fill. In Europe, new Left Parties are successfully filling it. We need that in Britain.

  5. Edward Davie

    Labour created and saved the welfare state and the NHS, introduced the minimum wage, the Equalities Act, civil partnerships, doubled investment in state schools, negotiated peace in Northern Ireland, devolved power to the Celtic countries and London and abolished hereditary peers. In my own council in Lambeth we have turned children’s services and schools, that were under special measures when the Lib Dem/Tories ran the town hall, into what Ofsted says are the best and the eighth best in the whole country. All of those things means that in THE REAL WORLD the most vulnerable are a lot better off – surely the goal of Socialists everywhere? From Militant to Respect what has the hard left ever done for anyone other than a few ego-maniacs like Derek Hatton and George Galloway?

  6. Stan

    The Labour party at a local level is usually more representative of the needs of their communities than the national party is. The national party is woefully out of touch with their voter base.

  7. mactheanti

    I’m sick of hearing this, no it is not.

  8. Stan

    Really. So the fact they haven’t promised to scrap the bedroom Tax is because most Labour voters agree with it? The fact that they won’t bring the Post Office back into public ownership is because most labour voters agree with the privatisation? The fact that they will not reverse the Coalition reforms in the NHS is because most Labour voters agree with the reforms? Likewise for education?

    If that isn’t out of touch then I don’t know what is.

    If Labour is just meekly going to accept everything the Coalition has done to this country then just what is the point of Labour any more?

  9. Stan

    Really. So the fact they haven’t promised to scrap the bedroom Tax is because most Labour voters agree with it? The fact that they won’t bring the Post Office back into public ownership is because most labour voters agree with the privatisation? The fact that they will not reverse the Coalition reforms in the NHS is because most Labour voters agree with the reforms? Likewise for education?

    If that isn’t out of touch then I don’t know what is.

    If Labour is just meekly going to accept everything the Coalition has done to this country then just what is the point of Labour any more?

  10. mactheanti

    “But Miliband abstained on workfare, he committed himself to Tory spending plans, he turned his back on the unions and, most damning of all, he utterly failed to make the argument that it was bankrupt neoliberal economics that ravaged Britain’s economy not welfare spending or state intervention.”

    1) Labour have committed to Tory spending plans for one year only (very significant point)
    2) They have not committed themselves to spending the money in the same way as the Tories (another significant point)
    3) Ed Miliband has not turned his back on the unions, what he is trying to do is modernise the party. How can labour ever progress if we are constantly accused of being in the pockets of the unions? It’s right that people should be asked if they want to donate to the Labour party.
    4) He failed to make the argument? Why should it be down to Miliband to argue the point? Surely it’s down to all of us? In any case he has argued this and done it effectively too. It’s just hardly ever reported and it it is, Miliband’s words are taken and spun negatively.

    I do agree that when Labour lost the election they held that absurdly on leadership contest which was a gift to the Tories, who were merrily pinning the blame on Labour for global economic recession and Tory banking crash.

    All I hear from people on the left is their voices, moaning, moaning, moaning, they never actually get out and do anything. Thousands of Labour volunteers young and old are out in the evenings and at weekends on the doorstep, up and down this country in all weathers and will carry on right through the winter – what will you be doing? Sitting and moaning away at your keyboard about Labour?

    IMO I think your socialist wailing lamenting is just self indulgent. People that really matter will not thank you if you help to return another Tory Coalition/government and they have to put up with this hideous shower for another five years. Miliband is not the same as Cameron and Labour is not the same as the Tories and I’m getting sick of hearing it.

    Labour are not taking one single vote for granted, supply your evidence that backs this up.

    You mention New Labour and roll out the usual well warn rhetoric, but what you do not mention is the immense amount of good they also did. To deny this is just fodder for the Tories, in fact posts like yours are fodder for the Tories.
    I stood by Labour through their 18 years of political madness, blistered my feet walking around knocking on doors, taking the insults being called the loony left etc. I never ever want to see the Labour party go through this again, because while we were indulging our inner left there were people out there that needed us and we let them down. I will NOT be party to that again. I raised my family through Thatcher years and that was like hell on earth but let me tell you, this lot are far worse and I will not help them gain power again.

    Ed Miliband is a different kind of politician, he is truthful, honest and decent and refuses to lie. I may not agree with everything he says, but at least he is telling me the truth. I don’t want another arrogant heartless liar in power, had enough of that with Cameron!

  11. henrytinsley

    Unlike most of Europe, we don’t have PR. if Left Unity succeeds, it will just peel off votes from Labour and help the Tories. A bit like UKIP in reverse really.

  12. bllarg1987

    Labour itself has done a few good things, however between 97- and the last election many things the party did do where a continuation of the previous conservative administration PFI, continued privatisation of goveremtn departments and assets.

    The only real big difference was that Labour spent more money and put in more measures to help the less well off, however in doing so it played to the tune of those with interests instead of challagneing them hence part of the reason why we were so heavily affected by the financial crisis.

  13. Salman Shaheen

    As I’ve said, this is the only way Labour will pay any attention to its left flank.

  14. cynicalhighlander

    And Blair, Brown, Darling, Straw the list is an awful long one.

  15. cynicalhighlander

    And Blair, Brown, Darling, Straw the list is an awful long one.

  16. Stan

    I was a Labour activist for more than 25 years. I have done more than my fair share of canvassing, leafleting and standing as a candidate in wards where Labour have no chance of winning.

    Why should we be ashamed of the link with the unions when the money Labour gets from the unions is open and above board whereas the biggest scandals surrounding Labour funding have always been from private and corporate donations, the same reasons why the Tories get embarrassed. In case you have forgotten the Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement. If these politicians wish to be in a political party that have no links to the trade union movement then they are free to leave and join either the Tories or Lib-Dems or they could start their own party like they did in 1982 when they all ran away to form the SDP opening the door for Thatcher to win the elections of 83 & 87.

    The Tories are unashamedly in hock to big business and people like Lord Ashcroft and Philip Green. They govern in the interests of their paymasters, always have and always will. The only criticism that I have with the union link is that Communist and other extreme left union leaders such as Mick McGahey have always infiltrated the Labour party via the affiliation process and these have been the union bosses that have caused Labour the most problems over the years.

    How dare you accuse people like me of being self indulgent. I have every right to criticise the current leadership and their policies. They have neutered the membership, they have dragged the party further to the right than it has ever been in all its history and now the people at the top are as out of touch with people like me as the Tories are. I see no reason to vote Labour at the next election. I want to vote for a party I believe in, I do not want to vote for a least worst option.

    My whole political life has been based on fighting for things I believe in and for a quarter of a century the labour party represented that. My principles and beliefs have not changed, it is the Labour party that has changed and until it moves away from being a semi skimmed Tory party it will not be getting my help or my vote again.

  17. Stan

    I was a Labour activist for more than 25 years. I have done more than my fair share of canvassing, leafleting and standing as a candidate in wards where Labour have no chance of winning.

    Why should we be ashamed of the link with the unions when the money Labour gets from the unions is open and above board whereas the biggest scandals surrounding Labour funding have always been from private and corporate donations, the same reasons why the Tories get embarrassed. In case you have forgotten the Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement. If these politicians wish to be in a political party that have no links to the trade union movement then they are free to leave and join either the Tories or Lib-Dems or they could start their own party like they did in 1982 when they all ran away to form the SDP opening the door for Thatcher to win the elections of 83 & 87.

    The Tories are unashamedly in hock to big business and people like Lord Ashcroft and Philip Green. They govern in the interests of their paymasters, always have and always will. The only criticism that I have with the union link is that Communist and other extreme left union leaders such as Mick McGahey have always infiltrated the Labour party via the affiliation process and these have been the union bosses that have caused Labour the most problems over the years.

    How dare you accuse people like me of being self indulgent. I have every right to criticise the current leadership and their policies. They have neutered the membership, they have dragged the party further to the right than it has ever been in all its history and now the people at the top are as out of touch with people like me as the Tories are. I see no reason to vote Labour at the next election. I want to vote for a party I believe in, I do not want to vote for a least worst option.

    My whole political life has been based on fighting for things I believe in and for a quarter of a century the labour party represented that. My principles and beliefs have not changed, it is the Labour party that has changed and until it moves away from being a semi skimmed Tory party it will not be getting my help or my vote again.

  18. Lambeth Walker

    Labour in power in Lambeth since 2006 has had mixed results in improving schools- the best of which have reluctantly became academies because central Labour govt funding favoured that.
    A popular campaign recently stopped Labour selling off its Brixton Leisure Centre.
    Now Labour must justify why it considers its local administration so under attack that it calls on UKG to criminalise all forms of building occupations so as to avoid consideration of human rights act protection that civil law procedures necessitate.
    The Equalities Act provided limited prospective changes in pension rights for same sex long-term relationships.
    Labour passed up the chance when it had a sufficient majority to really change the house of lords not just getting rid of a minority of unelected members.

  19. mactheanti

    Who said we are ashamed? That’s the right wing press talking. I am not ashamed, I want the unions, without them working people would not have the rights we have today. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t modernise, we have to, it’s imperative if the unions and Labour are to survive. Everything in life progresses and changes, don’t be afraid of progress. There’s no need to be aggressive, I haven’t forgotten union and Labour history, I have been defending it vehemently against the Tories all my life and will go on defending it.

  20. mactheanti

    Labour has done more than a good few things, here are a few 1) National minimum wage 2) Sure Start 3) Nursery place for every 4 year old 4) Over 100 brand new hospitals 5) building schools for the future 6) hundreds of thousands more nurses, doctors, teachers, police. 7) pensioners credit 8) working families credit.

    It just goes on and on, so lets not keep doing Labour’s 13 years in power down and look at each and everyone of those things I have mentioned, the Tories are taking them all away. Have you forgotten the parlous state the NHS was in in 1997 when Labour came to power? They saved it from privatisation (I worked in the NHS at the sharp end for over 30 years) If the Tories are not stopped they will privatise the NHS, Labour is the only party who can stop them and don’t forget Labour has promised to repeal the Health & Social Care Act of 2012 as far as they can without triggering another top down reorganisation and they are the only party positioned to stop the Tories, if we have another five years of this heinous government we will lose the NHS for good. Do you want to be a part of that? Because I sure as hell don’t.
    Andy Burnham has some absolutely brilliant ideas for the future of the NHS.

  21. mactheanti

    They haven;’t promised to scrap the bedroom tax beause they want to fully cost it before they announce it. Why don’t you wait and stop jumping the gun? Labour are in opposition, not government stop being so unrealistic. Why not point to the things that Labour are trying to do even though they are in opposition rather than keep trying to do the one party down that can stop these things? How far do you think Labour will get if they keep promising to reverse each and every Tory decision? The electorate will simply not believe them – be realistic.

  22. mactheanti

    So sod the millions depending upon Labour to get back in and help, just so you can have your little strop? Without a doubt that is the most infantile stupid thing you have said on this page, it shows you think more about yourself and your own little cause (typical of extreme left wingers) than you do about the position real people find themselves in and what can realistically be done to help them.

  23. mactheanti

    So sod the millions depending upon Labour to get back in and help, just so you can have your little strop? Without a doubt that is the most infantile stupid thing you have said on this page, it shows you think more about yourself and your own little cause (typical of extreme left wingers) than you do about the position real people find themselves in and what can realistically be done to help them.

  24. Paul Trembath

    Yes, lefties are a tiny minority with extreme views who want to make unreasonable demands and spoil the sugar-coated neoliberal Utopia that all the scroungers, the wage slaves, the profiteers and the press barons are crying for?

  25. Stan

    Why should it be just about money? What about people’s lives? Some people have already committed suicide because of this tax. People are being forced to move away from family and friends, away from areas they have lived their whole lives in, away from vitally important support networks that the elderly and disabled rely on. Is this not more important than money?

    If you and the Labour Party are so obsessed with money then it has already been shown that it is costing more money that the Tories claimed it would ever save, and people are falling deeper into debt, Housing associations and local councils have reported marked increases in arrears and houses are now lying empty because people can’t afford to move into them; and whilst all this is happening to social housing private landlords are reaping the benefits because the Bedroom Tax does not apply to them.

    For any of the reasons above is reason enough for scrapping this tax and any humane person wouldn’t even think about “waiting to see how much it would cost”.

  26. Stan

    Points 4 & 5 built under the financially crippling PFI schemes.

  27. Mark Anthony France

    I agree with everything you say Stan and I want to have your babies 🙂

  28. Conrad

    Good luck with this, as for election deals with Labour and Liberals which seems to be a focus of debate below, this has been the case for most of their history, and within FPTP it makes a lot of sense, they do the same thing for most council positions in local areas, but it makes sense no? If your in a position where two parties are looking for votes that are tangled up with each other, and competition puts you at risk of large loss of manpower with only potential gains I know i would accommodate, politicians put up a pantomime show of partisanship but there is a lot of technical work that has to be done at the end of the day.

    As for the problem of FPTP, the fact is its broken, but its broken in the sense that it doesn’t give the same kind of power to one party if there are numerous parties in play, because while from the 50’s too the early 90’s political parties attempted to win the national elections with broadcasts and radio announcements and all that, but nowadays small parties tend to target select boroughs and build up a fortress territory where they have credibility on the ground, i mean the average ward only has like 20 campaigners for Labour or Conservative, and they are trying to win everywhere, so if you got 40 Green Campaigners in Brighton, or 50 LD campaigners in Colchester you can generally win from boots on the ground, that’s how the Brighton council and MP went Green last election, if Left Unity want to build themselves up they should focus on those Urban areas where there are large concentrations of generally left minded citizens and build up from there.

    Obviously its imperfect, but perhaps if this happens more then FPTP will have to change because the main parties won’t be able to survive, maybe then we will get a more representative system that will allow these parties to gain a voice in parliament without the same amount of effort.

  29. Stan

    Extreme left wingers? You sound just like a typical Daily Mail reader now. You know all these millions that are depending on Labour getting back in? Don’t you think by ignoring these millions is the reason why Labour lost the election in 2010 in the first place? Not only did they ignore those people whilst in government but they’re ignoring them now. The Labour leadership is too wrapped up in their efforts not to upset the Daily Mail, the chattering middle classes and the Murdoch press they’re ignoring the very people you claim are relying on a Labour victory at the next General Election.

  30. blarg1987

    I did not say New Labour did nothing good, what I am saying is that it was to close to the right,.

    Some of the things it did such as points 4 – 5 could have been done through goverment borrowing and pay back the debt which would mean we would control the hospitals, instead New Labour decide to go down the PFI road which is costing us all a hell of a lot more which was also Conservative policy.

    New Labour also carried on the expansion of marketising the NHS Owen Jones pointed it out and added that the recentcoalition Goverment policy for the NHS has just been built on what New Labour started which the New Labiur MP reluctantly agreed.

    If New Labour had instead not carried on some previous Conservativepolicies it would gain more support long term.

  31. mikems

    what sort of response is that? people disagree with you and with Labour and are perfectly entitled to do so. So can the aggression and false posturing.

    you have to accept that many left-wingers will not support a right-wing labour party and there is no good reason why we should.

    That’s not our fault. If you are a labour member you have let the party lurch to the right on all areas of policy. So blame yourself for the chronic lack of trust and support the party now enjoys on the left.

  32. mikems

    You will never stop tories accusing the party of being in the union’s pockets.

    Their propaganda has nothing to do with reality.. But you suggest that the party should ‘reform’ itself to do as the tories want?

    It’s daft. The unions aren’t going to go away and give up politics, but the labour party is turning its back on the collective and organised working class movement in this country, an historical event for the working class.

  33. mikems

    This ‘modernisation’ was driven by tory demands after their own propganda organs, lining up with the Blairites inside the party, whipped up the false scandal in Falkirk.

    Miliband ran from the start. He held his hands up and promised the usual anti-union kneejerk reaction to try to appease the right.

    If there is to be reform of the party, the demand should come from below in a democratic way, not from above because of short-term political manoeuvring.

  34. Lolly Pa Lolly

    Your reply underlines just how much Labour have failed to challenge rhetoric of austerity. They’ve utterly bought into the discourse of the bottom line. If they don’t reverse Tory decisions that make the poor destitute, sell our own companies back to us, that makes zero-hour contracts some sort of moral crusade, what good are they? I’ve lost interest in a party that just wants to get elected. They need to change the dialogue or just give up.

  35. franwhi

    In my city of Glasgow Labour have controlled local politics forever. We still have shocking levels of inequality in health, income and life expectancy . The numbers of long term jobless persists across two and three generations. National or local is not the issue – it’s the fact that the Labour party is obsessed with holding power but has no moral force.

  36. Ejacques1938

    Sadly, we have an official opposition that is not much better than the Con/Dem government and who seem incapable to mounting a credible campaign against what is happening to millions of the UK citizens that they claim to represent and support (after all, they do belong to a political party called Labour). In the light of what’s happening in the world of work with zero hour contracts and with millions of workers having their wages and standards of living ruthlessly squeezed onto the margins of society and a return to Victorian levels of exploitation, Ed Miliband’s strategy for change and the philosophy of ‘One Nation Labour’ is looking more and more like political spin and a sick joke.

    There again, many of the problems we face today lead directly back to previous Labour administrations and their embrace of economic liberalism and consequential attacks on trade unions, our collective institutions, and community support. Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet is packed full of these people, mainly careerists who believe the end game is a Labour government, and who (to my mind) are part of the problem, not the solution. For those with short memories, where today are those red blooded socialist such as Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Geoff Hoon, et al? Most left office and walked into the welcoming arms of big business, the city and/or the House of Lords. Enough said!

  37. John

    The UK is finished, in 20 years you lot will be lucky if you are 30th in the world, if you didn’t have nukes, noone would waste the time even talking to you losers!

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