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.

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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.”

    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?

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