Now is the time for the left in Britain learn from the electoral successes of the right
The belief that Ed Miliband did not take the party far enough to the left is at best naïve, at worst a potentially catastrophic piece of advice for those now charged with picking a new leader. Sadly if the polls are to be believed, it is a message that is resonating with supporters intent on pushing Jeremy Corbyn into a position as leader of the opposition.
What the wider left has to realise is that the majority of the British people are not living in hope of a socialist utopia, simply waiting for a credible party to put forward that prospectus to lead us away from the horrors of Conservative rule. As much some may wish it – there will never be a sufficient number of people who back a party with policies like those that the Green party stood on in 2015 – it just doesn’t seem credible to most people.
The only Labour government I, and many others, have known in our lifetime was elected on broadly centrist policies with a leftist tinge. Tony Blair’s Labour was by no means perfect – and the Iraq war has left an indelible mark on a whole generation of progressive voters – but the party have spent too long distancing themselves from the popular, election winning, and importantly, left of centre policies that were implemented under Blair’s watch. Imagine what more he may have achieved if there had been a bit more mature, persuasive, internal pressure from the left within New Labour.
Now is the time not for a swing to the left, but for Labour to step back to the centre. To reclaim the ground lost to a still unpopular Tory party. To collect disenfranchised Lib Dem supporters so let down by the ‘rose garden years’.
And now is the time for the rest of the left – the Greens, the ex-Labour SNP voters, the NHS Action party – to accept that the best chance they have of a left of centre government lies with a united left, not in an increasingly noisy, unproductive rabble of progressive parties squabbling amongst themselves. A big tent, with a spectrum of views, but working towards a common cause.
When the Tory party do something its donors disagree with – gay marriage for example, or increasing the national debt – there may be a spot of wailing from the right-wing press, but they don’t take their ball and go home. There aren’t a host of right-wing parties leaching support, pushing the party so far to the right that they would become unelectable. There is a single-issue party – UKIP – pushing the right’s buttons for sure, but despite hopes, seemingly doing more damage to Labour than the Tories.
The pragmatic right, as always, knows on which side its bread is buttered. Stick together, and then once the Conservatives have won, their supporters kick in to action, nicking the best ideas from the opposition while pushing them further right than the manifesto upon which they were elected. That is the time for disagreement, for subtle and not so-subtle pressure to be applied – not when an election is being fought. Then unity is all.
The seven-party debates were illuminating – not because of any great political discourse – but as the human embodiment of the fractured left. A host of political leaders who broadly agree, and would like to see more a more progressive politics in Britain. But rather than fighting a common enemy, they spend their time fighting for the same voters and allowing the Conservatives to march back in to Downing Street when their collective power should be sufficient to block them.
There’s a reason Cameron wanted the Greens in the debate – and not just so he could hide in the background – it takes votes from Labour’s core. The party offers a tantalising alternative prospectus, one which many natural leftist voters may in fact prefer to what has been a more cautious, centrist tone of Labour. But it is not a prospectus that will ever win a democratic election in Britain. Instead of getting on board Corbyn’s band wagon the left must support Labour.
The party needs to be able to rely on those core of voters if it is to succeed more widely in the nation. It cannot spend its time battling the Greens or the Corbynites on its left flank, when all the while the Conservatives are plunging spears into its side from the right.
That’s where the energies must be focused if Labour is to again be an electoral force.
The left must learn it is better for us all if it persuades from within the tent of the Labour movement, not from outside. And that goes not just for the leadership, it is true of the electorate too. Help Labour to a win, then see how far we can push the policies while taking the British people on that journey with us.
I am not a Blairite. I am not trying to destroy the party from the inside. I am a Labour party member that wants to see the party back in power and who realises that it will not be possible to do so if it stands on a manifesto that appeals to just to me, and does not take in to account that I am to the left of the majority of the British electorate.
It is important that we do not just come together over the things with which we dislike on the right – the selfish individualism, the privitisation of public services, the abolition of the human rights act. There are some basic goods that unite the entirety of the left – fairness, social mobility, community, enabling everyone to live a good life, not just those in the ultra-elite.
Traditional Labour supporters who have abandoned the party to either sit at home or vote UKIP must be listened to and engaged with. At the very least they should be able to recognise something of themselves in those who aspire to represent them in Parliament. This is a job for all progressives – the issues of immigration and marginalisation that so enrage those sections of society must be addressed.
The left has a story to tell about what makes a good society which the right will always struggle to match. A party that can marry idealism with pragmatism is best placed to tackle a Conservative party that always struggles to describe what they believe in. Progressive politics is full of the rhetoric of team-work, selflessness, communities – what better way to demonstrate its possibilities than for those that believe in those principles to come together to create a better society, rather than fight amongst themselves over who has the most unblemished socialist/anarcho-syndicalist/environmental credentials.
Democracy is about compromise. Better to compromise and negotiate with the Labour party than harp on from the sidelines at the Conservatives. Together the Labour party, and by extension the left, is strong. Divided they fall.
Now is the time for the left in Britain learn from the electoral successes of the right, grow up and come together around some basic moral values in support of, if not a perfect future, then a better one.
Toby Moses is deputy sport news editor at the Guardian. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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