A state of Labour: bringing forth fear, not hope

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED SEP 30, 2014

Do you ever get that unsettling feeling that you’re being followed when you wander home at night? Or that there’s someone in the room with you when you thought you were alone? Just beyond your peripheral vision, just out of sight? I’ve been getting that recently. And finally twigged what I was sensing. I was being stalked by an alien and unfamiliar emotion – sympathy. More specifically, I was actually beginning to feel sorry for the poor old Labour Party.

There they are, been ahead in the polls for months if not years, and yet according to the press they’re languishing in all sorts of mire. William Hague is reported in the Telegraph as saying they have the ‘most left-wing, backward-looking, unreconstructed, divided, dysfunctional and unimaginative’ leadership. His definition of ‘left-wing’ might leave a little to be desired, but ‘backward-looking, unreconstructed, dysfunctional and unimaginative’ seems to hit the nail pretty close to the head.

Even the pathetically wishy-washy Guardian was underwhelmed by the energy levels at Labour’s recent party conference. And back in June the media managed to spin the local elections as a defeat for Labour, despite the party grabbing a good haul of seats. A lot more in fact than the Farageists who were, according to the Ukip-obsessed media, the real victors.

Miliband forgets to mention the deficit and immigration and he’s pilloried by the Tory press. Another Tory MP defects to Ukip and they bury it in the inside pages. Mind you, Miliband can even be vilified for eating a bacon sandwich the ‘wrong way’. It’s beginning to look as if the poor bloke can’t win and that Labour is destined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory next year. So I’m coming over all paternal. Or even maternal. Dear of ’em. They need a good cup of cocoa and a nice sit-down. Don’t mind the press bullies. Sticks and stones etc.

It’s getting to me. After a stiff drink and a bracing dip in the sewage at Porthemmet I soon regain my senses. This is the Labour Party, you idiot. The party that’s gone well past the strange death of social democracy to reach an advanced state of putrefaction. This is the party engaged in an obscene pre-election bidding war with the Tories to prove how ‘tough’ they can be on the poor. This is the party not afraid to say … err, ‘no’? The party of fear, not hope. Don’t waste your pity on them.

At the risk of some repetition let’s return to the constituency in Cornwall where Labour did least badly in the 2010 election – Camborne-Redruth. In this seat the Labour candidate, Michael Foster, tells us he’s a ‘different kind of politician’, who’s ‘working hard for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle’. Michael is an ‘entertainment and media entrepreneur’ or ‘agent to the stars’ from London. He was also telling us in the West Brit how shaken he was to discover, when he came to live in Porth Navas, how poor people were in the constituency.

Exactly how this is a ‘different kind of politician’ isn’t exactly clear. We still get the familiar, slightly arrogant and patronising ‘discovery’ of the ‘land that time forgot’. Only this time, instead of discovering Cornwall is different from London in that it has beaches, he’s discovered that it’s poor. Didn’t we know that already? We still get ignorance of Cornwall’s past. For instance, he tells us that the last Labour Government ‘brought degree-level education’ to Cornwall ‘for the first time’, thus consigning the long history of Camborne School of Mines and the shorter history of Falmouth University to the dustbin of history. (And actually, it was European funding, which of course can’t be mentioned, for fear of annoying the braying Europhobes.)

No doubt, Michael Foster’s campaign will be a lot slicker than in the past. But he seems unable to recognise or understand why so many people hold Labour politicians in such utter contempt – as an indistinguishable part of a loathsome, expenses-fiddling establishment political elite up in London.

Any hope that Labour might speak truth to power became a hollow joke long ago. If it was ever the case, it vanished in the 1990s when the party allowed its soul to be sucked out by Blairite vampires. Since then, its members resemble the living dead, zombies shuffling to inevitable extinction. Yes, Gordon Brown can still rise from the crypt and persuade enough Scots to save the Union. But why does that feel like a defeat, not a victory?

Labour had an opportunity in 2010 but blew it. Then, Miliband might have apologised for the mistakes of the Labour Government. He could have set out an agenda that included economic re-adjustment away from the banks and the financial sector and towards a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. He could have offered constitutional reform to bring the UK into the 21st century, or even the 20th.

Labour could have helped lead a campaign of the millions against the millionaires. It could have sought to galvanise the disaffected and the dispossessed. It could have unleashed the energies and demands for democratic change that we’ve witnessed this year in Scotland. Even writing these words, I’m aware how ridiculous they must sound. Terrified by the Tory press, as ever they played it safe. They bottled out of taking on the establishment. Hardly surprising when you consider they’re a part of it, thoroughly wedded to the neo-liberal project to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich and make the end of history ‘entrepreneurship’.

Red Ed was quickly transformed into the meek and mild Milibland. And yet he’s still vilified by the Tory press! At least get attacked for something worth being attacked for.

Michael Foster has an uncanny resemblance to the late Nigel Hawthorne of Yes, Minister fame
Michael Foster has an uncanny resemblance to the late Nigel Hawthorne of Yes, Minister fame

Michael Foster also labours under a second misconception. This is that his party has a hope in hell in Camborne-Redruth. He seems unaware of the lessons of the past, when a succession of carpetbaggers managed to lose the Cornish working class decades ago. Instead, the same old statistical sleight of hand so beloved by the Liberal Democrats is wheeled out to confuse and manipulate an innumerate and gullible public.

We’re told in one of his newsletters (July 2014) that a Labour MEP was ‘elected for Cornwall’. That’s odd, as in fact she was elected for the ‘South West’, a constituency of which Cornwall makes up just a tenth. And in Cornwall Labour’s share of the vote ‘more than doubled’. It did – to a massive 11.0%. This was less than the Greens polled. Even the thoroughly discredited Lib Dems did better in Cornwall than Labour.

Michael Foster claims that ‘we’ll have to mess up now in order not to win’ in Camborne-Redruth. But this is cloud-cuckoo land. Maybe in Porth Navas voters are flocking to Labour, but even his own party has decided that Camborne-Redruth doesn’t warrant inclusion in its list of 106 target seats.

The fact is that even this ‘massive swing to Labour’ won’t be anywhere near enough to get Michael Foster elected. At the last 2010 General Election Labour got just 16.3% of the vote in Camborne-Redruth. No doubt the hapless Lib Dems will haemorrhage some voters to Labour. But a lot will also head for Ukip, MK and the Greens. The smart money has to be on Farmer George getting back with a healthier majority and an even smaller proportion of the vote. (Oh for a rational voting system – though that’s not Labour policy either.)

Let’s take Michael Foster’s five point plan. This promises

  • more jobs for young people (but no end to austerity)
  • a ban on zero hours contracts (but no taxing the rich)
  • to protect the NHS (but not to abolish the internal market or PFI contracts)
  • to dual the A30 (but not to re-nationalize the railways)
  • to shake up government (but no Assembly for Cornwall)

There’s nothing much here to get anyone excited. It’s timid safety first territory, just like the Labour Party in general. The fact is that a vote for any of the three old, London-centric, conservative parties is a wasted vote. Whoever you vote for, you’ll get the same nutty neo-liberal ‘vision’.

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