This is being written on the day of a Queen's speech that many predict will contain a ratcheting up of austerity that will do nothing of real benefit for the UK economy but will result in increased hardship for millions at the so-called bottom end of society (a very large bottom). It is exactly at a time like this that the Tory government needs to be held to account by a hostile opposition but there are many grass roots Labour supporters who are fearful that our party will not be leading any meaningful challenge. Goodness knows BelperStuff hopes that our shadow front bench will miraculously find something within them that bears some resemblance to a socialist critique but the evidence of the 20 days since the election does little to raise our hopes. Yet again the Labour Party prefers to gaze at its own navel rather than contemplate the issues of inequality and social justice that taint our society. The pronouncements of those standing for leadership of the party are .............. to be frank ................ even farther to the right than the founding principles of the gang of four, the Social Democratic Party that splintered from Labour in the eighties ............. and look what happened to them. For those of us who can remember the chill of those mid eighties years it is not just the memory of Thatcherism tearing the heart out of British industry but the trauma felt within the Labour movement of a party desperately shedding the voices of both left and right. Kinnock struggled to "redefine" the party and it was only after the unexpected defeat of 1992 that we were able to regain our traditional equilibrium with the calmness brought to the movement by John Smith.
Unfortunately, this consensus was lost with the gradual and accelerating drift to the right during the Blair years but there were many left leaning supporters who clung on, their hunger for social justice in some measure being fed on reforms championed by Gordon Brown. Many have written about how Blair squandered the moral strength of the party to the point that his successor was handed a poisoned chalice. Miliband suffered too as he was forced to drink from that same cup. The trust in Labour severely damaged, not just with the electorate but within the movement itself. To his credit Ed made the best of the hand that was dealt to him but he took too long to find his voice and was not helped by a weak shadow cabinet, a front bench team that was largely silent about the issues that mattered and were notable by their absence during the election campaign. (Michael Foot's front line troops were intellectual giants compared with our current crop).
So what now?
Labour shape-shifters fail to shape up
Here we are again with the leader and deputy leader hopefuls leading the charge to the right. We've been there ....... done it ........... burnt the t-shirt. These are the very same people who less than a month ago stood behind a manifesto that spelt out hope for this country. It wasn't perfect but it was a damn sight better than what was on offer from the Tories. Though many of us were and are still vehemently opposed to unnecessary cuts and the mantra of austerity, we enthusiastically worked for a Labour victory because we knew that come the day Ed Miliband was our only hope of tipping the balance back in favour of the majority living in this country.
Talking with local Labour supporters, those who voted for the party, pay their membership dues, represent constituents at parish, town, borough or county levels, there seems to be a consensus that the heart of the Labour movement is to the left of centre. Many of our election promises reflected this and had considerable support in the country, even with those who eventually voted against us. This has to be our strength and something upon which we can build. This belief is evident at the grass roots level and seems to have survived the election defeat.
But .............. oh yes ............ that awful but .............. once again our representatives in Westminster are flailing around looking for a way forward. Their quest is to find out what went wrong and to discover the elusive magic charm that will lead to electoral success. So, during a period of introspection when the leadership solicits the opinion and advice of ordinary members the candidates emerge with fully formed opinions that pre-empt any consensus that emerges from the membership. The disconnect with the grass roots could not be more evident. Every candidate preaches that the party should move toward the centre ground, a centre that a few years ago even left wing Tories would define as being too blue.
The most difficult aspect to all this is that we know what works best in the Labour Party. The movement is successful when it accepts the voices of the left, right and centre. Looking back at previous Labour governments it is obvious that our strength comes from a tolerance of disparate viewpoints coalescing around the common ground of socialist principles. A major part of our credibility is a consistency of belief and this is the very thing that appears to be lacking from our leadership at the moment. They really are like sci-fi shape-shifters, before our incredulous eyes we see them morphing into apologetic late-comers to the orthodoxy of neo-liberalism, standing beside the road to inequality trying to hitch a ride on the EU referendum, xenophobic, privatising bandwagon that they believe will give them electoral success.
There are Labour voices urging a proper debate based upon core beliefs : evidenced by this article in Left Futures and for a reminder of what we stood for in the election this article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian is very informative.
John Maynard Keynes is famous for saying, "when the facts change I change my mind". Well leadership candidates ........... the facts have not changed.