Tuesday 17 December 2019

Labour's failure

Whilst ‘Corbyn’ was a factor in what has happened to the Labour Party in recent years, the real malaise goes much deeper than that.  The party’s origins lie in a belief in a different kind of world, founded on socialist rather than capitalist principles.  Defining ‘socialism’ isn’t easy; there seem to be as many definitions as there are people claiming to be socialists, but if I had to draw out just two key elements of what it means to me, I would say that it is to do with the economic power relationships in a society, and with acting collectively rather than competitively.  I think that the party’s founders understood that, and their mission was as much – if not more – about winning people round to that view as it was about seeking power through elections.
It was a worthy mission, but one in which the party ultimately failed totally, moving gradually instead to a more election and power-seeking approach, under which the implementation by the state of the policies put forward by the party was somehow seen as the equivalent of ‘delivering socialism’, leaving the vision thing down to a vague notion that ‘Labour is for the workers’.  But without a change in consciousness, it could never be equivalent.  Whilst the policies put forward might well have been based (most of the time, anyway – I’m not sure that the same could be said for the Blair years, for instance) on at least a partial vision of an alternative world, they have not made much effort to sell that vision, instead relying on the obviously flawed assumption that people voting for the policies are also bought in to the vision.  That is a partial explanation for a situation where the party leadership seems genuinely surprised that people who have historically voted for them in support of that vague notion hold a range of views which are anathema to the leadership.  Jingoism and an aversion to foreigners and immigrants are just two of the factors which seem to have surprised many in Labour; but as anyone who’s ever knocked doors in an election (and I’ve done many thousands in my time) will know, small ‘c’ conservatism is rife amongst the party’s voter base.  It has been ignored as long as they kept putting their crosses in the right boxes but has created a situation in which a switch of loyalties was always possible.
It has all culminated in recent elections in a largely transactional approach to manifestos – vote for us and we’ll give you ‘x’.  It’s not that the policies themselves have been devised free of all vision of an alternative society, it’s more the lack of any attempt to spell out that underlying vision, leaving voters who want to find one to join up the dots themselves.  But worst of all, encouraging voters to see things in such transactional terms – ‘what’s in it for me?’ – plays into the hands of economic conservatives, reinforcing the notion that people can and should act as individuals in pursuit, at all times, of their own personal interests.  For a party which started out believing in collective action to build a different world to end up promoting one of the essential components of the existing one is quite some fall.


Anonymous said...

Fair play, your blog is always thoughtful and often thought-provoking. This article is an especially good example.

Mel Morgan said...

The most intelligent analysis I have seen so far. I look forward to following your comments closely in the coming year.