Ed Miliband has had his clause IV moment. Apparently. He’s standing up to the GMB Union (well, kind of) in their recent motion to ban (sort of) the Blairite organisatiion Progress, from the Labour party. Or something.
It’s very important to the Labour party. They’ve all been bickering about it on twitter for days. Well, that, and the call Brown did or didn’t have with Murdoch where he threatened ‘war.’ Guido Fawkes has reported that Peter Mandelson told him the call did happen. (You can see why, after months of telling people how pointless and irrelevant Leveson was, a whole pile of Guido Fawkes types have suddenly decided it’s interesting after all, can’t you?) The Cabinet Office seemed to confirm Brown’s story that it didn’t. And now, Alistair Campbell’s diaries are explaining the details of the ego sandpit-slaps between Blair, Brown and Balls. Stop the presses! Apparently Blair said Brown was “brilliant, ambitious, and bonkers!” Well done you, Labour. You’ve really got your PR pants on straight, haven’t you? I mean, if the personal fighting of Mandelson, Brown, the GMB Union and Progress doesn’t get you rocking in excitement then what will.
Presumably every time Labour activists are on the doorstep voters say: “well, I do hope you’ve decided what your position is on Purple Book?” Or, “Personally, I find that ‘In The Black Labour’ is much more convincing than Blue Labour. Apparently there’s something called Orange Labour but I’ve never liked the colour Orange. I hope your next manifesto comes out with a striped cover. That would make me vote for you. This is all very important to me. And please make sure you denounce that think tank Progress. They are funded by pharmaceutical companies and they are similar to that group Militant from way back when. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Watching the Labour party at the moment is like watching a drunken fish trying to climb a tree. I say this with all the greatest of respect: what the bloody hell is the party doing? I mean, on the day Stephen Hester got his unpopular, controversial bonus, Ed Miliband made a speech about chocolate oranges, thus reminding everybody of why they actually all bloody well love capitalism; instant access to cheap tasty chocolate being a key plus. When the budget proved a (rather foreseeable) public relations disaster for George Osborne, the Labour party managed to make themselves almost sound even worse than the government as they struggled to articulate what they would actually do instead, repeating the line about the 50p rate of tax cut being a tax cut for millionaires (even though the top rate starts at £150,000) and then refusing to commit to reinstating it anyway. When it emerged that unpaid Jubilee stewards were left to pitch tents under a bridge at 3am, John Prescott and Tom Watson spoke up about it, but the Labour leader? Did he denounce it as an example of this ‘irresponsible capitalism’ he made a speech about? Because taxpayers’ money subsiding free workers in terrible conditions is a somewhat better example of irresponsible capitalism than selling a cheap chocolate orange, surely? Did he stand up for those unpaid workers? No. He made a speech about the importance of being English.
Not that his Englishness speech bored everyone. It prompted a lovely squabbling match amongst Labour activists about whether the left should talk about nationalism more. It’s true that the Labour party have lost a lot of voters to the BNP because of their immigration policies which were seen as too lax, and whether that’s fair or not, they were certainly chaotic and poorly defined. But they also lost a lot to the Liberal Democrats over Iraq and civil liberties, something they would, in spite of the Liberal Democrats’ single digit polling, do well to keep in mind.
The Labour party’s problem isn’t that they’re not talking about Englishness enough, any more than their problem is that they aren’t saying enough to denounce unions like GMB, or that voters are associating them with Progress. It’s funny that the same voices aching over whether investigations into possible corruption like Leveson and even issues like equal marriage are relevant to what they patronisingly call ‘ordinary people’ outside the ‘Westminster village’ or the ‘metropolitan elites’ (a painfully self-regarding argument that can go and piss on itself, frankly) are pulling their pants down and getting comfy on the sofa over arguments about a possible ban which won’t happen anyway on a group most people have actually never heard of within Labour.
It’s not that the party doesn’t need to resolve the Tony Blair problem – or, more specifically, the Iraq problem. As long as that war is bloodying the map and gobbling up human lives, they will have to beg hard for forgiveness. They may never get it. There are people who can’t forgive Thatcher for her divisive policies. I don’t think I can really forgive the Tories who voted through Section 28. And it strikes me that although some of those Labour politicians who voted for the war like Andy Burnham, or those like Ed Balls who say they supported it at the time but “would be against it if they knew then what they know now” voted ‘very strongly’ against any kind of an inquiry into it, and ultimately, accepted Tony Blair as leader because, like it or not, they were elected on his coattails. They aren’t going to win back many of those votes by flicking peas at each other over the dinner table. They’ll get back our votes by acting as if they know how to run the country.
A sensible, alternative economic policy would be a good start. Labour have said they can’t promise to reverse Tory cuts, won’t reinstate the 50p tax rate, and aren’t going to protect public sector pay. They won’t stand up for strikers or make any constructive criticisms about the Welfare Reform Bill. They won’t explain properly whether they actually support the Lib Dem policy initiative of raising the personal tax threshold. Would they put these taxes back up against for the poorest if elected? After all, this is the party that scrapped the 10p tax rate. It’s too much to expect a fully calculated budget years before a general election but it’s not too much to expect them to actually criticise the coalition budget in a coherent, consistent way, especially when it presented such a gaping own goal for them.
People like leaders who have confidence. Most people don’t know how the economy can be fixed. Even experts don’t agree. Most people like to think the treasury is run by someone who knows, vaguely, what they’re doing. George Osborne isn’t getting results, but his dogmatic confidence is overwhelming. When it comes down to it, an awful lot of people will instinctively feel safer with someone who has an arrogant swagger than someone who can’t make up their own mind about what they think.
Sometimes the Labour party give the impression that the fun and games of politics is of more interest than running the country. That’s all well and good for a while but the country actually deserves a decent Labour party with workable economic policies and a strong, credible voice against stark-staring injustices like workfare. With affection in my voice I say to the Labour party that they all need to be hit with a stick and kicked up the backside. Come on. Don’t make me vote Liberal Democrat again.