Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Labour could still be doomed

Too often we forget that the British Labour movement is built upon a Socialist foundation. Although Blair and Brown sought to create a new, pragmatic version of Socialism, as Harold Wilson tried to do before them, the reality remains that the deepest instincts of the Labour Party remain collectivist and tribal.


Since the fall of the Brown government in 2010, the party has struggled to address the root causes of the financial crisis- which are as much about the follies of the state as about the follies of the bankers. Until this week, the leadership of Labour rejected the idea that the only way to recovery was through austerity, preferring instead to assert that a return to growth required continuing high levels of government expenditure. Even now the slight shift in the Labour attack on the coalition still leaves Labour on the side of fiscal incontinence. 


Yet even this pretty minor shift has been greeted with rage by the Unions, which remain the core of the Labour Movement and the primary backers of the party. Eds Balls and Miliband are still trying to have it all ways. Yet this intellectual dishonesty is now coupled with a sense that the Labour leadership is losing the plot- it is not just the personal attacks on Ed Miliband, which themselves reflect unhappiness with the direction of his leadership, as much as his personal qualities.


The problem is that Labour policy is based on the deepest instincts of the Labour movement- which are at heart anti capitalist. Len McCluskey's comments reflect a deep ambivalence about the entire capitalist economic system- yet offers no answers about what any viable alternatives might be. We have to get capitalism working again -even if we can include a broader range of ownership- such as mutuals- because there is no other system realistically on offer.


It is this intellectual failure by Socialists that undermines Labour as a viable alternative government. The failure of the New Labour project now leaves the party with nothing but the threadbare nostrums of a hundred years ago. The party is out of ideas and increasingly out of energy.


There has been much gloating over the supposed demise of the Liberal Democrats since they took the difficult and dangerous decision to join the coalition. The latest polls certainly make grim reading. Yet at least the party retains its intellectual vigour- and increasingly, whatever the problems for Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband's problems seem worse. A recovery in the Liberal Democrat's  fortunes can not be ruled out. 


Neither can a further decline in Labour fortunes. The strange nature of electoral outcomes in a three party system may yet condemn Labour to further defeat. They certainly deserve it.    

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