Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Labour's pains - letting Farage in through the back door

For Labour, it seems to be forever 1994.  Blair's Thatcherism-lite was predicated on making his party a vehicle for a hypocritical neo-conservative agenda, in thrall to virtually every force that it had been brought into existence to combat.  This might have worked in the 1990s, when the sheer incompetence and lassitude of Major's administration were an easy target, but it does not create a strong reason to support a change of government next year.  For every policy announcement, diluting principle so as not to frighten the right-wing attack dogs, and temporising at the margins, there is a further reduction in both trust and credibility.

Farage's peddling of right-wing populism has a resonance with many who see politics as a corrupt, irrelevant process - not engaging with their concerns and practised by an elite group out of touch with a world in which economic numbers mean nothing, and where the alleged recovery appears to be trousered by the very people who caused the recession.  Kipper views are simplistic at best, moronic more typically, but they capture a mood of disillusion and disenfranchisement.  The absence of the Liberal tenet of taking and using power creates a vacancy which has been filled not by liberation but by a cynical authoritarianism fuelled by disillusion, fear and xenophobia.

Where Miliband has gone wrong is not articulating this.  For every focus-grouped soundbite, accurate though the "cost of living crisis" trope may be, there is no recognition of visceral anger that a rich nation should be riven with debt, unemployment, a property bubble, a tax system that favours the already-endowed and with a democratic deficit that ensures that the perpetuation of this state continues.  Labour should have been articulating hope as its centrepiece, with policies designed to achieve that.

Instead, we appear to have fiscal orthodoxy and the belief that the market system is ungovernable.  This is understandable where political discourse has been corrupted by the control of media and the vested interests of financial services.  Yet a left-liberal perspective suggests that although the market is the least bad, it is the power balances within it and before it that create the discourse - and that the measurement of success and happiness through economic growth is not enough.  Where is this being articulated by Labour?

Labour should be fighting against the twin cultures of entitlement and resentment.  Read the right-wing press and it's a narrative of immigrants allied to benefits scroungers, spiced up with worries that there might be a market correction to the South-East's housing and economic bubble.  Playing one group off against others is a perpetual tactic of ideologies peddling division and hopelessness, and this would have been a game that a more radical opposition could have won given a clear message.  To suggest that social cohesion, civil society and collaboration are a means of delivering a worthwhile change should be axiomatic for an opposition to a government dominated by sectional interest groups.

Going after bankers, property speculators and executives whose cupidity has increased even as they attack pensions, pay and put thousands onto zero-hours contracts would not just be sensible but morally justified.  Harness outrage and direct it at worthwhile targets, rather than give the impression that all you want to do is manage the current mess better.  Labour's desire not to be ideological means that it does not ask questions around privatisation and what people expect from public services, or positions these debates (for example the railways) as a means of not frightening the corporate horses, rather than as a desire to deliver the best and most effective services.

No wonder that Farage's negative and self-serving agenda has resonated - because nobody has either articulated the alternative in the mainstream or been allowed to develop alternatives.  There is a left-radical grouping that does exist, but not solely within Labour.  Harnessing this group, brining in unions, Nationalists in Scotland and Wales, the remaining Liberal radicals and others beyond the mainstream grouping is anti-tribal.  Yet it makes sense in the climate where Labour's aspiration may be only to become the largest single party.  Creating a narrative of a citizenry where rights and obligations are balanced and where there is better wealth distribution, a realism about the limits of individual endeavour and a sense of ownership is not beyond any thinker.  However, the current indications are that Labour has flunked the challenge and may well embed the Dark Ages for a further term of neo-conservative, racist dominance.