Sunday, 10 May 2015

For a new progressive alliance to be born, Labour must die

In the last few weeks, Green supporters like me were pressured to ‘swap’ our votes or simply vote Labour to stop the Tories – not a positive message, not based on hope, not based on policy – purely based on fear. But it truly was ‘vote for the lesser of two evils’, where Labour were just Tories with the volume turned down. And no doubt many thousands of Green voters did exactly that – even here in Cambridge we saw split votes, voting Green locally and Labour nationally. The reason why Labour lost was not the Greens – it was their lack of opposition, failure to provide an alternative and wholesale acceptance of the Tory version of the truth.

Labour embraced the ‘deficit’ narrative buying into the way this was distorted by the Tories where ‘deficit’ was somehow equated conceptually with household debt. We built the welfare state, provided free education with a deficit and real debt much higher than we have currently. There is no external pressure to pay this fake debt back either – no giant bailiffs at the door. This has everything to do with profit, and the way our economy works, which is no longer based on production but the creation and movement of money. Yet Labour never questioned this, never opposed it. Their shadow chancellor accepted Tory fiscal policy and Labour MPs voted with the government for a further £30bn in cuts.

In truth, the policy of austerity is driven by two things – to stabilize and maximize the profit margins in the City, restoring confidence in UK banks; and a neo-liberalist ideology to destroy the welfare state.

Across the board Labour abandoned their principles and own ideology in favour of what they called ‘centrist’ but what I would see as a right-wing populism, in some cases even adopting versions of UKIP policies. They carved ‘immigration control’ on a stone tablet; bought into the continuing right-wing denigration of the teaching profession, continuing the OFSTED reign of terror and introducing idiotic ideas like the ‘teacher MOT’ and ‘oath’; replaced the bedroom tax with youth tax; deserted the poor for ‘working families’; only disputed Trident on the basis of precisely how many WMDs they’d like: - the list goes on.

When a political party abandons ideology and principles simply to garner the maximum number of votes, what does it become? How can it retain any identity, or more critically, how does it remain distinct from other parties and offer an alternative?

I think what we have seen here is that it cannot. If you admit the same fiscal problems and follow the same solutions as another party, but offer a toned-down version of the same solution, what do you think the electorate will do? Vote for the full version of the solution to this problem you have admitted, or for the non-committed version that you offer?

 -You accept that fracking is a good thing for the country and the economy, but with ‘conditions’. The Tories say the same thing but will go full on. What’s the option for the voter?

 -Tories say that the NHS needs private capital. You agree, but will limit it to just 5%. Why?

Another terrible mistake was buying into the Tory narrative that the Scots are the ‘enemy within’. The betrayal of the Scots by the Labour party during and immediately after the Indyref was inexcusable, but then to add insult to injury by admitting that another Tory government would be preferable to any deal with the SNP – Labour was deservedly eradicated.

When Nicola Sturgeon – not even standing in this election in Scotland – won the Leaders’ Debate hands-down amongst even the English electorate, Labour possibly recognized then, too late, they had made a horrific mistake. Painting the anti-austerity SNP as rebels and secessionists and as a threat to England (and even democracy!) was their only option. The SNP didn’t stand on a devolution ticket in this election. They stood proudly and firmly against the Tories, they provided a real alternative and true opposition. And they sent ‘proud Edward’s army home tae think again’!

It has been said that for the Syriza alliance and Podemos to grow in Greece and Spain, their Labour parties had to die. In many ways, the Labour party of old, to which we owe a great debt of gratitude, died with John Smith. Blair was a thatcherite populist, to put it politely, and yet as the Labour exec casts about for identity, they are forgetting his crimes and crediting him with ‘Labour’s‘ last electoral win. But the memory of Labour is only disgraced by Blair, and to credit him with anything other than the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands is sickeningly deluded.

Now is the right time for a new alliance, and a new party to be born from the ashes – a rebirth of true labour. But only the death of the party will ensure that the base will switch allegiance, forced to admit that the Labour Party no longer represents them or their best interests, and look to a new party on the basis of ideology and policy – the fundamental elements that create the distinctive identity of a political party -  and which make it electable.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Revolution Betrayed - Russell Brand and the Labour Party

Today Russell Brand reversed his previous decision about participating in the election, and despite acknowledging earlier the radical characteristics of the Green Party, encouraged his followers to vote for Miliband’s Labour Party – everywhere apart from Caroline Lucas’ constituency of Brighton Pavilion.

Brand’s main argument is that the Greens by their own admission are disadvantaged by the current electoral system and would be unable to form a government in this election, and so to prevent the Tories remaining in power, vote Labour. Though there may be many disagreeable Labour policies that Brand could ‘have a go’ at Miliband about, this is the key issue.

However, for those of us who have watched Labour turn from any vestige of principle to further and further right of centre, there are now red lines that we cannot cross. Things like: ideological austerity and the £30bn in additional cuts that Labour have signed up to; the overwhelming focus solely on ‘working families’ and their stated abandonment of the poor; continued Goveism extended into teacher ‘MOTs’; Trident and interventionism; fracking, road building, airport expansion and HS2. These are not mere quibbles. Nor do we believe that a party that now sets policy according to executive decision, focus groups and the populism of the Daily Mail is likely to pay any attention to its base support or protest groups – particularly when its current drive to the right has been seemingly endorsed by the electorate.

Brand’s sudden volte-face isn’t just unexpected in that it goes against everything he has previously exhorted in his public appearances at rallies for the People’s Assembly, what he wrote in his book and said in The Trews – it appears cynically staged. The way the remaining part of his interview with Miliband was held back until now, less than three days before the election, doesn’t appear the work of some radical revolutionary but the design of a professional campaign manager.  Has Brand’s appropriation by the Establishment been that complete? Are his Revolution and the Trews now reduced to the same status as the fawning celebrity millionaire endorsements of Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman?

Does Brand really believe that the Ed Miliband who carves ‘immigration control’ in stone, who would rather see Cameron in office rather than do any kind of deal with the SNP, who believes in the ‘contributory principle’ – would spare even 5 minutes for the E15 mothers? He couldn’t even been bothered supporting the CARE UK strikers despite some of them being his own constituents! Nicknamed ‘Red Ed’ by the Tory press, the Labour party he leads shares nothing but the name with the party that fought for worker’s rights and established the welfare state.

What’s worse, is that if we follow the same idea of voting for the ‘lesser evil’, then the status quo will never change, and Brand’s revolution will be dead in the water – the real momentum and thirst for change, the reawakening of the political zeal we cheered with the Indyref, will once again be proved ineffectual and pointless. And thereby ultimately defeating his entire campaign, both now and in the future.

I was at the Class Conference at the TUC last year, where the anger of Labour supporters and trade unionists about the way their party was headed was nothing less than visceral. Policies they wanted to see, as I noted at the time, were things like free education and nationalizing the railways – all established Green policies. Yet I’ll bet these supporters won’t be voting Green or even TUSC – they’ll be ‘holding their noses’ and voting Labour again. And instead of going back to their communities, shop floors and offices and advising their comrades to engage with the policies and vote with their consciences, these members of the Labour base will be blindly voting Labour once again, without even knowing that the party their grandfathers fought for no longer exists.

And so I’d ask again, whilst activists (and I’d include brand and Owen Jones in this) continue to support the status quo just to keep out the Tories, they would have no progress made, no revision of policy, no groundswell of protest against the executive, and the biggest winners from all this? The Tories. They win all ways – by keeping down the proles and using Labour to ‘mitigate their expectations’, and by shifting Labour more and more into a carbon-copy of the Tory party.

The revolution Brand and Jones have betrayed is not just the one that they have helped foster. A phrase that Jones uses often is, ‘we stand on the shoulders of giants’. It is also their revolution that we betray by voting for the status quo.

So I would say, the time for real revolution in politics is now. We have the potential for an influential anti-austerity alliance to pull the Labour party back to the left, a true Green Surge which makes the Greens the third biggest national party in the UK and the biggest Green Party in all of Europe. Brand thinks you should vote Green for Caroline Lucas. But we have the real possibility of two or three more Carolines in parliament backed up by scores if not hundreds of councilors. Looking at all the things that one Green MP achieved, think what could be done by even two more. That’s what we have to achieve, and we can only do it with the courage and conviction to make REAL change and make it now. There will never be a better time.