Don’t Bank On The Labour Left

_62689944_62689943Today an interesting article in The Guardian got me thinking about days gone by.

The piece started off imaginatively, which was sort of the point. The writer postulated a scenario where a future Labour government uses its powers on the Lloyds Bank board to veto the bonuses paid out to its top executives. The writer admitted this was “unlikely.”

Well yes, that’s one way of putting it.

It was the next paragraph that really caught my attention though, the one where he quoted a Shadow Treasury minister who spoke on the issue this week.

The person he quoted was Cathy Jamieson, the MP for Kilmarnock and Louden, allegedly one of the “leading lights” on Labour’s left flank. This is what she had to say, on the spectacle of the bank – which the state still part owns – giving its boss £11.4 million in pay and bonuses.

“People will be rightly taken aback by the huge scale of the bonuses being paid – especially when Lloyds continues to be part-owned by the taxpayer.” That was it. That was the extent of her remarks … a carefully worded statement that offered no hint as to what the opposition party thought of these payments … just a suggestion that the voters might not like it.

And you know what, Cathy? We don’t.

What some of us like even less is the Labour Party’s spineless attitude towards these greedy, grasping bankers, the very people who plunged this country into the financial crisis the vast bulk of us still struggle to come to terms with.

Of course, if we worked in the City of London that wouldn’t be such an issue.

For years I’ve listened to people on the left of the Labour Party telling us about the country we could have and the world we could live in, if only more of us were willing to sit in cold committee rooms and post leaflets for preferred candidates and vote the party line in elections.

Throughout all of it, I watched as numerous left wing MP’s found themselves in front bench posts where they were forced to swallow every right hand turn the government orchestrated. They were then marched out, like sacrificial lambs, and made to defend those moves not only to their own constituents but to the wing of the party they called home.

And at every stage, they told us that progress was being made. For who, exactly?

During the first term of the 1997 New Labour government, they swallowed single parent benefits.

They accepted that the minimum wage would be paid at a lower rate to younger workers. They sat through the Bank of England being handed control over interest rates.

In the second term they were virtually mute as Mandelson slandered blue collar folks, and they allowed Tony Blair to slam public service officials with his “scars on my back” comments.

This isn’t my way of saying they are mute and cowardly. Indeed, many of them spoke up over these issues. Others were the ones making the announcements. What I’m trying to say is that the left won precisely none of its battles, and today’s piece in The Guardian is important because it gives us a broad indication of what even that branch of Labour is offering us as we go into the coming campaign.

In short; they are offering nothing at all but a bunch of management speak, spoonfed to them by the leadership.

The fight is over. They weren’t even in it. They’ve been routed.

The Labour left has been neutered and shut out of the national conversation. The UK party issues statements on everything from the colour of a dress doing the rounds on the internet to its view on who killed Lucy Beale … but on a subject of huge social, economic and political significance it sends forth a lone spokesperson to basically fob us off with empty rhetoric.

Last week, the party was in convulsions over Ed Miliband’s announcement that they’d be reducing tuition fees in England from £9000 a year to £6000 a year. That’s another interesting case in point.

Because this is what passes for “progressive” in the Labour Party now – putting a kid in £24,000 of debt for pursuing educational opportunities rather than having him or her wind up £36,000 in debt – and yet it sent an earthquake tremor right through the parliamentary ranks.

Former cabinet ministers were suddenly lining up to say what a bad idea it was. Party “grandees”, who haven’t been heard from since they were opposing the Mansion Tax, started popping up all over the TV and in the papers like fungal spores. Backbench MP’s were grumbling in annonymous cowardice to their favourite pet journalists, talking about how much damage it would do to their re-election prospects.

They are self interested swine, and nothing more. But they weren’t being silent self interested swine.

You know who was missing from the newsrooms and the broadcasting studios? The left. There was not a single voice from their wing suggesting that fees should be abolished entirely, and this isn’t simply because the news media won’t let them on. The very idea that the press wouldn’t air a very public breach in the Labour ranks is ludicrous.

In the name of “loyalty” they let the party run over them like a tank.

They used to be loyal to their ideas. To their politics. To their beliefs. Do they even have any now?

The left of the Labour Party has never been less capable, or willing, to mount a challenge against the direction of the tide. They are simply overmatched. I understand that. What I don’t understand is why they go on, why they still allow the party to use them as its human shields. Thinking about Cathy Jamieson issuing a mealy-mouthed half-regret about banking bonuses is nauseating.

Where are the voices articulating exactly what the public thinks of the people who got us here? That they are criminals. That far from being bailed out a lot of them should have been jailed.

I always think you know who the really good left wing Labourites are by the fact they leave.

One such guy up here was John Park, who was elected on the list system in the 2007 Scottish elections and decided not to stand again in 2012, despite being tipped as a rising star.

John, who I know from my STUC days, is back doing what he loves, representing ordinary people on the ground, with the trade union Community.

I can’t speak for John’s reasons for going, but I suspect he understood the limitations that would be imposed on him when it came to actually helping folk. He went “back to the coalface” because that’s where a guy with his talents – and they are many – can do the most good.

When I first realised that my hopes for politics in this country were not going to be realised by the Labour Party I felt profoundly sad, as if I’d lost someone I cared about.

I mean that literally, it was like a death in the family or something.

It took me a while to reconcile myself to that, but I have never wavered since from my steadfast belief that looking to them is a waste of time and putting faith in them is an exercise in self delusion.

In an independent Scotland, that party would have been able to reform and rebuild and re-examine its priorities. I do believe that, although I shudder to think of what priorities might have emerged since the election of Jim Murphy as leader.

He has brought to that role every bit of skill I knew he possessed; headline chasing, media whoring and distorting facts with every breath he takes. I told friends some months ago that the fun would start, the real fun, when Jim actually had to talk politics, when he was forced to actually put concrete proposals down … and we’re still waiting for those.

But forgive me if I can infer from what I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks and what I read today that what we won’t get, either from Miliband or his Scottish attack dog Murphy, is anything too radical or too appealing to the base.

The base itself is no longer there. We continue to drift in directions more suited to our own beliefs.

Labour hovers at between 30-35% nationally. Elections can be won on that share of the vote – as appalling as that sounds for democracy – but a government that secures a number that anaemic can’t claim a mandate for genuine reforms or changes, even if it were proposing these things, which you can’t have helped but notice Labour really isn’t.

Moving to the left could secure Labour the votes it needs to be a genuine party of government, standing on its own two feet with a majority to push those changes through. This is the one, sure-fire, means that I know of stopping the SNP surge in its tracks and securing a parliamentary victory that consigns Cameron to the dustbin of also-rans and his government of vicious bastards with him.

They won’t, not even when they know it’ll put them over the top. That speaks volumes. It’s no longer in this party’s DNA to be radical.

Labour is wedded to the “middle ground”. On the right flank.

I see no sign of life on the left, and no sign that this will change. It really is a wasteland now.

That’s a sad indictment of people I once bet everything I believed on.

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2 comments on “Don’t Bank On The Labour Left
  1. James,
    With regards to the left being a wasteland, I agree as long as the comment is restricted to the Labour Party. I think the left is populated and vibrant in Scotland.

    From the centre left with the SNP (Not Tartan Tories as some might like you to believe); the Greens and a smattering of socialist parties.

    I don’t see any problem with the rise of the SNP in terms of the GE. I think it is the only way Scotland might get something approaching the political left!

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