Principle and Power – the future of the Labour Party

Thirty years ago I took part in one or two student demos, collected for the miners and marched through London for the CND. The politics of protest didn’t make me join a political party. Naively, I thought I would have more impact in changing minds through the theatre company I had co-founded. I joined the Labour Party in Warminster in 1991 because I wanted to get elected to change things in my town and then across the country.

For me the Labour Party always has to be a marriage of power and principle.  

I remain very proud of what the Blair/Brown government achieved in applying Labour principles in power. The dramatic reductions in child and pensioner poverty, improvements in education and health outcomes for everyone, the minimum wage, rights at work, support for parents, peace in Northern Ireland, and much more. I am especially proud of the reaction to the global financial crisis when Gordon and Alistair together led the international response to prevent the collapse of the global economy, and returned the economy to growth by 2010.

Protest can make me feel and look good, and it can create common purpose, but on its own it rarely changes anything.  

However it is not helpful for Tony Blair, and others, to prophesy annihilation if Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership. We do need a viable alternative. Just telling people they will lose by voting for what they believe in only stiffens the resolve. People want to rally around passion and principle, and from there build support to win power.

So I do understand and respect those people who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and I now think he is likely to win.  

Jeremy is very nice, highly principled man. His is an important voice in the Labour Party. The lack of a clear alternative to austerity economics makes his very different prescription attractive.  

But it won’t work.

The world is changing very fast. Globalisation and technological change have transformed things for people. People look at the old deal that if you work hard, get a job, get a house, and save for your pension then you’ll be all right. And they understand that model is now broken.  

There is no job for life, no final salary pension. There are big worries about job security, house prices, student debt and care in a long period of old age. People want answers to these new challenges, not old answers to old problems of the seventies.

It is likely that young people leaving education will have many careers. They will need to continue dipping in and out of learning, and occasionally welfare. They will work well into their seventies. Their current best hope of owning their own home is through inheritance not thrift.  

Facing this level of uncertainty significant numbers of people are reacting against the consensus of the middle ground. The politics of UKIP and the hard left are both in the end in denial of change. They paint a picture of the certainty of the past before globalisation, a time when nation states had control over their own destiny.

The Greek government has shown that attractive anti-austerity rhetoric doesn’t work in practice, and is hurting the very people they were elected to help. If Labour Party members want a more equal society, if they want to end child and pensioner poverty, if they want people better off in work, then they need new thinking not recycled thinking.

That is challenge for all four leadership contenders and the party as a whole.  

I think the future lies in more local, more mutual solutions. At a time when local power generation schemes are starting to emerge, this is not the time to re-nationalise the power companies. Instead it is a time to make it easier for such schemes to raise finance and access the market. At a time when people are using services like Zipcar to get around we need to embrace the sharing economy in transport provision. We are even seeing a growth in meal sharing apps so that neighbours who cook too much food can give it to someone locally who needs it. Amsterdam and Kyoto have a vision as sharing cities – that is where the progressive left should be looking.

The Labour Party does need passion and principle to reappear alongside pragmatism. It needs new thinking true to its values of mutualism and social justice. But it also needs to win around 20,000 votes each in more than 325 different constituencies in 5 years time, if it wants to put new thinking into effect.

Please let’s not pretend that our own Facebook newsfeed represents a cross section of public opinion. Your newsfeed is just full of people who largely agree with you.

If we want to stop austerity economics blighting the opportunities of swathes of poor working families we must reach out beyond our comfort zone. We need to persuade those that voted for our opponents to vote Labour. We need to be credible on the economy and the level of national and personal indebtedness.  

We need a leader with the experience and ability to first unite the party and then the country around an alternative. In doing so we need someone willing to lead new thinking to new challenges.

I will be voting for Yvette Cooper. Read her speech today in full http://www.yvetteforlabour.co.uk/manchester_speech_text


5 thoughts on “Principle and Power – the future of the Labour Party

  1. I agree with most of the points made by Jim Knight except his final recommendation.

    Yvette Cooper along with the other right wing leadership candidates are up to their eyes in responsibility for the mess that Labour finds itself in. Their acceptance of the neo liberal world view; their acceptance of the Tory narrative throughout the general election campaign; and their inability to defend the Labour record particularly on the economy was soul destroying for those of us who in some small way tried to support Labour during that campaign.

    Banking failure NOT public expenditure created the financial crash and UK Debt: http://www.reasonandreality.org/?p=4137

    • Yvette was part of the response to the banking crisis when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. That response was not austerity it was investment in the Future Jobs Fund, in housing and national infrastructure. It created growth and reversed unemployment rises. We should be prouder of that.

  2. Thirty years ago I rejoined the Labour Party, collected food for miners’ families, got elected as Cllr for a Tory held seat we’d never won before.

    I was Agent, an unpaid full timer for a few years.

    I left in 1987 shortly after Denzil Davies and Niel Kinnock switched the anti nuclear policy from unilateral to pick twixt multi and unilateral nuclear disarmament in mid election campaign.

    I had less problem with that than most, but it was shilly shallying in an election, how can people support incompetence?

    I joined the Greens, for a year before moving. One of my candidates got the highest vote share of any in the country in a straight CC fight with a Tory, losing sadly.

    I rejoined Labour 2007, knowing my help would be needed, Blair was not going to last.

    Now I fear Labour is making worse decisions than in 1983, when there was no clearly good leadership candidate as Cooper is now. I then supported Eric Heffer, an honest man deserving respect as imo his successor now does not.

    I think I shall stay and fight. The insurgency of trots, Tories, Green Party, anarchists, Marxists has to be changed, or removed, and Corbyn likewise.

  3. Jim, I thought your analysis and ideas for the future were very interesting and would love to see these being the basis for a new vision for Labor. But they are not being presented as such by those in a position to. I am supporting Jeremy for a number of reasons which include policy, authenticity and integrity. I would have supported A.N. Other with these qualities plus a more futuristic vision but there is no candidate. What Yvette and the others say is far from visionary and still bound up in lack of courage. Lets give Jeremy his chance and put some younger blood alongside him to carry socialism forward, perhaps tinged with their (and maybe some of your) ideas. He has demonstrated one thing nobody else has: the ability to engage people. We need this in Labour, Coast and Country and must hope that as a metropolitan MP he can be encouraged to bring us hicks from the sticks into his compass.

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