Diane spoke for the left in the hustings and shifted the debate away from the ground where the heir to Blair position felt comfortable. Since then the Party has felt more at ease with itself. Despite occasional hiccups, Ed has shown himself to be more of a unifying leader, at ease with the Party’s centre and who can even listen to the left.
Ed’s recent speech at the Durham Miners Gala proved immensely popular, from the grassroots to the parliamentary party (PLP). It reaffirmed the Party’s trade union link and put him in touch with Labour’s heart.
Labour now has a substantial lead amongst the electors. Ed has overtaken Cameron in popularity, and the Thatcherite fifth column in the form of “Progress” has been exposed for what it is by the trade unions. Its millionaire backers are continuing to fund constituency selections for their favoured candidates, but at least Party members now have no illusions about its nature.
The best news is that the Tories have blown it and are unlikely to recover. The billionaires’ budget and savage spending cuts driving the economy into double dip recession (with the possibility of a decade of “depression” according to the IMF) has destroyed the Tories’ credibility. My Tory constituency neighbour, Nadine Dorries, attacking the “posh boys” has also helped and the voters are looking to kick them out a.s.a.p.
There have been a number of similar step changes in public opinion in the past and, once they happen, the victor in that contest normally goes on to win the subsequent election. Michael Foot’s big electoral lead was overturned by Thatcher’s victory in the Falklands War before 1983, and Major’s Tories were destroyed by the collapse of their disastrous ERM strategy in 1992.
That step change has now happened to Cameron’s Tories. But our own Party leaders now have to be asked “where’s the beef”? (Apologies to vegetarians for the carnivorous metaphor.) What indeed are our policies for the future? What is to be done to rebuild from the ruins of Tory Britain?
Mocking Cameron at the despatch box is great to watch and Ed has done well, but voters are asking on the doorstep what our policies are? Tory bashing alone is not enough and implying that smaller cuddly Labour cuts would be OK but nasty big Tory cuts are not is absolutely wrong. All cuts are deflationary when what is needed is reflation and in particular additional spending in areas of high labour intensity to bring down unemployment. Construction and the public services are just such areas, precisely those which the Tories are cutting.
The whole Party must now engage in the process of developing policies for victory next time, and those policies should be advanced and promoted at Conference, not simply decided by faceless apparatchiks behind closed doors. The leadership must listen to Labour’s grassroots, to trade unionists and working people across the board, to families with children, to pensioners and to young people. And the Left must also be heard. Re-democratising Conference is vital in that process. Conference in recent years has become a dull and lifeless rally for the leadership, not a democratic policy maker for socialism.
Ed has shown himself to be a listening leader and a number of us on the left in Parliament have had discussions with him from time to time. (I personally never had a discussion with Blair or Brown, although I have to say this was a mutually agreeable arrangement!)
The voters have done with Thatcherism in all its forms. Neo-liberal capitalism has brought us close to disaster and worse is still to come. It is indeed time to bring forward a bold, democratic socialist programme to clinch Labour’s victory at the next election.
This article first appeared in Campaign Briefing, CLPD’s annual newsletter, sent out to CLPs.