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How many million votes for socialism?

When one of us suggests that the Labour Party should be more resolute and radical in its policy proposals, it doesn’t take long for detractors to start crying ‘8 million votes for Socialism’, in a clear reference to the 1983 general election defeat. Their whine seeks to identify those of us on the Left of this party as out-of-touch and our policies as outdated and unpopular. But the truth of the matter is the other way around.

Never before has laissez faire neo-Blairism been so out-of-touch. On the other hand, policies such as renationalisation of utilities and bold increases in the top tax rate, derided by the media and probably most of the Shadow Cabinet as far-left, are immensely popular according to recent polls. Surprisingly (or maybe not), these polls have not been met by any effort to place the party more in line with popular opinion. Is it perhaps that in today’s twisted democracy, popular opinion is only respected if and when it embraces the neo-liberal consensus? As the general election of 2015 approaches, Labour can no longer afford to continue in blatant disregard of people’s yearning for radical and urgent change.

Across the Atlantic, we have evidence of exactly the kind of leader that Ed Miliband could, and I think, wants to be. Like Ed Miliband, Hugo Chavez recognised that the old ways of doing politics were obsolete. But unlike Ed Miliband, he wasn’t afraid of hurting sensibilities. He was determined to change his country, and he was certain of how he was going to do it. His confidence seeped out and inspired people everywhere. That’s why he defeated the bipartisan rotativism that dominated Venezuelan politics before 1998. That’s why the protest of millions defeated the 2002 rightist counter-revolution. And that’s why in every election since 1998, all of which the United Nations declared fair, Chavez increased his total number of votes.

The way Chavez made it was by engaging with those the politics of old left behind. His 21st-century socialism energised and mobilised working families, the social base of any left-of-center political movement. It was this social base that we lost in the New Labour years and that we have been ever so desperately trying to reconnect with. It’s in Ed Miliband’s hands to do so, or otherwise continue uncomfortably stuck between New Labour and real Labour.

In Britain, families are desperately attempting to make ends in defiance of steeply rising rents and bills. In-work poverty is an enormous problem, to which we can add the plight of those in precarious or zero-hour contracts. While the popularity of the ‘cost-of-living crisis’ campaign demonstrates that Ed Miliband understands the predicament of working people, Russell Brand’s equally popular railings against establishment politics are indicting of our failure to provide solutions and to persuade that we can deliver.

It’s a concern commonly heard on the doorstep. While knocking doors last week, one citizen’s remarks particularly stuck with me. While he agreed with the energy price freeze, he wasn’t convinced Ed Miliband would deliver. It is a lack of confidence that has at its foundation a deeper problem, indeed what R.H. Tawney expressed as the “gravest weakness of British Labour” – lack of creed and hesitation in action.

When Chucka Umunna says that “Labour believes zero-hours contracts should be the exception, not the rule”, we appear to be clueless and feed the disillusion with politics of those victimised by this very Victorian and horrific practice. The same could be said of our refusal to commit to raise the minimum wage to the Living Wage, or to reverse the privatisation of the Royal Mail. Most crucially to our efforts, our indecision wins the Labour Party no votes. It demoralises our supporters and crushes their faith that a Labour government can make a difference. On election day, those supporters will not turn out and the BBC Presenter will not keep repeating ‘Labour gain’.

The challenges are colossal and there is no easy solution. We know that, and the wider public knows that. But hesitation is no solution. We cannot tip-toe towards One Nation Britain.  A more resolute and more radical Ed Miliband would rally the apathetic working class to vote and meanwhile, build the mass movement for change that we need to resist all the obstacles that will lie ahead of the truly transformative Labour government Ed Miliband wants to lead.

In the face of the adversity and uncertainty of our times, people are looking out for resolve and courage from their leaders, something David Cameron has not and can not offer them. Let us hope Ed Miliband will.

4 Comments

  1. Jed Bland says:

    The question is, do we as a country have the guts?

    The financial world will seek to punish us by crippling us financially, as it did when John Major tried to enter the ERM, and other times when Labour won at an election.

    Why you dont often hear is the hardships South American countries and Iceland went through before they won themselves a stable economy.

    Where will we find a strong leader?

  2. John Reid says:

    Excluding the Chavez ,copprtion,who’s legacy isn’t as popular with his Country as you believe,
    And taking in you’re right about Chuka!

    The 1983 manifesto didn’t even include renationalising, except buying back council homes at the price they were sold for,

    At the risk of sounding controversial, Churchicll nationalised the breweries, Heath rolls Royce, Brwon Northern rock! and well technically he seized hold of them by force but event he third reich nationalised things, so saying nationalisation is a left wing thingies wrong,

    A lot of the seeds of losing in 83 was down to the debt of the country and paying interest on it,
    From the 74-79 government that became ompregnated in the public mind we weren’t fit to rule, that despite the current poll lead is the Rosetta Stone that we will need to over come to install with the public if we are prepared to buy our way out of debt,

  3. ray davison says:

    Deprivatisation and degreedification of the utilities including the Royal Mail should drive our 2015 manifesto policies but the population in general does not appear to be ready for this heady radicalism. The hill we climb will not be climbed by self delusion, perhaps unfortunately. The Labour leadership will never be like the SWP.

  4. Robert says:

    Labour is like a child running around falling over and playing with toys Miliband is pretty much clueless and sees band wagons as the way back into power, and I do not vote for band wagons I vote for policies.

    The Tories are giving us a vote on the EU good for them, and they are hammering down on the poorest, not be out done Labour gets a banker to hammer down on the same group.

    Labour or Tories or as people around me call them Tory Lite against the Tories.

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