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Do we lack ideology within the Labour Party?

Oldlabour logoI recently heard about a working paper that Eliane Glaser had written for the New Economics Foundation. In this Glaser writes about neoliberalism, how she feels politicians and the media reject political ideology as no longer relevant to our pragmatic political culture and about grassroots political alternatives. What interests me, is what this means for the Labour Party?

I personally feel that the Conservative Party have a definite ideology and we have often heard Labour Party MPs criticising cuts, the rolling back of the state and the wish to sell off the East Coast Main Line as ideologically driven. The question is: where is our ideology?

I feel that the abandonment of the nationalising principles of the original Clause IV represented a break with ideology and a movement to Tony Blair’s Third Way analysis based on pragmatism. This allowed a generation of politicians to come up through the Labour back offices, who rather thinking about big ideas, looked to scrabble over the centre ground with micro-policies and create a couple of day’s column inches or embarrass the opposition in the papers.

I have long heard people criticising policy making at the modern Labour Party conferences but I think the problems are at the local level too. I remember a former MP complaining to me that at constituency Labour party (CLP) meetings, all we discuss are fundraising and campaigning. He went on to tell me that when he was a member of the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), they had political reading and education. I am certainly not saying that we should be more like the SWP but I think there is a need for greater discussion of policy and ideology at the CLP and branch level.

Interestingly, I attended a Labour Party grassroots policy event in Edinburgh in June. I thought the event was really good but what worried me was that after the first member made a policy suggestion that involved greater public spending, the two sitting MSP’s said that there was no public appetite for an increase in taxation so we are looking to do more with what we have. What this essentially meant was these are the rules you have to accept before you can make policy suggestions. I found this incredibly constraining but in helped me further understand why Labour policy is usually just tinkering around the edges and making efficiencies. It also highlighted the culture in which anyone looking to propose an ideologically driven policy is essentially told that they need a reality check.

I think coupled with this issue is the fact that is very hard to become an elected representative. People have to work really hard to win over a constituency’s Party members and as a result, winners win. What is more interesting is at the Party leadership level, there are people who have had to battle to win more and are even more successful. I feel it gets to a point where success becomes the most important thing and any ideology is completely thrown out the window. For example, no Party member could say that Labour’s policy soundings over immigration or government cuts have been driven by ideology as they are very obviously pragmatic policies to defend against attack from the Conservatives. What is unfortunate is that these kinds of policies are constantly raised as an example of the Labour Party’s ideology by Yes campaigners in the build up to the Scottish independence referendum.

The argument could be made that if right-wing immigration policies are thought to be popular we should adopt them as that is how democracy works. However, I think we have a problem with ideology outside of political circles too. How else could you explain the popular support for personalities such as Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, other than people not understanding their political ideologies? In addition to this the public constantly complain about the bickering of Prime Minister’s Questions and want them to stop squabbling and get on with sorting out our economy. I personally feel that the opposite is true and unless they bicker more – about bigger ideological issues – we will continue to have this kind of unstable economy.

This all sounds very negative but that really is not my intention. I do not know anybody in the Labour Party that is a supporter of unbridled capitalism yet we need ideology beyond that of purely disagreeing with the opposition. I implore our elected representatives to say enough is enough, for members with politics to be inspired to stand as representatives themselves and for them together, lead our movement forward. The Conservative Party’s ideology always delivers for their interests, it is time we embraced ideology again and delivered for ours.

This article previously appeared at Revitalise Scottish Labour


  1. Chris says:

    Labour and the left in general are all about reacting to what the right does.

    Stop X, resist Y, defend Z.

    That’s what losers do.

    It’s not good enough. We should be the ones making the reforms, imposing our agenda on the country.

  2. Chris Lovett says:

    You are joking, yes? FFS, become what my generation voted for and want NOW. A left party. Take back what we own, the Railway, Energy, Water at a minimum. Suggest all this and you will win.

    1. Robert says:

      Why not are you saying what we have now is working, it’s not.

      1. Chris Lovett says:

        I simply don’t understand your comment. What we have now is privatisation – which is clearly not working for us, only for the companies and shareholders.


    At a Special Conference in April 1995, the Labour Party voted to update Clause IV of its Constitutional Rules. With the passage of time and underhand propaganda by some to produce the effect you could be forgiven for thinking that Clause IV was ditched altogether. Not so ! Right now in the midst of a fear engendering and scapegoating political climate, it is a good time to restate the Labour Party’s official Aims and Values. Here they are:-

    Aims and Values

    1. The Labour Party is a democratic socialist Party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few; where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe and where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

    2. To these ends we work for:-

    A) A DYNAMIC ECONOMY, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper with a thriving private sector and high-quality public services where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them.

    B) A JUST SOCIETY, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear, and justice at work; which nurtures families, promotes equality of opportunity, and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power.

    C) AN OPEN DEMOCRACY, in which government is held to account by the people, decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed.

    D) A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations.

    3. Labour is committed to the defence and security of the British people and to co-operating in European institutions, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and other international bodies to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.

    4. Labour shall work in pursuit of these aims with trade unions and co-operative societies and also with voluntary organisations, consumer groups and other representative bodies.

    5. On the basis of these principles, Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.

    1. Robert says:

      Labour a socialist party it could have fooled me.

      Today labour is more and more a copy of the Tories a mini Tory party with a group at it’s center which is Progress a Blair -rite copy of Thatcher.

    2. PoundInYourPocket says:

      It was always a grand fudge.
      1. “a democratic socialist party”
      Ah.. so Labour IS a socialist party and believes in socialism (the common ownership of the means of production).
      Oh dear – it’s not a socialist party ?
      So what is it ? A party of social democracy, which isn’t a “socialist” party. It’s a fudge.

      1. Ken Smith says:

        According to John Prescott’s biography Blair wanted to remove a democratic socialist party. Prescott argued to keep it in because it would upset too many on the left within the party.

  4. Pauline Sharp says:

    The Tory party abuse the vulnerable and the Labour Party should be shouting from the rooftops that .we will support them. Yes we are lacking ideology. Where are our roots why are we not shouting shouting shouting. I despair.

  5. David Ellis says:

    Every political party needs its vision of the good life. New Labour’s vision of the good life is a small cabal of priveleged MPs and Ministers devoid of any manifesto promises or pressure from its voting base to fulfill them if there were any gathering in as much money from their own personal corruption as it is humanly possible to do. And of course they are ably assisted by a trade union bureaucracy that wants nothing more than a docile, dues paying membership and lots and lots of government grants.

  6. swatantra says:

    As Maureen Lipman used to say… ‘You want ideololgies … I’ve got an armful of them!’
    Lets see some Pragmatic Progressive Socialism for a change. You can sum up Socialism in one sentence: A fair days pay, for a fair days work (those genuinely with disability excepted).

    1. PoundInYourPocket says:

      Socialism is defined in the dictionary as “the common ownership of the means of production”, not as “a fair day’s pay, for a fair days work” which relies on the definition of “fair” renderring the phrase meaningless. What’s “fair” ?

      1. swatantra says:

        You ask 100 workers what “the common ownership of the means of production” means and they won’t have a clue. Labour has to talk in the language of ordinary folk, if it is to getr anywhere, not in the language of marxist intellectuals.

        1. PoundInYourPocket says:

          Helps if the words we use have an agreed and mutually understood meaning. Hence the dictionary. The Labour Party are doing well at blurring the meaing of “socialism” hence the assumed confusion of your 100 workers.

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