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The Great Moving Left Show: making it happen

The Great Moving Left ShowThe Independent article showing that a substantial majority of electors oppose Osborne’s cuts programme contrasted with New Labour‘s failure to join the majority. Sixty six percent opposed Osborne’s plans for clearing the deficit by 2017-18 while only 30% supported them. However in the Westminster Bubble, austerity is unquestionable and the disjuncture with popular opinion is toxic. How this will play out in votes is unpredictable, but the decline of the old Two Party system marked. The rise of the SNP and UKIP make this a largely unpredictable election for both Labour and Conservative Parties.

Labour has to be supported for this election as austerity will be the platform of the Tories – no more rhetoric about New Localism – and this will dominate the political scenario. The short term challenge is the prospect of building an anti-austerity coalition. The SNP pose as the defender of traditional welfare reformism north of the border – to the detriment of Labour – and in England and Wales, UKIP poses a different form of separatism, with an increasingly well oiled machine to push a message against easily targetted scapegoats in Europe.

The politics of anti-austerity is missing from the scene, but putting effort into conventional party politics will fail if austerity is not challenged in the process. After the election the key issue will be what Labour will do if it wins, since if it tries to continue austerity this will force the disjuncture with what voters want to the forefront of politics. An anti-austerity coalition could have a political strength which currently the left lacks.

The long term trend is the Westminster bubble falling to Thatcherism, with both the major parties abandoning their historical projects. Even the Lib Dems abandon the project that began with the old Liberals merging with the Social Democrats of the Jenkins era. All three parties have moved right as Stuart Hall predicted in his seminal 1979 essay The Great Moving Right Show.

Labour abandoned its traditional social democratic reformism, Peter Mandleson as a minister stating bluntly “we are all Thatcherites now”. The heirarchy accepted Thatcher’s TINA philosophy (There Is No Alternative) after the death of John Smith in 1994, with New Labour practising ‘triangulation’. This theoretically devised a policy position between social democracy and full blown Thatcherism slightly short of the Tory Right but within its policy framework. In practice the Labour front bench simply moves to the right, which allows the SNP to pitch for the Labour heartlands in the Scottish industrial belt.

The Tories jettisoned their historic one nation Reform to Conserve position, and even their commitment to the UK. Who now remembers that the Tory Party was once called the Conservative and Unionist Party? The Ulster Unionists still angle for an alliance with the Tories at Westminster, but the Tories lost Scotland. Even as late as the 1950s the Tory party won a majority of Scottish votes, but Thatcher destroyed their base. John Major showed that the Tories could gain a Westminster majority while being a largely English party, but the Bruges Group activists – the ‘Bastards’ – split the Party. UKIP was the outcome, with some at least of the Tory heartlands being as much under threat as the Scottish Labour heartlands are at threat from the SNP.

With Farage and Alex Salmond both heading for Westminster, a feral politics is in prospect. Both men are like sharks in the Westminster water, scenting blood as the major parties haemorrage support. If Labour forms a coalition with Salmonds, it will be on his terms.

The political culture shows no sign of a move to the left, because anti-austerity while commanding majority support does not have a focus. Defence of the welfare state has immense potential, and in the political vacuum of New Labourism can offer a pole of attraction. Labour is limited to defence of the NHS. It does not grasp the crisis in Education, Transport, Housing and other issues affecting working people.

The alienation of most people from the politics of Westminster is dangerous, particularly in a year when MPs get an 11 per cent pay rise. However a clear and worked out anti-austerity platform could offer a way forward, and it is remarkable the unions have not already taken this up. For the first time since 1979, the political class at Westminster is in dissarray and there is potential for a progressive alternative.


  1. Robert says:

    So what is the answer what should we do, vote for Miliband get Progress , the fact is you may not like it but labour Wales are talking socialism labour England is answering to Blair.

    No the answer is not now it will be in the future whether of not we can get a new left party Labour has been played out, new labour will return and I’m not new labour.

  2. swatantra says:

    Welsh Labour is going down the pan, and may well suffer the same fate as Scots Labour if it doesn’t get a grip on reality.

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