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Backing Labour because it’s the lesser evil – right or wrong?

tweedledumdeedumdum2Unfortunately, this piece from Phil Hartup has been a common refrain among left wingers for as long as I remember. We have to keep Labour in because the Tories are worse. While obviously true, it would be nice to make a a good left case on the basis of the entirety of Labour’s programme rather than just highlighting those bits palatable for leftist consumption.

Yet we don’t live in nice world. We live in the real world, and that’s one whose politics has been blighted by the weakening of Britain’s labour movement and therefore a scaling back of socialist ideas and class consciousness. A world in which anxiety and insecurity preys on the minds of too many of our people, so that some lash out at scapegoats and find the rhetoric of stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off populists seductive. And a world in which culture is highly individuated and individualised, where one is the axis upon which the rest of the world revolves.

I don’t like it, but when politics is perceived through these three filters it helps explain why time and again Labour goes to the country with a less-than-captivating manifesto.

Nevertheless, as much as I don’t like it, lesser evilism is a fact of everyday life, and politics is no different. It may make you uncomfortable, but if you’re not voting Labour because it capitulates to the scroungers narrative on social security, hasn’t pledged to renationalise x, y, z enterprises, and is determined to place trident, because the outcome of this election will result in either a Tory or Labour-led government, that also means you’re indifferent to those bits of its programme that are beneficial to working people, welfare recipients, and the labour movement as a whole.

Hate the bedroom tax and campaigned against it? Fine. Explain to people hit by it why the party pledged to keep it is no worse than the one committed to scrapping it. Appalled by the further marketisation of the NHS and have campaigned against it? Tell voters why you feign indifference between a government happy to deepen it and another that wishes to go back to the previous system while building a NHS-style national care service. Worried that EU withdrawal could have a devastating effect on your job and those of your friends and family? Then why pretend the party flirting with that for narrow, sectional reasons and the one that isn’t are the same.

I think you get the gist by now. Saying Labour is shit is your prerogative, but that doesn’t change the fact that Labour winning or losing will have deep, lasting effects on large numbers of our people. If you’re in a position where it doesn’t matter one way or the other, then bully for you. You’re lucky. Others do not have the luxury of indifference.

There’s also another solid lesser evil reason for voting Labour. Nearly every single radical or socialist case against I’ve seen does so in the name of programmatic purity, itself a symptom both of the cultural trends outlined above and lefty performative piety. It tells you a great deal about the state of left and radical politics in Britain, unfortunately. What’s missing is a consideration of tactics and strategy.

Consider this. The renewable energy company Ecotricity announced yesterday that it will be donating £250,000 to Labour. Does the company agree with everything Labour does? I doubt it very much. Yet their reasoning for doing so makes perfect sense if you’re in the business of, um, green business. As they put it:

This election presents a clear choice between two very different kinds of government with two different visions of Britain. The vision we support is of a green Britain with a strong green economy at the heart of Europe.”

In other words, from a position of a) wanting to grow the green energy sector, and b) expanding market share, it makes perfect strategic sense to support the party that takes green industries more seriously than the other one.

I think it demonstrates a great deal of naivete and immaturity that too many socialists and radicals do not approach general elections in this way. The labour movement, which most lefties still work in and seek to win over to their politics, very much has an interest in not seeing facilities time further withdrawn, not having the freedom to donate to political campaigns curbed, seeing the reversal of tribunal fees, and preventing turnout threshold for industrial action ballots imposed. Many trade unionists will also benefit from plans to raise the minimum wage, plans to push the living wage, from – yes, again – having the bedroom tax reversed and paternity leave extended. It goes on and on.

Under the next Labour government our movement and our class will be in a better position to campaign for the things that matter to us, the overwhelming majority of people. Should the Tories continue things will be a deal harder. Repeat after me, tactics and strategy. Tactics and strategy.

While the rise of the SNP and mounting green insurgency muddies the water a touch – more on both soon – the viability or otherwise of those options is dependent on a Labour core being returned in sufficient numbers to the Commons. The decision remains between austerity and austerity lite, but with relief for the hardest hit and more strategic options for socialist politics. It’s not, yet, between cuts and no cuts. What’s it to be?

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. Pete Benson says:

    I will vote Labour,I would prefer if Labour was more left than it is,but that’s the way it is.

    I think every time some on the left say they won’t vote Labour because its not left enough.Labour will veer slightly to the right.Because that is who is left.

    Not voting for Labour on highly flung principles led to New Labour,I think that Miliband is not New Labour and deserves a chance.I hope for our sake that he gets it.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “Saying Labour is shit is your prerogative.”

    Good of you to say so, (although also typically patronizing,) but frankly I can’t see any real diffidence whatsoever between the 2 wings of the Tory party.

    Personally I’ll probably be voting for UKIP, as it’s about the only thing that might knock some sense in this bunch of low life and near do wells.

    “I set myself one task, which was to get Labour on to the front foot, back in the game, making the weather on the economy, and that’s going to take me a year,”
    that and fiddling my expenses.

    Ed Balls

    1. Matty says:

      So your answer to Labour being too right-wing is to vote for a party to the right even of the Tories? It would be more sensible to vote for a party to the left of Labour or join us in trying to move Labour leftward.

  3. Aldous says:

    Outrageously wrong. A donation of this size will make a small difference to Labour. It would make a huge difference to the Green Party.

    In the present climate I believe that support for the Green Party will have more influence than that for any of the main parties. Both the main parties are being increasingly influenced by pressures from the fringe parties and unfortunately, due partly to media hype, the wrong fringe parties are getting the attention.

    But the Green Party has grown massively and, considering the values of Ecotricity, I am shocked that it would consider this donation rather than taking it to the Greens.

    As a former supporter of Labour (last voted for Tony Blair I am ashamed to admit), and a supporter of the Green Party (because the Earth matters to me), I am now considering leaving Ecotricity to take my custom to Good Energy.

  4. swatantra says:

    Milliband is saying all the right things … and yet … and yet ….. . the voters don’t see him as a potential PM, and still describe him as ‘weird’.
    Lots of promises on Education and Tax Dodgers, but people like me who’ve been around for a bit, will know that these two topics are as old as the hills, and I’ve got a feeling we’ll still be talking about then 50 years from now. Almost as insoluble as squaring the circle.

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