See you, Jimmy: what the SLab collapse means for all of us.

jim-murphyLet’s face it. The overwhelming backdrop to the 2015 election wasn’t hope. It wasn’t even predominantly fear in the end, though that played a part. It was anger. And it was directed towards our party as much as towards a Coalition Government which had slashed and burnt its way through public services, privatised everything it could lay its hands on and showed a callous disregard for the vulnerable in our society. They were seen as the bad guys by many – probably a majority – but we definitely weren’t seen as the good guys, and by many of our former supporters, we were seen very much as part of the problem.

Now we can deflect blame for this. We can blame the naivety and selfishness of voters in large swathes of the South and Midlands in the betrayal of SNP switchers who have been suckered into supporting nationalism dressed up as social democracy. We can retreat to the comfort blanket of saying that we are fighting a losing battle against the twin forces of nationalism and individualism. Or we can quit this blame fest and try to understand our own failures. Why has this calamity (and let’s face it, we are in a crisis) happened? Why have we been overwhelmed in an explosion of anger towards the party we are members of?

Firstly, the anger towards the Labour Party is blowback from two decades of New Labourite politics. Particularly in Scotland, where the Scottish Labour Party was used as an incubator for the careers of many a Blairite politician. In so doing, the party machine also wrecked the internal life of the party north of the border, closing down democracy and evacuating the party of real, decent socialist and trade union activists. Scotland has blown first because it was the most extreme example, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that this process hasn’t happened all over the UK. The election of Jim Murphy was the final straw, illustrating that the party hadn’t learnt the lessons of Better Together, and the scene was set for Thursday’s cataclysm.

Secondly, the anger is about Labour’s failure to challenge the austerity consensus. This obviously has a historic dimension to it. Blair’s governments entrenched the idea that redistribution and progressive taxation, aimed at the rich, was off the agenda. On this score, “One Nation Labour” continued in the same vein. For all the talk of tax avoidance and “everyone paying their fair share”, Ed Balls’ tightening noose around Labour’s economic policy and the disastrous decision to stick to Tory spending plans cemented the idea that they were all in the same club. It forced Labour into a cul-de-sac when it should have been shouting from the rooftops about the economic vandalism being perpetrated in the name of deficit reduction. It hasn’t just been the SNP who have benefitted from Labour’s cowardice on the economy, but the Greens – and even, in a bizarre, complex way, UKIP. Ed Miliband said that he was making a definite break from New Labour. In style, he did – but on questions of substance he really failed to. Where was the commitment to rail renationalisation, kicking the private sector out of the NHS altogether, or bringing schools back into local authority control? Until Labour rediscover this kind of radicalism, they will be vulnerable to a Scottish style implosion in the rest of the UK too.

Thirdly, what about us? Us socialists in the party? Surely it’s not our fault that our party was overtaken by careerist cuckoos and set the time bomb ticking? What could we have done? We tried our best, right? But look what they did to us we? We were powerless. Or so the story goes. Often, people ask why on earth we carry on in a party which is so wedded to neoliberalism? Wouldn’t two decades or more of failure to change the party indicate that it is a lost cause. Well, let’s go back to Scotland for a second. What on earth was going on while the Blairites were tearing down local democracy and imposing yes men and women? Where was the organisation, where was the united front with the unions to challenge the selection of those New Labour zealots in local parties? The answer is that too many people, good socialists went into hiding, too disillusioned to fight back or too divided to come together. A small band of hard core socialists were left to fight the good fight. It wasn’t enough – and we can see similar pattern all over the UK. If there’s any hope to be gleaned in these fairly dark days, is that the Labour left will learn those lessons, and come out of hiding to start the long task of rebuilding a party we can all be proud of. If that doesn’t happen, we can almost certainly say good bye to the Labour Party in its present form.

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9 thoughts on “See you, Jimmy: what the SLab collapse means for all of us.

  1. Derek says:

    Slow down comrade! Before looking at political alternatives etc we need to look at the facts. Labours share of the vote increased by 1.8% compaired to 2010. This resulted in a loss of 26 seats. The Tories increased their vote by 0.8% – the result…an increase in seats of 24. What has happened is that the Lib Dem vote collapsed in seats where the Tories usually came second. Cameron reaped that advantage and when you add the rise of the SNP plus UKIP taking working class votes, a perfect strorm hit Labour. Don’t you think we need PR?
    Labour no longer has the links to organised workers that it once had nor is it the Party of the working class anymore. I predict that in the wake of this defeat Labour will turn to the Right. In this situation we perhaps need to be talking about building new political structures and alliances rather than trying to recapture the Labour Party.

  2. Thomas Jones says:

    “SNP switchers who have been suckered into supporting nationalism dressed up as social democracy.”

    I thought the Scottish National Party are a secessionist party rather than a Nationalist party? Surely the Nationalist parties want to keep the Union together, keeping the electoral system as it is and all the power in Westminster? Some of the Nationalists also want to leave the EU and stop the UK’s full signatory status in the European Court of Human Rights.

    I think the switch from Labour to the SNP had nothing to do with Scottish independence but alot to do with protecting the rights of Scotland from Nationalism. Obviously many voters had never voted for the SNP before and had definatly voted to stay in the union in the referendum.

  3. Self satisfied socialists: It must be quite pleasant to be in the opposition, another five years of nice money good perks and well above average pension plus cheap drinks in on of Westminster many ba.

  4. Pingback: Labour will not win until it rejects the politics of austerity | Left Futures

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