There’s a serious risk that the Left is about to take its eye off the ball. Many are looking askance at current left-of-centre politics; and the danger is that we’ll forget where the real, pressing threats to fairness and decency in British civic life actually lie.
Recent discussion has inevitably focused on the effectiveness or otherwise of the Labour leader in dealing with the truly awful realities of the ConDems in power. The polls are not demonstrating a strong and positive response to Ed Miliband’s leadership, and some would say his misjudgments now outweigh his earlier promise.
Nonetheless, Mr Miliband is not in power; and Mr Cameron is. The challenge now is not to stop Ed Miliband from doing things. It’s to stop David Cameron and his shameful LibDem hangers-on, before it’s all too late. So the fundamental question (which I’ll have a go here at addressing) is, how?
It would be good to know for sure that Ed Miliband also sees the call to action as critical, albeit currently the evidence that he does so is weak. His tortuously prolonged ‘consultations’ via rather odd questions to members of the Labour Party, plus the walkabouts-by-proxy care of Arnie Graf, have over-ridden any evident sense of urgency about the situation which we face.
We must hope however that procrastination – which I still suspect is the result of Ed Miliband not believing until late on that he might just ‘win’ the leadership race – will shortly be put aside. And when that happens the following matters must surely be addressed:
1. The most critical issue of all is to recognise fully that the Tories want degovernance; and they want it now. They have often scant knowledge, and usually little interest, (beyond the necessities of political appearance) in the policy matters which so heavily engage many on the Left.
> It’s not ‘policy’ that the Conservatives want, it’s disengagement from the whole thing – and especially from any economic or fiscal commitment by the state. As we have argued elsewhere, the objective is scorched earth, and fast.
2. The message people on the street want to hear must reflect considered pride in the many achievements of the Labour Party, secured by its unnumbered, hard-working activists, as we have campaigned over the years for a better NHS, vastly improved schools, an increasingly positive impact via Sure Start, investment in place and infrastructure, training and decent employment, and much else.
> Why should ordinary electors, non-party-political people, want to hear interminably about analysis of the ‘failures’ of a decade-plus of Labour Government: a government which they as the electorate in fact chose? If failings are all they hear about, that’s what electors will perceive; but who’s going to vote next time for a load of moaning folk who just want to carry on about how they are losers?
3. It follows from this that the Labour Party’s position now on economics must be humble but positive. Incredibly, George Osborne is being permitted to get away with a gigantic fairy tale about his predecessors, employing his Tory-tinted hindsight to infer that somehow he would have done things oh-so differently. (Other right-wing western administrations of the last decade are currently in at least as much trouble as Britain…)
> Fiscal prudence is central to stability; but so is a responsible Keynesian approach which recognises and averts the extreme vulnerability of the casualties of Osborne’s ego-fuelled rigid slash and burning. If Labour won’t take responsibility both for addressing the deficit and for protecting properly the most vulnerable, whoever will? And why otherwise, as we asked above, should the electorate believe in us?
4. The Labour leadership must take responsibility for itself. Specifically, Ed Miliband must immediately and very firmly call off the daft suggestion that people are criticising him only because he is not David. And he (Ed) must also take action to oppose the ConDems effectively, right now.
> Leadership is about leading, it’s not about sending out people to report back on (unverifiable but often self-fulfilling) ‘soundings’; and it’s not about directing policy debates. Political leadership must face two ways. It must reach out to those who already support the cause, and it must offer support and hope to those who have not yet bought in to the vision.
> Leadership is ensuring that those already in the fold stay in it and continue to want to be part of the action, whilst also making that fold attractive and welcoming to those not already there. And it is about ensuring too that the strong voices are diverse. Youngish, relatively wealthy, mostly white men however well-meaning are incapable of providing the full spectrum of wisdom or of speaking meaningfully for everyone.
5. The LibDems must be brought fully to account, now. There can be no more claiming that they are a civilizing influence on the Tories.
> We need to be very clear that, without support from the Liberal Democrats, little of the current political assault could be achieved. Not even remotely are the LibDems saviours of public services, as they seek constantly to claim. They’re knowing, calculating perpetrators in the cause of Tory public service destruction. The LibDems must be offered a choice: desist, or cross the floor; or be denounced ceaselessly as the Conservatives they have in reality become.
6. Pride. Support. Hope. Vision. These are the fundamentals. But until they become more than simply articles of faith for most electors they are unreal. (In)action as ever will speak far louder than words.
And what we must never forget, for one second, is this:
‘Action’ is where the Tories and their lamentable, shameless LibDem friends already are. The immediate criticality must not be defined by George Osborne’s self-serving insistence on the ‘profligate’ state. This criticality must be redefined without delay as about responsibility (including fiscal responsibility) for people’s livelihoods and futures.
The clock is ticking, mercilessly, on the destruction of much necessary, good and fair British state provision – and with this destruction will go also the well-being of many of our fellow citizens.
Remember, always, that the real political enemy is not New Labour. It’s Tory.