Monday, 8 October 2012

Don't stray too far to the left m'dear...

Casting my mind back to October 2010, I am sat in a Political Science class at the University of Hull and I remember the unmistakable feeling of being completely out of my depth. Indeed, I had had the same feeling earlier in the week in my first lecture of my University career. Sat with a friend (also a first year) we soon deducted that we were in a class full of second years. The class began and of course the discussion was of a high caliber so to speak, which left me trudging home with one thought in my mind: "what have I done? Why did i choose this course?"

Labour's Original Logo, used until 1983
I had come to University to study Law with Legislative Studies not to refine my knowledge, but instead to learn it from the ground up. In reality I felt completely unfit to be at University, clearly i was not up to the level of peers who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and British Politics.

I hadn't studied Politics or Law at school, so it was all new ground. Back in my political science class we were discussing topics for an upcoming presentation we all had to give individually. Seeing as all of us would be giving our own presentations my tutor suggested we choose our own topics. (On a side note, I can't praise my tutor enough, Dr Colin Tyler. He had a dryness about him yet at the same time an energy for Politics which I was at the time very much in awe of). One of the topics available, upon suggestion, was "Is New Labour dead?".

I didn't understand the question so much. As mentioned, my knowledge of Politics was limited to who the Party Leaders were, and the policies each party stood for. At this point i wasn't fully up to speed on what New and indeed Old Labour was. At the time I was very much an advocate for the Labour Party, and I felt a certain disgust and indeed confusion about a peers suggestion that the Labour Party was no more, New Labour couldn't govern in future.

"Trying to please everyone, all of the time" 
I know of course understand. The project of aligning Labour more centrally, the baby of Blair, Brown and Mandelson, had at this point run its course. New Labour and its leader Gordon Brown had been rejected in the 2010 General Election. The question of "Is New Labour dead?" was asking whether or not New Labour would again reposition itself further left, or remain left of center.

The point of New Labour in the first place was very much to distance itself from the old Tory war cries of "the Looney Left". They moved to the middle to appeal to more voters; which while not true to the (Old Labour) core support of the party of socialists, it did show Labour were willing to compromise with the electorate: to reach a middle ground through which realistic, achievable reform could be made.

Indeed, the rejection of (New) Labour and its programme in 2010 led to suggestions of moving back to the left. The Liberal Democrat performance in coalition Government (a poor one by all accounts) may well encourage Labour to occupy the Lib Dem ground: to appeal to Liberal Voters left disenfranchised by the Lib Dem's broken promises and divided party. While Labour would be right to believe they can win Lib Dem seats at the next election - for the future of the Labour party and indeed the country - I consider it a mistake to return to the days of Old Labour and the Red Flag.

Red Ed/Middleband (Ed Miliband)
Yes, Labour can offer a similar alternative to the Liberal Democrats, but they should be mindful of slipping too far to the left. Old habits die hard: Labour should be cautious of toeing the line that kept them out of government for 19 years during the Thatcher/Major years. Many at the time considered them a party unfit to Govern. They were not an alternative to Government, they were merely a party of protest. Policy was only developed if it was the polar opposite to that of the Tory's. This is not a party ready to Govern, these are characteristics of a protest group, that while will appeal massively to a few, will not appeal to the majority of aspiring Liberal left voters who are willing to compromise on the New Labour ethos of social democracy meeting neo-liberalism. 

Ed Miliband may well have been tempted to venture into Socialism territory in his Party Conference speech, making a statement about Labour returning left. However, his much publicised reference to Benjamin Disraeli's thesis of "One Nation" indicates - in my opinion - a reluctance to move too far left. A Conservative statesman, Disraeli's "One Nation" will pander to the floating middle and center right voters. 

If "One Nation" is anything to go by, it is a sign that Ed Miliband may well be trying to shake the tag of "red Ed" in favour of "Middleband". If this is the case, I applaud, for while New Labour of 1997 may well have run its course, I do not consider the ethos that surrounds the principle to have died. It was that very ethos that got Labour into office for a party record of 13 years. 

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