Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Labour Needs to Do Two Things Now by Mike Bird

Clearly, the General Election was a disaster for the Labour Party, as well as the British people. The Tories are now likely to implement their long intended boundary changes, which could cost us another 20 seats. If we are to be able to rebuild to return to Government at the next election, I believe we need to do two things, above all else:

1. We need to understand what just happened and why. Scotland must not be vilified for something that was to the fault of Labour's leadership.
2. Labour's policy process needs to be subject to binding votes to democratise the process and make it credible inside the party and out. 

1. Understanding what happened leading up to the General Election

A lot of people in other parts of the UK are very cross with Scotland, and confused that, in the independence referendum just months ago, Scottish electors decided to stay in the UK, then they send almost exclusively SNP MPs to Westminster.

But it is wrong to be cross with Scotland and there is no need for confusion. Coming from a Welsh constituency probably helps me understand. I'll give my view on those two points in reverse.

First, the referendum decision was decisive and I am sure the Scottish people did view that as the end of the matter for a generation. That is not the reason for the SNP's success on 7th May, it is not a "surge of nationalism". In Wales, we also have a nationalist party, Plaid Cymru (PC). For UK issues, the electorate trusts Labour to represent them. But for Welsh issues, I have repeatedly seen ordinarily Labour supporters voting for the determinedly “Welsh party”, as they see it – albeit mistakenly - which is why PC is so disproportionately strong in the Welsh Assembly.

Rather than trust loyal supporters to understand the socialist arguments for the UK, Labour aligned itself too closely with the Tories over the independence referendum, “talking down” to voters. Then, after the referendum, Labour in London foisted upon Scottish Labour an openly Blairite leader, the clear message being that he intended simply to march the electors on Westminster to win the General Election.

So the Scots see first a betrayal, then know they are to be taken for granted and just as pawns in the bigger fight; the Scottish people saw their decision to stay within the UK rewarded by no-one actually listening to their wants and needs.

The Scottish people did what I have seen people do in Wales many times: turn to the nationalists as a party which appears determined to stand up for Scotland. The SNP's prime objective is as irrelevant to the immediate question as it has been for many decades: they want someone to speak for the Scottish people now.

The blame should be placed squarely where it belongs: with a Labour leadership that ignored its members in all parts of the UK when they consistently told the party it needed to offer the British people an alternative to – not a watered down version of – the Tories, to stand up for people in the way they expect of Labour.

When the people were obviously unhappy with energy, communications and transport companies ripping them off, almost completely unregulated, the answer is not a 15 month electricity prices freeze. When pay is driven down and people forced to accept whatever insecure employment they are offered, the answer is not to pledge to raise the minimum wage by 30p a year to 2020. When the NHS is being carved up for privateers, the answer is not to trim back some of the more obvious profiteering.

Blame belongs to the Labour leadership who argued we must not “scare the horses” with socialist policies, instead of trusting the electorate to embrace policies befitting the Labour Party.

It is difficult to see how Labour can rebuild in Scotland and the UK as a whole, but a good start would be to begin to shape policies that offer a real alternative to government for the rich.
Which brings me to my the second thing I believe we need to do...

2. Labour's Policy Process needs to be subject to binding votes

Labour's National Policy Forum elections are due soon, which is good, as we need to be getting on with policy reformulation, so we can offer a real alternative to government by and for the rich.

But if all we do is start the same process again, we will lose again and let down the British people again. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Only one major change is needed: to make the policy process subject to binding votes amongst members. We cannot again obediently receive meandering documents on subjects chosen for us behind closed doors, debate points at members' policy forums, then submit comments that we all know are largely ignored, resulting in a programme bearing little resemblance to the wishes of Labour Party members.

Wanting to subject the party's policy process to binding votes will be condemned by the Right as risking showing damaging discord and disunity in public. That is a lie that the Right has successfully employed for decades to allow them to run the party as the personal fiefdom of an elite few. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being seen to work out policies by frank and open debate. Making policies in secret and acting as if we need the media's permission to be elected clearly and emphatically failed.

Blairites, Progress will argue we need to move to the right to capture more Tory voters. That is clearly nonsense, acting like neo-Tories was a big part of our failure in the General Election. We should not again allow our leaders to treat the electorate as if they are fools. 

I believe members of the Labour Party need to demand that the policy process be democratised, so we can get on with the business of forming policies and a programme relevant to the people of Britain.

Mike Bird, ordinary member of Aberconwy Constituency

1 comment:

  1. With you all the way. Risks associated with transparent decision making are almost always much lower than risks associated with secret decision making and much easier to manage.