Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Labour should take a stand on its principles

Earlier this week, Liam Byrne outlined the results of a new policy review to the Labour front bench. While the results are fairly predictable, the recommendations Byrne is making should cause alarm to anyone hoping that Ed Miliband won’t follow the New Labour approach of trying to be all things to all people. As Don Paskini pointed out on LC, the views expressed in the review aren’t really aligned with New Labour policy or ideology. Liam Byrne said: “The first priority for Labour this year is to get back in touch with voters – whose trust we lost at the last election…that’s why this year we’re starting our policy review, with the No1 focus on getting back in touch with voters – and changing our party to make sure we don’t lose that connection again.”

But Byrne’s implication that Labour should adjust their philosophy in response to the zeitgeist is very New Labour. By the time the 2010 election came around, Labour had shifted ground so many times that they were totally unrecognisable as a left-wing alternative.

Respondents to the review have expressed concern around cuts to policing and youth services, but I’m less inclined than Don to read a leftist bias into this – it seems like concern for the safety of the respondents and their property, rather than concern for the vulnerable.

Added to the worries around immigration and the EU-scepticism, I’d say it’s safe to conclude that the review points to a right-wing bias in the respondents. This is not especially surprising, but it does throw up a question about how Labour should react. Should they move to the right in order to connect with voters? Only if their key aim is getting into power, rather than influencing opinion.

What Labour should do is ignore the focus groups, ignore Liam Byrne and take a stand on an unashamedly statist, pro-EU, anti-cuts, redistribution-based platform. They say a week is a long time in politics, so 2015 may as well be a millennium away – why not risk unpopularity in the short term if it’s going to help stimulate debate, and possibly shift the public mood – even slightly – further to the left?

Also, as Don points out, the respondents to the review aren’t necessarily representative of the electorate, so a hard shift to the left may draw in those voters who have already disengaged because their views aren’t being represented at parliament level.

There will be time for Labour to adjust their platform when the election draws nearer, but in the meantime they could try to revitalise – and perhaps even influence – the debate by doing the unpopular thing and wearing their statist heart on their sleeve.

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