Sunday, 13 May 2012

Anti-Tory? Let's get radical!

The local elections and the tide of history suggest that Labour are doing reasonably well, but they would be hard-pushed not to.  Attacking the Coalition is not exactly difficult, and there is plenty of ammunition even for an opposition whose record in office was hardly notable for its probity and effectiveness.

However, in order to maintain this momentum, Labour has to recognise that there is precious little enthusiasm for its platform, neither is there a clear trajectory back into power, especially if the number of MPs is reduced and the boundaries gerrymandered to provide more safe seats for our friends in the Conservative Party.  If the vagaries of the electoral system continue, then Labour will need to rely on other parties to form an administration, much as the Tories have had to do with the Liberal Democrats.

If Miliband is serious about political change, rather than just tribalism, he needs to recognise that there is de facto pluralism, particularly on the left-centre territory that is currently gaining ground across Europe, and quite apart from fighting to secure a majority, he should be looking to set out policy objectives around which there can be a clear process for forming a new government across party boundaries in 2015 or earlier.

Given that the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales will not go away, they act as an impediment to Labour's easy route back to power.  The destruction of the Liberal Democrats will give many seats to the Tories through voters swinging to Labour - the result of a perverse electoral system that is designed to favour the right.  Therefore what Miliband has to do is set his sights high, and recognise that whatever the results the day after the next election he must set out an agenda that is clear and attractive.

The Tories have played into his hands - not just with their positioning on tax concessions for the rich, and the theft of public services to provide profits to "outsourcing" organisations who just happen to be generous in their funding of good Tory causes.  The lack of enthusiasm for the Tory agenda is palpable, especially given their continued encouragement of such lovely people as hedge fund managers and the delusion that the City and the property market are the two barometers of national salvation. 

Clearly articulating that "we're all in this together" means much higher taxes on excessive unearned and earned income, to fund a decent social fabric and modern infrastructure, and that this should be translated into delivery on the ground, rather than leached out into profits and unaccountable services, is a start.  The simplicity of such an approach does not play well in the South-East of England, but would do a great deal to register in the areas which hardly gained from previous economic growth.

The other area where Miliband could make progress is on the constitutional settlement.  If he were to support an all-elected House of Lords as part of a total overhaul of the relationship between central, regional and local government - as well as a review of genuine proportional representation rather than the pseudo-version not inflicted through the AV referendum, a written constitution and a consideration as to how the various tiers of administration can be made accountable, it would reduce the democratic deficit.

This is just a start.  Labour's problem is that it sees its election as an end rather than a means to transform the country.  Given the electoral and economic pressures, if Miliband wants to be sure of power he should take his party closer to a vanguard rather than authoritarian model, and continue to pick up progressive support in the slipstream.  Sadly I suspect that this would be far too radical and visionary - but until then the left consensus is doomed to be outflanked by the Tory behemoth.

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