Following the debacle of Labour's defeat in the Glasgow East by-election, there will be a predictable clamour for Gordon Brown's scalp. As a Labour activist since the age of 16, what is happening to my party and to this Government is nothing short of a tragedy. But what is truly galling is that the vacuous and timid nature of our own party, over many years, is the root cause of our current predicament, and is the reason why the proposed solutions for improving our prospects seem so flawed.
That Gordon Brown was the heir apparent, whose dominance of the party was such that he was unopposed in the leadership elections spoke of a crisis of mammoth proportions at the top of our party. While the Tories held an open and exciting leadership election, which engaged the public, we held a moribund coronation followed by the ultimately misguided crowing which preceded the election that wasn't to be. That there were no senior or junior cabinet members prepared to offer a vision of the future of Labour politics in the UK was sad, and will now cost us dearly in the next General Election. The Labour Party seemed happy to accept this as a fait accompli. We hypnotised ourselves into believing that we were virtually destined to remain in power by virtue of the man who brought us prudence with a purpose.
That he may well have done. But the economic miracle of the Blair / Brown decade is unravelling, and what is left in its wake, is a vacuum , where there ought to be vision, and purpose. Those who talk of a leadership challenge later in the year, are tipping David Miliband and James Purnell as favourites. But here lies the danger, brought about by the lack of radical thought and policy discussion in the party during the last decade. If the solution to our current problems is to elect an overtly Blairite member of the Cabinet to lead the party and the Government, what hope is there that they will offer the vision necessary to reinvigorate the party, and more importantly, to reconnect with a completely disillusioned electorate.
We have allowed ourselves to become the party which, under Gordon Brown’s leadership, has acted most swiftly, when trying to ram home huge ‘establishment’ projects like replacing Trident, or nuclear power stations. We have shown an almost complete lack of dynamism on environmental issues, until only very recently, with the renewable energy proposals. We had appeared to be almost entirely in the pocket of both the large energy companies, and their supporters in the office marked ‘macro is best’ at the Treasury. This allowed David Cameron to do the unthinkable – successfully present the Tories as the party most concerned about the environment. We abandoned the little man, who would have liked to be supported by his Government as he sought to take individual action by installing a wind turbine. We allowed the Treasury to convince the Government that big is always better – small ‘c’ conservatism of worst, and most dangerous kind. We enfeebled ourselves in thrall to huge economic interests, and in so doing showed the electorate our true colours.
On communities, we still seem to think that top down is best. In education, we persist with the over-burdening and over-testing of both children and teachers. On housing, we have quite simply failed to provide enough new, affordable homes for the private sector, or social homes for those who cannot get on the housing ladder. Why? Because we were in thrall to the market, and the boom in house prices. Why did a Labour Government allow the housing market to so singularly fail those who should be our core supporters? Why, because we were seeking to appeal most of all to the property-owning hoards of so-called middle England. We allow the perception to take hold that we care more about the wealthy, than those who are struggling to make ends meet, despite the admirable efforts of the Prime Minister to tackle poverty.
On welfare reform, we ignored the one Labour MP who actually possessed vision and the steadfastness required to enact it – Frank Field. In fact, the Prime Minister’s belief in statism led to Field’s sacking and thus our party presiding over the perpetuation of welfare dependency. It all could have been so different. The Prime Minister has a Business Council, but he doesn’t have a council of public sector workers to advise him on how to deal with their concerns and improve services.
And yet we are faced with the prospect of a paralysed Brown premiership, lumbering on until May 2010, or that of a young leader such as David Miliband or James Purnell, both of whom are arch-Blairites and have done very little outside of politics. Do they offer the vision required to provide some radical solutions to the problems which Britain faces. I sincerely hope so, but in my heart of hearts, I must confess that I do not have much hope of this. I do not believe that the party knows what it stands for anymore. I know for sure that those talked of as potential future Labour Prime Ministers, have not done anything to show that they have what it takes to offer leadership and vision, or to do anything to rock the applecart in a way which leads to a fairer Britain. That is why the propects for my party are truly bleak.
These are just some early morning ramblings. I’ll no doubt cheer up later!