Friday, April 10, 2015

Labour: At our best when at our boldest

“At our best when at our boldest”: the words of one T Blair to Labour’s party conference in 2002. Blair was right of course, as a movement we – yes I am a Labour party member and supporter - are at our best when we seek to be radical and bold.

Under both Blair and Brown, Labour governed – despite the cynics who will inevitably argue otherwise – as a centre-left party, not as a centre-right one. Ed Miliband has given every indication that he will continue with a bold, progressive agenda. Labour’s centre-left credentials when in power were impressive: the introduction of the minimum wage, the abolition of the assisted places scheme, more help for pensioners, removal of the hereditary principle in the Lords, huge investment in the NHS, debt cancellation etc, etc.

However too many of the radical and socially progressive initiatives listed above were carried out during Labour’s first term. Post 2001 Labour, on the whole, aspired to be competent but not radical, to be managerial but not inspirational. What sets Ed Miliband apart as a politician is his passionate belief that government must do things with people; he sees political debate in terms of progress versus conservatism and the world not in terms of right and left, but right and wrong. Throughout this campaign Miliband has spoken about one of the main reasons for people being turned off politics being because all too often political debate seems irrelevant to the reality of their everyday lives. He understands that many ordinary voters feel that they are being manipulated because they are always being asked to make false choices: you’re labelled as either pro-business or pro-unions, pro-growth or pro-environment, for civil liberties or against them, a progressive or a dinosaur.

As Labour gears up for the final weeks of this election it is clear to me that Miliband needs to further emphasise his and his party’s centre-left credentials and spell out exactly what his ‘fairness’ agenda will mean in terms of outcomes for the British people. If he is to take Labour back into power then he will need to be ‘bold Ed’ not ‘timid Ed’.

Continuing to talk about fairness and the need to listen to the ‘squeezed’ middle class is fertile ground for Labour and as the polls show is making life distinctly uncomfortable for David Cameron. Under Cameron the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views. For these reasons, Cameron is reluctant to get into a debate about the super-rich and what they should or should not contribute via the tax system. These past few years the public has watched on in horror and disgust at the city traders who deliberately bid down bank shares, bet on the failure of key stock and companies and even – it is suggested – spread false rumours in order to line their own already very deep and very full pockets. If the Tories wish to seek to defend these excesses – in the manner in which, at the opposite end of the scale they opposed the minimum wage and defended poverty pay – then they will find themselves on the wrong side of the argument and further confirm the public’s view that Mr Cameron and his party are on the side of the rich and not the ordinary ‘hard working’ families that he talks about so frequently.

The dividing lines between an increasingly reactionary and ideologically driven Tory party and a renewed and re-enthused Labour Party are becoming clearer by the day and Miliband should not be afraid to use the last few weeks to spell out the bold and radical approach he will take when Prime Minister.

Why? Because he has little to lose either personally or politically but both he and the nation have, potentially, a good deal to gain.

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