‘Labour values’: a powerful ideology, or an ideology of power?
A lot has been written about the Labour leadership election. Who will win? Will it split the party? And particularly: which candidate, and which position will enable Labour to effectively contest the 2020 general election? The choice is for a leader, but also a decision on what ‘Labour values’ are in 2015.
As a result, and quite unexpectedly, the question of the Labour party’s ideological position has been brought front-and-centre by the leadership election triggered by Ed Miliband’s resignation. Rather than the anticipated choice been varying post-Blairite blandness, Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely outsider-rhetoric and populist popularity has forced to the surface political debates that have been submerged for a generation. The sight of all sections of the British left engaged in open and bruisingly frank debate is as surprising as it is revealing.
The conventional framing of this debate is supposes that there are two sides involved in the struggle. These are various labels attached to this dichotomy. Political commentators write of the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of the party, of ‘old’ versus ‘New’ Labour, or of ‘traditionalists’ versus ‘modernisers’. More emotively the battle over the correct direction for the party is described as a choice between ‘head’ and ‘heart’. The Labour Party’s members, it’s implied, need to decide between principles and pragmatism, or more straightforwardly between virtuously criticising the government in opposition, or having the power to make changes to peoples’ lives in government.
However this simplistic reading of the contest is incorrect. Neither left nor right has the ability to bring Labour electoral success. There are several interdependent reasons for this predicament.
Firstly, the party’s own recent history has hobbled its ability to present candidates of any calibre. Secondly, those in the race lack strong ideas that are relevant to current political and economic problems. Finally, and most ominously, the Labour party have borne the brunt of a multi-faceted constitutional crisis which may see them locked out of government permanently.
Over the course of 3 posts I’ll explore each of these problems in turn and explain how we could be witnessing the drift towards senility, the increasing irrelevance and ultimately the demise of a once-great political party.