Diversity and community participation provide opportunities for political parties to reflect the electorate, revitalise British politics
(BSMG — Liban Obsiye) Prior to the recent Labour Party annual conference in Manchester, the pollsters, Party spin doctors and much of the twitterati were hailing the inevitability of the Party’s success at the next general elections if things continue as they are. Indeed Labour finds itself at a cross roads. It is too early to bring forward specific policies and it is too risky to keep all the cards hidden from the electorate. Parliamentary questions have become more tedious over the last two and half years as the Labour Party in opposition screams treason at the Liberal Democrats and benefit strippers at their coalition majority partner, the Conservatives. On the policy front for now the debate is boringly simple: the Coalition government is cutting too deeply too quickly and the opposition is accused of creating this difficult situation with over spending, poor economic planning and growing the State beyond its necessary capacity. On the policy front with a sudden shift to the Blairite, Third Way inspired centre which most loyalist hoped Ed Miliband would not stick to when they rejected his older brother for him in the Party leadership elections; there is very little difference between the major parties. It is simply we have to cut deeply quickly or slowly but deeply. In any case, the market is king in every scenario.
The public have heard it all before and are clever enough now to not trust a politicians on what they say alone when in opposition and seeking office. Remember Obama’s hopes? A difficult example which makes any leftist promise or shift of the Labour Party almost impossible to trust is that an even redder, more committed and openly Socialist Party in France led by Mr. Hollande has had to give in to the demands of the market and business leaders and slap workers in the face with the future closure of the Peugeot factory which he promised to safe during his successful presidential campaign a few months ago. Even more awkwardly for Mr. Ed Miliband is that a large enough number of the electorate agrees with the oppositions permanent argument that had his Party not destroyed the public finances of the UK and brought it to its knees and embarrassed it by nearly sending it into the arms of the international financial organisations to borrow money like Greece and Ireland, there would be limited cuts only in excess areas.
Labour strategists have decided that the early focus on the squeezed middle needed to be toned down and there is very little mention of it now by Mr. Miliband. However, the confusing Westminster bubble jargon continues and it appears to not be making things any clearer for those who want to hear what the Labour Party stands for. Considering its history and its financial survival, Ed Miliband has chosen to fight with the unions over pay freezes which he feels will make him a leader for a Party for “the public and business.” Right in the centre. A perfectly still and balanced pendulum. But this over arching concern will not make him or the Party anymore attractive than those who say that in order for you to be prosperous we must dig you out of the hole Mr. Miliband’s predecessors dug for you and ditched you in. As an example of voter promiscuity in this day and age, all one must do is look at Thatcher’s three consecutive victories over the Labour Party despite her unpopularity to see that until the results are announced after the general elections, there is no real clear winner in British politics.
Same old Tories?
The Labour Party appears very reluctant to question the backgrounds of the opposition leadership but happily and freely complain that they are out of touch. Yes, the majority of the front bench and even the backbenches of the Coalition government membership are made up of privately educated, Oxbridge elites who have never struggled in the same way most ordinary people have. For most it is a simple cradle to grave network system that ensures that they move from one stage of life straight into another without any hassle. From boy to man at Eton or somewhere similar, Oxbridge or if they really mess up somewhere else in the Russell Group universities and then a jobs as a special adviser (SPAD) and finally a safe seat as a MP. Real life experience? None required because that’s for Plebs as Mr. Mitchell MP reminded the Policeman guarding 10 Downing Street last week.
For a Party of such early diversity and for the masses over the few, Labour ought to have been exploiting this. Indeed how can a posh cradle to grave class sponsored MP ever be as a good as one of theirs with genuine life experience? How can they talk about social housing or welfare and benefits when they consider poverty to be buying a two bedroom flat in Putney and not Chelsea? The reality today is that both the opposition and the Government look the same. Dominated by a small political elite with little real life knowledge or experience. Ed himself had no other job besides been a Special Adviser before becoming a MP and many in the opposition point out that this was possible because of his father’s connections to the Party and the leftist movement in England.
England is a nation where wages have been depreciating or at best stagnating and where income inequality is among the worse in the entire world. It is a nation where the few rich control every aspect of British public life and where the majority are forced to buy in to the myth of meritocracy and the self made individual in order to be heard. How then in a nation so class ridden and economically and socially divided has the Labour Party fallen out of favour to begin with?
The General Secretary of the GMB Union, Paul Kenny had a very plausible answer. In his annual conference speech to the Labour Party members in Manchester this week he stressed that the Party had become unrepresentative of the working people as it has become dominated by a “political elite.” He warned that if the Labour Party did not take action on this and reconnect quickly with the workers on policies regarding jobs, pay and public services it will have a difficult time getting them to vote for them. More damagingly, he went on to suggest that because of this new elite dominating what ought to be the people’s Party, many ordinary people and trade unionist were put off engaging with it.
The Labour Party was once made of the best of Britain. It transcended class and gender lines. It was a Party of all the people but of late it is one only for the Oxbridge degree holding former Special Advisers and the odd few women and ethnic minorities (of which most are women). On the front bench in policy and appearance it looks and feels no different from the government in the eyes of the general public who have voted with their feet in many national and local elections of late by not evening turning up to vote. To have hope of mobilising the people and securing their vote in the next general election, Labour more than any other Party needs to define it self properly and show that it best represents Britain more than any other Party. The Conservative and Liberal diehards will come out in force to prevent their political destruction in the next local and general elections, but will Labour Party members do the same? This depends on the future Party strategy.
The Labour Party has by far been the most committed to diversity from the available statistics. Blair’s babes led the way for Cameron’s cuties and David Lammy, Paul Boateng and Dianne Abbott show that the ethnic voice is still very strong and well respected in the Party. It was once a Party with many different accents but this is now almost dead. The Labour Party appears to have closed the door on working class political aspirants as it professionalises like everyone else. Where once MPs had come from industry and the trade union movements having worked their way up, Labour politicians today look like a group of Oxbridge PPE champagne socialist with blue blood but some reddish aspirations. Despite the decline of the unions and heavy industry the Labour Party must once again seek to destroy the exclusivity of the political business. It must tirelessly work to re-engage with communities by allowing them to have local heroes and champions as representatives and not parachute in Special advisers into safe seats so that senior figures can sit next to their friends in the green leather chairs of Parliament. There has been success in supporting ethnic and female aspirants into politics and there appears to be a real appetite for it even if critics claim it is just political correctness. However, what is needed is to not forget the wider working class population who have lost most in a globalised Britain today and have been Labour’s most loyal supporters since inception. Where the Coalition offers them the right to buy their homes and take no action on their poor pay and in work poverty, the Labour Party must give some of them the right to vote on it where it matters, in Parliament.
Harold Wilson, John Major, Alan Johnson and David Davis are names that are familiar in British politics but none came from the privileged classes nor possessed a degree let alone one from Oxbridge. Despite this they succeeded and have played a part in British history. The fear is as British politics becomes more exclusive it will endanger democracy as a whole as ordinary plebs will refuse to choose between competing similar choices with different political colours. Politics will become the past time of those who have the time and money to engage in it and for those who just want to follow in daddy’s footsteps. It already looks frighteningly like this. All Parties must re-connect with the public but Labour more so than any other as it is trying to spread itself ideologically thinly into political spaces traditionally occupied by the current coalition partners.
No matter how ordinary leaders present themselves to be, today’s politics is focused on spin, image, positioning on camera sets and empty rhetoric. America’s politics has been this way for decades but now we have definitely caught up and our politics is as almost as meaningless and mistrusted as theirs by the general public. In an age of evidence based policy and globalisation no Political Party is able to make iron cast promises so the inevitable result has been that politics has become centred on personalities. Of course the greatest focus is on the political leaders but more diversity will give every Party an opportunity to reflect the electorate and potentially the chance to succeed in these communities.
If the labour Party wants to revive its hopes of once again representing the British public as a whole, it must realise that politics is about change, hope and real people. Ideologies are pointless when policies do not match public needs and the only way to improve this is to open the door of real participation to the governed. The arrogance and ignorance of the past decades and the creeping and now dominant professionalization of the Labour Party must be ditched in favour of attracting and preparing those most affected by policies for future roles in government. When and only when the Labour Party realises this will it become more attractive to real Mancurians in whose city they gather to retain a currently weakening bond.
It is not enough for Ed Miliband to say we need change. This has been obvious for decades. What is required now is action to back up the talk and revitalise Britain’s dying politics.