Since the legacy of Margaret Thatcher came to pass it seems to me that most people on the left have been scared to be left wing. By which I mean whenever I watch some pundit show or Question time or any other opinion piece, the supposed left wingers on the show tend to be afraid to big up the big state, or for big taxes, or generous welfare payments without adding something about hard work. I believe this is all traced back to the 17 years of conservative rule and some myths about our electoral strategies. Most of all though, it is about the biggest rift in the left and the way we elect our politicians in this country.
Before I speak of anything more I must of course address the issue of Margaret Thatcher, now when most important people on the left speak of her, there is both a deep rage and at the same time utter consternation. On one hand she did everything that was unholy, she privatised large swathes of industry, bashed loads of union boys and crippled local power that challenged her like the Greater London Assembly (though at least we got an aquarium out of it!). On the other hand, she won, a lot, 17 years in power for destroying millions of people’s lives, how did she do it?
Common answers to this:
1. Unions made us look bad, Arthur Scargill fought for too long.
2. Tax cuts won over low information voters.
3. Selling off of housing bought the favour of a lot of new lower middle class voters who now had property.
4. Law and Order vote.
5. Labour party was in tatters from extremism and ideological rivalries.
While I would say 1 did definitely help as she could have been beaten during the negotiation phase, and to a lesser extent the others hit the left’s recovery during the 80’s, i would say the primary reason for the wilderness for us is down to a variation of the 5’th, and what i mean by this is a ideological divorce that has been the biggest saving grace for the Tories for the past four decades, but can be traced even further back.
In 1981 the SDLP Alliance was formed, the four labour lions that had formed the Social Democratic Party joined with the Liberals and since this point the left have been divided to the most devastating of consequences. Look at how from this point the SDLP and then Lib Dem parties almost mirror in each other’s voting trajectories. The only time this change is really in 1997 when Tony Blair was at the helm of the Labour party and made a real stretch to appeal to middle England Voters. Prior to 1981 there was still some correlation but it was more sketchy because classical liberals may have felt uncomfortable with oppressive social policies and switched from Conservative to Liberal, but after 1981 this dissolves, the Conservative base remains solid until 1997 where, under the repeated scandals within Major’s government and the Labour Parties major rightward shift in economic policies and defence of law and order deprived the Conservatives of a lot of those who would identify themselves as Conservative.
Now if this is the case, this would basically dissolve the idea of there not being a left wing majority in this country, why did we not have left wing governments? Easy answer: First Past the Post. The largest minority wins the seat, what this means is that if say 40% of the population vote conservative in every seat, whereas Labour gets 35% of the vote, and the Liberals get 25% of the vote, then the Conservatives win every seat in the country (Of course that has not yet nor is it likely it ever will happen). As we see from electoral figures, this is just what happened; the Conservatives had for four consecutive electoral cycles a stable minority, whereas Labour and SDLP fought it out for the same votes. Kinnocks modernisation strategy was almost useless because of this, moderating did nothing because the group they needed were split between two parties, not to mention that the more moderates Labour grew the further away from their working class routes they went, this lead to more votes lost to National Front and other extreme groups though this is a small matter in comparison to the SDLP and Labour.
So the problem then is not anything to do with the absurd idea that people have got more right wing (More on that another time) but that there has simply been a horrible divide between the left that has been totally counterproductive. The Labour party is now more right wing than if it had reconciled itself with the Liberals at any other time, and now there is a lot to say that the Liberal Democrats are more left wing in theory than Labour is in practice.
So what can we do about this? I think there are three options available, and none of them are easy, but one of the three is necessary to stop this rightward surge of politics which is by no means down to a rightward shift in people’s belief but in a failure of the left to properly understand its own short comings and its own loss of ego.
1. A new party: A super merger of the Greens the SWP the Liberal Democrats and Labour, even one with just Labour and Liberal Democrats would be a brilliant start. Yes there are profound ideological differences between the two, but that didn’t stop us in the past, the Labour Party started out as a mad coalition of real hard line Union boys and centrist liberal intelligentsia, there is no reason in this age of diminished (though by no means dissipated) class identity that we can get something like that again. We need to do away with political point scoring and work as a single block, united in the belief of cooperation and mutuality to reach agreements in a proper debated manner.
2. Bring in a Proportional Representational system: This could be done also with AV+ That the Devolved chambers use but i prefer full PR, we create districts with several MP’s and then use multiple preference voting to give a fair share of the vote to parties. This would at least mean that politics would not be dominated by a single minority party, no more 18 years of dominance at the hand of a single party, granted, that still can happen in Proportional Representative systems, to the extreme in fact in terms of Japan and Sweden, but at least that is by popular mandate and hey, those guys are pretty left wing and doing rather well... Well, I promise to talk about Japans problems when I understand them better.
3. One hell of a ballsy labour party: Basically, the next time Labour gets in, it throws away whatever it might have said in its manifesto to get in and conducts a sort of leftist revolution. It reinstitutes labour rights, perhaps makes being in a Union a legal necessity, starts turning lots of industries into co-operatives, breaks up the banks, turns private schools into state schools and engages in party donation reforms, tax reforms and wealth reforms that are so totally comprehensive that the country is changed forever with the plutocrats utterly devastated, it worked for FDR and it can work for us too. In 1933 American society was completely changed overnight as was England in 1983. Hard hitting revolutions do get appreciated and they do get votes.
Now of course the chances of these are very slim, and very difficult to do. But if I have to dedicate my life to making a proper change in this country and the only way might be one of these? I am damn well gonna try. The only way the left is going to win elections is if it not only speaks true about its ideals but really hits hard in attempting to get them through.