Archive for July, 2015

Who are the Labour Party?

July 22, 2015 Leave a comment

I have a strange relationship with politics. In this context, I am talking specifically about party politics.

I have always had an interest in politics. When I was just 1 year old, John Major became Prime Minister. I obviously do not remember this happening however, some of my earliest political memories were of seeing John Major on the TV all the time and each time he appeared, I would shout his name. I am not sure how old I was but I must have been fairly young and I suspect I had no idea what his job really entailed, I just knew that he was fairly important. I remember liking him. Children have a bigger capacity for liking which is endearing. Children don’t tend to ask questions. I imagine if John Major were Prime Minister today, I may have more questions. I am not quite sure why I tell this story – it’s not to say that I was an 8 year old who was politically active. It’s to say that I have always been aware of politics and different parties. I also remember the 1997 election. I don’t remember details but I remember everyone saying that it was a big deal and I remember my dad buying me and my brothers chocolate lollies with the faces of John Major, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown on them. They had different coloured ribbons and I remember asking why they were different. At this point, I realised that politics was difficult and that different people supported different things.

I can’t say that my political interest took off after the 1997 election…I suspect I went back to dreams of being a vet and playing with toys. It’s always been there though.

When I reached High School, I met people who had an interest in politics and I had some of the best conversations during that time. I found High School quite tricky. I felt quite old for my years and I yearned for chat that challenged me. I got that from these individuals. They challenged me to go out and learn about the political parties and learn about policies. 5th and 6th year of school really sparked my interest.

By the time I got to University, I was fully determined to join a society so that I could keep having those conversations. I noticed that there was a general politics society but that there were also party specific ones and for some reason, I thought that university was the time to take the plunge and make a commitment. I read up on policies and decided that Scottish Labour was the best fit for me. They were about social justice, education, employment…all good things. I was particularly attracted to their social justice policies. So, I went to meetings, got myself involved and was all set to get stuck in. I went to my first conference (a youth type one) and it was around then that I started to waver. I went to a full weekend conference…it must have been in around 2007/2008. I was instantly put off – there was  constant negative lament about the SNP and how terrible they were. At this point, I start asking…so if they are, why are you better? What are you saying that they are not? Where is your challenge to what they are saying? There was none. I don’t think it was because the party weren’t capable of challenge, they just went into negative mode and I am not sure they have ever left it. At the time of the conference, Labour were in power in both the Scottish and UK Parliaments. It’s been pretty awful to watch what has happened since then. I had a good time in the society I joined – the meetings were great. The students in Young Labour were amazing but on the bigger scale, I felt hopeless and voiceless. When would policies be the main conversation again? When would Labour start talking to the electorate and stop bad mouthing other political parties? I really thought there would be a change, but I have yet to see it and the hope is fading for me.

More recently, the hope has well and truly faded. There is still a very small glimmer…but not much is left. We’ve now seen Labour’s most disastrous election result (ever?). The loss hasn’t really impacted on my hopes – I kind of expected that. The loss made me really sad because I am genuinely terrified of the effects of a Conservative government. That’s another matter though. What has made me really sad recently has been conversations surrounding the leadership contest. My sadness has been sparked over the rebellion voters on the welfare cuts. Labour MPs were asked to abstain from the vote by the leadership and a good chunk decided to go against that instruction and vote against it. As an opposing party, this should be what they are doing most of the time right? The cuts proposed are going to have a significant impact on young people, on workers – and it’s not a good impact. It’s devastating. I thought Labour were meant to stick up for those people?! That’s what I was told when I naively joined the party back when I was 18. Now they abstain? Offer us something different! That’s why you are there!

So the leadership contest is both dull and interesting. Jeremy Corbyn is gathering support – he was not an abstainer. He speaks up for young people. He speaks up for the vulnerable and he speaks up for workers. He is by far the most compelling and he offers something different. He offers a real alternative to a Conservative government which the Parliament so badly needs right now. The other three? They seem to say broadly the same things and seem to be all set for maintaining this slightly odd centre-right party that offer very little to voters. As Jeremy Corbyn is gaining support, I see that Tony Blair has once again come out for his say on matters. I find it very odd when he comes out and says things in relation to current party issues. There is still a lot of ill feeling about his time as Prime Minister and many blame him for the downfall of Labour. I think there is more to the downfall, but there is feeling out there. It feels like someone thinks that he still carries favour. He was once very popular. It’s like he has been sent with a mission – to steer everyone away from a Labour party that dares to have a left wing agenda. He has been outwardly critcising Corbyn’s approach and it’s incredibly frustrating.

The main frustration with the Labour party is – they don’t know who they are. They are trying to work out who their leader is without having worked out what they stand for and what they want to put forward. Hariet Harmann was on TV recently talking about her instructions to MPs to abstain in the welfare vote. She talked about gaining back trust and becoming electable again. My difficulty with that is…you are currently elected and people want you to actually stand for something. They didn’t vote conservative so you can probably work out that they might want you to offer something different. Get talking to your voters – don’t guess what they want, try to be more Conservative because they got elected. Stick your neck out – offer an alternative, offer something you believe in and people will vote if they believe in it. People need something to believe in.

I really think that the Labour party could be very exciting if Jeremy Corbyn is voted in as leader. I think there might be some kind of split but I hope that there wouldn’t be and that Labour could start offering policies that were different, that were their own and that represented the electorate. If they get someone else…I think there are more wounds to come.

Who ARE the Labour Party???