Judging from the anguished outpourings of our columnists and bloggers, many on the Labour left have conflicted feelings about the government's plunge in the polls. On the one hand, it is hard not to feel that Labour deserves a kicking for abandoning the basic principles they were elected to promote. On the other, the spectre of another decade or two of Tory rule seems a hard price for us all to pay for the pleasure of giving Labour its comeuppance.
For decades those on the left (both in and out of the Party) have fought to get Labour into office, to keep them there and to defend them from their detractors. But after years of watching the government enact policies that exacerbate economic inequality and choose market domination over the common good, we are struggling to find a reason to keep supporting them, beyond the feeble fear that the Tories will be worse. Gerry Hassan sums up the total sense of disillusion in his recent Compass think piece, when he asks: 'What does Labour now stand for when "economic growth and social justice" has become so hollow, and "for the many, not the few" sounds meaningless? Who does Labour give voice to and who does it claim to represent?' (Hassan, 2008).
So what is the answer? And what do we do to rescue ourselves from the abyss we seem to be sleepwalking into? The remedy proposed by Hassan, and many others, is debate.
Labour desperately needs to change how it thinks of the world, and see the reality of the world as it is outside of the Westminster village ... The new terrain it needs to explore is not the Blairite time warp shaped by the battles of the 1980s, or the Brownite world of fear and caution, but can be found in the discussions within Compass, and within the politics of the new devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales, about what being progressive really means. I have nothing against debate. It would be naive to think that we could find effective engines of social change without a solid analysis of underlying problems. But if debate is all we do, we will end up quibbling and arguing, hair-splitting and point-scoring while the gains of a progressive agenda slip further and further away.
What we need is action, thoughtful, well considered action, but action nonetheless. Here's why. Building a movement--the real meaning behind 'the many and not the few'
One of the most dispiriting aspects of party politics is the extent to which real, grass-roots activism has dwindled. The Labour Party has less than 200,000 members now, compared to over 400,000 in 1997. Compass debates are happening on even a smaller scale, amongst about two to three thousand members.
Even if we were to miraculously convince Labour politicians to 'see the light' and adopt a truly progressive agenda, and even if the popularity of that manifesto got them elected for another term, where would we find the broad social movements capable of holding government to that path? How would we ensure that once elected, Labour didn't once again throw in their lot with the business elite? Ralph Miliband once wrote:
Given the degree of economic power that rests in the 'business community' and the decisive...