Just a quick disclaimer before I get into the main bulk of this blog post. I am inspired to articulate my thoughts on the future of the Labour party after reading many articles and after attending the Fabian Society next left conference today. Therefore I doubt you will find many original view points in this particular post. I merely wished to outline- influenced by what I have heard today, my ideological viewpoints and the issues I feel need to be addressed by a progressive government-what ideal form I would have the Labour Party take after this election defeat (and yes…..we did lose, acceptance is the first step in moving on comrades).
There were many statements in todays conference that hit me like ton of bricks for want of a better simile. They hit me so hard, because suddenly I realised that here were people talking about the kind of things that made me want to involve myself in politics in the first place, words like political movements, progressive forces for change, reaching out, empathy,community, love, compassion, democracy and probably the most overused and thus now hollow word of this general election CHANGE. And it hit me hard because I had a sudden realisation that I had lost these words somewhere in the myriad of policies and statistics and plain old bickering and tory bashing, I had somehow come to dismiss these words and ideas as being, in some way too idealistic and naive for politics. And it seems as though by what people were saying today, the Labour Party had left some of these ideas by the wayside too. Ed Miliband rightly championed the successes of the early days of New Labour but accused the part of becoming too technocratic, a spin machine etc etc.
As it has been said many times over the last week, although it is not preferable the fact that we are now in opposition gives us the opportunity to renew and rejuvenate (words I also suspect will be used so much they become meaningless) and go right back to basics, to reconnect. And going back to basics is EXACTLY what we need to do. The Labour party started as a movement, a movement for the workers who wanted a voice, who were sick of being governed by those who they didn’t feel represented them. We need to find that essence again, the idea that we need to be a movement that is representative of this country, and I feel particularly of the working people of this country. How do we do that? Well its not really rocket science, get as many people involved as possible, make it a mass movement. When I talk about involvement I don’t only mean members, I mean constituents as well. What I would really like CLPs to start doing is really reaching out into the community, holding debates about local, and wider political issues. This does not mean pandering to popular opinion all of the time, that could be disastrous, but really opening policies up to scrutiny and debate by the people who, at the end of the day are going to have to live with them.
How we engage members and draw members in is of course important too, if we are to be a grassroots progressive force to be reckoned with. I have little to say on this matter that has not already been said. Ed Miliband said that the party had to be an exciting place to be and I agree 100% wholeheartedly. I think the number one issue is clearly the need to give members more say in Labour Party policy, making the party not only a more exciting place to be but a more democratic one too. Many people I know resigned their membership over a policy made in the top, which when made they felt that they couldn’t affiliate themselves with the party anymore having a sense of being completely disregarded. The second issue is to make CLPs more exciting, what I have in mind are mini think tanks for the party that will be listened to. Places not only of dry meetings about proceedings but of intellectually stimulating debate, and projects, coming up with new ideas. I think this would ensure that the party was never in any danger of becoming stale and old. It would always have an abundance of fresh new ideas, coming not only from policy makers at the top but from people at the bottom. Members should also help address the issues of the communities around them, which brings me onto my next point.
Don’t ignore the small issues. The big narratives are often very important but we can’t get lost in them, and we can’t lose people in them. Politicians come knocking on my mams door, telling her about all of the wonderful labour achievements, but to someone who has to worry about money for food, a policy that was made in Westminster, that she may never tangibly feel the benefit of doesn’t really seem to persuade her. I think this goes back to what Ed Miliband said about how the most important quality in politics is empathy. My mum doesn’t ask for the gap between rich and poor to be close (although I feel this should always be an ideal aim to work towards) she just asks that her day to day life be something more about survival, that it be that little bit better. The party need to look at what can be done to make peoples day to day lives better, within the wider narrative.
I feel I have gone slightly off topic here, and I am probably boring you all and making little sense. So I will finish with the issues that I feel need to be prioritized. Housing, fair taxation and electoral reform are all very important for me. However….although Labour has gone some way to addressing this issue I still feel more needs to be done about the inequality in our education system. Thatcher once compared our children to poppies, and she said it was fine to let some grow taller than others if they had the ability to do so. Problem is Maggie T, some poppies do have the ability to grow taller, because, in an unfair farming system some are given water and light while others are kept in the shade, just like our children. Some have access to frankly sub par facilities, schools and teachers, and are forced to grow up in a very hostile educational setting. I believe the root of most inequality lies within the inequalities in the education system which Labour need to do more about.
So there we have it, my ramblings on the future of a Labour Party. We need to stop battling old wars and turn ourselves into the progressive force for change that this country deserves.