Saturday, May 28, 2011

Labour's Policy Review - Where Is It's Progress To Date?

Assuming that the Tory-led "coalition" government are going to go the full distance (and I have serious doubts about that), what is the most important strategy for the Labour party now and in the coming four years?

Labour are barely 11 months down the line from losing the 2010 general election that no one party won, what is feasible for them to do now? Since the Liberal Democrats with just 57 seats have joined forces with the Tories labour are the only main party of opposition, their immediate job now is to oppose the government where they think it is going wrong and this they seem to be doing quite well and this is a position that is backed up in the opinion polls.

Labour Leader
 Ed Miliband and Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham
Last September Ed Miliband asked Liam Byrne the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury to head up a review of the labour party and policy, this review and overhaul of Labour policy has never been seen before. Byrne has said "there is no one thing that labour can just fix, and that be that" and "it's not a minor respray. It's a major rethink and the agenda that people want sorting out is very broad reaching" "modern" and "open minded". Bearing this in mind it looks like there is going to be exciting times ahead for the labour party and its supporters.

Liam Byrne's off ice is situated on the top floor of Portcullis House in an open plan office, detached from MPs offices below suits Byrne very well apparently.

The first stage of the policy review - the public policy consultations are now drawing to a close. So far shadow cabinet ministers have held over 70 meetings up and down the country, asking over 6.000 people where Labour went wrong, what Labour did well and not so well and what issues they would like Labour to campaign on now, Liam Byrne is apparently pleased with the feedback he has received.

Unsurprisingly what Labour has learnt is that a lot of people are very frustrated with politics and they feel let down badly by politicians. Labour lost touch with its voters during their latter years in government and they now have to work to bring that back. This is the level of the task facing Labour, it is going to be hard, but it is a battle Labour have to win if they are going to convince the electorate to vote for them in the next general election. The electorate are a sophisticated bunch, they now have news 24/7 and they now have the ability to express their views 24/7 so it is not going to be easy.

There have been some recent concerns that there is no hegemony within the Labour opposition and no attempts to construct one, perhaps this is a little unfair because the task is onerous, how do Labour construct a hegemony when they face an uphill battle getting their core message out? It is hard to read a report about Ed Miliband where he is not being constantly criticised for the way he speaks and sounds.

The task for the Labour party now is to  do the groundwork and lay a new philosophy and psychology for the future decade, politics is changing, so labour must adapt and change with it. This is the task that Liam Byrne is undertaking now.

Labour must be magnanimous in defeat, but in my opinion it is time for the navel gazing to stop, it is time now to move onwards and upwards and time to start thrashing out what will be the meat on the bone of labour policy.

Jonathan Rutherford, editor of Soundings Journal and professor of Cultural Studies at Middlesex University, has worked closely with Jon Cruddas and Ed Miliband's office on strategy has said that he is concerned about there being no new political project, or hegemony and that the Labour language is fragmented. Well that is as maybe, but I think Rutherford is in danger of over egging the pudding, if Labour doesn't have a good map in situ then finding where they go as a political party is going to be very difficult, an excellent roadmap will determine where they land up. The review is underway, I see the danger for the Labour party is not what will be eventually decided as policy and a new strategy for Labour, that will be good I'm sure of it, where the danger lies is in the interim.

While Liam Byrne and Peter Hain are thrashing out policy, strategy etc, what does Labour do now? Different groups who are being badly affected by the heartless ideological cuts of the present oppressive Tory-led government, are looking to labour for solutions and  the difficulty is that at the moment there are no alternatives and there are no solutions, to expect a party in opposition to have these solutions one year after a bad defeat and ostensibly four years adrift of the next general election  is very unfair, after all they are in opposition and it is not their job to provide an alternative government, their job is to oppose where and when necessary. However, if they are to improve their standing, it would be a good idea to come up with some kind of strategy for the here and now. Maybe part of the answer is to engage these groups in discussion for future policy and Labour's new manifesto? The people who are out in the communities, the Labour grass roots needs to know who they are and what Labour represents and have some idea of the direction we are heading, they needs to know what the values are of the Labour party and the kind of things that Labour are looking to change in their wide ranging policy review. In my opinion, this is why Labour did not do as well as they could have done in the recent local elections and the Scottish, we know what we are against, but have no coherent message about what we will do about the problems this Tory government are causing. I believe the Scottish elections demonstrated that the Scots knew they certainly did not want a Tory government and just to make sure they did not get one they voted SNP, I do not think it had much to do with the electorate being in love with Salmond, no matter how much that is spun in the press. Strikingly after only one year there still does not seem to be any appetite for another Tory government in England and peoples dismay with incumbent "coalition is palpable and is easily sensed and yet Labour grass-roots still could not say effectively what they would do differently, or what kind of alternative agenda they can offer. If they are to do better Labour simply must have some idea of what they can offer before the next set of elections are  upon  them and it is unfair to send their troops out into the field "unarmed". Liam Byrne is hoping that his review will rebut some of the criticisms and so must the Labour activists be hoping that and also to be armed with some kind of weaponry they can use on the doorstep when next required.

Now the local elections are over Liam Byrne is embarking on his third policy review task - talking to Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), trade unions and affiliated societies, including think tanks. This work will then be presented to the National Policy Forum in Wrexham in June, and then as a series of documents to the labour Party conference in October, around the idea of modern ambitions for Britian. Labour members will get a sense of direction then, but this is only the start of the formal policy making process and according to Liam Byrne this will take another couple of years.

Tristram Hunt is tasked with mulling over the big questions and Hunt is excited about bringing some rigorous academic thinking into the process, he says his contribution is meant to help with the ideas and value strands of the policy review and sees his role as helping to co-ordinate some of his intellectual prowess to feed into Liam and into the bosses.

So for all those people who are wondering what Labour are doing, hopefully this will reveal that Labour really are working very hard behind the scenes to have good sound policies, policies they can deliver with full of hope and promise and policies designed to regain the trust of the electorate. I think they can be trusted to come up with a full root and branch wide spread review of the kind that Labour have not seen before. Labour will produce policies designed to help meet the aspirations of the many for the future and they will come up with a completely new way of doing things and new management techniques, they will cast off the past "bi-polar" way of doing things, they will because they have to. David Cameron has used the coalition politics to his own political advantage, however, what is and was the labour party if it wasn't already the best run and the most successful coalition party and government his country had ever seen? Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, Labour has always been a broad church, a "coalition" of affiliates, trade unions, groups, charities etc and the Labour party has always been at its most successful when it has used this to its advantage. Labour in government lost its way when it relied too heavily on Tony and Gordon and I believe a successful Labour party of the future will return to its roots and once again encompass all of its coalition and embraces people with new ideas and change and exciting new policies and a whole new way of running a political party. Who needs Cameron's "big society"? Labour already had it way before Cameron stole it, the difference between Labour and the Tories is that Labour can always make this work, because the people truly do believe that the Labour party aspires to represent most people in society, it is inclusive, where as the Tories and now the Liberal Democrats are truly selective and at no time in the history of modernity is this being so clearly played out in this so-called "coalition" government today.

Now we come down to what I see as the problem "fro now". It would be madness of Labour to advertise their wares so far ahead of the next election, "I get that" in fact I believe most Labour members "get that", but what do we do now? What do we tell people now? I think for me thinking over where labour came from, what they did and achieved in government is a very good place to start. We can explain that Labour since losing the election labour has gained a huge 56,000 new party members and that Labour is undergoing an exciting new policy review and strategy and structural change never been seen before and that we aim to build on our successes of the past, we should not be shy about trumpeting the enormous amount of good that the labour government actually did as well as be humble and say we want to learn where we went wrong and we will learn where we went wrong and make sure we do not repeat those failures in the future, but it would be good to get a little meat on the official bones and I am quite positive that this will be forthcoming. Which leads me to my next biggest worry!

King Cameron the Arrogant
The King of Broken Promises
I do not believe this Tory-led "coalition government will last the distance and I think it will be absolute madness for Labour not to have pencilled in strategies and manifesto "to go" at a moments notice. There are not now tiny little cracks in the structure of the so-called "coalition" there are now opening up huge crevices that threaten to turn into the mother of all bust-ups from the NHS, economy, welfare reform, Justice, defence, education, tuition fees, these are all major departments in which not only is the cabinet split down the middle, the entire Tory party is also split and the Liberal Democrats are drowning in their own broken promises. This government that has been built on a tissue of lies and broken promises and who deliberately misleads people and intentionally misrepresents others is crumbling and decaying right from its very heart, it cannot possibly last, as things turn worse in the economy (as they already are) and the Liberal support drops off (as it continues to do), the pressures will get to the Liberal Democrats and that in turn will place high pressure on the government. Nick Clegg no longer represents his party, the Liberal Democrats have veered to far to the right at some point in the very near future, MPs will be seeking to amend this situation, if they do it now they may have a chance, if they leave it to the next election they will lose their party anyway, when it comes down to the Lib Dems asking what price is a further four "very fast" years in government going to cost them, this is when the fun will start.

I just hope the labour party is ready to go now, because neither would I put it past Cameron to call a snap election when the problems that are now brewing inside his own party come to a head.

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