Fri 1st Mar 2013
Labour’s disastrous showing at Eastleigh is a self-inflicted wound. Nationally, the party has long enjoyed a commanding poll lead. Last year, Labour won council seats in Southern villages that it had not even contested since the 1970s, if ever. But Labour came third or below in 211 constituencies in 2010, mostly places where it always does, and in most of those pretty distantly.
Imagine a formation which was fully aware that someone needed to keep Labour on track or else stand ready to replace it.Properly organised and sufficiently funded, such a formation could expect to win in 2015 about one third of those seats, i.e., around 70. That would be enough to make a very significant difference, even to hold the balance of power in a hung Parliament. But it could only happen if the unions stumped up the cash, and if Labour stood aside in that formation’s favour.
That formation could and should also fill a very British gap, for a party anchoring the Left while co-ordinating broad-based and inclusive campaigns for human rights and civil liberties, for peace, for environmental responsibility, and for the defence and extension of jobs, services and amenities.
For example, Saturday 22nd June will see the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, at the Central Hall, Westminster, from 9:30am to 5pm, with Tony Benn and Owen Jones. But the anti-war movement of a decade ago never capitalised on the extent to which it reached deep into Tory Britain with its profoundly conservative message of foreign policy realism. The SWP was allowed to make the running, to exactly as much effect as one might have expected. Today, the anti-cuts movement has the potential to reach deep into Tory Britain with its profoundly conservative message of using State power in order to protect organic communities against the ravages of unbridled capital.
That potential is more than apparent from the 16 councillors who are committee members of SPARSE, the network of rural councils fighting the cuts and seriously considering a judicial review of Eric Pickles. Four are Independents, one is Labour, and the other 11 are Tories. It says it all that there is not a single, solitary Lib Dem. It really would be quite a coup if one of those 11, most obviously Councillor Roger Begy of Rutland who chairs it, were to be a platform speaker at the People’s Assembly.
The Eton College George Orwell Society famously sent three delegates to the People’s Assembly Against The War. 10 years on, during which Eton has become big political news, it would be quite another coup to have their successors at the People's Assembly Against Austerity. But it would be even more of one if an Eton boy, an 18-year-old voter so that no one could question it, were to speak from that Assembly’s platform. At 28, even Owen Jones is too old to be the Golden Boy.
Labour is reverting to its historical norm as the voice and vehicle of a many-rooted social democratic patriotism in all directions, exemplified by Angela Eagle on Question Time from Eastleigh, when in one breath she decried both the EU and the City of London, both of which are among the affronts to the sovereignty of the United Kingdom and of its Parliament. Labour is reverting to its historical norm as inclusive of social and cultural conservatives as well as social and cultural liberals. Inclusive of rural as well as urban and suburban voices. Inclusive of provincial as well as metropolitan contributions. Inclusive of religious as well as secular insights.
But Labour still needs a friendly critic and a critical friend.