Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Time for Unpopular Decisions

At a parliamentary reception earlier this week, one of the MPs who was co-hosting the soiree was overheard by yours truly saying that he planned "a lot more of these kind of events in the dying days of the Labour government." Flippancy aside, he was tacitly accepting that he will lose his seat at the next election.

A broadly popular, independent-minded MP who has not needed to follow the party line unquestioningly, six months ago he would probably have been confident of keeping his seat irrespective of pre-New Labour voting trends in his constituency. So why is he, like many other Labour MPs whose political roots precede the Blair takeover in 1994, at risk?

For many of those on the far and mid-left, the accession of Gordon Brown to the leadership of the Labour party was seen as an opportunity not just for renewal but revival. For some, Brown represented a direct link to "Old" Labour in a way that "Tory" Blair never could. Secretly, if cautiously, we hoped that the under- and working classes would again be the true priority of a Labour government, as some think - perhaps mistakenly - it would have been under a John Smith regime.

True, successive electoral victories on the back of what true leftists would consider a centre-right New Labour agenda were compelling in their efficacy - and for a long time overpowering - but again and again the question arose: "what has the government actually done?" There can be no denying that investment in Education and the NHS is far greater than it was under the Thatcher and Major governments. Equally, the introduction of the minimum wage and partial Lords reform ( just how partial we have seen in the last week) boded well. But think, really think, what major socially or economically redistributive policies have NL introduced since, say, 2001 or 2005?

I am probably not alone in considering the recent nationalisation of the banks as a welcome, if Pyrrhic, victory; a testament to the long-held view that capitalism is destined by its very nature to eat itself. But isn't this awful situation - where a dangerous mix of recession and immigration concerns lead ominously to wildcat strikes; where those that caused this global problem are allowed to get away unpunished while the havoc they have caused is calmed using the taxes of the very people who will suffer most - is this not directly a result of the laissez-faire, unregulated and deregulated economy that "Tory" Blair, Gordon Brown and the New Labour government allowed to run unfettered for so long?

What does it say about this country that at a time when the principles underpinning the free market system are at their most questionable, the Conservative party - the "party of business" - is gaining ground on a Labour government by arguing the case of the man on the street?

What does it say when the United States of America, the country whose vanguard role in globalisation, and via whose sub-prime mortgage market the domino-effect began, have elected (dare i say it) a left-wing president who has restored more confidence in his people than any leader in a generation? A man who will attempt to defy Republican opponents to push through legislation that will benefit the "little fleas" as much as those "bigger fleas" who have fed off the hard work of others for so long. It almost makes me wish i was American. Almost.

Isn't it time to admit that blindly following the system has been a failure, that toadying up to bankers and financiers has not worked, that the natural role for a Labour government is to the left and that this country - this world - can only be regenerated through a harsh, hard-line introduction of policies that may not be popular in the short-term but will give all of us greater stability in the long run.

Replacing traditional manufacturing industries (not that there are many left in this country) with "green" industries, for example. Or stringent regulation of the banking system with corresponding powers of control enforced by parliamentary act. And the radical and rapid adoption of alternative energy sources that will remove our need for crude oil, regardless of "Nimby" opposition. Or all of the above.

If the Labour government is going to lose anyway, as even its best and brightest MPs now believe, what has anyone got to lose?

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