Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The strange slow death of the Labour Party

Do all political parties have a lifespan? I think so. Its hard to imagine the Tory Party coming to an end, because it represents the interests of a particular class very effectively, and has done for 200 years or more. But even the Tories are vulnerable, not so much because of UKIP, but because they now really only represent a very narrow sectional interest consisting of the corporations and the very wealthy. The 'free' market and globalisation is set to grind down their middle class support, narrowing their political base still further. The latest manifestation of this is the sacrifice of the legal profession on the altar of the market to promote the interests of big business who are eying up what's left of the funding for legal aid. The fact is that the Tory vote has been in decline since 1931, and there is no sign of this changing.

But this post is meant to be about Labour, why is Labour heading into irreversible decline? The answer is simple - the party has abandoned its base, just like the Tories. The only reason so many people still vote for it is that it is seen as the only viable alternative to the Tories, and it is still funded by the trade unions. Of course its true that Labour's base has changed anyway in the past 30 years or so. The bedrock of working class support that could once rely upon has diminished, but Labour still ought to be able to rely on the support of the progressive majority in the UK, but now, it no longer can.

I believe Labour will win the next election and that it will probably win outright, but it will win by default, because enough people want to see the end of the Coalition, not because of any great enthusiasm for its leader or policies. Labour will win purely because it is the lesser of two evils and represents a little hope where now there is none. Labour ought to storm back into power on a positive anti-austerity platform. But it seems the Party has been so rotted by its embrace of the market that despite the mistakes of the Blair/Brown era it has really learnt nothing. Its leadership is incapable of making the break with neoliberalism.

The latest manifestation of this came only recently when shadow chancellor Ed Balls made yet another break with universal benefits by means testing the pensioners' winter fuel allowance. This is pretty poor stuff, which can only serve to weaken the whole welfare state further, and follows on from Labour's embrace of workfare, amongst other things. But it gets even worse because Labour are now likely to adopt the Coalition's spending plans after 2015 and yet further deep cuts are in the pipeline. The acid test will come if Labour forms the next government. Expect protests to grow not diminish. More people will drift away from the party and the decisive point will come if unions decide to make the break. If the Labour leadership continue on their current course they will be leading the party to oblivion. The question is not when, but how long it will take for the crunch to come?