It seems that a number of people find it rather strange to think that
the Labour Party is the best vehicle for the achievement of a progressive politics in this country, and that battles over what counts as progressive politics ought to be fought within it.
Sadly, I can well see why. The Labour government over the past eight years has hardly met the heights of the Attlee administration, which in terms of its dominance of the Parliamentary scene it has significantly outstripped. A national minimum wage has been introduced, at a level which working full-time on it would lead to virtual penury, and unemployment has fallen, but without, it would seem, increasing job security or reducing hours; large increases in public spending have been made, and in some cases have made substanial differences, but have so often been crippled by a bizarre insistence on using public money to line the pockets of the shareholders of large construction firms; some effort, not wholly unsuccessful, to remove children from poverty has been made. These are bitter-sweet, limited achievements, so much less than could have been done, and yet, I'm struggling to lengthen the list. It's hardly the foundation of the National Health Service, the introduction of free secondary education, the establishing of child benefit, and the nationalisation of swathes of industry, all of which the Attlee government achieved in six years, two less than Blair has already been in power. This is of course without mentioning the adoption of all kinds of mendacious, reactionary rhetoric on law and order well before the war on abstract nouns apparently justified greater restrictions on civil liberties than at any other time than in living memory, or foreign policy at all. It would be fair to say I don't really like the current Labour government.
So, why did I join the Labour Party? Because the Labour Party is not the current Labour government. The Labour Party is a group of people, the majority of whom affirm, in the one of the usual senses, the first sentence of Clause Four: 'The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party'. The distinction between this organisation and the current Labour government could hardly be clearer, since it is neither, on any plausible reading of either, democratic nor socialist. It is a government of the Daily Mail, not of the typical Labour voter, or of the typical Labour member. It's like it's an odd historical accident, a kind of cruel joke, that it is formed by members of the Labour Party, since they and the Labour Party seem to share so little. I joined because I believe in the party, and in its capacity to regenerate and reinvigorate itself, to find leaders other than those it currently has, and to then return to the values of social justice and mutual tolerance it once stood for. This may be a leap of faith, but as a broad coalition of progressive interests since the collapse of the Liberals in the twenties and thirties, the Labour Party has been reasonably successful, and it would be unwise to assume that Blair et al have done permanent damage to it, or that what is to be gained by abandoning it will be a huge improvement. Phil mentioned in his comments on the previous post the formation of the Labour Party, taking it that it is a given that the fracture of the progressive movement and ushering in of three decades of conservative dominance was a good. I'm less sure.