The end of opposition

Posted on January 15, 2012 by | 13 Comments

Yesterday the official opposition gave up. In a packed room at The Insititute for Education Ed Balls finally confirmed what many of us have been thinking for a while: The Labour Party aren’t the alternative.

As the cuts continue to bite, the wages of workers remain stagnant and the economic outlook for the UK remains gloomy you’d be forgiven for thinking that the official opposition might just step into the breach and make a stand. You’d be wrong. Yesterday Ed Balls capitulated to the most ruthlessly pro-market government we’ve had in many years. The Labour Party, he said, would not reverse any of the Tory cuts or tax raises if they won the next election and they’d keep the freeze on public sector pay.

The reason given for the capitulation – and we heard this time and time again at yesterday’s Fabian Conference – is that the Labour party must be “trusted on the economy”.  In the main plenary Chukka Ummuna MP, the pollster Deborah Mattison and the former economic secretary to the treasury Kitty Ussher clambered over each other to proclaim the need for policies that look sensible to the public. Later in the day Polly Toynbee suggested that the Labour party must look tough on the economy now in order to gain power and do the things they really believe in.

The state of our parliamentary democracy could hardly be more dire. We have three parties who are singing off the same orthodox hymn sheet. The official opposition, lying down to die in the face of focus group studies and opinion polls which suggest the public believe cuts are necessary, have given up making the case for doing things another way. The few dissenters who remain, like the single Green parliamentarian, are accused by the Labour party of ‘playing into the Tories hands’. The cuts, we are told by all three main parties, will continue, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Instead of providing political leadership Ed Balls is using the public’s fear about the economy as a starting point for his party’s policies.

Let’s be clear: The Labour Party have hardly been a shining light of independent thought and radical ideas in their time in opposition. But Ed Balls’ rather sudden lurch to the right is still hugely disappointing. Defending public spending, while the government spew bile about a ‘bloated state’ and ‘extraordinarily levels of debt’, was hard enough already. But now, with the Labour Party abandoning the hope of persuading the reluctant public of any alternatives to austerity, those of us still calling for a change of course are set to become more marginalised than ever.

It’s all about looking like a party of government they say. But what the Labour leadership fail to see is that they are just looking like a less enthusiastic version of the Tories. The choice for the electorate is between a party who sound convincing while they make cuts and one who look guilty about it. The promise is that once they’ve seen the destruction of many of the services upon which people rely, they’ll reshape the economy to a fairer form of capitalism. It looks to me like the Labour party have run out of ideas.

Austerity isn’t working. The Labour Party have been saying it for months. But somehow, after an all-to-close analysis of the polls, Britain’s second biggest political party have done a monstrous u-turn. They’ve let down their members, many of whom must be questioning why they’re still in the party. They’ve let down the left, whose battle has just become ever more difficult. But mostly The Labour Party have let down the British public who will now be blindly led down the path of ignorance to austerity, with no-one in parliament fighting their corner.

This post first appeared on Matthew’s blogSegment Politics

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13 Responses to “The end of opposition”

  1. EyeEdinburghNo Gravatar
    January 15th, 2012 @ 3:01 pm

    I read Ed Balls speech and was both disgusted and despairing – how can we hope to oppose the Tories in 2015 if Labour, the only party which could realistically form a government, have already capitulated?

  2. Alasdair ThompsonNo Gravatar
    January 15th, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

    Frankly, I’m glad Balls has said this. While there was still the possibility that Labour wouldn’t be quite as bad as the Tories there was the temptation to hope that they would win next time and that all we had to do was delay votes, attack the Tories and try to break the coalition. Now he’s explained that they’ll be just as bad and reverse no cuts it’s clearer to see that the only way we can change anything is through grassroots direct action that either takes power from parliament or gives them no choice but to change policy.

  3. Right to the CityNo Gravatar
    January 15th, 2012 @ 4:23 pm

    Good piece. The wages of workers aren’t stagnant though, they’re declining (and a lot more in some places than others – especially Labour heartlands, which made his statement all the more galling.

    It was also interesting that he came out with the same day S&P said austerity wasn’t ‘enough’ – they’re completely clueless and just look stupid. It’s a hell of a long time since Labour’s been an effective opposition though I guess…

  4. Alasdair ThompsonNo Gravatar
    January 15th, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    I wouldn’t say that the rating agencies are clueless, they just have very different objectives than you or I. So when they say austerity isn’t ‘enough’, they’re right, it’s evidently not enough on its own to restore growth and hence profits and capital accumulation. From our point of view it also destroys lives and services, but that’s not really their concern. It might be true that some sort of Keynesian programme could restore growth and protect the welfare state, but I suspect on its own that wouldn’t be enough either and would require (at least) a pretty major redistribution of wealth, which the markets have no desire to see.

  5. Right to the CityNo Gravatar
    January 15th, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

    That was badly worded – I meant Labour/Balls are clueless. While they’re fumbling around trying to sound ‘credible’ on the economy because of a couple of opinion polls, S&P contradict them the same day.

  6. NovikovNo Gravatar
    January 16th, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

    I wonder if anyone above, including Matthew Butcher, actually remembers what Britain was like before 1997?

    The NHS on its knees, no minimum wage, no Sure start, no semi decent public sector wages, crumbling public sector infrastructure, etc etc.

    Labour changed all that, and much else. There were mistakes, of course, some serious.

    And now when Ed Balls states the “bleeding obvious” – there will be a massively downsized state funded sector by 2015, and its not electorally credible to say “we’ll just top up to 2009 spending levels” – Labour has suddenly sold out.

    To say Labour have “given up” on promoting “alternatives to austerity” is a misrepresentation of what he said, pure and simple. He did prioritise unemployment over public sector wage increases though. Perhaps Matthew disagrees?

    Popular moods take a while to turn around, and recessions often lead to a popular resurrgence of the right electorally. Sad but true – look at the Tea Party movement in the US or Spain (with 40% youth unemployment!). Ed Miliband has started a critique of neo-liberalism, and by implication New Labour.

    If Salmon and Sturgeon are what you want, fair enough. Or if you want ideological purity there is plenty of choice on the far left. Me, I’ll stick to the only progressive alternative for the UK with any chance of winnig power for social justice, which is Labour.

  7. CharlieNo Gravatar
    January 16th, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

    I remember the times before 97. I was cynical that those fucking sharp suited fuckwits wiould betray the working class once again. I don’t give a fuck if they are labouur or tory, they speak for the bosses, capitalism and another shit sandwich for the people who do all the work. I don’t want any of them. Labour has fuck all to do with social justice and everything to do with pacifying any sort of resistence.

  8. Alyson MacdonaldNo Gravatar
    January 16th, 2012 @ 7:44 pm

    I remember what things were like pre-97 as well, and the problem is that the Labour leadership now seem to think that it’s okay for us to go back to that. I suppose we’re all just supposed to be grateful for the few good years that we got, and go back to being docile plebs who put up with schools buildings that let the rain in, or waiting 2 years for an operation on the NHS.

  9. Jonathan KentNo Gravatar
    January 17th, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    Labour’s biggest problem is that it’s failing to offer people a vision of the future that either makes sense or that gives the vast majority any sense of what their place in it will be – other than as an insignificant cog in a vast economic machine.
    We do need to have an honest discussion about what longer life expectancy and the rapid growth of economies like India, China, Brazil and many other developing nations will mean for the way that we consume. There will be billions more people wanting a share of the resources that people in Europe and North America have been used to having the lions share of.
    However, leaving wants aside, there’s no excuse for not addressing peoples needs. Labour’s capitulation extinguishes the candle of hope for millions of people who are unemployed, disabled or elderly. Nor does it do anything to acknowledge the fact that if, as a nation, our share of the global pie is going to fall then failing to address growing income disparties in the UK simply adds insult to injury. If people are having to come to terms with the possibility of working longer for less then living in a society that values people purely in monetary terms then allowing a very priviledged minority to continue to swan through the crisis largely untouched by it all without requiring them to share the pain of those who are worst affacted by all this, is unsustainable. Labour has given no clear response to this problem and Balls’s retreat leaves millions feeling they have nowhere to turn.
    The Greens may make some headway in this climate, but so may the headbangers who think that persecuting minorities or torching city centres is a better expression of their desparation. If Ralph Miliband were still alive I expect he’d be deeply depressed.

  10. Drew GillNo Gravatar
    January 17th, 2012 @ 4:57 pm

    Labour were already holding the torch for neo-liberalism before the 2010 elections. Blair was the heir apparent for Thatcher and took us to war in Iraq and laid the ground for the planned undemocratic NHS reforms. Yes, it was good, lots of public sector jobs (I had one of them!) and public investment but no backtracking on Tory privatisations and some of the Trade Union reforms. Blair said he would not take things back pre Thatcher and now we have the same mantra again! Most importantly they presided over and did nothing about the top 3% getting richer and the obscene banker bonus culture.
    Miliband on the Andrew Marr on Sunday (15/1/12) sounded more articulate than of late but also was using the same cliches as Blair, almost like a second rate clone!
    We need a grassroots led broad left/green/occupy/alternative coalition and it needs to start NOW. We also need an inspirational leader not confined to party dogma. Would Caroline Lucas step forward please? We also need to expose the 57 Lib-Dem Traitors for what they are, nothing but “power at all costs” politicians, both nationally and at constituency level to make the lives of these 57 MPs extremely uncomfortable. Anyone got funds for a Billboard campaign??

  11. DougieNo Gravatar
    January 17th, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

    “A grassroots led broad left/green/occupy/alternative coalition”?

    Dream on, son.

  12. JonathanNo Gravatar
    January 17th, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

    As Michael Foot once so wisely observed; “the greatest enemy of democracy is cynicism.” Better a dreamer than a cynic eh Dougie?

  13. hipnosisNo Gravatar
    September 21st, 2014 @ 7:59 am

    Very good post. I am going through some of these
    issues as well..