There was a time, not so long ago - though it seems so long ago now as to be almost another era - that I was a member of the Labour Party. It's almost a shameful secret nowadays, but I was. Not only that, but I actually did some of the ridiculously dull stuff that goes on up and down the country to try and keep party politics going - handing out leaflets in windswept shopping precincts, sticking party literature through people's doors, attending interminably dull local committee meetings, that sort of thing.
I did all that because I believed in what Labour had to offer the country and because I felt that Labour could deliver real change. I believed that Labour cared about working people, poorer people; that it really wanted to narrow the gap between the richest and the poorest.
As you have guessed, this was before 1997. Not very long before then, but long enough for me to try and reconcile my attitude back then as one of naive optimism rather than gross stupidity. At least, that's what I try and tell myself now.
This week's elections have been a body blow to Labour. People simply haven't been turning out and voting for a party that was their natural friend in years gone by. It is a dear hope of mine now that these disgraceful results, plus the appointment of that straw-haired buffoon as London Mayor, might wake Labour up. Might make them think that something's gone terribly wrong. Might make them analyse things and do some soul-searching. Might make Labour return to the place it once was when it really was the voice of working people.
That's a fairly vain hope, as far as I can see. If anything, there could be a lurch even further to the right, as the ultra-Blairists aim to oust Gordon Brown and target his leadership. Voters will then be faced with a choice between slightly different variants of exactly the same right-wing politics, from 'Orange Book' Lib Dems to David Cameron's Tories to whichever New Labour shower stagger over the finishing line come 2010. No-one will see anything wrong with this, or anything out of the ordinary.
Has anything been learned from the 10p tax disaster? That perhaps the less well-off, the working classes, the Labour stalwarts, don't actually take very kindly to Gordon Brown offering billions and billions of taxpayer pounds to prop up greedy gamblers in the City of London while making the poor worse off? No? No, of course not. What's needed is more PFI, more propping-up of private enterprise with taxpayer cash, more free handouts to private companies to run rail and bus monopolies at a monstrous profit, more privatisation of healthcare, more wars fought against the Muslim world, more curbing of freedom in the interest of 'national security', more sucking-up to big business. That's clearly what's going to win over those who used to vote Labour, but who won't any more, isn't it.
There will be some who will say that Labour's implosion at the polls this week was because of David Cameron's brilliant organisational skills and reforms, the Tories' new-found appeal to the centre ground, Boris Johnson's spectacular charisma and, yes they will say this too, that people are fed up with immigration. All that is bollocks, of course, though Cameron presents himself well, that has to be said. Who even knows a single Tory policy, apart from their stance on inheritance tax? I can't think of one - and that one that I can think of is one designed to benefit the rich. Johnson is a bumbling clown, a man who is intelligent and articulate in print but barely an idiot when trying to express himself without the help of a keyboard - not ideal qualities for someone whose role will require diplomatic and sensitive skills. And immigration levels would have been the way they are whether Labour or the Tories were in power, though of course the Conservatives walk away whistling innocently when you bring that up. There's no way they would have pulled out of EU expansion or barred the doors to Eastern Europeans, no way in the world. But because they're not Labour, they can pretend that's exactly what they might have done, had they been at the helm. They wouldn't have done. Nor should they have done.
But what point is there still supporting Labour? In the early days, Blair and his cronies could be sure of a bedrock of support from the traditional heartland, places who would never vote Tory no matter what Labour did - just as the Tories will always be returned in the home counties, even if they promise to murder every single Conservative voter in their beds. In Labour clubs up and down the country, they took the bitter pill of privatisation, PFI, illegal war and the like, knowing that at least it was their side that was in charge, and they had some say in affairs. But now even the core voters are deserting New Labour. What's the point? Why not just vote Tory? Why not vote at all, if there's no voice, no way of being heard? Why bother with trying to have a say about anything, if your leader, like Blair, will just take his advice from God, ignore the population and do what he thinks is right. Why bother voting at all, if that is the contempt with which you will be treated?
If Labour really wants to have any chance whatsoever of a comeback from this disaster, they must look at how to attract voters back. Not through doing what big business and their friends in the US want, but by actually listening, to what real people want, and trying to make promises on those issues they can really keep. If not, they are doomed.
I shouldn't care. I stopped voting Labour a long time ago. But food prices are rising. Economic times are tough. Things are getting tight, a recession might be coming, jobs may be lost and the poorest in society are losing the most. This really isn't the time for a Conservative government to continue Blair's neoliberal conquest of Britain. This is the time for a government that really does give a fuck about ordinary people and their lives. If only there were a political party that represented that ideal. There used to be, and it used to be the Labour Party. Those days are gone.
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