So now we find ourselves in opposition. This is a chance for us to reflect, to refresh and adapt in order to not only win a full majority in the next election, but for us to use that majority to make Britain a better country, a fairer country which supports those in need and gives each and every one the chance to succeed, whatever success is to that person, regardless of gender, class, colour, sexual inclination or lifestyle choice. We must create a meritocracy in the truest sense of the word, as this not only is the fairest way, but if you really believe in the market then it is the best way.
The defeat has hurt, but despite fears (or in the case of much of the media, hope) that we would be wiped out we have stayed in touch. We have lost a vast number of seats but we still lie second in terms of seats and votes. Indeed, in the Local Government elections we managed to make gains, it’s clear that despite the best efforts of the media, Ashcroft and in so many ways, ourselves, the Labour Party is still one that is supported by millions and trusted by millions more.
So we have a chance. As I say, not just a chance to get back into government, but a chance to make changes for the better when we are back in government. However, in order for this to happen we need to take this opportunity to make changes to ourselves. We need to understand what people love about our party, what they like about it, what their expectations are, but we also need to understand our mistakes, our errors, what we’ve done wrong. I think it’s clear that in many ways we ended up more in the business of government than in the business of being Labour, and in many respects we have lost our way.
What did we get wrong? Well below is a lengthy (yet still not exhaustive, cripes I can go on), badly written and poorly thought out rambling prose that outlines some of the things we need to consider:
My views on this are covered my views on the campaign in this blog: https://drummerboyblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/ourcampaig/
I feel we lost sight of something that is a key pillar of the Labour movement, and this is that people are fundamentally good. When Tony Blair came to office he promised to be tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime, but not ‘tough on everyone in case they might carry out a crime’. Labour is now viewed by many as the party of the police state and this is a very sorry state of affairs. We must review our strategy and our policy in relation to civil liberties. Of course I.D. cards are now dead (and I would have gone to prison rather than carry one), but areas of policy around watching, snooping and tracking people, keeping and their behaviour and then keeping databases on them have to be completely rethought out and in my view, simply got rid of.
We need to go further than just not taking civil rights away, we need to become the party that actively promotes freedom of the individual.
This has to start from childhood, every child’s freedom of religion, freedom to receive a fully rounded education and progressive sex education programme. In the interests of liberty, our party (and therefore our next government) must spend much less time cosying up to religious interest groups and to stop making concessions to them when passing laws against discrimination and we need to push forward against the growing influence from conservatism.
There are many other areas of civil liberties, (take AJ’s rows with David Nutt) where Labour have been heavy handed and conservative, and a full debate on the freedoms and rights that we should have, and the responsibilities that will be expected in return is key, and the results of this debate should make up a Bill of Rights for British Citizens, though of course that means we must be citizens first which brings me onto…
Electoral & Constitutional Reform
Firstly, we didn’t do enough to promote what we’d achieved in government in this area. The removal of Hereditary Peers, the setting up assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London were great moves. I guess we couldn’t shout about our achievements as our programme of electoral reform had stalled. We stopped short of introducing a fully elected second chamber and this was a complete failure which will damage us going forward, the ConDem coalition could steal a march on us here and that will leave an indelible mark in the opinions of the electorate and will allow both parties to deliver a strong key message in forthcoming elections.
So how do we make ourselves the party that is for Electoral and Constitutional Reform? Do we need to be that party? Is reform needed? I guess we need to see what this Government does, maybe they’ll get all the reforms through and we’ll need make no further changes, though I doubt it. I don’t have the answers. My personal view is that Lower Chamber should not use PR, and should instead use AV in order to maintain a constituency link. The second chamber should return members based on region and should use full PR, even if that gives us some distasteful results. After all, Griffin’s not done brilliantly now he’s an ‘official politician’. I see the second chamber also playing a role in representing interests and groups, a house of specialists if you will, and a house where communities that aren’t set out by constituency border can also seek representation (see the blog about reorganising Labour and apply that I guess).
Personally, I want to see us as a republic with an elected Head of State, I find the idea of being a subject offensive, and this isn’t aided by the particular family we find ourselves stuck with as a monarchy being entirely loathsome. Sadly, I cannot see us being able to remove the Monarch completely, but we can introduce reforms. Firstly, we can trim the role of the monarch to being entirely cosmetic. We’ve seen the ludicrous turn of events where we had to ‘activate the Queen’ and it’s nonsense, if we want to be a democracy they must play no role whatever in government, ceremonial or not. Therefore, if we must keep the monarch they should be stripped of all constitutional power, their estate must be stripped back (including property and civil list) and their role should be confined to one of being an international ambassador.
However, the bigger issue here is that we are still subjects. We must become full citizens with a bill of citizens’ rights and responsibilities enshrined in law. What this is to include is up for debate, but I’d be keen to hear what other people think it should include.
Foreign Policy & the Wars
Now mentioning the wars tend to bring about the kind of BBC Have Your Say nonsense that I hate most about the internet, and no doubt if anyone bothers reading this the comments section will be filled with the kind of clever word-plays and unsupported allegations that this debate always brings about. These are that Nu-Liar-Bore, Tony BLIAR and Gordon the MORON are war criminals. They’re not war criminals.
However, regardless of this Labour did take the country into an unpopular war using shitty evidence and justifications. I believe that had Blair not made claims about WMD and had been honest about why he believed the regime needed to be toppled the opposition to this war would have been less vociferous, but still strident nonetheless. Personally, I’m not opposed to interventionist foreign policy in order to topple murderous dictatorships, but it’s difficult to do that in one country and then be chummy with another despot from the country next door.
We then didn’t help ourselves by either allowing torture or not properly dealing with accusations of torture in the name of the ‘War On Terror’ and then being ludicrously one-sided around issues in the region.
I’m not sure how we deal with this. We need to draw a line under the war and that maybe admitting our mistakes and apologising for them. Blair’s never going to do this, but without the chalice of office around his neck maybe Gordon may be able to point to mistakes and make suggestions on what could have been better. We may also have to accept that we may not be able to elect a leader who is associated with the war, which could make a former Foreign Secretary a bad choice, unless he’s prepared to walk the line of a potentially career ending mea culpa.
Going forward we certainly need to set out the criteria for our withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and in order to do this we have to understand what our objectives actually are. Is it stable democracy in both countries? If so (and I hope it is) then we could have troops stationed in both countries for some time. Anything less will be a failure in my opinion.
However, this still leaves the question that we need to answer. What do we want Britain to be in the larger world? Do we need to let go of the myth that we are ‘Great’? Do we need to be more isolationist, or more outward looking as a friend to countries all over the world? Do we need to be closer to Europe or the USA, or (as I believe) become the bridge to Europe, not only for the USA but for many countries with which we enjoy close ties.
Pssst. As an aside, it seems clear to me that the USA is not really interested in Britain anymore (if it ever were), and I’d almost go so far to say that Obama has verged on being disrespectful – but maybe I’m still bitter because his present to Gordon was a Sex and The City box-set and a dog-eared Epcot Centre Guide Book.
Who we are in the world and our place in the international community are important points for debate, and I suggest we start with the question ‘what is it we want from international relations’?
Home & Immigration
As we explore who we want to be in the wider world, this surely means that we need to ask ourselves what we want Britain to be? What is it to be British? For me, I want Britain to be the most or one of the most liberal, most tolerant, most diverse, most caring whilst most pioneering societies in the world.
In order for this to happen we need to start shooting down some bollocks which is being preached unchallenged about immigration. We do not need to tackle immigration; we need to tackle perceptions of immigration. Now I’m for open borders on principle and in terms of practicality. Firstly we need to accept the following and get the message out there in a meaningful way that our country is not full, our economy and services rely on immigration, our society is getting older and we will need immigration to service this fact and to make the required tax contributions needed to maintain it.
Now a lot of chat about immigration is bigoted, and a lot of it is self interested, and I hate the politics of self interest (which is why I cannot abide the Conservative party). If there are working class ‘core Labour voters’ who think that immigration is an issue, then maybe they’re Labour because of self interest, just throwing it out there. If they are, then they’re almost as loathable as a Tory. Though breadline self-interest is considerably more understandable and defendable than the self-interest of the wealthy, who actively pursue policies to push the tax burden onto those that can least afford it, I still believe that empathy is one of the most admirable traits in a human whether they are rich or poor, and if you have empathy you can’t spout crap about ‘all them Eastern Europeans coming over here, where are they coming from’.
However, a lot of people do lack empathy, do put ‘them and theirs’ first and therefore do need persuading of the benefits of immigration. A lot of the rhetoric that has come from the party lately has been about fighting or tackling immigration and it’s put the argument backwards (and frankly it pisses me off because it’s right wing nonsense). We need to tackle this, we need to meet this head on and we need to make our argument, because the argument is there to be made (as anyone who has been following my Twitter feed will have seen me try to demonstrate).
Again though, as a party we need to investigate what our objectives are for British society. In fact, this is our key question and if we don’t answer it, we’ll just be heading into another election with the winning of the election being our aim.
Personally, I think we need to set ourselves some goals. I believe we need to strive further towards creating a true meritocracy. I believe we need to set ourselves the goal of having the highest standard of living and the highest minimum standard of living of any country in the world, bar none.
Now I happen to believe that the city is a great asset for our economy and fully appreciate that the tax revenues generated will help us make a better Britain for everyone. However, they’ve fucked us over. Banks have to be made responsible for digging us out of the hole they dropped is in, they have to make sure that profits are not pushed as quickly as possible out of the companies and into their own pockets and they have to start acting with a bit social conscience. Another day I’ll touch on the failure of the banking industry to communicate their role in society, but for now Labour need to understand their relationship with banking and with the markets and I believe they need to start by setting out a very clear new stance. Government exists to serve the people and not the markets. Whilst I accept the more than vital role that the markets play in the success of our economy, wealthy and influential organisations acting under the guise of ‘the markets’ must not have the right or the power to dictate to democratically elected governments through words or deeds, especially when we’ve just saved their arses .
Don’t get me wrong, people getting stupidly rich is totally acceptable, in fact I openly encourage it. However, we need to reset our relationship with the markets, in fact I think internationally all governments do. Therefore I believe Labour’s aim must be to ensure that Britain is not a slave to the markets, but has a more robust approach and seeks to work with the international community to make markets work for us.
We also need a more diverse range of successful revenue generating industries alongside banking and services. We’re a well educated bunch with a history for leading the way in new technologies and new processes. It’s not just about making stuff and building stuff in the industrial revolution, it’s also about new ways of organising. We need to be the pioneering economy. Our system of taxation and government support has to be geared to making Britain the leader in inventing, developing, delivering and then exporting new patents, new technologies and new processes.
Therefore economically I think, whilst ensuring that our goal for the highest general standard and highest minimum standard of living is our priority, having the economy which also delivers the highest number of self-made wealthy individuals should be top of our priority list. We need to usher in a new age of entrepreneurial endeavour and success and we need to generate a buzz throughout our society based upon this.
Well I believe this is intrinsically linked with the economy. Again, we need to understand what our objectives are here. There’s a lot of panic about how we confront the environmental crisis ahead of us (from people who aren’t too stupid to believe that there is one), but I sense an opportunity. Whilst we’re ushering in a new age of entrepreneurial endeavour we must set our industries and inventors the goal of making Britain the greenest, most energy efficient and energy diverse society in the world whilst not compromising our way or standard of life (hey, I set the bar high), and then export the tech and skills that go with this to the world.
I also feel that a better, greener environment is not just about fighting global warming, it’s about creating greater energy independence for Britain, and therefore allowing us greater independence as a society combined with a reduced need to interfere internationally out of blind self-interest.
However, the greatest benefit will be a better standard of life, cleaner air and streets, hopefully fewer breathing & health problems combined with a skilled workforce generating cold hard cash. Maybe I’m being idealistic and unrealistic here, but it’s something I’d love to see us pursue.
Firstly, STOP. We need to stop with the initiatives, we need to stop the campaigning, we just need to stop, we need to think, and we need to plan. And before we start planning, start policy making, start trying to win the next election, and hopefully start being a high quality opposition (for a short time) we have to answer a couple of fundamental questions, without answer to these an election victory will be an empty one, simply for the sake of winning an election. For me these questions are ‘what is our place in the world’, but the biggest question that we must answer, and without knowing the answer we’ve lost our way is this, what is our objective for society?