A fork in the road for Labour

Rather than clutching at the straws of what is clearly a rapidly deteriorating two-party structure, Labour should reconnect with its radical politics in a ‘progressive alliance’.

Miriam Brett
23 April 2015
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Flickr/Labour Party. Some rights reserved.

“Scots. If you don’t vote Labour, you will be responsible for another Tory Government, and we will ensure you are made to feel as selfish as possible. We are the party of the people and we know what’s best for you – get back in your box.”

All too often this kind of argument lurks behind Labour's campaign ahead of the general election. What is the point in voting if we are continually guilt tripped into opting for a party we are no longer passionate about?

This incessant shaming is symptomatic of a failing democracy, and signifies the crumbling of a traditional two-party system. The tectonic plates are shifting. The established figures no longer necessarily hold the balance of power in our political landscape. The voices of smaller parties are gaining strength. The electorate is waking up to the possibility that viable alternative paths exist that challenge the conventional wisdom of neo-Thatcherism. 

The Establishment are frightened all over again, and rightly so.

Of course, you do not have to delve deep into the “Vote SNP get Tory”, “vote Tory get Lib Dem”, “vote Green get UKIP” saga to see the glaringly obvious problem: our appalling voting system warrants this shaming. There is an unprecedented need for a proportional representation system that echoes our policy culture and upholds our democracy. The UK, however, voted overwhelmingly against this. 

So where do we go from here? Will Westminster see the changing political landscape as a much-needed opportunity to reinvigorate democracy, or will they instead go to shameless lengths to preserve an outmoded party structure that has benefitted them for so long? The latter, it would seem.

Let me be clear on three points. Firstly, in most normal, functioning democracies, the electorate is not made to feel blameworthy or imprudent or naïve for voting. Secondly, if the Tories are in power, it’s because people voted for them.

If pundits are thus intent on blaming a section of the electorate for the continued rule of Conservative governments, their own voters seem like a rational, logical target. Lastly, with around 8% of the UK’s population, Scotland’s vote seldom influences the outcome of general elections, let alone determines it. 

Most crucially, it is morally unjustifiable that we are made to feel embarrassed, responsible or ashamed simply for voting in a way that reflects our political culture. 

What was once ‘Labour’s Scotland’ is no longer. And although a staggering proportion of former Labour supporters have realigned themselves with the SNP, this is only one of many symptoms of Scottish Labour’s demise: The loss of a visionary agenda; the anger at Blair; the disappointment of Brown; Scottish Labour’s reluctance to create a distinct identity from Third Way politics; their participation in fear based campaign alongside the Tories; the demonization of supporters who voted Yes; and the outrage at newly appointed pro war, pro trident, pro austerity Jim Murphy. I could go on. In spite of this, Scottish Labour seem stuck in an entirely uninspiring path towards further austerity without any hint of critical evaluation. The days of gritting our teeth and tactically voting for a party that fails to represent us are long gone. 

Rather than clutching to the straws of what is clearly a rapidly deteriorating two-party structure, Labour should utilise this crisis as an opportunity to soul search and self-reflect. They should question why their plummeting support corresponded with a steady shift to the right and a passive acceptance of austerity, and welcome the opportunity to explore alternatives to their own brand of centralised politics and diluted Thatcherism. Most crucially, if Labour want to reverse their waning support, they should take a step back and critically evaluate the popular appeal of anti-austerity parties. As soon as they do so it will become clear that, rather than an obstacle to their governance, a ‘progressive alliance’ could be central to Labour reconnecting with its radical politics.

The new balance of power in the dynamics of UK politics has created a fork in the road for Labour. They can either continue down the scorned path of guilt, tripping us into voting for their austerity, or they can embrace the creative political dynamics that collaboration with smaller, progressive parties offers. If they choose the latter, it is possible that we may see the turnaround of an otherwise terminal decline and the emergence of a reinvigorated Labour Party at the heart of a genuinely progressive government.

Only time will tell. But in the meantime, let me be clear. Vote for the party you support, but only with your own free will. Only if you think that party will enrich our social fabric. Only if you think the candidate will best represent your community, and only if you are genuinely passionate about their policies. Come May, whichever way you vote, do so with autonomy, conviction, vision and hope. 

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