I spent much of the weekend contemplating whether or not the Labour Party of today is the party I joined four years ago. The answer in most part is no. I felt ashamed listening to Ed Miliband’s speech at the big TUC march on Saturday, when he effectively glorified the ‘stop all cuts’ movement and compared it to such monumental moments of the 20th century as the suffragettes movement which gave women the vote, the civil rights movement in America and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
As Labour leader, Ed has a legitimate platform from which to address any issue he pleases, but elevating a movement like the TUC march to the level of the civil rights movement I find tone deaf and insulting to that and the other causes he mentioned.
We must ask ourselves, as a party, what kind of Britain we want to create, and whether or not we too are capable of being the party of the vested interest. From my perspective, and that of many others, Labour currently stands for one thing: halting the cuts to the public sector. We have in effect become the party of the public sector. As important as the public sector is, it only represents a portion of society, and is not a panacea for all of society’s ills as many in the Labour Party mistakenly believe. Cutting public spending will have an effect on some peoples’ lives but we have to take hold of our senses – nothing this government can do will take us anywhere near the levels of suffering and deprivation Britain witnessed in the 1980s.
The civil rights movement was an 11-year long struggle to ban racial segregation against black Americans. People died because of the cause they were fighting for; equality based on skin colour. The coalition’s cuts will close some libraries and re-allocate state resources in different ways, it is partly aimed at reducing the deficit and partly out of a desire to change the way the state works in the 21st century. But let’s get this clear, there isn’t and never will be, any appropriate comparison between opposing segregation because of one’s skin colour and making one’s unease about £80bn of cuts from a public purse totalling more than £700bn known by marching on the capital.
There is a universe of difference between library closures and not allowing women to vote.
I believe that a party’s current leader should not effect a person’s decision to remain in that party. That’s why I find it hard to understand why people left in droves under Tony Blair. We had a tough few years under Gordon Brown’s leadership, for a variety of reasons, which emotionally hurt the party. I admit to feeling disappointed when Ed Miliband was elected leader in September 2010, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He hasn’t missed an opportunity to let people like me down, centrists who believed in Blair’s reform and modernisation agenda (the ‘third way’ between state & private provision and a balanced view toward wealth). He didn’t waste any time in declaring that ‘New Labour’ had died; pinning his flag to the mast and in the process insulting a very sizeable and very successful part of the party.
The list of disappointments is too long for this article. Saturday’s speech is the cherry on the cake though. We have become the party of the public sector and nothing more; protecting the status quo and our own vested interests, glorifying the fight against fiscal prudence. This is an electoral waste-ground and I hope either Ed Miliband, or the party at large, realises this and wakes us up from what seems like a very bad dream. If we don’t, expect to lose the next election, and quite possibly the one after that too.