The politics of the press room is failing Labour

19th February, 2012 11:13 am

I wrote on LabourList last month about Labour’s problem with seminar room politics. The point still stands. Our message is frustratingly frequently articulated through Guardian comment pieces about the nature of the state and social democracy instead of anything that affects normal people’s everyday lives. But we have another problem. Press room politics. Our shadow ministers sometimes seem to deluge the airwaves with opposition to government policy without any attempt to talk about our alternatives. In the place of popular policies to rally around, we appear to be attempting to win favour with endless press releases opposing every dot and comma of every new initiative and piece of legislation.

What will the next Labour government do to make people in Britain’s lives better? We know what Ed Miliband thinks of Stephen Hester’s bonus. We know what he thinks of News International. We seem to know what Labour’s position is on all Westminster Village fads, but still don’t know what our party will seek to do in power. Our shadow cabinet are stuck opposing every minutiae of government policy because they are allowed to say nothing else. On High Speed Rail, we were in favour of the idea but opposed to the route. On a consultation about small charges for Freedom of Information requests we screamed with horror over a change that would, realistically, minorly inconvenience a few journalists. We even bothered opposing the handling of breast implants recalls. This isn’t the way a government in waiting behaves.  Our approach to opposition cannot be based on a desperate attempt to get a quote in an article about decisions made by someone else. We need to get serious and show that we are capable of changing the lives of the people who need the Labour Party in government.

People in Britain are hurting. Real incomes are falling. Netmums reported on Thursday that one in five mothers regularly miss meals to feed their children and that one in three families are using credit cards simply to pay the bills. The middle class, living in marginal constituencies, are being throttled, not squeezed. The people that previously bought Mondeos or built conservatories are counting the pennies, not thinking about whether Stephen Hester deserves to be grotesquely rich or merely filthy rich.  They deserve alternatives to the Tories program of destruction.

The Labour Party’s unified rejection of Andrew Lansley’s attempted destruction of the NHS goes some way to illustrating the problem. Labour is right to fight the destructive reforms and is right to attempt to push them up the agenda. But our opposition is unsustainable without some indicators of a future Labour Party agenda for the NHS. There is no status quo option. As our population gets older, a future government will need to make choices about how we deliver health and social care. My preferred option, more socialised funding of the NHS and a National Care Service funded by taxes on privatised health insurance schemes and wealth taxes on the most expensive houses, is controversial. But so are all the options. Continued funding of an increasingly expensive healthcare system exclusively out of general taxation is controversial. Part privatisations and charges for minor operations and lifestyle caused diseases are controversial. If Labour wants to be taken seriously, we need to show that we are ready to take on controversy and take a lead on sometimes difficult decisions. We haven’t shown that yet.

Our party is better than this better than this. We have tremendous strengths going into the 2015 election. We are buoyed in the polls by disgruntled ex-Liberal Democrat supporters. We are startlingly united as a party. We have a leader prepared to be bold and a country that desperately needs bold action. David Cameron arrogantly assumes that any challenge to market orthodoxies will result in electoral defeat for Labour. He doesn’t understand the anger at train and energy companies so well articulated by Ed, and fundamentally doesn’t believe in the use of the state to make people’s lives better.  All this should be fertile ground for the Labour Party.

We are almost exactly half way through the Parliament. So far Labour has failed to explain why our party deserves to be elected in 2015. We don’t need the politics of the seminar room or the press room. We need some policies.

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