I recently heard about a working paper that Eliane Glaser had written for the New Economics Foundation . In this Glaser writes about neoliberalism, how she feels politicians and the media reject political ideology as no longer relevant to our pragmatic political culture and about grassroots political alternatives. What interests me, is what this means for the Labour Party?
I personally feel that the Conservative Party have a definite ideology and we have often heard Labour Party MP’s criticising cuts, the rolling back of the state and the wish to sell off the East Coast Main Line as ideologically driven. The question is: where is our ideology?
I feel that the abandonment of the nationalising principles of the original Clause IV represented a break with ideology and a movement to Tony Blair’s Third Way analysis based on pragmatism. This allowed a generation of politicians to come up through the Labour back offices, who rather thinking about big ideas, looked to scrabble over the centre ground with micro-policies and create a couple of day’s column inches or embarrass the opposition in the papers.
I have long heard people criticising policy making at the modern Labour Party conferences but I think the problems are at the local level too. I remember a former MP complaining to me that at constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings, all we discuss are fundraising and campaigning. He went on to tell me that when he was a member of the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), they had political reading and education. I am certainly not saying that we should be more like the SWP but I think there is a need for greater discussion of policy and ideology at the CLP and branch level.
Interestingly, I attended a Labour Party grass roots policy event in Edinburgh in June. I thought the event was really good but what worried me was that after the first member made a policy suggestion that involved greater public spending, the two sitting MSP’s said that there was no public appetite for an increase in taxation so we are looking to do more with what we have. What this essentially meant was these are the rules you have to accept before you can make policy suggestions. I found this incredibly constraining but in helped me further understand why Labour policy is usually just tinkering around the edges and making efficiencies. It also highlighted the culture in which anyone looking to propose an ideologically driven policy is essentially told that they need a reality check.
I think coupled with this issue is the fact that is very hard to become an elected representative. People have to work really hard to win over a constituency’s Party members and as a result, winners win. What is more interesting is at the Party leadership level, there are people who have had to battle to win more and are even more successful. I feel it gets to a point where success becomes the most important thing and any ideology is completely thrown out the window. For example, no Party member could say that Labour’s policy soundings over immigration or government cuts have been driven by ideology as they are very obviously pragmatic policies to defend against attack from the Conservatives. What is unfortunate is that these kinds of policies are constantly raised as an example of the Labour Party’s ideology by Yes campaigners in the build up to the Scottish independence referendum.
The argument could be made that if right-wing immigration policies are thought to be popular we should adopt them as that is how democracy works. However, I think we have a problem with ideology outside of political circles too. How else could you explain the popular support for personalities such as Boris Johnson or Nigel Farage, other than people not understanding their political ideologies? In addition to this the public constantly complain about the bickering of Prime Minister’s Questions and want them to stop squabbling and get on with sorting out our economy. I personally feel that the opposite is true and unless they bicker more – about bigger ideological issues – we will continue to have this kind of unstable economy.
This all sounds very negative but that really is not my intention. I do not know anybody in the Labour Party that is a supporter of unbridled capitalism yet we need ideology beyond that of purely disagreeing with the opposition. I implore our elected representatives to say enough is enough, for members with politics to be inspired to stand as representatives themselves and for them together, lead our movement forward. The Conservative Party’s ideology always delivers for their interests, it is time we embraced ideology again and delivered for ours.