Labour: time for a new ‘third way’?

The Falkirk row doesn’t look at all comfortable for Ed Miliband and Labour. Accusation and counter-accusation, a crucial resignation and now the police involved – but more important, perhaps, that the details, it asks huge questions about the current and future direction of Labour. Are they, as some sections of the media would have it, still in thrall to those ancient dinosaurs the unions? Or are they, as many on the left would suggest, little more than a ‘Tory-lite’ party, run by former Blairites and career politicians only in it for themselves: Tories with red ties.

On the surface, both claims seem to have substance. UNITE is clearly attempting to have an influence on Labour policy. So is Progress. Both have strong voices and strong reasons to do so. There are articulate, clever, politically-able people on both sides of the debate. ‘Remember your history’ say those on the side of the unions, ‘remember how you lost all those elections’ say those on the side of Progress, ‘and how Blair won all his’. Which way will Ed Miliband lean?

And yet, are those really the only two options? ‘Kow-towing’ to the unions, or ‘selling your soul’ to the corporates?

Perhaps it is time for Ed to find his own ‘third way’. Perhaps he could remember Labour’s history – but from a slightly different angle. Remember not just that Labour emerged from the unions – but why it was necessary for it to emerge from the unions. It didn’t emerge in that way because the unions were hungry for power – or even greedy for power – but because the people that the unions represented had no voice in politics. It emerged to provide an alternative to the existing powers: an alternative view and an alternative future.

Even a cursory look at today’s politics suggests that there are parallels with that situation now. The three main political parties are far too similar – and effectively represent the same kind of people and have the same outlook. They all offer the same ‘solution’ to the current crisis – the austerity ‘solution’ which doesn’t really seem to be a solution at all. No alternative is offered – and that provides the opportunity for a third way. Vast groups of people are suffering hideously – and seem to have no way to stop that, and no voice speaking for them.

What does that mean? Well, it means finding a way to support these people, and to find an alternative way. Ed doesn’t need to be in thrall to the unions – but he does need to understand how badly people are suffering, and to find a way to help them. And helping them wouldn’t mean that he was kow-towing to the unions – he should, for example, have opposed the Workfare programme NOT because the unions ‘told’ him to, but because it was a hideous and damaging programme. He should oppose many of Mr Gove’s ‘reforms’ of the education system NOT because the teaching unions tell him to – but because they’re retrograde, counter-productive and demoralising to the whole education system. There are parallels in many, many different areas.

If Labour can find this way – start being more active in opposing the false ‘strivers vs scroungers’ agenda, stop trying to match the Tories cut-for-cut in the austerity drive, then not only would Labour be a more distinctive and coherent party, they would also have a chance to be more independent of the unions…. because the unions would have both less desire and less need to interfere, to try to ‘influence’ policy or even candidate selection. Their members would feel less disenfranchised – and would feel Labour was more on their side. That’s what they want, I suspect. Some may be after power for power’s sake – but most just want to feel that they haven’t been abandoned, that what’s happening to them is being taken seriously. Right now, it doesn’t look as though it is. Politics looks as though it’s for the politicians, that’s all.

Will it happen? I doubt it very much. Right now the Labour Party looks as though it’s trapped – and that the ‘no alternative’ route will be taken. Finding the nerve, the guts to change that seems to be beyond the current Labour Party. They may still ‘win’ the election – but that ‘win’ would be next to meaningless for almost all of us.

This Falkirk furore, however, does offer an opportunity – at the very least for a reassessment of where Labour are, and what the alternatives are. If Ed Miliband asks the right questions, if he’s aware enough to ask not only what UNITE and others have done but why they might have felt it necessary to do it, there might be a chance that he could find his own third way. I hope he does.

12 thoughts on “Labour: time for a new ‘third way’?

  1. What this debacle really shows is the poor leadership of the labour and unions elite. The foolishness of thje fat cat union leaders and their unelected lackeys, in funding neoliberal, elitist careerist labour politicians and getting Zilch in return, the party first brigade who like labour forget who pays for them and .have discarded the interests of the rank and file. Until Union and labour party power is in the hands of the ordinary members the decline and membership of both will continue.

  2. One of the most important lessons from Labour’s history is the story of 1931 – when the party split over Ramsay Macdonald’s entry into coalition Government. The choices before the Labour Party then were eerily similar to those today – between backing the politics of austerity or arguing for radical change at a time when the economy was in a state of collapse. In the short term the split did Labour much damage – it got almost wiped out in the 1931 election – but I think there is a credible case for arguing that it was this split that made 1945 possible. I’m not at all sure that adopting a more radical line would be electorally dangerous – although I can see how difficult it could be for Labour to reconnect with the millions of the poorest and most vulnerable who have walked away from the political process. But it seems that re-engaging with the victims of austerity and providing a clear alternative has to be at the roots of any Left politics in Britain right now.

  3. Labour’s current approach means that voting for them would be almost the same as voting for the Tories except that the Tories are natively like that and better at what they do than Labour, although of course what the Tories do is undesirable for most. Labour are a fake Tory party without the courage of Tory convictions. They’re like Pepsi vs. Coke. You could vote for them if you prefer to deceive yourself that you’re voting for a “nice” party. Therefore there’s no reason at all for voting Labour and given their onslaught on civil liberties in the 2005-10 term, they’d be a liability. I’d rather starve than vote for them, and that is very probably what will happen under the current regime, but it’s their fault that i’ve been forced into this decision. Social justice and caring for the vulnerable are things of the past – they will never form the basis of public policy again and we need to accept that. All there is now is greed, deception and selfishness, and the world that brings.

  4. I know it would be difficult but if Ed wants to lead a renewed Labour Party with any hope of power, I think he needs to separate himself from the rump of the Blairites and appoint a new Shadow Cabinet with a commitment to improving the daily lives of the majority. Also, no-one from the political class that has arrived through the school-university-political advisor route – we need ministers and advisors with at least 10 years experience of employment in the outside world.

  5. Good post.

    The unions are correct to be concerned about Labour’s direction of travel and it’s no wonder they are trying to install their candidates. Who can blame them?

    Labour must restore its historic mission and have as its primary goal the representation of workers (a definition that includes the unemployed). The Tories are there to represent bankers and the filthy rich about whom Blairites are intensely relaxed. This group should not occupy Labour’s think space.

    So yeah, there is a third way for Ed – get back to promoting the interests of workers as the primary goal. Moreover, the support given to bankers by the last Labour administration led to the disastrous credit crunch of 2007/8. Had Labour paid attention to its proper constituents, the workers. then it is feasible the economic disaster that befell our economy would have been avoided.

    History, at least in this instance, show that virtue and competence are bed fellows.

  6. I believe the Labour party or perhaps I should say mainly those who ‘rule’ the party of today are seemingly too wrapped up in a NeoCon agenda, the stall of which has been set out by indirect Tory influence. Maybe controversial but as an example as to how close and ‘same’ all the parties have become, I ask the question as to how many ordinary members of any local constituency have given their MPs permission to become say a Labour ‘friends of Israel’ or another ‘party’ friends of Israel? It has been previously suggested that MPs can be influenced to some degree by freebie ‘fact’ finding missions, donations and I have no doubt in this specific example case, an Israeli ‘agenda’. Certainly the example given shows where an external organisation has infiltrated the cross party system and attempted and has maybe succeeded in setting a common agenda or understanding. None of the above however will be in any manifesto or in a mandate for the electorate to decide. This is just one example but it could explain how cross political party indirect linkage may be common between individual organisations or perhaps how big businesses and can possible pull the parties ‘closer’ in what they say or do and minimise real democratic choice. With this in mind is it any wonder they suddenly all appear to be singing the same tune? The tail is wagging the dog.

    I think the failings and lack of difference is down to lobbying and I believe once infected, this disease cannot be easily cut out. It no wonder they all ‘seem the same’ when they are allowed themselves to be subject to the same external ‘business’ influences, donations and perhaps bad practices? Perhaps the unions maybe should be putting their weight behind a new party or an existing party that has not had this ‘corruption’ in its blood.

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