progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

spatial metaphors and popular politics

For those people at the heart of the New Labour project, there is understandable confusion at the rhetoric employed by candidates in the Labour leadership contest. Some have called this "tacking left" - and a phrase often use in ruling class media is "lurching to the left". Since I dislike spatial metaphors, I'll leave that issue to one side for the moment. The concern is, in more direct language, that winning popularity within a party is not the same as winning popularity within an electorate. (On the other hand, without an enthusiastic party membership there's no hope of reaching the electorate!)

I have already detailed my theory that New Labour's repositioning during the '90s did not primarily relate to swing voters, but to those most likely to influence their voting intentions. If I can put forward a possible explanation for Labour's 2010 general election defeat that stems from this theory, it is that many floating voters were no longer open to the potential of voting Labour - and attempting to appeal to them using the same methods and message isn't likely to convince.

The "closure" relates to the actions the party took in government: the bailout of the financial system was decisive, but was resented by many because bankers were seen as being rewarded for failure, and though the expenses scandal was not confined to our party, it was viewed as happening under the watch of our party. Those who didn't turn out for us included skilled workers who might otherwise support Labour, but could not understand why their living standards were being eroded at a time when it appeared MPs were on the make and bankers on the take - at their expense. Media misrepresentations of migration and welfare payments helped disguise what would otherwise have been anger at a lack of sufficient employment protections.

Policies suggested by candidates in the leadership campaign include support for a living wage, the establishment of a high pay commission to examine executive remuneration, reform of company law to ensure worker representation on remuneration committees, a graduate tax to fund university education - these are all issues which have a wider appeal than the Labour Party as they relate to specific problems facing working people.

Will these ideas be enough to re-open the ears of ex-Labour voters? Not without a coherent narrative - one that is able to convince people that the party is on their side. And not without a renewed effort towards locally-focused campaigning and policymaking. The revival in Labour's membership and poll ratings is perhaps a reflection of the demand for a campaigning party which offers hope rather than the politics of despair served up by the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition. Returning to the subject of those "closed" to Labour and how to get them close to Labour again, there must be a concerted effort at organising in those places in which Labour's presence has been wiped out. This means the southern regions.

Getting back to the spatial metaphors, whatever Labour does from now on will be given an unsympathetic treatment in the ruling class media - unless it is seen as "responsible", or to be more blunt, absolutely opposed to the interests of the class it seeks to represent. But unlike the last period of Labour opposition, there is not a strong Tory government in power - rather there is a stable coalition between the Tories, who failed to win a plurality of seats in parliament, and the Liberal Democrats, who lost seats in the 2010 election. And the coalition cannot depend upon oil revenues or a boom in financial services, as Thatcher did, to provide stability for groups within society that are crucial to holding office - what's more the current global economic crisis is felt more acutely because of the globalisation of capital and communications.

An advantage over past periods of opposition, in organisational terms, is the ability for unfiltered forms of mediation between party members, politicians, and electors - direct communications through email and online social networking.

The Labour Party suffered significant electoral setbacks following the crises of the '30s and '70s - largely stemming from the decisions made by the party's leadership during incumbency in responding to economic crises - however, unlike the drastic retrenchment of the past, the Brown administration focused on sustaining employment and enterprise, rather than rushed spending cuts. Having led the way internationally in dealing with the banking crisis through public ownership as a route to recapitalisation, it is likely that Brown would have argued at the G20 summit in Canada against retrenchment alongside the US President, strengthening the case for a Green New Deal.

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