I actually enjoyed Question Time last week. I usualy can’t watch it because it winds me up too much. But, I was drawn to it because I like Ian Hislop (as do we all), I met Lucy Powell once, and after a series of reported interview crises, I wanted to see what Natalie Bennett was really like under pressure. I thought she did alright, but two things she said spring to mind as being particularly odd and contradictory.
She used the example of LibDem voters who voted for LibDems to keep the Tories out. I’m sure this is the frustrating story of many voters, but not the story of what I take to be the Green Party’s target audience: disaffected Labour voters. Most of these people voted for the LibDems because they though they were left of Labour, they voted with their conscience, for what they believed was right. Bennet also said that we should all vote with our conscience (arguing that most people would therefore vote for the Green Party), which is precisely how we ended up with a ConDem coalition in 2010. For my part, I am not interested in repeating my 2010 mistake in voting for a protest party so that we end up with another coalition.
Bennett also advised us all to go to www.voteforpolicies.org.uk. She has to do so, because the Green’s only chance for success is to appeal to disaffected LibDem voting disaffected Labour voters voting on things like conscience, principle and ideological integrity. Such people, one would presume, would get 100% Green policies on Vote for Policies. But, this rests on the shaky premise that political parties tell the truth in their manifestos, something 2010 LibDem voters understand to be false!
Personally, I got 25% Labour, 25% Green, 25% SNP and 25% UKIP. According to Bennett’s argument, that means these four parties equally represent my inmost political beliefs. But, they clearly don’t. I have no support for what UKIP stand for, I have very little patience with the SNP. The only Green policies I find compelling are the ones about nationalisation, which have as much to do with Green Politics as free HE tuition fees had to do with Liberalism in 2010; I’m not making that mistake again. Equally, there are plenty of Labour policies that I disagree with, but I still want them to be the majority government in May.
The fact is, if we are to be realistic we have to distinguish between a party’s policy promises and what they stand for; between electioneering and ideology. Policies are lies. Ideologies are principles of action.
Now, my UKIP score can only be explained by them flooding their policy documentation with reasonablish, working-class-targeted ideas to sound a bit less racist. But, only an idiot would trust them to hang onto them. UKIP stand for British Nationalism, immigration control, and Thatcherism. They can be trusted to fight for these aims and enact only those policies that are compatible with them.
Similarly, the LibDems stand for centrist politics, coalition government and proportional representation. They are the politics of comprimise, a comprimise that, in spite of their clear support of Labour’s plans in 2010 to encourage the economy to grow, have propped up the plans of a party that have the support of barely 20% of the population, that hasn’t held a majority in parliament for the longest time in its history. All this lead to the double-dip recession the LibDems themselves warned us about, cuts in benefit at the same time as legal aid was abolished for challenging benefit decisions, a rise in food banks, and the Red Cross starting to work in one of the strongest economies in the world. All against their manifesto policies, but completely compatible with the ideology they stand for: Liberalism. Nick Clegg didn’t betray his principles, he stood by them.
The painful thing is that all of this was predictable in 2010 to anyone who understood what Liberalism was about. I wasn’t one of those people, I voted for their policies rather than their principles, and I deserve the government I got.
Now, as the LibDems sold HE and the economy for a shot at Alternative Vote, the Greens would sell the state for green energy. The Greens stand for Green Politics, for making the environment our first political issue rather than the unequal distribution of wealth or the alienation of workers from the fruits of their Labour. It is their job in a coalition (formal or informal) to advance their core ideology before all concerns, and the only way they will get into power in 2015 is in such a coalition.
I won’t deny the possibility of the Greens giving Labour the excuse to be more explicitly socialist, but Labour returning to nationalisation in this way would be damaging to the party and to British socialism. It would be tantamount to Labour resigning themselves to centre politics, and the end of the possibility bringing them back to the left authentically. The reason that Labour is left of centre at the moment has nothing to do with swing constituencies and a lack of backbone. The reason is that there aren’t enough left wing people in the party. As Tony Benn said in a column for the Morning Star
Some good socialists became disillusioned [after New Labour] and opted out of the work of the [Labour] party; others actually left, while a few have decided to work for the creation of a new socialist alliance that intends to put up candidates against us in the election. Those who now argue along these lines have said that the Labour Party is dead and that our only hope lies in replacing it as the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party years ago.
Of course many of the criticisms we hear are echoed inside the party, but far from being tempted to throw in the towel my own regret is that so many good comrades should have left us when their membership alongside us would have strengthened the Left in the Labour Party. Anyone of course can put up for parliament, and those who are planning to stand as candidates are quite entitled to do so, but it will weaken Labour in some constituencies, and by splitting the vote could actually help Liberals and Tories to win there. In industrial struggles we are often reminded that ‘Unity is strength’, and I believe that this is true in political struggles too.
But what do Labour stand for? Fighting the Tories. This is not a symptom of so-called “party politics”, as though a politics in which no one stood together were possible, but the purpose of democracy itself. The history of democracy in this country is the slow wresting of power and weath from the powerful and the wealthy, the relative success of which in this country is largely down to the labour movement and the UK Labour Party. If Labour take as there current mission the fighting of the one and only established party, the natural party of rule that represents the interests of the rich and the rights of the rich to become richer, of the concentration of wealth and the exploitation of the working classes, this only means that they are the only authentic demo-cratic party available to us.
Even in its watered down Blairite form (of which Milliband is distinctively to the left) the Labour party faught the Tories and more or less countered these Conservative projects. Whether this means renationalising the railways wholesale, or just reducing private sector involvement in the NHS back down to 2% instead of 50% does not stop Labour being the natural ally of the Left. As Tony Benn said on many occaisions, even with “Old Labour” (a term he continually refused) the Labour party has never been a socialist party, even though it has had some socialists in it. So, even if Labour aren’t going around nationalising everything, this doesn’t mean it has somehow betrayed its essence. It just means there aren’t enough socialists in the party, which is our own fault.
Which is why I will vote for Labour. Not because they represent what I think (I live in a democracy, which ensures more than anything that what I think doesn’t matter) nor because I agree with their policies But, because I trust that what they stand for is taking wealth and power away from the wealthy and powerful. If they are not as effective as I would like them to be, it is because there isn’t popular support of socialism in this country, and because those who do support it aren’t joining the party anymore. So, the UK left has a choice. Join the party and start campaigning for a Labour majority, or start an actual revolution that involves more than whinging. I know which one I prefer.