Thursday, 20 May 2010

At Last - Potential Light In The Labour Leadership Darkness

Since Gordon Brown announced that he was standing down as Labour leader it has been looking increasingly likely that the contest to replace him would take place between a bunch of middle class white male political apparatchiks whom one would find it difficult to squeeze a fag paper between them on policy or almost anything else. These prospective candidate clones had all been political researchers in the inner circle loop had also all made early noises off that the reason New Labour failed to stay fresh in the eyes of the electorate was because it had neglected its core constituency: working class voters.

Now, anyone with even a passing grasp of Labour history would know that the party had been ignoring the needs of the working class since the day it was formed. And this process was merely accelerated when the Blair/Brown plan to 'reinvent' as Nu Labour was first formulated. The plain fact is that Labour history has always been one of continuous movement towards the 'middle' of the political spectrum, and just like water going down a plughole, the nearer the middle they got the faster the rate of movement. Now they find Clegg and Cameron camped on what they though was now their home turf and they are stuck with two option: to try and elbow their was back to this mythical 'middle ground'[1] or to reconnect with what should be the needs of the party's core constituency.[2]

And their response? Well, initially it appeared that, rather than spending any time really analysing the 'whys and wherefores', the response would be straight out of the 'knee-jerk' school of politics: a quick coronation based around a common view that the voters blamed all their troubles on bloody foreigners 'over here stealing our jobs and homes and filling up our schools and doctors waiting rooms', therefore we should have been even tougher on immigration. Not that they weren't already turning the screws even tighter. Labour, for example, had planned to save £4.5bn by rendering destitute hundreds of thousands of people currently seeking indefinite leave to remain in the country but, according to ex-immigration minister Phil Woolas, the public didn't know about this 'tough cop' approach: "What we did was not too little, but it was too late. People felt we were shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted." Thus it was all a failure to communicate.

So far, so bad. Then however, it appeared that some light be possibly be shone in the murk of all these recriminations as there appeared to be a chance that Jon Cruddas, who has often been at odds with his party's prevailing 'let's blame it all on immigrants' easy option, would stand. But that expectation proved fruitless and he passed up the chance to put forward arguments like:

"Immigration has been used as a 21st-century incomes policy, mixing a liberal sense of free for all with a free-market disdain for clear and effective rules. We have known this was a problem. Yet the answer for the government lay in a ratcheted-up rhetoric rather than solutions that may have challenged liberal assumptions and business lobbyists alike. Low pay and job insecurity, despite a minimum wage, has left people on the edge of society looking in on new levels of riches. This has happened while migrant workers are set against British workers by rogue employers looking to shave costs to make a bigger buck. This has not happened by accident. Labour actively took the decision not to better regulate for agency workers, and to not introduce living wage agreements."[3]

on the main stage of the leadership debate (though we can but hope that he continues to inject some sense into it even if his position is limited and often contradictory).

Then there is John McDonnell, another working class MP from the 'left' of the party but currently struggling to get the requisite number of nominations. He has been less vocal on the subject but has a history of supporting causes like the Yarl's Wood hungerstrikers, the SOAS cleaners and others struggling against immigration-related repression, and therefore might also contribute views counter to the Milibands, Burnhams and Balls of this world, resulting in some form of rational debate.

However, the piece de resistance must surely now be the announcement this morning that Diane Abbott, the first black MP and female to boot, would join the race. She certainly wont be trotting out the same tired hypocritical rhetoric that Nu Labour were 'tough on immigration and tough on the causes of immigration'. Instead, announcing her reasons for standing, she said that the immigration system is "inefficient and unfair and brings abuse" and that "nobody (else) will say we have to address the underlying issues behind black and white working class unease about immigration, about housing, job insecurity."

She wont win of course, the job is bound to go to one of the safe 'lets not rock the boat' apparatchiks, and the Labour Party's' default setting on immigration is unlikely to change. But then again we don't really care who does win, just as long as they actually try and reconnect with reality and somebody argues the point that it is not migrants that are to blame for the shortage of housing, education, training and meaningful jobs; it is them, the political classes, who have created the conditions that allowed this to happen. Ed Miliband is right, "immigration is a class issue". Just not in the way he meant it.

For example, it is not that immigrants are getting what public housing that is available ahead of the so-called 'indigenous' population, it is that successive governments have decimated that public housing stock that working class voters rely upon especially in areas like London and in the industrial heartlands where unemployment is rife. Instead they chose to follow the Thatcherite ethic, selling it off to subsidise the public coffers and remove the costs of maintaining it via direct works departments from local council budgets. At the same time no new public housing was built to replace it and the inevitable consequence is that the pressures on the ever dwindling council houses that were still available would increase.

This has also inevitably led to bigots wishing to pedal their race-hate agenda or sell their execrable daily newspapers being able to feed lies to and exploit the ignorance generated in the general public around immigration issues, such as immigrants jumping the housing queues. The simple truth is that, rather than jumping any queue, the houses that migrants are getting is ex-council properties in the hands of private letting agents, housing that is often in such a state of dilapidation that nobody would chose to live in them unless they had no other choice short of living on the streets.[4]

This is just one example of the sort of myth (along side blaming migrants for binging wages down, rather than as Cruddas suggests, the employers that pay the wages in the first place) that has the potential to go unchallenged in this 'debate'. One can but hope that it doesn't come down to that. The Tories and Lib Dems may have joined the Blair and Brown version of Labour in junking ideology in order to gain power but Labour have a chance to reject that option and fight for real working class values, not just those of their 'core vote' but for all workers, including migrants. And not to just fight for their own careers as Labour Party apparatchiks.

[1] The idea that everyone can occupy the middle ground is patently absurd ('how many pin-heads can one get on the head of an angel?). And one assumes that there must be a fence in the middle dividing off right from left, therefore, if everyone is sitting on this fence in the middle, it is bound to collapse at some point.
[2] The more paranoid commentators currently appear to think that this [the Tory-Whig coalition] is all some master plan by Cameron - push Labour to the wilderness of left-wing politics - rather than just some accident of history. And if Nu Labour do continue to try and occupy this 'middle ground', they might just as well join the coalition.
[3] We have to say that almost any argument would be more enlightening that the sort of one Ed Balls is putting forward: "Britain is not a racist country"! What is that meant to mean?
[4] And that only some property speculator would want to buy as they know they can make massive profits out of them from the government in just such a fashion without having to invest any money to bring them back up to any sort of acceptable housing standard.

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