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Labour: What hope is ‘Left’?

Labour Pains Pic.


The Labour Party. After five years out of government, their chance to regain power seems tangibly close. However, as Hilary Benn – Shadow Minister for Local Communities and Government – admitted in his recent visit to the University of York, the upcoming battle for political power will be “very very tightly fought indeed.” Will the political group which claims to be ‘the party of the many’ actually gain a parliamentary majority? Can ‘Red Ed’ change the party image from the perceived government who failed financially in 2008?

Their policies must first be enticing enough to win over the politically un-motivated masses. Many of my friends, old and young, simply don’t want to hear about politics full stop. I had an enlightening conversation with Hilary Benn about the rise in voter apathy. He argues that there is a public mind-set which sees politics as a lost cause, and perceives the politicians themselves as insignificant or unimportant. Citing a recent poll about the NHS, Benn said that if you were to ask people how their Health Service is, the response would be positive. Similarly, people are generally positive about education and other public services. However, if you were to ask someone about their view on their MP, their reaction would be a negative one. People seem to like the end result of politics, but not the process itself.

Labour’s answer to this seems to be: let’s give younger generations an opportunity to make a difference in politics by voting. Lowering the voting age to 16 could put responsibility on younger people’s shoulders making them more politically engaged. Perhaps the thinking there is, that young people will automatically support the Labour Party as their liberating emancipators who gave them the vote. I see the sense of it, but surely the problem lies deeper than just lowering the voting age.

Although Labour leader Ed Miliband failed to mention the economy in his recent conference speech, they do apparently have plans!  Hopefully they can provide solutions rather than simply shouting down any Conservative economic effort. Benn for one, defends public spending in the face of the Conservative tax and austerity cuts. Public spending which has helped the poorest in the country did not cause an economic crash in New York, he argues. Labour is supporting taxation that is more relative to what people actually earn. As a Huddersfield-er and Yorkshireman, I have seen firsthand the issues that austerity measures have thrown up first hand. People close to me have been forced to live on very meagre terms because of the bedroom tax, friends who were on benefits have been messed about by the job centre and – as a student – I carry deep and bitter resentment against the rise in tuition fees.

However, some cuts are necessary. Labour need to be careful that they don’t promise on what they can’t deliver. I think everyone agrees it would be great if we could have a country where people don’t want for anything, but we must also be real; that just won’t happen

Labour also wish to devolve more power to local governments in terms of spending, education and housing. This seems like a very sensible policy on the whole. The local councils are going to know what is needed more than central government are in specific areas of the country. Another wise policy, in my view, is their stance on the EU. They believe that we shouldn’t isolate ourselves as a country. Although debate is needed to decide on change in certain EU policies, the Labour Party doesn’t think that leaving the European Union will necessarily solve all of the problems. Change from within certainly sounds more feasible than change from the outside. If we were to leave the EU, Britain could well become an outcast in European politics, heckling from the stands, unable to have input on decisions and policies that will still affect them.

A couple of other major polices are a reform of the House of Lords and a proposed energy price freeze. The House of Lords would be replaced with a ‘senate-like’ house with elected representatives. This could make the political system in the UK more democratic, but could equally paralyse Parliament with party politics. Members of this new senate could be whipped and therefore controlled by the political parties, arguably making it ineffective and simply a duplicate of the House of Commons. The energy price freeze is a positive move to detain big businesses and prevent them from charging extortionate prices. Yet it could open the way for a more heavy handed government in terms of the economy. The power to arguably interfere with private corporations could be seen as infringing on the free-market which raises all sorts of difficult questions. Yet, if Labour win the election, they surely would have the mandate to do these things; endorsed by the public. It’s a big if, but it could change politics in Britain massively.

The main problem I see with many of Labour’s policies is; where are they? A quick read of the news headlines sees a few flash examples of front-page, eye-grabbing policies. Further research than that and their policies simply don’t seem to be very well presented or clearly laid out. This seems to be in part due to the media. Yet surely – if Labour really want to push for that election victory – they would make their stance on so many key issues more accessible and easy to understand. Perhaps that is the political problem which they face in a nutshell: their root demographic are hard-working people (isn’t every political party’s target-audience that these days). Yet to me, they find themselves appeasing the wealthy in order to push policies for the more impoverished. Ultimately if I – a relatively politically engaged and interested individual – struggle to piece the core of their policies together in a snappy comment article; what hope do Labour have of reaching those with next-to no interest in any form of politics? Very, very little.