In the period since the General Election here in the UK I’ve seen a fair number of blog posts and Facebook notes entitled ‘Why I’m rejoining the Labour Party’ – typically by folks who were members of the Labour Party at some point in the past decade and who left when Blair and Brown didn’t live up to expectations. But now, given the Liberal-Conservative coalition Government, these folks are keen to get back in to the Labour Party fold and ‘fight the good fight’ against the ‘auld enemy’ – a Tory Government. (Those of us of a cynical bent and who’ve been around in left wing politics long enough to remember the 1980s can remember when the ‘auld enemy’ was actually people within the Labour Party with whom you didn’t agree…but that’s another story.)
I left the Labour Party around the time that ‘Clause 4’ disappeared from the membership cards – the start of the great re-invention of the Labour Party as New Labour. I’d served time as a Ward Chair, Constituency Vice Chair and been a delegate to the District Labour Party here in Sheffield. I even considered running for election as a City Councillor, and very briefly toyed with the idea of trying for a Parliamentary seat, but eventually stayed as a local party activist and school governor. I was a member of the Party when it was distinctly un-trendy to be so; a time when the Labour Party was in opposition, stood as much chance of getting in to power as England did winning the World Cup.
Despite the fact that I was self-employed, running my own business, the old Labour Party held much appeal for me. Even with Clause 4 – detailed here with the ‘revisions’ – I always felt I had more to gain from a Labour Government than from the Tories. The Labour Party was good on issues that mattered heavily to me – civil liberties, for example – and whilst some of the economic policies would be personally bad for me, I could understand the underlying philosophy. And I always regarded it highly unlikely that Labour would drag us in to wars….
I left the Labour Party after the death of John Smith – nowadays I think there are lots of people who’ve never heard of this man, which is a great shame. I’m pretty sure that Labour would have won the 1997 election with him as leader – without the massive changes from the new Labour experiment being carried out. Whether the party would have had such a big majority – I have no idea – but they would still have been the Labour Party I grew up with and joined. I think reform was inevitable, but New Labour is no longer a party of the people – more a party of the chattering classes. I’ve often considered that left to it’s own devices the New Labour experiment would eventually move the party to either a dilute form of Gramscian Marxism or the political philosophy of the Frankfurt School – neither of which I have much time for.
After leaving the Party I was broadly sympathetic to the activities of the New Labour government in most areas – but there was a certain ‘control freak’ attitude – the ‘Big Nanny’ state – obvious in policy form the very beginning, and that made me concerned for civil liberties from very early on. After 9/11 then it became more obvious; again, I was supportive of certain policies, but not others. Economically, I was concerned that we were seeing a subtle form of old style ‘tax and spend’ taking place, with a bloated and increasingly ineffective public sector being paid for by various ‘one off’ financial wind falls, such as selling off gold (ultimately a £7 billion LOSS) or the 3G Phone licenses (23 billions). Jolly japes like this earned Brown the sobriquet of the ‘Iron Chancellor’ – but it’s pretty easy to balance the books in the short term when you get nice one off payments. Just wait until you have to keep the books balanced when things get tight….
I was also concerned by the increasing levels of surveillance and law changes that worked against our civil liberties. We’re now the most filmed population in the world; this technology exploded under New Labour. Anti-terror laws bought in by New Labour were used to keep people under surveillance to see whether they were using their dustbins correctly, for crying out loud. And let’s not get started on ID cards, vetting to work with children, the Digital Economy Bill, etc. And then there’s the whole business of illegal wars….
I honestly believe that the 2010 election, had New Labour been re-elected, would have been a further blow to civil liberties – combined with the economic crisis I could easily see these Stasi-like powers being expanded to cover all aspects of our lives.
New Labour are no longer in power but the people within the New Labour machine, the officers, the MPs, the leadership candidates, the local members – they’re still there and they are still, in most cases, the same people who have implicitly agreed to all of these assaults on our liberties. I’m not saying that the new Coalition Government have got it right – but I’m happy to give them a try rather than vote in authoritarianism. To the thousands of new members of the Labour Party I say this; do you support reduction of civil liberties and economic mis-management – because by joining the Party today, unless you are joining to get some change of people and policy at the top, you are supporting the people who were in power during one of the most authoritarian decades in the UK’s history.
Think before you join or re-join. I have; and I’m not for joining.