The End of the Opposition

Yesterday the official opposition gave up. In a packed room at The Insititute for Education Ed Balls finally confirmed what many of us have been thinking for a while: The Labour Party aren’t the alternative.

As the cuts continue to bite, the wages of workers remain stagnant and the economic outlook for the UK remains gloomy you’d be forgiven for thinking that the official opposition might just step into the breach and make a stand. You’d be wrong. Yesterday Ed Balls capitulated to the most ruthlessly pro-market government we’ve had in many years. The Labour Party, he said, would not reverse any of the Tory cuts or tax raises if they won the next election and they’d keep the freeze on public sector pay.

Credit: Coalition of Resistance

The reason given for the capitulation – and we heard this time and time again at yesterday’s Fabian Conference – is that the Labour party must be “trusted on the economy”.  In the main plenary Chukka Ummuna MP, the pollster Deborah Mattison and the former economic secretary to the treasury Kitty Ussher clambered over each other to proclaim the need for policies that look sensible to the public. Later in the day Polly Toynbee suggested that the Labour party must look tough on the economy now in order to gain power and do the things they really believe in.

The state of our parliamentary democracy could hardly be more dire. We have three parties who are singing off the same orthodox hymn sheet. The official opposition, lying down to die in the face of focus group studies and opinion polls which suggest the public believe cuts are necessary, have given up making the case for doing things another way. The few dissenters who remain, like the single Green parliamentarian, are accused by the Labour party of ‘playing into the Tories hands’. The cuts, we are told by all three main parties, will continue, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Instead of providing political leadership Ed Balls is using the public’s fear about the economy as a starting point for his party’s policies.

Let’s be clear: The Labour Party have hardly been a shining light of independent thought and radical ideas in their time in opposition. But Ed Balls’ rather sudden lurch to the right is still hugely disappointing. Defending public spending, while the government spew bile about a ‘bloated state’ and ‘extraordinarily levels of debt’, was hard enough already. But now, with the Labour Party abandoning the hope of persuading the reluctant public of any alternatives to austerity, those of us still calling for a change of course are set to become more marginalised than ever.

It’s all about looking like a party of government they say. But what the Labour leadership fail to see is that they are just looking like a less enthusiastic version of the Tories. The choice for the electorate will be between a party who sound convincing while they make cuts and one who look guilty while they do it. The promise is that once they’ve seen the destruction of many of the services upon which people rely, they’ll reshape the economy to a fairer form of capitalism. It looks to me like the Labour party have run out of ideas.

Austerity isn’t working. The Labour Party have been saying it for months. But somehow, after an all-to-close analysis of the polls, Britain’s second biggest political party have done a monstrous u-turn. They’ve let down their members, many of whom must be questioning why they’re still in the party. They’ve let down the left, whose battle has just become ever more difficult. But mostly The Labour Party have let down the British public who will now be blindly led down the path of ignorance to austerity, with no-one in parliament fighting their corner.

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5 comments

  1. The Labour Party always said they were going to eliminate the entire deficit largely through a programme of public spending cuts. Given that the coalition looks set to eliminate the deficit in 7 years rather than 10, if the Labour Party won a majority in 2015 and used it to reverse the cuts, they’d then have to make those cuts again at some point in the next 5 years to meet their own target. Refusing to undo cuts you’d already pledged to make anyway isn’t a “monstrous u-turn”, it’s consistency.

  2. UKUncut spent a year campaigning with incredible success to get a turned-around picture into the public view that it’s not public spending cuts we need, it’s to get the rich and the big corporations to pay their taxes like they’re supposed to. They’ve done the hard work and what does Labour do – suddenly go “Oh no, the Tories were right all along!”

  3. Good piece. More and more, the Green Party Leader looks like the real leader of the opposition…
    See my piece way back a couple of years ago on LeftFootForward on the firming up of the cuts narrative for a prediction of all this. If two Parties fight and one seems like merely a lesser version of the other, the stronger believers will win.

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