Will there still be a Labour Party in 10 years?

Labour Rose

This might a peculiar question coming from a Lib Dem at the moment. Down to 8 MPs with a leadership furore of our own. However, I don’t believe that there is anywhere else for a strong core of liberals to go and have some belief that we can attract more liberals who currently give their votes to other parties back in to our fold. That belief has been bolstered by the quality of the speeches and actions of our two leadership candidates and the near 40% increase in our Party’s membership since the start of the General Election most of whom have come since the election itself.
Both our leadership candidates are clearly convinced that for too long we have appeared to be soggy centralists and want to move to a more robust liberalism than we have been associated with. At the Lib Dem councillors conference at the weekend this view was confirmed by those who will be on the front line of the Party as we expand and begin to take local government seats (incidentally we already have 4 more of these than we did after the Election). There is a clear intent to create within our own communities and Town Halls a new radical alternative to the centrist ideas of left and right alike. Ideas that take us out of a simplistic and naïve left/right continuum and into a massively different space altogether.
I detect throughout the Party a desire not only to rebuild our Party from the bottom up but our Country as well. I detect an almost revolutionary zeal to both devolve and decentralise. To take political and fiscal power from the Tsars of Westminster and the Mandarins of Whitehall and give power to Town Halls and through town halls to communities and neighbourhoods.
However as I look at the Labour Party I struggle to hear in the speeches of their leadership contenders any coherent thoughts at all about what the future would look like if they ran the Country.
It started of course before the election when they seemed incapable of accepting their faults in allowing the deregulation of the banks and the easing of financial control to ramp up the private, industrial and public deficits from which we still struggle to escape today. Instead of coherent policies for the economy we had gimmicks like preventing rises in electric and gas prices for two years. Superficially attractive almost everyone except Ed Milliband looked into it and realised it was impossible to enforce. I saw Ed Balls described as a sharp brain in a newspaper today – what a joke. He with his boss Gordon Brown was at the tiller when in good times we spent more than we earned and in bad times had no reserves on which to call. They believed that allowing the City to act in ways which were clearly obscene at the time would allow the trickle down of money to the rest of us.
This was emphasised to me yesterday when people marched against austerity. It’s not that I think the persecution of the poor which is about to start is wrong but the way opposition is expressed is 50 years out of date. The Conservatives have, regrettably, just won an election in which their view of more austerity and more cuts in services to the poor prevailed. Social justice said they should have lost and have been punished for their hard hearted attitudes. Democracy says that can now do what they want. I am not sure how many Labour people supported the marches yesterday. Certainly there was anger in Liverpool from the 200 or so demonstrators that the Mayor of Liverpool was not present.
Perhaps significantly the Greens were prominent in Liverpool and on the national march and that is part of Labour’s dilemma. The Greens are notoriously flaky and incoherent. The motions that they put down in Liverpool are usually incoherent, unworkable and lack any real knowledge of how the public sector and the economy work. Their ideas are as bonkers as their national leader is incoherent but they have taken votes from Labour as have UKIP and the Nationalists.
So Labour are reaching deep into their past to try and define their future. Look at their campaign to keep the Coop as a funder of the Party. Look at their speeches about how they defeated austerity after WWII and introduced the NHS. These were battles fought between 175 and 70 years ago. Their NHS creation is creaking at teas seams because it is bureaucratic and has a high overall objective but little thought about how to meet the new challenges and opportunities of the early 21st. Century. Forward to the future via the past might make an amusing film but it is not a way to shape an approach to current and future needs and opportunities.
Basically the Labour Party continues to behave as if the Country existed in the way that it used to. A time when powerful unions controlled the thoughts for workers who were unionised in mass work places. A time when working people (and others) could only express themselves through protest and the mass meeting and demonstration. Those days are gone. Labour now only do well in places Like Liverpool (where at present they have 81 out of 90 Councillors) because it is only in urban areas where deprivation is still a key feature that those old truths prevail. But I only have to look across the council chamber to see that whilst the rhetoric of working class action is their more manifest is just middle class compassion tarting itself up as the working class.
We know that the Labour Party will not win the next General Election. Even if the Nats has not treated all the ‘English’ Parties so cruelly at the General Election the outcome would still have been that Labour lost England (84% of the UK) badly. Most people simply could not see that Labour had the answers. Most of the Labour votes cast, even in Liverpool where Lib Dems suffered more than most places, where against the Tories rather than because people had a confident expectation of what a Labour Government would achieve.
So in 10 years’ time there will be a liberal party which will; look startlingly like the Liberal Democrats in the way that we are reshaping ourselves. But I doubt that much will be left of Labour. Their Constituency, their innate reason for being is dying out and the Labour Party will die with them just as the Liberal Party almost died out at the start of the last century.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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2 Responses to Will there still be a Labour Party in 10 years?

  1. tonyhill says:

    “It’s not that I think the persecution of the poor that is about to start is wrong….” You may wish to correct this Richard.

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