Magazine article Soundings

Where's Labour?

Magazine article Soundings

Where's Labour?

Article excerpt

The Coalition government are currently pursuing some of the most rightwing policies of any government in Europe. Their cuts are affecting the poorest members of society. They have done nothing to restrain the banks. The ideologically driven nature of their economic policy makes them apparently oblivious to its complete failure even on its own terms. They are planning to undermine the whole basis of the NHS. And these are just the headlines.

Meanwhile we on the left seem powerless, waiting around for some new ideas to emerge. What can we do about this? This is not a question only for the Labour Party, but we certainly need the Labour Party to become more central to the process of challenging the government and coordinating the widespread dissent that currently exists but lacks any focus. Many of the contributors to this issue address themselves to this question - with a fair amount of disagreement but a shared commitment to serious debate.

Patrick Diamond and Michael Kenny argue that part of the problem for Labour is that it must come up with a convincing public narrative of what was good and what bad about its period in office in order to manage its reputation, which has been seriously damaged. In order to point to its achievements it must own up to its major faults. Of course there are disagreements about what these are, but these need to be resolved if the party is to move forward. They also argue that the resources that Labour can draw on must include both its social democratic and social liberal heritage, and that it must also think more carefully about the constituent elements of the coalition it needs to stitch together.

The next two contributions are dialogues between people with different perspectives. First Neal Lawson responds to Jon Wilson's argument in Soundings 48 on consumerism, opening a dialogue on consumerism and capitalism. Jon's view is that people's consumption is frequently a social activity in which their main concern is providing for the material needs of loved ones. He argues that being anticonsumerist often seems to mean being out of touch with the materiality of people's lives - their basic needs, the places where they live. Neal's response is that capitalism forces us to express these humane feelings within a system that is fundamentally inhumane, and this has detrimental consequences for our well being. Jon's counterargument is that focusing on people's humanity and human needs can become a way of challenging capitalism to better meet those needs. Though both agree that a key task is to find sites of resistance, there is disagreement about the relative importance of identifying an over-arching power structure - the wall to be dismantled - or focusing largely on a search for cracks.

Guy Aitchison and Jeremy Gilbert come at the problem from the perspective of movements for change. Both agree that protest is an essential part of the political process and that it can have real effects in shifting the terms of political debate, but there is a difference of emphasis in terms of the ways to link these protests to the political mainstream. …

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