Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Time for the left to raise its game

Striking words, I felt, at the weekend from Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian:

Labour… [looks]… like a team facing an open goal and poised to miss. They need to raise their game – and fast.

Yes, I thought. We had Ed Miliband at the latest Labour Conference, insisting on proving the quality of his memory by delivering his key speech without notes, and then suffering a total memory failure and forgetting to talk about the economy (not the least significant of issues, one feels). And last week we had his Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer incapable of naming a single Labour donor, except for “Bill… Bill somebody…”

Ed Miliband: it's time to set the electorate alight
They seem to be taking aim at the government, but hitting their own foot.

Five years of shambolic government has hugely increased national debt while imposing austerity to reduce it. Austerity that has only left us with healthcare in crisis, education near bankruptcy and a police force unable to deal with crime. That sounds like an open goal. But Labour seem unable to get the ball into the net, with the opinion polls showing the two main parties level pegging.

What is it about this leadership that seems to leave it as though frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car? Why can’t it find a note that inspires the electors? The message that persuades the swing voters we so badly need, that it deserves the chance to form a government?

I keep watching Greece. I know that Alexis Tsipras may fall flat on his face and Syriza may find itself incapable of getting the nation’s creditors to ease their draconian debt conditions. But right now, at least he’s inspiring, he’s taking bold action, re-employing people thrown onto the jobless queue without hope of a job, raising the minimum wage to help alleviate the pain of utter, jaw-breaking poverty.

He’s telling the international financial community that he values their ability to make huge sums rather less than the ability of those who are suffering the worst hardship to feed and heat themselves.

Why can’t the British Labour Party strike that kind of note? Instead it seems exclusively concerned with convincing the business community that it can do just as well under Labour as under the Tories. And yet we all know that the business community will vote massively for the Conservatives whatever Labour leaders say?

Today, to add insult to injury, we had Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, generally far closer to the Tories than to Labour, saying that contacts he’d had with some Labour backbenchers suggested they’d rather a coalition with his party than with the Scottish SNP. Even though the SNP is firmly anchored on the left. Dodds may be making this all up, of course, but in my bones I fear he isn’t.

Britain’s not in as dire a state as Greece. We don’t need to be as radical as Tsipras. But some radicalism, surely, we can dig out of somewhere? Something that distinguishes us from the Conservatives? Something our supporters can rally round?

I have to confess that I wasn’t being entirely honest in quoting Freedland. He wasn’t talking about Britain, but about Israel. Where another right-wing government has left an open goal for Labour to shoot at – and finds Labour unable to take the shot.

Now I live in Britain and I’m a member of the British Labour Party. So my main priority is to see the Cameron government go and Labour back in office. But I have to admit if there’s a nation in even greater need of ridding itself of a dire government, it has to be Israel – and it would do the entire world a huge favour by dumping Netanyahu.

But, hey, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get rid of our mini-Netanyahus over here too. That needs a Labour leadership that gets some fire in its belly and inspires the electorate. As Freedland puts it: that needs to raise its game – and fast.

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