Monday 16 May 2011

Does Labour need to steer right to beat the Tories?

These New Labour types never quite get it. Andrew Rawnsley, writing in yesterday's Observer, claimed: 'Remember that Labour will neither look like an alternative government nor become one unless Ed Miliband can persuade people who voted Tory in 2010 to vote Labour next time.'

This isn't true. It's not a matter of opinion or speculation - it is simple maths. There are three reasons why.

Firstly, Labour could win by taking a huge number of votes from people who voted  Lib Dem at the last election. Secondly, Labour could win by motivating those who voted for none of the above last year to vote Labour. Thirdly, Labour could win as a result of many Tory voters from the last election simply not voting at all.

Rawnsley is therefore objectively wrong. But he's peddling the old myth that Labour can only be electable if it moves to the right, as if it hasn't already done so quite sufficiently.

Rawnsley's also missing something vital in considering what could propel Labour to victory at the distant general election, or indeed force the coalition to crack well before then. Three initials: NHS.

If Labour propagandised relentlessly against Tory plans for cuts and privatisation of the health service, and threw its weight behind a campaign to defend the NHS, it would reap the rewards electorally as well as genuinely doing something worthwhile. That, however, requires breaking the rightward-pulling logic, and obsession with centre grounds and Middle Englands, which has dominated in the Labour Party for so long.

Ed Miliband and the NHS could be a repeat of Neil Kinnock and the poll tax. In the 1992 general election, Labour could have swung it their way - instead of the Tories taking a small minority - if Kinnock had constantly reminded voters of the hated poll tax, which had been defeated only a year or two earlier (by demonstrations and mass non-payment, not by Labour). 

It seems, however, that Ed Miliband is destined to follow the familiar course of lukewarm criticism, half-baked opposition, and an ambivalent attitude to any sort of protest movement. We will have to defend the NHS ourselves. As for Labour's electoral chances, the party will only fulfil its potential by associating itself with the growing rejection of Tory attempts to roll the clock back to before 1945.   


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