Following on the heels of our review of the Conservative Party last week, we move our view to Labour.
Below, we follow the same pattern as we did on Thursday — though without the pre-analysis rambling.
Without further ado, the Big Bad Briefing on the Labour Party:
Unlike the Conservatives, Labour does not have a Canadian party of the same name. On first instinct — being the “other big party”, with red signs — one would think to equate them to the Liberal Party in Canada.
On the other hand, “Labour” brings to mind a labour movement borne out of socialist and trade union ideals — an origin vastly different to the history of the Liberal party, and closer to Canada’s New Democratic Party.
Overall, the “New Labour” of Tony Blair I arrived to in the UK was not so different from Chretien’s Liberals in Canada — a charismatic, once popular Prime Minister, running low on popularity, and being run out of the role by their Finance Minister/Chancellor. My base assumption was that Labour started out as an NDP-type party that evolved into today’s party.
The truth is that Labour did not evolve — it revolutioned into New Labour with the removal of Clause IV from their constitution:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
They are not a party that has slowly moved from being a socialist party to being a centre-left party. Instead, they have a long history of supporting state ownership over private ownership — an ideal that was thrown out the window in the 90s by Blair to provide an alternative to the Conservatives.
Another big difference is in the way that the recent Liberal and Labour governments have governed. The Chretien government believed in being fiscally responsible — it took advantage of a strong economic period to balance budgets, and eliminate budget deficits.
The Labour government, by contrast, seemed to believe that bad economic things could not happen. The current Prime Minister is on record as saying that there could never again be a bust, a depression. And after one successful term of New Labour, they began to spend like it — the more the British economy motored along, the more they spent.
In truth, the Labour are not like the Liberals at all — while their basic position on the political spectrum (centre-left) is similar, their approaches to governing seem wildly different.
Leading the Labour Party is Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The Chancellor for ten years under Blair’s Labour government, Brown took power when Blair stepped down in 2007.
Similar to how Cameron reflects the way that the Tories would like to be perceived, Brown reflects how the population sees the Labour party at present. To me, he represents a government that has been in power for over a decade, and has lost touch with why it was elected in the first place.
A poor speaker who seems to stumble from one crisis to the next, Brown did not attain his position by popular mandate, or because he could speak to or for the voters of Britain. Instead, he came to power mid-term by internal political machinations within the Labour party.
Additionally, despite being the man who held the purse-strings following the New Labour revolution, Brown seems to be leading Labour back towards their old school of thought. While nationalizing some banks might have been necessary, Brown seems to be leading Labour in a direction that suggests that the party should drop the “New” from “New Labour”.
Should Brown prove to be a figure that voters can rally to in the final weeks of an election, it would not be a stretch to say that everybody would be surprised.
Labour’s manifesto is titled a future fair to all. The strangest piece of their manifesto is that one of the three pillars is that “we” should “renew our politics.” There are two ways of seeing this.
First, is that it should read like the other pillars, and the “we” in question are the voters. If this is the case, it is unclear why the voters should vote Labour.
Second, the “we” is the Labour party — Labour believes that they need to renew their own politics. Should this be the case, one must wonder why they would not do so prior to the election. If Labour is going to renew itself, I would like to know what this will look like if I am to consider casting a vote for the party.
I am uncertain if it is kind or unkind to assume the second definition.
The weight of the new policies in the Labour Manifesto — if one is to look at what is new, and call it “renewal” — is for an increased role of government in society (and a corresponding decreased role for the private sector). The renewal might mean a move back towards more traditional Labour positions.
Labour’s manifesto is definitely one that assumes that the country is preparing itself to embrace the Conservatives. It seems to forget or willfully ignore their own recent record of governing on several issues, only to turn around and boast about said record where it is convenient to do so.
My favourite part of the Labour manifesto is their pledge to maintain or increase spending that supports sports, art galleries and museums. While the sport part is a little empty — the proximity of the 2012 Olympics pretty much requires spending or embarrassment on an international stage — one of the great things about living in London is the low cost and high quality of the art galleries and museums.
When times are tough, and money is short, too often these things find themselves first to the chopping block. It is nice to see a political party showing that they understand that these things are important to the community.
In his introduction to the manifesto, Gordon Brown outlines a secret (ie, non-verifiable) Conservative plot to reduce government support for nurseries. He has a point — if the secret plot is true, it is not a policy I would be fond of — Brown uses it to dress up the fairness principle that is central to the Labour Manifesto.
The secret Tory nursery policy, he argues, is unfair.
As evidenced by the title of their Manifesto, and the general tone of their campaign (Conservatives are evil, in case you missed it), the message can be boiled down to this: Labour will be fair. Conservatives will be unfair.
What is unfair? That the Conservatives will cut back some benefits.
What is fair? Labour will top up said benefits.
With the government in dire financial straits, the argument ought to be with regards to the timing and choice of cuts to be made, not whether or not they need to exist. It is quite common, when something is taken away, to say “that’s not fair”. Fairness is not about making people happy, though.
Labour seems frightened to take anything away from anybody in this manifesto. They are fighting to delay or avoid the inevitable cuts while increasing spending.
While it is normal for a party to avoid answering the tough questions, calling out a party that is making plans for cuts — guaranteed to be unpopular — is simply a low blow. Either Labour is also planning cuts, or they intend to allow the budget to spiral completely out of control. If they wish us to believe that their cuts will treat us more fairly, they need to tell us where they intend to make cuts, and why they feel that those are better places that provide a better deal to UK residents.
On this topic, Labour’s manifesto claims that they will make “cuts to lower priority spending” — but neatly avoids what they consider to be “lower priority”. Their section on fiscal sustainability mentions the tax rises they have already passed, and pledges not to increase taxes further. The section labelled tough choices asks us to look at the 2010 budget and sets caps for pay increases for government employees. Funnily enough, according to Deloitte, in the 2010 budget “the Government has still put to flesh on the bones of it’s plans to cut Government spending. In the absence of such detail the markets have little reason to find the Government’s numbers plausible.”
In other words, Mr. Brown critiques without offering alternatives and appears afraid to cut spending on any particular group. It is difficult to view this as a plausible strategy.
The introduction of the Manifesto has this to say:
So this cannot, and will not, be a ‘business as usual’ election or Manifesto. In this Manifesto we set out plans to address the main future challenges we face in our economy, our society and our politics. We will rebuild the economy to secure the recovery and invest in future growth and jobs. We will renew our society to further strengthen the communities that bind our country together. And we will restore trust in politics with greater transparency and accountability in a system battered by the expenses scandal.
However, these are issues that occurred during the Labour government. The economy collapsed two years ago, and Labour has been in power the entire time. Why would Labour ask us to review plans that they are only setting out now, instead of voting based on the plans in progress?
The expense scandal which damaged trust in politicians is the same story — these events occurred on Labour’s watch.
I am willing to accept that the recession and expenses scandal are not necessarily a reason not to vote for Labour — scandals and recessions will occasionally happen. It is a government’s ability to react to them, mitigate them, and enact policies to improve the system’s stability and sustainability that count for something.
But Labour’s own manifesto seems to claim that they are not doing a good job. It asks us not to judge Labour on the job they are doing, but on the job they intend to do.
This is simply not acceptable. If they are not proud of their record, they should not wait for an election to take things in a new direction.
The Bottom Line
Gordon Brown speaks of seeing the British economy through the recession, and claims that it would be bad to change horses in midstream, so to speak.
I do not buy this argument.
Canada has weathered the global financial crisis with nary a peep, despite deeply partisan politics in a hung parliament — they even prorogued parliament (no hands on the tiller!) and found their way through. The United States changed from Bush to Obama, and are recovering ahead of the British economy.
Britain was hit hard for two reasons. One is that financial services industry and the housing market make up larger portions of the economy here than they do elsewhere. Hence, the targets of the recession targeted the UK excessively. The other is that the Labour government were increasing deficits and piling up debt when times were good. This makes handling the public finances difficult when times are bad and a extended stimulus is needed.
We should be questioning why this happened. And it leads us back to Labour and Gordon Brown. They believed that busts and recessions could no longer happen. But they were wrong, and recessions did happen.
Although his ideas for helping the economy to recover were copied the world over, Brown’s own policies are largely responsible for the difficult situation that the bailouts have caused for Britain.
Should he be voted out, Brown’s legacy will be the huge public debt that the country is now burdened with. It is astonishing that the platform on which he is campaigning does not look like one in which he repairs such a legacy, but would would instead deepen the burden by ushering in an age of government activism.
Labour wants our votes on the basis that we should be afraid of the Conservatives. They do not want us to vote based on their record in office over the last three or thirteen years (the duration of the Brown and Labour governments, respectively). They point out that the economy is in a delicate situation, and say “please be afraid of change”.
The Big Bad Blog is not afraid of change; Labour’s campaign, manifesto and policies appear flawed and hollow.