There’s been a lot of self-serving nonsense talked about why Labour lost the election and what it has to do to win in the future. We’ve just witnessed a well-planned media blitz of failed New Labour ex-ministers and their new-wave proteges blaming Ed Miliband with all the old Blairite mantras that Labour has failed to be a party of aspiration, to occupy the middle ground and appeal to middle England.
This drivel from Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and others is to shirk New Labour’s responsibility for what happened last week. No party has won an election when trailing in economic-competence polls. When the Tories shamelessly accused the last Labour government of crashing the economy, they were right, but for the wrong reasons.
The crash was not down to over-spending and over-borrowing, but down to the policy of lifting virtually all lending controls off the banks and finance sector; a policy promoted by both New Labour and even more virulently by the Conservative party. No deficit at all would have existed if New Labour had tackled the widespread and alarmingly high levels of tax evasion and avoidance by corporations and the filthy rich. Of course the crash was transnational, but New Labour not only shared in the global promotion of neoliberal free market economics, it also had a special responsibility for failing to regulate the City of London.
As a result, instead of eliminating boom and bust, New Labour contributed to the greatest bust since the 1929 crash. It also failed to build the homes people needed or develop an industrial strategy that delivered secure, well-paid jobs, and allowed the share of the country’s income going to wages compared with shareholders’ profits to fall. Combine this scale of economic incompetence with New Labour lies over Iraq, and Miliband had a virtually impossible hand to play in rebuilding people’s trust in one term.
With an overall majority in parliament, the Tories will now unleash a tsunami of cuts in welfare benefits, privatisation and attacks on trade union rights and civil liberties. The divisions in our society will escalate. Scotland is already on the edge. The Tory victory may suit the SNP perfectly, with every austerity measure blamed on Westminster, engendering the call for another referendum. London is potentially a rebel city. The division between very rich and poor is at its starkest here.
The strains created by housing shortages, low pay and insecure employment have dragged more and more people into the precariat. Many Londoners who looked for change via the ballot box have now had their hopes shattered. Direct action has become increasingly commonplace. If politics and parliament fail people, then their only recourse is the streets.
We could also soon be facing another large-scale economic crisis. All the familiar ingredients are there. The creation of a debt bubble based upon a housing shortage, inflated and rising property prices but low pay, a lack of productive growth in the economy – especially in manufacturing – and a billowing trade deficit. All the factors that led us to the crash of 2007.
Labour’s response is to launch a leadership election, in which it is impossible to put a cigarette paper between the prospective candidates. Rather than rushing into a leadership contest, surely a more fundamental discussion is needed to determine the sense of purpose of the Labour party and how it can become a social movement once again, rather than just an electoral machine. This also means talking about how we link up with the many other progressive social movements that people are increasingly forming and participating in to resist the brutality of the Conservatives in government.
Leaders play an important role, but it is the Labour party’s supporters and potential supporters who should take the lead in discussing and determining the sense of purpose and direction of the party if we are to return to being a social movement aiming to transform our society. It is that process many of us want to see before a leader is selected.