Opinion: Labour’s new coat of gloss

So, Labour has a new leader, and as he enjoys his honeymoon the party is experiencing a surge in the polls. This is to be expected; indeed, it would be an odd thing if Labour slumped in popularity in the immediate aftermath of such an event. They experienced the same effect following the elections of Blair and Brown, and a fine thing it can be for energising the activists and uniting the party. It can also be an effective way of repackaging a failing brand. Changing the leader gives the impression that the past is now ancient history and the new product is completely different, irresistible and fresh.

But there is still something recent about the events that forced this transformation. It is as if an incompetent bus driver has careered off the road and crashed his bus, then stands by the smoking wreckage insisting to the worried passengers that a new driver is en route, while glossing over the inconvenient fact that the bus has yet to be repaired.

Labour would like the world to believe that they lost the last election because of a worldwide financial crisis that was not of their making, like the naive Mr Nice Guy who borrows a lot of money and loses it all playing poker against a gang of ruthless crooks in a dodgy gambling den. “I never saw it coming” being the only explanation offered to his near-destitute family. Insisting that there are plenty of others who will loan him more money until times get better is hardly reassuring.

What Labour does not want to discuss are the other factors that contributed to their defeat, and were very much within their control. “In the little world in which children have their existence”, says Pip in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, “there is nothing so finely perceived and finely felt, as injustice.” Labour’s insistence on placing children in detention because of the sins of the parents is unprecedented in a civilised country, and an act of injustice without any redeeming features or justification.

While Labour was fairly relaxed about people being filthy rich, they were also relaxed about a growing sub-class of people condemned to a lifetime of welfare-dependence and unemployment. Their failure to confront this grave social issue head-on during an era of unprecedented prosperity will have repercussions for decades to come. To reconfigure the welfare state on the mistaken belief that there would always be enough money to pay for it was a misjudgement of staggering proportions that has left those reliant on it, and those who service it, as hostages to fortune.

In Britain, a child has an eleven-year window to obtain a basic education. The quality and effectiveness of that education can have a positive impact on the rest of that child’s life. Indeed, it can vicariously benefit that child’s children. To those children trapped in a cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity, education offers a key to social and economic mobility usually only available to their better off peers. Labour’s failure to raise these children from the sink of ignorance and deprivation during their thirteen years in office is another legacy of despair that they have bequeathed to the future.

Labour’s obsession with creating an authoritarian state regulated through identity cards, screening, covert surveillance and house arrest, behaviour and control orders, DNA registers and profiling were nothing more than ill-judged shortcuts taken to try to address their failure to deal with the causes of crime, anti-social behaviour and their attendant ills. Their decision to ride roughshod over our long-established traditions of fairness, freedom and tolerance was a display of contempt for this nations values that could have had disastrous repercussions for all of us.

When added to the lasting odium of Labours decision to attack Iraq, the misjudgements that turned the campaign in Afghanistan into a quagmire, the failure to regulate the banking system, the failure to address the issue of housing waiting lists, the decision to introduce ‘top up fees’ for students, their complicity in decisions that meant that, as people worked harder and longer, the wealth they created didn’t go to them but a to small number of already enormously wealthy people, these, and numerous other shortcomings have left Labour with a lot to do if they are to persuade people that they will do better next time.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Anthony Aloysius St 30th Sep '10 - 6:12pm

    “When added to the lasting odium of Labours decision to attack Iraq …”

    Anyone would think the Tories hadn’t supported that decision up to the hilt. Am I the only one who remembers Charles Kennedy being taunted from the Tory backbenches with cries of “Charlie Chamberlain”?

  • Quite David – or blaming any change in direction on the Lib Dems.

  • “Labour’s insistence on placing children in detention because of the sins of the parents is unprecedented in a civilised country, and an act of injustice without any redeeming features or justification.”

    And yet the Coalition government is continuing to lock up children – yes, not just failing to release them, continuing to lock them up. How many have been imprisoned since May? Why do LibDems keep talking about it and doing nothing?

  • David Pollard,

    Absolutely right. A Labour coalition was unthinkable three months ago. It is different now though!

  • The LibDems will do anything for a taste of power. The Tories voted for the Iraq war but that doesn’t stop the LibDems from getting into bed with them. They go on about child detention under Labour but do nothing to stop it now they are in power. They are supposed to increase the tax threshold to £10K but so far there has only been an increase of £22 in the threshold. Under Labour the tax threshold went up every year (09/10 was £6475) and looking at my past payslips if the rate of increase stayed the same, under Labour the tax threshold would have been £10K by 2015/16.

    So what have LibDems actually gained from this Coalition apart from some fancy titles for a few of their MPs.

  • We can’t fight the last election forever and nor can anyone else for the next five years.
    The public was rightly deeply unimpressed by Labour’s many manifest failings and gross stupidity, and guess what ? They were deservedly kicked out of power for their arrogance and incompetence.
    That’s how it works.

    The public will simply not accept the “nothing to do with me, it was all their fault” argument from any Party now in power four or five years down the line.

    The Liberal Democrats have to deliver where Labour failed to deliver.
    Policies that help the poor and those on an average wage through the cuts must be seen to work.
    Trident must not be swept under the carpet even if the Conservatives steamroller it through.
    Liberal Democrat MPs and ministers must be seen to be fighting tooth and anil for and publicly extolling Liberal Democrat policies. There is simply no other way to keep our identity and prevent the complete meltdown that would result from the public dismissing every Liberal Democrat as a yellow tory.
    The Conservatives might be coalition partners but they are certainly not going to hand over credit for Liberal Policies that work and they will be ruthless in taking the plaudits and leaving us the blame where possible. Some of us might think that was their plan all along but we can’t change that now.

    If we are to be a Party in Power then we have to act like it, stop fighting the last election and concentrate on the here and now. Because next years elections and the AV vote are real and so are the polls. The top of the Party must start fighting back now by telling voters why Liberal Democrats are in government, why we aren’t and never will be the Conservatives and what we have and will do with what power we have.

    We can and should attack Labour as well, but if that’s all we ever do and we retreat into behaving like an opposition Party while keeping the Conservative Party in power and supporting the Cuts, then the public will view and treat every Liberal Democrat with utter contempt and never forgive us.

  • And, following from Bob, showing the public how our good, Liberal policies eg increased use of community sentences (which arguably were rejected by the electorate, leading to our and Nick Clegg’s near meltdown in the last few days of the campaign) ACTUALLY work, and that they shouldn’t believe tabloid lies.

    It is all very well, Bob, saying “don’t fight the last campaign”, but many of these comments are not re-fighting, but striving to get anunderstandding / impose one’s understanding of what went on for planning for future campaigns. That is a valuable activity. Unlike the Tories we have a set of laid down principles (the preamble to our constitution). We cannot and must not (without properly approved change) campaign in a way which undermines our principles. I thought Nick Clegg argued very hard and powerfully in the latter TV debates on our immigration policy, although he should have been plainer about our position on an amnesty, and not tried to cover up rather transparently. This issue was by common agreement one of the features that lost us the latter part of the campaign. I wonder how well Chris Huhne would have argued for this, had he been the elected leader? But these are our difficulties in a campaign, and it was shown clearly that the tabloids will take us on heavily where we are “seen to have a chance”.
    We DO need to analyse this. We cannot, in my view, renege on our principles, and we have to learn how to take on the tabloids and combined forces of Tories and Labour – otherwise we will NEVER come anywhere near winning. This time we were lucky the Labour years were authoritarian ones, as we could legitimately criticise them with Tory support. This has very rarely been the case, normally the Tories leading the authoritarian charge!

    So, it is all very well trying to get through by criticising the last Labour lot, but ultimately the problems will come from “our own side” (with many Tories unhappy about Ken Clarke’s approach, for instance). Ed Miliband shows every sign of trying to move to a less belligerent, more liberal line. Give him the benefit of the doubt, please, Iain and others. Frankly, the line in this article (as others here on LDV) sounds very troll – like. Sorry.

  • Sorry to Iain, I incorrectly attributed Matt’s writing to you in the last post.

  • I am fed up of the comments going on about child detention.

    It will end – that has been made so explicitly clear – and it will be the Lib Dems who end it. It takes time to not just throw people out of prison but also give them some kind of support when they are out, so forgive us for ensuring our decisions are well made. I guess we just think about consequences, unlike the well-intentioned gambler of Labour.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 1st Oct '10 - 11:51am

    “It takes time to not just throw people out of prison but also give them some kind of support when they are out, so forgive us for ensuring our decisions are well made.”

    Sorry, but I do find these excuses pretty feeble:
    (1) As has been pointed out a number of times, it’s not just a question of delaying the release of people already in detention. People continue to be detained. I don’t understand why that should be.
    (2) No one is advocating “throwing people out of prison.” By all means make the facilities available for a transitional period if people actually want to remain there. But if they don’t, what is the justification for keeping them there?

  • The article at the start of this thread is little more than a long winded rant about Labour. The endless attempts to justify the Coalition and to go in for excessive cheerleading are not beginning to be tiresome. These serve to do little more than propel us rightwards and to make our future options increasingly linked to the Tories.

    We need to move away from criticising them as they were before May and begin to criticise what they become in a new era. We need to criticise from a Lib Dem perspective not a Coalition perspective.

  • @ Matt Gallagher
    “Labour would like the world to believe that they lost the last election because of a worldwide financial crisis that was not of their making, like the naive Mr Nice Guy who borrows a lot of money and loses it all playing poker against a gang of ruthless crooks in a dodgy gambling den. “I never saw it coming” being the only explanation offered to his near-destitute family.”

    In which case many other countries lost heavily at the tables and hindsight gives everybody 20/20 vision! It may be convenient for the Orange Tories to support the Blue Tories’ preposterous calumny that Labour was responsible for the banking crisis in order to bolster up their squalid coalition, but it bears no relation to the facts. By the end of 2009, because of the crash, seven OECD countries exceeded the OECD average deficit of -7.9%. They were: Ireland,( -14.3%) Greece, (-13.5%) UK, (-11.3%) Spain, (-11.2%) USA, (-11.0%) Portugal, (-9.4%) and Iceland,
    (-9.1%) Three of the worst countries affected had surpluses before the crash: Ireland, Spain and Iceland. Indeed, Iceland, with a surplus of 5.4%, was in one of the healthiest fiscal positions of the OECD nations. Four countries were in deficit before the crash: both the UK and Portugal had a defict of -2.7%; the USA had a deficit of -2.8% and Greece had a deficit of -5.4%. Indeed, of those four, Britain had the lower deficit.
    These figures show clearly that Labour was not reponsible for the mess that the world got into. At this time, it should also be remembered that the Blue Tories were actually calling for more deregulation of financial markets!

    Instead of indulging in fatuous, ad hominem analogies concerning bus drivers and poker players why don’t you read Adam Lent’s post on http://www.touchstoneblog.org.uk/2010/08/the-deficit-is-labour-really-to-blame/
    and get some facts before making your unpatriotic assertions.

  • Mike(the Labour one) 2nd Oct '10 - 6:24pm

    “It takes time to not just throw people out of prison but also give them some kind of support when they are out, ”


    Child detention is a disgrace and always was- but the alternative that looks to be favoured by this government is not better.

    “But the UKBA document, leaked to Socialist Worker, suggests that boosting the removal rate, rather than humanitarian considerations, is the priority for ministers.”

    (This quote from the UKBA) “The alternative is not to inform the family of the exact time and date of removal, so that they are not prepared. However, this has its own difficulties, which would need analysing and addressing.”

    If you think these children are going to be released blinking into the sunlight to live happily ever after by this government then prepare to be disappointed.

  • I am interested in the child detention discussions in the thread. I was apalled that this was done under Labour and obviously it continues under the coalition.

    I am not an expert in the area but my understanding is that the familied involved are in detention awaiting deportation because they have no right to remain in the UK and have exhausted the appeal process.

    I perfectly understand why these families want to remain in the UK and I also understand why the families sometimes use their children as pawns in the shell-game played out against the UK immigration policies and system.

    Putting the families into detention has to be done with minimal warning otherwise they would melt-away and be an even bigger target for those who would exploit them. So what do you do about their children – do you take them into detention or put them into social work care away from their families which may be even more traumatic.

    I think this is a vitally important issue and we really as a society must do better but how do we do it – I haven’t managed to work it out. It’s easy to criticise but what are the constructive alternatives.

    And always remember that as the cuts deepen and bite harder then normally fair-minded UK citizens will turn an even harder face to what they perceive as undeserving economic migrants.

    My own background is ultimately Irish because my grandparents were part of the waves of Irish immigrants – both Protestant and Catholic – escaping from the Irish Famines caused by potato blight. So I’m not anti economic immigrant but Labour’s failure to understand the concerns of ordinary voters cost them dear at the GE and it may well be that LibDem leaders are frightened of appearing soft especially as this is a Tory litmus test area.

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