The Labour Party needs to rally itself together if it is to pose a strong opposition - and not in the least if it is to fight a snap election against Theresa May. Rev Tony Cross offers his thoughts on the leadership, the electorate, and what direction Labour needs to go if it is to be successful when we next go to the polls.
Is Theresa May a ‘type’ of Margaret Thatcher? The very thought should make us shudder. In the 1980s, when Maggie was PM, the Labour Party was in disarray, opposition was weak. The result was many poor and marginalised people suffered. When that happens, the country is the poorer for it.
What have we now? Tory PM’s have become expert at sounding very caring. Sounding almost Labour. Rory Bremner mused that perhaps May was seeking the Labour leadership, too! What the Tories say sounds very plausible. It’s just the delivery we have problems with. We know that most British workers and their families are poorer than when Cameron took up office. The Tories tell us they have done lots of good things and they have. The most wealthy pay less tax, earn considerably more, own more houses… Whether these are good things is a matter of opinion.
All this you know as well as I do. What has been the Labour response? Exactly what it was in the ‘80s to argue between left and right. This time they even claim the ‘polls’ are on their side. Let’s be honest, Blairism, or ‘Tory light’ as it has been called, will not win the next election. It didn’t win in 2015, and in 2010 Labour was toxic because of the Iraq war. Whose idea was that?
The Blairite wing has appeared to want a Tory Government rather than a non-Blairite Labour one. Our once esteemed leader has interfered for too long and needs to be told to get lost. He interfered in the Brown years and through the coalition years and even now. He tells us he knows how to win elections. Not now he doesn’t.
Fed up with ‘posh boys who don’t know the price of milk’, most ordinary people have given up on politics. Jeremy Corbyn sounded different. He was not one of the boys. It’s not surprising people voted for him. Could he win an election – one that is not confined to Labour Party Members? Probably not. He is too idealistic. We would all like an end to rail in private ownership and an end to austerity, together with more money for the NHS. It is no good hoping that there will be jam for tea tomorrow. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.
My father served in the last war. He spoke of the hope of his generation after the war, when the Labour Government took office. They hoped and dreamed of a fairer Britain, one where privilege was not an essential to getting on. Free Education up to 15 and then 16, free University education, free NHS, pensions, sick and unemployment pay, benefits for the disabled. A much fairer Britain.
What has happened since? From Mrs Thatcher on it has been slowly whittled away and I expect May will continue the work. By the time the Labour Party get their act together, will anything be left? Still left and right slog it out, talking of splits. That happened in the 80s, too! Great success wasn’t it. With the boundary changes and Scotland in love with the SNP, it is going to be tough to get an alternative government. Tim Farron may see his party as the only hope but that would take a real miracle.
A leader is not a Leader unless people are following. Jeremy was never going to lead most of the Labour MPs because they are just as pig headed as him. Their hatred of his left views appears to be greater than their hatred of Tory views. They appear to have no respect for the electorate that voted for Jeremy, either. Good democrats them!
So for goodness sake, we need a Labour Party that can pull together. It needs to be a broad party that embraces Left, Right and the middle. We need a party that will move away from a leadership model that is more a Presidency. We need a leader of a team who work in collaboration. People with different views and positions discussing together and coming to a decision they can all agree on. This really is new politics. A party like that would attract voters because it’s different.
There is one thing all Labour members, voters and MPs can surely agree on; it is not the rich who create wealth and then we hope it trickles down to the lesser mortals. It is by the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people upon which this country depends to survive. So Labour, let’s remind the country of this fact and that it is the ordinary working people and their families who deserve a fair share of the wealth, not the hand-me-downs of Tory Britain. We no longer claim that the workers deserve the full fruits of their labour, but they deserve a fair share.
‘O God, our help in ages past’. I would like to think I can hope for a speedy election and a Labour Government but that looks unlikely for many years to come. May has no mandate. Just under 37% of the electorate who voted put a cross against a Conservative Party candidate. As only 66% of the electorate voted - that actually means less than a quarter of the electorate voted Conservative in 2015. No mandate at all. We now have a PM who won a constituency election in 2015 and a vote amongst Party MPs in 2016 but nothing else. She has a small majority in Parliament.
When she has time to think about it, a September election is obvious! It will give her well over 100 seat majority; even better than Margaret Thatcher started with. She will win if Labour MPs can’t co-operate with each other. The country will not vote for a party divided against itself. After all, the most important things must be to win the next election whenever it is and we need to be ready to fight NOW.
Rev Tony Cross is a Baptist minister and CSM/CotL contributor based in Kent.