You might have thought from the Tory tabloid screams at Ed’s conference speech plus the sidelining of the three older Blairites in the reshuffle that the Labour Party was taking a sharp turn to the left. Nothing could be further from the truth: plus ca change, plus la meme chose. The Left has been dropped or shunted out of sight, whilst the Right is everywhere dominant both in the shadow cabinet and in the Leader’s office. If this were a plausible plan for restoring a demoralised party or for winning an election, there might be a case for this. But it isn’t. The new incumbent at DWP loses no time at all in repeating the mantra of her predecessor, which had made him so unpopular within the party, that ‘Labour will be tougher than the Tories on benefits’. Her new colleague at education, equally untried, has immediately cosied up to a version of Gove’s free schools and has said Labour will put ‘rocket boosters’ under parent-led academies. With Labour still stuck to the Tories’ expenditure cuts and presenting no clear alternative to austerity, this is clearly a consolidated shift to the Right.
It generates problems at almost every level. First, unless the policy review produces some unexpected surprises, it offers at the level of fundamentals very little difference from the Tories which might encourage people to vote Labour. Second, it raises real questions about how policy is now made within the party. The Labour Party used to be a democratic party in which policy was actively debated through political education and campaigned for up and down the country until finally settled through negotiation and votes at conference between party and leadership. That process is now defunct, or at least tranquillised, and replaced by top-down ex cathedra proclamation without apparently either consultation or consent (just like the Tories one might add).
Third, when is the party going to start addressing the fundamentals rather than simply tweaking Tory policies? Instead of protecting flank by saying we’ll be even tougher on welfare than the Tories (a pretty depressing prospect for everyone except the Daily Mail), why do we not point out that the right way to deal with the problem is not by punishing people for failing to get jobs which are non-existent, but by public investment to stimulate jobs and growth which will get people off benefits altogether? And why don’t we, instead of aping Gove with Gove-lite policies, assert that success in education lies not with surface concerns about school ownership, but with the inspiration of the head teacher and the quality of all the teaching staff, as well as much more attention to the role of home and community on educational performance?
real problem is obviously Osborne’s economic policy keeping 2.5 million workers unemployed at a massive cost to taxpayers of over £18bn a year,