Does the Labour Party have a history in the social democratic tradition?

1 Nov 2013

As soon as people read this article, they will think ‘typical Matt Snape, trust the Area Chairman of Worcestershire CF to write an article like this.’ I am not writing this as a Tory however. I am writing this, like my last article as a historian, with the benefit of hindsight and who has grown up as part of Generation Y, the generation that grew up after the days of Thatcher, when free market values became accepted within the whole of British society, and the generation that grew up under New Labour. 


And I predict- as evidence shows with Thatcher’s reforms becoming less and less reversible, carried on more and more by successive governments- that we will struggle to see a future for socialism in British politics. And with the King of the Netherlands, a country less well off than the UK, predicting the end of the welfare state in his country, I predict we will start seeing less of a role for the welfare state, and therefore democratic socialism, in Britain. So where does this leave the Labour Party?

This week, Tony Blair has announced that he wished he had put in an austerity plan after winning the 2005 General Election. And that he blames the lack of cuts on loyal Brownites, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. In my last article, I make no secret of the fact that Blair failed to convert the majority of his MPs on the merits of the New Labour project in the same way that Thatcher, arguably, converted the majority of Conservative MPs on the merits of her ideology. And it seems that, as us Tories like to say, ‘Labour never learns.’ Blair had the opportunity to dominate the British political scene under New Labour forever. It seemed like the perfect political cocktail; a Third Way between the policies of free market governments across the world and a continuation of Old Labour in a new age. It seemed like the perfect recipe to keep the Tories out of power forever, and it very well could have. It could have really worked. But it didn’t. And because it didn’t work, because Blair allowed Brownites friendly to Old Labour notions of redistribution of wealth and eradicating child poverty to divide the Labour Party, all Cameron and his Conservatives had to do was assure people that there would be a continuation of what was once ‘new’ about New Labour under the Conservative Party and pave the way for a government free from the war between Brown and Blair. How could such a smart man like Blair seem so careless? And now, Labour is paying the price.

Now I might be saying this as a Tory, but it scares me to think what could happen to Britain if Miliband gets back in power, after his party conference speech. Here is Old Labour, the same Old Labour that had officially come to an end and moulded into New Labour not long after my fourth birthday, alive and true almost twenty years later. Raiding the wealthy, nationalising the railways, populist policies like freezing energy prices, an end to the bedroom tax (actually, it’s a spare-room subsidy, but what the hell) and before that, supporting a mansion tax. Why is Labour reverting to these ideas again? Whatever happened to pleasing the ‘real Essex man’ who normally votes Conservative? It’s all gone under Ed Miliband. He even said himself that he wants to revert back to old style socialism. I’m sure Wilson and Callaghan are smiling at him proudly from the heavens. 

I hate to say it Miliband, but, unless you have the balls to take us back to a Keynesian age where every industry under the sun was nationalised (I dread to see the day) you will not reverse the path that Britain has followed since 1979. Just look at the free market reforms that have been brought in since under the Coalition (academies, welfare cap, universal credit, benefits slashed like no tomorrow, the NHS reforms, free schools, expansion of the private sector, tax cuts) does he honestly think he has the guts to reverse everything that we as a nation have implemented since 1979? I don’t think he would, both for pragmatic reasons and because he doesn’t have the personality for it. And yes, he may be in the lead in the polls, but with the economy on the mend, does he really think he can reverse all that? And would the British people really let him when mid-term season is over? 

So where does this leave democratic socialism in Britain? It’s not a happy future I must say, with the free market society we have. Labour’s relations with the unions are getting worse. I wouldn’t actually blame Unite if they stopped funding the Labour Party because the reality is they are not a Labour party anymore. Labour’s base of support has shrunk since the 80s and carries on shrinking in those safe seats in an age where, thanks to Thatcher, everyone is middle class. We won’t ever witness true social democracy in this country again and until Labour starts to fully embrace capitalism, they will forever be a party of opposition. 

So where does the Labour Party go from here? Well, there is a reason why UKIP’s support is rising; because some of their free market policies sound more Tory than Cameron’s policies, and for many other reasons. The fight at the next European elections will be between my party, the Conservatives, and UKIP. It will be a battle to see who can sound the most conservative over the economy, immigration, Europe and capitalism. Labour are being pushed to the sidelines, and that is because their policies no longer matter to the British people and because New Labour, the furthest Labour has ever moved to the right, was not a coherent enough vision for the Labour Party and the British people to accept. 

So what is the choice Labour? Are you going to be a party of protest with a distinct vision of democratic socialism and maybe with a leader who has the balls to admit you will bring Britain back to a Keynesian age and reverse ALL of the reforms of our governments from 1979? Or are you a party of government that will claim to run the economy better than us Tories? Well, as history shows, as Miliband’s conference speech shows and, as a poll at the recent Labour Party conference shows, the majority of members want Labour to go down a more socialist route, Labour’s future is more of the former. For all you champagne socialists out there, stop pretending you care about the poor and start wining and dining with people who you truly belong with, because at the rate things are going, it’s not in the Labour Party.

By Matthew Snape

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