You may have caught this week’s Sunday Politics. If you missed it, I can say that you also missed out on the sorry sight of Chuka Umunna, the Labour Shadow Business Secretary, attempting to persuade us that the Labour Party loyal isn’t left wing. This was in response to a Sunday Politics poll, which found that a significant percentage of Labour Parliamentary Candidates support the trade unions’ role in the party, oppose Trident and are in favour of tax and spend policies. Umunna was there to re-assure us that Labour is in fact not a left-wing party, but rather a wingless one, guided not by principles but common sense.
Now call me a pinko radical, but this goes entirely against mine and I suspect many other activists’ reasons for joining the party. “New Jerusalem” after all is a far greater call to action than “common sense”. But I guess that is the point. Labour is not trying to appeal to young leftie graduates when it sends someone to re-assure Andrew Neil about how moderate the party is. This message is designed for someone else. It appeals to the middle-ground voters, but more significantly sends out the message that Labour is a party of management not Marxism to the establishment. It is aimed at those unelected forces which more or less run the country, whether it is Labour or the Tories in power. It is, in short, a message for the rich people who fund the parties, the companies that run the economy, and the civil service which runs the country.
These forces could make life very difficult for Labour and the nation in general if they think their interests are threatened. If they think a party is too radical, too principled, too left wing. This puts Labour on a tightrope. On the one hand, Labour must appeal to its members, who generally want government to guarantee stronger public services and protect people from the fallout of economic crisis. On the other hand, Labour has to persuade business, media tycoons and rich people that it won’t do too much to guarantee the welfare of the general population, or at least that it won’t pursue socialistic goals at their expense.
We have here a tension, meaning Labour must appear both principled and passive at the same time. The result is that those who vote for radical change are perpetually disappointed, that the establishment’s support of Labour is only lukewarm and that Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary has to appear on Sunday Politics to persuade us that his party is not left wing. Politics is a mire of vested interests; the Labour Party must appease them all, but none are likely be satisfied.
By Nicholas Byard