Haemorrhaging support out of central arteries, Labour and the Conservatives are witnessing the gradual and sincere depletion of their political vitalities, sustenance used to enhance the stature of fiendish newcomers. If such vote robbing evokes the age-old analogy of candy and baby, then the result has been an apoplectic scramble to regain what once seemed a God-given gift. A rage upon immigration has ensued, with Miliband and Cameron jostling to deliver the most vitriolic denouncement of the pernicious Eastern masses flocking to reap havoc on our bountiful shores - brilliantly captured by the Spectator’s Christmas cover.
Yet UKIP is not the only threat to the established political order. A tracker poll published on Wednesday, conducted by Ipsos MORI, plotted the Greens on 9%, its highest standing on record (and only 4% shy of UKIP). Not a one-off outlier to temporarily terrify Miliband’s tottering troops, the Green Party’s rise to political prominence has been described for several months as a ‘Green surge’, or a #GreenSurge to those more versed in hashtags than the impractical demands of Oxford English. Particularly accountable for this growth in support has been the young electorate. Indeed, a statistical breakdown published by the Telegraph this morning, verifies the Greens’ salience within this age bracket. Just as a disproportionate 20% of the 60+ vote is reserved for UKIP, the Greens gain approximately 19% of the liberal-left 18-24 vote.
From Labour’s point of view, this can only be seen as a calamity. Following a sustained period of mass youth unemployment, widespread disenchantment with Tory austerity and the Lib Dems’ tuition fees debacle, for The Red Flag to not be ritually intoned across UK campuses is a brazen balls-up on their behalf.
However, accepted this failure Labour has. Indeed, Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan has been appointed to lead the party’s fight-back against the Green Revolt. And Khan’s prospects look somewhat rosy. It is estimated that approximately one-third of Green Party voters will return to Labour at the 2015 general election. But, with the polls closing in on Miliband, the Labour leader surely does not seek merely a minority of wanderers, who grudgingly haul themselves back to his party – still disenchanted and sullen faced. To prevent such a state of melancholy, and to win over all those lost, Labour must re-inspire the young (idealist) left.
Perhaps not a source of inspiration, but certainly a route through which to reduce despondency, would be for Khan to drop his insidious inferences to tactical voting. His claim that the Green Party “will not win a single seat next year” may be incontrovertibly accurate, but such concerted negative campaigning does nothing to sway voters away from political protest.
Nevertheless, just as a successful campaign cannot be built solely on pragmatism, it cannot be built solely on idealism. Vindictive point-scoring will not regain the young progressive vote. In the face of appropriately directed Labour pressure however, the Greens will suffer from their radical policies not having an entrenched parliamentary outlet.
If Labour devise a forward-thinking youth policy set, political practicalities will operate without the need for unnecessary malice.
One may respond with disbelief that the present Labour Party could construct such a coherent vision. For present purposes we will suspend any such reservations.
The first point of order for Miliband and Khan should be education. Remarkably, those who are currently in education are often those most concerned with education policy. Indeed, they have an inclination to get very angry if, say, their tuition fees are trebled. The redistribution of debt from government to student is not the only policy to have drawn the ire of young people however. They are also disenchanted with the relentless drive towards ‘higher standards’ in education. Similar to GDP in the economic realm, these ‘standards’ of success often seem detached from tangible outcomes experienced at the coal face. On this basis, the coalition’s free schools policy could be wholeheartedly rejected. Instead of hysterically pursuing higher standards, Labour could argue for an education system that prioritises personal growth, collective attainment and equal opportunities.
Through this, Shadow Education Secretary and resident boffin Tristram Hunt could launch an attack on UKIP’s widely vocalised grammar schools policy. Given Hunt’s historical expertise (being a doctor of the subject), he must surely be aware of the divisive and damaging impact of Britain’s tripartite system during the 1950s and 1960s. Moreover, given that a leaked Labour document revealed the party’s desire to turn the national debate away from immigration, it may be of use for Labour to concoct some progressive policies in the alternate areas they seek to discuss. Just a thought.
To bestow these notions with some rhetorical potency – and to connect them to Miliband’s War Against Inequality – an old trope could be resurrected and adapted to the cause.
Preaching a ‘New Meritocracy’, Labour could repudiate the extinct, Blairite incarnation of the ideal, and emphasise how equality of opportunity relies not merely on a more socially just education system, but a more just economic structure as a whole. Given the cultural and material benefits that entrench the opportunities of the wealthy, very few are capable of bridging the gap between bottom and top. Notions of merit and opportunity are heady substances for fans of ‘aspiration’. Conveniently, young people and floating middle-class voters (i.e. those individuals key to Miliband’s electoral fortunes) could be deemed as prime enthusiasts. Yet, through an acute adaptation, a New Meritocracy could become a radical vision of social justice – not merely a rehash of New Labour centrist philosophies.
Crucially, also, such a vision would be distinct. In contrast to Cameron’s ‘steal everything’ approach to UKIP, Labour would have established an alternative to the Greens, therefore denying their foes a counter-productive dose of self-confidence.
It is evident that the old Red-Blue dichotomy of British politics faces some severe challenges to its time-worn rule. Perhaps that is because there is no longer a dichotomy to speak of; politics is rather a watery brown substance, with the infrequent speck of blue or red. This would indeed explain the rise of rogue parties that have broken the mould, and painted our political scene with new, violent shades of colour. It is now the task of the old guard to deal with these nascent threats. Labour in particular must face up to the challenge of the Green Party with a modern vision for a new generation of progressives, or risk political stagnancy come 2015.
By Sam Bright