Tuesday, 22 November 2011

How the Beckett Reform could save the Labour Party (and maybe even the UK...)

Political manifestos are dangerous things. In the run up to an election, a party can promise not to privatise the NHS (Conservatives), to oppose the introduction of student fees (LibDems) or pledge to oppose Free Schools (Labour). Then when attention is no longer focused on what you said, you do a nifty little u-turn, and no-one remembers what you said (or in Nick Clegg's case, what you look like, or do.)

But then, should we really be worrying about a few political white lies at this time? After all, the UK is in something of a crisis at the moment. Even David Cameron admitted this week that his plans for cutting the deficit have turned out to be ineffective - not that he seems to have any alternative ideas about how to improve matters, or any intention to use someone else's.

One major white lie that could yet resonate around British politics is the rapid rethink by all three major political parties, who were all supposedly keen on party funding reform pre-election, but have since changed their stance.

The reason why the ConDem coalition has had so much opportunity to force through their madly regressive policies is the failure of the Labour Party to offer a viable alternative to Conservative policies. This is partly due to the control that the media exercises over public opinion, but here at Four Thousand Words, I dare to be different. So here it is. The UK's deficit is no longer the major issue that should be on people's minds - instead, our major problem now is the lack of growth. And we need to tackle this, sooner rather than later.

Labour face a challenge to become relevant again, and they can't rely on disenfranchised Liberal Democrats to bring the ball back around to them. A strong opposition makes for a stronger challenge to government, which makes for a government that is more inclined to listen to the people. Hence, it is in everyone's interests that Labour gets its act together.

I should point out that I don't intend to go into detail here about state funding of politics or the capping of donation limits, though the fact remains that the latter suggestion, if implemented, really would put a cat amongst pigeons. Instead, I want to focus on Labour's relationship with the major trade unions, which is showing increasing signs of strain in the run-up to the planned public sector strike on November 30th.

Unlike the Conservatives, who receive a high proportion of their party funding from wealthy financiers in London, Labour funding comes mostly from trade unions, which means those same unions have to accept some of the blame for Labour's lily-livered showing in opposition. By not applying the necessary pressure in the media, Labour have shown themselves to be tremulous rather than terriers, and hence this is why you will often hear people say, 'but there's no-one worth voting for!'

Step forward, Margaret Beckett, a Labour Party member and former MP who has come forward with the idea that trade union members, rather than being offered the chance to opt-out of paying a share of their subscriptions directly to the Labour Party, should instead be asked if they wish to opt-in. It is a small change that could decimate the funding that the Labour Party receives.

Why would this be a good thing?, I hear you shout. Will it not cause the Labour Party to sink even further into irrelevance and stagnation, giving the rheumatic billionaires who run our banks yet more opportunity to decimate our once Green and Pleasant Land? Well, it could...or there's a chance that it could act as a catalyst for reform of the way the Labour Party is run.

Rather than simply running to the trade unions every time an election campaign appears on the horizon, the Labour Party would once again have to create policies that appeal to grassroots people. It would have to engage with those graduates who are forced to work as slave labour in order to get their unemployment benefit. It would have to engage those who stand to see their sickness and disability benefits reduced. And they would have to engage with both our lowly-paid private sector and our ravaged public sector, protect their jobs, their conditions, their pensions. In this Broken Britain, I don't believe they would have to look far in order to reconnect with their traditional supporters.

For their part, the trade unions have to do more to tackle the notion that seems to be ingrained in private sector workers - namely, that the public sector trade unions are somehow promoting superiority and privilege. Instead, by creating stronger ties with the private sector and engaging those same people we have already discussed, the link between the trade union workers of tomorrow and the Labour Party could once again be restored. They could yet collect us altogether in one place to boot out these millionaires without morals.

The noted Conservative writer and politician Edward Bulwer-Lytton once said that 'a reform is a correction of abuses; a revolution is a transfer of power.' Bulwer-Lytton may have been making a distinction, but in the case of the modern Labour Party, he has unwittingly identified how one could be the catalyst for the other.

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