Thursday, May 12, 2011

Ed Miliband & the Wilting Rose of Labour

Labour leader warned of Liberal-esque collapse

After the 2011 federal election, Canadians should be aware of two central facts about the Liberal Party.

The first is that they'll be back. The second is that it will take them some time to get there.

In the wake of local council elections that yielded disappointing returns for Labour -- and surprising wins for the Conservative Party -- the Grits' British counterpart, the Labour Party, are being warned that they may face a similar collapse.

The warnings to Labour leader Ed Miliband come from Ian Lewis, the party's shadow Secretary of Culture, and Labour manifesto co-author Patrick Diamond.

Lewis has warned of regional splits that may deeply damage Labour's prospects of governing again in the future. The party has lost ground in Scotland, and is suffering badly in southern regions of the United Kingdom.

"Today, they see Labour as the party of the North, standing up for the poor, benefit claimants, immigrants and minority groups," Lewis declared. "A party which overspent without delivering sufficient value for money. A party which talks a lot about rights but not enough about responsibility."

Labour won 800 new local council seats on May 5. But the Tories emerged on May 6 with a net gain of council seats, despite having expected to lose at least 1,000 seats.

"On the whole, despite the Government’s too-fast, too-deep cuts, tax increases and trebling of tuition fees, they stuck with the Tories," Lewis said. "A situation which if sustained would mean we will not win the next general election."

Diamond considers Labour's council elections letdowns to be a mere microcosm of a trend that is sweeping not just Britain, but all of Europe.

"Labour's ejection from office mirrors an even starker European trend, as the pendulum has swung aggressively against the left. Local council victories last Thursday cannot disguise the governing crisis which threatens Labour's very survival as a party of power," Diamond wrote in The Guardian.

"There remains little sense of what would be the ideological programme through which the left can govern in a world transformed irrevocably by the global financial crisis," Diamond continued. "The recurring question has been why, in the midst of a crisis whose origins clearly implicate the neoliberal right, it is social democrats who remain battle weary and defensive. The crisis that began with a wave of sub-prime lending in the United States has been hastily redefined as a crisis of public debt and government deficits. It is the state – its size, role, and efficiency – that is now at the centre of political debate, not the inherent instability of markets and free-market ideology."

Yet if Diamond feels that British voters are making their political decisions hinging on public debt and deficits, he must know they need only took to the Labour Party that managed Britain's finances so disastrously.

In fact, the "too-deep, too-fast" cuts and "trebling of tuition" that Lewis complains about can be attributed directly to the Labour Party and its spend thrift nature. Even as the Blair/Brown government emptied public coffers and drove up debt, they evaded accountability by offsettting heaps of debt against future budgets.

Diamond seems to despair at what he considers the looming destruction of the Labour Party. (There is little reason to despair just yet, this page of history is not yet written.)

Lewis, on the other hand, offers some semblence of a solution to Labour's looming troubles, even it seems like mere platitudes.

"It is important we understand the depth of people’s feelings and frustrations if we are to have any chance of reconnecting so they start listening to us again," Lewis concluded. "We have to face up to the fact that there was little sign of those squeezed middle voters in the south east, south west and east of England returning to Labour."

In other words, Ed Miliband and Labour have some deep soul-searching to do if they want to get the party back on course to govern Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron and the Tories have been making the hard decisions Labour couldn't, and the British public's appreciation seems to be showing in their election returns.

They're not sharing the predicament of the Liberal Party just yet. But if Labour isn't careful, they soon could be.

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