There are times when I think back to the proud history of the Labour Party. This was the party that took an entire political system that was set up to exclude the working class at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was the party that launched the welfare state after World War 2, establishing a post war consensus based on a social democrat model of society, with full employment, benefits and public services free at the point of use.
This was the party of Aneurin Bevan, Clement Atlee and indeed Harold Wilson, who stopped Britain getting sucked into Vietnam. I say this was, because that it how it feels, and I write in partial anger and partial sadness. You see just a sliver of what Labour could be sometimes. Ed Miliband says Labour will scrap the Bedroom Tax, which is great, but how long did it take to make that commitment? How many focus groups needed to be consulted? What calculations about the marginal constituencies had to be made? Was it about the principle, or was it about how many votes it would win?
Labour is just 14 months from a likely General Election, with forecasters predicting an overall majority for them. So far we know that:
- They will stick to the Tory and Lib Dem spending plans for 2015/16
- They will cut the deficit faster than the coalition
- They will stick to most of the reforms introduced by the most loathed Education Secretary in recent history
- They will honour a deal on nuclear power that will lock British people into expense energy (and more nuclear waste) for generations to come
- They are still going to renew Trident when libraries, Sure Start centres and Adult Social Care hubs are being closed down
But I don't want to say that all Labour councillors are bad, or that all Labour MPs have given up that fight. That isn't true. Sadly though, at a council level, their leaders no longer have the courage to do anything that moves more than a few inches from the position of their yellow and blue rivals. In a tale of two councils, Brighton & Hove and here in Liverpool, the Greens offered a challenge. Raise council tax 4.75% or 5%. Fight a referendum campaign in your city to win the consent of the people for funding to save adult care.
A referendum could have been fought and won in both cities, in two totally different political contexts, but with the sure knowledge that the attention of the country would have been on the result. A city (or two) could have made the point loud and clear that the majority are prepared to pay a little extra to fund the social care of the elderly, the vulnerable and the disabled. That would have been the context for the General Election.
There is little fight in Labour any more. Bevan is history from another century. Labour's leaders today are minnows resting on the shoulders of giants.