I got into a Twitter argument the other day with a Green voter so committed to the idea that ‘they’re all the same’ that he predicted a Lab/Con coalition (which, if it wasn’t obvious, requires a vast amount of political illiteracy). Since dropping clause 4 and committing to austerity, Labour had ultimately become, yes, ‘red tories’. This was days after a Guardian article that suggested the two parties had more in common than any other, which of course feeds into a few assumptions:
a) that austerity is a fixed, abstract concept that always has the same implications no matter the enabler.
(First things first, Ed Ball’s plans, while still not to my taste as someone that opposes austerity, IS substantially different, to the tune of £35bn, to Osborne’s. Sure, ‘two shades of austerity’, but if you’re truly suffering in this country -relying on foodbanks, affected by the bedroom tax, in need of an energy freeze, in need of a pay rise after the slashing of ESA, those different shades will be more black and white than grey and slightly more grey. You have to be in a position of at least relative privilege to suggest Balls and Osborne are two peas of the same pod. Or having lived in another country for 5 years. Which leads me on to…)
b) that life under a Tory government is the same as under a Labour government
c) that no matter the leader, a party never changes. It is one homogenous, static body
The people that hold these assumptions can be placed into categories:
a) in a position of privilege that shields them from, and makes them immune to, very real policy differences that have existed since 2010 and under every Tory government. ie. the bedroom tax
Of the first list, it is c) that is most often used against Labour within this context. The ‘they’re all the same’ mantra relies on the assumption that Milibandian Labour is New Labour, which in return was so to the right that there were no differences between it and the Tories. (Or, as stated, just the same austerity)
I am not here to refute the second claim. I am not a Blairite. I’m a socialist. I have no interest in defending the Third Way or the decision to drop clause 4. I can prove this with the ‘ugh’ I tweeted in response to Jim Murphy winning the Scottish leadership. Although a very brief point: child poverty was half of what it is now between 1997-2010, and foodbank use is 10x more than it was in that time. Even when ideologies appear to mesh, there is empirical evidence to suggest even under misguided Blairism we as a people were more healthy than now.
But that’s beside the point. I am here to refute that a party is 1) static, and 2) homogeneous. That Milibandian Labour is New Labour. That Labour is the same beast as it was in 1997, and should be judged as such. This is false.
1) Statism: Just like the fact Ed’s Labour is no more Callaghan’s or Wilson’s. It rings true for the Conservatives too. 1970s Conservatism is an entirely different beast to Thatcher’s neoliberal party that exists today. There are past issues that cannot taint Cameron, either. Or people’s decisions at the voting ballot. I would not dismiss Cameron for Black Wednesday in 1992, or for Heath’s EU approach, or even for Section 28. Issue politics of past should not determine ones view of a party of present.
PFIs should not stop Labour from arguing the NHS is threatened by Tory privatization. (This is a strawman argument. Labour did not intentionally underfund the NHS.)
Blair’s top-up fees should not stop Labour from arguing against Tory education policies.
The Iraq War should not determing our perceptions of what future Labour foreign policy may consist of under a new leader. Especially after the Syria vote in the summer of 2012. (This is not to say Iraq should ever be forgiven, ever. Blair should never be forgiven. But Ed? It’s hard to hold him or the machine he’s intending to recreate accountable)
Labour, indeed no party, is static. I’d go so far to say that there is never one party in history, but many sub-parties of different eras, within consensuses (1945, 1979) and out of them. This isn’t just Old Labour and New Labour, this is Many Leader’s Labours, with their own taste and tint.
2) It is also wrong to assume homogeineity in either party’s composition. One could argue that there is ‘little difference’ between the two parties (The OBR and IFS would dismiss you) because Blairism still influences Labour. But that’s incredibly simplistic. Parties are no more factionless than they are static. Tory backbenchers struggle to find agreement on the EU. There are think tanks opposed to the rightist party of today, think Bright Blue. The same certainly is true for Labour. You have Progress, Compass, LabourLeft, Red Labour, Blue Labour, socialists, Gidden’s followers, Bennites, the Beast of Bolsover….
These are broadchurch parties, and phase parties. As Lucy Powell said, Blair was right for his era. And there are factions would disagree with her. Blair certainly does. So let’s stop this assumption that parties are linear, that Labour is one giant Red Tory, or flying a purple flag for Progress, or that ‘Red Ed’ is going to send us back to the USSR. It is reductive.
In short, stop arguing with me on Twitter about how my party is one evil neoliberal beast that would happily link arms with Tories under a grand coalition because, sometime, back in the 90s, they supported PFIs.
Parties are not linear, bro. ‘They’re all the same’? Not even one party is all the same, either historically or compositionally.