Wednesday, 18 January 2012

I get knocked down...

There’s a wingman trick for picking up girls. Your mate goes over and hits on the woman you like, preferably acting in the most drunken, clumsy and annoying way possible. At the critical moment, you ride to the rescue with cries of, “Is this man bothering you miss?”. If you’re really good, your mate can fake swing at you, allowing you to knock him down. Instant Prince Charming.

For over twenty years now, this has been the relationship between the Trade Union movement and the Labour Party. In order to woo that special class of swing voters in marginal seats, the Labour Party has orchestrated a series of fights with the Unions, as choreographed as the WWE. Whether this was on keeping Thatcher’s anti-union legislation, Clause 4 or privatisation, again and again the Union movement has allowed itself to be hit on the nudge-nudge, wink-wink understanding that it was necessary for our mate to get the girl. This week, we took another hit.

Ed is playing the same old game, hitting his friends because we have nowhere else to go. The message is the same one the Coalition gives to the working people of this country, “Sit down, shut up and pay the bills.” In both cases, those paying had nothing to do with racking up the debt.

From the Blairite squeals one wouldn’t think they’d wielded absolute power for 13 years. Still sulking about failing to get Lawrence Wainwright David Miliband elected they’ve spent much of the last year and a bit declaring it’s all over. That because the party for a moment doubts their leadership (which never got us as many votes as Major in 1992) we are delusional. Now many good things were done during Labour’s time in office, from the Human Rights Act, to Freedom of Information to equalities legislation which helped some of the most marginalised people in our society. But if the discussion is economics, then who got us into this state? I don’t recall ‘the brothers’ demanding we spend a decade in government with Nigel Lawson’s tax bands in place. I can’t remember general secretaries being consulted when Tony decided to pour out £20 billion in the deserts of Iraq and the steppes of Afghanistan. I’ve read my history, but I can’t recall any Trade Union charter declaring its “destiny” to save the global banking system. Odd how money can be found to save Fred Goodwin’s pension, but not that of a teacher. Indeed, when one is pressed to think of what policies New Labour adopted from this mythical Union playbook, they all seem to be strangely popular. Minimum wage, the 50p tax rate, Surestart, so secure the Tories find it politically impossible to get rid of them.  

If you don’t care about the working people of this country, at least beyond a patronising paternalism, there is a party for you. If you don’t want to actually help people, but want to pretend you do to ease your middle-class guilt, you have a party for that as well. Sam Adams put it better than I could.

"If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Now, I wouldn’t go quite that far. Labour has always been a broad church, and is stronger for it, and we should welcome ideas from all sides.

But if you are the masterful strategists who told us you had abolished boom and bust, that the banks could regulate themselves, that the Iraqis would treat us as liberators, that Afghanistan would be a functioning democracy, that ditching the 10p tax rate wouldn’t be noticed, that the Euro was our future and manufacturing was irrelevant... then a period of silence on your part would be welcome.

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