Lots of lefties are rather annoyed and frustrated that Labour ministers aren’t doing more to attack the Coalition cuts and undermine the Coalition.
They’ll be more frustrated after Ed Miliband’s announcement, in the Guardian today, that he is playing the long game, and will look at overhauling party policy and thinking. But we have to take on the Coalition now to protect families, lots of lefties will say. They’re not wrong.
But there are a few points to make.
First, Labour needs a deep re-think of policy, ideas and structure. This is the right time to do it, rather than two – four years down the line closer to the election.
Second, the media isn’t paying much attention to Labour anyway. So even though Ed Balls, Ken Livingstone et al are doing their best to attack their government (believe me, I get the press releases) – the media isn’t that interested. Labour isn’t going to grab headlines now, except for things that it disowns from the past (like 42 days detention).
Third, even if the media pays a bit of attention, voters won’t do. They still have negative connotations from the last election, and that will take time to eradicate. The same old soundbites by familiar ministers aren’t going to make voters look at the Labour party again.
Fourth, the Coalition has the votes to push its agenda through and it’s going to be very difficult to oppose them in the short term. Especially since the Tories are masters at lying and framing their arguments in a way that wins public support.
My reading of the polls is that while people generally support the Coalition on many changes they’re making (on housing, benefits, workfare, cutting civil service etc) – they still feel a deep sense of unease about it all. Especially since they feel they’re having to pay for mistakes made by bankers. In the short term it’s difficult for Labour to win the media debate because the Coalition get to frame how things are presented in the media.
Fifth – and this is the most important bit – I don’t think the fightback should be led by Labour anyway. If the education protests were led by and fronted by Labour ministers, I bet it would look like one big political rally, rather than something authentic that students are angry over.
Civil society (Big Society?) should lead the fightback and constantly seek to undermine and argue with the Coalition. The protests against Vodafone and tax avoidance are a prime example of this. But even activists have to be prepared to play the long game – organising, building support and leading local campaigns against Coalition cuts is not something that can be done tomorrow.
It might take at least a year before we get into full swing. We can’t afford to turn around in a year or two and say that all that activism went to waste. Forcing the left into mindless short-term opposition is the trap we have to avoid.
So, Ed Miliband is right to play the long game, and we have to do the same.
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