This House believes a move to the left is good for Labour

Labour, together with the Conservatives one of the two parties that dominate UK politics, is traditionally a left of centre party but has, since the mid 1990s been a centrist party rebranded as ‘New Labour’. The Labour party has however lost the last two elections; in 2010 under Gordon Brown, and in 2015 when the leader was Ed Miliband. With Ed Miliband having resigned after his party’s poor performance at the general election Labour engaged in a leadership contest through the summer of 2015. Jeremy Corbyn got onto the ballot with the help of Labour MPs who wanted to increase the bredth of the debate in the contest rather than leaving it between three centerists.[1] However benefitting from a change in the election rules that gives the membership much more say – limiting that of MPs and unions – saw a surge in support for Corbyn who eventually won with 59.5% of the vote.[2]

So what does being left wing actually mean anyway? Generally it means being radical, reforming and socialist. It can be, and often is, progressive. In economic terms it usually means more state control (on behalf of the people) of the economy with it traditionally meaning complete nationalisation. And in social political terms it means more equality and power to the people rather than elites.

Since the consensus for the last couple of decades has been that more state control over the economy is a bad thing having someone who is in favour of it in charge of a major party is potentially a big change. It leads to the question of whether moving to the left is good either for Labour or for the country.

[1] Stone, Jon, ‘Jeremy Corbyn narrowly makes Labour leadership ballot paper after last-minute surge’, The Independent, 15 June 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-narrowly-makes-labour-leadership-ballot-paper-after-lastminute-surge-10320686.html

[2] ‘Corbyn Sweeps To Victory With 59.5% Of Vote’, Sky News, 12 September 2015, http://news.sky.com/story/1551339/corbyn-sweeps-to-victory-with-59-5-percent-of-vote

 

Title 
Brings labour back to its core values
Point 

The original values of the Labour party were “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange” and even today the Labour party aims to “serve the public interest” as well as to create “a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong”, “an open democracy, in which government is held to account by the people”, and “a healthy environment”.[1] In the last parliament Labour supported there being a cap on welfare spending.[2] More recently Labour abstained on a Conservative welfare bill that many felt was too harsh in its cuts.[3] Corbyn, and a move to the left, will bring Labour back to its core values rather than supporting Conservative policies and austerity that harms individuals.

[1] Clause IV, Labourcountshttp://www.labourcounts.com/oldclausefour.htm, accessed 15 September 2015

[2] Wintour, Patrick, ‘Miliband: Labour not abandoning its values with cap on welfare spending’, The Guardian, 6 June 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jun/06/miliband-labour-cap-welfare-spending

[3] Eaton, George, ‘Welfare bill passed as 48 Labour MPs defy leadership and vote against’, The Spectator, 20 July 2015, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/welfare-bill-passed-48-labour-mps-defy-leadership-and-vote-against  

Counterpoint 

Old values are just out of date values. There is little point in Labour appealing to the working class as the party they are supposed to represent when those same people have been abandoning it for decades; in 1966 69% of manual workers voted labour, this was only 45% by 1987[1] – long before Labour dropped its left wing ideology. Going back to core values if those core values are the values that the electorate wants.

[1] O’Neill, Brendan, ‘Labour lost the working-class vote a long time ago’, The Spectator, 12 May 2015, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/05/labour-lost-the-working-class-vote-a-long-time-ago/

Title 
Presents a bold new path
Point 

Since the start of the 1990s Labour has moved to the right to contest the ‘centre ground’ of politics. This worked in 1997 when the Conservatives were a spent force after 17 Years in power. Tony Blair successfully stole the conservatives moderate policies. However this has resulted in the centre ground moving to the right with policies such as austerity and welfare cuts becoming a consensus. Labour needs to move left to fight on their own ground forcing other parties to match their more populist policies such as renationalising the railways.

Counterpoint 

Labour can be bold without turning to the left. It could endorse bolder action on climate change, much greater local democracy, and increasing the use of new technologies. The concern should not be about a policy being left or right wing but about its beneficial (or otherwise) consequences. When labour has won in the past it has been by taking centerist trends and making them their own – for example Wilson’s ‘white fires of industry’.[1]

[1] Skelton, David, ‘What does the Labour party do now?’, Demos Quarterly, 31 July 2015, http://quarterly.demos.co.uk/article/issue-6/what-does-the-labour-party-do-now/

Title 
Provides greater choice
Point 

Corbyn in his last campaign rally argued “fundamentally many people are turned off by a political process when the major parties are not saying anything different  enough about how we run the economy”. [1]This lack of choice has been a complaint by voters for years – ever since Tony Blair made New Labour electable by moving to the centre. Jeremy Corbyn now gives the electorate a real choice compared to the Conservative party; tackling the deficit through tax rises (rather than cutting spending, nationalising the railways, peoples Quantitaive Easing, don’t replace trident, and rent controls.[2]  

[1] Wintor, Patrick, ‘Corbyn: it’s time for a new kind of politics’, The Guardian, 12 September 2015

[2] Magazine, ’24 things that Jeremy Corbyn believes’, BBC News, 13 September 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34209478

Counterpoint 

It is false that there is a lack of choice now. There are plenty of other parties that voters could vote for if they believe the main two parties do not provide them with the choice they want. On the right there is UKIP and on the left the Greens and also other much smaller more extreme parties standing pain a few constituencies. If there were sufficient numbers who want to vote for a more left wing agenda then the Greens would be doing much better than they are – they currently only have one seat.

Title 
Lack of difference encourages Punch and Judy politics
Point 

The public “are totally turned off by a style of politics which seems to rely on the levels of club house theatrical abuse that you can throw across at each other in parliament and across the airwaves.”[1] This style is necessary to extentuate the small areas where there are differences between the parties. Introduce real differences on the big issues of government, particularly the economy and society, then such minor point scoring fades into insignificance.

[1] Wintor, Patrick, ‘Corbyn: it’s time for a new kind of politics’, The Guardian, 12 September 2015

Counterpoint 

“I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.” Not Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron in 2005 when he became opposition leader.[1] Every new opposition party leader starts out saying they want to change Westminster’s style of politics; Miliband was the same. Yet they get sucked in all the same. The robust Punch and Judy style is part and parcel of British politics having happened during periods where the parties were ideologically far apart in the past; there were comnplaints about jeering and interuptions in the 1970s.[2]

[1] Cameron, David, ‘Leadership acceptance speech, BritishPoliticalSpeech.org, 2005, http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=315

[2] Parkinson, Justin, ‘Is Prime Minister’s Questions really getting worse?’, BBC News, 18 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26239991

Title 
A shift to the left means labour is no longer a party of government
Point 

A shift to the left means that Labour is no longer a real contender for government. This is not only bad for Labour but bad for the country as a whole. Voters need to have a choice between parties that stand a realistic chance of getting into power to have a real choice. By moving away from the centre where most of the votes are labour is no longer a serious contender. In the UK it is already the case that the average voter for a party holds more centrist, or moderate, policy positions than the party they vote for.[1]

[1] Voters’ Policy Preferences Much More Centrist than those of Political Parties, Compass, June 2015, http://home.kieskompas.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/UK-Landscape-proximity.pdf

Counterpoint 

The biggest news of the last few years in politics has been the fragmentation of the electorate; the increase in voting for the Scottish National Party, Greens, and UK Independence Party. It can no longer be certain that Labour will pick up most votes by staying close to the centre ground. In all but the very safest seats there are more non-voters than there are people who vote for the winning party. It was notable that many of the safest seats in the country, held by Labour in 2010, were toppled by the SNP in 2015 including Glasgow North East that had an almost 16,000 majority in 2010 fell to the SNP with a majority of over 7,000.[1]

[1] Glasgow North East (UK Parliament constituency), Wikipedia, last checked 16 September 2015 

Title 
The Labour party is deprived of talent on the front bench
Point 

Numerous former front benchers and government ministers under the last Labour government will not serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet. Most obviously two of the four leadership contenders; Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.[1] This deprives the party of experienced parliamentarians who know government and what it takes to win elections.

[1] Wintour, Patrick, and Watt, Nicholas, ‘Labour frontbenchers rule out serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet’, The Guardian, 12 September 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/12/labour-frontbenchers-rule-out-serving-in-jeremy-corbyn-shadow-cabinet

Counterpoint 

Far from depriving the Labour Party of talent he has been drawing new talent into the party. Labour gained 15,000 members in the three days since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory on top of those who signed up during the leadership campaign.[1] Ultimately it is the membership and its size and diversity that provides the talent of the future, not an elite clique of individuals at the top.

[1] Withnall, Adam, ‘More than 15,000 join Labour party as full members in wake of Jeremy Corbyn victory’, The Independent, 13 September 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-more-than-15000-join-labour-party-as-full-members-in-wake-of-islington-mps-victory-10498813.html

Title 
Going left is step back not a step forward
Point 

Labour has tried left wing politics in the past – in the 1980s – in what was described by Gerald Kaufman, himself in the shadow cabinet at the time, as “the longest suicide note in history”.[1] Going leftwards means moving back to these policies rather than carving out new progressive policies that can energise and excite. Why should Labour be backing coal rather than renewables? Should Labour not be looking to give more power to the people rather than brining it back to the state through nationalisation?

[1] Clarck, Neil, ‘Not so suicidal after all’, The Guardian, 10 June 2008, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jun/10/labour.margaretthatcher

Counterpoint 

Corbyn is not tied to the past and his agenda is not going to simply be a rehash of Michael Foot’s manifesto in 1983. The policies Corbyn is advocating now would not have been considered particularly left wing in 1983 and most are not particularly radical even now. Policies like rent controls, peoples’ QE, and renationalising the railways may be statist but are potentially popular solutions to issues that concern voters; the cost of housing, that QE benefited the banks and no one else, and that commuting is cramped and costly. 

Bibliography 

Cameron, David, ‘Leadership acceptance speech, BritishPoliticalSpeech.org, 2005, http://www.britishpoliticalspeech.org/speech-archive.htm?speech=315

Clark, Neil, ‘Not so suicidal after all’, The Guardian, 10 June 2008, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/jun/10/labour.margaretthatcher

Voters’ Policy Preferences Much More Centrist than those of Political Parties, Compass, June 2015, http://home.kieskompas.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/UK-Landscape-proximity.pdf

Eaton, George, ‘Welfare bill passed as 48 Labour MPs defy leadership and vote against’, The Spectator, 20 July 2015, http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/welfare-bill-passed-48-labour-mps-defy-leadership-and-vote-against

Clause IV, Labourcounts, http://www.labourcounts.com/oldclausefour.htm, accessed 15 September 2015

Magazine, ’24 things that Jeremy Corbyn believes’, BBC News, 13 September 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34209478

O’Neill, Brendan, ‘Labour lost the working-class vote a long time ago’, The Spectator, 12 May 2015, http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/05/labour-lost-the-working-class-vote-a-long-time-ago/

Parkinson, Justin, ‘Is Prime Minister’s Questions really getting worse?’, BBC News, 18 February 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26239991

Skelton, David, ‘What does the Labour party do now?’, Demos Quarterly, 31 July 2015, http://quarterly.demos.co.uk/article/issue-6/what-does-the-labour-party-do-now/

‘Corbyn Sweeps To Victory With 59.5% Of Vote’, Sky News, 12 September 2015, http://news.sky.com/story/1551339/corbyn-sweeps-to-victory-with-59-5-percent-of-vote

Stone, Jon, ‘Jeremy Corbyn narrowly makes Labour leadership ballot paper after last-minute surge’, The Independent, 15 June 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-narrowly-makes-labour-leadership-ballot-paper-after-lastminute-surge-10320686.html

Glasgow North East (UK Parliament constituency), Wikipedia, last checked 16 September 2015

Wintour, Patrick, ‘Miliband: Labour not abandoning its values with cap on welfare spending’, The Guardian, 6 June 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/jun/06/miliband-labour-cap-welfare-spending

Wintor, Patrick, ‘Corbyn: it’s time for a new kind of politics’, The Guardian (print edition), 12 September 2015

Wintour, Patrick, and Watt, Nicholas, ‘Labour frontbenchers rule out serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet’, The Guardian, 12 September 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/sep/12/labour-frontbenchers-rule-out-serving-in-jeremy-corbyn-shadow-cabinet

Withnall, Adam, ‘More than 15,000 join Labour party as full members in wake of Jeremy Corbyn victory’, The Independent, 13 September 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-more-than-15000-join-labour-party-as-full-members-in-wake-of-islington-mps-victory-10498813.html

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