The first wave of our general election coverage tackles the most fundamental election question: who should I vote for? It will be no surprise to our readers that voting Tory or UKIP is out of the question, and I feel so let down by the Lib Dems that they are no longer an option either. However, the growing Labour vs Green debate is very interesting so I thought I would start the coverage by evaluating these parties.
Full disclosure: I am a Labour Party member, generally vote Labour in most elections, and I have campaigned for Labour in the past. However, being on the left of the party, I am tempted to vote Green. One of my reasons for writing these posts is to figure out for myself how I want to vote in May. So without further ado:
The case for voting Labour:
Under Miliband, Labour has been more radical than it has been in a long time. Some the policies of market intervention he is putting forward would have been unthinkable under Blair or Brown. There’s lots of genuinely left-wing policies to like in Labour's current offering and I feel we should encourage the Labour Party while it is being radical by voting for it. If we do not, and Labour is defeated, then we will get ‘Blue Labour’ and more towing the centralist line on spending, on immigration, on welfare. If Labour puts forward left-wing policies and lefties do not vote for them then we can hardly complain when Labour does not put forward left wing policies in the future.
Miliband may lack charisma but he does have a vision for what Britain should be like, backed up by theory and experience of government. He believes that now is a time for political change, when the status quo can alter, as in 1945 or 1979. His ideas of responsible capitalism, and government intervention in the market to prevent the worst inequalities and protect the poorest people, would have been considered dangerously radical under Blair.
In terms of policies I support there is the reintroduction of the 50p income tax bracket, a mansion tax with the funding to support the NHS, the roll-back of NHS privatization and protecting our EU membership. On top of that there is a mooted young peoples’ manifesto, to encourage young, disenfranchised voters to participate in politics as well as a possible University tuition fee reduction and ending charity status for private schools.
Above all, there is the NHS. Labour will protect the NHS and prevent another top down reorganisation. Labour will also protect the NHS from alternative medicine, which is supported by the Green party. On the economy, a Labour government will protect economic growth, rising living standards and move some wealth from the top of society to the bottom.
Labour is proposing to cut £7bn from the budget, which is something I am opposed to. However it would be simplistic to say this policy is no different from the Tories who plan to cut 4 times this figure. Under Labour the government can continue to function, under the Tories it will be changed forever. It is also worth pointing out that Labour will protect local council budgets which the Tories will decimate if re-elected.
The Labour party is different to all the other political parties in that since it began it has always been a confederation of different groups and different options. The Labour party is best adapted to accommodating the differences on the left and balance the competing demands of environmentalists, socialists, trade unionists and liberals. There are a lot of key debates about what the left should look like in the 21st Century and it is best that these debates take place within the Labour party and not between different parties. Partly because the Labour party is best set up to balance these different views within one cohesive movement, but also so as not to split the left wing vote, which is what the Tories want. I am very concerned about the future if too many lefties vote Bennett and get Cameron, or worse get Farage.
The case against voting for the Labour Party is that they are so rubbish at being left wing in practice. Their leadership lack any passion for left-wing views or values. The idea that the Labour Party should be calling out businesses which run zero hour contracts or politicians endlessly blaming the poor for our economic problems is completely alien to the party's leadership. They seem to be terrified of being accused of being of actually left-wing.
The sad thing is that the right-wing press will accuse Miliband of being a dangerous Communist no matter what he does, so why does he not take this opportunity to he even a little bit socialist? The Labour Party is always bowing to the right's advances on immigration, on benefits, on the EU, and never takes the initiative. The more they do this the more they let the right define these issues and thus take the electoral advantage.
The Labour Party has failed to set out an alternative to austerity and Neo-liberalism. Their case for voting for them is that they will do the same as the Tories but be a little nicer and little bit less harsh on the poor. The subtext of this is that a Labour government will still be nasty and still push most of the burden of society's problems onto the poor. The alternative would be to put out a real ideological alternative to austerity and neo-liberalism and, as the Labour Party has ceded any debate on these issues to the right, this will not happen. I agree with the political ideology of Miliband, but it is the beginning of an alternative to the neo-liberal hegemony and not an alternative in itself. The Labour Party is going in the right direction but has not gone far enough.
The main point against voting Labour is that they are completely uninspiring. They are not offering alternative views on the current debates and are still wrestling with the Tories over a political centre of dullards and bean counters. This will not inspire popular support and contributes to the climate of cynicism and apathy that dominates the electorate.
If we are going to get more of the same from the next government then I would prefer it to be Labour's slightly nicer and slightly more equal more of the same. However I want a real alternative to the political narrative laid out by the right. More of the same will not end this culture of political cynicism, only a real alternative to the status quo will do. A radical shake up will come at some point, I just hope it is from within the Labour party.