Labour must hear the message, and be “Out Laboured” no more

The Labour Party is about to undertake an exercise in self-reflection.  It is now vital that those with the influence, the key decision makers, the movers and shakers inside the Party, are able to hear the real message, and face up to the problem that could, if not addressed, ultimately lead the Party into terminal decline.

For Labour to really become the viable electoral option again, it must do the honest thing and acknowledge the basic fact. It must admit it has lost touch with its heart.  The core voters of previous elections no longer see Labour as the party that represents them.  The Labour Party does not resonate with those who gave it its past strength. For all the talk of regaining the centre ground, and appealing to those who helped the Party to victory in 1997 and beyond, Labour must first reconnect with its traditional heart.  Without those, no election will be won again. Without those, the Party will forever slip into decline.  The essence of the Labour Party will be lost, and with it, its reason for being.

It must not be afraid to go back to the basic values from which it was formed. It must offer a viable, a clear and a coherent alternative to the current offering. Make no mistake, Labour is struggling and has lost its true sense of itself. Society changes, the dynamic shifts, as does the narrative but in essence the fundamentals remain the same. Labour was always, and should again be the party of social justice.  A party built for the greater good.  A party that stands up and makes the case for equality of opportunity.  A party that stands against rampant inequality, a rampant inequality that undermines social cohesion. A party that ensures that all stakeholders in society contribute reasonably, to make society as a whole a better place to be.

In order to do so, Labour must recognise the SNP victory for what it was.  It would be a cop out, to explain these changes in the political dynamic as a rise in nationalism in Scotland.  For decades, Scotland was a Labour stronghold, returning scores of Labour MP’s, election after election.  Yet, last week Labour returned but one Scottish MP.  This did not happen because Scotland’s values changed.  It happened because Labour no longer represented the values of the majority of Scottish people. The SNP’s resounding success was built on policies that “out Laboured, Labour”.

The SNP put forward an offering that met the needs and desires of the majority of the Scottish people.  It was a genuine Social Democratic offering.  It openly fought against the Tory narrative, that austerity was the only answer.  That cuts to the welfare budget were the only cure.  That those who were not in work, for whatever reason, wanted something for nothing.  That flexibility in the job market, by which they meant the erosion of employment rights and job security was a key requirement in the fixing of the economy. That the NHS could only continue to function by being opened up to market forces.  That the education system was not producing the desired results and that Free Schools and Academies, were the only option.

The SNP simply chose to ignore this and put forward positive, progressive policies based on social cohesion and underpinned by a notion of fairness and social justice.  This captured the imagination and won the votes of the Scottish electorate. It was not the desire for Scottish independence that won those seats, it was the desire for social justice, of reducing inequality and of providing some hope of equality of opportunity.  Many Scottish voters, who ten years ago were staunchly Labour, saw this as an appealing proposition, and so decamped to a more comfortable home.

This should be an important lesson for Labour.  The Party must hear the real message. Labour needs to reconnect with these people.  If it was to reconnect and offer a viable, and sincere counter proposition then undoubtedly many, if not all of these old Labour voters would return to the fold. The message is not dead in Scotland, Labour are just not the messengers at the moment.   The same could be said in England and Wales.

It must also pay attention to the progress made by UKIP and the Green Party, who between them accumulated five million votes, a fourfold increase on 2010.  The core voters in the heartlands of Labour are waiting to hear the message that they long for.  In Wales, along the East coast, in the North and the Midlands, the core no longer feel represented by Labour.  Rationally, they have sought out alternatives and voted for other parties, or simply stayed away.  UKIP filled a void.  Many millions of their votes came from the Labour core. However insincerely or tactlessly, UKIP at least made many in these regions feel as though they were being listened too, and that their needs mattered.  This must be reflected upon honestly. The message is not dead here either, but again, Labour simply are not the messengers.

Some of the lost core might never come back due to frustration that has solidified into a deep resentment that might never be undone.  The saving grace though is that for many millions across Britain, who did not vote for Labour this time, the Labour Party was their natural home.  The message has not changed, but Labour have stopped being the messengers. Without the core, the heart, Labour will never regain the initiative. The process of self-reflection, should take account of the hard facts. Labour must hear the real message. It is the only way forward.  It might be painful and it is unlikely to be easy but if undertaken properly, it will bring the Labour Party back to full strength.  Labour must never allow itself to be “out Laboured” again. Labour should always be the messengers for the ideals that gave rise to the Labour Party.

Acropolis Now

Democracy – a system of government by the whole population or all eligible members of the state, typically through elected representatives. Oxford English Dictionary.

It is perhaps the greatest of ironies that in Greece, and more poignantly Athens, the modern country and ancient city state from which the origins of the term Democracy stems, is bearing witness to the least democratic happening in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War. To suggest that EU, fast becoming a quasi US of E, and its institutions operated predominantly by political appointees who past their prime have vacated their respective national stages, are operating democratically and for the greater good of its citizens would be fallacy.

The claim of Western capitalist democracy, that people’s votes matter and that we in the EU are living under a freedom, alien to people in other regions of the world is beginning to slip.  The EU has thus far taken the position of supporting the losses of private investors over its own citizens.  Public funds from across the Member States have been diverted from spending on health, education, welfare and even defence.  This has been done in an attempt to reimburse the shareholders of failed capitalist monoliths, to the detriment of the economically and politically weakest across Europe.

What should be the underlying principle of Free Market Economics, that the markets should be left to dictate the success or otherwise of private enterprises has been found wanting. The neo-liberals who five years ago would have stoically rejected the notions of government intervention, now forcibly advocate the need for governments to invest public money to protect and support giant financial institutions.  Through a distinct lack of corporate governance these globally connected institutions have abjectly failed to deliver a stable and coherent financial system, and have induced an inordinate redistribution of wealth in reverse.

The audacity of those clamouring to protect the interests of agents who sought gratuitous financial reward, whilst simultaneously failing to account for the risk of their endeavours have effectively reneged on their primary responsibility as legislators.  These events have  been the catalyst for the civil unrest witness in Athens, and are the prelude to potentially catastrophic damage to one of the worlds oldest countries.

Greece has been a stellar member of the European project since joining the EU’s  predecessor in January 1981.  It has like all Member States enjoyed benefits arising from this relationship with the EU, at least prior to the global financial crisis and the subsequent credit crunch. However it is also the case that the Greek economy was not fit to take its place inside the monetary union project when the Euro was introduced.  It flagrantly disregarded the rules relating to the EMU,  and for their part the EU and the ECB should have been firmer in its application of the convergence criteria (set in the Maastricht Treaty) prior to accepting Greek entry to the single currency. It was though not alone as both Germany and France have conveniently overlooked their own failings in this regard too.  Nonetheless Greece was permitted to take its place and joined the Euro in 2002.

The Greek approach to public finances could be at best described as lackadaisical. The rational relationship between taxation, its accurate collection and the level of government spending has been skewed.  A generous welfare approach, consisting of a relatively young retirement age and substantial pension provision by the state has not been supported by a sustainable attitude toward fiscal discipline.  It is fair to insinuate that the governance of the country, at least in a fiscal sense is quite detached from that of a modern European state.

That said the problems facing Greece are not merely of the making of the Greek government nor the Greek people.  They are routed in the fundamentally slack approaches taken by financial institutions across Europe and beyond, who systematically lent and speculated in what can be at best described as ‘a casual manner’ and at worst downright reckless. These private enterprises, though important to the supply of money within economies, and traditionally vital in supporting businesses, by providing finance for establishing and expanding firms, are intrinsically run for the benefit of shareholders.

The shift in banking that occurred in the latter half of the twentieth century has seen the ultimate goal of these international financial giants alter radically.  The emphasis within these organisations changed from providing a reliable and effective service greasing the wheels of the economy, to organisations focused on returning exorbitant profits to shareholders and creating vast wealth for the few.  Free market orientated politics has facilitated this since the late 1970’s.

The greater the potential rewards appeared the more risky the approach became.  Speculative dealings and hazy transactions became the norm.  As the realities of the losses became apparent those who had become accustomed to the fruits of international finance were startled into action to defend their assets and incomes.  Due to the interrelation of the global banking system, the exposure of all leading financial institutions was not immediately calculable and so the credit crunch arrived.

Greece is perhaps the most severely affected country in the West, but it is by no means alone. The collapse of its domestic economy and its lack of sovereignty in relation to monetary policy, characterised by its inability to adjust interest rates, money supply or devalue its currency has plunged Greece into a desperate recession.  The Greek government must take some responsibility, yet the medicine it is being asked to take for the good of private investors and to the detriment of its own citizens is plainly unjust.

The actions of the EU throughout the global financial crisis has provoked anger and bitterness.  The simmering resentment exists not only in Greece but to lesser extent in other fringe countries such as the Republic of Ireland and Portugal.  It could reasonably be suggested that the idea of European unity seems only to stand up when it benefits the larger central states.  Angela Merkel appears to have taken on the role of the de facto President of the United States of Europe, with Nicolas Sarkozy as her able Vice President.

The influence that they are wielding in relation to Greece, a previously independent sovereign state, could not have been countenanced even a decade ago.  The Troika consisting of the unelected European Commission, the ECB and the IMF have continuously pressurised Greece to accede to a further bailout.  This has led to a democratically elected PM, George Papandreou, being forced from office. His crime being that he dared to suggest that the Greek people, be consulted in a referendum on an issue of profound national importance.

Surely a situation boasting potentially long term resonance of epic proportions warranted at least partial debate on a national level, incorporating all ‘eligible members of the state’?  Such serious consequences as the realignment of a nations political and economic culture, incorporating the potential disengagement of a country from monetary union, and the possibility of defaulting, was such that the citizens of Greece were entitled to be heard?

Papandreou has subsequently been replaced by an unelected economist, Lucas Papademos, appointed at the behest of the EU.  His appointment was made on the dogmatic insistence of the Troika, motivated by the sole aim of passing the Troika’s reform policies, thus enabling the draw down of flawed financial package.  This latest bailout is ultimately designed to support the mainstream economies of the EU, rather than to prevent a comprehensive collapse of living standards within Greece.

The draconian terms of the latest ‘Rescue package’, stipulate that the minimum wage in Greece be reduced by 22%, to approximately €600 per month pre-tax, it also requires the Greek state cuts 15,000 public sector jobs, and the  ‘liberalising employment laws’ (an IMF initiative no doubt).  Reform is obviously a prerequisite of sustained recovery in Greece, the culture of bungs to officials is outdated and will never lead to a just and viable society. However the scale of the austerity measures being levied upon a nation and an economy  already grievously injured, has meant that people have resorted to ever more dramatic acts of civil unrest.

The Greek economy and the very fabric of Greek society requires the assistance of its neighbours.  Instead it is being subjected to a brutal tonic that is lacking in democratic integrity.  From a purely compassionate perspective, the wealthiest continent on the planet should be protecting its fellow citizens; the ideals of European unity, forged in the aftermath of the Second World War surely demand a different approach.  A social conscience dictates that the EU realise that Greece is bust. The Member States of the EU and those of the G20 et al must accept their responsibilities and concede that they must take their fair share of the blame.  A genuinely socially orientated package of assistance would have greater long-term resonance, and imbue greater European unity than any number of austerity packages ever can.  To be truly progressive, and to garner greater respect for its institutions, the EU should recoil from its current trajectory, desist from its pugilistic tactic of dictating unrealistic terms upon Greece, terms that other EU Member States themselves would baulk at.

It must also begin to place the welfare of its people ahead of the profit motive and cast aside the demands and whims of ‘the markets’ and begin to act in a manner befitting a so called civilised and developed wider society.  The corralling of the Ratings Agencies and the Stock Markets must be ignored for the greater good.  In essence the mechanisms of the Free Market have ground to a halt.  The majority of the world’s financial institutions are no longer capable of functioning independently of government assistance.  And yet these errant commercial organisations are still besieging governments and intergovernmental institutions professing that their way is the only way to prosperity and the fabled notion of continuous ‘economic growth’.

The terms being imposed upon Greece will not allow it to extricate itself from the perils it faces.  It will simply prolong the decline of the country, whilst possibly ensuring that some private debt is repaid at the expense of the welfare at Greek citizens.  Further civil unrest is predictable and the very remnants of social cohesion could be tested.  Although perhaps distant, a more worrying question beckons.  What comes after civil unrest? Would the UN need to enter with Blue Berets, or would the EU send its own troops in?

It is startling obvious to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics that the current plight of the Hellenic Republic will not be suitably addressed by the austerity measures.

A return to some semblance of democracy and the prioritisation of social justice is surely the only legitimate course to take.  Society across the West has been damaged, but not yet irreconcilably so.

It is to the profound shame of the West that the country that projected such light onto the world and significantly contributed to the laying of foundations for western civilisation, should find itself in such a dark place.  Democracy is to all intents and purposes dying in Greece.  A system of government by the whole population or all eligible members of the state, typically through elected representatives, does not presently exist.

A gentle introduction. . .

In the 21st century, the very least that we should be demanding, is that every one of us should have equality of opportunity.  The instruments of control built into the very fabric of western capitalist democracies, ensure that those who have the power will always have the power, and those that don’t, will never have it.

A meritocracy based purely on ability, the will to succeed and honest work isn’t a bad idea.  Without equality of opportunity, the ideal of a just and equitable society will never materialise.   Regular and equitable redistribution of wealth for the good of the many and not the few, supported by a legislature built on a truly representative and proportional government of the people, for the people, and by the people is the path to a the ultimate prize, a society with social justice at its core.