The Inquest begins – what next for progressive politics?

Chew Valley Ridge (35)

By Jon Crooks

You’ve got to hand it to the Tories and the right-wing press who fought a very negative but successful campaign of fear. They managed to convince the nation not that The Conservatives were the best choice, but that they were the safe choice when faced with the threat of a Labour government propped up by the SNP. Congratulations on your shallow victory.

The corporate press in particular played a crucial role. I never thought I’d agree with Nigel Farage on something, but he’s right to congratulate the editors of the Sun and the Mail. They were hugely influential in staging this Tory election victory.

So what went wrong for Labour? Well first of all, as David Blunkett pointed out in the immediate aftermath, the big mistake might have been the failure to dispel the impression that Gordon Brown’s government had been responsible for the financial crisis. But perhaps also because they failed to dispel the deficit myth.

What worries me now is the assumption that Labour moved too far to the left after the financial crisis and this proved to be the wrong decision. That they now need to become more ‘centrist’ – a return to Blairism. When in fact many believe Labour didn’t move far enough to the left to offer a credible alternative to The Tories, hence many former Labour voters switching to the Greens and the SNP, or just voting Tory because they were safe and “they’re all the same anyway”.

We’ll have to wait and see what Labour does next, but they won’t be in any rush. If last time is anything to go by, they’ll go underground for the next few years, licking their wounds and squabbling with each other over a new direction and a new leader. In the meantime, there needs to be opposition to this newly endorsed government who will continue to cut spending and services, continue to privatize the NHS and our schools, and continue to slash the support for vulnerable people in this country. Somebody has to step up and fight them.

The struggle must continue. Now more than ever. Maybe too many people don’t care enough outside their own little worlds, but plenty do. People who have been denied a voice in our corrupt and twisted system.

Let’s not give up. Let’s quickly decide where to take the fight. Should we campaign for a fair voting system such as Proportional Representation and put an end to all the tactical voting and wasted votes before the next General Election? Should we campaign on party funding and the influence of the corporate media who mounted a vicious campaign against Cameron’s opponents to protect their own vested interests? Having considered and discussed these issues over the last few days, I’m not so sure either of these are now worthy pursuits.

What are the chances of The Tories introducing a bill to the House of Commons to reform the First Past the Post electoral system that so benefits them? What chance is there that they will reform party funding when it is their party that benefits most from rich donors? It’s just not going to happen. Maybe if Labour had won, but not now.

So what then? One thought is that we campaign for devolution from Westminster. Here’s 3 reasons why:

  • This is already on the Tory agenda, we just need to hijack it. George Osbourne announced his plans for Manchester last November and he’ll now try and implement them, but there is a problem. Manchester doesn’t want an elected mayor. We’ve said so in a referendum before.
  • Scotland will get more devolution now; probably Devo-max, with all tax raising other than VAT and all spending other than defense handed over to the Scottish Parliament. We should demand the same in the North of England – not the pathetic handing out of a few quid that Manchester is to be granted under Devo-Manc, but genuine devolution to the regions with real political accountability and democracy at a local level.
  • In the North of England, Labour still have the upper hand and if we can convince our MPs to support us on this issue we can build strong support in Westminster

There is no point trying to force political reform onto the agenda at Westminster. The Establishment won. The Tories won with a majority (albeit a slim one) and there’s no chance of them introducing any legislation that will be detrimental to their hold on power in the future. Of course we can fight them on each and every bit of damaging legislation they try to introduce and highlight the damage they’re doing every day, but at the same time we could bring about real change from within our local communities if we can wrestle power from then by ambushing the Tory devolution plans.

Manchester could well be the key battleground. What if we were to fight Osborne’s Devo-Manc deal with everything we’ve got? Demand a referendum in which we reject his deal and demand devolution on our own terms. There are a great number of local political and environment organisations now and if they work together we could mobilize.

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