Is progressive politics in Britain dead?
There is no denying that centre-left politics has moved to the right in the last twenty years. It is different from what it once was, but has it retained the core values that can allow it to be described as progressive?
Both centre-left parties in Britain have shifted to the right, exemplified by New Labour’s shift away from socialism to ‘third way’ politics which has seen the once radical left-wing party introduce tuition fees and encourage private investment in the NHS.
The Liberal Democrats are no less involved in this change: they facilitated the formation of a Conservative government and are now supporting a radical austerity programme: a programme that no Lib Dems would have touched a short number of years ago.
However, it could be argued that the Lib Dems have had some progessive influence: thanksto their role in government, we’ve had a referendum on voting reform; pupil premiums are being introduced to help the poorest students in schools and those at the lowest end of the income spectrum are being relieved of tax altogether.
These things are rarely mentioned as it is not the done thing to defend the Lib Dems at the moment, but these policies sound fairly progressive to me.
Also, it was New Labour, the other “progressive” party, who introduced the minimum wage and poured billions of pounds of investment into schools and hospitals to radically improve standards: for example cutting hospital waiting lists significantly.
All of these policies were opposed by the Conservatives. Perhaps progressive politics isn’t dead, but more open minded and subtle?
The fact iremains, though, that after thirteen years of a Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the working class feel somewhat abandoned by the party that was supposed to be their defenders.
Not much has changed under new leader ‘Red Ed’ Miliband, who has not shown his supposedly left wing credentials. His refusal to support the recent teachers’ strike over their rights to a decent pension was disappointing to hard working people who thought they had a spokesman.
Issues like this raise the question: how much longer will Labour get the support of the Unions, if they feel that the party no longer supports the workers they represent?’ What is to stop the Unions putting forward their own candidates for elections if they feel the Labour party no longer lives up to its name?
Essentially the Labour party as we know it would crumble and disappear and the Unions would become the truly progressive force in British politics; a party born from the working people for the working people. That is what progressive politics should be, and that is how the Labour Party started out. But now it is no different to the Conservative party, full of very privileged Oxbridge graduates who aren’t particularly familiar with the hard graft of day to day life for most people.
The labour movement, i.e. the Unions, and the Labour Party have become two separate things. The Labour Party has forgotten who it owes its existence to, and they may live to regret that. Ed Miliband, like Tony Blair before him, thinks he is very clever when he does the whole right-wing thing in not backing the strikes: it makes him seem strong. But the fact is he could potentially be destroying his party unless he brings it back to the people, and largely this has to be done through the defenders of the workers, the Trade Unions.
Although the Unions are not without fault, they do prop up the Labour party, and the party was formed from them.
Most importantly the Unions are an unwavering progressive political force. They are progressive in the sense that they always back the vulnerable and the needy without fail.
They never supported Tony Blair’s drive for private investment in the NHS, and they were right as this policy of Blair’s has now paved the way for the Tories to be talking about actually selling some NHS hospitals to overseas profit-making companies.
How can the Labour party call itself progressive any more when the Labour Prime Minister who ran the country for ten years abandoned the core principles of the NHS that Clement Attlee’s Labour government introduced?
The NHS is slowly but surely becoming a profit-making machine, and this trend was started by a Labour government who allowed hospitals to borrow money from private companies.
Patient care is not even a consideration for these people, which is why they should never have been let anywhere near the NHS. In fairness, many in the Labour Party were against these policies but the only group who truly stuck to their progressive guns was the Trade Unions.
So you could say centre-left politics is not dead as long as the Unions exist to keep it alive, but the so-called progressive parties, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, seem willing to abandon their left-wing politics at the drop of a hat.
Tragically, it seems the only party with any conviction to their political ideology is the Conservative Party.
So although some progressive policies have passed into law under Labour and the Lib Dems, it is hard to deny that these parties have moved to the right.
After eighteen years in opposition, Labour decided if you can’t beat them, join them, and the Lib Dems literally did just that.