[Marxism] Ken Livingstone: Labour must listen to the left

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Sun May 22 10:50:52 MDT 2005

Labour must listen to the left

London Observer 15 May 2005

If the government wants to thrive - and kill off the Tories - it
must heed its lost voters

Ken Livingstone

TWO FACTS dominated the outcome of the general election. First,
Labour lost 6 per cent of the vote. Second, the Tories were
almost totally unable to gain support, their support rising only
0.5 per cent. This compares with an increase of 4 per cent for
the Liberal Democrats and 1.5 per cent to others, the bulk of
whom presented themselves as Labour's left. Given the orientation
of the Liberal Democrats at this election, this means that Labour
lost 10 votes to those presenting themselves as moderately to its
left for every vote it lost to its right.

London mirrored this. In the capital, for every vote Labour lost
to the Tory right, it lost almost five to those presenting
themselves as to its left - Liberal Democrats, Respect and the
Greens. Labour's share of the poll fell by 8.4 per cent while the
Conservatives' rose by only 1.4 per cent, the Liberal Democrats'
by 4.4 per cent, Respect by 1.4 per cent and the Greens' by 1 per
cent. Labour's losses, therefore, were not due to any significant
resurgence in Tory popularity but to Labour slipping in its
leadership of the huge anti-Tory majority.

The overwhelming majority of those whom Labour has to win back
for a fourth term are those who ceased to vote for it because of
the war, top-up fees or limits on trial by jury, not those who
were attracted by the Tories. Labour's strategic task in this
parliament is to regain its position as the undisputed leader of
the 67 per cent of the voters that decided against the Tories. It
is almost electorally irrelevant, and counterproductive, to spend
time chasing those whose agenda is set by the Daily Mail .

IT IS NOT AS if it was not possible to see these trends in
advance. Two decades ago, John Ross's book, Thatcher and Friends:
The Anatomy of the Tory Party , set out a meticulous, long-term
analysis of the social decline of the base of the Conservative
party and that all attempts to revive its popular base would
fail. When it was published at the hour of Thatcher's greatest
triumph in the 1980s, it seemed almost incredible. Yet it has
solidly stood the test of the intervening years and it ought to
be compulsory reading for party strategists today. Tory support
plunged to its lowest levels for a 150 years and stuck there.
Their failure to regain support was not short term, but rooted in
long-term social decline.

The implications of such analyses are evident. Labour's position
depends on its continuing ability to remain at the head of the
two-thirds of the British people who vote against the Tories. The
message Labour hammered out in the campaign's last days - 'vote
Liberal Democrat and get a Tory' - was true. But it was too late
and too negative to be effective, although a 2 per cent increase
in turn-out probably won Labour 10 to 20 seats.

Labour must consistently reach out to issues potential Liberal
Democrat and Green voters care about and, in London, Respect
voters, not the handful considering deserting Labour to the
Tories. Provided Labour retains hegemony of the anti-Tory vote,
the Conservatives can be left in their bunker.

London, with its great contrasts from the suburbs to the inner
city, again provides some answers to the underlying reason why
the Tories do not gain, and Labour and Liberal Democrats both
can. The capital suffers some of Britain's worst deprivation -
more than 40 per cent of children live in families below the
poverty line. Tackling such deprivation must always be high on
the agenda.

But in addition, in large areas of the city's west and outer
north, Londoners have some of the nicest 'private realms' in the
country - decent incomes, good houses, high leisure expenditure
and expectations these will improve.

THE KEY IS that both groups are critically affected by the public
realm's quality. All need more police for safety; the majority
travel to work on public transport; they rely on public not
private health provision; they educate their children in state
schools; they want a sustainable environment; they are socially
concerned and have no hankering for a return to empire. A Tory
agenda of slashing the public realm cannot meet such voters'
needs. Hence the Conservatives' long-term social decline.

In 1997 and 2001, Labour met these voters' aspirations. In 2005,
it appeared to waver in its commitment to them. Entirely
logically, the electorate punished Labour not by turning to the
Tories but to those presenting themselves as not extremely but
moderately to Labour's left. Labour's job is to maintain and
regain its position as undisputed leader of the vast anti-Tory

Ken Livingstone is Mayor of London

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