Forest of Dean & Wye Valley


In Guest Feature on January 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Reflections on the party conference, by former South West region MEP GLYN FORD

The last time that Labour met in Liverpool was eighty six years ago, in 1925. This was in the wake of the defeat of the first ever Labour government, hounded from office in November 1924 by “red scares” and the Daily Mail’s brandishing of the infamous forged “Ziniovev Letter”purporting to show that the Communist Party in Britain was being told by its Soviet masters to prepare for an imminent uprising. Within five years, in 1929, Labour was back in power.

This time around it will not automatically be that swift a return.

In Liverpool, the most eloquent statements of this were made in the Exhibition Hall, rather than from the podium or platform. While many delegates spoke as if Labour’s bounce back to power at the next election was assured, the same was not true of Labour’s corporate collaborators from our years in power. They were largely absent without leave, taking the view that Labour was here to stay in opposition. Certainly Tory gerrymandering with fixed term parliaments and the shaving down of a bloated House of Commons by a scanty fifty MPs to maximise their electoral advantage, makes the task that much harder in May 2015. But making it all worse is the “blame game”, media bias and the malaise infecting traditional social democratic parties across the European Union.


Labour is constantly dogged by the ConDem alliance’s claims that the current crisis is the fault of Labour – stating simultaneously that it’s the global crisis that’s getting in the way of a British recovery. Now, we have to take some responsibility. Labour failed to tackle the greedy bankers, bent coppers and feral press. We didn’t tighten up banking regulation after the Tories’ big bang, ignored evidence of police corruption and kowtowed to Murdoch. Yet none of these would have helped avoid the toxic crisis in the US or the problems with the Irish, Greek or Italian economies.

Second, the very idea of a coalition seems to have stood the BBC’s idea of “balance” on its head. It’s no longer Government and Opposition, but rather Con versus Lib as the two coalition partners have their say centre stage with Labour having a mere walk-on part after those two have finished. Worse, when Labour does get a word in edgeways, it’s not our current spokesman who appears but one of yesterday’s men, and women, often now washed up in the Lords from the flood that swept Labour away.


Third, our problem is one at the heart of western-style democracies. Socialists and Social Democrats less than a generation ago were in government in the majority of EU member states. Not so today. But what about Denmark, made much of in Liverpool? I’m delighted that the Danish Socialists are in power, but we need to be honest with ourselves. They had their worst result in ninety years and actually lost seats. They are in power because of the success of two small left partners and a radical liberal party who are sustaining them in coalition.

So what’s the message, and where do we go from here? More of the same and mere triangulation won’t work. New Labour with all its faults served us well. But in the end it brought us down. Nor will the electorate buy Labour as “Tory-lite”, a party whose cuts will be just that much smaller and made with genuine sadness rather than hidden joy. People know that times will continue to be tough, but they want a different vision of society from that of Cameron and Clegg.


The best glimmer of hope in Liverpool came from Ed Miliband’s speech. It was the first social democratic leader’s speech since 1992. It was not perfectly structured or delivered, but it began the process of putting into place a new framework of thinking for Labour. Ed derided rigged markets, asset strippers and vested interests, promising to become the voice of the hard-working majority, the squeezed middle and the crushed bottom. As he said in his devastating attack on the Tory leader, “only David Cameron could believe that you make ordinary families work harder by making them poorer and you make the rich work harder by making them richer.”

There is a long way to go, but Liverpool set Labour off in the right direction. If we can build on this over the next eighteen months to two years, we can attract back those who left us in 2010, keep those who remained with us and attract back those who had given up on politics in favour of abstention, or been seduced by the siren voices of the mad, bad and sad – UKIP and the BNP – and the regional and political sectarians.