Being outflanked on the left by any party is a real danger for Labour going into any electoral campaign as the left of the Labour Party in recent years has been very patient with Blair and his Third Way ideas around ‘compassionate capitalism’.
As well as appealing to the base of the party, a left-wing Labour leadership must also show that as well as the more centrist policies to prevent a centre-left civil war, they are also willing to promote policies that could be described as more traditionally socialist.
Part 2: Tapping into left-wing populism
In recent years many parties have emerged to challenge Labour on the left: SNP and Plaid Cymru synthesise anti-austerity with their brands of civic nationalism, the Green Party tout socialist economics with environmentalism and Respect appeals to left-wingers opposed to military interventionism. Exploiting left-wing populism whilst also truncating the vote of smaller parties with more socialistic policies is essential in preventing the ‘Spoiler Effect’ that First-Past-The-Post creates whilst also attracting support from people who have recently defected to these smaller parties.
In economic terms all of the parties that try to outflank Labour share one thing in common: their opposition to austerity. By putting forward an anti-austerity message Labour would have retained some of the support lost in Scotland as well as preventing some defections to the Greens in England.
In May an attempt to seen credible to the electorate Labour allowed the Conservatives to dictate terms of what constituted fiscal competence whilst Labour gave a confused economic message supporting many of the Coalition’s cuts in practise but railing against how they had disproportionate impacted upon the poor.
An important way to stave off defections to the Left would be for Labour to renationalise the railways and the energy companies, a policy which a 2013 YouGov survey found that 52% of Conservative voters advocated both policies as well as support over 60% among Lib Dems, over 70% among UKIP supporters and around 80% support among Labour voters. Improved banking regulation would also be a way of tapping into the left-wing populism that is present on this issue, establishing the basic premise that a bank that is ‘too big to fail’ is too big to exist.
By forcibly breaking up the largest financial institutions some of the impacts of the banking crisis could have been mitigated, with additional regulation over speculation and derivatives preventing a crisis in the first place. The other aspect of banking reform would be the establishment of a state run bank to provide capital for community projects and regeneration schemes, with this bank being the only bank being able to be bailed out.
Combining some of the other financial institutions set up by previous governments such as the Green Investment Bank into a single institution that would have a physical presence on the high street would root it in the community whilst providing low-interest finance for ordinary people; being regarded by the State as a public service would prevent the bank from operating as a for-profit entity without an investment arm would inspire confidence among the people. Using the bank as a political tool would also prevent defections to the Left as a potential Labour Chancellor could use it’s potential establishment to provide grants for solar panels to bring in votes from environmentalist and incentives to encourage the democratisation of companies to attract socialists from smaller parties.
Finally on economics a Labour manifesto should also look to developing a coherent set of policies to regulate capitalism on an international level; in practical terms this should centre around opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as well as working in the European Parliament to pass a pan-European Financial Transaction Tax. Whilst tapping into public anger towards the banking system, an FTT would establish Labour as the vanguards of banking reform as well as counter the Conservative narrative of Labour’s apparent inability to control public finances.
An outlook on society that is both practical and compassionate is also key in attracting broad support from across the Left. Reversing Thatcher’s trade union suppression laws and strengthening anti-discrimination laws against women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities would strengthen the theme of social-justice in a Labour manifesto thus allowing for public perception of the Conservatives’ ruthlessness to be reinforced.
Providing a robust opposition to the scapegoating of asylum seekers and refugees would attract support from across the political spectrum, but especially a disenchanted Left that watched Labour tack to the right in an attempt to regain support from UKIP supporters in their northern heartlands.
Taking in refugees is not only the moral responsibility of any government but because the UK has signed up to the UNHCR Convention, doing so is binding under international law.
The final way to appealing to more traditionally left-wing voters would be conducting a review of what Labour supports in regards to foreign policy. Since the 2003 Iraq War Labour has refused to be bold on foreign affairs as the public do not trust Labour with foreign policy. In order to recapture supporters in the anti-war movement Labour must establish itself as promoting non-interventionism, using diplomacy and foreign aid to achieve its foreign policy goals.
Another more symbolic move regarding diplomacy, as well as a compelling economic argument, would be for Labour to reinvigorate its roots in the CND by joining with the Greens, the SNP and other in opposition to the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile system. Socialists in other parties who used to vote for Labour often speak of their internationalism and as a consequence support the ring-fencing of the foreign aid budget; not only should the foreign aid budget be ring-fenced, it should be increased to 1% of GDP with the amount of aid contingent upon the human rights record of the recipient country.
It is also imperative that Labour target aid spending in the Middle East, particularly in order to strengthen and stabilise the democracies in the region such as Tunisia and Lebanon. The final aspect of foreign policy that Labour must focus on to bring together the forces of the Left is the issue of Europe.
Following the election of SYRIZA in Greece in January 2015, the European Union has been exposed as valuing the concept of the European Project over the very essence of democracy in member states. Labour must fight to keep Britain in the 2017 EU Referendum as a firm declaration that international co-operation is at the heart of any left-wing government foreign policy agenda. In the European Parliament Labour should advocate working with forces in all three left of centre political groups to form an EU that is more democratic and broke with the neo-liberal monetarism of the IMF.
By bringing forward policies that are more traditionally socialistic, in combination with the finance and welfare policies supported by Labour’s social-democratic wing, the party will appear as if it is getting back to its working class roots bringing a unity to the left not seen for a number of years. In many areas the British electorate favour left-wing policies and tapping into that populism is the easiest way of attracting support from people across the political spectrum as well as appeasing people on the left of Labour who would otherwise flirt with another party.
Commentators often comment that Labour must endeavour to aim for the centre-ground; although the British may people may identify as preferring centrist policies, it is essential the Labour propose policies that will both win votes and be socially transformative. Labour must also use these more left-wing policies to distinguish itself more profoundly from the Conservatives, pointing out Tory hypocrisy in regards to banking reform as well as their opposition to the overwhelmingly popular renationalisation of key industries.