Quotes become clichéd for two reasons: either they are so pithy that they become useful quips for the unimaginative, or they are so piercingly accurate that they bear repeating too frequently. George Santanaya’s utterance that ‘Those who do not learn their own history, are doomed to repeat it’ falls into the latter category. It bears repeating once again though, as the Labour party continues to make itself unelectable, in a way eerily similar to that of the 1980’s Labour Party did. Then, as now, a Conservative Party have those at the bottom of society firmly in their crosshairs. Then, as now, they do so only because there is no credible opposition.
The reason Labour lost the last election, was because the public did not trust them to steward the economy. Ed Miliband was perceived as weak, and the party’s refusal to accept that their spending levels were too high before 2010, failed to assuage a public who believed, rightly or wrongly, that the profligacy of Labour’s spending was a causal factor in the desperate economic conditions that straddled the Brown years, and the early years of the coalition. A period in time as fresh in memory, as it was harrowing in its endurance. Instead of learning from this rejection, Labour have elected Jeremy Corbyn, a man who embodies the fears of the middle-income moderates who failed to back Labour in 2015, more than any other politician seemingly could. His approval rating upon becoming Labour leader was the worst in 60 years. He has since appointed John McDonnell as his shadow chancellor. McDonell chairs the far left Labour Representation Committee, a cursory glance at whose website reveals a disdain for the very concept of living within one’s means. Promoting a fellow left-winger may make Labour’s core vote feel good about themselves, but it will do nothing to convince swing voters that Labour Party is listening to its concerns about being fiscally incompetent. In short, Labour are unelectable, and this has huge implications on the way in which the Conservative Party can now behave in government, and toward the neediest in society.
An opposition party should act like a rival shop. If one cornershop doesn’t provide good groceries at a good price, then soon enough its regular customers will go to the other local store. Assuming of course, the other local store has its house in order. The problem with the Labour party at present though, is that it doesn’t. The Osborne owned store can sell rancid milk for extortionate prices, because it knows it’s the only shop in town; those who cannot afford to go to our metaphorical Waitrose will just have to drink it.
This is most obviously demonstrated by the proposed cuts to tax credits. A move that has generated criticism from all corners, including Conservative MPs, and which would normally be politically toxic. It’s so massively unpopular that a broad coalition in the Lords haven taken upon themselves to block it. However, It is not merely the severity of the cuts, which would have seen some families lose £1,500 from next year, but the fact it represents a complete vault-face on David Cameron’s pre-election promise that would make cutting tax credits in this way so unappealing to the Tories. Reneging on their pre-2010 election tuition fee pledge gutted Lib Dem support so badly it was almost terminal. But none of those concerns matters to the Tories, because with a Labour front bench so out of step with the publics concerns, there is no electoral cost, and therefore no deterrent, to the government ploughing on with something so unpopular.
Contrasting this with the behaviour of the coalition government demonstrates how far Labour’s failure to provide a credible opposition runs. When the coalition government considered in 2011 to remove the mobility part of Disability Living Allowance, it was met with howls of derision. In 2012, it duly scrapped this idea, wary of the electoral damage that could be done to both Conservative and Lib Dem image, by being seen to be so cold to the needs of the disabled. This was done however, in the full knowledge becoming increasingly unpopular in the eyes of the public, could mean a possible electoral defeat somewhere down the line. Even the somewhat bumbling Ed Miliband, beset by an awkwardness unmatched by anyone in modern politics, and completely lacking in charisma, represented a far greater electoral threat to the coalition parties. Resultingly, Labour were somewhat of a counterweight to a coalition’s – dominated by Conservatives – rightward impulses. Now however, Corbyn-lead Labour, busily patting themselves on the back about how virtuous they are, present no threat whatsoever to a gleeful but sometimes hard-hearted Conservative party. No longer do the Conservative party need to think about the implications of their policies on the poorest in society, because regardless of their occasional callousness, they are still the only shop in town.
We have been here before though. The Labour party lurched to the far left in the 1980s forcing the split which created the SDP, and leaving the country with no credible opposition to the Thatcher lead Conservative policies. Unsurprisingly, with no realistic opposition, Margaret Thatcher had no reason to consider the lot of the worst off in society, inequality grew at unprecedented rates during her premiership, as policies which hit those who would have looked to Labour to protect them, most notably the never-to-be-replaced sell off of council housing, and section 28 bit. Labour’s leftward swing threatens to do the same. With no chance of the current Labour leadership presenting a serious electoral threat, David Cameron and George Osborne have inherited the same platform as Margaret Thatcher did: a left wing Labour party, untrusted on the economy, and unwilling to compromise to make itself electable.
‘Power without principle isn’t worth having’ comes the predictable, but disingenuous, response from Corbynites overwhelmingly young middle class, and with little to lose themselves from welfare cuts. But principle mattered little to the massed ranks of unemployed in the 1980s; it matters little to the young and the poor of today either.