Labour needs to do more than find a new leader: it must again become a movement. by Andy Winter

A concept I used to refer to regularly in the earlier incarnation of this blog was borrowed from the West Wing, the Big Mo – Momentum. Political parties in the ascendency enjoy momentum, and with it can come political success. Up to the 2011 council elections the Green Party locally had the Big Mo. Labour enjoyed the Big Mo in 1997.

In 2015, the old Big Mo, as in momentum, has given way to a new Big Mo – Movement. A political movement transcends party politics, it is a positive force routed in aspiration for change. Such aspiration should not be confused with the shallow use of the word when applied to ‘hard working families’ or ‘strivers’. 

The independence referendum in Scotland, although unsuccessful, unleashed something that proved to be the death knell of the major parties in Scotland on 7th May.  The support the SNP enjoyed came from across the political spectrum. People were not necessarily voting for the SNP as a party, but for what the SNP symbolised. There was a sense amongst the people that things could be different, could be better. It overcame the politics of austerity of the Conservatives and austerity-lite of Labour. And with it Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems were all but wiped out north of the border.

Across the UK, the debate about the new leader of the Labour Party is focused on the ‘presidential’ characteristics of some rather bland individuals who appear to be more concerned about not offending anyone than putting forward a message of hope. Austerity-lite is neither one thing or another. The revolutionary slogans of the 1970s and ’80s have given way to ones mumbled by those unwilling or incapable of arguing an alternative economic plan:

“What do we want?”

“Cuts!”

“When do we want them?”

“Not as quickly as you!”

The debate demonstrates that Labour activists and commentators have learned nothing from the movement in Scotland that has thrust the SNP into the forefront of British politics. They have not grasped that the people of Scotland didn’t just vote for a party, they voted for a movement.

By comparison, Nichola Sturgeon embodies the hopes and aspirations of the majority, yes the majority, of voters in Scotland.  The Sturgeon / SNP Phenomenon has reached far beyond Scotland. I can’t remember how many times during the elections people in Brighton said to me:  “I wish I could vote for Nichola Sturgeon”.

But it wasn’t that Sturgeon presented herself in a presidential manner. The debate between the seven party leaders was a watershed in British politics, with three women party leaders showing that they offered more than four rather grey stale males. They spoke to ordinary people and, in particular, to ordinary women. They spoke ‘human’. Isabel Hardman from the Spectator said that if she had had a bad day, got caught in a down pour, and had lost her keys, she would want to pop in for a cup of tea with Lianne Wood. Lianne Wood is the next door neighbour we all wish we had.

I imagine many Labour activists and supporters regard Nichola Sturgeon as the leader they wished they had. 

But that is where they would be going wrong. A party is more than its leader. Electoral success has become much more than just the Big Mo.

Time for Labour and the Conservatives to stop personal attacks and to present their alternative budgets

I am back from my Rip van Winkle hibernation. Regarding the future of this blog, I have paused, listened, reflected and … You know the rest. I will continue for the time being. This decision is down primarily to the daily pleas for me to continue from my three regular readers, Grizzly, Doris and Biker Dave.

I think there has been enough now on this blog about Christopher Hawtree and libraries. As Geoffrey Bowden posted at 1.05 yesterday morning, everyone with views on libraries should contribute to the consultation by visiting the council’s consultation portal.

Moving on. Where are we at. Unlike me, Lord Bassam appears to have gone for at least 2 weeks without sleep as he attacks the Greens in Brighton and Hove for Tory imposed cuts from Westminster. It is a shames that Labour continues to see the Greens as the enemy. All I can think is that by attacking the Greens in such an unrelenting fashion Labour hopes to deflect attention from their absence of policies.

Ed Balls has made it clear what we can expect:

“My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts. There is a big squeeze happening on budgets across the piece. The squeeze on defence spending, for instance, is £15bn by 2015. We are going to have to start from that being the baseline. At this stage, we can make no commitments to reverse any of that, on spending or on tax. So I am being absolutely clear about that.”

Look at Scotland, Labour hitched its wagon to the ill-thought through Tory referendum quicker than you can say Alex Salmond. Why didn’t Labour find a position somewhere between the Tories and the SNP? It is because Labour cannot see beyond trying to protect its own short term interests by attacking those to the left, be it the SNP in Scotland or the Greens in Brighton and Hove.

So why vote Labour …..? What does Labour offer that is different from the Tories? It no longer offers an alternative when it comes to pulic spending. If I want to vote for a party of austerity, I might as well vote for the one that is enthusiastic about cuts, about small government.

Locally, just Lord Bassam, There’s-only-one-Caroline-in-Hove, Warren Morgan and Craig Turton seem to be fighting for Labour, but their focus appears to be purely on the Greens. It must be difficult to be in the Labour Party when Ed Miliband is failing to make an impact, and Ed Balls is signing up to Tory cuts. I would appeal to Labour activists locally to say what there alternative is to the cuts imposed by the Westminster Tories. Please list what services you intend to put forward for cutting, how many jobs will go, and how you intend to make up for the shortfall in income resulting from buying into the Tories’ Council Tax freeze gimmick.

The Greens have published their draft budget, and are consulting on it. I do think their approach has been the most open, consultative approach to budget setting that I can recall. Credit to them there. I don’t agree with everything they are proposing to do, but anyone in control locally, Green, Labour or Tories, would have no choice but to cut.

So what is Labour’s alternative? Each time you oppose a Green cut, it is required of you to put forward an alternate cut. It is what you demanded when you were in control locally. Or are you saying you would not cut, that you would set a deficit/illegal budget? It is time Labour locallyshows it has an alternative (assuming it has one).

And the Tories, you too need to list your cuts. There are many who want to know how exactly you will obey your Westminster Masters and make the cuts required in Brighton and Hove.

One reason I considered closing down this blog was because politics locally is about to become very nasty indeed. I hate the prospect of the closure of services, making people redundant, new hardships.

So, Labour opponents of the Greens, please stop the attacks and let’s hear from you what you would do.