Saturday, September 25, 2010

Labour Party elections

By the time I've finished writing this, the Labour Party will have announced its new leader. In Britain, the Conservative Party is in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, and the two are pushing across severe cuts to welfare and other public services which a range of studies have already pointed out will affect the poorest in society disproportionately (nearly always the case with these things). Women will also be affected, on average, more than men. So whomever is leading the Labour Party from 1600 BST will have to decide whether and how to take on the Coalition over these cuts. Foreign policy featured precious little in the hustings and debates that I managed to see, but one Miliband or other (because it seems a sure thing that either Ed or David, two brothers, will win the leadership of the party) will have to work out whether to support the war in Afghanistan or begin to take a more critical stance.

What is worrying to me is that it used to be the Liberal Democrats who could be counted on to take innovative and progressive positions that would force Labour to tack away from more cautious if comfortable policy ground. But now the LibDems are part of a regressive coalition government, and Labour will have to shift of its own accord.

Yesterday's results out of London, however, might have created a sphere from which less conservative elements of the Labour Party can make their voices heard. 'Red' Ken Livingstone beat out Oona King (a former MP) to win the nomination to be Labour's candidate for the London Mayoralty in 2012. I've seen King speak at the LSE and on some Labour Party panels, and found her to come across as a bit smarmy, slightly condescending, and unapologetic about the vote for the Iraq war which cost her her seat in 2005. Livingstone on the other hand, has long used his political clout to speak against Iraq, and is a fixture at CND and Stop the War Coalition rallies.

He is also more likely to go after Conservative Party Mayor Boris Johnson vigorously, harrying him over cuts to transport and benefits. I hope that Livingstone can make London a microcosm for the larger argument that Labour needs to make about the economy, society and equality. Neither of the Miliband brothers inspire much confidence, and I suspect that they will need prodding from outside of the Parliamentary party to do Labour's traditions full justice.

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