Tur­moil in Bri­tain’s Labour af­ter loss

Lesotho Times - - International -

LON­DON — Bri­tain’s op­po­si­tion Labour Party is strug­gling to re­gain its bal­ance af­ter suf­fer­ing one of its worst elec­tion re­sults in mod­ern times. Shocked by the ex­tent of the loss, lead­ers are try­ing to fig­ure out how to rebuild the party and re­gain the public’s trust. There is tur­moil ev­ery­where. The coun­try’s big­gest union — and top fun­der — has sig­naled it will have its say in the lead­er­ship con­test and a front-run­ner for the job quit just days af­ter launch­ing his bid. Its leader in Scot­land won a con­fi­dence mo­tion — but re­signed any­way.

“To­day the Labour Party stands at a cru­cial junc­ture — ei­ther we re­al­ize how bad our de­feat was, learn from that and ad­vance,” Mark Fer­gu­son, edi­tor of the Labourlist blog, wrote in a com­men­tary.

“Or we deny the scale of our elec­toral, cul­tural and emo­tional re­jec­tion by the Bri­tish peo­ple, curl up into a ball and, slowly but surely, slip out of ex­is­tence.”

Labour, as the name im­plies, is sup­posed to be the party of the work­ing man, and woman — a left-lean­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion with the unions at its core. The unions ac­tu­ally cre­ated the party over a cen­tury ago to pro­mote its causes in Par­lia­ment.

For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair made great ef­forts to un­shackle the links when he be­came leader in 1994. His de­ci­sion to move the party to the cen­tre — so-called “New Labour — was a recog­ni­tion that the coun­try had changed fun­da­men­tally.

The orig­i­nal foun­da­tions of the Labour Party were no longer there as the steel­works closed, the ship­build­ing yards were shut­tered and the coalmines aban­doned.

At­tract­ing the mid­dle classes was the mantra of Mr Blair’s years at the helm. His party’s com­fort with wealth cre­ation and its in­sis­tence that in­come taxes would not be raised worked — Labour won three con­sec­u­tive elec­tion vic­to­ries un­der Mr Blair, some­thing it had never done be­fore.

The changes Mr Blair in­sti­tuted sat un­easily with many in the old ranks of Labour, who thought the party had moved too far away from its core prin­ci­ples.

Ed Miliband, who led the party to its de­feat on 7 May 2015, tried to bridge the gap and in­tro­duced a se­ries of mod­est but head­line-mak­ing taxrais­ing plans. But his strat­egy didn’t work and the party re­mains di­vided — and it shows.

Labour won 232 seats in the 7 May elec­tion, 26 fewer par­lia­men­tary seats than in 2010 when Mr Blair’s suc­ces­sor, Gor­don Brown, lost heav­ily in the wake of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Labour’s cur­rent plight is best-ex­em­pli­fied by its col­lapse in one of its sup­posed heart­lands, Scot­land, where it lost all but one of its 40-odd seats.

“Ev­ery­one was sur­prised by the scale of the de­feat,” said Daniel Ke­nealy, a lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh. “There is gen­uinely a de­gree of shock.”

Mr Miliband’s res­ig­na­tion soon af­ter the elec­tion re­sult was the start­ing gun for the lead­er­ship con­test.

Ris­ing Labour star Chuka Umun- na (36) joined the race but then stunned the po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment by with­draw­ing abruptly days later, cit­ing in­tru­sions on his pri­vacy.

Other lead­ing con­tenders, such as Andy Burn­ham, Yvette Cooper, and Liz Ken­dall, will be pushed to show what they can do it keep the party to­gether — and to fun­da­men­tally re­think how to win over the elec­torate.

“There is no off-the-shelf po­lit­i­cal strat­egy ... that would pro­duce guar­an­teed po­lit­i­cal suc­cess in 2020,” said Pa­trick Di­a­mond, a lec­turer at Queen Mary Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don.

In the mean­time, the Con­ser­va­tives will in­tro­duce re­forms of the UK po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, re­duc­ing the num­ber of par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies and re­draw­ing the con­stituency bound­aries, which will make Labour’s task far harder next time around.”

Ten­sions over the fu­ture were laid bare last week­end when Jim Mur­phy, the leader of Labour in Scot­land, re­signed and de­scribed the head of the big­gest union, Unite’s Len Mccluskey, as the “kiss of death” to Labour.

Mr Mccluskey hit back, ar­gu­ing that so-called “Blairites” like Mr Mur­phy were the ones re­spon­si­ble for Labour’s loss and that any leader should keep the party’s roots in mind.

“It is the chal­lenge of the Labour Party to demon­strate that they are the voice of or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple, that they are the voice of or­ga­nized la­bor,” he told the BBC. The union may dis­cuss a break with Labour, but he in­sisted he didn’t sup­port such plans.

Act­ing Labour leader Har­riet Har­man in­sisted on Mon­day that ev­ery­thing would be up for con­sid­er­a­tion when the party holds its con­fer­ence in Septem­ber to elect a new leader, de­spite its “dark days.”

“We have had a lot of soul search­ing to do across all parts of our party and we will have ro­bust dis­cus­sions,” she said.— AP

RIS­ING Labour star Chuka Umunna abruptly with­drew from the lead­er­ship race cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns.

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