Voting Labour: time to kick the habit

April 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm (elections, Green Party, labour party, Respect, Socialist Party, voltairespriest)

In Johnny Lewis’ post on April 1st, he states that a progressive who casts their vote for anyone other than the Labour Party on May 6th is ignoring the “effect on the lives of our class” that general elections have. In other words, if you cannot bear to vote for the likes of Liam “my Liberal opponent is secretly soft on immigrants, he’s told the Asians” Byrne in Birmingham Hodge Hill, or Steve “Tories oppose compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals” McCabe in Birmingham Selly Oak, then however much you might think you’re doing the right thing, you’re actually bringing about a Tory apocalypse. He even gives us a helpful little scheme to show us the possible outcomes of our frivolous votes, in order of likelihood:

The probable outcomes of your Green/Respect campaign are (in order of likelihood):
1. A Tory goverment
2. A Tory-led coalition
3. A Labour-led coalition
4. A Labour government

Johnny refers specifically to the Greens and Respect, however presumably the same could apply to any left-of-Labour candidate who cannot mount a big challenge in terms of votes. After all, the brutal fact is that every vote taken away from New Labour means that a Tory government of some kind becomes more likely. Therefore, logically, is it not a betrayal of the interests of the class to vote for anyone other than the candidates of New Labour? For example, the AWL’s Jill Mountford in Camberwell and Peckham surely cannot expect a hatful of votes, so would it not then be the case that a vote for her rather than Harriet Harman is the foolish act of a middle class leftist, out of touch with “the lives of our class”?

This sort of bolt-necked Labourism on the part of sections of the left is a part of the reason why the Labour right continues to call the shots when it comes to progressive politics in the UK. The left may sabre-rattle, may howl with protest over events like the Iraq war or bankers’ bonuses, may even (in a good year for Labour) back candidates outside of the Labour party. But when it comes down to it, everybody knows that both the Labour left and parts of the Marxist left will fall in to line and dust the cobwebs off the same old phrases – “Yes, they’re shit. But the Tories would be worse”, or “The LP still has the union link so it’s still our class party”. Quite literally no matter what Labour does in government, those sections of the left will always call for a Labour vote in the end.

A similar argument comes from the AWL, reproduced here by Mr Denham. Again, underneath all the talk of class politics, it essentially boils down to “but the Tories would be worse”. Poor, comrades. Poor.

Rather than trotting out hackneyed old lines which even those saying them must surely struggle to believe, or hurling vitriol at easy targets like the more peculiar Respect candidates, can these people come up with a single positive reason to vote Labour? Apparently they cannot. Why?

Because there isn’t one.

“Labour” as we know it today is nothing more than the hollowed-out shell of what was once a mass political party, with at least the pretence of democratic processes providing checks and balances on its leadership. Since 1994 those checks and balances have been slowly removed, culminating in the union leaders’ shameful acquiescence in the destruction of the policy-making role of the party’s annual conference. Labourites used to wave the union link and the party’s structures around in order to make favourable comparisons with the US Democratic Party. Well comrades, at least the AFL-CIO are getting something of significance for their dollars in  terms of seeing politics slowly shifting leftwards, and an administration which is prepared to take a stand against the right. What have you got?

In this coming election, I think people should do something which may seem staggeringly obvious. Take a look at the list of candidates in your constituency, and vote for the one who most closely reflects your politics. Yes, really.

Depending where you are, that might entail voting for people from one of a number of different parties. Some of them might be Labour candidates. Speaking personally, I’d be more than enthusiastic to support Labour socialists such as John McDonnell in Hayes and Harlington – and incidentally if you’d like to do that, then Stroppy has a post about how to do so here. But equally, I’d be perfectly comfortable supporting Nellist in Coventry or the Greens’ Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavillion, both of whom are far preferable in my view to their Labour opponents.

Vote for the best candidate, not for the status quo. It’s not rocket science.

Automatic support for the Labour Party – it’s time to kick the habit.


  1. Doug said,

    The union link with Labour is a fallacy. It’s largely a bureaucratic link at national level. Ask UNISON activists what they think of the link with Labour – millions coughed up and nothing in return. How many trade union activists will be footslogging for Labour as they used to? How many workers under 30 or so have any class loyalty to ‘their’ party? Lesser evilism has got to end – whoever gets in, there’ll be massive public services cuts, redundancies and pay freezes. Vote Labour rather than Tory is now a choice between shooting and hanging. How many socialists caling for a vote for Labour actually talk to people and justify this – and how do they justify it?

  2. voltairespriest said,

    Personally, I don’t (unless the individual Labour MP, like McDonnell, has a good record). But there are several readers and authors on this site who do, so maybe they’ll tell you.

  3. runia said,

    As well as a referendum on replacing the Lords with an elected second chamber and ATV voting system, how about the following from the manifesto?

    “Trebling of alcohol treatment places to match the expansion in drug treatment, and US-style street pastor teams using vetted ex-offenders to reach disaffected young people.”

    “Patients to get legally-binding guarantees on the treatment they will receive in the NHS, including the right to cancer test results within one week of referral to a specialist.

    • Maximum 18 weeks’ wait for treatment – with the backup of an offer to be treated in the private sector.

    • New focus on preventive care, with routine check-ups offered by GPs to the over-40s and a major expansion of diagnostic testing in GP practices.

    • More choice for patients in where they want to be treated, one-to-one dedicate nursing for cancer patients, and more care at home.”

    “Every primary-school child who needs it will get one-to-one tuition

    • Labour will pilot a scheme to give all primary-school children free school meals.

    • Teach First, a scheme which recruits top graduates into teaching in secondary schools, would be extended to primary schools.”

    ” “toddler tax credit” worth an extra £200 a year for families earning less than £50,000 a year with children under three years old.

    • Paid paternity leave doubled to a month.

    • Sure Start nursery centres to be converted into children centres offering “one-stop shops, open to all families, offering excellent affordable childcare, healthcare and parenting advice”.

    • An offer to explore the ways that parents will be allowed to carry over “free hours of free nursery education from year to year”.

    • Link between earnings and the basic state pensions to be restored from 2012.”

  4. charliethechulo said,

    To advocate a Labour vote is *not* “lesser-evilism” (or, at least, not *just* lesser-evilsm): it’s to assert that an organised Labour movement still exists in Britain. Doug’s comments about thge collapse of class loyalty amongst under-30’s in Britain today is probably true – but it’s not something to be pleased about. Unions like UNISON and UNITE have got to start using their potential power within the Labour Party, by mobilising their members as delegates to local Parties and policy forua. The track record of non-affiliated (and disaffiliated) unions hardly inspires confidence.

    There may be a case for advocating a vote for explicitly socialist candidates like Jill Mountford (and arguably Dave Nellist), on the basis that they’re putting forward wothwhile socialist propaganda. I can see no case for suppoorting non-socialist (and in some respects quite reactionary) candidates like the Greens and Respect.

  5. voltairespriest said,

    But there is a case for supporting Liam Byrne as “the candidate of the organised labour movement”? Come on

    Even the post that I initially quote is lesser-evillist, and explicitly so. At least call a duck a bird that quacks.

  6. Doug said,

    An organised labour movement in this country does exist but it’s a bit cheeky automatically equating that with the Labour Party. Why on earth should UNITE and UNISON members waste time and effort regenerating the Labour Party when it’s whole structure is now designed to prevent any serious inroads of any socialist ideas or activities. Haven’t you heard of Militant?

    Runia, thanks for the Labour manifesto shopping list, which you seem to think needs no comment but is an automatic reason for voting Labour. Quite a few of these items are irrelevant, dodgy or fantasies that will have to be indulged by people like teachers, with no additional resources. Also, why have they waited 13 years to announce what they’re going to do. More importantly, I love the idea that we automatically believe that what’s in a manifesto will actually be carried out. I would have though the history of the Labour Party would have disabused everyone of that notion. Clearly not.

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