Monday, 8 November 2010

Why Andrew Lewin won't find "a movement that stands by its values" in the Labour Party

During the General Election, Andrew Lewin was the Liberal Democrats' youngest parliamentary candidate in England. Six months later, he has defected to the Labour Party. Unfortunately, in joining a party claiming to be "progressive" and "fair," he has made the same mistake twice.

On Labour List, he explains his decision under the heading "Fighting for my generation;"
As a Liberal Democrat activist and later their youngest parliamentary candidate in England, I had long believed the party was equally committed to the future of our young people. It was a belief supported by two manifesto commitments that I promoted time and again on the doorstep; the pledge to scrap university top-up fees and the guarantee of a place in training or work for any young person unemployed for more than 90 days. In the days after the formation of the coalition, my deeply held views didn’t waver, but those of the Lib Dem leadership readily did. It was the start of a journey that was to shatter my faith in the party.

For all the u-turns presided over by Nick Clegg in the past 6 months, I consider the abandonment of the two aforementioned policies the most symbolic; they were bold and progressive, yet both have been needlessly sacrificed at the altar of deficit reduction. The coalition decision to scrap the Future Jobs Fund without a replacement like the ‘90 day guarantee’ will drive youth unemployment up still further, while the trebling of top-up fees threatens to create an elite and inaccessible HE sector. Both are measures that our young people can ill-afford today and measures we will all pay the price for in the future. For me, supporting our young people in the education system is not just a moral imperative but an economic one. As this government abandons policies to support young people, it risks creating another lost generation and harming both the social and economic future of the country.
I can't disagree with what he says here, because he's right. Even within the framework of the existing economic system, the government's actions towards young people are callous and make little sense. Indeed, they'll only exacerbate the problem of the class system impacting on the young hardest.

What I find hard to accept is the next point. His claim that "I want to be part of a movement that stands by its values and is ready to offer an alternative vision of Britain" is a perfectly laudable one. But, especially on that basis, his conclusion that "the Labour Party can become the natural home for everyone who wants to see Britain invest in a fairer future for all" makes no sense.

During the Labour leadership campaign, I found all the prospective candidates wanting;
Andy Burnham supported top-up fees, replacing Trident, introducing ID cards, a tougher asylum system, and the Iraq War, as well as strongly opposing an investigation into said war. Ed Balls was moderately against measures to curb climate change, strongly in support of ID cards and Trident, and strongly against an investigation into Iraq. Ed Miliband and his brother David have similar records.

All four are actually moderate hawks in terms of the mainstream political spectrum. They do not represent genuinely left-wing views, and they don't even come close to the libertarian left.
What Lewin will get with "Red" Ed will not be "a balance of humility and optimism" that "aligns with my long held principles." Instead, he will get a man who voted very strongly for ID cards, a stricter asylum system, and Labour's draconian anti-terror laws.

According to his voting record, he "never rebels against his party in parliament." The party, let's remember, which started the ball rolling with student fee increases, and saw youth unemployment increase to record levels at the end of its tenure. Of course, it has increased further under the new government, but this doesn't negate Labour's record on the matter or suddenly make them any kind of viable alternative.

Lewin thinks differently because of Miliband's "aspiration and a belief in building a more progressive society." But this smacks of the worst kind of political naiveté, especially from someone who has witnessed first-hand as a party betrays their every basic principle.

Or, as I put it when he became Labour leader, "if we look at Barack Obama's record on "change" (or Tony Blair's), we find that a wave of enthusiasm swept in a candidate who was an eloquent speaker and very charismatic, but still an enemy of the working class." Ed Miliband is no hero of the people, and "those of us concerned with the class struggle faced by ordinary people ought to dismiss this irrelevance and move on."

This is not to suggest that Lewin should return to the Liberal Democrats. Despite their student fan base over the years, they have always been Yellow Tories, and their time in government hasn't been a betrayal so much as an erosion of the niceties disguising this fact.

But if he thinks that joining the Labour Party will give him "a renewed hope for my generation," then I fear he is barking up the wrong tree. Indeed, as an anarchist, I'd argue that joining any political party is an error. You cannot vote for real and lasting change to be handed down from above. It is forced from below, by ordinary people combining and fighting for the matter with direct action.

My advice to Andrew Lewin, if his politics are as rooted in principle as he suggests, would be to rip up his new membership card. If he wants to do something worthwhile, he ought to get away from the black hole of party politics and organise at grassroots level for something more than a box to tick.