Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Labour Party isn't worth even one penny

The Labour Party have launched a campaign against education cuts. Under the heading of "speak out for your generation," it offers "a Christmas invitation to young people: join the party for one penny, and we will be your voice." But the cost behind that penny is the sell-out of resistance to the cuts.

The campaign's stated aims are as follows;
Labour's new campaign begins with three key aims to help young people protect themselves against the Tory-led Government’s attack on aspiration:
  • Halt the unfair policy of scrapping EMA which helps some of the poorest young people, by holding a Parliamentary vote in the New Year;
  • Protect Sure Start centres in our community now under threat of closure despite promises from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to protect them;
  • Continue to campaign against the unnecessary and unfair tripling of tuition fees.
We will not let young people carry the burden of this Government’s broken promises and will lead campaigns in these key areas to force real change and protect the hopes of a generation.
The problem with the above is that what are, on the surface, fairly agreeable aims lack any substance. How, for example, does Ed Miliband propose to "protect" Sure Start centres?

His only significant disagreement with the government is on "the pace of deficit reduction." That is, screw the poor over as you see fit, but do it more slowly so that they're less likely to rebel over it. The established Labour way. Thus, we can bet safely that his pledge of protection is about as solid the similar "promises from David Cameron and Nick Clegg."

This is not to mention that, given that Sure Start has been under attack since May, Labour's efforts thus far have been dismal. They are only a party of the working class when in opposition, and even then the parliamentary route achieves nothing.

The same point is true on EMA and tuition fees. Whilst the students were fighting tooth and nail to stop cuts to education, Labour and "Red" Ed were blasting out "agree with the cause but wrong tactic" rhetoric, arguing for a more tempered, passive, and ineffective campaign. Again, not to mention that Labour introduced fees and topped them up in the first place.

But, of course, too many people fall into the trap of believing that Labour are any kind of alternative to the Tories. The simple fact is that they're not.

Labour are calling this new campaign "part of the debate about the future of social mobility," which certainly seems differet from the Tories. Ed Miliband calls the issue "one of the three big arguments for 2011," whilst the Tories want it buried. But the difference is tactical, not ideological.

Social mobility means getting ahead, doing better than your parents and your peers: it means that while you move other people have to stand still. Social mobility requires both winners and losers. Hope – or aspiration – confirms the unequal world in which we live. And education – that formal process of differentiation, where some end up with degrees and contacts and others jobs without a future – is essential to the creation and maintenance of that inequity. It reinforces the role of the University in unequally distributing meaning, possibilities, wages and other forms of social wealth. Put this way, the right to education means the freedom to be unequal. The right to education works to underpin the myth of meritocracy – the myth that it’s through hard work and ability and not connections, class and privilege, that people get to where they are. The right to an education means that if you perform well in standardized tests (helped by being well off, going to the right school and having a stable family life) then you deserve to go to University and cement your place up near the top of the social hierarchy (as long as you make it into a relatively decent university, though how many ‘bad’ ones will remain after the cuts is an open question). The betrayal of the right to education – by either there not being enough jobs for graduates (as is the case for a third of existing graduates), or by the rising costs of ‘earning’ a degree, putting it out of reach for all but the very wealthy – is the betrayal of the right to not being working class.
Thus if we are to join Labour, we are content to "merely defend." All we are doing is "defending the most sacred of neoliberal freedoms – the freedom to be unequal," and though the tactical difference from the Tories is palpable, the same ideological framework prevails unchallenged.

What paying that penny prevents us from doing is "go[ing] beyond mere defence." It binds us into the very capitalist social order that breeds inequality, class divisions, and class conflict. The only difference is that we are trying to make it somewhat more dovish than the Tories and the Liberal Democrats would prefer. By joining Labour, we are playing politics, not agitating for genuine change.

I've written about this many times before. See here, here, here, and here. But I repeat it now because we - as a class - face the biggest attacks in a generation, and we are still making the same mistakes that have stopped every great rebellion of the past short of revolution.

To "vote Labour without illusions" is to hold to a delusion. "If the content of that struggle is only to restore that machine, to defend the freedom to be unequal, failure is all we can hope for."

Thus, my advice to students, school children, and young people more generally is simple. Build from below. Self-organise. Don't join Labour. Don't be fooled into thinking you need anybody to be your voice or vanguard. One pence is the price of your own inevitable betrayal and demobilisation.