What is Labour for?

Miliband’s proposed break with the unions is a truly seismic shift. It will be the ultimate admission of the left that Thatcher has achieved her final great victory

Ed at the TUC
Donna Rachel Edmunds
On 10 July 2013 09:21

So if the Labour Party isn’t for the union movement anymore, what is the Labour party for? It’s hard to tell really. Even a search through their website yields precious few clues as to what the answer might be.

But hidden away amongst the many entreaties to join up, volunteer, donate and all the rest of it is a quiet reference to One Nation Labour.

‘One Nation’ is a phrase most commonly associated with ‘Conservatism’. Indeed, it was a Conservative Prime Minister, Disraeli, who first introduced the One Nation concept, all the way back in 1844/45 with the publication of two books on the subject. He meant by it a form of paternalism, whereby the class structure was preserved through the workings of a paternalistic government.

Over the last century we’ve seen a slow dissolution of the class system though, so what can Labour mean by it today? From their website:

“Labour’s mission is to rebuild Britain as One Nation, where everyone plays their part. Our vision is of a country where everyone has a stake, where prosperity is fairly shared and where we preserve the institutions that bring us together.

“One Nation means rebuilding our economy so it works for working people once again, not just for the few at the top. It means responsibility from top to bottom, with everyone playing their part. And it means a voice for everyone, with people given influence over the decisions that affect their lives.”

As a lifelong Conservative, this reads like fairly solid, rather old fashioned conservatism to me (apart from the line that ‘One Nation… works for working people’, which is simply Labour class warfare at its finest.) Cameron has previously named Disraeli as his favourite Tory PM.

Yet this paternalistic form of Conservatism has become deeply unfashionable within certain sections of the party (mostly the part jumping ship to UKIP) thanks in no small part to Thatcher’s legacy. She knew that the working classes in particular weren’t interested in being kept in their places, they wanted the opportunities for wealth and betterment that came with Thatcherism. Cameron’s inability to understand this is just one reason why his party has been foundering in the polls.

Anyhow, perhaps Labour’s latecoming embrace of One Nationism is the reason why Miliband is now busy jettisoning the union movement from the Labour Party? After all, on the face of it, this is otherwise an odd move. Labour was born of the union movement, and for most of its history existed in order to fight the working man’s corner.

To give unions their dues, they gained some significant victories for workers’ rights, to the extent that we in the west no longer live in societies in which workers can truly be said to be exploited. (If anything, the continued existence of the trade union movement has shifted the balance the other way, with businesses struggling to afford the now legalised demands of their employees.)

Through all of these victories, the Labour party has been the unions’ vehicle in the corridors of power. If not for the unions, what really is Labour and the left Wing movement for?

Miliband’s proposed break with the unions is a truly seismic shift in British politics, for the split would benefit neither party nor unions. Rather, it will be the ultimate admission of the left that Thatcher has achieved her final great victory: through disassociating the unions from political power, the age of collectivism can realistically be said to be over.

The internet has of course ushered in a new era of individualism; Thatcherism is set to roll on through the decades. This particular victory however will belong to the Great Lady alone, for it was she who looked for the centre ground in British politics, then yanked it roughly towards herself.  It was she who saw the unions as a force holding Britain back and set out to break them.

It was she who convinced the Labour party to surreptitiously adopt Conservative thought, first under Blair, and now under Miliband. It is telling that Blair has backed the move to split from the unions. 

That's all very well and good, but the question remains: what IS Labour now for? If Labour are now a new conservative party, why do we need two parties?

If the choice between the old parties consists of Labour adopting paternalistic Tory thought, and an equally paternalistic Prime Minister, is it any wonder the voters are flocking to individualistic UKIP?

Donna Edmunds is a UKIP councillor. Follow her on @DonnaInSussex

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