Long before I’d ever been on an anti-war march or read of book of Marx, the first spark of left wing thought emerged in my brain as I was growing up listening to The Levellers. It was this Brighton-based folk-punk outfit that provided the voice of a generation opposed to repressive Tory rule, sticking two fingers up to the state and fighting back against the injustices of the Criminal Justice Act.
Backstage and starstruck at a Levellers gig few years ago, I caught up with lead singer Mark Chadwick to find out if he still held firm to all those ardently sung beliefs that had first inspired me. It wasn’t much surprise to hear that even this archetypal old anarchist would vote anyone just to keep the Tories out. After all, his was a generation that had lived through the dark ages of the Thatcher years, whose way of life in free parties and protests had come under assault from a Conservative government with diametrically opposed values and a monopoly of violence to enforce them.
Equally, against the climate of austerity, I can understand why James Bloodworth writes in Comment is Free today that the most urgent task of the left is kicking the Tories out in 2015.
But while I agree that this vicious bunch of out-of-touch toffs waging all out class war on Britain’s most vulnerable people should never be allowed near a red briefcase again, I do not think stopping the Tories should come at any expense. Not if that expense is the left adopting Tory policies.
As I’ve previously argued, New Labour has done far more to entrench a Thatcherite consensus in this country than John Major ever could. By transforming Labour from a party that represented working class people into a party that represented free market interests, Tony Blair ensured there could be no opposition to the neoliberal policies that spectacularly wrecked the global economy and plunged those Labour was founded to speak up for deeper into poverty.
When Ed Miliband won the Labour leadership with the support of the trade unions, there was a glimmer of hope that we could see the return of a genuine Labour party that could provide genuine opposition to Tory policies. Not only would this be good for the poorest sections of British society, it would be good for democracy. Voters need a choice.
But Miliband abstained on workfare, he committed himself to Tory spending plans, he turned his back on the unions and, most damning of all, he utterly failed to make the argument that it was bankrupt neoliberal economics that ravaged Britain’s economy not welfare spending or state intervention.
Returning Miliband’s party to office in 2015 will, then, only enshrine an austerity consensus.
Would I prefer to see a Labour government rather than a Conservative one? Would it be ever so slightly nicer, ever so slightly kinder, its policies wrapped up in ever so slightly more understanding language than that of the Etonian class warriors? Of course.
But kicking the Tories out will seem a Pyrrhic victory for the left when the Labour government they campaigned for implements its own cuts.
As long as Labour believes that it can take left wing and working class votes for granted, irrespective of how far to the right it lurches, nothing will change.
This is why I support the new Left Unity movement.
Far from kicking the injustices of the 21st century into the long grass as James argues, it is tackling them head on. Because it recognises that the most urgent task of the left is not stopping the Tory party, but stopping Tory policies. To do that we must reinvigorate the left, within and without Labour, not leave it languishing stultified in the middle of the road where it will be run down and crushed.
This article was originally written for Left Foot Forward