There are three types of party animal: those who have a religious zeal for their chosen political party, those who view their party as a means to an end, and the majority who are somewhere in between. Being honest, I’m probably in the final category. The problem is that time is running out to save the Labour Party, and there is a very real danger that it will be replaced.
This is due to the foreverness of two types of political animal: those who accept that change is coming and want to harness it for good, and those who want to delay change for as long as possible because they see it as inherently bad. You might call the first type, ‘transformers’, and the second type, ‘resisters.’ Both of these political movements have their supporters in today’s politics. For example, the protectionist-nationalist, Donald Trump, would fall into the ‘resister ‘category, while the liberal pioneer of En Marche, Emmanuel Macron, should be regarded as a ‘transformer.’
The menace for the Labour Party is that, due to historical circumstances like globalisation, nationalism (Scottish and otherwise) and Brexit, we currently resmeble neither one nor the other. Are we for free movement of people or against it? Are we for a dynamic, but equitable, market economy, or are we simply opposed to austerity? Are we for a Britain that is outward-facing and forward-thinking, or do we favour pulling up the drawbridge, drawing the curtains and longing for a mythical, long-forgotten past?
Brexit and its antecedents will dominate British politics for the next 15-20 years not because they have caused the current crises facing our society, but because they were caused by it. At present, social democracy has no answer to the challenges posed by a world that is inevitably, inexorably becoming at turns both more integrated and more fluid. All of the many insecurities caused by these unprecedented circumstances are currently being badly but crowd-pleasingly answered here and elsewhere by the populist right. Meanwhile, Labour and the Left simply look paralysed by fear.
As all of the trends of globalisation accelerate and broaden, the death of the Labour Party might come about because it gives up on leading Britain into the future and simply tries to tag along with the resisters. Because Labour has never been particularly good at resisting change. It was set up to transform society for the many, not the few. Trying to out-resist the resisters will lead only to one end: that of the Labour Party. As Andrew Lilico argues today in a dystophian, prophetic piece, the centre-left might only re-emerge fifteen years hence, when part of the Tory party splits lefwards.
As we enter one of the most important periods in human history, during which robots will take many of our jobs and advances in medicine and technology will change us fundamentally as physical and social beings, a party such as Labour should be seminally-placed to speak up for those who will stand to lose out from unbridled, free market capitalism. Except that currently Labour is barely (if at all) clinging on to its vote in two by-election seats where people have already been left behind, and where they will be left even further behind if Theresa May successfully delivers the kind of brutal, callous Brexit she is intent upon.
Parties can die, and far more easily than people often imagine. The Liberal Party died in the first half of the last century, having been regarded as the party of transformation for far longer than Labour has. If Labour does not urgently resume its role as the party of transformation – however that transformative agenda looks – it will deservedly end up as a crumbling halfway house between the transformers and resisters. The tragedy of that end would be that it would be slow and painful for all the millions who depend on progressive government, so we had better hope it is not an end that comes.
There is less time left than you might think. True, Labour in its current form may stumble on before finally falling in a decade or two, but it won’t be able to help people while it remains a zombie party. The stop-watch started several years ago and Labour may trip over yet another two hurdles in Stoke and Copeland tomorrow. I hope not, for as the right runs away with history, time is not a commodity possessed by those of us who believe in bringing about change that benefits the many, and not the few.