The news today that UNISON has persuaded the Supreme Court to rule that workplace tribunal fees are unlawful is a victory for the Labour Movement and the mass of people it stands for. Would this victory have come about had technocrats at the top demanded it? Clue: the technocrats were sitting in the Supreme Court, and without pressure from UNISON, they would not have had cause to act.
As the UK hurtles towards Brexit, and Sir Vince Cable claims he can be the “British Macron”, it is worth reminding ourselves of something which the true progressives in British politics have observed for the past 100 years: a labour movement is better, broader and more principled than a liberal one.
Here are three reasons why.
The Labour Movement offers change from the ground up, not the top down
“Power concedes nothing without demand” is a maxim that radical progressives have always adopted. There is an assumption among British Liberals that technocratic tinkering at the top of political society will achieve the desired end of social justice. What these philosopher-kings forget to consider is that change at the top generally only comes about when pressure is applied from the bottom up, as UNISON’s victory on behalf of workers reminds us. This is a key, essential difference between a liberal movement, and a labour one.
Labour offers a broad-based electoral coalition that Liberals could only dream of
Ever since the Liberal Party was replaced by the Labour Party in the early decades of the last century, the former has failed to usurp the latter because its coalition of support is simply not broad enough. The Labour Party remains the only British political party with roots in working-class communities across this country, while it is still able to reach far behind enemy lines in the more prosperous parts of this country – as last month’s general election showed.
Liberals are rootless
Liberals take pride in being suspicious of ideology. This is code for not believing in much at all. If you look at the brief history of the Liberal Demorcats, you will see a party that has veered all over the political spectrum, depending on who its leader is at the time. It came as little surprise, therefore, when Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems, who had campaigned to the left of Labour for years, gladly jumped on the Tory austerity bandwagon when they went into coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives.
Perhaps Corbyn’s legacy will be that he opened politics up to the masses. It remains to be seen whether his ‘New Politics’ has deep roots and is sustainable. But if it succeeds, it will be a sure reminder that if you want to build a progressive movement in this country, then let it be a labour, not a liberal one.