A country divided but crying out for change with one voice…
Today, the PCS are on strike, the Police Federation are marching and the right-wing press and CBI are in full-cry against the Queens Speech. When she was in power, Margaret Thatcher dramatically polarised society but never like this, it is rapidly becoming a matter of the people v the state and the people have been deprived of the democratic mechanisms usually afforded to off-set widespread social unrest, ie, the possibility of a snap General Election. Thatcher was successful at playing the old ‘divide and conquer’ game because the economy afforded her room to co-opt certain social strata and she did. She only fell when she shattered the coalition she had created by uniting the poor and middle-classes against her with the self-harming Poll Tax.
Basically, she had 40% of the country behind her and could afford to ignore the rest, and she did. However, now, the Prime Minister’s Party only got 36% at the zenith of his and his Parties popularity. He and the Conservatives are currently crashing and burning in the low 30s and his lapdogs, the Liberal Democrats, are being menaced by UKIP and giant penguins, down well below 10%. Labour meanwhile is riding high, but nowhere near as high as it did under Tony Blair, as a consequence of two things, the freshness of memory when it comes to our previous term of office and the continued unpopularity of its leader. The country know it wants change, but is deeply unsure about what kind of change it actually wants, this is why the Conservatives could all so easily raise from the dead, Lazarus-like, and still go onto win the next election.
No consensus exists amoung the different groups opposing the government accept they are in pain and want that to stop. Actually alleviating the pain is another question entirely. People in pain lash out though, especially if they are desperate as many people are. This is where Labour has its most urgent job of work. Now, following the elections, policy formulation is an urgent priority (as well as getting our candidates and organisation in ship-shape condition). We need policies that are not announced by fiat by the leadership, which is elected to represent, not dictate too, the Party. So, it is welcome that our National Policy Forum is meeting next month. However, there needs to be wider discussion in the Party, now more than ever, policy formulation needs to be a collegiate and democratic effort; a combination of all our talents and a pooling of our collective experiences. This is the only way that we will produce an end product which will bridge the divides that are appearing rapidly in society, only then will all this sentiment be able to be properly channeled and be a force which can eventually sweep this government away.