Cards on the table – though by now regular readers should have fathomed this out – I am not the biggest fan of the Labour Party. I was struggling even as a child, when my dad would sneer at the very sound of the word “Kinnock” and I’d be given very compelling reasons why the son of a Wiganer whose entire working life was down the mines was no more ‘socialist’ than a goldfish.
It doesn’t help that the current Labour leadership is so ineffectual. Remember Ed Miliband telling us that the strikes earlier this year were wrong “while negotiations are still going on”? (It’s the video in which he tells us again and again and again and oh sorry my ears have run away). Now he’s using the same drone-voice reasoning for this U-turn. I presume the Union leaders have sharpened their poking sticks. He must be one of the few walking talking humans whose voice doesn’t change when goosed.
Ed Balls doesn’t help make the Opposition very attractive to me either, and that’s not a personal insult against his face, though it does resemble a sack of cauliflowers. I would appreciate Balls admitting that the Labour Party is partly responsible for the mess we’re in, though that would be less forthcoming that admitting he dresses up in Yvette’s clothes of an evening, so instead we’re faced with an economic “5 point plan” that’s more insane than a cheesecake made from Ritalin.
During yesterday’s Prime Minister’s bunfight, two things happened. One – John Bercow signed his resignation letter. Two – D-Cam used “left-wing” as an insult. It was obviously the soundbite he wanted because he used it twice, including the bit at the end where he can say whatever he likes because Ed has used up his six questions. It wasn’t much of a soundbite anyway, because the flow was all wrong – “Irresponsible, leftwing and weak!” sounds clumsy and without any rhythm. It’s not an insult so much as a shopping list.
“Red Ed” still gets used against the Labour leader, and despite its accuracy has not stuck. Political labels are difficult to sustain as insults. “Liberal” in the United States might as well be “Baby Eating Whore”, though that’s very much a product of the polarised political situation over there. “Liberal” in this country has never caught on as a disparaging label. “You’re too liberal!” sounds almost effete and camp. “You can protect my civil liberties any day of the week, you jolly old eek.” “Fascist” has taken to wearing on the damp cloak of “Tory!” and “Thatcher!”, not so much an effective swipe to the ego, more a measure of the man saying it. “You’re just a Yellow Tory!” is something I am often accused of being, though it does paint a picture in my mind of an elderly conservative woman having trouble with her bodily functions. But that’s just me. And in any case, I am no Tory. Okay, I’m a bit more economically conservative than I am socially liberal but I point honourable members to my dad for that one.
Cameron’s use of “leftwing” as an insult landed squarely on the floor in a heap of damp tissue and I suspect he knows this. Nobody denies that the left have their loony tendencies, or being a slogan-shouting anti-everything socialist does tend to have you marked down as potentially unstable. “Tax us more! Spend more! Borrow more!” – it’s like being shouted at by a drunk Open University lecturer, one whose still trapped in side your television in a beige box room, strangling himself with his kipper tie in your nightmares.
If “leftwing” sticks, it’ll be accident and not design. One time socialist micro-grouplet “Left List” tried and failed to win elections some years ago in the London Assembly elections, the word “left” seeming unusual and out of place. We know “Labour” and we know, at a push, “socialist”. The slow beating to death of ideology in the years following Margaret Thatcher’s fall from power probably did for the extremes to do much good in the identity stakes. It took Tony Blair the Iraq war for some members of the Labour Party to remember that they were, in fact, on the left wing. Hence the birth of the Socialist Alliance and Respect and all the other far out placard wavers.
Both sides of the political spectrum agree with each other more than they think, or would dare to admit. It’s expediency to use each others stance as a beating stick. It’s also potentially damaging to a discourse already reduced to its most shallow forms. We’re supposed to do democracy different in this country, and Cameron had vowed to end Punch and Judy politics. If Ed Miliband is wrong just for being “leftwing”, than Cameron has missed the point entirely. Labour is wrong for all sorts of reasons. Using political labels in this way is inaccurate and insulting. It would just have to be a fluffy, fence-sitting liberal to point that out.