Back of Labour Party membership card with text describing the party's values

Mind the Gap: Labour Values and the Leadership Election

Over the past couple of months I’ve found myself becoming increasingly interested in the Labour Party leadership contest. As a Labour Party member and someone who studied Politics at university and chose to specialise in Labour politics from the 1970s, you’d think this state of affairs would be a source of interest and enjoyment during the summer silly season. However, as is my wont, I’ve allowed myself to get too enthusiastic about the prospects for change and now my enthusiasm is turning into pessimism.

The reason I am feeling downbeat about the leadership contest is because of the gap between the Labour Party’s stated values and the policies the candidates are offering. With the exception of Jeremy Corbyn, each of the leadership candidates have stressed (to varying degrees) the need for Labour to learn the lessons from the recent general election defeat and adopt policies which more closely reflect current public opinion, whether that’s establishing economic credibility through support for spending cuts, supporting reductions in welfare spending (including using this term rather than social security) and tough action against migrants. While adopting these policies might get Labour elected (although personally I have my doubts), in my view they would appear to go against what Labour stands for.

I suspect like a lot of members, I’d never really paid much attention to the words printed on the back of my membership card, which are intended to summarise the Labour Party’s values. However, after reading the criticism levelled at Corbyn from Labour Party grandees for being too left wing, I decided to take a fresh look at what as a party member I have actually signed up for.

The back of my membership card reads:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us as a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.

Even if we put aside the thorny issue of defining what we mean by democratic socialism (a gigantic tin of worms), it is hard to see how by broadly accepting the policy framework established by Cameron the ‘credible’ leadership contestants will be able to halt rising inequality, never mind make meaningful inroads to creating a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the the few.

While I still have reservations over Jeremy Corbyn, I do at least believe he has a distinctive vision for the future of the country which could, in time, be developed into a genuine alternative to austerity narrative the Conservatives have so successfully created.

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