Why I’m Labour by Pouneh Ahari

Sometimes people ask me why I’m Labour and I have so many reasons that it’s often hard to articulate. For me, it comes down to three main ideas.

Firstly, Labour is a party of progressives. I understand how overused ‘progressive’ is, but it is vital to understanding the party. It is probably best to refer to the statement on the back of the Labour party membership card:

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 a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in the spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.’

 This really is a concise and accurate summary of the party’s beliefs. The desire to achieve progress in society by realising the power of working together, including recognition that the state has a role to play in ensuring greater equality and fairness.

As a consequence of this I find it completely bizarre that people are socially conservative. The imperative to constantly better mankind and the position of those around us is the duty of every individual. Maintaining the status quo, glorifying the past and being indifferent to the plight of our peers creates a society of ‘us and them’. Obviously, some traditional values act as a glue to sustain social order, but it is important to recognise which values to hang onto and which ones to leave behind. Living by a set of standards that have not adapted to the new age makes it easy to vilify those who are deemed to live ‘immorally’.

The difference between Labour and the more socially conservative is that we want to ask why things happen. The riots are the perfect example of this: David Cameron came out and said ‘this is criminality pure and simple’, Ed Miliband stressed that the issue was more complex. Nothing is ‘pure and simple’. Statements like these emphasise the reductionist attitude of the socially conservative – they self-aggrandise by moralising without looking at things on a deeper level.

The second point is that of the Labour Party’s ideology. I wholeheartedly believe that Labour is at its best when it balances realism and idealism. Realism in the sense that we understand the constraints of the system; idealism in the sense that we want to change society for the better, as discussed above. It is often hard to reconcile the fact that we are democratic socialists with the market capitalism that has emerged under Thatcher and continued under Blair and Brown.

What Blair did right was recognise that Thatcherite principles could not be done away with simply because the left were tired of her poisonous legacy. Elements had to be maintained and refined because the world was different. Globalisation, including a global market structure and the way we deal with other countries, meant that competition was, and is, the reality. Blair accepted this whilst trying to enact a raft of domestic policies to achieve greater fairness – the most obvious of which is the minimum wage and the tax credits system.

What Blair and Brown did wrong (amongst other things which I am sure I will discuss) was to embrace unregulated market capitalism to such an extent that we are now at the whims of stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers. It is an important and encouraging sign that Ed Miliband has assessed this period and proposed a new model of economics based on responsible capitalism and pre-distribution. Miliband’s realism is that he understands that globalism means that capitalism is here to stay, his idealism comes from acknowledging that the type of capitalism in place now is detrimental to the majority.

Finally, it is policies that make me proud to be Labour. The important ones that embody Labour values: the NHS, minimum wage, devolution, Northern Ireland peace process, Sure Start, civil partnerships, free school meals, and lifting about 600,000 children out of poverty. I understand that there can be criticisms levelled at all of these. However, they all epitomise the Labour desire to improve the lives of the many. Believe me when I say there are plenty of things that I am unhappy with – but that’s another discussion!

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Pouneh Ahari – Vice Chair

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