I’m bored. I’d never thought I’d say that about politics and engaging in the political debate, but I am. I’m bored with the constant bickering between party leaders; I’m bored with the fruitless in-fighting within the parties themselves; and I’m certainly bored with the opposition parties acting like nodding donkeys, constantly going wherever the Tory government sends them with diversionary stories and scandals, and I say that as a member of an opposition party.
We need change in this country, hope in this country, progress in this country; yet that’s not what we’re seeing. What we’re seeing is an increasingly right-wing, authoritarian government getting away with truly horrific and unjust acts, whilst those of us on the ‘other side’ seemingly go unheard. By ‘other side’, I mean lefties, centrists, liberals, progressives, moderates, democrats and ‘wokes’. It doesn’t matter which of those you identify with; the point is we’re the opposition, the antidote to this Tory rule, and we’re not making ourselves heard, nor are we being led. That has to change. The leaders of opposition parties need to lead.
The opposition needs to set a new course, whether that’s the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party or a collaboration between all three. Instead of going wherever the Tory party strategists lure you, pick one issue, one injustice, one crime that they’ve committed and stick with it. Be the party that shames the government for its pathetic 1% pay-rise for NHS staff and stick with it. Be the party that holds the government to account over its attacks on our democracy with its new anti-protest Bill and stick with it. Be the party that challenges the government over the pouring of taxpayers’ money into their mates’ pockets and stick with it. Or be the party that reminds people the government illegally prorogued parliament, broke international law and continues to threaten the Good Friday Agreement and stick with it. Choose one thing and stick with it until you as a party become renowned for it, almost defined by it. Don’t let the Tories get away with it and don’t let voters forget about it.
Along the way, the opposition needs to create its own narrative, its own agenda, its own path to power. It’s not good enough to be basically mute on what you would do in government right up until the point when you’re asking for votes to get you into government. Opposition party leaders should be fighting every day of every week of every month of every year as an election day but that’s not what I’m seeing is happening right now. Regarding the Labour Party in particular, when Keir Starmer began as leader, I thought he would be a breath of fresh-air, a centrist moderniser with bold aspirations and high ambitions. A new Blair. That’s not to say that he’s been a catastrophic leader and, fundamentally, he’s still the best chance we’ve got currently at getting the Tories out, which should be grounds enough to support him, but I get the impression that the party is adrift, just waiting for the next election in 2024. That’s not how the opposition should be. We should be aspirational and ambitious; we should be convicted in our beliefs and we should be committed to bringing people along with us.
One of my favourite lines from any political figure is ‘Let’s go change the world’. It was one of Barack Obama’s. A liberal, progressive democrat campaigning in an opposition party for an ambitious global program of change. It’s time opposition leaders in this country possessed some of that ambition. An ambition to fight social injustice, tackle climate change, improve healthcare and public services and more importantly, an ambition to inspire. An ambition to inspire so that they can bring all of us along with them, united, rather than appealing to one specific faction of their party or another. An ambition to inspire so great that it spreads across generations, across classes, across the political divides. An ambition so powerful that we have a turning point in this country where the authoritarian right becomes the minority and the liberal, tolerant nation that we know Britain can be, re-emerges. We need that in this country. Many of us are desperate for it.
Opposition isn’t just about waiting to the next election and, only then, unveiling a list of policies. Opposition is about leadership and we need someone to lead. We need someone to inspire us. We need someone to come along and say to us:
“Let’s go change the world”.
Ed: This theme was highlighted in Adrian Phillips’ letter to Keir Starmer published recently in West England Bylines which attracted over 80,000 views.