It ain't all smelling of roses…

Oh, The Rose, The Dead Red Rose by greg hefner

Oh, The Rose, The Dead Red Rose by greg hefner

I recently criticised Conservative policy in the run up to the general election but that’s not to say the Labour party is the answer to all our prayers; having been in power for thirteen years, the optimism of the early days has long gone. The red rose of Labour has well and truly wilted…

Higher education and vocational training

One of the darkest stains on New Labour’s record is the mess they have made of higher education provision. Starting off by continuing the Conservative agenda and effectively abolishing student grants to be replaced by student loans and subsequently top up fees was a terrible decision. Combined with the spurious target of 50% of school leavers going to university, this has led to a a culture of debt amongst students and a general lowering of standards in order that more people can go to university. I would instead argue that 100% of school leavers should have the opportunity to go to university, with their places earned on merit and awarded to those who achieve the highest standards; the economy surely does not need 50% of the workforce to have undergraduate degrees and reduced numbers would also mean more funding for fewer university places.

A corollary of this is the impact on vocational trajectories. By emphasising academic routes into the workplace, this appears to denigrate more vocational routes. This is fundamentally wrong as it firstly unfairly raises expectations amongst young people with regard to academic courses and secondly fails to appreciate that there is nothing inherently better about academic qualifications over and above vocational qualifications. The idea that a university degree automatically qualifies someone for a ‘better’ job is simply not true.  And by turning many schemes which were formerly practical based, workplace learning schemes into lecture based college/university courses, many graduates are not suitably equipped to enter the workplace; theoretical knowledge is often best supported by practical experience.

There is a place for all and there are many routes to a successful career, one size does not fit all and the steps Labour have taken during their term in office have not helped build the diverse, skilled workforce needed by the country. Furthermore, it has produced a generation who have been led into massive debt, which relates to my next point.

An end to boom and bust…

Dependence on debt, an increased gap between rich and poor and grand, sweeping statements about having overcome historical trends towards economic cycles all demonstrate an approach to financial matters which is cavalier at best and one which, for the most part, the old Labour party would not recognise. Appreciated, the old Labour party was far from economically competent and led the country into some of its darkest times since the Second World War during its time in office during the 1970’s, when the trades unions had the country in a choke hold, but at least it had aims to foster an egalitarian society not based around financial gain alone. Unfortunately, much of what New Labour has overseen can be seen as a direct continuation of Thatcherite policies centring on generation of personal wealth and the idea that this will trickle down through society. What has actually happened is that obsession with the accumulation of personal assets by whatever means, including over reliance on debt, has actively contributed to one of the worst economic crises in history; this combined with deregulation which allowed the banking system to run rampant has led to the gap between rich and poor getting wider and wider on Labour’s watch. So much for socialist ideology.

Change

Change seems to be a major topic at this election and Labour have equally been bandying about their plans for change. At a time when public faith in politicians is at an all time low, this seems like a good strategy, but Labour have had thirteen years to implement meaningful electoral reform and have achieved virtually nothing. Not only this, but in the wake of the expenses scandal, they have actively blocked attempts at reform alongside the Conservatives. Who would have seen that one coming from a party which has always supported reform of the House of Lords in favour of a fairer system, one not based around antiquated hereditary rights to rule.

Sleaze & War

And finally, after years of Conservative sleaze (and who does it better), 1997 should have been a turning point, a moment when a socially responsible party took the helm and set an example. Instead, we’ve had dodgy property deals, various Mandelson episodes and finally the whole expenses fiasco.  Labour had the chance to be so much more, to set standards for people to aspire to but this was not to be.

Furthermore, Labour did absolutely nothing to engage with world problems until post 9/11 at which point the country was led into two simultaneous wars, the second of which of dubious legitimacy and almost certain illegality. Acting as Bush’s lapdog did nothing to enhance the reputation of Great Britain in the international arena, the man obviously being an idiot being directed by some of the most abhorrent right-wing politicians ever to have influence over the United States, approving torture techniques and rendition thanks to imaginative interpretations of long standing international conventions.

Wilted

So, given the polls, it looks doubtful that Labour will be returned to government. These last thirteen years have been a great opportunity wasted and worse than that, it has opened the doors for a Conservative victory, something that will further exacerbate social difference, increasing the gap between rich and poor and threatening essential services such as health and education. Well done New Labour.