The world may have changed since the 1980s but there is something static and stubborn in the mentality of those leading Exeter Labour Party.
Three decades ago, in the 1980s, when the Thatcher Tory government had begun the process of impoverishing working people, there was, then as now, a “Devon against the Cuts.” Activists back then heard Chester Long, the then leader of Exeter Labour Party, yelling at them that doing anything apart from polite official moaning about the cuts would be merely “tokenism” and “gesture politics.” And today, we hear exactly the same language from the current leaders of Exeter Labour Party. Anything anybody wants the Labour Party to do is dismissed with the same words. These rote phrases of dismissal, first taught to them while junior councillors under the tutelage of Chester Long, are as meaningful as a set chess move played in each game irrespective of the configuration of pieces on the board.
The dinosaurs of Exeter Labour Party would be on stronger ground if they said the following: “We will do what we can within the law inside the council chamber to limit the cuts and their effects. That will amount to very little, but that is all we will do.” Of course that is a pessimistic message, but after the Blair/Brown governments, such a Labour response would be almost revolutionary.
Labour has spent the years since 1994 promoting market fundamentalism, so it is utterly ill-equipped now in the 2010s to be an effective vehicle in opposing public sector cuts under the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition.
Add into that the dinosaurs of Exeter Labour Party, whose political goals do not extend beyond being seat-warmers on the benches of Exeter City Council, and we see just how little one can expect from them – not even token gestures it would seem.
The main job for the left is to mobilise people and fight the attacks on working people. The second task – either from inside the Labour party or out – is to investigate the facts and then show to people the shortcomings of these Labour leaders.