There's always another option

Labour supporters don't have to keep playing the "Waiting for Gordon" game argues Lib Dem MP Lynne F

The behaviour of much of the Labour Party reminds me of the two main characters in Waiting for Godot. Dump Gordon or get behind Gordon? No matter how many times a deadline has been rolled out for Gordon Brown to turn things round, the malaise limps on. Just as in Samuel Beckett's play, where Estragon and Vladimir keep on deciding to do nothing - because it's safer or because something else may yet happen - so Labour carries on, neither happy with matters as they are nor acting to change them. There is, however, a simple way for Labour supporters to break out of this cycle. They should stop worrying about whether or not to change leader and instead think about changing party.

A Labour voter who wants to see a fair tax system, one in which a chancellor of the exchequer will ask the very richest to pay a bit more to help sort out the tax-and-borrow mess we have been landed in, would get these from the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable. For most Labour frontbenchers the very thought of asking billionaires to pay more tax is somehow beyond the pale.

A Labour supporter who is looking for effective action on the environment will find it in the Liberal Democrats' green tax switch policies, which are designed to change people's behaviour - but not by landing them in a mire of regulation and not using greenery as an excuse to raise taxes for everybody. Instead, we will tax the bad things, such as pollution, in order to free up funds to cut taxes across the board, but with particular emphasis on helping the least well-off.

Those who remember when the Labour Party stood up for the rights of the individual against overweening bureau cracies might find sympathy with Liberal Democrat plans to scrap ID cards and reinforce the rights people have over their own data and their privacy.

I could go on (Iraq, anyone?), but the basic point is the same: on issue after issue, Labour has lost its way and forgotten those it was formed to speak up for and to fight for. Certainly the Liberal Democrats come at many of these issues from a different starting point from many core Labour Party supporters. We start with the individual, with liberty and with giving people more power over their own lives - all of which are very, very different from the Fabian-style, top-down, centralised social engineering that is Labour's heritage.

But on issue after issue, it is now not a matter of two parties arguing over the best means to the same end. Instead, only one party, the Liberal Democrats, is still trying to achieve these goals. There is little sign of an intellectual debate in the Labour Party that would rectify matters.

Compare Labour's current political troubles with those of the Conservatives in the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, the dissidents - most notably Michael Heseltine, post-Westland - had an alternative set of policies. It was most certainly about personalities - but there was also no doubt that a Heseltine government would have had very different trade and industry policies from the Thatcher government. Again during the 1990s, there were real differences of policy at stake in the Conservative Party - and so genuine hope that a change of leader or change of political direction might bring substantive change.

The same cannot be said of the Labour Party in 2008. Take Charles Clarke's intervention (NS, 8 September). What policy direction change does he really want, or what does his track record suggest? Perhaps a return to losing prisoners rather than losing data about prisoners, one might wickedly suggest. Is there a more substantive answer? I've listened to and read his words time and again, and beyond "I don't like Gordon Brown" I can't find one.

Labour's supporters don't have to play the "Waiting for Gordon" game any longer. The Liberal Democrats are ready and waiting to welcome them.

Lynne Featherstone is Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and shadow secretary of state for youth and equalities

Lynne Featherstone is a Liberal Democrat peer.

This article first appeared in the 15 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Iran