Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The hard centre

Hippies! Vote for Dave!

How terrifying it must be for every politician when they hear some bearded vegetarian telling them that they have crossed a line in the sand and can no longer count on one dog-eared vote.

I was surprised to read Neal Lawson’s take on this in yesterday's Groan. He's worried that hippies everywhere will be impressed by England's most smackable face.

Neal isn’t daft, but this time, he deserves the riposte he got from Cllr Luke Akehurst today.

Luke's answer is very persuasive: That Labour needs to keep it's eye on working class switchers - not on The Independent readers who are threatening with their little fists to defect 'en masse' to Cameron's cuddly new Tories.

Of course, this sounds like a reworking of late-80s 'new realism' - an electoral determinism that requires only a populist response. One that propels Labour inexorably on to Tebbitt territory.

Yet this will - by definition - remain an unanswered challenge to the progressive left until we can all acknowledge it rather than duck it. For every hand-wringing editorial about how authoritarian or populist Labour have become, there should be a dozen calling for root and branch change to the way public life is conducted.

But that would involve discussing something other than the tedious charade that is court politics. And we can't have that, can we?

This centralising momentum that has built up over the past forty years is the direct result of a failure to challenge the homogenising demands of the emerging media. In the same way that 24 hour news stiffles reflection, it also demands a single simple manifesto that can be delivered in a two clause sentance - at most.

And though this is obvious to anyone who thinks about it, there is still greater journalistic mileage in finding a more attractive target. Geoffrey Wheatcroft, for instance, today has decided that Labour MPs are the culprits. It would be cruel to him to drive the dozen coach and horses that fit through the middle of his sloppy argument, but if you've got a bit of time on your hands, read it - for a mirthless laugh.

We need technocrats, not managerialists (hat tip, Chris D). We need strong local elected representatives. We need strong ministers and a cabinet that picks itself.

This is why the debate on state funding* is so important at the moment. It is usually presented as an alternative to funding from the Unions, but I don't think it's an either / or question. I argued - here - that state funding is almost an essential pre-requisite for any decentralised democratic renewal that the left could hope for. The Unions still have an essential campaigning role. They could still be the backbone of the active party. They can still pay for the election machine (what they really pay for already).

But it's time that we recognised that the Unions will never be able to provide the kind of consistent no-strings investment that is needed to develop multiple centres of policy development. The kind of investment that is needed to overcome this most centralised of states.

It's time that we started to discuss the real nature of political centralism. Everyone thinks they are against it, after all.

*This reference must not be taken to mean that I expecct this to be a real consultation.

No comments: