Friday, March 20, 2009

Something very basic about politics

I saw this post over at S&M a few days ago, but for some reason, I didn't post anything here about it.

I should have done, because it's something that everybody in the Labour Party should read and understand. 

If - as seems a slight possibility - Labour don't win an outright majority at the next election, there may be some post-mortems. 

This is item one on that agenda (with a failure to politicise the civil service as item two):

"It is not just the case that electorates choose governments. Governments also choose electorates, by building or facilitating the growth of client groups - people who believe that their self-interest lies in voting for the government, or failing that, people who are grateful for what government has given them.

This - rather than any bull about creating a free market economy - was Thatcher’s success: in selling council houses, she created a new clientele supportive of a Conservative government and its policies that fuelled house price inflation.

And it’s New Labour’s failure. Where are its client groups? Not in the public sector, whose workers, whilst better paid, are alienated by managerialism and job insecurity. Nor among benefit claimants, who are incessantly harassed and stigmatized.

Herein lies a point under-rated by all the talk about the future of the left. A key part of the task for the post-New Labour party must be to reshape the electorate, creating client groups loyal to it."

Why John Cruddas thinks it's all a matter of communiations and tone is beyond me.


FlyingRodent said...

(with a failure to politicise the civil service as item two)

This is probably a gag that I haven't understood properly.

Just in case it isn't - I've no idea whether I'm typical, but I have some pretty strong feelings about politicisation of the civil service, i.e. any government attempting it can Foxtrot Oscar and plummets in my estimation accordingly, regardless of their political persuasion.

As I say, maybe just me.

Paulie said...

No. It's not just you. But I disagree with a lot of people on this one.

I've never understood why anyone doesn't blanch at the very job title 'permanent secretary' - I fleshed this one out a bit here...

alunephraim said...

While I agree that loyalty is far more electorally important than is usually remembered these days, I'm too comfortable with outright clientelism myself. The potential for serious corruption along the lines of the late-and-not-at-all-lamented PSI is one issue, but more serious is the extent to which it resembles a feudal relationship more than something a Socialist ought to be happy with.
I mean, I'm not actually opposed to political machines (far from it) but they need to have a broadly democratic element to them, somewhere. And you can't have that with genuine clientelism. Saying that, I'm not sure if I actually disagree with your point here.

Paulie said...


I'd completely agree in principle. It's just that clientism is a reality in modern politics. You can bet your ass the Tories will do it very well when they get their feet back under the table. Their 'inheritance tax' gambit is a useful prelude, but governments don't usually work out how to do it properly until they are in power.

All of that said, Labour's abilty to massively increase public sector spending while losing the votes of the workers therein really says so much about the bloody awful defensive process-driven public management of the last decade. It's a spectacular failure - and the more I think about it, the more spectacular it seems.

Judith said...

Job insecurity in the public sector? Have I missed something here?

Paulie said...

Why Judith? Do you think that everyone feels secure and happy in their work in the public sector?

If so, I'd look again.

alunephraim said...

"It's just that clientism is a reality in modern politics."

Not just in modern politics; have a look at the way the Tories ran (say) Birmingham before the city's little democratic revolution in 1945

What I'm trying to say is that while I basically accept the argument that clientelism is inevitable and (to an extent) necessary (quite a thing to come to terms with, as it means accepting that a certain level of corruption is inevitable, necessary and perhaps even acceptable), I think that a democratic element is (unless we want to cross the floor, so to speak) also essential. As I said, I'm not opposed to political machines.

"You can bet your ass the Tories will do it very well when they get their feet back under the table."

They'll certainly try, at any rate. Btw, it's hard not to think here of T. Dan Smith's (understandably) bitter remark about Thatcherism being a legalised form of Poulsonism.

The Plump said...

There is one seriously pissed off public sector worker here, watching something he believes in go down the tubes. A Labour voter next time? This is an important question.

The bit that is missed out of the piece is that it is not just us workers who are in despair, the people who use our services are distraught too. I reckon that adds up to one heck of a lot of voters.