Saturday, June 12, 2010

Labour needs to speak human. And four identikit blokes alone would have blocked it doing so.

I can't remember the last time I didn't care for one of Hopi's posts, but I'm not keen on this one. My problems are with the phrase 'hard left', but also with this line:
"...this process will be used to push forward a policy agenda that will be massively out of sync with the vast majority of the Labour party, and although it will be heavily defeated, it will have an imprint on the party that will last."
This is a very risk-averse argument that doesn't acknowledge any upside to challenging the party's orthodoxy. There are plenty of us who regard ourselves as being on the left of the party without being on the hard left. Yet we have been politically marginalised by a process that should have only been designed to exclude elements of the left that really weren't interested in any compromise with the electorate. Instead, it was also designed - deliberately or otherwise - to exclude elements that were at odds with a narrow (and now, outdated and unpopular) compromise with neo-liberalism.

People with interests in particular policy-positions will be able to point to the way that political factions on the right of the party have been able to shoehorn-in particular approaches that were neither an electoral asset, good policy, or in sync with the vast majority of the party. Insert your own rant here about PPP, lax financial services regulation or a general bias towards private sector involvement in the delivery of public services where the public interest would have been better served by agnosticism.

My problem is a more general one. The Labour government was never a good government in many ways. Sure, it prioritised the concerns of the many and not the few in lots of good ways and it's leftish critics often picked the wrong battles.

But it's hard to deny that Labour had it's reputation for competence deservedly trashed*. The people that became MPs were often puzzled spectators on the whole question of public administration. They often seem to lack the basic grounding in good governance, and are prepared to be bullied by their whips into a spiral of short-termism. They had no idea about how to get government departments to do what they are supposed to.

They didn't get selected for their grasp of public administration, after all. They were chosen for their compliance. And when a headline kept them awake, they arrived at work the next morning ready to add yet another ropey reflexive patch to bad legislation. Instead of fewer, better, bills, before Parliament, we had more and more worthless legislation that is often being replaced on the floor of the House of Commons before it even reached the statute books. Rigged selection processes. Low-grade MPs. A highly-centralised politics of diktat.

Those four male candidates that we're looking at currently all represent this highly reflexive and short-termist approach to politics, and it's an approach that has been nurtured - not challenged - by this form of party management that seeks to always avoid challenges, terrified that the media that will portray us as disunited.

This over-stated fear, and our response to it as a party - has had unintended side-effects. Those four blokes need to face what Don calls 'reality-based soft-left arguments'. Arguments that prioritise the need to build the case for collective action - surely the defining mission of a Labour movement?

It would be very hard to demonstrate that the four male candidates in this election - lifted from a narrow social and cultural clique - are in sync with the vast majority of the party and they are the product of a party that has always and only been obsessed with short-term presentation and tactical - instead of strategic - social democratic politics.

I don't buy the idea that electoral liability and left-ish are always the same thing, indeed there's a strong case now that Labour's inability to speak human is the product of this lack of internal discussion. Diane Abbott's inclusion in the race offers the possibility (not the certainty - I'll concede that) of this happening. Either way, without it, we're in trouble.

*The paras following this point are a bit of a cut-and-paste job from an older post here.


james said...

I was also saddened by that post, and I think Hopi regrets the tone from his subsequent posts.

I've never been keen on spatial metaphors in politics as it suggests positioning for the sake of it, and as for density - urgh.

danivon said...

I expect that kind of stuff from Akehurst, but I thought Hopi was not quite so jaded and cynical, or prone to 'red scare' tactics.

Good to read a considered (even if you admit it's partly repeated) response.

As someone who is, I guess, 'soft left', the past 13 years or so has been frustrating. The government's faltering seemed to be a function of a reluctance to actually enact what the wider movement would want. Which wasn't so much the 1983 manifesto, as much as a tad less deference to big business and the civil servants, less legislation and bureaucratic fixing where simple policy would do (tax credits), less readiness to restrict liberties for security...

james said...

In order to win office and implement reforms, Labour made compromises with what Andy Burnham calls "elites" - in finance and industry, both at home and abroad. Now, I find it remarkable that the self-declared continuity candidate has been the only one (to my knowledge) to put this into words.

From the start of the leadership campaign everyone in the party will have been worried that it would prove divisive. But it hasn't - so the narrative the Tories are now adopting (one many Labour moderates fear) is that the leadership contest is in the words of Gideon Osborne "going off to the left". This kind of thing is sure to be echoed by the Tory press, but I doubt it will resonate.