A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Policy Network

I was at today's Policy Network Conference (http://www.progressive-governance.net/) - one of four Mandelson speeches in the UK in one month - is he planning a comeback in domestic politics?

Charles Clarke was excellent (redeeming some of his recent outbursts) with a well thought-out call for the EU to do more about tackling organised crime, terrorism and illegal immigration, and to nick some of the USA's monopoly on international crisis intervention.

Anthony Giddens provided an excellent introduction on the challenge presented to Europe by globalisation and called for the EU to tackle poverty (though Will Hutton said we should stop describing globalisation negatively as more trade will mean "a bigger cake"), Julian Le Grand called for "bambino bonds" - an EU-wide child trust fund, maybe with more cash for kids born in poorer countries.

Dennis MacShane and Geoff Hoon provided equally robust but "funny guy/straight guy" calls to arms for British pro-Europeans.

The non-Brit star was Helle Thorning-Schmidt the new and rather New Labour leader of Denmark's Social Democrats. She happens to be Neil and Glenys Kinnock's daughter-in-law.

She and many of the other non-Brit speakers talked-up the concept of flexsecurity - the idea that you deal with globalisation by doing a deal with the workforce - they have to be flexible by taking up lifelong learning and training and being prepared to change jobs, but the state guarantees a basic level of security in return.

Blair's speech was 95% spot on. He said:
"We won as New Labour. New Labour is not a new Party, though it did radically change the Labour Party. The third way was never a halfway house between conservative and progressive politics. It was certainly not a defined set of policies, though it has come to be associated with certain strong policy positions. New Labour is an attitude of mind. It may be effective in winning elections but it is based on conviction, partly about the true purpose of progressive politics, partly about how we interact with the people we seek to represent and govern. In simple political, strategic terms, it starts with a basic proposition: we face out to the people not into ourselves. We begin with their world, their reality, their hopes and expectations. And we don't compromise with understanding it. That's not to say we exist to be populist. We don't. We have to lead as well as listen. But we don't flinch from recognising where real people are. The public come first; our activists second. What does this mean? We escape the tyranny of the betrayal theory of progressive politics. This theory holds that the public want more traditional leftist policies but the leaders of the left let them down by refusing to see it. This is bulldust. The leaders are nearly always trying to align their Parties with the public whose support they need to win. And I've yet to work out how, if the public wants more traditional left-wing policies, they vote right."
"Fortunately I have no doubt that those who will take on the mantle of leading the party into the next election do indeed want New Labour to remain New Labour. This means 'new' New Labour. Standing still means falling back."
"But it is change because of new issues, new challenges; not a rejection of the past 10 years, just an acknowledgement that it is the past. The attitude of mind stays intact. This will mean going further from the comfort zone, not straying back to it."

However, the 5% about party structures was wrong, wrong, wrong and organisationally illiterate: " We should be aiming for parties that are not activist-based, though of course we need our activists.
"They should be stakeholder parties, run on far looser lines, with supporters and members co-existing together"

er no ... we need a tighter organised not looser organised party, with its structures reinvigorated and built up ward-by-ward, CLP by CLP. We need more members recruited and more members turned into activists, not Mickey Mouse supporters lists or a "virtual party".

As is usually the case, being a superb leader and high-level political strategist like the PM does not necessarily mean you have the first clue about how to do grassroots organisation...


Anonymous Andrea said...

I see from the Progress website that among the speakers there was Gianni Vernetti (Italian Under-Secretary)...did you hear him? was he any good?

10:35 pm, January 18, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

He wasn't there in the end. Only Italian speakers were Prof Maurizio Ferrera on child poverty and Marcello Malentacchi of the International Metalworkers' Federation.

8:14 am, January 19, 2007

Anonymous Andrea said...

Thanks Luke

9:40 am, January 19, 2007

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

Congratulations for reporting Tony Blair's remarks on party structure, and not mincing your words either:

"We need more members recruited and more members turned into activists, not Mickey Mouse supporters lists or a "virtual party"".

The tragedy for the Labour Party is its reluctance to hold its leader to account. That has resulted in over 50% fewer members and incalculable losses of income.

If you want more members you have got to face up to those omissions.

Save the Labour Party is doing its best to encourage membership as the means of having a say, including voting in the forthcoming Leader/Deputy election.

But we are under no illusions. Blair may clock up ten years as Prime Minister. But as Party Leader he has presided over ten years of falling mambership. Let's hope our next Leader, who also wants ten years as Prime Minister, aims to achieve ten years of rising membership as well.

10:05 am, January 19, 2007

Anonymous susan press calder valley clp said...

"New Labour is a state of mind." Too right. Delusional, bordering on the insane.
Without the activists, the Labour Party doesn't exist. We built it, and we can destroy it. The way Blair is behaving, that day is not long off. Thankfully, such rantings have a sell-by date and it's fast approaching. But while Blair fiddles with his "legacy", the rest of us are wondering how in God's name we're going to win the local elections with a nutter still in charge. Luke, you talk great sense on the Party structures, but the rest of it ? As one member said at my CLP last night "A period of silence from Mr Blair would be greatly appreciated."

11:02 am, January 19, 2007

Blogger Dave said...

So the Kinnocks' daughter in law leads the Danish equivalent of New Labour, eh.

European social democracy does dynastic. And there was me thinking that the left was against the heriditary principle.

3:24 pm, January 19, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting. You say, what a surprise, that Blair's speech was spot on. I'm not sure I trust your judgement Luke, not anymore. It seems to me that Blair is feeling the hand of history on his shoulder here for the 30th time in 24 hours and he is deliberately echoing the words he used 10 years ago outside the Albert Hall. Now we have experience over hope I'm not sure we can look on New Labour - if we ever did - as a great boon. What was it Robert Lindsay said in the rather disappointing - less than the sum of its sparts - prog. As he left court, having been well and truly caught?

"Oh Fucking Hell!"

Is what he said (and I quote) and having loyal cheerleaders telling him what a great bloke he is and sharing his hand of history on shoulder moments over the coming weeks and months is not helping. We all know he is a class act as a communicator and rarely lost for an ad lib or speech without notes. But it is the substance, Luke dear boy, the substance. That is what matters.

Agree with Peter and Susan too. But not Luke. Just in case you thought I was sitting on the fence.

4:27 pm, January 19, 2007

Anonymous New Socialist said...

Ruth Turner, I just heard, one of the key architects of New labour, has been arrested today.Has she felt the hand of history on her shoulder, too? Crooks and charlatans, every one. Their time is up.Let's just hope they don't take the rest of us down with them.

4:47 pm, January 19, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Ruth Turner is 36 and so was 23 when Tony Blair became leader, describing her as "one of the key architects of new Labour" seems a bit OTT> When I was young we always understood that the police were an agency of the ruling class. Judging by the behaviour around this investigation maybe we should never have lost that insight.

12:46 am, January 20, 2007

Anonymous Child Trust Fund said...

An EU-wide Child Trust Fund is an interesting idea. There’s already a similar scheme in the U.K., where the government gives a £250 voucher to parents to investment on behalf of their children, which they can then use when they turn 18.

Making this EU-wide would give children from poorer backgrounds a helping hand when they reach this age, depending on how it has been invested. There’s certainly a few countries from outside the EU who could benefit massively from this, but that’s another story.

10:39 am, April 20, 2009


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