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.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Political style and motivation are complex and personal things so it's not often that someone else manages to explain where you are coming from with almost complete accuracy.

Paulie at Never Trust a Hippy has done it with this post citing me and Siobhain McDonagh MP (who I am not remotely worthy to be compared to ...) as examples of what he calls "roundheads". He says:

"When I was a lot more actively involved in the Labour Party in the mid-1990s, there were loads of MPs, candidates and part-builders who used to breeze in and out of the London HQ. There were the dilettantes, the careerists, the lobbyists, the Union hacks, the crypto-trots and hippies, the wonks, and many other subgroups thereof. There were quite a lot of plain nutters as well. Not that I want to generalise or anything.

But the one that everyone watched their backs around were the roundheads. The ones that took grassroots work seriously. Siobhan McDonagh MP was always thought of as one of the high priestesses here. From memory, Luke Akehurst (who blogs here) was another.

According to them, the local party needed to be built. Doors needed to be knocked on, databases updated, core-voters targeted and dragged out on election days. It was a big, painstaking job that involved doorstep work, and a willingness to be seen to take the known concerns of those voters seriously.

Prospective MPs needed an army of dedicated activists knocking on doors. Theirs was an inelegant and unfashionable voice that is almost unheard outside of HQ, but one that dominated and shaped the party at a local level. A voice that also had a significant say in the distribution of political patronage, and all that flows from it. 'Want a safe seat? Forget that Fabian Pamphlet and knock on some f******g doors then!'

A large section of the party were weary and wary of the roundheads. Theirs was a relentless logic. The policies that they advanced were – they claimed - shaped by talking to Labour's core voters (they didn't waste as much time canvassing areas that didn't have a high Labour turnout).

And – even more annoyingly for the Labour’s liberal-left, this realism was hard to dismiss. Because new Labour had another – less respectable – shaper of it’s message - the Focus Group.

Focus Groups were a more sophisticated and savvy way of finding what key voters really wanted - particularly the crucial ones who lived in areas where there was a lower concentration of prospective Labour voters. The ones that would decide the election. Focus Groups were needed because, as any fool knows, people don't tell you what really bothers them. They tell pollsters and canvassers one thing and the ballot box another.

And the received wisdom was that focus groups were evil. They were lazy, dishonest and unprincipled. Their use made Labour worse than a bunch of populists – a party with no principle other than simply gaining power and holding it. Not only that, but they were delivered by people who worked in advertising!

And the reason that the Roundheads were so awkward, was that they were the real viable alternative to focus group-led politics. The Roundheads went and talked to ‘real people’. The kind of people that Labour lefties always said that Labour should be listening to.And those real people wanted something doing about the noisy threatening twat with the nasty dog who lived two flats down. Those people wanted things banned, and they wanted people locked up. They wanted something to be done, and they read newspapers that wanted action as well.

The Roundheads were happy to recruit them in a campaign against the liberal bourgeois sentimentalism of the more Fabian elements within the party. The ones that dragged out CLP meetings with tedious discussions about Nicaragua when they could be arranging leaflet-drops, ‘blitz’ canvassing and street-stalls.

The Roundheads were prolier-than-thou, and their moral clout grew with every strip of shoe-leather that they went though.

The Focus Group wonks and the Roundheads combined to quieten that large midriff in The Labour Party that thinks of itself as ‘value based’. The one that doesn’t really have a clearly-identified agency, a programme or any credible connection with the people that they claim to represent.

This is what new Labour is."

And that - for those of you who haven't met me outside the blogosphere - despite being written by someone else - is a pretty good description of what makes me tick.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mostly well written analysis. Ambiguity in last few bars of the riff. The author is saying :

(a) Focus Groups plus Roundheads = New Labour
(b) The ones with little connection to concerns of real voters = New Labour

I cannot be sure. My concern of course is that the Focus Groups plus Roundheads combo can sometimes get confused about the aspirations of those we Labourites seek to represent.

And focus on the white vans in the uber-marginals at the expense of large groups of core voters in supposed safe seats, making them vulnerable if not today ot tomorrow then the day after that.


Chris P
(Actually something of a Roundhead too who never once raised a resolution about Nicaragua and has long since ceased to organise benefits for the people of Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields)

12:03 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous International Socialist said...

Right, so we don't give a toss what happens in the rest of the world.Fantastic.Well-done.Luke, you are smugness personified.
Chris, there used to be some great gigs at manchester Town hall in aid of Puerto cabezas but that's anothermater entirely.
When I've (admittedly reluctantly) knocked on doors recently have been told to f*** off and come back when Blair's gone.Or words to that effect.But then I don't live in Luke-world, where the sun always shines on happy leafletters.
I have always hated leafletting (canvassing OK) and always will. Could be that tetanus injection I hadto have a couple of years ago, I suppose. (not joking) As a Catholic, I couldn't possibly be a Roundhead.As a Socialist with internationalist thoughts, I couldn't possibly want to be.

12:44 pm, January 23, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Actually I used to be a member of the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign -and if you read through the archives you will see a great deal of what I write is about international stuff ...

The only recent times I've had a hostile reaction canvassing were people in Castle Point who thought Blair was a pinko leftie traitor.

What's not to like about leafleting? It's just going for a walk with a lot of stops in it.

12:59 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous Andy said...

I'm not sure that anyone who has ever been out for dinner with you would describe you as a roundhead, given your decidely cavalier appetites for fine food and wine!......

1:17 pm, January 23, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

A political army marches on its stomach ...

I need the calories to replace those lost campaigning.

1:28 pm, January 23, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree that I probably leapt to a conclusion saying "..Focus Groups plus Roundheads = New Labour" (I was definately not saying your (b).

I'd say that the ascendency of 'roundheads' (gestation started in the mid 1980s, and their birth occured at around midnight after the 1992 election) co-incided with the more sophisticated groups of opinion samplers around Tony Blair in changing The Labour Party decisively in the early 1990s.

Personally, I think that finding out exactly what people think is over-rated. You'll never do it as well as you want to, and once you give people what you think they want, they may have changed their mind.

Stuart Soapbox has linked to this post as well. I've clarified a bit in his comments, so rather than repeat myself, could I direct you there to it?


In summary, I respect Roundheads because they are an honest response to an imperfect political ecology. I think that this ecology can be changed for the better though, so - in the long run, in an ideal world, I'd abolish them (hopefully with their consent).

6:25 pm, January 23, 2007

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