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 24, 2008

The leaderless soft left

You would have to be fairly heartless not to feel sorry for Peter Hain yesterday - a carefully constructed career in ruins because of admin errors in an internal party election. Clearly the Labour Party could do with fewer days like that.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and my view is that we have a stronger, fresher and more ideologically coherent Cabinet line-up after the reshuffle than before, with promotions for a range of sound star performers: Purnell, Burnham, Cooper, Flint, Watson. For a reshuffle that was forced on him, Brown made a good set of promotions.

Peter Hain's resignation leaves the Tribunite "Soft Left" of the Labour Party without any real Cabinet level figurehead for the first time ever.

This is ironic at a time when Compass, the extra-parliamentary embodiment of the Soft Left tradition, is making a lot of noise in the wider party. Jon Cruddas' refusal to take ministerial office last year means they have a serious lack of presence at the heart of government.

The loss of Clare Short through political self-destruction, Robin Cook through tragic premature death and now Hain through bizarre campaign funding screw-up really means that the tradition of Nye Bevan and Harold Wilson lacks a top flight leader.

The same problem hit the Hard Left a decade or so ago - Benn too old, Livingstone not interested in the Commons, everyone else hating each other too much to emerge as a leading figure.

Meanwhile the right of the party, in its various different and overlapping permutations of Brownites, one-time Blairites, old right, and New Labour, has been shown by this reshuffle to have a queue of talented youngsters waiting to get high office. Whatever the short term bleakness of the political picture, that makes me very optimistic about Labour's future.


Anonymous Rich said...

Why would you feel sorry for him, he's not done his job. Really he should of lost his seat in parliament as well.

I don't feel sorry for anyone who screws up to the sum of 100k and still keeps his 60,000 pa salary.

Call that accountable.

10:43 am, January 25, 2008

Blogger Zokko said...

Peter Hain is a decent man and hard working politician. He has paid dearly for someone else's mistake. If he should of lost his seat in Parliament then so should David Cameron when his constituency was recently forced to return huge donations. There is more sleaze in the Tory Party than is to be found in Labour.

11:03 am, January 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rich spends an unhealthy amount of time posting here. What is it about Luke Akehurst that attracts the loonies?

Anyway; interesting analysis, although your excitement over the promotion of young right-wing loyalists is predictable enough.

I'm a sympathiser of the soft-left, but definitely not a fan of overambitious and slightly creepy Peter Hain. Lack of ideological diversity in the government is unhealthy but to be honest I think Jon Cruddas is sensible to avoid being tainted by association. Surely he's playing the waiting game and is calculating that he will have a better chance of influencing Labour in the post-Brown era by staying out of the government. He will then be able to represent himself, again, as the candidate of 'change' rather than simply someone else desparate to advance their career. It was a strategy that served him ok in the DL election. Either this is his motivation or he was genuine when he said he wasn't interested in a Cabinet position when he ran for deputy...

What we should all be concerned about, IMO, is the fact that Purnell, Burnham, Cooper all fit the stereotype of 'career politicians'. People who have worked all their lives either for the Labour Party or in the Westminster bubble, as it were. As talented as they might be it is further evidence that we do not have a great range of backgrounds in the rising ranks of the Labour Party. This is bad news for a party that claims to be representative of the masses and should be a concern to all of us loyal to Labour, whether on the right or the left or whatever.

11:12 am, January 25, 2008

Anonymous observer's friend said...

"Admin errors"? The DWP operates a policy of prosecuting "oversights" and disregards many defences with a blanket: "No ifs, no buts".

It sounds, Luke, like you think there should be one policy for the rich and one policy for the poor.

12:38 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:41 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Well I suppose the cabinet of sheep matches the PLP!

How can you think this is good for the party Luke? With this cabinet of yes men (and yes women) there is no one to vie for control of government. Brown has no opposition in government, unlike his processor.

That said I would not cow on about the left being finished we

1:43 pm, January 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not ironic, it's plain wrong! We desperately need a more balanced cabinet! Luke, just one question for you: suppose we lose the next election, and the Tories come to power. If we carry on as we are, there is NO way we will be able to criticise them on poverty, on inequality, on housing etc etc - because we haven't prioritised these issues ourselves. What on earth are we going to do? Would you be happy for us to argue against the Tories from the right in opposition? I'm so exasperated with this pathetic style of politics and people like you who are bringing our party to its knees. How can we now talk about Labour as being the party that puts human welfare first, when clearly it does not. It's a disgusting betrayal of our history.

2:20 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

The implication of your analysis, Luke, is that one attains a Cabinet job by dint of plentifulness, youthfulness or even talent - I'm sure those things play some part, but being appointed by the Prime Minister is quite significant as well! Therefore, after twenty-plus years of right-leaning leadership, and over ten years of right-wing prime ministers, it is not really enormously surprising that the right now entirely dominate the Cabinet. Time is the biggest factor: the last vestiges of Blair's elected Shadow Cabinet have now gone, to be replaced entirely by the ambitious and loyal. Ambition and loyalty are not qualities to be sniffed at, but they are not the only qualities that make effective ministers.

Were we in opposition, I have little doubt that the likes of Jons Cruddas and Trickett, and very probably John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Lynne Jones would be gracing the shadow cabinet and very talented hard-working members of the leadership team they would all make.

So I don't think anybody should feel either smug nor despondent that the Prime Minister uses his patronage to promote people who supports his policies. That's what they do.

(I disagree with an earlier poster re: Cruddas not being 'tainted by association' though - a more balanced team would be far preferable; what was Cruddas offered though? I think it was an unpaid party job rather than a Cabinet position, but I may got that wrong.

2:38 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Luke's analysis is essentially self-fulfilling prophecy stuff, though I'm happy to indulge him in his view that the labour right is on the march and full of confidence. Given that New Labourism is a cult of power-worship and rapacious personal ambition, OF COURSE young ambitious careerists are going to be quick to manouevre themselves into a line for a Cabinet place in a government led by rightwingers such as Blair and Brown. Whether that means that such people, and their politics, are popular in the wider party at grassroots level - and more crucially with the public level - is something of which there's rather less evidence. But keep the blinkers on if it keeps you happy.

2:42 pm, January 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

while not definitively soft left, John Denham has an ideological outlook closer to the tradition of Robin cook than Blair/ Brown

3:03 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

If Duncan had his way and Trickett, John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Lynne Jones were on the front bench we would deserve to be in opposition - and for a very long time.

3:07 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:30 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Sorry Luke why should we deserve to be in opposition if John McDonnell had won?

I found that statement to be rather hurtful and contrary to the spirit of comradeship we should all be promoting in the party.

You say we on the hard left are fractious; listen to yourself does that sound like a call for unity?

I don't like the current leadership of the party, their views don't match mine, however as a Labour Party member and trade unionist I want to see a Labour government in power, even as dreadful as this one.

Maybe you think you're an Enoch Powell type charter (minus the racist bigotry and opposition to the nuclear deterrent), when he called for Tories to vote labour in order to rid the party of Heath.

What ever your motive, that is a despicable way for an elected labour man such as yourself to behave. We should all want a Labour government despite who is in charge.

5:33 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

My point about opposition was just that the shadow cabinet is an elected body rather than an appointed one. And I think Luke was just making a gag at our expense, Ravi, so I shouldn't find it hurtful!

However, if all the traditions in our party were properly represented in the higher echelons of the party, and making a full contribution we should not deserve to be in opposition - we would be infinitely stronger.

7:18 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

However, I note that Luke has not included Cruddas in that list...

7:19 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

But unless Labour can be a broad coalition of the left-of-centre, why should those on the 'soft Left' be bothered to vote Labour?

If there was a General Election tomorrow, I wouldn't vote Labour as things stand.

The front bench are largely a bunch of uninspiring PR merchants and professional politicos - indistinguishable from the very similar Tory front bench

I'm looking for something different. This government isn't providing it. And given 'collective responsibility'. I don't think that many could be in this cabinet in all conscience, given some of their policy errors.

If things don't change, then I think the Tories will win the next election, with a small majority and whilst I won't be voting for them, it may be the best option.

8:22 pm, January 25, 2008

Anonymous Graham said...

Nice to note that Luke Akehurst would rather have a Tory government "for a very long time" than have a couple of left wingers in the cabinet.

So much for his much vaunted Party loyalism. Only loyal when the Party is set up the way he wants it, it seems. Isn't there a name for that kind of viewpoint?

9:12 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Graham et al

I wouldn't rather have a Tory Government than McDonnell et al in a Labour cabinet. I'd always rather Labour won.

Unfortunately the wider electorate are less tolerant of Labour's left than me, as evidenced in 1983.

Given that we know where public opinion is, we would indeed deserve to lose in the sense of walking into it voluntarily, if we moved to the left.

9:36 pm, January 25, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Luke: I think there is a huge difference between abandoning some of the current agenda, and adopting the policies of 1983.

The fact is that on a number of issues, the appeal which Labour had in 1997 is no longer so, and as a result they are losing core support. I don't think 'more of the same' is going to bring people back.

I really can't find the new crop of ministers anything other than a yawn - they all come over as bland, smooth, politicos with little to inspire.

11:21 pm, January 25, 2008

Anonymous Graham said...


That's not what you said.

You said if "Trickett, John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Lynne Jones were on the front bench we would deserve to be in opposition - and for a very long time."

Anyone who wasn't deranged by sectarian politics would read that as a preference for a Tory government over a Labour one that included people whose point of view one disagrees with.

Sorry Luke, you've exposed yourself.

1:25 am, January 26, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Far be it from me to defend Luke on such matters, but I do think he was just making a 'clever' joke following my comment, and not stating a general principle! Luke is a right-wing, weapon-obsessed, smug, sectarian splitter with a late-eighties mentality that he can't move on from, from - to his credit - he is a tribal labourist, and I don't doubt that he'd would prefer ANY Labour government than none (an odd condition, and one I know far too much about, having fought tooth and nail to keep getting this bunch of privatising, war-mongering lunatics re-elected year after year!)

8:43 am, January 26, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Apologies for all the typos in that. I should stop getting up on saturday mornings... Hope the meaning was clear!

8:44 am, January 26, 2008

Anonymous Michael said...

More obedient power hungry Party Lifers and Westminster Bubble people running things, yay!

Akehurst you are a creep. Your idea of politics is power and power only. Never any struggle (unless its against the left), never any fighting for the ideals you presume to believe in. Just do what the electorate says, and if it has no time for your policies, dont make the case for them, abandon them. Oh yes, and support arms companies, imperialist wars, privatisation, the crime caused by social alienation, the squandering of the earths resources in 'for profit' production whilst millions starve. Because who wants to spend time in opposistion building a real movement against that when we can have a lovely neo-liberal vanguard- but hey, at least its not the Tories! Sick.

1:47 pm, January 26, 2008

Blogger susan press said...

Brown and his yes-men ( and women) have exceeded all our expectations. Even I thought John McDonnell was being a tad pessimistic and that Brown might be better than Blair
In a word,no.
His Cabinet now really is the full deck of New labour clones.The fact you endorse it so fulsomely says it all really, comrades.

4:36 pm, January 26, 2008

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

On the general point about Cabinet balance - there may be a bit of balance in the next few days if Alan Johnson has to go...

10:18 pm, January 26, 2008

Anonymous observer's friend said...

observer's friend said...

"Admin errors"? The DWP operates a policy of prosecuting "oversights" and disregards many defences with a blanket: "No ifs, no buts".

It sounds, Luke, like you think there should be one policy for the rich and one policy for the poor.

12:38 PM, January 25, 2008

So can we take that as a "yes", Luke?

12:06 pm, January 27, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Observer's friend:

anyone who breaks the law should be prosecuted whoever they are. But as the police have only just got involved in the Hain case, we have no idea if the law has been broken, just as in the Abrahams case, and the Levy one.

Comparing any of this to benefit fraud is absurd. Benefit frausters steal tax-payers money they are not entitled to and reduce the amount of cash available to genuine claimants. In all these cases the only consequence has been lack (or a delay to in Hain's case) of transparency - no one's money has been used who did not want it to be, and the only "victims" have been the reputations of the people involved.

7:10 pm, January 27, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The government's ratings are poor and have been for a while, we're lurching from crisis to crisis and we won the last election by the fact the opposition were awful- something we can't count on next time.
this is the flipside of your triumphalist assertion that its the right on the up. If so they're cocking it big time and no blame can be attached to the left for sabotaging the party if we lose the next election (the usual get out clause).

10:15 am, January 30, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first heard the Hain story it didn't feel right. But when I heard that Steve Morgan was involved, then the pieces fell into place. The story has all the hallmarks of a Morgan project: a sudden decision to go for a bigger, more aggressive campaign despite not having guaranteed funding for it; a breakdown in inter-personal relations; resignations of other team members; lack of clarity in the team about the finances.

If Phil Woolas is still a good friend of Morgan, and if it was Woolas who helped to bring in Morgan to Hain's campaign (which seems to be what some of the reports are suggesting)then I must question your judgement that Woolas is competent.

11:08 am, January 30, 2008


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