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.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Lemmings for Labour

Straight out of the box, with their single-transferable election analysis, comes Compass, pointing their supporters straight towards the electoral cliff and shouting "charge!".

It's difficult to know which bit of sublime idiocy to look at first, so confused and out-of-touch-with-reality is their analysis.

Let's start at the beginning. People have just voted 44% for the Tories who even in their Cameron incarnation are to the right of us, 24% for Labour. Hardly evidence that they want a more leftwing Labour Party. One of their major - and completely legitimate - complaints is that we increased a tax band from 10p to 20p. I think they'd rather we got back to what New Labour was meant to be about - keeping taxes low. They also think we aren't dealing with food and fuel price inflation and that we are increasing the impact of the latter by imposing punitive green taxes. They think we are soft on crime and immigration. And that we aren't doing enough to help homeowners deal with rising mortgage costs. Emblematic of this anger is that the suburbs of London vote Boris, and that we lose control of southern citadel Reading.

Neal Lawson of Compass looks at all this and concludes: "New Labour is now dead. The strategy that saw the Party continually triangulate interests and concerns, tacking endlessly to the right, doing what the Tories would do only doing it first, fixating on a mythical middle England and denying that free market policies are having a damaging effect on society is now finished."

Pardon me Neal? Isn't the problem that "middle England", far from being mythical, went to the polling stations on Thursday and gave us a massive punch in the nose for not listening to them enough?

Lawson manages to correctly go on to say that "The issue is not whether Labour is a party of the middle class or the working class. It has to be both. That was the genius of the 1997 voting bloc." but proposes a move to the left that would delight a tiny demographic of students and Guardian readers but have zero resonance with either our working class base or middle class swing voters, both of whom want practical policies focused on making them prosperous, safe and able to access decent public services, not pie in the sky about "changing the world".

Lawson's policy solution to Labour's troubles has some bits about tax and child poverty and housing that I don't disagree with, but also throws in "Drop detention for 42 days as well as ID cards and reverse the decision on Trident" none of which were remotely relevant to Thursday's defeats. He says that "commercialisation of public services should be halted - modernisation and efficiency should be secured via greater democracy and co-production" - again I doubt many of Thursday's protest voters were motivated by wanting to run their local hospital as a patient co-op. I've got a politics degree and I don't even know what the "co-production" that he advocates is - I think it might be a word he's made up for the occasion. I'm as must an electoral and constitutional reformer as Neal is but I really doubt that the burghers of Bexley and Bury thought that their ballots on Thursday were a call that "Constitutional reform must be fast tracked." Lawson also doesn't seem to have clocked that his admirable call that "real devolution to local government should be quickly embraced" means after Thursday giving more powers to the Tory Party as it is the party actually running local government in most places. And he thinks "concerns over immigration can be eased by proper rights for agency workers." I kid you not.

I wish Neal would go and talk to voters in the places that voted against us on Thursday and ask them what they wanted before dreaming up his recipes for another 18 year stretch in opposition.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...the suburbs of London vote Boris" Oi! 60,000 of the million Londoners for Boris were in North East. That ain't all Chingford, you know.

I'll go with you on one thing: Neal Lawson knows full well PR isn't part of the vision or part of the reason behind Thursday's defeat. It's a canard cooked up to ensure perpetual and undemocratic government by an unholy coalition of Labour plus the kooky beardy pretty-much-Marxist section of the Liberals, because he knows Labour will lose 2010 on FPTP.

But then again I guess you might agree with an outcome like that?

8:28 pm, May 04, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

No, Luke. You see, to have forgotten that it is New Labour which the electorate spurned last Thursday.

The reality is that local election turnouts are low. Many Labour voters failed to vote - whereas Tories were keen to turn out. Thus, Labour's task is to motivate its core voters. Not try and win back Tories.

The problem with 'keeping taxes low' is that it now leaves us without reserves once the economy is not as rosy - as public spending was increased. As for the rest of the reasons, again, they are certainly the reasons why the Tory one-election switchers don't want to vote for us. Fine by me. Labour didn't need them in the first place: the majorities of 1997 and 2001 were not healthy. and I think that if the price of winning these votes is to ape the BNP on immigration and to continue to pursue the utterly unsuccessful policy of putting more and more people in prison, then even more reason for retaining some principles.

Certainly affordable housing is important, but prices have now risen so much that they are simply out of reach for many people. That is why there needs to be a proper social housing programme - its that issue as much as any other which fuels racism.

New Labour attempted to draw in natural Tory voters and managed it in 97. Most of them had gone by 2001 but the Tories were so unelectable that they simply stayed at home. Some then returned to the Tories in 2005, but Dracula was never going to be PM. Now the Tories are credible again - but its Labour voters who are disillusioned and staying at home.

Sn, Labour's task is not tp pursue the folly of trying to win back voters who have returned to the Tories - where they always really belonged - but to motivate those who would like to vote labour but feel totally alienated by a party that doesn't appear to be bothered about them any more. And that includes both the traditional core working class vote, and the middle-class intellectual public sector voters. The section of Middle England who voted Tory on Thursday were just returning to their natural home. Labour can try to pander to them - but that will fail as a tactic because the Tories are now credible. The rest of the country is really not like London, and it will be in Wales, Scotland, the North and Midlands, not the south, where the next election will be won. Labour has effectively lost the suburban south-east - it never really had it in the first place, outside a few urban centres, and even then only in a good year.

1997 was then. This is now. That message is simply out of date. 'New' Labour is now pitifully old, and should be laid to rest.

9:10 pm, May 04, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lets be clear, Compass have been working for this result for a long time. They are just like militant in the 1980s.

The politics may be different but they are as destructive - if not more destructive than anything we have seen before.

I have been amazed by the new labour types and the not so new labour types marching to their strange meetings in the House of Commons and wondering how this organisation helps Labour - or rather helps the opposition.

I am passionate about proper political debate in the party, but not this sort of rubbish peddled at the most vulnerable time for the party for many many years.

12:02 am, May 05, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

So, anonymous, at this "vulnerable time" what SHOULD we be talking about inside the party? Rallying around the policies and approach that got us 24 per cent? This is just more "no reverse gear" lunacy, like Luke's original post.

The New Labour coalition is, almost certainly, unrebuildable at this present moment, which means we need to bring others, more marginalised and excluded from it and from most political debate, inside. Out-Torying the Tories isn't going to positively win votes back anymore.

1:07 am, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kind of logic falsely presumes that voters vote along a left-right continuum; the fact is that if they perceived someone has failed them, most people will give 'the other lot' a chance, with little concern for the exact policies they have - after all, what policies do the Tories have?

2:03 am, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Dan said...

Nobody can doubt that the Government, and the Labour Party, is in very serious trouble. But I will take Compass seriously the day they publish actual policy proposals that go beyond oppositionism and actually contribute something to the Labour movement.

9:28 am, May 05, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Compass are just like Militant? Bloody hell.

Let's get this absolutely straight. I've been slagging Compass off for a year now, but Neal (despite his tortuous prose and his attempt to slip a few pet policies in which were irrelevant to Thursday's result) is finally seeing a bit of sense in this article:

You have got to get out of your mid-90s mindset, Luke. And progress beyond GCSE Psephology. Yes, the Tories got 40-odd per cent of the vote, and we got 20-odd. That's 40-odd per cent of a low-ish turnout (was it 37?) in a selection of seats across the country. The big story of the night was not that Labour people swung to the Tories (I'm sure there were some, but that was not the story) the story was: the Tories got their votes out in droves, we barely got ours out at all. Now, you're right, our voters didn't stay at home on Thursday because we hadn't introduced AV, or we hadn't got an elected mayor for Leeds; but neither did they stay away because they want MORE New Labour. They stayed away (or voted for other parties/independents) because they don't feel we're on their side anymore. We can point to policies that have helped that great coalition we require to win again; but trotting out lists of past positive policies is no answer. We need a new list of policies that will directly impact on the people who sent us that message on Thursday. And yes, those policies need to be 'Real Labour' policies, because a big part of Thursday's message was the collapse of our core vote. So we need policies on social housing, on workers' rights, on protecting the welfare state, on fair taxation and increasing the minimum wage. We need a raft of policies that will remind people what we're here for: by all means throw in some constitutional reform. We don't only need to address those issues that were at the forefront of people's minds on Thursday, we need to put forward a programme that makes people think, in two year's time, Labour have made a difference to my life, and I want a bit more of that.

12:10 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke your dismissing tone is the first evidence I have read that English Labour may now fail the same test that Scottish Labour failed after the last Gneral Election in Scotland.

The failure is to accept a root and branch and fundamental end to what New Labour had previously succeeded with (no shame in somnething reaching the end of its natural life). A whole philosophy,largley an opportunistic and ideologically-lite one, has expired in the eyes of the electorate; it's time for you demonstrate some humilty and comprehension and to move over and help facilitate the process of wider adaptation and renewal.

To go about arrogantly dismissing what others in the Labour movement are saying, only confirms an irrelevance and disconnection from the electorate that has just said 'a plague on your entire Labour house'.

And with any due respect, I find it almost impossible to believe you don't know what co-production is. It's been an interesting and devloping perspective around for at least two years now - if you really do not know what it is then maybe New Labour is indeed no more and more out of touch than many of us suppose.

1:49 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Traditional Labour voters have nowhere else to go but the tories and Lib Dems, and even when they do still vote for us, they aren't as enthusiastic in turning out for us as the rich and the suburban middle class are in voting for their Party.

Further, I would be interested to know just how much further to the right we could actually go to appease these people. We are already about to implement a tougher version of John Howard's immigration policy, for God's sake...

As for being low tax, I have no idea what on earth is wrong with that. Socialism is't about running as big a state as you can, it's about delivering for the greatest material interest and the greatest measure of control for working class people. I submit that this is about the poor paying less tax, and us running public services with democracies, not plutocracies.

Separate point directed at anonymous, but how could you possibly describe Marxism as liberal?

2:36 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The argument that what happened on Thursday was that our "core" vote didn't turn out is disproved by London.

Here turnout was edging towards general election levels but we still got thumped. We've turned the tide ever so slightly on the Liberals, but the Tories are the big winners.

Please dodn't kid yourself that anything else other than a significant move from Labour to Tory has taken place in London. In 2000, for instance, Barnet and Camden was a marginal GLA seat, now it is solid Tory.

Nor does the argument that Ken's vote shows we need to tack to the left hold water - he lost.

It's not a mid-1990s mindset to say that people want a government committed to good school standards, to being tough on crime and its causes, to good public services, except in one respect - people wanted them in the mid 1990s and they want them now.

We have run away from those issues. A lot of that is because wrong signals were sent by Team GB in the ten years they spent undermining Tony Blair. That was tactics and it was mistaken.

In other cases it is because some new ministers were naive enough to think that the values of the average Guardian reader are at the core of a "progressive consensus" (eg Ed Balls scrapped the 'Respect unit' because he thought ministers said too much about anti-social behaviour and stopping talking about it would make it go away).

Now they've wised up to their mistakes but we're along way down the tracks and they are trying to make up for lost time by allowing the Daily Mail to set the agenda.

By the way, Compass aren't like the Millies - they aren't good enough. They are like the idiots in the 80s who told us Neil Kinnock was wrong to expel the Millies. "Useful idiots" was Lenin's phrase - for the Tories in both cases.

2:59 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Well London was a bit different. There we got our vote out (partly because of Ken's perceived independence from the New bits of Labour, and partly because of Boris fear...) they got their vote out better. The turnout was not really 'edging towards general election levels' though the turnout was very good. It was still better in places where the Tories did well (sadly) and because of the nature of the election that benefited the Tories.

There really is mileage in suggesting further 'triangulation'. Apart from it not really being possible, there is no evidence to suggest that it would be effective.

Nobody is saying we shouldn't have good public services (indeed that seems to be at the heart of what the left are saying); nobody's saying we don't want good school standards, etc, etc. (I could go through the whole list). This is typical Blairspeak and it has to stop. We all want those things, we just disagree about how to get them. We are all in favour of reform; we just disagree about the form that reform should take. We are all modernisers; we just have a different vision for how things can be modernised.

Your vision has been rejected.

3:46 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

No mileage, that is...

3:47 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous David Floyd said...

"Please dodn't kid yourself that anything else other than a significant move from Labour to Tory has taken place in London."

There's no kidding about it. What happened was, as Duncan said, Tories got their vote as they hadn't in either 2000 or 2004.

As Duncan also says, the turnout was nowhere near the level you'd expect for a general election with closely contested result.

That said, the Compass line on last week does seem more like a pre-prepared rather than an analysis of what actually happened.

The list of things Neal wants may or may not be right but many of them seem pretty tangential.

There's is a problem that in London policies that are (rightly) popular with all wings of the party - taxes to pay for spending on public transport, the congestion charge, green taxes on large cars - were undoubtedly a factor in Boris getting his vote out.

There's a national problem with the economy which Labour needs to show it can tackle.

In reality, ID cards and constitutional reform are neither here nor there.

4:10 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Hovedan said...

Here is a start for addressing some of the issues that the people are concerned about:

1. raise tax thresholds by a noticeable amount - perhaps double the rate of inflation, and introduce the 10p starting rate.

2. Cut VAT

3. Cut fuel duty - most of us out of London drive cars to work (about 75%) we dont have a choice.

4. Address immigration. people are worried about the effect on services and their community - they are not racist for having those fears.

5. Get rid of 42 day detention idea - most of our party members hate it, there is no evidence for it and we need to address the needs of the left middle class -some of whom now vote Lib dem and others even Tory (cameron has banged on an on about the issue with some effect).

6. some of the civil service looks bloated - a bit of pruning would help put money back in voters pockets. We could start with all the management consultancies - civil servants should do their job and not contract out what they are paid to do.

7. take the credit for getting the bank of england to increase liquidity - credit is easing in the markets - it will take about 6 months to filter through - and other measures in the city the Government can take some credit for (after all the Tories blame Labour for it)

8. Gordon must go out and about - spending time in the country. delegate to his cabinet and become the people's PM - he can do it - he's a good man.

9. Trumpet welfare reform policies - the government is getting people back to work and off benefits - good news for the benefit claimant, the tax payer and the economy.

10. talk about public service successes and maybe for the next 2 years get right what we have in health and education rather than reform the system yet again.

4:25 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

duncan hall speaks with great authority on London's election for someone who lives in Skipton.

Perhaps he's speaking out of the top of his hat? Just a thought.

4:28 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Jack Ray said...

I'm intrigued as to what Labour could do to listen to "middle England" more. Haven't they spent 11 years listening to them?

I mean you've not got in this mess by being Left-wing have you? What else does New Labour have to offer other than more of the same?

4:28 pm, May 05, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. raise tax thresholds by a noticeable amount - perhaps double the rate of inflation, and introduce the 10p starting rate.

2. Cut VAT

3. Cut fuel duty - most of us out of London drive cars to work (about 75%) we dont have a choice.

You forgot to add "stand on street corners and give away fivers to anyone who can hum the internationale"

It's about as realistic.

4:30 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Well I live in London, campaigned in London, and Duncan's analysis seems pretty spot-on to me.

4:33 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

For the very reason that I'm an entirely provincial being, I've restricted most of my comments to the situation outside the capital - I was merely responding to the point about the different situation in London and giving my view (something which presumably even people from Yorkshire are allowed to do!)

5:08 pm, May 05, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

There's a lot of anonymouses around here.
Put your face to your views.

"duncan hall speaks with great authority on London's election for someone who lives in Skipton.

Perhaps he's speaking out of the top of his hat? Just a thought."

Ah. I see. In order to have a point of view on phsephology, you have to actually live in a place...

Nobel prizes all round.

7:40 pm, May 06, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Actually I agree with Tom on this. Duncan always puts his points intelligently even when they are ones I disagree with, I think he's more than entitled to comment on the London elections, particularly as he hasn't hidden that he's doing it from an outside London perspective.

12:22 pm, May 07, 2008


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