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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Missing the point

According to today's Guardian, former Blair speechwriter Phil Collins thinks that the real problem the Government has is "that Labour's faith in central government draws from the deep, poisoned well of its Fabian tradition" and instead "the only hope for the party is to excavate its liberal treasure".

This is reminiscent to me of theologians arguing over how many angels could dance on a pinhead.

There were many reasons why people didn't vote for us in Crewe, such as being incandescent with rage about a botched attempt to double their income tax, or in despair that its costing more than they can afford to fill up their car or do their weekly shop.

But I very much doubt that a single voter there walked to the polling station thinking "I really must vote Tory because Labour is listening too much to the Fabians and too little to the SMF, and what I really want from Britain's social democratic party is a bit less social democracy and a bit more liberalism."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice try. To parody his argument so as to knock it over.

But your view is not incompatible with his.

The "things" you mention obviously did play a part in Crewe but they were the culmination of other things this government has done which people don't like but put together can be abstracted and conceptualised into the speechwriter's precis.

More worrying for you is that the government has been continually caught out trying to hustle silly things. Brown, Darling and Cooper were certainly prepared to brazen out the 10p tax change and only reversed gear when faced with a parliamentary revolt. Even then, they managed to cock-up their climbdown with some balls about a necessary fiscal stimulus.

Catch me out once, fool me. Catch me out twice, fool you.

10:28 am, May 27, 2008

Anonymous Andy said...

I think you are being unfair to Phil - surely the reluctance of the Saudis to pump more oil is a direct result of King Abdullah's adherence to the poisoned doctrines of fabianism, just as the collapse of the mortgage securitisaztion market is the result of too many bankers spending the summer of 2007 reading the works of Sidney and Beatrice.

11:44 am, May 27, 2008

Anonymous HenryG said...

What did you think of the Cruddas article in the Indy today Luke?

2:58 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I'm with Luke on this one.

Frankly, this idea that people are champing at the bit to be involved with local management or decision making is simply not the case. Ask anyone who is involved in this ssort of work - its really hard to get people involved.

I think that people in general would be quite happy with centrally-directed policies if they are seen to work. I am not at all convinced that the 'new localism' means all that much or that it would be an improvement in practice, and I think it is often a way of ensuring more inequality.

Seems to me that its the bread and butter issues which the government are not delivering on, and I'm not convinced that decentralisation is the answer - after all, its neo-liberal economics and the governments fight FROM social democracy which has caused some of these problems.

3:34 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I agreed with the thrust of what Cruddas is saying i.e. "voters still want Labour to be bold in addressing their day-to-day material concerns. People do not understand our apparent timidity over issues that cut across all social classes: like fairer taxes, social immobility, debt, insecurity at work, or housing. And they often fail to understand even the good things the Government has done, because our political language does not resonate. We do not speak about what this distinct Labour government is for."

He's very strong when he sticks to these bread-and-butter issues, less so when he gets onto Guardian reader concerns like Trident or ID cards or 42 day detention.

However, he himself drifted into political jargon like "sustainability" and "social recession" - phrases that are meaningless to ordinary voters.

3:41 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Thing is, Luke, you need both.

Labour has lost its Tory waverers - surely you can recognise that is now the case? They won't get them back for the next election.

So, we have to concentrate on our two reliable blocs - our core voters, and the liberal/progressive middle class voters, who are a smaller group but who turn out in considerable numbers.

Their aims are not incompatible, because frankly, the core vote cares about the basic economic issues and isn't bothered about the issues which may stop the prog m/c supporting Labour.

42 days will win precisely no votes and will lose plenty. You may think it is right - I disagree - but it sure isn't a way of winning Labour extra votes. What core working class voter pissed off with the economic situation is going to switch back to Labour because of 42 days? But it will certainly mean that many prog m/c people may decide to stay with the LD's who haven't actually lost any votes since the last election - and many of them were former Labour voters. ID cards will have the same reaction.

You and the others on the workerist right need to recognise that the core vote isn't enough on its own, and Essex Man will be Tory next time (as they should be because they are right wing). Stop deliberately trying to alienate people who should be Labour voters - or if you seriously think that Guardian readers should join the LD's and have done with it, then make that clear too and I'm sure we can go and do so! Not a good way of winning a majority, though.

3:56 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

You can't play politics with national security.

I'd rather lose the next General Election over the 42 day issue than leave one terrorist free to carry out a 7/7 style atrocity.

4:09 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Luke, once again, I totally agree.

5:04 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"You can't play politics with national security.

I'd rather lose the next General Election over the 42 day issue than leave one terrorist free to carry out a 7/7 style atrocity."

Don't those two sentences contradict each other quite heavily?

Why does nobody in this debate address the question of innocent people getting locked up?

Surely the priority, if you're trying to establish who is innocent, should be to put an emphasis on earlier and higher quality trials?

Why, for example, are loads of these quite possibly totally innocent people denied access to their lawyers? Does that help us distinguish the guilty? Does it help anyone?

I believe that Labour should protect the innocent and vulnerable until we can tell that they are actually guilty.

5:08 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Darrell G said...

Collins has a point, Labour's over-reliance on the state has led to a number of misadventures (including Iraq) which have seen it lose electoral popularity and hemorrage members like their is no tomorrow....you might disdain of 'Guardianistas' but your party needs them and their enthusiasm because, since the working class no longer wants anything to do with Labour, they are now the only thing the party has left....

6:23 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

I agree, Luke, but I also totally disagree that 42 days will contribute one iota to improving national security.

That's why it must be dropped - because it is simply a mistake. Lots of people think it signifies what is wrong with the Government and why they won't be voting for it next time.

What you appear to be saying is that you are prepared to risk losing the progressive liberal vote - if so, then you really are wanting a spell in opposition, because some of the voters you would like to see coming back to Labour are definitely going to opt for the Tories next time.

After all, which voters are more reliably Labour - fickle White van Man in Basildon, or the progressive Guardian reader?

Sometimes I really think you want us to go and vote LD!

11:37 pm, May 27, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

On the evidence of the last General Election, when we held Basildon, Thurrock and Harlow and Crawley and 7 seats in North Kent, but lost Hornsey & Wood Green, Cambridge and Bristol West, I think Mike has the answer to his question.

9:02 am, May 28, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, you have missed the point. I realise in your rather narrow world view all this ideas and thinking stuff is a bit scary but it’s important.

I think a major part of New Labour’s woes are due to an intellectual vacuum at its core, compounded by a deep seam of distrust, even hatred of intellectuals, running through the party. The parliamentary party appears to consist of light-weight professional politicians with little experience of anything other than politics and without the analytical ability to understand anything. I agree that you shouldn’t let intellectuals actually run anything but ideas are important. There is no coherent ideology or strategy. It is a strange pick and mix of plausible nonsense – ultimately this is an approach doomed to failure.

Furthermore, the first poster is right, you antagonism is misplaced as the two points of view are not incompatible. Although as far as I can see you care little about whether policies are right, workable and effective and more about whether they are popular and vote winning.

This love of authoritarian, populist measures is disconcerting. Personally I think that you are profoundly wrong on almost every level. ID cards, 42 day detention, Trident are not only wrong but pointless and as pointed out, vote losers not vote winners. I wonder what other policies you would support just because they are popular: bring back hanging? Repeal employment discrimination legislation? Gay rights, pah?

One other random thought – if bread and butter policies matter and ideas don’t – what were you thinking supporting as abstract as the imposition of democracy at the point of a gun?

I don’t really understand the deep seated hatred of Guardian reading liberals either – they share many of your objectives and unlike large swathes of the country are actually interested in politics. I don’t think policy should be determined by the Guardian but I do think that you should engage and debate. Are you worried they won’t be taken in by your sub sixth form sophistry?

More seriously, Collins writes “The key dividing line in politics is no longer between left and right but, increasingly, between liberal and authoritarian. The Labour government too often finds itself on the wrong side of this divide”. He makes a good point and this is going to become more and more of a problem as people grasp the implications. I worry that Henry Porter (of the Observer) is right and that this government fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between the state and the people.

10:47 am, May 28, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

But that is exactly the point, Luke.

We lost those seats because of a combination of collapse of the Tory vote and the fact that some Labour voters went to the LD's (enough to give them victory). But, actually, the Labour vote held firm - the real drop was the Tory vote. This is now likely to be increased in all of those seats so Labour should be in with a good shot at winning them back.

However, if you seriously think Labour has a prayer of holding any of those usually-Tory seats on Kent or Essex next time, I think you are not facing reality. The Tory vote has been artificially depressed in those areas because the Tories were not a credible opposition. The Labour vote has declined dramatically in all of them since 1997, the one year when significant numbers of Tories voted Labour - but Labour held on in 2001 and 2005 because the Tories couldn't shift their supporters.

Things are different now, and its those very same voters who you want to attract as a priority who are deserting Labour the most, along with the core vote. The latter are not deserting Labour because they are too economically socialist. The former are returning to their natural Tory home, because the Tories are credible again. THEY ARE NOT GOING TO RETURN TO LABOUR NEXT TIME!!

However, voters who voted LD, Green etc, or didn't vote, may well be willing to come back to Labour. Chasing people who have grown to hate Labour and will do anything to have a go at the party, as the most likely converts back to Labour voting is folly.

For someone who claims to be in touch with people, you seem arrogantly blind to how people actually feel about the current government and the fact that New Labour really is finished. Cameron got that right, if nothing else. The question is how to refashion a credible social democratic appeal which can win back those who are likely to return. Your strategy will fail and will lead to a Tory majority of 150+ next time

12:41 pm, May 28, 2008

Anonymous SV said...

STOP believing the press. 12000 people voted for us in Crewe. Thank you 12000 times. Over 1 million voted for us on May 1st in London.

Is that the record of a party about to fall into a bad third place?

Er, not when the Lib dems fell about all over the place on 1st May!

11:53 pm, May 28, 2008

Anonymous Alex said...

Whilst I admit that very few voters go to the polls pondering the distinctions between social democracy and liberalism, what you've failed to recognise in comparing this debate to the theologians question of pin-dancing angels is that differences between the policies suggested by these two approaches are exactly the kind of thing that affects peoples' everyday lives; the kinds of policy changes directed by these choices would address exactly the kind of concerns that you claimed that the government needs to address if it is to win the next general election. They'd have far more of an effect on peoples' lives than questions about limits on detention without charge, for example.

Political philosophies are not merely tedious and pointless debates which rage on in ivory towers (though there is, obviously, much of this...), they inform both the general direction and many particular policies of a party. Now I'm not all that sure of what my own beliefs are, but I sure as hell want to know that the political party to which I belong has some idea which isn't directly related to the ballot box. Most people feel the same.

I'm not claiming that the Labour party needs to announce itself as any particular flavour or kind of social or political theorist, or even that it would be possible given the wide range of opinions that occur within a political party. But to compare debates between different visions of political philosophy to obscure and pointless debates of theology not only misses the entire point of politics but also misses that some clear direction (expressed in terms of everyday changes) is precisely what the government needs to show if it is to stay in office.

3:32 pm, May 30, 2008

Blogger Toby said...

I profoundly disagree with you Luke, and the way you chose to show your opposition was unbecoming.

For me, the most important quotes are these:

//Labour is failing to win—or even to grasp—the big political argument: how to ensure people are in control of their own lives.//


//The key dividing line in politics is no longer between left and right, but, increasingly, between liberal and authoritarian.//

It's the 'freedom agenda' which is important, not necessarily tax reform or calls to be Liberal. It's more libertarian socialism not liberalism which, for me at least, is required, and not necessarily because it's in our own political interests (although I would argue that it will be).

The first quote is profound (and you obviously don't get it)!

If I'm part of Generation X, and those younger than me are the iPod generation, then together we make a potentially formidable coalition of increasingly important voters and supporters. What we both share is a view that we don't want the state to regulate our lives, but be there when we need it. Whether we smoke dope or not, we both recognise that we should be free to do so (particularly as the science is on our side). Well, we've blown that one already, yet are confused that the slide down the polls continues. Doh!

We don't buy newspapers, or watch as much TV, but we choose what we read and watch, just as we long since gave up on buying CDs in favour of filling our own MP3 players. A political appeal in a similar vein will likely meet with similar approval. The risk however is that the Tories will be the ones who make that appeal - and already they are signalling in that direction - but they will base their 'freedom' on the notion that fewer services and lower taxes are the answer.

We know that this is a fallacy, but offer nothing but authoritarianism and higher taxes in its place. Yet there are nods in the right direction. Being able to see a GP when we need one is a good thing in our book, but Labour's making a right hash of explaining it in terms of increased freedom. The Queen's Speech too has some 'power to the people' moves, but it's not enough because ID cards make those measures seem puny in comparison.

Talking of ID cards; the great ID card revolt hasn't started yet, but it's going to bowl you over when it does, because it's the exact opposite of what we want. Detention without trial, stop and search, CCTV (which doesn't reduce crime) and demands that we can't wear a hood, cap, or even the t-shirt of our choice also epitomise all that we hate.

We're not dumb either. Devolve power downwards and we will take it and use it wisely. Give us more power to use our talents and we'll work for ourselves and become the employers of the future. Labour's response to this however is to tax us heavily instead. It's almost as if Labour is out to get us!

But don't run away with the notion that we're ideologues either. I'm an exception, but they're no more loyal to a Party than they are to a website. "Offer us what we want or we'll go elsewhere," they say (and, oh boy, are they saying that right now)!

Labour can either recognise this in government, or in opposition. I'd much rather it be now, but I suspect it'll be in opposition, and if the response to this article is anything to go by it'll be a long, hard opposition. The authors are right, it isn't left vs right (because it's hard to see who's left and who's right), but freedom vs authoritarianism.

We've already decided that we like freedom and power (even if it's only the power to vote up or down what interests us online). It's beginning to look like they've decided who's better placed to bring them freedom too, and it's not us (as you demonstrate clearly).

To use the vernacular, it's time to take our collective heads out of our arses and smell the winds of change instead. We know it's all market forces and money. We also know that governments are increasingly powerless in the face of globalisation. But we want what we *know* you can do for us - better transport, and leisure without unemployment, for instance.

I would argue that Labour is the only Party which could really deliver that agenda, but seemingly has no interest in doing so. The freedom agenda could bring Labour's new core vote, but at the moment they wouldn't vote for us if we dragged them to the polls. It's going to be a hard lesson delivered with a pair of size 10 Vans, but you and others like you can't even see it coming.

6:14 pm, May 30, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Toby you are probably right but at the same time the high tax state which we are currently living in is a form of control.

Tax needs to be radically cut in the UK is we are to come out of the current economic crisis.

If something isn't done soon then I fear trouble is on its way. Riots, strikes and economic doom. People are suddenly more willing to go out and strike or demonstrate. The mood is certainly changing.

I heard somewhere that the government is going to do a U-Turn on tax increaes. MI6 will be advising the government on current discontent which I expect is running very high.

My predictions for 2009 is a late election resulting from rising inflation, rising unemployment, rising food prices as investors turn to crops rather than property.

Labour don't stand a chance now.

7:05 pm, May 30, 2008


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