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.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Links of the week

I have been snowed under (with work rather than snow) this week so not able to blog.

So here's something I've read and found interesting:

BBC Newsnight's Economics Editor Paul Mason has an interesting take on the different strands of opinion in the Labour Party: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/01/the_biggest_split_in_the.html

Mason thinks the new generation of Cruddas, Ed Miliband and Purnell have a shared agenda for saving the Party. I hope this is true and that we get a kind of coming together of everyone of talent and good will to find common ground, rather than the personality divisions between people of 95% shared politics which have marred the current generation of Labour in power.

Mason also in an earlier post - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2010/01/labours_coup_nonevents_dear_bo.html defines three strands of opinion in Labour: "There's the Blairite old-guard centre-right, which most decisively shot its bolt yesterday; there's the government - an alliance of Blairites for Brown and Brownites; and there's the centre left, which on all recent votes - at the 2009 conference and the deputy leadership campaign - commands a majority because the remaining affiliated unions are centre-left run." I think this is pretty accurate except that the unions are only allied to the centre left on industrial and economic questions - otherwise they rightly see Compass etc. as middle-class hippies with about as much connection with the realities of union members' lives as, well polite metaphors fail me.

He highlights the importance of the election for Unite General Secretary later this year for the future of the Party - we will be in a very odd place if the ex-SWPer Gerry Hicks wins.

Correctly I think Mason points to the disconnect between the bright young Labour high-ups and any grassroots movement. For me it's almost like Labour's "aristocracy" got so excited by the trappings of Government - the glittering path from think tank to Special Adviser to MP to Minister, often achieved in record time - that they forgot about the poor bloody infantry of the Labour movement who sustain it through bad and good electoral times. Or never knew about the hull (the bit that keeps the whole ship floating) as opposed to the superstructure of the party anyway. I can't help thinking they all would have benefited from going a bit slower and being councillors or union officials dealing with workplace campaigns and issues for a while (NB I know which ones did do a stint at the grassroots so this is not a blanket accusation).

I hope Mason is wrong when he says that last week's coup attempt resulted in some senior Ministers (some of whom have a track record of presenting themselves as faux left in internal party elections - no names, no pack drill) keeping the PM in office in return for a pledge to pursue "realistic" cuts and privatisation.

I find myself in the odd positioning of proudly self-defining as on the right of the Labour Party and being defined by most people as some kind of Blairite ultra, yet in the current climate my sympathies are very definitely with what Mason calls the "centre left" on the key issues of public services and economic growth. For me, modernisation and triangulation means making sure Labour is aligned with the values of ordinary working class voters in supporting strong policies on defence, crime and immigration (though I accept I am by instinct way to the left of most of the electorate on migration issues), keeping taxation as low as possible for ordinary working people and being pro-business in the sense of the state providing a supportive environment for businesses to grow and particularly boosting manufacturing industry, not in the sense of allowing business to exploit workers or consumers. It doesn't mean seeing the private sector as the solution to everything (it's the solution to some things but my experience of outsourcing during five months in hospital last year and in Hackney before Labour won back control of the council teaches me it can be a lot worse at delivering some services than municipal solutions can be) - it doesn't mean making cuts to intrinsically valuable public services just when the economy needs continued pump-priming - it doesn't mean avoiding putting trade union demands for workplace rights for agency workers into our manifesto - it doesn't mean being shy about saying the country should be a meritocracy, with people from ordinary backgrounds who have earned their way to the top by effort and talent running it, not the scions of the landed gentry. Triangulation is about moving towards the enemy position on the weak points they have been able to attack you on, not abandoning the aspects of your party's identity that are inspiring and popular and define why it exists as a separate political force. It's about making sure everyone who because of class and economic self interest should vote Labour does not feel alienated from us and vote against their economic self-interest because we are soft on crime, allow our defence policy to be written by CND, or are punitively taxing their hard earned wages.

I think I know how Roy Hattersley feels i.e. standing still in a traditional social democratic position and watching others accelerate past me to positions that don't seem to have any ideological roots in Labour - be that Labour right, left or centre.

Apologies for the rambling nature of this post and its weak punctuation. Sometimes only a stream of consciousness will do.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And wars?

Someone's got to do it but I don't suppose you, your mates or your kids will go near it.

Nearly forgot. Mason is an ex-father of a chapel at IPC.

The qualification for that position is loony left.

11:55 pm, January 13, 2010

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Anon

Not quite sure what inspired your comment, but in regard to "my mates" not going near wars one of my friends (an active Labour Party member who is also in the TA) is serving in Afghanistan right now so all of my circle of political friends are acutely aware of what is involved.

12:38 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

There will have to be massive cuts in defence spending if there is to be continued expenditure elsewhere. No more interventionism - priority spending on domestic concerns. As for Trident, simply an anachronism.

I think that would chime much more with working class voters at the moment than yet more dead soldiers for a war which, whilst not without credible explanation, is simply unwinnable

As for crime, we have the highest prison population in Europe and yet you'd still think that the Howard League ran penal policy to listen to some talk....

And when I hear people calling for a clampdown in immigration without mentioning the real issue which is world population control....

1:49 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

PS And as you constantly forget - working class votes alone cannot deliver a Labour government. You need those tiresome old Guardian reading hippies, who actually get up and vote in every election

Your approach certainly encourages me not to vote Labour. There are plenty of reasons not to do so already and being told that you'd rather not have us in any case won't help.

Still, the likelihood is that Labour will lose next time and that will bury 'new' Labour for good.

1:52 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Paulie said...

Totally agree with you about the disconnect between the younger higher-ups in the party and local parties.

And this....

"It doesn't mean seeing the private sector as the solution to everything (it's the solution to some things but my experience of outsourcing during five months in hospital last year and in Hackney before Labour won back control of the council teaches me it can be a lot worse at delivering some services than municipal solutions can be) ..... it doesn't mean avoiding putting trade union demands for workplace rights for agency workers into our manifesto - it doesn't mean being shy about saying the country should be a meritocracy, with people from ordinary backgrounds who have earned their way to the top by effort and talent running it, not the scions of the landed gentry."

I'm genuinely not sure you would have written that a few years ago (you kind of imply you wouldn't have).

I think that Labour's whole relationship to the public/private sector divide has been wrong for a long time and this is one thing that the left-of-centre-left (even) have been right about.

I don't believe - in employment or practice terms, that the wall between the two is as porous is we have imagined it to be, and Labour's managerialist approach to the notion of public service has been almost anti-human in it's stupidity. It was exemplified by the Baby P / Sharon Shoesmith farago - they had a child on a slab and her initial response was justification based upon 'delivery targets' met and performance in audits.

I'm broadly with you on the totemic issues of how Labour presents itself (I share your views on hippies), but now is a time to reawaken a dividing line that we've been run away from until recently - a time to abandon a lot of our relaxed attitude to crappy standards, dreadful management, non-existent investment and irresponsible profit-taking from the private sector.

One other thing that you haven't mentioned: There is a cross-political frustration with the way that large corporations have effective monopoly statuses - distorting consumer markets and hammering suppliers. Labour hasn't challenged them because they are attractive in the short term. But in the long term, the damage that they wreak is there for all to so. No-one in Labour seems to be talking about how parties can - and should - adjust their policies to match their 'mature' status. Some 'young' governments are good because of their vitality and elan. Some 'mature' governments are good because they have experience and are less exciteable. We can't make the mistake of imagining that the people will buy us as the former. That's Cameron and we need a spot of clear blue water between him and us on that question.

9:44 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

Welcome to the left, Luke!

You can join the LRC here http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/

9:49 am, January 14, 2010

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"And as you constantly forget - working class votes alone cannot deliver a Labour government."

Rubbish. 57% of the population self-define as working class. It would be a landslide.

9:54 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

Including people who are clearly not working class according to any analysis.

10:39 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Paulie said...

jdc,

If you imagine that a strategy designed to focus entirely on people who 'self define' as working class would deliver a landslide in an election, you are an idiot.

10:39 am, January 14, 2010

 
Anonymous jdc said...

I entirely disagree. It would be politically unacceptable to a large number of people in positions of leadership in the party, and to a vast faction at the grassroots who are, deep down, middle class liberals, but all else being equal, and if it could be delivered with a sane narrative and a semblence of unity (the key stumbling blocks in reality) then of course it would work.

Why do we suddenly ask whether people are really truly working class when deciding whether to make policy to benefit what they think they are? We don't do this when pandering to any other set of preferences. The one, single, solitary issue on which Labour outpolls the Tories is the question of which party is 'on the side of ordinary people, not the rich'.

11:29 am, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Paulie said...

I detect a shift in your argument. YOu started off with 'self defined' and then moved to 'ordinary people' in contrast to the rich. How many upper class twits have you heard saying 'I'm working clarse! I work at daddy's stockbrokers, don't I?"


Your argument assumes that the whole phenomenon of class deallignment that pollsters observed from the mid-1960s onwards didn't happen.

It also assumes that no other parties offer competing messages to targeted sections of your ill-defined group.

It also assumes that, in the massively unlikely event that you could come up with a message and a set of policies and a cultural appeal that would persuade this (materialistically) imaginary sub-group to vote that they will vote primarily on self interest (people don't always do that - remember the 'deferential' voters, various strands of nationalist and religious attachments?)

And you make a fundamental error when you say "it would be politically unacceptable to a large number of people in positions of leadership in the party, and to a vast faction at the grassroots who are, deep down, middle class liberals"

The sociology of a political party is defined by the material circumstances that it finds itself in and not the other way around. The sections of society that are prepared to be active in promoting their interests never match up directly with the sections of society that will actually vote and even less with the sections of society that those activists would like to have voting for them.

The word verification on this comment is potemkin by the way. Have you really gone *that* far to the left Luke? ;-)

12:57 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"How many upper class twits have you heard saying 'I'm working clarse! I work at daddy's stockbrokers, don't I?""

None, to date.

I'm not denying class dealignment, I'm saying that it isn't just a natural phenomenon, it's also a consequence of parties changing their stances, policies, branding and marketing.

1:16 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Paulie said...

"I'm not denying class dealignment, I'm saying that it isn't just a natural phenomenon, it's also a consequence of parties changing their stances, policies, branding and marketing."

It really isn't. I'd be astonished to read an undergraduate level essay that made this point without falling over itself or inventing evidence.

2:06 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Anonymous jdc said...

"I'd be astonished to read an undergraduate level essay that made this point without falling over itself or inventing evidence."

You're tempting me to change the topic of my masters dissertation from voting systems to voting behaviours, but I shall resist.

Just to be clear, you think it is a *complete* coincidence that class dealignment began in an era when the Labour Party moved much of its political focus from economic redistribution and towards social liberalism, and the Conservative Party bought into a rough consensus around economic policy?

Of course Thatcherism is a whole separate phenomenon and appealed in different ways across particular groups which didn't necessarily correspond to a rigid definition of class - you did a lot better if you were a well-paid working class worker with the option of buying some shares and a relatively nice council house, much less well if you were very poor or potentially a middle-class public sector worker.

In research by Philip Cowley (a professor, then, not an undergrad), social class comes out as the third most important thing people say they consider when choosing an MP. Sure, not as important as being local, or having the right policies, but ahead all sorts of things we elevate, like faith, gender, age, ethnicity, and education.

Similarly asked whether particular groups were not represented in Parliament, people said "the working class" were underrepresented and should be more represented by a margin (yes minus no) of +47%, against only 41% for women, 35% for young people, 37% for disabled people, 1% for homosexuals, and -9% for Muslims.

The working class is monolithic in none of economic interests, political attitudes, or theoretical definition, but that doesn't mean a political programme which is tilted in the direction of seeking primarily working class support is doomed to failure - it's a bizarre assumption that seeking middle class votes will see the working class keep voting for us for reasons unknown, but that no middle class people support working-class friendly politics.

Apart from anything else, the smaller the definable base you can actually legitimately claim to represent, the greater your chance of being wiped out in hard times - while pure pragmatist triangulating parties can win landslides against unpopular governments, they often fail to stand the test of time not only as Governments, but as continuing parties at all.

If the ideology-lite preference-accommodating neo-blairite right control the party for the next decade I expect a Labour victory in 2015, followed by virtual annihilation of the PLP in 2020.

4:09 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Paulie said...

Sorry - in a bit of a rush, thus the brusque tone:


"you think it is a *complete* coincidence that class dealignment began in an era when the Labour Party moved much of its political focus from economic redistribution and towards social liberalism, and the Conservative Party bought into a rough consensus around economic policy?"

That isn't the case. It's not a reading of the pre/post-war period that I would recognise.

I'm guessing Cowley acknowledges that what people *say* and what they *do* are two different things?

And if people really want working class people in parliament, how do you account for their actual choices? Blair, Cameron and Thatcher were hardy aich-droppers were they?

You may think that it's bizzare to assume that targeting middle class votes while taking working class votes for granted is daft, but in a FPTP system, it works.

Your penultimate paragraph is quite a big assertion, and again, it seems to work on the assumption that different kind of dealignments have't happened (partisan dealignment is the other one that you're ignoring).

And your last para shows a level of foresight that I wouldn't really credit anyone with.

4:25 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Nick said...

""I'm not denying class dealignment, I'm saying that it isn't just a natural phenomenon, it's also a consequence of parties changing their stances, policies, branding and marketing."

It really isn't. I'd be astonished to read an undergraduate level essay that made this point without falling over itself or inventing evidence."

So you're really saying that absolutely no element of class dealignment can be put down the behaviour of parties themselves? Not a single vote?

That sounds like an absolutely extraordinary position to hold to me. If you want evidence to the contrary, you're welcome to come out and canvass in east London some time...

Though it should also be noted that the extent of class dealignment can be exaggerated, as a quick look at the internals of any poll will tell you.

Indeed - the relationship of voting BNP or Green to class background is as stark as it was for the main parties a few decades ago.

4:48 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

The point is that Labour need more than just its working class core. The NL strategy was to try and grab a significant section of the naturally Tory middle class. I think that is unlikely to succeed and that Labour should target the public sector and much more Labour-minded sections of the middle class. What is the point of sacrificing many of those votes to the LD's or the Greens for the forlorn hope of trying to hold on to a few southern marginals

4:57 pm, January 14, 2010

 
Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

The labour party is a party of the working and lower middle class, and that is enough to easily win landslides.
Labour wins elections when it goes after the C1 social class as its chief target, not bankers or people with villas, who are never likely to vote for a left wing party.
The right wing press keep claiming middle england affected by the 50 p tax rate. This is rubbish as less than 5 % of the UK earn 150,000 a year. How does the 50 p tax band lose any middle england voters?
Labour won in 1997 by appealing to working and lower middle classes not bankers. Ford Mondeo man not Bentley man.
The C1s ("lower middle classes") win elections.

10:36 pm, January 16, 2010

 
Anonymous Rich said...

Merseymike, we all know world population is well over a billion what it should be. But who is going to listen and who is going to take on this argument. Everyone is too scared to talk about world population growth.

The only thing we can do is control our borders and be prepared for what is going to happen. This mean closing down our borders, removing illegal immigrants and start emergency planning. There is going to be a huge fight for the remaining resources and we'll need our farms, natural resources and armed forced to emerge intact.

If the world isn't willing to listen then the only thing the UK can do is look after itself. The last thing we need right now is a sloppy Brown government who seems set on giving China and India more and more economic advantages. We need strong leadership from someone who is willing to fight for British interests.

10:19 pm, January 17, 2010

 
Anonymous Michael A said...

Rich, that had absolutely bog all to do with what Merseymike said. In case it escaped your attention, he was talking about about voting strategies, whereas you started going into some hysterical apocalyptic rant.

Anyway, moving swiftly on. If Labour are going to really fight the next election they need to get their activist base psyched up and ready to battle - party finances may not be in as good a shape as they once were, but getting people who are committed to the cause knocking on doors and telling people about Labour's policies and how Tory policies might adversely affect them costs little.

10:37 am, January 18, 2010

 
Anonymous Conor said...

Good article Luke. Is it a cruel rumour that Paul was in Workers Power at some point.

7:42 pm, January 19, 2010

 
Anonymous Rich said...

But the party finances are in tatters. You've virtually lost all your backers and even party loyalists are turning on you.

The reality is the electorate doesn't have a lot to choose from but in terms of Labour being well placed to fight an election you couldn't be more wrong.

In todays world you need more than just activists to win an election....you need money simple as that.

8:37 pm, January 19, 2010

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cruddas is one of the worst second home cheats. His presence pollutes Parliament and he is the BNPs best recruiting sergeant in Dagenham. If he is the new generation of Labour then God help them

11:14 am, January 20, 2010

 

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