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, March 10, 2010

Quiz question

It's a matter of weeks until a knife-edge General Election. Everyone in the Labour Party is focussed on the imminent task of defeating a right-wing Tory opposition.

Imagine you are Gavin Hayes, self-styled "General Secretary" of soft left faction Compass. You control a remarkable political asset, an email mailing list that you claim has 40,000 people on it. What to do at this critical political juncture?

Do you:

a) have a chat with Labour Gen Sec Ray Collins about how you can help, then email the 40,000 people on your list urging them to join Labour if they are not members, to donate to Labour's campaign, and giving them contact details of marginal Labour seats so they can get out and campaign for a Labour victory?

or do you

b) act as though the General Election is someone else's problem, and instead email the 40,000 people on your list with a 29 question survey about internal reforms of Labour's structures, including such bright ideas as mandatory reselection of MPs (copyright Tony Benn, 1980), forcing Labour's leader to face annual re-election, smashing the union link by electing the leader in a primary, and refocusing Labour away from being a "political machine for elections" (elections, power, actually doing things for people, how dull!) and turning it into a cross between a debating society and a student union campaign committee? Oops sorry I forgot, another burning question asked by Compass is whether the Chair of Young Labour should be a "full-time sabbatical Support Officer". Voters talk of little else when I canvass them.

Guess which one Gav did: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/mar/10/compass-rebuilding-labour-questionnaire. That was a tough one to predict wasn't it.

Aside from being possibly the dumbest timed initiative ever, even by Compass standards, and a grotesque distraction from the task in hand, the document must have been written by someone with no personal interaction with Labour's local structures. It says "Labour could learn a lot from the way London Citizens allow their key activists in a local area to democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities". Ahem. Labour's key activists in a local area do democratically decide the organisation's campaign priorities at things called branches, CLP general committees, and local government committees. Dear Compass, please try removing yourselves from the Westminster think-tank bubble and getting involved in your local Labour Party, campaigning for a Labour victory or running for local public office. You might learn a bit about why a "political machine for elections" is essential for the emancipation and betterment of the working class, about what ordinary voters actually think of the Guardianista policy pap you peddle, and about the reality of taking political decisions in the teeth of a recession.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Top rant, but absolutely spot on Luke!

11:09 am, March 10, 2010

Anonymous Delbert WIlkins said...

This absolutely confirms what I knew already - that Gavin Hayes is not only an arsehole, but also a congenital moron.

11:52 am, March 10, 2010

Blogger mnottingham said...

I did complete some of the survey so that I could fill in the final box about proposals for the future

"Please wind up Compass and give the money to the Labour Party so ordinary working pople can be helped NOW!"

Gavin Hayes - David Cameron must love him!

1:24 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Luke, you seem to think that Compass have somehow already answered all of these questions?

I filled out the survey and said some of the ideas were good and others rubbish. That's kind of the point of having one. The idea of primaries in particular appalls me, as I believe that having a say is the quid pro quo for membership fees/affiliation money, and that giving the public a free and disproportionately large voice removes the USP of the membership offer.

Also, it's not true to say that Compass ain't campaigning for a Labour win. It's just that people are doing it in an individual capacity.

Compass is a pressure group for Social Democracy. It does not exist [only] to support a political party, but instead to use pressure on them to make sure social democratic policies are enacted and that right wing ones aren't (even if proposed by Labour).

It's simply not true to say, in any event that Labour is the only party that is ever social-democratic. It is more that Labour is the only party with both the potential to be entirely social democratic, and that has a serious movement to sustain and pressure it towards this.

These are two subtly different things.

Labour, in many instances, acts contrarily to policies of the democratic left. Other parties often propose social democratic some policies too.

It is the public policy which comes out and impacts the lives of voters that should be the highest priority in the mind of anyone on the left. This of course necessarily includes electoralism, but you should accept that it much more difficult and complicated than just electing Labour politicians.

So getting these policies put in place is not as simply as blindly marching about leafletting places.

At the next election we could win, but our majority will take a big hit on last time. The party needs that neglected round of renewal more than ever, and I think that's a thoroughly sensible debate to have.

Compass might as well put out feelers for what people think about this stuff now.

2:33 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Correction: 'some social democratic policies'

2:34 pm, March 10, 2010

Anonymous Gavin Hayes said...

Hi Luke - I'm really glad to see your back in top form with your histrionic blogs. :-) But with the greatest respect I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

The point is that all we've put together is a very short 10 min survey to canvass opinion from Labour stakeholders. Hardly distracting people from the general election campaign! Part of democracy is not just about knocking on doors it's about listening and actually asking people what they think and want from politics and what would encourage their political participation - other than just their vote in a ballot box every 4 or 5 years.

Furthermore I'd point out that it probably took you longer to write this blog, than it does the average person to respond to our survey. So maybe you should take a leaf out of your own blog - stop blogging and get yourself out campaigning, or on the phones!

The reality of course is that most people can manage their time effectively to both submit their positive ideas to our survey and get out there and campaign for the general election.

I'd also point out that there is in fact a link to joining The Labour Party on the Transforming web page for any one who wants to.

Of course however if Party members and supporters felt more listened to and felt they had more of a stake in decision making, indeed even through surveys like the one that we launched today, as well as other engagement and democratic mechanisms that allowed their voices to be properly heard, the Party would probably have a fast growing membership and supporter base just like Compass, not a shrinking one.

The fact is Labour has lost over half its members since 1997 and over 4 million voters, we need to think carefully about how we turn that around for the future benefit of the Party, the movement and the entire country.

If we hadn't managed to lose those people along the way, then we probably wouldn't be finding the fight out there on the doorstep nearly quite so tough and we wouldn't be faced with the very real prospect of Cutter Cameron in office.

Thanks however for writing this blog, as I very much welcome the debate and hopefully it will help generate dozens of additional responses to the survey itself.

3:27 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


believe me I wrote that in a lot less than 10 minutes.

I'm grateful for your suggestion that to "get yourself out campaigning, or on the phones!". I'm up for re-election as a councillor this May, I'm camapign manager for the local election campaign across the whole of Hackney and agent for the elected Mayor, and since I came out of hospital have clocked the highest number of canvassing contacts by any individual in my borough. So your exhortation is a bit superfluous.

You are being listened to by Labour's leadership. They just don't agree with you.

3:36 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger james said...

I was a little puzzled at the timing of the survey, and knew that there'd be a strident response from Luke.

It's true that we have organisational influence within the party at a local level, etc., but the ordinary member has little influence over policy.

Ed Milliband's use of the internet to promote discussion of the manifesto shows the way forward, I think.

10:56 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Hmm - in general I agree with what others have said about the timing, but appreciate quite a lot of what Tom and Gavin have said too (I particularly agree with both Tom and Luke about the silliness of a primary proposal: let's just have a system where we ensure members get a vote for the leadership!!)

However, I can't quite follow Tom's point about the social democratic potential of other political parties. I've no doubt he's right - other parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party (and whichever ex-Labour or non-Labour left entity appears this year) propose policies that might be described as social democratic and Labour often propose policies (and enact policies) that cannot. Like Tom, I would prefer Labour to propose social democratic (or dare I suggest it, socialist?) policies more than they do. But what does this add to the discussion? I assume Tom is not proposing that social democrats (or socialists) consider voting for a different party?

Whatever the result of the election (and there are reasons to be optimistic as well as reasons to be realistic and Tom is right that it is not going to be a Labour landslide!)there will no doubt be demand for a little introspection. I dare say some is required - the transition from New Labour to something else (and, whatever your internal position, this is needed - if a week's a long time in politics, something can't stay 'new' for 20 years)should not just happen organically, it does need to be thought about and shaped; I've no doubt Kinnock, Blair, Brown, etc. thought about New Labour (before anybody starts ranting about naval-gazing, etc.) But really I can't see that anything can be gained by beginning these considerations NOW. It may take only ten minutes to complete the survey, and I may have spent nearly that time on this comment (!!) but it takes a whole lot longer to analyse the results and consider how to act on them, and I can't see that that should be a priority this month or next.

Luke won't agree with me, but I think Compass should mostly be focused on ensuring that Compass-supporting MPs (or MPs who back policy lines broadly similar to Compass) are returned. Of course, as individual Labour Party members they should be focused on returning all Labour candidates whether they agree with Compass lines or not. I say this as somebody who has not got a lot of time for Compass; but that is a sensible role for an internal pressure group at election time; it's how the Keep Left/Bevanite Group approached elections in the 1950s and it gets Labour MPs and candidates elected and it brings people into campaigning who might otherwise stay outside. The left has been reluctant to blatantly support their own at election time since that time, but there is no down-side to doing so for the Party.

The introspection must come later.

11:45 pm, March 10, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Load of rubbish.

I attended the launch of Liverpool Compass, which I intend to get involved in, and there were 170 people there. I can assure you that a 'New' Labour meeting would never attract an audience like that here.

Compass are renergising people on the centre-left and bringing people like me back into politics - ready for the time when the NL experiment finally dies, and I'd give it less than 2 months.

12:59 am, March 12, 2010

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

"I assume Tom is not proposing that social democrats (or socialists) consider voting for a different party?"

Certainly not. We're the most Social Democratic these days, with many diversions. We have strong local candidates and are tied to a movement rooted in people's real concerns, unlike the Lib Dems who would rather chat out constitutional reform than help families pay the bills.

But being most social democratic doesn't necessarily mean that we are social democratic fully, or in the larger part.

A good chunk of the Labour Party, especially the PLP, is fundamentally opposed to us being a party that sits left of the centre ground. They would leave us potent but infertile. As long as that remains true but we remain a party with roots in the unions and the concerns of those who get the rawest deal, there will be contradictions and fights. And the neo-Gaitskellite wing remains more sectarian than the attitudes I have just espoused by a good long way.

I want a party that is safe, fullfilling and attractive for all stripes on the democratic left to join and be active on behalf of. There is nothing wrong with wanting that or applying pressure for it.

1:35 am, March 12, 2010

Anonymous Ben said...

Absolutely top notch, Luke. These people need more howls of derision and laughter to get them to STFU. Hayes - what a total loser.

Miller - you mean social democratic policies like engaging in a massive reflationary policy framework that sits utterly outside the economic orthodoxy of the last 20 years? Possibly to the extent that it is slightly alarming! People like you should be in paroxysms of ecstacy about all this! Oh no, sorry. Pardon me. You mean pamphlets about how advertising is bad m'kay, how we should be nicer to Green MEPs and the vital - vital I tell you - issues about internal structures.

Your sort will never, ever in a million years get your agenda enacted. You wouldn't want to anyway, as you are hard-wired into oppositionist mode. You will sit around ineffectually wringing your hands and being at best an utter irrelevance whilst the rest of the party gets on with the job of "blindly leafletting" places - a phrase which tells one all one needs to know about your peculiar brand of "politics".

(I think I would probably prefer to describe it as some sort of mal-adjusted cultural sub-group lifestyle choice for - in the words of Kinnock down the page - self-indulgent dilettantes, but there we are.)

1:48 am, March 13, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Ben: given that the economic orthodoxy of the past 20 years has patently failed, and shed goodness knows how many Labour voters who won't vote at all next time, of course the answer has to be yes. That economic orthodoxy originated with the Tories.

1:05 am, March 15, 2010


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