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, June 17, 2010

In defence of "tribalism"

You would have thought that after his disastrous political misjudgement in calling for tactical voting, thus boosting the Lib Dems who went on to form a government with the Tories, Neal Lawson would be keeping his head down.

But no, he's at it again with a piece in the New Statesman attacking "tribalism" and advocating "pluralism": http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2010/06/pluralist-party-labour

Actually this is a thinly veiled attack on putting the Labour Party first and being loyal to it.

Like Neal I'm in favour of proportional representation and I accept that because Labour does not command a majority of votes in most places and certainly not in the UK as a whole, if we have a more proportional voting system we'll have to work with other parties. I don't think Labour has a monopoly of good ideas or the best people. Within the Party I don't think my strand of opinion has a monopoly on good people or ideas.

But I am a "tribalist" as Neal presumably intends to pejoratively put it in that I want Labour to maximise its vote at the expense of other parties, to maximise its power relative to them in any government and to maximise the number of public offices we hold and the number of our policies we get implemented.

This is surely the position of any rational member of any political party in any democracy whether the model is a pluralistic European one or a majoritarian Anglo-American tradition one.

Because if you didn't think your party was better than the others and deserved more power, more of its policies implemented and more of its people holding office on merit, why would you be a member and activist in that party?

Neal's starting position seems to be one of being ashamed of Labour, embarrassed by our record and apologetic that we exist. He seems almost neutral about whether we are a better party than the Lib Dems or the Greens, presenting them as somehow morally equivalent to Labour or in the case of the Greens morally superior.

I don't understand why anyone would stay in the Labour Party if they didn't feel it either had the best (not necessarily the only good) ideology and policies, the best people and the best claim to be in government; or at least the potential in a strand within it to have and be those things.

My starting point is that I love my Party. I'm not blind to it's faults or mistakes or flaws but at the end of the day I am loyal to Labour and want it to grow and thrive. I love the people in it, the people who vote for it and the values and history and hope for the future it represents.

I worked with Neal for years in the LCC (Labour Co-ordinating Committee). That organisation suffered from some of the up-itself-ness of Compass but was working to make Labour electorally successful again.

I no longer know if Neal has any residual affection for Labour or just grudgingly accepts it exists and isn't going away. I don't get any impression he sees our success as a worthy objective in itself. He seems ashamed of the Party he is a member of and the people who loyally vote for it.

The deepest flaw in Neal's attack on "tribalism" is that the pluralism he wants to see is great in theory but requires political partners on the left to be plural with - and the largest possible partner - the LDs - just decided it was part of a rightwing government. Who does Neal envisage we should be pluralist with?

I am sure Neal intends "tribalist" as an insult to a culture within Labour of loyalty and amongst millions of voters of voting for Labour come what may. I wear it as a badge of honour. Without the loyalty of the people Neal disparages as "tribalist" Labour would have died many years ago. Because of them it lives to fight another day.


Anonymous tim f said...

Well said (apart from the PR bit).

The whole move to a "progressive bloc" of some amorphous kind (who decides who's in the bloc? Neal Lawson presumably) is a move away from the class-based reasons why Labour was set up & continues to exist.

Tribalism is not a bad thing. I'm tribal Labour too (it's even how we refer to L5s in canvass sessions I run!). Tribalism is not the same thing as sectarianism. It doesn't mean we don't work with other people where we agree with them & doing so is productive.

3:53 pm, June 17, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

I'm with you on this one, Luke, although I think there are many issues where I would be closer to Compass.

I think the problem with the article is that it fails to recognise that there are still some very distinctive issues where there needs to be a strong Labour voice, and if this is diluted, then the message of, for example, the positive view of the state as enabler and active intervener, will go.

There are, of course, some issues where there will be some unity in terms of 'progressive' values, but these have become less associated with party divides. Take the gay rights issue: we all know the Tories dreadful record, but the fact is that openly gay MP's now sit on the Tory benches, and Cameron clearly hasn't got a problem with the issue and has obviously shifted considerably. It would be stupid to pretend otherwise.

Its interesting to look at a country like Holland where there has traditionally been a great deal of pluralist consensus. That has started to break down and the centre parties are doing less well as a result. In Germany, the so-called liberal party is considerably to the right of Merkel's moderate conservatives. There are members of the LD's who are far more enthusiastic economic liberals than some traditional Tories

I do welcome a more prominent green voice in politics because think they put issues on the agenda which would otherwise become marginal, and I think if Ed Miliband is elected then there could be some fruitful dialogue given that his known interest in green issues

4:19 pm, June 17, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some very interesting points made here. In particular, the distinction between tribalism and sectarianism.

One point that I would make though is that Tony Blair was someone who
really loathed the Labour Party.
At least Ramsay MacDonald left the Labour Party rather than try to destroy it from within.

Some years ago, Tony Blair spoke about his regret at the division in the progressive movement at the
start of the 20th century. This could only reasonably be interpreted as a reference to the birth of the Labour Party.

I can well remember an article at the time by Mark Steele in which he pointed out that there cannot be many party leaders who wished that their party had never existed.

5:56 pm, June 17, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon - Mark Steel is a deeply unfunny, up his own arse t**t. He is also a long-standing member of the SWP - nuff said :-)

Of course Blair never "hated" the Labour party at all - though he often found it exasperating for sure, with more justice on some occasions than others. What he on several occasions said he regretted was how the "progressive" vote came to be split after Labour's rise - thus helping greatly the Tories (the minority party for most of the 19th C) dominate the 20th century.

In the view of many sympathetic to the Labour party, he had a point.

12:43 am, June 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because if you didn't think your party was better than the others and deserved more power, more of its policies implemented and more of its people holding office on merit, why would you be a member and activist in that party?

Isn't this what we've been asking you for years Luke?

3:19 am, June 18, 2010

Anonymous David Floyd said...

Well, pluralism's a good thing in a general sense - I'm less convinced how the over-intellectualised political contortion of it that's been an ongoing Compass totem is much use to the Labour Party (or other parties or people).

The general theory seems to be everything will be all right if all the nice, clever people sit down and have a reasonable discussion.

When I was involved with Compass, this was the sort of stuff that made me worry that I'd inadvertently joined a reheated version of the SDP.

10:56 am, June 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren`t you embarrased by Labour's record??

We have the largest deficit in Europe, we have the most severe recession (except for Ireland), we ran a deficit every year when growth was 3% or more.

Labour wasted billions and you know it. Embarressed?

4:53 pm, June 22, 2010

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Anon above,

"What he on several occasions said he regretted was how the "progressive" vote came to be split after Labour's rise - thus helping greatly the Tories (the minority party for most of the 19th C) dominate the 20th century."

I don't see why this nonsense is any better than Neal's attack on backing political parties.

Both these 'left' and 'right' variants of unanchored, naive politics amount to nonsense. Two sides of the same gauche coin.

I agree with the idea of pluralism in politics, and I would especially like to see a pluralist Labour Party - one that admits that it is a coalition of various interests which often oppose, and that while these usually need to be reconciled, it's OK to have your point of view.

I would also like a new electoral system that pulls us to the left as well as the right, forces us to grow rather than move our camp, and which moderates Tory extremism.

But I can't agree with the contention that there are parties out there as progressive as Labour. At the end of the day, Labour is the only party with any tie to the communities and workplaces in the UK that suffer the most from the right-wing status quo.

Other parties often have good ideas, sometimes better than our own, but the irresponsibility of this coalition makes even Blair's passionate yearning for alien values look like a Trade Union BBQ.

The Lib Dems are not progressive.

They could have chosen to oppose this neoliberal onslaught, but their state-phobic approach and lack of accountability to working class people makes a nonsense of all they profess.

Final points, but if Compass wants to encourage pluralism to the extent that pretty much all non-Tories count as 'progressive', why even bother writing your own policies?

Why does pluralism start with other political parties who, like Labour, also have their own motivations, and often malign ones?

For a long time Compass was the only hope for people like me to find inclusion and a voice generally within Labour. It now habitually forfeits that platform by wasting all of its political capital on things which will turn out to be completely inconsequential. A few months back I sent them a resignation letter, over tactical voting. Still no repentance or change of tack.

I am marooned, and so are some good friends. Where now the centre-left?

2:06 pm, June 24, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the person who made the above comment you quote Tom, I agree with quite a lot of what you say here......

But I don't think to simply dismiss the LibDems as "not progressive" is quite right. I agree Labour is the better option - that's why I'm a member! - but historically the Liberals/LibDems have had significant input from centre-left ideas.

Which is what makes their actions now all the more shocking - I have no doubt they will pay a heavy price for them ;-)

12:51 am, June 25, 2010


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