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, August 12, 2010

The debate continues

Respect is due to John Woodcock MP who has taken time out from his holiday to pen a characteristically well-argued response to my post about public service reform - http://www.progressives.org.uk/articles/article.asp?a=6564

My own post is being re-tweeted in a rather alarming fashion. To misquote Mrs Gaitskell's remark to Hugh when he made his anti-Common Market speech ("all the wrong people are cheering") "all the wrong people are tweeting".

As I've rather misguidedly picked a debate on policy with one of Labour's brightest new MPs on an issue he passionately cares about; and I can't resort to a traditional Akehurst rant as he's one of my allies, not least on the issue of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, the subs for which get built in his seat; and I'm also about to go on holiday I will be thinking carefully about my response whilst on the beach down in St Ives.

Just to put a marker down though some of the things I'm going to throw in will be:

  • the function of public services particularly schools as community hubs and motors of community cohesion, and how this is undermined by "choice"
  • why school governing bodies aren't "producers" - they include parent governors (consumers) and LEA governors (representatives of consumers)
  • the role of local government in driving improved services and in making services democratically accountable to the whole electorate
  • why the whole language of producer vs consumer is inappropriate to public services (public sector workers all use public services themselves), alienating to some of Labour's strongest supporters, and insulting to their professionalism and sense of public service
  • why geography - lack of land to expand popular urban institutions, distance between schools and hospitals in rural areas - makes choice impractical in many cases
  • why "genuine community ownership" has always existed through democratically elected local authorities
  • what a good LEA does - support schools - and why the concept of freeing schools from LEAs is bizarre, undermines local democracy and increases the risk of failing schools
  • why schools belong to the whole community they serve, not just the immediate generation of parents


Anonymous M said...

Wonderful stuff, Luke. I look forward to reading the full response. Enjoy St Ives!

8:24 pm, August 13, 2010

Blogger Newmania said...

As you might expect, I don't believe that the change required is a move to the left - i.e. further away from the voters - on a traditional left-right axis.

You have ruled out the reform of public services , applauded floods of immigrants connived in the selling out of the country and pretended the underlying structural deficit could be rolled on.
I am at something of a loss , then , to imagine what this move to the right entails
Are you able to give any specific examples ?

8:50 pm, August 13, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

At some point in the coming year, people like Luke are going to have to face up to the contradiction of their position. Luke consistently - at times, frankly, obsessively - identifies himself with the right of the party, while vilifying everyone to left. And yet his core points here are precisely the basis for the left critique of new labour since at least 2000.

The fact is that the 'reform' agenda was not just some historical accident that got tagged onto new labour as an afterthought - it was constitutive of the core new labour programme and expressive of its core values, and it undermined the historical legacy of social democracy to a degree that has now left that legacy thoroughly vulnerable to the coalition's assault.

Good old 'right-wing' social democrats like Luke were persuaded to back this new labour 'reform' agenda by appeals to their party loyalism and to the fanatical anti-leftism which they learned during the battles with the hard left in the 1980s.

This is all perfectly understandable - the hard left in the late 80s was out of control, refusing to accept that the political landscape had changed since the days when most of its assumptions had been formulated (the early 1920s, for the most part). It was necessary for various strands of the soft left, right, 'modernising' and social democratic traditions within the party to unite in order to present a viable electoral challenge to Thatcherism, and some sectarianism and some hard compromises were indispensable to the process.

However, some from the traditional social-democratic centre of the party now seem to be making the same kind of mistake as the old hard left: refusing to accept the extent to which many of their learned political reflexes and assumptions are no longer appropriate to the present situation. Luke seems to believe that the differences between his Gaitskellite-Hattersleyite social democracy and the ideological neoliberalism which defined new labour after the first Comprehensive Spending Review are merely incidental and insignificant, while the differences between his position and that of his old enemies (the ones he still loves to hate), 'the left' remain significant and insurmountable.

This frankly borders on the delusional. It's a delusion which surely can't survive the debates and challenges of the next 18 months...

This is important not just because Luke is important, but because he does indeed represent the hard-working, serious-minded, usually-intellecutally-honest core of the Labour party and its most effective and long-lasting traditions. He is one of the best and the most rightly-respected representatives of that tradition in the modern party. But until the representatives of that tradition can shake themselves out of the intellectual complacency and political reactivity into which Blair's electoral success mesmerised them for so long, the party cannot hope to recover its sense of historic purpose.

Finally, one has to wonder if anything at all could ever persuade Luke to acknowledge that anyone to the left had ever been right about anything ever. If the answer is 'no', then Luke clearly, by definition, isn't writing from an objective or even rational position. If the answer is 'yes', then one has to wonder what exactly it is that could provoke such an admission, if not the fact that the problems facing the labour party and movement as a result of the pursuit of new labour's 'reform' agenda are precisely the problems which the left said it would face as a result of it from the moment of that agenda's inception...

11:51 am, August 14, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always distrust someone who uses the phrase "frankly delusional".

Surely there either delusional or not delusional.

Frankly doesn't do anything except self-consciously convey an impression that the writer wishes to convey sincerity.

That sincerity is undermined by knowing that the phrase has long ago passed into cliche.

The writer is therefore unconsciously conveying insincerity.

12:28 pm, August 14, 2010

Blogger james said...

John at least took the time to respond. The Labour Uncut article he wrote before that - criticising Ed Miliband's criticism of deregulated labour markets - was met with a response from Sadiq Khan defending Miliband's view.

The problem with both deregulated labour markets and privatisation of public services is that they don't benefit your average voter as much as they do benefit private firms seeking to maximise profit by cutting costs, and wielding significant lobbying power.

3:40 am, August 15, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see you are Darlington based, James.....

Any comment on Milburn??

11:36 am, August 15, 2010

Blogger james said...

Anonymous - If it's true, I'm disappointed. The best way to advance social mobility is obviously to bring a halt to the "Age of Austerity" being planned by the Coalition - it is clear that they want those with the least to pay the most for the bankers' mess. It is obvious that the Tories - both blue and yellow - want to use the "we're all in it together" vibe to undermine the Labour Party.

2:25 am, August 16, 2010


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