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.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The politics of unsubstantiated assertions

I wasn't planning to write anything more about the leadership election but I felt I had to respond to the "open letter" in support of David Miliband, signed by 105 former PPCs, rather a large number of whom are my friends or long-standing allies: http://www.labourlist.org/labour-ppcs-issue-letter-of-endorsement-for-david-miliband

Whoever drafted it is obviously not a proponent of evidence-based argument.

Because I couldn't find a single phrase in it that rose above the status of opinion or unsubstantiated assertion:

It starts with a statement that supporters of every single candidate could subscribe to:
"We recognise that historically following a General Election loss our party has languished in opposition for a number of years, unable to effect the changes our country needed. We therefore feel strongly that we must elect a leader who can buck this trend, reconnect Labour with voters and lead us to victory at the next election."

Yeah, of course, those of us poor deluded fools voting for any of the other candidates obviously don't want to "reconnect Labour with voters" and are keen on "languishing in opposition".

The next bit is reasonable too: "The Party has a choice between excellent candidates, all of whom have particular strengths."

But then we get into assertion territory:

"we believe that it is David Miliband who is best placed to stand against David Cameron as a credible alternative Prime Minister at the next General Election. It is David Miliband who can win for Labour the length and breadth of our country, who can lead our party’s fight back against the coalition and who can lead our campaign to return a Labour government. That is why we enthusiastically support David as our next Labour Leader."

I'm on the edge of my seat waiting for the "because" - the evidence to support these beliefs, but there isn't one. It's blind faith. It's entirely subjective. There is no mention of any reason why they believe these things. There isn't even any anecdotal reference to their experience as PPCs.

I could rewrite the paragraph substituting the word "Ed" for "David" and it would be just as valid/invalid as their text. In fact I will, because it's what I believe and it makes me feel better to write it:

"I believe that it is Ed Miliband who is best placed to stand against David Cameron as a credible alternative Prime Minister at the next General Election. It is Ed Miliband who can win for Labour the length and breadth of our country, who can lead our party’s fight back against the coalition and who can lead our campaign to return a Labour government. That is why I enthusiastically support Ed as our next Labour Leader."

The difference is that in earlier posts rather than just indulge in cheer leading I've tried to make a political case for Ed - to argue what it is about him and his politics that will appeal more to voters, and represents a better vision for the kind of society and economy I want to see.

If I was going to be cruel I would suggest that the reason for the lack of evidence and argument, and the resorting to rhetoric and assertion is that there isn't hard evidence David would be more voter-friendly than Ed, and the political arguments for him depend on a belief in further triangulation and radical public sector reform which are deeply unpopular with Labour and trade union members and of dubious popularity with the wider electorate. They are trying to win despite their candidate's politics, not because of them.

Constantly saying "our guy is more electable" may create a self-fulfilling prophesy but equally it begs the question "really, have you got any evidence to support that or did you just make it up"?

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just like the endorsement you and others got from Progress. No reason given, no rationale. Pure assertion. I don't see you condemning that - but that is because it is in support of you. Double standards again Luke

11:03 pm, September 11, 2010

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

No. Progress were honest about just saying these are the people we are backing because they are the 6 nearest to our politics.

The PPC letter makes an assertion that David is more of a vote winner without supporting that assertion.

11:49 pm, September 11, 2010

 
Blogger DanielRM said...

'Yeah, of course, those of us poor deluded fools voting for any of the other candidates obviously don't want to "reconnect Labour with voters" and are keen on "languishing in opposition".'

That's a bit of an unfair criticism. They say that they believe David *can*, not simply that he wants to. They don't say that anyone voting for anyone else doesn't want to regain power either.

And it does praise other candidates, stating that they're all excellent and all have their strengths.

It's a difference of opinion, nothing more.

As for the lack of substantiation, you're right, this letter contains no evidence to back up its viewpoint.

But that doesn't mean that the claims themselves are unsubstantiated, simply that the letter does not do so. Those PPCs who signed this letter will each have their own reasons for backing David, and will each have arrived at their conclusion differently.

Compass backed Ed Miliband on September 3rd: http://www.labourlist.org/compass-backs-ed-miliband

Reading through that letter, there's nothing there to substantiate the claims made within about why Ed would be the better leader. If you were to be consistent, you should criticise this letter as well.

But I would argue that even if you were consistent then that would still be wrong - because this is simply the executive drafting a letter on the back of a membership vote. Which is not all that different in substance from an open letter signed by 105 PPCs.

And for the moment, that'll do from me.

2:50 pm, September 12, 2010

 
Blogger Simon said...

Exactly right. I'm more than a little worried about the extent to which I've been agreeing with you of late!

4:27 pm, September 12, 2010

 
Anonymous Alex Ross said...

In fairness though Luke, and I agree with the general thrust of your piece the idea that Mili-D is best placed to win back the public I think is based on repeated polls that have shown the public view him in a better light than the other candidates.

This was true at the start of the campaign when 8/8 Newsnight ex-Labour supporters all felt he was best, or towards the end of the campaign with Yougov polling.

Now, there may be a million reasons why they think that - but there are polls out there that show David is best placed among the public.

The most recent Newsnight one among disaffected Southern voters had Andy Burnham on 60% and David Miliband on 40%. Not as good as a Yougov poll but it's things like this that help make up peoples mind when they co-sign a PPC letter.

1:47 pm, September 13, 2010

 

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