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"?