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, December 24, 2011

Ding dong merrily on high

Being a glass-half-full sort of person when it comes to the state of the Labour Party (http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2011/12/21/no-need-for-jitters/)  I thought I should respond to the glass-half-empty blog post by Anthony Painter (http://labourlist.org/2011/12/a-pretty-bad-year/), backed up by Peter Watt (http://www.iaindale.com/posts/labour-is-just-speaking-to-itself ).

Anthony says the Party has “stopped pretending it’s in trouble when clearly it is”. This is clearly nonsense, everyone I know in the Labour Party spends their entire time full of angst about why we lost and what we need to do to win again.

He says “I’m afraid by-elections and local elections are pretty meaningless in terms of the national picture”. How come then that by-elections and local elections were a perfect indicator of the national picture in predicting we would win in 1997 and lose in 2010?

He says Labour’s “organisation is a bad fit for the needs of the moment”. An odd time to mention this when we just finished spending a year debating structures in the “Refounding Labour” review, made some radical changes in terms of opening up the Party via the supporters’ network, and we have a General Secretary making the most radical changes in living memory at Party HQ. It’s no use making a statement like that without suggesting specific reforms, and the time to do that was in the summer during the RL process.

He says “You no longer win by putting blocks of support together” but anyone who runs campaigns at a local level knows that’s exactly what you do – segment the electorate based on socio-economic data(Mosaic codes) and previous voting behaviour from canvass returns, and target your message at the different groups. It is correct to say there are more groups, a more splintered society, and the big blocks of Labour support are smaller because society has changed, but the idea that economic class isn’t the primary determinant of voting behaviour is nonsense, if it wasn’t why would inner city and former industrial areas be predominantly Labour, rich areas predominantly Tory and mixed areas marginal?  The way the two parties have acted in government shows that they remain basically vehicles for the aggregation and advancement of class interests – Labour improves life for people in places like Hackney, the Tories make it worse.

Anthony says we need a “nuanced conversation” with voters. Yes, with a minority who follow politics very closely we do. But most voters have very little time to think about politics. They don’t want a “nuanced conversation” they just want to know they can trust us to run the country and once we pass that bar they will think about very broadly sketched visions of the future and what our priorities might be.

He argues that it is “stark raving mad” to think “politics has to change society”. Maybe it is. Maybe I am mad. But you won’t get people to sacrifice their spare time to run a voluntary political party by just accepting society as it is and making politics just about electing the most attractive candidate or most competent team. And British society needs changing – it is grossly unfair and unequal – who is going to change that if it isn’t Labour? If it can’t be changed by politics we might as well all emigrate or slit our wrists. Surely the whole point of even the most rightwing versions of social democracy is about fundamentally changing how society works to make it fairer?

He calls for “heavyweight statesmen and women; not former advisers” to lead Labour. I can’t decide if that is a straightforward attack on the current leadership, most of whom were advisers before being MPs, or just naïve – changing the way we recruit our leaders would bear fruit in 20 years time not now.  I’m not aware of a “heavyweight statesman” sat in the wings waiting to lead Labour. And what’s wrong with being a former adviser? I wasn’t one, I don’t have the patience or self-control to only advise or speak for other people rather than speaking for myself so went down the path of elected political office, but why would we have a downer on people who spent Labour’s period in government working full time helping Labour ministers? A) it’s a commendable thing to do and involved a lot of financial and personal sacrifice and B) it means when they become Ministers they already know how to make government deliver our policies.

He also complains that “the upper echelons of the Labour party is dominated by brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and friends”. Errr, yes, because if you work together in the common endeavor of getting Labour elected and then governing successfully for two decades, you will end up being friends with each other, and maybe even marrying each other. Does Anthony want people dropped into Labour’s leadership who haven’t got a history of hard work for the Party? I confess I trust people more and tend to vote for them more if I canvassed with them in 1990s by-elections or sat with them at NUS and NOLS conferences 20 years ago. It means I know what I’m dealing with.

He says “we have a party that interprets diversity in purely gender or racial terms. You end up with even less diversity as a result.” There’s an implicit attack there on measures that do address gender and race representation. There’s also a failure to show any recognition of the training scheme the party is currently running to help people get selected from all sorts of non-traditional backgrounds that are under-represented in the PLP, or the high profile example of us running ex-army officer Dan Jarvis in a by-election.

If Labour is a “guild” as he says, it’s one anyone can join by getting a reputation for campaigning hard. That’s the basic criteria – party members will select people with very diverse political views and personal backgrounds if they know they are grafters who have done the hard slog as volunteers on the doorstep, ditto in terms of who gets appointed to jobs within the party staff.

As for Anthony’s critique of Ed’s leadership, I simply don’t agree with it. Listing things you don’t think Ed has done well is not massively helpful. It would be more useful to set out things you think he should do.

Anthony says, implying this is not a good thing, “The highest value within Labour is now loyalty and unity.” I wish it was.  It should be. We’ve tried disloyalty and disunity throughout our history, particularly in the recent past. It never helps.

He calls for “more (constructive) disruption at the top and throughout the PLP and party – including the NEC.” I’m one NEC member who won’t be heeding that call. If I am constructively disruptive you won’t hear about it – it will be in arguments made in private at party meetings or face to face with the people I disagree with, not grandstanding.

If you want to read a more straightforward, upbeat assessment of where Labour is at, read this by Michael Dugher: http://labourlist.org/2011/12/have-confidence-2011-in-review/

It might help you have a merrier Christmas.


Anonymous rich said...

The only party in real trouble is the lib dems, they are facing a troubled 2012. Being a Tory bitch is never going to win votes especially if you call yourself a social democratic party.

Three cheers to Nick Clegg for making this country truly undemocratic.

8:07 pm, December 24, 2011

Anonymous Chloe said...

Agree with your point about putting blocks of voters together to win - of course it's crude but there is no realistic alternative. You can't go round having "nuanced conversations" because most people don't really want conversations, they just want the basic information and a feeling that you are on their side.

Also agree with point about former advisers/insiders running the party - again I can't see any alternative. It makes sense that the people with the most experience would get the top jobs, that's how it works in any industry. You need people who know what they're doing to be effective, not amateurs.

However, you can't dispute the fact that feelings are pretty low, as you say "everyone I know in the Labour Party spends their entire time full of angst about why we lost and what we need to do to win again." I guess Anthony Painter's article is just a response to that mood.

9:05 pm, December 24, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I do wonder where the likes of Painter expected Labour to be, right now.....

Considering how things *could* have developed post-election, we aren't doing too badly, really.

Of course there is room for some improvement, for everybody from Ed downwards. But AP's piece was just a self-indulgent wallowing in pessimism, made worse by the fact he made no concrete, meaningful suggestions to improve matters.

Merry Christmas ;)

12:20 am, December 25, 2011

Blogger Tom said...

Agree with the anon above.

Going well, have to go better to win, can go better.

11:00 pm, December 28, 2011

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Agree with a lot of this Luke. Actually, I think one of Ed's errors is that he is trying to have a nuanced conversation, but our media doesn't "do" nuance. As such, if he questions something, he's "attacked" it; if he expresses sympathy for something, he "supports" or "refuses to condemn" it. The result is that it can appear as if he opposes strikes one day and supports them the next; wants to cut one day and completely opposes cuts the next, etc, etc. He does rather need a clearer message. However, I do think it is primarily the rhetoric coming from the sort of articles that you quote here that create a (misplaced) need for nuance.

12:11 pm, January 04, 2012

Anonymous Rich said...

It is so easy to blame one man for Labours lack of progress but the reality is the whole party needs to focus on opposition.

This government is making some huge blunders but there is nothing coming out of the labour camp. It's all too theoretical and inwards looking and not enough bite.

Tories on healthcare reform, could have easily been attacked. Look at the breast implant scandal, every reason to avoid any move to a private system. The fact that 17% of Americans now don't have healthcare insurance.....do we really want to end up like that.

Rail fares, what on earth is going on there. What are the effects of the average worker?

Unemployment and the deficit, this is meant to be the tories lucky card but they are failing dreadfully, but where is the opposition.

Either Labour has no press support or they are missing it completely

9:04 am, January 08, 2012


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