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 14, 2008

The Fourth and Fifth Ways

Martin Bright in the New Statesman identifies three factions in Labour, soft left Compass, ultra-Blairites backing Miliband, and a "third way" around John Denham advocating that Labour "redefine its values under a Brown premiership".

As usual the journalistic community has failed to appreciate that not one of these three tendencies actually has a presence on the ground in the CLPs or trade unions which control 2/3 of Labour's electoral college, or much of one beyond a few loudmouths in the PLP.

In fact they are all rather similar in culture and milieu, representing the - often well-meaning - denizens of the Guardian op-ed pages and think tank cocktail parties rather than the reality of Labour politics on the ground. They are all in competition to prove how many "new" ideas they can come up with rather than dealing with the gritty realities of electioneering at a council and constituency level.

Ignored by Bright is Labour's historic loyalist tendency around Labour First who want Brown's premiership to succeed without junking any of the common sense values and understanding of the essentially moderate politics of both our core vote and swing voters that led him and Tony Blair to create New Labour.

Equally ignored are the Hard Left who whilst they only have two dozen MPs retain enough votes amongst grassroots members and in the unions to have a destructive influence in any future leadership election.


Blogger ian said...

Interesting post Luke.

Dont you think John Denham may be keeping his options open as to which way the leadership question swings?
Speaking to many CLP members down here who know him , he is seen very much as a barometer at to which way the Labour Party is shifting/swinging. Far be it for me to say the guy is an oppurtunist.



5:24 pm, August 14, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Though I would characterise the two ignored 'ways' you refer to rather differently, and my tone would be very different, I'm inclined to agree with the bare bones of your criticism.

8:17 pm, August 14, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now let me see you wouldn't by chance be in the Labour First lot would you Luke?

They appear to get the thumbs-up as the sensibles in your review.

The retention of Brown, however, as PM to the bitter end puts paid to any claim to be acting sensibly.

8:41 pm, August 14, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

Echoing Dunc, I broadly agree with the facts of your analysis Luke, if not the Tone.

Save one thing: the constituency within the Party that consistently votes for Grassroots Alliance candidates in pretty large numbers at NEC elections doesn't seem to have been factored into your analysis, spanning as it does a kind of 'proper labour' arc from centrist to 'hard' left

9:19 pm, August 14, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Yes, but that faction (better understood as workerist, conservative , unimaginative people who really believe that NL was the beneficiary of a positive appeal rather than the state of the Tories) are currently in charge, and look at the outcome. A 20%+ Tory lead, losing safe seats in Scotland, hardly any genuine enthusiasm for the government in the country.....and still they think that nothing needs to change!

9:34 pm, August 14, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Labour still think they don't have to change. They believe it is about image rather than substance?

Time will tell but I think most people will agree this is more than just image. Even under the Blair administration it was clear that Labour was losing support.

The whole point of changing leader was to surely change direction? I was expecting a move that would at the very least strengthen workers rights etc.

This is not the Labour party I voted for.

10:44 pm, August 14, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

they have strenghened workers rights like on the mini wage. This is the labour party you voted for. :

11:17 pm, August 14, 2008

Blogger Newmania said...

I just posted this but it was going to be a comment on your blog Luke

.The Fourth and Fifth Ways .

Schism and factionalism are tearing Labour apart. Dream tickets * ,from the bloke team of Johnson and Cruddas, to Milliband and “Partner”,bob to the surface with the solidity of rumours about the next Bond. Martin Bright in The New Statesman has the third way , but Luke Akenhurst has a post up called ,” The Fourth and Fifth Ways” !
In all this I detect an alchemist’s delusion. The heating mixing and calibrating of worthless ingredients, from which gold will never emerge .The irony is that the Party of historical inevitability is peculiarly blind to its own inevitable end
Collectivism is an anathema to the English that is the natural state . This has been disguised by exceptional circumstances which, odd though it might sound to say so, prevailed throughout the 20th century. In the Khaki election the urban working class grasped representation, and it was then that the Liberal Party became the rag bag of luxury issues it remains. From there Mass warfare slewed Britain towards state action. The depressed aftermath latterly of the Second World War continued the effect well into the 70s.
This “extraordinary” impoverishment should be compared to the American experience not the Victorian period and it sustained the Labour beyond its shelf life . The misunderstood ,Edwardian period was an explosion of economic progress stopped in it s tracks but the Great War not a long afternoon of croquet in the fin de siécle sunshine. In the ‘what if’ peaceful 20th century Labours time would have been short.
At last,under Callaghan , the post war collectivist consensus became unsustainable in the face of national collapse . From that point natural prosperity has returned and Labour’s ,raison d`etre, the working classes and the Union movement, has withered . Today only 18 % are unionised and the majority are either leaving or aspiring to leave what was the working class.
Labour are currently blinded by the achievement of Tony Blair, but in truth they have long been a been paper tiger .Boundaries favour them in England to the extent that they had a huge majority of seats despite never equalling the Conservative vote . As the Union fragmented they have benefited from double counting the Celtic fringe , Paradoxically their inheritance of what was , relatively speaking, fabulous prosperity has fuelled a last hurrah. It cannot be repeated but they think a slight shift or presentation like adding “New” will save them..
History is against them and the depth of reinvention required will not be a matter of adding the word New but of dropping the word “Labour “.

*I remember the Dream Ticket of Kinnock and Hattersley .. shudder...

10:55 am, August 15, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post from Luke. I assure you I wasn't forgetting the hard left, but I'm not sure they are entirely relevant to this debate.

I take your point entirely that the three groups I identify are not true grassroots organisations, but it may well be that the leadership question is decided by such people. After all, New Labour itself was not and has never been supported by the grassroots (except as a deliverer of election victories).

Also Ian is right to say that Denham is a useful barometer.

2:55 pm, August 15, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Collectivism may be alien to the south of England. But certainly not in the north

A Tory term and you watch how popular regional assemblies become (though not the half baked variety offered to us before)

4:59 pm, August 15, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Martin would you care to elaborate as to why the 'hard' left aren't entirely relevant? Numerically I would have thought we are similar in size to some of the other 'threads' of opinion in the party you have identified (considerably bigger on the ground than some).

5:07 pm, August 15, 2008

Blogger Newmania said...

After all, New Labour itself was not and has never been supported by the grassroots (except as a deliverer of election victories).

...and that is the lie that has been told to the electorate and that is also the fundemental reason behind the death of Labour.

9:28 pm, August 15, 2008

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

I don't disagree with Martin's analysis (I'm a journalist myself), but I don't think the media can extricate itself from its role in the story. It's a key component of this self-serving and vacuous whirl of power-worship, briefing and counter-briefing, bitch and counter-bitch, that has so poisoned the top end of Labour politics.

By its reverent coverage of all this court gossip (and I'm not talking about the tabloids and the telly here, I'm talking about the 'serious' columnists - yer Steve Richardses, Polly Toynbees, Martin Kettles. Jackie Ashleys and Andrew Rawnsleys who I can't imagine have been to a CLP meeting in years, if ever), the political media are creating 'facts on the ground' that effectively discourage people from looking at alternatives. And so they're always written off as 'not feasible' because 'no one's heard of them', and the reason no one's heard of them is because of this endless vacuous poring over cabinet ministers' vapid outpourings.

1:05 am, August 16, 2008

Blogger Tom said...

"Collectivism is an anathema to the English that is the natural state"

I think that this is the premise on which New Labour is essentially based... or at least the dominant strain.

Sceptical politics lose momentum eventually.

2:17 pm, August 16, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Martin would you care to elaborate as to why the 'hard' left aren't entirely relevant?"

Well, the article suggests a limited interaction between the PLP and the party at large.

The factions that are discussed are probably not really factions in any practical sense but they are the three strains of thought that are relevant to the debate within the PLP about where the party might go next.

The hard left might be relevant in terms of providing votes for other people but hard left is not one of the possible directions that the party could go in the near future.

I don't really think soft left is either unless or until a few cabinet figures mysteriously decide they're part of it. Ed Balls is a candidate for that. Even Jack Straw might rediscover social democracy for the duration of a leadership contest.

2:18 pm, August 16, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Do you not find those last two sentences irredeemably depressing?

Fortunately I am more optimistic!

2:39 pm, August 16, 2008

Blogger David Gerard said...

I'm sure Labour can pick a new winner if they try. (Or not.)

5:12 pm, August 19, 2008


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