Sep 052011

If I had to choose, I think right now I’d rather be the Salvation Army.  Anthony Painter would argue otherwise:

Labour rose from community social action and now that is to be recognised in its constitution. But there’s a problem in all this. Everything that Labour has secured has been through becoming an electoral force. It is not community action and election. It is social justice secured through election.

That is the means through which political parties secure their aims. That is why you have a Labour Party as opposed to just trade unions, christian social action, or community activism. So the proposed new Clause I, while containing worthy elements, just doesn’t get it right. Labour people are part of their local community in a myriad of ways and they bring that into the party. The party reaches out to the local community and serves its needs. It does so through representative democracy. Actually, the current Clause I is better because at least it makes it clear that Labour is a political party:

“Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

(Incidentally, more opinion on the proposed new Clause 1 can be found in yesterday’s post over at Though Cowards Flinch.)

Meanwhile, Painter goes on to underline the following:

[…] A political party is a means not an end. To secure social justice? Sure. To serve local communities? Absolutely. Is power an end in itself? Absolutely not. That’s why we have a statement of our values in the constitution. It’s why we present ideas and policies in the form of a manifesto. You just muddy things if you make ‘collective action’ a foundational function of the party. It’s not the Salvation Army. It exists to advance a set of values through electoral success.

And yet I still find the idea of the Salvation Army more attractive.  Well.  Not the Salvation Army itself – but something more resiliently wholesome and acceptable in that grander moral scheme of things than the political parties we must choose from.

Painter’s argument seems to be that in the real world of Western politicking we must accept the dirtiness and dishonesty which all that – of late – would seem to lead to and inevitably invoke.  It’s as if political parties and sincerity cannot go together.  And it is therefore our responsibility as realistic participants to accept that dirty money, marketing-ridden lies and spin after spin after spin are simply going to be givens in our daily existences.

Our sad environments.

Our envelope-stuffing cannon-fodder foot-soldier lives.

Get used to it.  Get real.  Or get off.

That seems to be the message.

But surely that’s entirely missing the point. 

If people find the connect between organisations such as 38 Degrees and so much more convincing and are prepared to sign up in their millions to defend a rolling sequence of causes, where exhortations to support political party campaigns rarely reach their tens of thousands, surely we need to ask the following question: what can we do to make political parties more 21st century and as effective organisational tools as these other campaigning institutions?

For 38 Degrees and are not the single-issue groupings of yore – the CNDs and Greenpeaces that welded certain profiles in tight-knit enthusiasms.  They are, rather, hybrids – halfway between a Greenpeace and a political party.  A hybrid which is very 21st century – and properly designed to work as most of us need.

How, then, do we gauge exactly what 21st century could mean – and how might we design a new kind of political party on the back of it? 

This is a question which may lead us to conclude that the openness and sincerity, the absence or presence of dirty money and the general impression that everything’s above board are all elements we should continue to keep firmly in mind – as we decide how to properly recover the initiative which, arguably, Painter’s understandable realism has nevertheless led us to so comprehensively lose.

Sep 052011

Whilst this week it looks like the Coalition government will steamroller massive self-enriching changes through Parliament which will turn the NHS into a free-for-all for the private industry mates (more here) of David Cameron and Andrew Lansley, one could choose to reach the conclusion that all this is the logical conclusion of the outside-the-box thinking which bedevilled – or, perhaps some would argue, constructively accompanied, depending on your point of view – the New Labour years of Tony Blair.

It does seem that after getting us all used to the need to create partnerships between public and private, and engineer in the public domain a perception that profit is a necessary driver for the provision of the state’s services, what’s happening in this second leg of the Coalition government’s dismantling of the UK and its institutions is nothing more nor less than a coherent continuation of everything Mr Blair initiated.  At the time, I guess, many of us trusted him – trusted him not to use against us what could so easily have become a double-edged sword; and in ways which could have harmed us far more easily than helped us or made proper progress in what we now see, in retrospect, as a socialism by stealth – that socialism, I mean, which dared not speak its name for fear of instant media retribution.

So it is that we have been sold the idea that Mr Blair spent his time cosying up to Mr Murdoch’s media empire because he felt obliged to do everything he (that is to say, Blair) could do to ensure Labour got into and retained the power it had been without for such a long time.

And that, on his part, in the light of such a perception, was a more than honourable act of self-negation which until today I was prepared to sustain.

Until today, that is.  Here, then, from last night’s Telegraph:

Tony Blair is godfather to one of Rupert Murdoch’s young children, it has emerged in an interview with the media tycoon’s wife Wendi.


The former prime minister was reportedly present in March last year when Murdoch’s two daughters by his third wife were baptised on the banks of the Jordan.

The information was not made public and its disclosure in an interview with Mrs Murdoch in Vogue will prove highly embarrassing for Mr Blair.

Whilst Blair is not so forthcoming, Murdoch’s media company confirms the following:

Last night, Mr Blair’s spokesman refused to comment, but a News Corp source confirmed that Mr Blair was godfather to Grace, as was Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s eldest son.

Thus the Mediterraneanisation of Britain (if you’ll excuse the racist terminology) continues apace.  If before yesterday’s news we felt that politics was more important than the personal, Mr Blair has demonstrated most clearly that the personal is now more important than politics.

And this is how “heirs to Blair” takes on a profoundly different and far more worrying meaning.

Representative democracy is no longer a relationship between voters and those temporarily in charge.  Rather, far more obviously, it is becoming clear that even in supposedly technocratic body politics such as the British, the vote of confidence deposited in our politicians is used and abused for utterly private benefit.

Blair’s godfathership of Murdoch’s daughter is no different in principle from David Cameron and Andrew Lansley’s dismantling of the NHS in direct and purposeful benefit of business cronies.  Both see the voters’ devolvement of power through our precious and sacred ballot box to supposedly public servants as a blank cheque to make any changes necessary in the way the state and private business interact.

And whilst I despise what the Coalition are doing, and cannot hope for a change in their behaviours, I had expected far more of Mr Blair – had even arrived at the firm conclusion that whatever he had done and did was out of a true love for and understanding of the long-term needs of the Party.

Not any more.  Not after this.

Heirs to Blair?  It’s practically Francis Ford Coppola land