Feb 252013
 
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I received an email this afternoon on a new report by the Fabians.  I am a member of this grouping, though a rather passive one.  I suppose it would be fair to throw the accusation of armchair socialist at me.  I like my armchair, it is true.  But what I really like is words.  Their order, their relationship with other words, their choice and their juxtaposition.

All of that stuff, for someone who writes a lot, is significant and key – even when it might not necessarily be for you.

Not that I’m suggesting it should be.  We all have our different ways of looking at the world.

Anyhow, the email I mention leads me to this web page – and then onto the report itself, where we start out with these words:

Labour needs to answer five questions about the future of the state, so that it comes to power with a radical programme of government, but one that survives contact with the reality of office. [...]

The five questions line up as follows – in order to make the exercise I’m about to carry out work better, I’ll put them in an ordered list for you:

  1. Is there a middle way on fiscal policy?
  2. What are the next ‘pledge card’ policies?
  3. What does Labour do with the legacy it inherits?
  4. How does government change the economy and society?
  5. And how does Labour create a better state?

This was then sent my way in a slightly different and more concentrated form on Twitter (sometimes Twitter serves quite usefully to reveal what a greater space and time often obscure):

5 tests for the next Lab gov: fiscal trust, pledge-card ideas, coalition legacy, culture and markets, a better state [...]

 So let’s rewrite the above list with the language as per the tweet:
  1. Fiscal trust
  2. Pledge-card ideas
  3. Coalition legacy
  4. Culture and markets
  5. A better state

I responded to this tweet in the following way:

@andrew_harrop Good ideas – bit surprised by order. IMHO shd be: coalition legacy; culture & mrkts; fiscal trst; better state; pledge card.

Which is to say:

  1. Coalition legacy
  2. Culture and markets
  3. Fiscal trust
  4. A better state
  5. Pledge-card ideas

What really am I up to here then?  Well.  As horsemeat’s all the rage, it did seem to me that a few “cart before the horse” games were being played in what at first glance might appear to be a casually ordered list.  The question I ask of myself – and, through this post, of you – is whether the order the list was served up in was quite as casual as it first appeared.  In particular what stuck out as that proverbial sore thumb was “pledge-card ideas” at position number 2.

How so?  Using a pledge-card strategy as your second big idea or test for adequacy in government two years down the line is hardly the most convincing, nor politically solvent, move to make, now is it?

So what about the list I went and suggested?  By 2015, when the next general election hits us, for sure it’s going to be hitting us hard.  The coalition legacy will be clear for all to see; uppermost in people’s minds; a massive constraint on what Labour’ll be able to promise and deliver; and, more importantly, a starting-point for everything.  On the back of that legacy, we have a far older one – political and fiscal culture and markets.  One which this government will have done absolutely nothing to convert.  One which will be living on its highs of inviolable dominance.  And only if Labour knows how to deal with these two items first will the third on my list become at all possible to engineer and acquire.

A better state is my fourth, of course – something I think all of us on the left are aiming to create.  But it comes as a result of dealing with the first three – the first three being either the obstacles or opportunities to bring back some sense and sensibility to a “one nation” perception of the British body politic.

Whatever “one nation” might eventually mean for a group of islands where so many peoples live.

The pledge-card idea surely has to come last of all, mind.  You can’t know what you’re going to be able to deliver until you’ve been through the difficult process of deciding what’s available.  You can’t argue: “Shopping-list first!” – and then scrabble around for the pennies when you get to the checkout.  That this seems so self-evident to me and not to whoever drew up the intro makes me wonder if there isn’t some hidden agenda in all of this.  A bit too much input from marketing perhaps – and not quite enough from sensible political and financial observers?

In truth, of course, they’re just words – and words are only this important to silly wordsmiths like myself.  I may indeed be making a massive mountain out of stupidly trivial molehill.  But if that’s the case, do let me know.

It doesn’t harm to inform.

I don’t bite.


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