Labour List has just published an e-book titled “One Nation Labour – debating the future”. You can find some background about this project here, whilst it’s currently downloadable in .pdf format here.
Whilst I was looking at some of the document this evening, I half-glanced at Twitter and found my mind caught up by the following thought:
We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over, and expect a different result. #SmallBiz #StartUps #Entrepreneurs
I don’t know exactly what the context of this tweet was – and it’s clear from its hashtags that it’s not directly related to political endeavour either. But it did serve, as I continued, to inform some of my reading of the Labour List content. In particular, a postscript by Jon Wilson. In it, he describes how the concept and practice of leadership and led might be tweaked for a 21st century audience (the bold is mine):
Second, we need a renewal of authority within our institutions. It isn’t about everyone being able to decide everything. We need to be able to trust the people in charge. But authority isn’t just the power to regulate or command. It comes from a leaders’ obligation towards the people they lead, on recognizing the important role of workers and users in providing challenge.
And this is when my warning klaxon began to sound: especially that last sentence, which firmly serves to re-establish time-honoured hierarchies in a sadly unquestioning way. It doesn’t get better, either (again, the bold is mine):
We need to nurture a form of leadership that is more democratic. That might mean public events where leaders are asked to account for themselves before the public whose lives are affected by their decisions; something like London Citizens’ accountability assemblies, for example. To be really radical, we might elect leaders head-teachers and hospital managers as well as company bosses at assemblies in which different interests are represented.
There are, of course, plenty of good phrases in this text – and I’m sure a deeper appreciation will bring them out. But the fact that in the same document, in fact in the same section, we read of the One Nation project something like …
“It starts by being more comfortable with the tensions that come when people have a say over the institutions that rule their lives. It recognizes the plurality of Britain, but has faith in the capacity of people to forge a sense of shared purpose and create the common good from the argument.”
… alongside others such as …
“Our institutions can only nurture a sense of mutual obligation if the power of Whitehall to coerce and cajole is limited. Yes, government needs to set standards and impose rules.”
… clearly indicates that the tensions between citizen government and traditional politics already alluded to are manifesting themselves right at the very heart of that very same project.
And not necessarily in a constructive or honest sense.
In truth, One Nation Labour, for all the fair intentions I perceive in its proponents, can’t rid itself of its unerringly centralising instincts as a definer of political narrative quite before it is a liberating treatise of 21st century virtues. Whilst the contribution I quote from above is possibly an unreasonably unrepresentative sample, it was the first page of this e-book I opened at random – and for the moment, therefore, I can only assume that equivalent tensions will also infuse the rest.
One Nation Labour may be as Mark Ferguson asserts:
It has the ability to build on the modern, passionate, progressive nationalism of the Olympic Games. It could be a way of articulating Labour values in a way that appeals to the south as well as the north. It could – if done right – secure a position for Labour as the de-facto party of British government.
But such sentiments, obviously and understandably seen by Mark and many other loyal Party members as undeniable positives, can just as easily be interpreted as a kind of political whitewash, designed to redirect and channel the march of British politics back into previous ages and mindsets which the professional politicians – always in thrall to their history – will always feel more comfortable with.
One more tweet to finish today – this time from yours truly, and mirroring the one we started out with:
If politicos of all parties feel obliged to reform society from without, why do they reserve the right to reform politics from within?
And it’s true, if you think about it. Politicians everywhere believe they know best: they know more about education than teachers; they know more about law than lawyers; they know more about social care than carers; they know more about health than doctors. Yet when it comes to changing politics itself, when it’s time to re-engineer democracy, they revert to believing that only the professionals in the matter should define, mark and voice an opinion. And where the amateurs in the equation – that is to say, the voters themselves – do get the option to intervene, it’s always in a cagily couched “listening exercise” which serves to keep them well under control, at bay and – ultimately – hugely and passively perplexed.
In one thing Mark is right: One Nation Labour has potential. But I fear that this will be a potential which will end up squandered on the altar of resisting other more sincere movements to independent and regional governance.
In the end, One Nation Labour may manage to paper over its cracks in order to win an election most will admit needs winning – but the depth of those imperfections, at least in the light of the tensions I perceive in today’s publication, will only serve a posteriori to fatally damage any long-term governmental coherence we might have expected – or, at the very least, hoped for.