Kath has an interesting piece over at Speaker’s Chair. In it she says:
Just two years before a general election, and already Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ mantra whiffs of failure. It’s not hard to see why. As a slogan, it doesn’t have the oomph of a car insurance advert, let alone the ‘va va voom’ Labour needs to win.
She adds that:
Tony Blair’s New Labour re-branding in 1994 was a success because it meant something. With one short word, he told Britain that the old Labour Party – the party of wildcat strikes, crippling taxation and high unemployment – was gone forever. One Nation Labour tells us nothing. It certainly isn’t going to contribute to a landslide victory in 2015.
Now I can understand where she’s coming from, but I’m not sure I agree. The renaming process of “New Labour” spoke most powerfully about the thus-banished behaviours of the Party itself. One Nation Labour, meanwhile, may be trying to do something far more revolutionary. Even as she argues …
How are voters meant to grasp something so essentially elitist? And why would they bother trying?
… I respond with this comment:
Hmm. I agree that One Nation doesn’t mean much now, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Imagine, if you will, two years down the line, a country finally riven by the cuts which have still barely begun to bite. Imagine how people will feel, what they’ll be really desperate for. Togetherness perhaps? A oneness of nationhood? A society which helps all its members? Is that really beyond belief? Can’t the kind of political rhetoric One Nation rhetoric represents be filled out and made clear for a change by the people, instead of by the politicians?
This is why I think Ed Miliband may have thought this through much more from a strategic point of view than from a marketing point of view. Yes. Like a good Ibsen play, the real action is taking place offstage, in the community in question, amongst the people themselves. In my mind, at least, One Nation may be a political bath just waiting to be filled by the people themselves. And using the multitude of babies (Legal Aid, the NHS, education, social care, disabled support etc) which the Tories have clearly been looking to dispose of.
We’ve been here before, of course – specifically, Party Conference 2011 and Miliband’s famous curiosity of a speech. It wouldn’t, after all, be the first time he has had people misunderstanding/underestimating what he is up to:
[…] But I do think, in an analogous way, that – in his recent speech at Party Conference – Ed Miliband was at least attempting to break certain moulds in quite a courageous manner. The very fact that many people felt obliged to criticise his delivery – and not see his register as conversational rather than traditionally declamatory – does make me wonder if this poor man doesn’t have the hardest job in politics: to sell grassroots collaboration to a political party wary of, and thus resistant to, all such similar promises.
A political party which claims to be the very essence of grassroots politics – and then consistently finds itself in search of yet another charismatic group of fixers.
Is Ed Miliband’s speech going to be a Hitchcockian achievement [as per Hitchcock’s “Psycho”]? Misunderstood on its first outing by those who claim to know – yet generally, in the future, to be well received by those who can only vote? Battling against those “vested interests” which make economies in their own image and for their own purposes is an issue he is courageous to raise. In a sense, then, perhaps we could say – with his conversation – that Miliband proposes nothing more nor less than that neo-New Labour I was unhappy with the other day: but in a better and far more constructive register; that is to say, all the unfinished business which New Labour was never brave enough to get round to effecting.
This, then, in a very Reaganite way, could be how revolutionary One Nation Labour might become. Miliband looking only to place a conceptual framework around the people; not, in any significant way, to play the commentariat game of telling the people what to think and do. It’s not without its own risks, of course. As Ben suggests over at Labour Uncut:
One Nation: the slogan that just will not budge. Still being drummed home to death. We may have tired of it but we’re not going to forget it. The mark of a successful slogan? Not really. I still don’t understand what it means. Or more accurately, what we’re meant to do with it. Alone, it’s meaningless: Labour has broad appeal? It will unite the whole of Britain?
But, all parties profess to do this. Besides, One Nation fails the “elevator pitch:” able to be summarised in one elevator ride. Which isn’t 100% accurate as I’ve just summed it up in a sentence. Unfortunately, the summary alone is so vague it requires several more elevator rides. Heck, it might be easier just to get in one, hit the emergency alarm, and hope the rescue takes several hours.
Yet I see other things which Labour, in the ordinary communities it must win, is doing to create a different feeling. Maybe Miliband isn’t doing as well as he could to flesh out One Nation Labour to the mass media. On the other hand, maybe he’s still holding back as he looks to allow the people to start taking part and doing that job of definition themselves: through the acts he encourages them to take ownership for and in the time and space he is giving the Party in order that it might grow.
This, for example, which I – in sudden partisan-like mood – blogged about thus. In itself, then, a small event – but multiply it up by hundreds of others, multiply it up by the time Miliband is taking, multiply it up so that the members and supporters do really begin to get the feeling that something might be slowly changing inside Labour’s perception of both its activists and voters … multiply up all of that as I suggest and maybe, just maybe, a revolution of sorts could be enabled in the end.
It’s an alternative interpretation, anyhow – worth a shot, surely.
A disaster about to befall us or a revolution in British politics in the making? As I conclude in my comment to Kath’s piece:
[…] This working-at-the-heart of people’s lives, being there to engineer good times and not just complain about the bad, is surely something we should proceed with – and maybe something that can rescue One Nation from the oblivion you all seem to think it may already be destined for.
Perhaps, also, for a traditionally national political party like Labour, Miliband has succeeded in realising – even learning from the Lib Dems in this sense – the importance of all things local to get one’s message across.
Especially in a social media and peer-to-peer networked age.
And even as some observers may find themselves at a loss to understand the true nature of the dynamics in play.