May 232013

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.

Mar 062013

I read this piece from Labour Uncut today, and immediately lashed out (mentally, I mean) at a couple of the phrases thus contained.  Interestingly, however, not all.

Let me list them as follows.  First, the soundbite that caused my mixed blood to boil unevenly:

  • “An effective approach to migrant labour is, then, about economic justice, not racial prejudice. In the interests of One Nation politics Labour has to become the party that is tough on immigration, but tougher on its causes.”

I think this is clearly misplaced.  An “effective” approach to migrant labour doesn’t – in a globalised world – aim to shut down the freedom of such labour to move where it will.  Unless, of course, in the name of “economic justice”, it also chooses to restrict the movement of capital.  And I’m sure the author of the post in question would never suggest that’d be a way forward.

Though I, indeed, might be inclined to.

Another couplet which drew my attention:

  • “[…] There will also be a symbolic shift towards the police rather than HM Revenue and Customs taking the lead on enforcement of the national minimum wage.
  • “‘There must be a level playing field so domestic workers are not disadvantaged and employers shouldn’t be allowed to use migration in the wrong way,’ says a Labour source.”

Not sure there’d be many immigrants out there who’d be positive about certain police forces getting involved in any enforcement.  But Labour’s strategists probably know this – are even maybe counting on it, at least as a way of getting across a subliminal message for the “flog ‘em and hang ‘em” crowd.

Two more phrases now – this time it would seem a little more constructive in approach, and telling the kind of story I perceive:

  • “[…] it is not racial prejudice driving public concern about immigration, it is economic injustice. Indeed, the contemporary discussion about immigration pits older migrant communities against newcomers in a battle for scarce jobs and resources.”
  • “[…] Immigration is a necessary addendum for economic neo-liberalism to function. The growth of the New Labour years was held aloft courtesy of an ever-ready army of cheap migrants serving to keep corporate costs down. […]”

But the author goes on to colour his argument when he adds in flag-wrapping glory:

  • “Surely it is a great progressive cause to tackle labour market abuses and offer British workers something more than the dismal prospect of competing with migrant workers on the basis of who will work for least? Isn’t that what a labour party should be for?”

That sentence would’ve be fine for me if he hadn’t used the adjective “British”.  What’s progressive about that?  How internationalist does that sit with other “progressive” approaches to globalisation?  We never think twice about capital moving its dosh at the speed of electronic – and stateless – light.  Yet when we talk about the flesh-and-blood aspect of our economies, we suddenly get all coy about identity and its relative importance.

No.  To argue that the case of migrant workers is mainly a question of economic justice, and the economic justice we’re talking about relates to “British” workers in Britain at the expense of anyone else with an equal right on this planet to make their living, is to ignore the real causes of much migration: the relative poverty we tolerate in other countries compared to the advantages we – even today – still enjoy here in England.

And I’d be much happier if the suggestion to hand was to deal with the subject of economic justice in all its awful entirety than to use it as a fig leaf to cover the immigration sensibilities of those who’d like to be racist – but find themselves unwilling to take ownership for their state.

A final thought to be going away with.  You’re right.  I don’t know how to talk about immigration, do I?  And that should be a most puzzling matter, for I was born in Oxford, England – can’t get much more English than that – to then spend most of my life growing up in the North West of the same country.  But my mother is Catholic Croatian; my father atheist English (and possibly Welsh); my wife and children are Castilian Spanish; and I even feel kind of curiously attached to the fluid ounces of Spanish Jew that apparently course through my veins.  So maybe you can understand my confusion.  I belong to nowhere entirely – and yet feel beloved by all of those influences.

For me however, and for people like me, in Labour Uncut’s economic justice, there is no place at all – except, perhaps, a self-interested sleight-of-hand which, on the one hand, says if you have enough capital, the world will surely be yours; whilst, on the other, if you find yourself at the bottom of the pile, stick with the bottom of the pile in the country which still treasures that neo-liberal drive to the faecal end of the labour market.

Which probably means the vast majority of so-called developed countries out there.

Now doesn’t it?

Oct 192012

I finally tracked it down.  That Denis Healey quote on social democracy.  Only it wasn’t quite Denis Healey’s – rather, it was a favourite one he borrowed from Leszek Kolakowski:

“An obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy”.

The link above is dated 2009, and marks Kolakowski’s death.  Not long after the consequences of the financial-services sector’s stupidities began to hit home.  And not long before New Labour finally found its half-hearted match in this dreadful Coalition government.

I used to be a fan of that quote too.  Not any more.  In the light of the last four years, it would seem far more likely that social democracy had an important veneer of the social but very little of the democracy.  Its top-down elitist approach to the use of number-crunched stats, of nudging voters’ behaviours, of saying one thing but doing another, of being comfortable with extreme wealth and ameliorating with extreme poverty, only suggests to me that if anything we need yet another rebrand: not Old Labour, not New Labour, not Black Labour, not Purple Labour – but, instead, so we understand exactly what’s been going wrong, a social undemocracy.

“How so?” you may well ask.

Watch and listen to Sean Taylor’s song.

Now tell me that – under a supposed social democracy, under that “obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy” – we don’t have perfectly exemplified as a result of thirteen years of its practice a government which is promoting all of the above.

And as a result of the aforementioned thirteen years of squeamish compromise and devil-supping politics, it would seem clear that the voters couldn’t make up their minds whether – one way or another – anything had been properly achieved.

The reason for the existence of this awful government which tomorrow’s march in London hopes to combat isn’t principally an evil neoliberalism from the other side of the Atlantic.  Rather, it’s a social democracy which was anything but sensibly democratic.

They didn’t win it.  It was we who lost it.

Before we can move on, before we can repair sadly breaking structures, we have to accept that what we prized as an honourable way forward was precisely what allowed the greed and injustice to flourish on our watch.

Sort that out – and we’ll be far better placed to fight the injustices of latterday society.

Make democracy social and democratic.

Those should be our twin objectives.

The instinct to demonstrate publicly one’s position on such important matters being just the first step along that journey.

Good luck to everyone involved in tomorrow’s march.  I wish you well.

Democracy requires us all to bear witness to our ways of seeing.  And that, in essence, is all you are doing.  Democracy.

Mar 182012

Over at Labour List today, Sue argues we lefties should get a grip:

I don’t like the current Labour position on welfare, I’m almost constantly head-desking whenever they issue a press statement, I do realise they set a lot of these “reforms” up and I worry about the possibility of an election any time soon – they clearly couldn’t run drinkies-in-the-proverbial right now, but on the whole – on the whole – get a grip lefties. 

Start defending our record. Accept the bits we got wrong and move on, but for goodness sake, anyone claiming “They’re all the same/Triangulation/They’re worse than the Tories/I’ll never vote Labour again” might want to ask themselves just how long they’d like to keep this cabinet of millionaires. And just how much we’re going to allow them to get wrong before we unite and fight.

It’s funny – or perverse; whenever someone argues we should jack in political parties I find myself beginning to disagree, but whenever someone comes to me saying the primary responsibility of us lefties is to unite … well, I really can’t help reacting rather negatively.  Yes.  I agree with Sue that we should get a grip – the question is who gets to get the grip and precisely on what.

Unable, in a first instance, to answer this question, I thought I’d carry out a thought experiment to see if that would help.  A list of personal positives which I would be prepared to attribute to Labour:

  1. when I came back to Britain in 2003, I was in a serious state of mental ill health – the NHS managed in the end to help put me back together again;
  2. my children received a better education from the time they rejoined me in England than they almost certainly would have done in Spain had they stayed – they are now bilingual, the eldest is studying Mandarin Chinese and Russian at university, the middle one wants to go abroad to study film and the youngest is already considering proactively how she might get jobs once she is sixteen;
  3. my wife regained confidence in herself and her own ability as a teacher due to the then relatively buoyant labour market – little by little, she has achieved a certain degree of stability and self-respect;
  4. I have finally managed to get to a position where I can see I may be able to earn my living from writing via the Internet – something I dreamed of since 2002 and which would make my life entirely fulfilled if I achieve my goal;

These are all good, big and life-changing moments which allow me to see Labour – even New Labour – through a positive prism of perceptions.  However, I have to say that at least one of them – my mental ill health – was in part due to the lies and obfuscations which surrounded the process leading up to the Iraq War.

I lost my faith, during that time, in much of what could be reasonably expected of party politicking – I still resist, for example, at a local grassroots CLP level, to get involved with active politics.  In part I do feel it has something to do with this back story.  A story of political innocence being taken advantage of by those who know how to manipulate sincere emotions for their own personal benefit.

So many big positives for me in a little under a decade of living under New Labour – even as the primary one which brought me back to Britain was the massive negative of a questionable and bloody political process.

If I, as a relatively unpractised leftie, do need to get a grip as Sue suggests, then I might be inclined – in the light of all the above – to suggest the grip I really need to get is over a political party which doesn’t know how to communicate; doesn’t understand that consultation is nowhere near a proper dialogue of equals; and is riven with the triangulatory instincts she blithely tells us to ignore.

Here, then, is where Los Indignados can teach us more than one lesson: in order to unite around positions and policy, you first have to agree on process and procedures.  Without due agreement on the latter, no progress shall ever be sustainably made.

Do not, then, as a leftie who needs to get a grip, simply exhort me to hate the Tories and fight the good fight.  I don’t want them to define how my politics will function any more than you want them to define how the country will function.  And if we give up on truly empowering process and procedures before we’ve even really started, if we refuse to learn the lessons other groups and organisations springing up across the world can teach us, we shall remain anchored in a past that will become – by itself and not because of the Tories – evermore irrelevant, ineffective and ineffectual to a proactive and generally empowering producer-consumer society such as ours could become.

If the Tories manage to force us to limit our ambitions to creating a New Labour (II), they will have won a long-term political battle without us even having cared to engage.  Just as the terrorists of 9/11 created a generation of fearful legislation and terrified citizens, so the Tories may yet achieve their goal of turning us lefties, those of us who supposedly need to get that grip of Sue’s, into a wearisome terracotta army of conservative instincts ready to continue implementing the philosophies which Tony Blair so carefully set up and entrapped us all with.

As a Lib Dem acquaintance of mine (yes, it’s possible for a leftie like me to have one) quite rightly said to me recently, the NHS bill we’re so desperate to get dropped had its foundations laid by New Labour in 2006’s National Health Service Act.

If we really want to get the current bill dropped, and I am sure we can all agree we do, we should surely also campaign to unravel the straitjacket of philosophies which Tony Blair was directly responsible for – and which have led to Lansley’s moment of awful glory.

Meanwhile, dear Sue, we should surely remember that “getting a grip” can just as easily mean subjugation as empowerment.

And remembering thus, act accordingly.

Sep 272011

Cory Doctorow, as usual, goes to the bottom of the matter:

For a party eager to shed its reputation as sinister, spying authoritarians, Labour’s really got its head up its arse.
Lewis will suggest that newspapers should introduce a system whereby journalists could be struck off a register for malpractice.

As Doctorow explains earlier in his piece:

Given that “journalism” presently encompasses “publishing accounts of things you’ve seen using the Internet” and “taking pictures of stuff and tweeting them” and “blogging” and “commenting on news stories,” this proposal is even more insane than the tradition “journalist licenses” practiced in totalitarian nations.

Meanwhile, Luke tweets this choice phrase:

Universal condemnation of Lewis’ plan to licence journalists. I wonder if he’s read Orwell’s 1984.

I reply by fearing that he has. And Adrian reminds us that:

@eiohel @LukeBozier As the cliche goes, 1984 was meant to be a cautionary tale not a manifesto.

Which makes me wonder if the real background to all this – to what would appear to be yet more New Labour impulses to unnecessarily add to an already overcrowded legal quiver – is actually an intention not to dismantle the structures that allowed Murdoch to wield the power he had but, rather, a desire to avoid the growth and expansion of the social media that – in tandem with the Guardian – helped apply the pressure which led to his final downfall.

That is to say, we are looking not to prevent another Murdoch but allow a Murdoch on the Labour side of the fence to gain sufficient control once more over our voting public.  Part of the upsides of such a licensing system would be to “get those nasty social media flies out of our hair!”

Not a licence to print money but a licence to money print.  Once in place, this legislation would allow any blogger, tweeter or random photographer out there to be prevented from making tendentious assertions.  Sometimes when we do, we are wrong and the truth becomes unclear.  But very often, the unclear truth reaches a clarity precisely because – between social media and its inexactitudes and mainstream media and its lawyerly-inscribed front pages – there is a symbiotic relationship where the unsaid can be first said over the virtual garden fence that is blogging, tweeting and online photography; and then reach its full veracity when sufficient investigation has been carried out by those who have the professional resources to chase up a story that begins to have legs.

All this, with government-sponsored licensing, would – at one fell swoop – go out the window.  And 24-hour news would once more become the kind which would tremble at the phonecall of a feared communications chief.

I tell you what.  If this is what neo-New Labour really is going to look like, you can bloody well count me out.

Update to this post: Ivan Lewis also suggested “like-for-like” corrections to inexactitudes and mistakes – more background to this idea and its ramifications can be found here.  It does beg the following question though: why give a speech with such a decent and broadly acceptable idea – only to then overshadow it with such an unthought-through concept as the one I complain about in the post above? 

So who writes these things?  Is this just another example of the Westminster Bubble at work?