Eric Joyce MP wrote a very clever piece yesterday, with the aim (I think) of deconstructing Ed Miliband’s current manifestation of Labour. I’d like to try and do the same with this clever piece, in the forty minutes before I start my next online English class.
Here are some of the things he says, interspersed with some of own observations:
Joyce: Labour’s pitch at the moment is that everything in this country is screwed. I’m sort of reluctant to accept that, given that if everything were screwed it would surely have taken more than 4 years for it all to become screwed – wouldn’t it? I mean, screwing everything in 4 years would be an absolutely world-class effort and I really don’t think we can credit the Tories with anything world-class at all. So I’m left with the sneaking suspicion that ‘everything is screwed’ might also be aimed, subtly, at the 13 years of New Labour government which preceded the 4 years of Tory government.
Me: If Labour was saying everything was screwed, then politics, democracy, business and community would be screwed for just about everyone. As it is, what’s screwed is not – for everyone – these four hoarsepersons of the econopocalypse as such but, rather, for a far too significant minority. If Joyce is happy to argue they’re operating equitably for quite a few people, so demonstrating they’re not really screwed as Labour says, then we need to agree to disagree. That these four hoarsepersons always work fine for the well-to-do should mean our politics gets out of the habit of congratulating itself when the stats demonstrate little more than this.
And whilst we’re on the subject, I don’t think anyone outside New Labour should reasonably argue it screwed everything:
- It put the roofs back on public services.
- It brought a kinder neo-liberal approach to much of our economics, even to the point where some argued it was a sort of socialism by stealth.
Screwed, however, was:
- The strategy of PFI for putting those roofs back on those public services, and which is now enabling all kinds of horrible behind-the-scenes privatisation deals in, particularly, the NHS.
- Tuition fees, which brought us unnecessarily to the top of the Coalition slippery slope of violently increasing the indebtedness of people at the beginning of their adult lives.
And meanwhile, positively ugly was:
- Going into Iraq, without a post-invasion plan.
- Promoting all kinds of faith, academy and foundation schools, without thinking through the splintering future implications.
- Not taking on people like Murdoch and News of the World, even as something must have been known – at least by those in the know!
So New Labour was great at putting back together Thatcher’s spilt milk, but it left untouched – even moved on – her privatising and corporate-market instincts.
Joyce: The only other way of understanding ‘everything is screwed’ is that democracy is a zero-sum game and when people healthily exercise their right to change the party/ies of government then any good stuff which went before gets negated. Unless, of course, ‘everything is screwed’ is designed as a counsel of despair encouraging us to question the value of democracy itself?
Me: Read this and then come back to me on this matter. Either something very horrible happened many years ago, something New Labour failed to address (way after the event of course, when it should’ve and maybe could’ve) – or someone/something is now deliberately destabilising democracy with even creepier manoeuvres designed to do just as Joyce says. But I doubt it’s the current Labour leadership which is driving this creepiness forwards, and I doubt it has anything to do with a wider Party strategy to criticise everything and anything.
Joyce: [There’s a very good bit next on the complicated implications of the so-called mansion tax – you need to read this because here I do have to agree it makes a lot of sense. Though aiming to screw the rich who buy “mansions” ordinary people would no longer be able to afford anyway – what with the savagely rising costs of living which London is manifesting already – is quite a bit better than not screwing them at all. – Editor]
Joyce: So, let’s see, this is the plan up one of Labour’s sleeves. Place at the centre of the general election an increase in NHS expenditure funded (even although the sums don’t add up) by having regular middle-class folk move out of London in order to be replaced by much richer folk from overseas; promise the Scots – almost none of whom will pay the new tax – that the folk actually paying the tax will have no say whatever in how that money is spent in Scotland. And for good measure ensure that the Scots, who may well hold the balance of UK power after the election, can have all the say they like when it comes to telling the English mansion tax payers how their tax pounds must be spent. Meanwhile, imply that everything is screwed because all the UK-wide parties have made things that way.
Me: The bit about the NHS is horrible. If the sums don’t add up, and Joyce must know because that’s his business to do so, at the very least he should say:
- Labour is over-promising here because it doesn’t want to explain the reality.
- I, however, am prepared to explain the reality: people, even under Labour, will die over the next few years where in other times, pre-credit crunch, pre-austerity and pre-whatever-you-want they wouldn’t have. Partly because even Labour doesn’t know how to do the numbers; partly because it’s no longer the business of politics to enable life for the vast majority of the far less-well-off.
Or maybe the pressure of having to give a class at six o’clock is pushing me to being terribly unfair.
Just a piece of advice to the realistic politicians out there (and I say “realistic”, I promise you, without a smidgen of irony): don’t forget that the far less-well-off are living horrible lives at the moment – not because there isn’t enough dosh swilling around out there but, rather, because it’s uselessly concentrated without a productive use being made of it. To focus on saying the sums don’t add up is to give weight to the arguments of all wealth concentrators.
Instead, I suggest, we make a list of what needs to be done.
And then do the sums in such a way that what needs to be done, can be done.
That, I think, is what’s behind Labour’s current strategy (even if, sometimes, of late and before, it’s not as clear as a politically professionalised approach should be able to make it).
That, and not some evil knife in the back of three grand election victories – victories which Blairites have every right to be proud of.
So a final thought: all yous New Labour souls – so sensitive with
your our history, perhaps understandably so, perhaps reasonably so – do try and remember what it was like not to have the advantages New Labour demonstrably delivered to a large majority of the country. For not having those advantages has returned in four short years to far too many of our fellow citizens.
And this is precisely because the Tories haven’t been incompetent at all. Over those four short years I mention, they’ve sneakily used the cloak of incompetence to fool the very best political, scientific, medical, legal and educational minds, in order that they be allowed to continue dismantling practically everything constructive the UK represented.
Labour hasn’t been battering its collective head against Blair & Co since 2010 – nor is it doing so at the moment. In the light of this Tory competence, still unacknowledged from a strategic point of view, it has far more important things to do than that.
That’s what it’s been doing – and what it continues to need to do. Give it the credit it deserves.