This is going to be a tricky post to write. I’m a complete outsider to Labour politics. I’m a complete outsider to politics in general. This means you won’t ever be coming here to hear the latest gossip. My idea of latest gossip consists of reading Peter Watt two years after the event.
So what can I add to the stories we are suffering at the moment? Not much, you might be inclined to say – especially when powerfully interested parties seem to bed-hop into the papers’ agendas:
Lord Prescott, a former deputy prime minister, and Lord Glasman, a Labour policy guru, are the latest grandees to demand stronger leadership from Miliband if the party is to win the next election.
In separate attacks, they criticised Labour’s absence from political debate over the summer and warned it needs to start scoring more points against the coalition.
It is Prescott, in fact, who seems to think what’s missing from Labour is more top-down militaristic precision:
On the same day, Prescott laid into his party for failing to set agendas over the summer, attacking its lack of organisation compared with the Tories and Labour under Tony Blair.
What’s more, the Guardian happily summarises Miliband’s woes thus:
A string of Labour MPs, including George Mudie and Graham Stringer, have bemoaned the party’s lack of policies and failure to counter the Tories’ arguments. But the most high-profile figure to issue a warning in the past week has been Andy Burnham. The shadow health secretary, told the Guardian that Labour must shout louder over the next few months or risk election defeat. Tom Watson, Miliband’s former general election campaign co-ordinator, also laid into the party’s response to the Falkirk vote-rigging allegations, accusing it of creating an unnecessary storm in a tea cup.
Personally, I’d prefer to place a different frame around all of this. Instead of arguing that Miliband (or perhaps we should say his “team” – as always, political knives are positioned with surgical accuracy) has failed to fulfil his role of Cameron’s opposite, I’d like to think – from my entirely unprivileged observer status – that grassroots stuff like this is being done and prepared behind the traditional pyramidal scenes:
Cards on the table, then. I’m not a happy Labour bunny.
This, however, does attract my attention. And this, in particular, makes me smile:
“It’s not just about winning elections,” says Mr Miliband. “It’s about constructing a real political movement. It’s a change from machine politics to grassroots politics.”
Perhaps there is time, even now, to do much more than simply win another election on the backs of frustrations, fears and hatreds. Perhaps there is time to think – at this time – of kindness, humility, mercy and forgiveness. A politics made for people rather than a politics made for politicians. Politicians, finally, as enablers then – instead of pin-headed CEO-types perched atop pyramidal structures?
Now with all the above, I’m not saying Ed is a perfect soul. But as I said a long time ago, he’s definitely not a typical CEO-type perched atop pyramidal structures. Cameron, Osborne, IDS and Hunt – meanwhile – most definitely are.
Is that what we want then? More of the same – only wearing a different uniform?
I don’t think so.
Yes. Ed does need to prove to us shortly that grassroots politics can replace the machine – but one thing, for sure, is that it takes two to grassroots. There is only so much he can do to get us involved with redefining the machine. If we don’t take up the challenge and participate and volunteer, it is true he will be left high and dry.
Then, with all their virtues and downsides, we might indeed get the replacement that people like Miliband’s brother might represent: people intimately involved in the ways and means of pin-headed CEO-types – just the stuff that the Coalition is wrought from.
Not so much because of their politics though. Far more importantly, because of their ways of conceiving socioeconomic relationships. Brought up in the environments of corporate organisations everywhere – and here I mean charities just as much as I mean companies and transnationals – they cannot even contemplate, even imagine, ways of doing that do not imply reverting – at some point – to severe hierarchy and clear command and control.
It’s just not in their DNA or work experience to see the world through a perspective which is not a multimillionaire’s imposing skyscraper somewhere on the planet. And that kind of politician knows nothing about the kind of world I want.
My grain of sand. My very little shout in favour of what Ed might yet be. Maybe you’ll all prove me wrong – but of course you’re bound to achieve such a goal, if you choose to decant once again for the very top-down non-participatory politics you’re currently knocking Cameron & Co for sustaining.
Sometimes, we do find it so hard to see the world as it might be.
For whilst your question may be “Why the vacuum in Labour?”, you really should be asking yourself “Why have I missed this opportunity?”.
So don’t blame Ed – at least not for everything; instead, just a little, blame yourself!
And then, when you finally reflect on what you truly want, be honest about Cameron & Co. In politics it’s not just what you do; it’s also how you do it. Do you want Labour to be a mirror image of the Tories? On the left side of the reflection – but a reflection all the same? Or do you want a different kind of politics – a politics which doesn’t depend on the kind of declamatory speakers and makers of yore?
What I’m suggesting here is a politics which provides ordinary people with the kind of hands-on relationships that could offer them real power in this country – the real power which lobbyists, corporations and society’s well-connected individuals currently enjoy to the continuing detriment of the disadvantaged.
I know what I’d prefer. To settle for anything less would be a crime after the last three years.
And I jolly well don’t want my Labour to lazily default to Cameron & Co’s mirror image.