New Labour’s path to power is shattered


4:16 pm - July 25th 2008

by Neal Lawson    


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The Glasgow East byelection result is another nail in the coffin of New Labour. Across the country, the electorate are crying out for change, they want a government that can help improve their lives.

But a politics that is rooted in the 1990s has simply run out of answers. In response, the government once again claim they are listening, but things still seem unlikely to change; despite political wipe-out now staring Labour in the face.

If Labour politicians refuse to protect people from the economic forces that are harming their lives it’s no wonder people are turning to other political parties.

This awful defeat vindicates what Compass has been saying for three years – that the coalition that brought Labour to power in 1997 has been shattered. Between 1997 and 2005, the party lost 4 million voters – and this time we saw a further pulling-away of the working-class vote that New Labour has always ill-advisedly taken for granted.

Meanwhile, people across all classes and social groups are turning away from the party. Particularly in England the Tories are on the march; partly thanks to the sense that they are engaging with concerns that lie at the centre of people’s lives.

Needless to say, Gordon Brown’s stiff, remote style of leadership doesn’t help. But there is a more fundamental political problem that is destroying the Labour Party.

Even at a time when the credit crunch and rising prices mean that the post-Thatcher settlement is being questioned as never before, a supposedly progressive government refuses to address the way that the unrestrained free-market is damaging people’s lives in no end of areas: from housing and rising fuel bills, to crippling consumer debt and insecurity at work, and on to the dysfunctional inequality that defines so many of the UK’s current problems.

Others may be distracted by New Labour kremlinology, and the question of whether one of Brown’s cabinet colleagues might somehow be persuaded to replace him.

For us, there is no point in talking about such changes if the conversation isn’t fundamentally about a change of direction that will revive people’s confidence that the government is in touch with modern concerns, and in control of the forces that shape them.

There is little money left to spend and less than two years before the likely date of the next election, but that still leaves room for measures that would signal a change of direction and show that Labour understands the challenges of the 21st century.

We would argue in favour of:

– A windfall tax on energy and oil companies to help those struggling with escalating fuel bills.
– A fairer tax system with a new top rate and a cut in taxes for the low paid with all new revenues ear marked to boost benefit levels for the poor. Some have suggested that those earning under £10,000 per year should pay no tax. This is clean, simple and very appealing.
– A new drive to build council houses. By 2010, 5 million people will need social housing, but this year, a start will be made on only 100,000 new homes. With private construction apparently in freefall, the state has to step in.
– A high-profile drive to improve people’s working lives via government setting new standards. As a minimum, we need a new fair employment clause in all public contracts, to make sure that the public sector points the way out of the low pay culture that ensures – contrary to recent headlines about welfare reform – that work is still no guarantee of an exit from poverty. The government should take the lead of London and roll out a living wage nationwide in all public procurement contracts – which even Boris Johnson has raised in London in his first months in office.
– A moratorium on Post Office closures, and new protection for the universal service obligation of the Post Office.
– Abolishing the youth exemptions in the minimum wage.
– Help close the gender pay gap – with statutory pay audits for equality.
– Access to all local authority sports facilities free for children under 16 to confront the issues of obesity and anti-social behaviour head on.
– Across all these policy areas, if money is needed to deal with rising insecurity and anxiety then we should rethink the renewal of Trident and scrap the ID cards scheme. Government insiders claim that the latter is effectively being left to wither away, but where is the political advantage in that? On this, as with so many policies, a clear change has to be demonstrated.

Over the summer and beyond, Labour has to begin a conversation about all of this and take clear action, or face long years in the political wilderness. Compass intends to act as a catalyst for that process and play an active role in it.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Neal Lawson is the chair of the pressure group Compass.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Education ,Environment ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Is Gordon Brown New Labour? He did, after all, come to power promising to be a change from Tony Blair – maybe this is where he went wrong…

Is it possible to say with any accuracy that the market free and unrestrained whilst new regulations are being heaped onto companies at current rates?

Is it concievable that this article states kremlinology is a distraction while indulging in sleight-of-hand to conceal a knife ready to stab the great and fabled leader (as was) in his back?

Compass is spinning in its own magnetism – they are one of the biggest reasons the Labour party is failing.

Is Gordon Brown New Labour?

Didn’t he create it along with Blair?

Is it possible to say with any accuracy that the market free and unrestrained whilst new regulations are being heaped onto companies at current rates?

yes.

Compass is spinning in its own magnetism – they are one of the biggest reasons the Labour party is failing.

I wish they had the influence at the upper echelons to make this charge stick. Anyway thomas, you seem to be more inclined to cynical ad hominems these days along the lines of our right-wing libertarian readers, than actual constructive engagement. What’s up with that?

There is nothing like a free market, and housing and fuel are really nothing like a free market! Nor is food.

Why don’t we give the market a chance instead?!

Sunny,
there is surely some difference between what we both mean by ‘free and unrestrained’.

I’ve previously defended your use of ad hominems conditionally, so it’s a bit rich for you use another to attack my use of them under those conditions!

Is Gordon Brown New Labour? Well Neal Lawson seems to think so, which is why Compass advocated the move away from it when he assumed the leadership, which he did.

But the tactic has obviously failed – so either Compass was wrong, or Compass is wrong, or Compass is janus-faced and is always wrong. I wonder what Neal Lawson would think would be better for the fortunes of the Labour party – Gordon Brown resigning, or Neal Lawson resigning?

When you’ve taken all the advice going and are still getting things wrong, maybe you need to consider whether you’ve got the right advisors.

This is not just a protest vote. When the Lib Dems have won by-elections they have sometimes (not always) lost the seat at a subsequent general election suggesting that voters have used their protest elect a candidate who they do not see as representing a party that can come to power.

This time, the SNP is in power. It suggests that something quite profound has happened. Whereas in whole areas of Scotland, traditional Labour voters regarded the SNP as beyond the pale in terms of class, competence and nationalism, now they are willing to embrace them in terms of the first two qualifications.

The kernel of Labour power north of the border has been shattered from the left. Whether this translates into national independence is another matter, as Wyrdtimes’s concern demonstrates. But of course, as we have been debating on OK, the national question is also unfolding south of the border and SNP domination in Holyrood will impact on the balance of power in Westminster. It seems to me that a pro-independence referendum in 2020 rather than 2010 is being won now.

Until yesterday I used to think of Douglas Alexander as very young, almost a boy. But age is an odd quality. On the television last night watching the count (I went to bed at the re-count) he felt old and utterly traditional. Knowledgeable and professional, and in that sense impressive, but not a man of the future rather of a figure of the deep order. My feeling was that young, politically interested Scots in their twenties, watching him would feel about him as I once did about Roy Hattersley.

Only, there is an alternative – a more radical party that is in power! If indeed the Brown government is acting as a recruiting sergeant for the SNP among young ambitious Scots then independence is on the way, if not not now but over the next 15 years.

Gordon Brown has hardly taken on Compass’ advice, Thomas…. and he is certainly New Labour!

I think it’s probable that we might have been heading for a tory victory even if Brown had taken his direction from Compass, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have lost so much ground at their base.

“- A moratorium on Post Office closures, and new protection for the universal service obligation of the Post Office.”

Hmm… we couldn’t do that without leaving the EU.

9. Conor Foley

I don’t see how Labour get back from this.

My Mum has just resigned her membership after 40 years and talking to her I just got a sense of hopelesness and disgust. It is not about this or that policy or this or that tax or benefit. (The final outcome of the 10p tax fiasco actually left everyone better off after all). I think Labour have lost on a much deeper level on issues like trust and competence and the feeling that they have been in office too long, but would do or say anything to remain there. Brown is inheriting a lot of this from the Blair years, just as Major did from Thatcher, and it is the legacy of lies and spin that are really burying him.

I also don’t think that a lurch to the left is an electoral panacea. People did not desert Labour for Respect, the Socialist Party or the other Trot factions that have split away in the last 15 years. Generally speaking they just stayed at home. Now there is a credible Tory opposition that has “detoxified” itself and it is Labour’s bad luck that this coincided with an econmic recession and having a wooden leader like Brown. Glasgow could be a tipping point because why should Scots vote Labour if they are going to get a Tory government in Westminster and, if they defect to SNP en masse that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because Labour can’t get back at the next election without these votes.

I agree with most of the recommendations in the article and I agree with most of the policies that the unions want to implement. My worry is that the government hasn’t got the ball or sense to implement them.

I was completely amazed to see John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, stand outside the Labour conference in Coventry and say that the important thing is that Labour continues on its current direction rather than changing direction like some have advocated.

This is a man who still refuses to acknowledge that Labour’s sucking up to the city has failed. Unbelievable, even now with its ratings plummeting, New labour still thinks its on the right path. The biggest irony is that the people who run the financial markets that Labour have spent the last decade bowing to are financing the Tories.

I thinnk you know what I was getting at, Pippa.

Labour was already going wrong in the period leading up to the succession. Then the handover was handled badly. Now Labour can do nothing right.

(thinking about it that might make a good slogan for both him and the satirists “Now Labour” – anyone listening?)

On the subject of relaunches, I’ve almost lost count of the number of times Brown has relaunched himself (any advance on four since the last autumn conference?), including how his non-election was presented as a relaunch. Nor should we forget that Blair was an inveterate relauncher – or indeed that New Labour was a relaunch itself!

It’s just a spiral of relaunches, so the remedy is… wait for it… another relaunch!

You gotta wonder how long before we start lower our expectations for the current party system and greater plurality emerges from the shadows of our new-found diversity.

Considering where LC circulates in the political spectrum I’m increasingly thinking it is close to the where the wartime Commonwealth party stood – does this sound accurate?

12. Fellow Traveller

Humanite: I was completely amazed to see John Hutton, the Secretary of State for Business, stand outside the Labour conference in Coventry and say that the important thing is that Labour continues on its current direction rather than changing direction like some have advocated.

Stay the course.

Where have we heard that counsel recently?

The suggestions are mostly sensible, but rather vague. I know it’s not a political manifesto, but a few numbers would help.

E.g.
– I believe the current supplementary oil tax (on top of corporation tax) is 20%. The UK’s oil production hit a high in 2001, and without major new investment, particularly West of Scotland, it may be a trickle within a decade or so. How far would you increase the tax?
– Top rate income tax, 50%? 60%? 70%? From what income level?
– “A living wage” and “fair employment clause” – What exactly would those involve?

Neal Lawson and Compass are at least coming up with some reasonable suggestions to get Labour out of this mess, what are Brown et al offering? Nothing but the same old shite. Blame the world recession they shout – but we are not even in a recession yet! No, this is about Brown’s arrogant undemocratic and remote leadership and his blunders on tax, dithering on calling the election last year and pathetic right-wing rhetoric about immigrants, ‘hard working families’ and attacks on the mythical undeserving poor – it is cowardly kowtowing to a press agenda that is disingenuous and unworkable and convinces no-one of anything.

The Labour party now sounds like the Tories, just as the Tories are trying to sound like social democrats. It is bogus politics from both sides but not surprising that Labour’s traditional support is deserting them in droves as they can’t differentiate between the two. And without this hardcore support, the swing voters can never be reached. What we need is real leadership courage – like Ken Livingstone showed with the congestion charge – changing impossible opposition from the press and public into overwhelming public support. It is clear Brown doesn’t know where he is heading, so how can the public have any faith in that.

Compass offer simple, radical and popular policies – electoral reform, tax the rich, a living wage, cut Trident – there isn’t a lot wrong with those policies. Labour are not going to get credible changes in policy without a change of leader. We need someone who has the courage to take risks and get people on their side – watching Brown on TV at the moment is is clear he is not up to the job and is shop soiled anyway. Ken Livingstone anyone? As a stop-gap – maybe Alan Johnson will do but please not Jack Straw!!@!!

What is tragic about the demise of New Labour and the rise of The Conservatives is that almost all the problems this govt has, is down to it’s policies of either copying, continuing, or appeasing Conservatives. Blair went along with the war in Iraq because he was scared shitless of the tory tabloids, and was terrified that they would call him anti American ,and blame him if he shattered the Atlantic alliance. Remember Duncan Smith was even more pro war than Blair was.

The gap between Rich and poor has grown under New Labour,. But that is because New Labour has continued the Tory policy of not rising income tax for the rich. The gap between rich and poor started to grow after The Tory budget in the early 80s when they cut income tax and put up VAT from 8% &12% to 15%. We have been paying for Lawson’ s budget of 1988 when income tax was cut to 40% ever since. New Labour has continued the 40% rate and has cut the standard rate from 23% to 20% and has raised indirect taxes to pay for it. The fuel escalator was a Tory policy continued by New Labour, more indirect taxation. The 10% rate for lower earners was an original policy ,but Brown shot himself in the foot by getting rid of it in order to cut the standard rate to 20% . MADNESS! Performance targets in the NHS were a Tory policy, continued by Labour. And on and on it goes.

It is pointless changing the leader because there is no other candidate who will fundamentally change the policies. So Brown will go down to defeat and take the party with him.

“The Tories are ahead in the polls, therefore Labour should jump to the left.”

In politics, it seems, people only pay attention to the evidence they like.

I”n politics, it seems, people only pay attention to the evidence they like.”

Well , that depends on whether you believe that the Tories are this new cuddly ‘ compassionate’ Conservativism or a rabid right wing that is using the Bush strategy to get elected, and will then, slash taxes for the rich and cut spending on the poor.

I suspect the latter, and so Labour should be ready to offer an alternative to the right wing.

18. douglas clark

Conor @ 9,

Is it any wonder therefore that the SNP are doing as well as they are? You have – I’d suggest – a party which is left / liberal. And electable. That – electable – seems to me to be the difference between Scottish and English politics. There has never been another electable party of the left in England, unless you see Liberals as that party.

Anthony @ 6

You say this:

The kernel of Labour power north of the border has been shattered from the left. Whether this translates into national independence is another matter, as Wyrdtimes’s concern demonstrates. But of course, as we have been debating on OK, the national question is also unfolding south of the border and SNP domination in Holyrood will impact on the balance of power in Westminster. It seems to me that a pro-independence referendum in 2020 rather than 2010 is being won now.

Perhaps. I happen to think that competent governance, and a clear message has a lot more to do with it than you appear to think. It has always been the case, has it not, that Scotland, and Northern cities, have been more to the left than Middle England.

I’d assume that Gordon Brown cannot triangulate on Scottish electors, for the simple reason that they are different from UK electors. Whereas Salmond can.

That, it seems to me, is the recipe for the breakdown of the UK plc.

Hm.

“- A windfall tax on energy and oil companies to help those struggling with escalating fuel bills.
– A fairer tax system with… a cut in taxes for the low paid with all new revenues ear marked to boost benefit levels for the poor.

– A moratorium on Post Office closures, and new protection for the universal service obligation of the Post Office.

– Across all these policy areas, if money is needed to deal with rising insecurity and anxiety then we should rethink the renewal of Trident and scrap the ID cards scheme.”

Wouldn’t it be easier to just vote Lib Dem?

No, Alix, because your party also thinks it’s a brilliant idea to lower both spending and taxes without explaining how. Your policies on crime are also indistinguishable to those of New Labour, with only a slightly nicer face.

Anthony: I, too, was impressed by Douglas Alexander last night. Maybe it was because he was in a convivial atmosphere with the other party representatives who for a change didn’t seem to be there to point score, but he didn’t attempt to suggest it was anything other than a disaster and his maturity shone through. Why he and other younger members of New Labour, whom I’m sure are like that in private if not in public cannot come across like that I just don’t know. Either that or they really all are like James Purnell.

It’s difficult to disagree with any of Neal’s policy proposals, but it’s too late. Labour is not going to win the next election; it might not even win the election after the next election, or even the one after that. It is not, really, Brown’s fault, however much you can blame him for not putting something aside for a downturn; no, all of the seeds were sown under Blair, and it’s those that are now being harvested. Labour though is clearly facing a battle on two fronts: in Wales and Scotland, it doesn’t seem to be left-wing enough. In England, it’s quite possible that it isn’t right-wing enough. I too get the sinking feeling that Labour’s three terms are now going to be only remembered for two things: Iraq, and the break-up of the United Kingdom.

I’ve said it elsewhere, a windfall tax is definitely not the way to go. A wholesale reform of how the energy companies price their services is needed.

On housing the party could step in by actually acting against second homes, that start would actually free up a good amount of housing in rural areas.

Post office closures are a moot point. If they modernised to the level of collecting from designated non-post offices and saved money then we would all benefit. The situation of complaining about post office closures is a typical lefty rant that doesn’t really have a whole lot of basis in reality unfortunately.

I think Labour could still win, though time is running out, but it would require absolutely huge policy announcements, to the level of the energy price regulation I talk about at the top of this comment. Unfortunately Brown has made it pretty clear that drastic change is not his bag.

Sally:
“I suspect the latter, and so Labour should be ready to offer an alternative to the right wing.”

Quite frankly all you do is come on here and say that the right wing are a bunch of baby molesters and deserve to die (I paraphrase drastically). Do you have anything of worth to say or are you actually oblivious of the irony that you present every time you come on here tarring all right wingers as evil bastards? (some of which are highly reasonable and much more explanatory in to their views than those like you are).

@6 Anthony Barnett: This is not just a protest vote. When the Lib Dems have won by-elections they have sometimes (not always) lost the seat at a subsequent general election suggesting that voters have used their protest elect a candidate who they do not see as representing a party that can come to power. This time, the SNP is in power. It suggests that something quite profound has happened.

I disagree. It could just mean the voters decided that the SNP was best placed to beat Labour.

@19 Alix: Wouldn’t it be easier to just vote Lib Dem?

🙂

What I’ll most likely be doing. Labour are deeply unpopular, and while the Tories are not hated any more, there’s little enthusiasm for them. So the Lib Dems ought to be able to make something of this situation.

24. dreamingspire

Brown is different: he doesn’t bully. The message that he is charming in private came through again this week, with the lovely old lady (and accomplished poet) who had just received her Land Girls medal from Brown telling us about him on Radio 4 PM – and they gave her the Number 10 radio studio to do the interview. But in public he is uptight – there must be something bugging him, and it has to be the civil service. Certainly Ministers appear to be badly briefed, even when answering written questions. Brown and Labour in general appear to be the victims of a meltdown not of Brown’s making, and I bet that Cameron doesn’t want an election just yet.

It’s all very well saying that Labour are going to lose the next election (they almost certainly are) and so why bother changing direction, but it is important to remember that a complete collapse of the Labour vote is not necessarily in the Liberal Democrats interest either.

If the Conservatives achieve a huge landslide, then there will be no need for them to govern by consensus. Even if the Lib Dems do hoover up some of Labour’s share of the vote, their influence within Parliament will still be largely irrelevant if the Tories achieve the kind of landslide they are now heading for.

There is a myth that ‘lurching to the left’ would be an electoral disaster, but most left-wing policies are electorally popular. Lower tax for low and middle income voters and higher taxes on the rich is popular. More council housing would be popular. And if Labour and the Lib Dems could differentiate themselves from the Tories in ways that are easy to understand then they could greatly reduce the size of a Tory majority which would be better for the country as a whole.

Unfortunately, the only way voters would listen to that is if the message is coming from somebody who can communicate it, who they can trust and who is distinguishable from Cameron. Unfortunately nobody in the Labour party really comes to mind, but whoever else they choose once he’s gone, the most important thing is that Labour should ditch Brown.

A new leader, elected after a wide-ranging and high-profile battle, and with a genuinely new direction could recover a lot of lost ground and prevent us from facing a decade of complete Tory dominance. Labour should be brave and go for it.

Returning to the subject after some more reflection I think I’ll be generous.

Why are Labour struggling in the polls? Why do they lose by-elections so easily? What can they do about it?

Compass offers a partial solution in seeking some measure of policy which at least appears incontestable (though on second thoughts this selection is very watery), but are they addressing the right question?

Maybe the problem is Brown. I don’t buy this theory on the basis that none of the rest of the cabinet shines when the spotlight falls to them – it is them who make Brown look like a comparative genius! No, to say Brown has a problematic personality is code for saying the way Labour works is corrosive.

So if it’s not one thing or the other, it must be a combination of the two, right? Again, I doubt it. That the cumulative impact of a series of gaffes, mistakes and blunders has built on a core of dissenting opinion to unconnected policy disatsers small and large is undeniable, but it is not insurmountable – the process of government is not a walk in the park (even if you fear the likelihood of getting stabbed when out in public) and all opposition should be seen as a healthy part of debate.

Or maybe it is events, dear boy, events beyond the control of Gordon Brown for which he cannot be expected to take the blame? If this is true then all previous claims to omnipotence were false currency and the credit amassed at the Treasury was spent when he reached the top job, and now he is repaying with interest. Plausibly so, but confidence is currency too, as is the knowledge that secure long-term planning prevents and obviates against the shocks of unforeseen circumstances and prolonged downturns in fortune. Things are never so bad when we know they’ve been worse.

Or maybe it is everybody else’s fault – ours. Public expectation is driven from the top at politically expedient and unsustainable levels, but have we been lulled into arrogant gluttony – is it wrong to keep asking for more? But it is paradoxically just as arrogant to assume that no more is possible. If yes, then also no.

Or maybe it is the paradox of power that it is uncontainable and this government needs to reformulate its conception – a self-denying edict if ever there was one! Perhaps Brown is doing Labour and our democracy a favour by smashing our presumptions. Does he see himself as some sort of martyr for a higher cause? Hardly, the measure of a politician is the amount of blood-staining on their hands – greatness comes from guts – Brown intends to seek vindication, not consecration.

So then it’s a question of leadership. Too much or too little, too much there with too little here, or too much now followed by not enough later, or just not the right amount. Have they unleashed a torrent of abuse by opening up the heirachy too far, too fast and the squabbling underlings (like Compass) have begun to seriously detract from the demands on the principal decision-maker?

Well perhaps all of these and more.

Opinion is as much an expression of perception as anything else, and the setting of the stage for this premiership meant Brown was always going to suffer by comparison to a master performer like his predecessor.

If there is one thing he has struggled supremely with in his art it is to take the step up from a supporting role to the leading role – so maybe he needs be seen at a show or two and demonstrate he understands the theatrics of his own role; less speechifying and fewer policy initiatives, slightly more showing his face (at the Hadrian exhibition, for example – hmm, are they sending a message, or is it coincidental that there are relevant lessons to be learnt? How far should he expand his horizons?) without overshadowing anyone else; using his monopoly of the spotlight to greater ends, not shying away from it.

In one important sense the state is his state, and the flaws of the man become the flaws of the land. If he can be honest with himself, then we will be true to him (whether we like it or not), because we can work out how to compensate for his actions; if not, we will compensate for him. That’s a promise and a threat!

Lee Griffin

Please quote where I say that the right wing are a bunch of baby molesters and deserve to die.

If you can’t………………. STFU

“(I paraphrase drastically).”

“Please quote”

*giggles

There is a myth that ‘lurching to the left’ would be an electoral disaster, but most left-wing policies are electorally popular.

When was the last time that any party came to power on an openly hard-left agenda? In the UK? In the US? Anywhere in the English speaking world?

The last example I am sure of was Johnsons election in 1964. Since then people have been elected from the centre-left or centre right, but there has also been Thatcher, Reagen and W Bush.

So it seems to me that “lurching to the right” may work, but not “lurching to the left”.

30. dreamingspire

As the lady in Glasgow said for the media: theirs was a protest vote. But I didn’t hear her say exactly what they were protesting against. Brown personally perhaps – I come across people who just do not like him at all, i.e. what they see and hear on TV and radio they don’t like – even when he is seen relaxed, yet people who meeting him in person have a different and more positive reaction. Annoyance with his Ministers – they deserve it (but maybe the civil service is not helping them as much as it should – I sense frustration among the bottom end civil servants that I meet in the course of their work). Pent up anger at poor performance of public services – I hear a lot about that from my friends, and see it myself but actually manage to navigate it quite well myself, although its not easy (including coping with an aged relative’s relationship with the public sector), but they blame Brown, not the legacy of Blair. The feeling that government has turned nasty – that is true, for now we are always guilty of something before it is proven. Simple frustration, which leads them to take it out on someone. Maybe there is even more than that. And 11 years of Nu Labour has got us here.

Thomas, I’m feeling a bit dizzy by your comment that Compass is spinning in its own magnetism, great catchphrase but what do you mean?

I wrote a post on the situation the party faces and how it got there. http://compassyouth.blogspot.com/2008/05/lets-put-people-before-profits-if-not.html. So it’s not about stabbing Gordon Brown in his back to replace him with another leader/PM that doesn’t radically change the direction the party is going.

Conor, you’re right when you say Labour have lost the trust of the people. When you develop a project management style to governing like the New Labour project, building trust, understanding people’s concerns and getting people inspired about values of social justice and collective action were always seen as risks (or going back to the 70s as they like to say) to the model of efficiency they thought people wanted.

Sally, this is the great irony that for fear of the electorate thinking that Labour was going to being too liberal or too left wing, they went for the option of appeasing Conservative voters (and the party) by stealing their policies. Voters aren’t stupid and have always voted for whoever proposed the policy first and what is the point in the Labour party if not to be liberal left?

Synergy6, have a look at this post that describes a living wage campaign we were involved in
http://compassyouth.blogspot.com/2008/05/campaign-for-cleaners-campaign-for.html

Alix, you’ve opened up a can of worms! Neil, thanks for pointing out that Compass offer simple, radical and popular policies – how can we build the support for them that doesn’t rely on trying to infilitrate “closed door policy making” like we’ve seen with the National Policy Forum?

If we look at liberal left campaigns that have actually made a difference, they have never relied on a political party to succeed; whether it’s the living wage in London, the 24 weeks abortion debate (lot of credit goes to LC!), companies bill and education bill in 2006, youth employment reform in France, gay rights in Spain. So how can we find ways to build coalitions that mean we don’t have to depend exclusivelly on political parties to succeed?

When was the last time that any party came to power on an openly hard-left agenda? In the UK? In the US? Anywhere in the English speaking world?

Who said anything about hard-left? When has a party calling for a hard-right approach come to power?

And anyway, its difficult to comare the US and UK given their left is still very right to us. Saying that, Obama has been named the most liberal senator of all by his voting record and he’s on course to win. McCain may be a right-winger, but his trick is to distance himself from the hard-right winger GW Bush.

The point isn’ whether a policy is hard-left or hard-right. The point is what are good policies that will benefit people. And that too given the state of affairs.

You have an economic situation in America where even the Economist is calling for the nationalisation of Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae (massive mortgage lenders) because the Fed govt has had to prop them up.
Many are calling for more regulations against business and banks, and there’s a general mood that unfettered capitalism is unnecessarily risky. What do you call that? A policy actually advocated by the left. And yet the Economist is calling for it.

Events, dear boy, events.

33. douglas clark

dreamingspire,

Contrary to what ad said above, I’d certainly position the SNP to the left of the Labour Party. They have old-fashioned ideas like no to Trident, no to tuition fees, stuff like that. And yet they seem to be electable.

The protest vote, if I’ve read it correctly, was not just about being ignored but also about being taken for granted.

Things change. Especially, when what is new is really not so new after all.

Sunny, The Economist is quite clear on where it stands politically – and it isn’t on the right – so I don’t know why this would surprise you, except that you have a habit of appropriating and interpolating usage of the word ‘liberal’ according to your desired effect.

That’s not really an accurate or full picture of the Economist position. Firstly, the Economist disagree in principle with the “near-explicit state guarantees” of Freddie and Fannie. They continue in a recent article “Shareholders neither need nor deserve any more privileges. Attempting to distort share prices away from their market level is not a legitimate activity for traders. It is no business of regulators either.” The article is arguing against ‘anti-short selling’ regulation, and unnecessary extra regulation in general. Hardly the picture you’re painting.

I presume the article you’re referring to is “End of illusions”, July 17th. The vast majority of the text rails against the failings of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, Freddie/Fannie management, Congress, and the need (or lack thereof) for their creation in the first place. There is little to support the strength of your position, other than, “If Congress approves this package, the Fed will have more authority over the agencies. But that will give the central bank another headache. If an institution is struggling, the normal answer is to shrink its activities and wind it down slowly. But that is the last thing that the housing market needs right now.” Hardly a clear, ringing endorsement for nationalisation.

Saying that “Many are calling for more regulations against business and banks” and qualifying it with “And yet the Economist is calling for it.” unnecessarily simplifies the positions of both sides. Furthermore, it could easily mislead a reader into believing that the Economist somehow supports the latest anti-capitalist diatribe of large-scale regulatory increase. Which, in nearly every issue, it takes great pains to point out it doesn’t. To simplify, say the reds want the minimum wage up by 5%, and the yellows want it up by 50%. If a yellow spokesman said “Our position on the minimum wage increase is supported by the reds”, it would clearly be misleading, if not plain wrong.

I was going to write more generally on the misunderstanding of the Economist’s political and economic viewpoint, but thomas covered it more succinctly than I could have. I think when Sunny uses “liberal”, he actually means, as with LC itself, “liberal-left”, which can become confusing.

The article is arguing against ‘anti-short selling’ regulation, and unnecessary extra regulation in general. Hardly the picture you’re painting.

Synergy, I’m referring to their latest podcast on the issue… I’m not sure it disagrees with the near explicit state guarantees. Everyone knows FM and FM are too big to fail. The question is whether they should be private or public. Given the state is already supporting them, they pretty much accept they should be nationalised. Otherwise it makes no sense.

My point is that if the Economist is calling for better regulation (and more regulation, see the podcast) then its a big change to what their traditional position usually is.

“- A moratorium on Post Office closures, and new protection for the universal service obligation of the Post Office.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just vote Lib Dem?”

That is funny. Are the LibDems planning to leave the EU?

38. douglas clark

Nick,

Hopefully not. The EU has stopped Europe from being the cockpit of wars, or as most critics seem to say “that is not the point”. Whereas it is the bloody point.

And the EU’s ability to ban government’s from subsidising their national mail services helps them prevent wars… how exactly?

And how exactly is the EU meant to be more effective at preventing wars than say EFTA (which has a wider membership than the EU)? After all, democratic countries with free trade and fewer labour restrictions are highly unlikely to ever go to war. I don’t see why we need a bloated transnational agency on top of that.

40. douglas clark

Nick,

Detail mate.

So far, so good,with the EU project.

In times to come, I expect it to spread across most of the planet, for the simple reason that peace is better than war.

I am getting a little fed up with the arguement that without the EU we would not have been at each others throats. In that alternative history, could you give me reasons why not?

No, I didn’t think you could.

The UK and Spain could have declared war over Gibraltar, say, or to take a more recent example, what say you about Radovan Karadži? and the desire of Serbia to join up?

Joining means giving up quite a lot of things, including mutual aggression.

Are you so young that you have forgotten how bad war is? This cynicism, or stupidity, drives me crazy…..

We Europeans, more that any other group on this planet, need whatever tools we can agree to, to avoid mutual destruction. For, you only have to go back a trivial hundred years or so to see how it was a mere game for the younger Royals.

I think.

Dude, I am the one dealing with the details, you with the alternative history stuff.

I am asking why the EU needs powers to control national post offices in order to prevent wars because that defence seems blatently absurd – it is an unnecessary power if that is what its purpose is. By implication, I was saying that the LibDems are at odds to hold a pro-EU integration view while claiming to support local post offices. As it happens, developing a market in postal services isn’t one of the crazier schemes the EU has come up with (it makes economic sense, but it might not have factored in correctly what social role post offices play in this country).

I am also asking why the provisions of the European Free Trade Association are insufficient for preventing free trade and commerce developing between European nations, perhaps the most established non-violent way of preventing wars between states. And need I remind you that there was another organisation that has been hoovering up European members for a while now, NATO, which as a mutual defence pact against a clear threat would seems to have played a more direct role in maintaining peace between European states.

It is not enough, Douglas, to say “we have had peace for 50 years and we have had the EU for 50 years, therefore the EU caused the peace”. I am sure that is a logical fallacy of some sort.

42. douglas clark

Nick,

You say:

It is not enough, Douglas, to say “we have had peace for 50 years and we have had the EU for 50 years, therefore the EU caused the peace”. I am sure that is a logical fallacy of some sort.

Perhaps it is a logical fallacy of some sort. It also happens to be demonstrably true. Name me one other era in European civilisation where peace has been the norm?

You cannot, I would submit, argue that the EU is a waste of space, without at least looking at the ‘what might have beens’. You are unwilling, or, unable to address these issues.

I’m not denying that NATO was important, but what I would say is that NATO would have seen, say Poland, as part of the Warsaw Pact and thus a legitimate target. Have you noticed that Poland is now part of the EU? And that we didn’t have to blow it up to get there?

Guess what? I don’t give a monkeys about Post Offices. If there is a need for their services then they will be provided in a different manner.

Yes, you are probably correct that the EU should not be involved in that sort of micro-management, but neither should you feel free to chuck the baby out with the bathwater.

Which, frankly, is what you are doing.

You are clearly anti-EU. Well done. It is a safe position to take, despite being completely wrong. Policy adjustments I can go along with. Attempting to destroy the whole concept is just ridiculous.

Well it depends what you mean by anti-EU. I am against where it is right now and where it is going. But if you took out the micro-managing (and the farm subsidies), you would be left with a fairly decent organisation (a trade body with a tolerable amount of ceremony thrown in, essentially what the UK originally signed up for). The point is the EU is becoming increasingly about micro-managing and taking on more and more roles that are unnecessary for preventing these developed nation states from being at each other’s throats. This is what adherents to the “EU project” seem to be pushing for at the moment which is why, for now, I will be happily labeled “anti-EU”.

44. douglas clark

Well, we can, more or less, agree then.

I’m only interested in the EU as a peace making organisation, which it seems to do pretty well. And that, I think is it’s most important function, everything else ought to be seen as secondary. I am not interested in square bananas, or whatever.

What it’s supposed to be about, if I remember back to the 1950’s or thereabouts, is about stopping war. Coal from Germany, iron from France. Without both, you can’t fight, or some such. Which warfare, folk back then had had more than a bellyfull of, IIRC.

Perhaps it needs to concentrate on that rather than bureaucracy for it’s own sake. My point merely being that peace is a tad more important than the politics of the PO.

Which was what my ‘baby and bathwater’ comment was all about.

“we have had peace for 50 years and we have had the EU for 50 years, therefore the EU caused the peace”.

Wrong target. Try the Council of Europe and you’ll be much closer to the truth. This is straying from the other thread in that the recent shared experience of subjugation was the reasoning for pooling sovereignty in the face of a growing nuclear threat, but this is still highly relevant.

It’s strange that Post Office closures are given as an argument in favour of scaling back the EU into an EFTA-type group when cross-border harmonisation of economic conditions is primarily a free trade issue. It is only by evolving an ever-greater political role without necessary representative oversight and accountability in parallel that confusion over the purposes and public anger over the impact of the practice grow, because no elected official would unnecessarily run the risk of upsetting their voters the way the EU has been able to – the EU desperately needs democratic checks and balances.

46. douglas clark

thomas,

Which other thread?

Are you arguing against the EU or not? Sometimes I have difficulty in following your line of logic. It is probably just me.

Whatever.

You cannot be a member of the EU unless you are a functioning democracy. If you cease to be such a beast, you’ll get chucked out. You cannot attack another member state without getting black-balled. If I remember correctly, you have to sign up to the European Declaration of Human Rights. You do not bend the knee to US pressure to agree to their attempts at world domination through one-sided extradition. You all sign up for Kyoto.

It is issues like these that make me think it is a worthwhile project, and it is the nonsense that Nick has highlighted that makes him think it is all a load of baloney. He does have a valid point about micro-management, does he not?

But, where, exactly, do you stand?

“You do not bend the knee to US pressure to agree to their attempts at world domination through one-sided extradition.”

Err, we’ve already done that. And we’re still in the EU, right?

“You have to sign up to the European Declaration of Human Rights. You do not bend the knee to US pressure to agree to their attempts at world domination through one-sided extradition. You all sign up for Kyoto.”

The European Declaration of Human Rights does not really afford any defensible rights to individuals. It more or less says “Governments can’t do anything to infringe these basic human rights unless it is in in the interests of public health, safety, security or morality” which means in practice they will find a way to do it if they really want to (follow my link for an issue that is substantially unprotected by European human rights law because it just isn’t politically correct enough).

We do have a one-sided extradition treaty with the US right now. If we are signed up to EU human rights legislation, why aren’t we protected as European citizens from it?

Kyoto: will not solve climate change (if it is in fact happening).

These things seem to be very much more about symbols than actually increasing the rights of individuals in a practical way. Part of the reason is that the UK (and the US for all its faults too) has had a very strong conception of rights as prior to what states can do, which European legal systems have often failed to match. For many European counties, the EU is a massive improvement in terms of governance. For us, even with the culture of Westminister as it is, I think it represents a step back.

DC, functioning democracy must be interal as well as external for it to avoid storing up problems of inconsistency – democracy in the constituent states needs to be matched by democracy in the institution itself. So on the point of comparison made by Nick I find it hard to disagree.

Where I do disagree with Nick is on the subject of Kyoto: creating a system of multilateral agreements to cover international policies of global importance is the only way in which they will be resolved. So whether or not you accept the conclusion that the world is threatened by environmental cataclysm the only acceptable and practical way to address problems which might arise from the constantly changing climate (and by implication all emergency scenarios) is to plan for their contingency.

Who said anything about hard-left? When has a party calling for a hard-right approach come to power?

Sunny, I just used hard-left to mean very left wing, compared to the country the election is held in. As for “the right policies”, when you are discussing how to gain or hold power, the right policies are those that will get you elected. Centrism is generally the way to go. You will notice that now the primaries are over, Obama is not going around telling Amererican voters how liberal he is.

The point is that in a fight over the Labour Party’s future it is tempting to promise policies that Party activists, Unions with money to spend, and the Left generally, desires. And convince yourself that that is what the electorate as a whole desires. In reality, of course, the average voter is in the centre, so moving towards the activists generally means moving away from most voters.

Conversely, pleasing the electorate usually means frustrating ones own party. Which is why so few Labour members were keen on the most electorally sucessful Leader in their Party’s history.

Conversely, pleasing the electorate usually means frustrating ones own party. Which is why so few Labour members were keen on the most electorally sucessful Leader in their Party’s history.

Well, I’d say the Iraq war had quite a lot to do with that… as well as the excessive focus on spinning and triangulation over being honest about what the party stood for and push for that. After all, Ken Livingstone unapologetically did it for years and still got re-elected.

52. douglas clark

Sunny @ 52,

I’d have thought that that was exactly the point.

I am no longer convinced that Labour can get it’s core vote back. It has bought too much into the PR game to pull back now. It actualy believes what it’s focus groups tell it. Which is to deny it’s traditional vote. This is a conundrum about electors and electibility, and Labour seem to have lost both constituencies.

If you want a job, it would be to reinvigorate that group in our society that thinks much as you do. It would probably take a generation, but a resurgent Liberal Conspiracy, around 2030 AD, might just sweep the country by storm.


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