Why the Left cannot abandon New Labour


9:00 am - April 12th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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There was a brief moment late last year when the Labour Party was so low in the polls that they were tied to the Libdems in polling. Nick Clegg was ecstatic and started saying that it was “the Liberal moment” and the party had become the official progressive opposition. Labour members were in the doldrums.

But as the Conservatives started becoming more explicit about their policies and ideas, voters moved away. Not towards the Libdems however – it is Labour that has almost entirely been the beneficiary of tightening polls.

In other words the core Libdem base has not expanded and remains at around 15% plus some swing voters. There’s little point saying that if more people on blogs advocated voting Libdem then a shift would take place. It won’t. The impact on voting patterns by bloggers is next to nil.

In contrast, the Labour base remains deeper and stronger, vast swathes of the country still see it as the natural opposition to the Tories.

This is remarkable given:

1 that polls show Gordon Brown remains immensely unpopular while both Cameron and Clegg are much more liked
2 that this Labour government is tired and looks devoid of any inspirational figures.
3 that radical or interesting ideas by Labour (for a fourth term) remain extremely thin on the ground.

They’re just lucky that mistrust of the Conservatives remains deeply ingrained across vast swathes of the country.

* * * * * * * *

A few weeks ago Anthony Barnett made a forceful case in the New Statesman for not voting Labour and trying to bring in a Hung Parliament. But for him that included voting for ‘mavericks’ like Frank Field and even UKIP’s Nigel Farage (plus Esther Rantzen etc) in order to encourage more independents and deny both Labour and the Conservatives a majority.

It’s hard to disagree with much of Anthony’s criticisms, and I won’t repeat them here. On issues ranging from the economy, inequality and civil liberties, New Labour has not only let us down but deceived us. The problem lies with his solution.

Anthony’s critics broadly said the Tories were much worse and we had to hold our noses (again). Sunder Katwala said Labour needs to work more with the Libdems and other progressive parties (I agree). Neal Lawson also replied incisively, adding in conclusion: “Yet we should also be frustrated with ourselves for failing to build the ideas and organisation that could create something better.”

I agree with that wholeheartedly. A big part of the reason why New Labour was able to ignore the left was because the left was neither independent nor able to mobilise any serious opposition. I’ve said that repeatedly.

But anger on the left at New Labour’s failures runs deep and cannot be ignored. In fact YouGov has even created a separate category of the ‘Labour disloyal‘ to categorise them.

And Anthony is right: even if New Labour were to return for a fourth term there are no signs of an intellectual revival that offers answer to our economic and societal crises. There is no vision. There is no sign anything will change. There is the danger they’ll be completely wiped out by the next election if Gordon Brown hangs on after this one.

* * * * * * * *

If things are so bad then why vote New Labour? Why not the independents and mavericks? Why not give them all a bloody nose? Why even vote?

Let me explain why New Labour remains important and relevant.

We fool ourselves if we think that political magazines, blogs and even newspapers can shift voting intentions significantly. Even the Sun has had very little since it officially kicked off its propaganda campaign late last year. The only media outlet that could do significant damage would be if the Daily Mirror – New Labour’s most reliable ally – told its readers to vote Tory. And even that’s debatable.

So all this chatter, I’m afraid to say, will have negligible impact on votes. The local activists, campaigners, trade unions and local councils have helped keep Labour the main altermnative to the Tories.

The left? Well, we don’t have an infrastructure to influence those votes. That is the reality.

So the danger for us: the activists, thinkers and campaigners categorised as ‘disloyal Labour’ is that we completely abandon Labour while the electorate stays with them.

If the votes don’t shift then we’re pissing in the wind. The impact will be negiligible and the left will have no influence whatsoever. We’ll be driven by ideological purity and factionalism will become rife again.

* * * * * * * *

Let me be clear: a movement needs some form of political power or influence to achieve its goals. If the activist left abandons New Labour, but fails to form an alternative and shift a serious number of votes, then it would amount to a serious tactical error.

So what should we do? I’ll address that in a follow-up article.

But the stark fact is that public opinion matters. There’s little point in setting up ‘The Real Labour Party‘ if all we do is address ourselves while most people still see New Labour as the main alternative to the Conservatives.

The Libdems and the Greens matter but they have broadly failed to take advantage of voter disillusionment with New Labour and tempt over vast swathes of the public.

A Hung Parliament might help shake things up. But abandoning New Labour entirely makes little sense.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Sunny, I agree that progressives should back Labour.

But you could have made the case more clearly – I don’t know why you use the term New Labour. This was a rebranding that resulted in left-wing support draining away, and the existence of “disloyal Labour”.

“If the activist left abandons New Labour, but fails to form an alternative and shift a serious number of votes, then it would amount to a serious tactical error.”

“The Libdems and the Greens matter but they have broadly failed to take advantage of voter disillusionment with New Labour and tempt over vast swathes of the public.”

Of course you didn’t mention the tiny detail of the electoral system which, barring a headline-grabbing seat or two (see the Oona King debacle in 2005 or, very likely, Brighton Pavillion this year and maybe Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham Hall Green) renders even the most amazing popular disillusionment useless.

FPTP is the same reason why the Conservatives didn’t die even though they hit rock bottom and stayed there for a good 6 or 7 years, even in the face of centre-right votes being scattered all over the place and the rise of UKIP.

Sunny

Pretty well agree with everything here. I especially agree with your contention(?) that the left should spend a little bit less time whining about what New Labour has got wrong, and a bit more time accepting that it wasn’t organised enough to have any influence on New Labour’s direction, and that the way forward is to sort out its own organisation.

Why not make a pitch for Lib Dem voters to come across to Labour, on the basis that this would give Labour the ability to ditch the Blairite faction (who would find themselves at home in Cameron’s Conservatives easily enough, I should think)?

Seriously, most of the bad things that Labour have done since 1997 can be traced to the rise of the Blairite faction and the marginalisation of Labour’s liberal and democratic tendencies. Why not abandon the ‘New’ faction and build a stronger party on the basis of greater liberty and democracy?

I think it’s notable that, this time, nobody is even pretending that this is on the cards. In 2005, there was the prospect of a fresh start under Brown at some point, but we’ve seen that this hasn’t led to any particular enlightenment (Labour’s worst habits were in full view in the railroading of the Digital Economy Bill through the Commons with fuck all scrutiny, reminding us the litany of other wrong-headed and illiberal measures that the government whips have forced through in the last decade).

The main point I agree with is if Labour somehow manage to sneak a small majority, they’ll be finished by the next election. Winning in 2010 would be as bad for Labour as winning in 1992 was for the Tories.

The best thing I hope for is a hung parliament, with a couple of the smaller parties (not including the BNP) getting a significant minority of the popular vote but being left with little or no representation in Parliament – ie. a situation where the need for electoral reform cannot be ignored.

The worst thing about politics is a system where people are encouraged *not* to vote for their favoured parties, but for the least objectionable large party instead. I’ll be voting for my Labour MP, but not because he’s Labour. He campaigns on many important issues and it’s that which makes him someone worth voting for.

Despite what all the papers and news channels say, I think the economy’s a complete red herring. I don’t really understand it and don’t think most voters do either. This election’s all about trust, and that’s why both Labour and the Tories’ are struggling to take it by the scruff of the neck.

If Labour want a successful election then I think individual candidates need to be trusted by their constituents, because the party cannot win this collectively.

@4. Rob:
“Why not make a pitch for Lib Dem voters to come across to Labour”

I don’t know whether you meant this quite the way it sounds, but this snippet embodies everything I hate about political campaigns.

“Don’t vote for your favourite party! Vote tactically instead!”

Makes me hate the party saying it, no matter how good their policies are. It’s why I probably *won’t* be voting LibDem in the local elections.

Also, if you get people to vote for a party they don’t really agree with, in the hope that the party will then change into what you *do* want, then be prepared to be disappointed. Giving the party a false mandate will only make them think you like them as they are.

8. Mike Killingworth

Which would you sooner do, Sunny? Piss in the wind or lie down flat so that Peter Mandelson can stomp on your face? Because – make no mistake about it – New Labour hates “old Labour”, “Labour disloyal” or whatever you want to call it. They wish we would all drop dead, or at the very least emigrate. (The analogy on the right is how Tories feel about UKIPpers.)

We have had no effect whatsoever on New Labour policies over the last 13 years. Remember those demos against Iraq? Think about how NuLab treats the Trade Unions. And then think about the Trade Unions themselves.

When Labour goes into opposition they may decide they’ve had enough. (Some, like the RMT, already have.) The logic of your position is that they too should stick with NuLab. For God’s sake, why?

And underneath there are some very strange things going on in British politics. Far more seats are capable of changing hands – over a period of three or four elections, i.e. less than a generation – than used to happen. At her first attempt, Lynne Featherstone got under 12% of the vote in Hornsey & WG (not even a saved deposit in the old days) and at the same election the Greens got 2.2% in Brighton Pavilion.

So a seat properly worked (in each case, that means winning Council seats first) can be won. Given the inability of NuLab to fight any kind of ground war, there is a clear opportunity for a left Party prepared to take a medium-to-long term view.

This would involve, apart from policy development, the development of student cadres willing to move into particular seats – as Militant did in the seventies and eighties and Tory wannabes have done in west London more recently – a lot of hard yakka by way of pavement politics, and shrewd tactical alliances with progressive politicians in other parties. In short, it would require a selfless leadership as opposed to the trahison des clercs of the current generation of Campaign Group MPs who have, to a man and a woman, preferred Parliamentary salaries and expenses to political struggle.

Phil @6:

“Why not make a pitch for Lib Dem voters to come across to Labour”

I don’t know whether you meant this quite the way it sounds, but this snippet embodies everything I hate about political campaigns.

“Don’t vote for your favourite party! Vote tactically instead!”

Makes me hate the party saying it, no matter how good their policies are. It’s why I probably *won’t* be voting LibDem in the local elections.

The fault there isn’t with the parties asking for votes, it’s with the electoral system. In, say, a Tory/Lib Dem marginal, it’s probably sensible for a Green voter to vote Lib Dem because the Lib Dems are more likely to institute electoral reform and thus one day make voting Green a viable option. It’s not very nice, but it’s how the system works. If you don’t like this, vote for someone who wants to change it.

Properly proportional representation would also make it easier for the left to decouple itself from the Blairite faction, because it would no longer be necessary to keep everyone within a single party hierarchy for electoral reasons. The present situation is that Labour is a large and successful party because many people have sympathy with the values of the Labour movement, but control of the party itself goes to those who are most well-organised and well-funded, which favours coteries of elite politicians. That’s how Blair could lead the Labour party despite holding large parts of it in contempt, safe in the knowledge that the electoral system meant that they had to accept this or risk a Tory government.

All aboard to Iraq II, progressives. Sorry, this case might make sense if the last 13 years hadn’t happened. New Labour is the party of long-term DNA retention and anti-science, tabloid-driven mass criminalisation. Old Labour – the only alternative we’ve been presented with – has yet to come to terms with the move that every other successful, rich-country centre-left party made from the 1980s. Make a Proper Labour and you might have a case.

@9. Rob:
“The fault there isn’t with the parties asking for votes, it’s with the electoral system. In, say, a Tory/Lib Dem marginal, it’s probably sensible for a Green voter to vote Lib Dem because the Lib Dems are more likely to institute electoral reform and thus one day make voting Green a viable option. It’s not very nice, but it’s how the system works. If you don’t like this, vote for someone who wants to change it.”

See, I disagree with this. If everybody does this, it makes the Greens look like they have less support than they actually do. So next election, people will look at the old result and say, once more, “Oh, the Greens clearly can’t win, I’ll vote Lib Dem again.”

The more votes Green get this election, the more electable they’ll look next election, even if they still win don’t win the seat, because they’ll be a little bit closer to the winning candidate and the tactical voters might consider them a little more seriously.

12. George W Potter

Let me put it like this, if Labour were to ditch it’s current leadership and return to the left wing principles it originally had then I would have no qualms in voting for them. As it is, a party that has lied to us, betrayed us and ignored us is not worthy of my vote. I will never reward their failures with my vote just because I dislike the tories more.

I know full well my vote will make little difference due to the nature of our voting system but I’m going to vote as if it made all the difference in the world. Yes my party will get far less seats than it’s support deserves but why should we have to give in and make compromise votes? All that does is reinforce the status quo and I am sick to my ears of the bloody status quo.

13. Mike Killingworth

[10] Who are you thinking of, Edward? Kevin Rudd? (About whom, I confess, I know next to nothing.)

14. George W Potter

I also agree with Phil, vote for the party you believe in, at least that way you’re being true to your principles.

I know you’re still hoping for that Labour peerage, but why should “the left” not switch allegiance to the LibDems?

No noticeable difference on economics; far better on civil liberties.

Good post Sunny, I agree with you the question is how can we be influential. The reason why this is a fair and important question is that the country is to the left of the Labour government. (Which is why the Conservatives are struggling and Labour’s failure to create a principled realignment with the Lib Dems when it could have is tragic.) How, then, can we help achieve the democratic government the country deserves?

I am not for “abandoning New Labour entirely”. As one of those who helped create the movement that became New Labour I can say that if anything it abandoned me. Much later OurKingdom was launched specifically to engage with Gordon Brown’s promise of holistic constitutional reform. It didn’t happen. So the question is where do we go from here, given what you say.

My answer is “hang ’em”. I think we should aim to frustrate the Conservatives without accepting that the only alternative is giving Mandelson and Brown five more years. In terms of influence what you say is clear and there is no point in deceiving ourselves. But in terms of preparing for the debate that is likely to unfold after the election it is very important.

If you conclude that there is nowhere else to go but Labour; if you spend your time insisting that when push comes to shove we have to stick with them as that is where the voters are; in, in other words, if you are fatalistic, they will take you to the cleaners. The New Labour leadership (all wings of it) will be polite in public (if you are lucky) and despicable in private (with one or two exceptions), take you for granted and ignore your arguments – even when these are in the best interests of the left and Britain. The last three years have confirmed this.

It is essential therefore to make it clear that there are other places and other options and we are not dependent upon them. The Greens need some MPs in the Commons to set an example (not least to the Lib Dems). We need more SNP and Plaid MPs to demonstrate that the English question, which is of profound democratic consequence, isn’t going to be wished away or repressed (which could gift it to the right).

We want to encourage the impulse to independence even in the form of Esther Ranzen as it draws on a tradition of inventiveness that the party machines stifle. In other words we need to do what we can to break open the two-party political system and the political class itself (to which the Lib Dems are all too attached). The more open, the better. But then call me promiscuous but I’m not for abandoning the Lib Dems either.

17. Mike Killingworth

[16] Hear, hear. I would add only that those whose primary interest is power will always despise (and wish to hurt) those whose interest is in principles. It is interesting in this connection to study how the political class of his day treated A.P. Herbert.

18. Golden Gordon

know you’re still hoping for that Labour peerage, but why should “the left” not switch allegiance to the LibDems?

No noticeable difference on economics; far better on civil liberties

Only if Migration watch had a candidate for you eh c boy

It is to be hoped that “the people”, whether by accident or design, bring about a hung parliament. It is the only thing which might bring about some radical movement in the British political scene.

With luck, as polling day gets closer, more people will wake up to the fact and start to think about voting tactically to ensure that neither the “caring” Conservatives or “New” Labour get a chance to go it alone.

We DON’T need another five years of Brownism or Blairism. I don’t think it’s so much a question of the left abandoning Labour..rather the other way round! There is little prospect of a “New” Left party making any significant headway, particularly with the current electoral system. What we need is a fracturing of the current system, and hopefully a long term project to construct a left of centre consensus to keep the Tories out.

Only electoral reform will do this.

20. Golden Gordon

Mike
I get feeling you would like to a Tory party to get in , just to teach new labour. In reality the party of Ashcroft will effect the poor and unions.
To me , voting Labour is a negative pleasure.
I cannot stand the ccjcc/matts/ and the Nick Cohen’s of the world running the country.

I’ve voted in more than 10 general elections, and for each one someone has tried to give me a clever reason why I should vote for someone that I don’t agree with. Politicians expect every other group of voters to vote according to their own interests (even when these are ephemeral, short-term or selfish) but expect the liberal-left to take other people’s views into account when they vote. I think that international law is important along with basic civic rights, so I don’t see why I should vote for a Labour Party that does not respect these concepts.

For a long time after 1997, Labour had a large lead and didn’t have to listen much to its critics. A couple of years ago the polls went into reverse and the strategy seemed to be to accept defeat and then blame it all on Brown. (This would be, by the way, avoiding the problem: Brown is a symptom of a much deeper malaise in Labour and I’m a bit surprised when Sunny mentions Brown as the major problem for the Party.) The polls are now close so perhaps Labour will listen to its critics and understand why so many people are disaffected. Or perhaps it won’t, but if Labour doesn’t listen now it is unlikely to listen to my views in whatever happens after the election. So I won’t be voting Labour and I’ll be writing to all my candidates explaining why I won’t be (or will be) voting for them.

Having admitted that whatever you say, you won’t have any influence, why bother trying to determine what you say in influence-peddling terms?

Surely, the point is that since you have no influence, you can’t affect the election by endorsing Labour, Lib Dem, Green or some new left-of-Labour “Real Labour Party”. So pick what you personally prefer, rather than pretending to have influence.

Phil @ 11:

See, I disagree with this. If everybody does this, it makes the Greens look like they have less support than they actually do. So next election, people will look at the old result and say, once more, “Oh, the Greens clearly can’t win, I’ll vote Lib Dem again.”

Yes, but I think you’re underestimating the fact that the Greens really can’t win. The Lib Dems have a shade over 10% of the seats in the Commons, and it took 22.3% of the vote to get them there. It’s perfectly plausible for the Greens to poll, say, 10% of the total votes and get maybe two MPs for their trouble (or about 0.3% of the seats in the Commons). The system is so screwed that it doesn’t even matter if the Greens increase their vote-share, unless they happen to do it in a very focused way (this is how the nationalist parties manage to get seats). In most of the country, voting Green will be meaningless – hell, voting Lib Dem is a lost cause in parts of the country and they got twenty-three times as many votes as the Greens did at the last election. The Lib Dems get shafted by the electoral system (Labour have about 1.6 times as many votes as the LDs, but over 5.5 times as many seats). If it’s bad for the Lib Dems, it’s even worse for the Greens.

The more votes Green get this election, the more electable they’ll look next election, even if they still win don’t win the seat, because they’ll be a little bit closer to the winning candidate and the tactical voters might consider them a little more seriously.

I agree, but in my previous paragraph I think I outlined just how far the Greens would have to come to achieve even Lib Dem levels of Parliamentary representation. I feel really bad saying this, but whilst voting Green because you believe in their policies is a morally good thing to do, the practical effects are likely to be nil. This is a terrible reflection on our electoral system, but the only solution is to change that system.

And as I said before, if the Greens or any other small party (with the exception of the BNP) get a significant minority but no representation, it will increase the pressure for electoral reform.

A vote for one of the main parties simply because they’re the main parties is a vote for the status quo. There is every reason to vote for a smaller party with whom you actually agree.

That said, I’m voting for the Labour candidate in the General Election because he’s a thoroughly good MP with strong principles. Otherwise I would probably be going Green. And I expect I will go Green in the local election.

25. Alisdair Cameron

Sorry, Sunny. I’m with Anthony Barnett and (esp) Mike Killingworth on this. There are some line4s you just don’t cross if you have any principles (from punitive workfare,to perpetual out-sourcing/marketisation/privatisation,to war,to ID cards), and New labour wilfully stepped over each and every one of them. Any vote for Labour as things stand, no matter the underlying rationale will be taken as whole-hearted backing for ‘the project’ by the national party (which is still predominantly New Lab, overwhelmingly so higher up). They will trumpet that as some kind of bleeding mandate or endorsement for them, so you are shoring up the traitorous New Lab crew. There is no way of qualifying your vote, so by voting for Labour in a few weeks times, you are voting for all of those illiberal,unjustifiable (if you’re at all Left-inclined) policies.

No. 22. I don’t know if I will have any influence. However I’m fairly sure that I will have no influence at all if I give my vote to Labour with the very optimistic hope that Labour will sort itself out after the general election.

Sunny says that Labour has an infrastructure. Indeed it does, but that infrastructure is directed to maintaining Labour in power, not to any fundamental values. The belief inside the Labour Party is that people who care about fundamental principles have nowhere else to go: I think that we can show them to be wrong.

@20 – hahaha – I couldn’t stand me running the country either.

28. Shatterface

‘Also, if you get people to vote for a party they don’t really agree with, in the hope that the party will then change into what you *do* want, then be prepared to be disappointed. Giving the party a false mandate will only make them think you like them as they are.’

Well, that’s why I won’t be voting New Labour. I’m not giving NL a ‘mandate’ for more wars and the repeal of the few civil liberties we have left.

New Labour won’t change until they’ve had a few years on the oposition benches or groveling to it’s partners in a hung parliament.

And as I said before, if the Greens or any other small party (with the exception of the BNP) get a significant minority but no representation, it will increase the pressure for electoral reform.

The growth of small parties is a relatively recent phenomenon (certainly compared to the mid-20th century), so you might be right. But “pressure” only counts if it is exterted on the government. Since the government is comprised of the parties that do well out of FPTP elections (viz. Labour or the Conservatives), it’s unlikely that they’ll ever yield to the pressure.

A vote for one of the main parties simply because they’re the main parties is a vote for the status quo. There is every reason to vote for a smaller party with whom you actually agree.

True, although a vote for the Lib Dems would be a vote for PR that gives your “true” party a much bigger role in Parliament. In a weird way, your vote would do more good for the Green cause that way. Again, I’m not saying that I like this, but it seems to be how things work.

That said, I’m voting for the Labour candidate in the General Election because he’s a thoroughly good MP with strong principles. Otherwise I would probably be going Green. And I expect I will go Green in the local election.

Shame that the Labour MP is probably going to vote how the whips tell him, most of the time. Even the best MPs rarely defy the whip (Tom Watson has been getting a lot of praise for voting against the Labour whip on the Digital Economy Bill, but it was actually the first time he’d ever voted against the government; admirable that he’s finally done it, but where has he been for the last decade?).

Bah, I must be sounding pretty depressing. I’m sorry, I genuinely don’t mean to be trying to rain on your parade or find reasons to disagree; I just think that we have a screwed-up electoral system that turns valid, honest choices like yours into a grotesque caricature of democracy.

30. Shatterface

Incidentally, I’ve actually got a decent Labour MP in my constituency (no, really) but he also has massive support here and will do very well without my vote in any case.

Sunny…

The impact will be negiligible and the left will have no influence whatsoever. We’ll be driven by ideological purity and factionalism will become rife again.

But what does staying with New Labour actually do to help?

Incidentally, I’d rather vote for “cjcjc” than New Labour, if only to hear the Queen try and pronounce it.

13. Kevin Rudd is essentially Tony Blair – barely any commitment to left-wing economic principles, willing to jerk the knee whenever there’s a populist cause. I’m thinking about the journey that parties like the SPD took. Unfortunately this positive direction for centre-left parties is now associated with the negative consequences of Blair, and we now have a party adhering to two ridiculous positions. I am (as I have said before) not a left-winger but I can see that this situation is in no-one’s interests.

Rob, my MP is Jeremy Corbyn. He has quite an impressive record of voting against the whip.

Which would you sooner do, Sunny? Piss in the wind or lie down flat so that Peter Mandelson can stomp on your face? Because – make no mistake about it – New Labour hates “old Labour”, “Labour disloyal” or whatever you want to call it. They wish we would all drop dead, or at the very least emigrate. (The analogy on the right is how Tories feel about UKIPpers.)

We have had no effect whatsoever on New Labour policies over the last 13 years. Remember those demos against Iraq? Think about how NuLab treats the Trade Unions. And then think about the Trade Unions themselves.

When Labour goes into opposition they may decide they’ve had enough. (Some, like the RMT, already have.) The logic of your position is that they too should stick with NuLab. For God’s sake, why?

*Stands up, applauds, punches the air, laps til his hands bleed!*

Hate, for me is too strong a word for ‘New” Labour. To hate you have to have some stronger than normal emotion about something – I detest New Labour with a passion – but hating them, no – I do want them to get slapped daft and go away, far, far away.

If New Labour get elected then they will have a mandate to govern, Sunny. Irrespective of anything else. And if they have that mandate they will carry on as if nothing had happened. There will be no change from the illiberal that has infested the party, and infection that need drastic surgery to remove it – and if that means losing the election then that is what must happen.

I’m old labour, and as has been said, they hate me because of what I believe in. Any time I have someone’s ear I plead with them to vote LibDem. If I can get one – yes, just one person to vote for them I have made a ever so slight difference.

Whether you think this blog has a voice or not is up to you – but advocating that people should not abandon new labour and go left is beyond me. Until the new labour/Blairites are thrown out of the party there is no hope for them of left-wing policies in the party.

New Labour has to die, and not with fanfare and pyre. It has to choke slowly until it expires with no one even noticing.

Vote LibDem!

FWIW I think everybloodyone should have a decent look at what their local MP’s record is like (a good place to start is here), my local (Labour!) MP has a good record on rebelling against the Party line [like @33] and while that means he won’t get promoted any time soon, I’d sure as hell have him than the (Tory – marginal seat) alternative.

Aside from that – @34, if you’re “old Labour” why do you support a Party that wants “savage cuts” in public services and has criticised the right to strike?

*edit typo “…have him rather than the alternative…”

Pill –

@34, if you’re “old Labour” why do you support a Party that wants “savage cuts” in public services and has criticised the right to strike?

Are then, by implication, saying that new labour or the Tories are not going to slash public spending, or any cuts? With the question you seem to negate the fact it is New Labour/Tory policy that got the country into the predicament that it is in now.

Right to strike? Are you speaking about Vince Cable saying that is should be harder for essential services to strike? I’ll be open and honest with you – I believe that the fire service should get a whacking rise in pay, but I also want a fireman/woman to put my house fire out/factory fire out, any fire out rather than squaddies in Green Goddesses. Taking industrial action isn’t only about striking – fuck, that was those morons who gave the old left a really bad name and brought about Thatcher. Do you want the police force just to walk out and picket?

Nurses and doctors – I would you assume that they are essential services, I do, but what I read on the Beeb site is that administrators got a fuckload wage increase dwarfing what nurses got – that should, in anyone’s book, be the other way around. So yes, if those admins wanted to go on strike I would make it damn harder for them to walk out.

If Betty or Edwin can’t get their benefit letters because Tristan at the local council office decides “Fuck this my superannuated pension will only give me 60k a year retirement ….’ then yes, I think that Betty and Edwin get those letters so they can seek to live on the meagre pittance offered to them.

I am all for strike action and withdrawal of labour if all else fails. And, to be honest again, I didn’t see any LibDem policy saying that this would be banned. If it was then I would advocate someone else to be elected.

@37

Will,

With the question you seem to negate the fact it is New Labour/Tory policy that got the country into the predicament that it is in now.

I’m not supporting the leadership of either of the Labservatives, but it’s not unreasonable to question LD policy on what ‘savage cuts’ (their words, not mine) they intend to make if elected (or more likely brought into a coalition gov). And as for :

Taking industrial action isn’t only about striking – fuck, that was those morons who gave the old left a really bad name and brought about Thatcher. Do you want the police force just to walk out and picket?

I assume you’ve read this, the call to curb strikes was made in the context of Unite and the RMT taking industrial action, although Cable turned the question around and spoke about “essential sevices” instead. No-one wants to see a return to the Bad Old Days but it won’t happen, simply because there is so much anti-trade union legislation in place at the moment.

I don’t see ‘curbing’ strike action as a priority for any incoming government, it’s rather an attack on organised labour – if there was a similar attack on capital you can bet there’d be a backlash (as indeed there has been with the business class supporting Tory tax plans to oppose the 1% increase in NI).

I’m not saying the LDs don’t have some good policies. The commitment to take the lowest earners out of the tax bracket is highly progressive despite what Labour are saying. And their commitment to civil liberties is commendable, although I do wish a few more of them had turned up to the DE bill reading.
My point really is that there are a few good Labour MPs who are not slavishly following the Blair/Brownite Party line, and voting LD wherever you are might get rid of them, too.

The system is of course rigged in favour of the big two, it needs a severe overhaul to make everyone’s vote count the same. Then we could have a sensible debate about policy – at the moment it’s the lesser of two evils. If I voted LD it’d be wasted completely, as they come a very lowly third in my const. It’s 37% Lab, 32% Con, 17% LD IIRC the last election results. So frankly I’d rather implore potential LD voters to vote Labour, not vice versa. If the percentages were different I’d change my mind accordingly.

Course, if you live in a LD/Lab swing seat and the Lab candidate is a New Lab lapdog then sure, vote LD and I wish you all the best. But it isn’t the only solution.

Pill – I agree, there are some good Labour MPs, what I do see, mostly, are the bad ones are all ‘New’ Labour ones – that is, at least to me – what drives my desire to see the new labour project die a death. Hence my disagreement with Sunny about people supporting them.

I don’t see it a priority of an incoming government that they say they are going to go all Thatcher on the Unions. What does my head in though is that the Unions have done some awesome work – something that goes unrecognised both by government and the people. Added to that New Labour taking the piss in just expecting the Unions to finance them.

The system is rigged, again, we agree – but how is that to change with Brown, again, offering to change the status quo – when we all know he or New Labour will not? At least the Tories are honest in saying they won’t do it.

If Sunny is advocating that people should elect a New Labour government he should also shout far louder that unelected members of the Upper House should have no role, whatsoever until elected, in government policy/departments/ministerial posts.

Sorry for the lateness in replies:

James: I don’t know why you use the term New Labour. This was a rebranding that resulted in left-wing support draining away, and the existence of “disloyal Labour”.

I’m not sure that is the case. Dropping Clause 4 turned off many hardcore socialists but frankly their numbers across the country aren’t that great. Blair got a huge majority despite that change. I’ll try and focus more on the distinction in my next reply between old and new labour.

Claude: I’m not sure FPTP can be blamed entirely for votes switching back to Labour from the Conservatives. The Libdems are contesting almost everywhere and what we’re talking here is about voter identification, not just local tactical voting.

Paul – thanks.

Rob: hy not abandon the ‘New’ faction and build a stronger party on the basis of greater liberty and democracy?

That was going to be the subject of my next post 🙂

Phil: The worst thing about politics is a system where people are encouraged *not* to vote for their favoured parties, but for the least objectionable large party instead.

Agree with that of course.

——

Mike K: Which would you sooner do, Sunny? Piss in the wind or lie down flat so that Peter Mandelson can stomp on your face?

Neither really. I don’t think pissing in the wind helps, but that doesn’t mean I want to embrace Mandelson. As I said earlier the problem is that one of the reasons Mandelson can stomp on our faces is because we are not organised enough.

You can do a Militant style take-over. But what’s your agenda? And are enough Labourites going to move over to this new party? And what evidence do you have that voters will?

None of the other left parties have done well at all in trying to push this agenda forward. What makes you think you’re going to succeed?

So a seat properly worked (in each case, that means winning Council seats first) can be won. Given the inability of NuLab to fight any kind of ground war, there is a clear opportunity for a left Party prepared to take a medium-to-long term view.

Well, why not use the Green Party as your vehicle then? why not join them? Why start even more parties?
The only successful example here is Respect – and they won solely thanks to Muslim support and anger against the War. None of those will work across the country as a model.

as Militant did in the seventies and eighties and Tory wannabes have done in west London more recently

They all worked under the established parties – which I have no problem with.

—–

George: what agenda would you like?

Hi Anthony, you say:
The New Labour leadership (all wings of it) will be polite in public (if you are lucky) and despicable in private (with one or two exceptions), take you for granted and ignore your arguments – even when these are in the best interests of the left and Britain. The last three years have confirmed this.

I agree with this. But there are two questions then: why is New Labour able to ignore the left generally, and why are they able to ignore the left within the Labour party?

If we’re a significant faction then why exactly can they ignore us and still win elections?

. The more open, the better. But then call me promiscuous but I’m not for abandoning the Lib Dems either.

I’m not for abandoning them either. Not in the least. I’m just saying they have not been able to establish themselves as the natural alternative to the Tories in the minds of most voters. And their base has not expanded. Why is that?

——

Guano:
A couple of years ago the polls went into reverse and the strategy seemed to be to accept defeat and then blame it all on Brown. (This would be, by the way, avoiding the problem: Brown is a symptom of a much deeper malaise in Labour and I’m a bit surprised when Sunny mentions Brown as the major problem for the Party.)

I think this is partly spot on – there is an intellectual problem generally. and there is a problem with the liberal-left getting its act together. But that doesn’t mean Brown can avoid blame: there is plenty a PM can do to move forward issues and legislation that they have promised on.

The polls are now close so perhaps Labour will listen to its critics and understand why so many people are disaffected.

I’m not holding out any hope for this.

Richard Gadsden: Surely, the point is that since you have no influence, you can’t affect the election by endorsing Labour, Lib Dem, Green or some new left-of-Labour “Real Labour Party”. So pick what you personally prefer, rather than pretending to have influence.

I think you’re missing the point. We don’t have any influence with voters across the country but we can certainly affect conversations within the liberal-left activist and intellectual base.

Alisdair:
There is no way of qualifying your vote, so by voting for Labour in a few weeks times, you are voting for all of those illiberal,unjustifiable (if you’re at all Left-inclined) policies.

But there is a way of qualifying your vote! you’re assuming all LAbour MPs are the same.

Guano: The belief inside the Labour Party is that people who care about fundamental principles have nowhere else to go: I think that we can show them to be wrong.

I think the problem is more that even if some activists leave, the voters haven’t left the party (as the polls show). Which means the activists leaving will simply abandon the people they claim to be working in favour of.

Let’s assume you start working with Respect. Put aside Galloway for now. Assume you join the party and people there are not afraid of being leftie etc. Great. But are the workers and TUs joining you enmasse? No. Are they voting for you? No. Are you able to affect any change? No. So in other words you feel ideologically pure but the party with most of the votes can ignore the left even more because they’ve not banished themselves to inconsequential little parties (unless you plan to shift all to the Libdems).

Will!
New Labour has to die, and not with fanfare and pyre. It has to choke slowly until it expires with no one even noticing.

Vote LibDem!

As I said – I’m afraid most people aren’t listening to you. Most people went back to Labour. Now, is that because the Libdems are incredibly bad at connecting with people? Is it entirely down to the electoral system? Is it because most people don’t identify with Libdem policies and would prefer New Labour instead?

I don’t see it a priority of an incoming government that they say they are going to go all Thatcher on the Unions.

Yes, it is not a priority of the Lib Dems or Conservatives to _say_ that. Merely to _do_ it.

It won’t be a priority of the Lib Dems or Conservatives to _say_ they are going to cripple the NHS in preparation for privatising it. Merely to _do_ it.

It won’t be a priority of the Lib Dems or Conservatives to _say_ they are going to sell of the popular bits of the BBC to Murdoch. Merely to _do_ it.

With those institutions still in place, when Labour gets its mojo back, it can work out what needs doing. With them destroyed, it would take another 3 election wins to just get back to where we are now.

Sunny –

Most people went back to Labour. Now, is that because the Libdems are incredibly bad at connecting with people? Is it entirely down to the electoral system? Is it because most people don’t identify with Libdem policies and would prefer New Labour instead?

I believe the LibDems have a problem in not so much connecting with people, but getting their message out loud and clear. I still see on here, of all places, that a vote for the LibDems is a wasted vote. In this election I do believe that there is one great fear in the public – that of a majority Tory government. Fear is a great motivator and if people can keep the Tories out they will. The prorogations of the general public looked to be swaying so many over to the Tories they, as always, became complacent and didn’t think that people would care – a AOBGB vote. Now their policies are coming to light and are scrutinised – people are backing off quickly.

It is here that the LibDems should be on top of the fight showing that there really is an alternative to New Labour. But would the swing be big enough? Would the X mean a Tory government by default?

If the LibDems want to make in-roads, as was said earlier – they have to be in parliament for vote like the DEB, whether or not they can effect that vote, it matters not! They will be on the News saying it was they who were taking this. that the other seriously and not the Tories or New Labour.

The electorate want representatives not managers. This is the reason behind the apathy. People want to be represented in Parliament – and that is what the Old Labour party used to do.

The electorate want representatives not managers.

^ this.

Will – ah ok, I don’t think we have a disagreement really then, it just seemed on first sight that you were tarring all the Labour MPs with the same brush, which would be unfair to the few progressives in Gov/on backbench. I still stand by what I said before – under the present system of FPTP one must reluctantly vote for the least worst candidate (which in my view is anyone but the Tories).

46. Mike Killingworth

[40][41] I think there are two connected issues. First, are there enough “left wing” voters to be numerically significant? That, I think, depends on how important parties of the centre and right think it is to exclude the left. In its heyday the Italian Communist Party took 30-40% of the vote, to no effect because the other parties saw keeping it out of office as more important than anything else. In Chile the right was prepared to support an army coup to get rid of a democratically elected left government.

As to why not support the Greens, I shall certainly be looking at Green-TU links over the next few years with great interest.

But I don’t think you’ve really answered my central point, which is that as long as Mandelson and those who think like him are allowed in the Labour Party, let alone running it, they will regard people who see themselves as “left” as merely useful idiots. Why haven’t they expelled Jeremy Corybyn? Because they don’t need to – he’s impotent.

but getting their message out loud and clear. I still see on here, of all places, that a vote for the LibDems is a wasted vote.

Urgh. I’ve said at the top that thinking bloggers will actually influence voting patterns is a mug’s game. There are plenty of Libdem bloggers – do you think they changed anything significantly?
Hell, even the most highly trafficked blogger can’t influence anything even though he’s been telling the media for years that Brown is terrible.

Stop believing that bloggers or the press will suddenly help the Libdems become popular. the impact is minimal. Hell – the impact of a front page story on Chris Grayling’s views is likely to be minimal.

About 5% of the electorate will know who Damian McBride is. That’s it. So please please please stop blaming the media, or saying that they’re being held back because of the press or bloggers and their positions.

That, I think, depends on how important parties of the centre and right think it is to exclude the left.

Mmmm – I think its easy to forget a few things. The ultra-right feel as marginalised and angry with Cameron as the socialists do with New Labour. That is the nature of moving towards the centre. So the problem isn’t just with the left and I don’t believe there is a conspiracy against just the left. It’s arguable there is also a conspiracy then against the reactionary ultra conservative right and the hardcore libertarian free-market right.

But I don’t think you’ve really answered my central point, which is that as long as Mandelson and those who think like him are allowed in the Labour Party, let alone running it, they will regard people who see themselves as “left” as merely useful idiots.

I’ll answer that point in my follow-up. We are only useful idiots though if we have zero influence. The question then is why does the left have so little influence?

So please please please stop blaming the media, or saying that they’re being held back because of the press or bloggers and their positions.

I didn’t. I said to get their message out loud and clear and to be active in parliament – more than the others. Banging on and on until people actually get it.

If you say the press doesn’t influence some, with respect – you’re deluded, Sunny. You see all too often policy made because of an outcry in the Mail. That both tells, or should tell, why some politicians and a swathe of the public are basically thick!

“Law made in Parliament effect all the population – not the 3 people that caused the outcry”.

I know this wasn’t a reply to me, but:

That is the nature of moving towards the centre.

The only ones wanting to move to the centre are the party’s, the main 3 anyway. The rest of us want to be represented by people who are, in fact, on the same page as us – fuck the centre – they can have their own representatives.

It’s not about setting up ‘the real LP’ but about offering an alternative to the neoliberal consensus. You think people, voters that is, don’t pick up on the fact that all three parties do nothing but destroy the public and common good in the name of efficiency and profit?

And please drop the ‘progress’. If the LibDems are ‘progressive’, then politics ought to stop this second. The use of vocabulary puts people off more and more (‘radical’, ‘progressive’ etc). The three main parties are so staid and the same, there is little or no ‘change’ in the making.

Most of the articles on this website read like interior designers bickering over where to position the table rather than thinking about moving house.

51. Alisdair Cameron

Alisdair:
There is no way of qualifying your vote, so by voting for Labour in a few weeks times, you are voting for all of those illiberal,unjustifiable (if you’re at all Left-inclined) policies.

[Sunny]But there is a way of qualifying your vote! you’re assuming all LAbour MPs are the same.

Whoa, no I’m not. My current Labour MP has been very good, but is retiring (no scandal either). The replacement has depressed me with her New Labourism. I would vote for the present incumbent (voted against the war, against trident, against ID cards etc etc), but not the putative successor.
However, exactly where in your opinion piece did you suggest qualifying one’s vote, and so, if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to be a constituent of a New labour MP withholding your vote from them?

Sunny, I’ll leave your question about the Lib Dems to them. You ask:

why is New Labour able to ignore the left generally, and why are they able to ignore the left within the Labour party?

If we’re a significant faction then why exactly can they ignore us and still win elections?

The first answer is because our elections are not democratic. At the last election they got 23% of the electorate and only a third of the actual vote. In any other European system they’d have had to govern with the Lib Dems, Vince Cable would have been Chancellor, we’d not have had a database state. British democracy is designed to keep the unwashed and even the washed at bay. It is very frustrating when we’d be both much better for the country and more popular. But there you are.

In my experience they did not ignore us to win in 97. Us being the kind of democratic left not the authoritarian one. But in power we became their enemy (not of all them, mind). if you look at the post I put up in OK that quotes from Brown’s 1992 sovereignty lecture where he called on Labour to recognise the state itself was a vested interest and we had to be protected from it, you’ll see what a decade in office has done.
http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/what-gordon-brown-once-believed#comment-526647

This is why I am convinced that we will be marginalised if Mandelson and Brown get back to power. But if they don’t then the doors reopen to realignment.

As a proud progressive/left-winger, I cannot in all conscience bring myself to vote for New Labour. If my MP were John McDonnell or Jeremy Corbyn, I’d vote for them. But most of us live neither in Hayes nor Islington. I even considered joining Labour, because Sunny has a point: the left outside Labour has failed despite the MASSIVE opportunity to put up a real challenge to Labour. There is still a left inside Labour, that ranges from far left (LRC) to medium left (Compass) to moderate/overly partisan left (Fabians). All of these groups will play an important part in how the left moves forward, May 7th onwards.

But on May 6th, I cannot and will not give my vote, which I have waited so long to use, to send a message that I want New Labour re-elected. I would like to have voted for Old Labour but they aren’t on the ballot paper. In my constituency the New Labour MP does not need my vote to get re-elected so I am free to vote my conscience, which is how everyone should vote.

Sunny:- your argument depends heavily on the assumption that significant numbers of people have, in some way, moved back to Labour. I doubt this very much. Last year there was a great deal of denigration of Gordon Brown in the press and on the internet, and the Tories were the beneficiaries from this. However this campaign of blaming Brown for everything couldn’t be sustained, and Cameron was unable to present a solid narrative of what he stood for. TheTory lead has slipped but I don’t see any great enthusiasm for any of the mainstream political parties. In my experience people are talking about things like reform of the electoral system or how out of touch MPs are, not about which party they prefer. Even if Labour scrape some sort of win it is not going to be a popular government.

By the way: I looked at your original post and saw that you mentioned factionalism and ideological purity. This is most unfortunate. It isn’t ideological purity to refuse to support a political party that does not respect international law.

“At the last election they got 23% of the electorate and only a third of the actual vote. In any other European system they’d have had to govern with the Lib Dems, Vince Cable would have been Chancellor, we’d not have had a database state.”

This is a non-plausible counterfactual.

Firstly, under a different voting system similar to, say, the German system, parties would have campaigned differently – if the aim were to maximise national vote share, Labour would have put effort into boosting their vote in Liverpool and Manchester, rather than focusing on marginals in Kent, the Lib Dems wouldn’t have run “only the Lib Dems can beat X here” and so on. And people would have voted differently and been more likely to support minor parties.

Judging by the Euros – Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, UKIP, Greens, BNP, Respect, SNP, PC and the northern irish parties would all have been represented in parliament. There is no way that Vince Cable would have been Chancellor (Gordon Brown would have been), and there would probably have been a majority for most, but not all, of the database state legislation.

… there would probably have been a majority for most, but not all, of the database state legislation.

From election 2005, percent share of popular vote and number of seats if this was reflected by Commons (646 seats):

Lab 35.3% = 228 seats
Con 32.3% = 209
Lib 22.1% = 143

In this imaginary world, my guess is that Labour would have struggled to win controversial liberty-infringing divisions.

But the popular vote share would have been entirely different if the election had been conducted under a different voting system – you can’t just take the vote shares from a FPTP election and assume people would vote the same way under PR because we know that they wouldn’t.

In the bright, sunny uplands of an electorally reformed UK, (depending on the type of system used, and whether there was e.g. some “cut-off” % to below which parties didn’t get any seats) it’s still likely that the 3 current major parties would between them get the lions share of the vote.

The most pertinent question then would be would either Labour or the Tories be able to put together a coalition either with the LD’s, or with whichever “minor” parties (or the LD’s AND some of the minor parties), and what influence that would have on the policies of the major parties, and the prospects for radical change.

Given the electorate’s apparent sense of ennui with both the Tories and New Labour, perhaps a hung parliament is the best hope of actually bringing about such change?

59. Sunder Katwala

I think there are two different, disagreeing constituencies in this conversation. And I think they are independent of each other, but that they do still happen to have a central shared interest in this election, as well as in exploring the potential of their commonalities/differences in the longer-term.

1. Is there a significant difference between the current Labour partty and the current Conservative party – and is it significant enough to think those worth voting on?

Those of us who think that there is would be closer to Sunny’s argument than others. That makes us in differing degrees of enthusiasm either Labour or Labour+ or Labour-ish progressive left, and happier with the idea that Labour will be central to any foreseeable governing strategy for a centre-left government, which is certainly a political reality at present.

That will mean supporting, voting for, advocating and engaging with Labour primarily, as Sunny advocates here. But it might well mean voting for another party strategically or tactically, because minimising the number of Tory seats and trying to prevent a Tory majority are important goals for Labour, for example if you live in any seat which the LibDems might lose to the Tories and prefer to help keep them out.

Others disagree legitimately because either they prefer another party overall, or because they feel they don’t have a political home. I don’t think many people here could seriously sustain an argument that there is no difference at all, other than as a rhetorical point, but some would and do claim that the difference is not worth voting for if you don’t agree on specific issues. Eg, civil liberties and democracy are a sticking point for Anthony to feel he is definitely better off on the outside this time (while I would argue that Labour remains an essential vehicle to make political reforms like electoral reform & Lords happen, as we saw on FoI, devolution, etc).

2. Are there other progressive alternative parties which are preferable to Labour, and how can their influence be maximised.

This other opposing group are the Non-Labour progressive left, exemplified by Anthony Barnett’s core argument is that just about every other (non-BNP, non-UKIP) party is preferable to both Labour and the Conservatives. He is joined in that by those of you with specific preferences for another party – sometimes LibDem or Green, the Nats in those countries or one of the lefter parties.

Clearly, those of you who think that would (and should) reject Sunny’s advice as a first priority and worry about how to maximise the influence of the party or parties that you most agree with and support

However that means addressing Sunny’s implicit question of what the LibDem, Green or other political strategies are. I take these to be to maximise seats and votes – and to seek to exert the maximum possible influence on the basis of that, either or both to try to bring about a major constitutional overhaul, a significant shift on environmental issues, or other priorities, by working with other parties to do that.

Clearly no other single party is going to have more than 100 seats in the Parliament. However, all of the smallest parties will be better placed to exert some influence if no party has a majority.

Where I think Anthony’s argument doesn’t make sense is that he remains indifferent to the Lab-Con battle in the 100 seats which really are two horse races, when he only needs to accept one or other of these arguments to prefer the best placed anti-Tory candidate (Labour) in those seats, while backing other parties against both the Tories and Labour everywhere else.
(a) That Labour is more likely to advance overall on progressive issues (voting reform, environment, equality)
OR (b) that it is the Conservatives who are more likely than Labour to win a majority, and so exerting the maximum influence of his “nottle” force depends on stopping the Tories winning 326 seats, which in some seats advocating Labour, while supporting other candidates elsewhere.

So I would conclude that, whatever you think of the Labour v Conservative battle, and even if you argue that the difference is practically non-existent, you have a selfish and strategic interest of your own in preventing a Conservative majority government if a hung Parliament is possible – not in Labour’s interests (though that is a byproduct of it) but to advance the influence of non-Labour forces.

Otherwise one is not just indifferent between Labour and the Tories (which I of course think rather a major stretch anyway), yet apparently also indifferent between a Tory majority and the chances of a hung parliament, which doesn’t fit the argument
being made.

60. Sunder Katwala

sorry didn’t mean to do that with the bold but can’t edit it

Don,

But the popular vote share would have been entirely different if the election had been conducted under a different voting system – you can’t just take the vote shares from a FPTP election and assume people would vote the same way under PR because we know that they wouldn’t.

Of course not – I did say it was imaginary. I’m not sure why my imagination is less valid than yours @ 55.


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