How can the left reach out to more people?


5:35 pm - June 28th 2010

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contribution by Carmen D’Cruz

At the Liberal Conspiracy conference on Saturday, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm for serious engaging with the public.

Yes, we all blog, and we’re all members of the public, but we also know each other’s internet presence, and have political in-jokes, abbreviations, and preconceptions about the nature of those we might disagree with.

We were divided up into tables of about 10-15 people, covering a range of topics, and asking round my table why the Daily Mail is the most popular newspaper in the UK, no one could provide me with a suitable answer.

Is it because it’s cheap? Does it really reinforce the opinions of the majority of the UK? Is it because it’s written to accomodate those with a reading age of less than perhaps the Telegraph or Guardian?

At Westminster Skeptics, there are people from many different backgrounds and, shock shock horror, right wing Tories. Some of them are really nice if I’m honest, you’d never know what lurks beneath the surface. Rather than campaign on party-led issues, they come out to support issues that affect everyone, the most recent being the Libel Reform campaign for Sense About Science, and the Science and Technology Committees Evidence Check, regarding evidence based medicine.

There’s been a fair amount of political naysaying from the left recently. We’ve had people denounce the Lib Dems for joining the Tories, the Blairites and Brownites for pushing otherwise Labour voters away from Labour, the mainstream media for giving the Tories an easy ride. But not many people on the left have been calling for Labour to take stock of its mistakes and failings over the last 13 years in order to repair the relationship they have with voters.

What do the left want to achieve? I don’t want people to agree with me because I’m better at arguing, I want people to agree with me because they’ve looked at how policy has affected their lives versus those who make the decisions and can see for themselves what I’m saying.

The right wing media make it easy for people to agree with them: Newspaper columns have a fairly straightforward agenda and the content appeals to us on a personal level. Stories about foxes attacking sleeping babies is a good example of this.

It doesn’t matter that this sort of event is excruciatingly rare (and dependent on several factors, like the kids being left unattended with the back door open??), it frames a potential discussion about foxes being a nuisance, so perhaps we should reconsider the hunting ban. Cynical, yes, but it really wouldn’t surprise me if we start seeing pro-hunting articles in the news over the next few months.

Why don’t we do this on the left? Where are our anecdotes and our interviews with low-income families struggling to pay the mortgage now that the new budget has been announced? Where’s our gossip stories about the lifestyles of the fatcat bankers, profiting from the bailout WE GAVE THEM. Anyone would think the banking crisis was ancient history, the way people have forgotten their recklessness.

Why are people so happy to swallow the idea that we need public sector cuts to get us through a recession? By all means cut Trident, ID cards, the Royal budget (pffft! as if), but getting rid of teachers, doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen to fill the gaps the bankers made?

We have some excellent writers highlighting these issues on a daily basis, but we’re reaching out to those who already agree with us, much like my own blog really. My big grand suggestion is to cast our nets much wider, and actively recruit those we have tried to distance ourselves from.

Sometimes, engaging with the public means engaging with those we think lesser of. I reckon that not only will we be surprised by the outcome, but we may just reach an all-round better conclusion in UK policy for a range of issues.

PS. I do accept that some readers are doing this already as trade unionists, local councillors or activists. I’m not directly referring to them.

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Reader comments


1. Luis Enrique

engaging with the public means engaging with those we think lesser of

that’s right, we need to learn to talk down to people. (I know that’s not what you mean – but rather clumsy phrasing).

It’s a good question: what is it about the left-wing the most people find so off putting? I often wonder why there isn’t a left wing newspaper that doesn’t sicken me quite as much as The Guardian, oozing smug elitism. (not the news journalism, just most everything else about it). The Mirror is supposed to be the left tabloid, but it doesn’t do very well. Of course left wing politician do their best to be popular, mostly by becoming not-terribly-left-wing. How likely are we to see a politician who is both genuinely left-wing, in a sense that would satisfy the delegates of the LC conference, and popular?

Is blogging ever going to be a way of address the wider audience? How many people read political blogs?

(NB absolutely nobody thinks we need “public sector cuts to get us through a recession”, some people think we need public sectors because the recession has wrecked the public finances)

2. Luis Enrique

I think I took a meaning of “get us through the recession” that you probably didn’t mean – so scratch that NB.

Um, well – at the risk of sounding like a humourless old bag and making this all about me, etc, I would point out that some of us have been dragging our carcasses around the nation for years now, talking directly to our ‘lessers’ (love that) and posting the resulting interviews, photographs, videos and analysis on this site and others.

Perhaps it’s less about us writing these things, and more about you reading them.

One of the issues could be that you’ve bought into the prevailing rhetoric which has it that those of us on the left aren’t good at finding and providing this information. As a matter of fact, a lot of us are very good at it. What we’re a little less good at – or less interested in, I should say – is trying to hock it off to mainstream rags in the interests of self-promotion.

Instead of whingeing, perhaps what you should do is spend a few days online and collect up all the stories that have been written by people on the left about ‘lessers’, and put forward a suggestion for collating this information in one place. Cliff of the Other Taxpayers’ Alliance has made a number of excellent suggestions about publishing this information on a central site. That’s the way to go.

Etc.

4. Matt Munro

“What do the left want to achieve? I don’t want people to agree with me because I’m better at arguing, I want people to agree with me because they’ve looked at how policy has affected their lives versus those who make the decisions and can see for themselves what I’m saying.”

You, and people like you are the problem I’m not on the left but I don’t know what you are trying to acheive , mainly because you aren’t explicit enough and because you respond to questions, and even difference of opinion, with hostility. Your paragraph about Daily Mail readers and the implicit assumption that you are somehow “an intellectual” for de-constructing it epitomises what has gone wrong with the left.

“because I’m better at arguing” – according to who outside your little circle of gap wearing, latte sipping, ipad fondling, metropolitan posers ? Your arrogance is astonishing.

Blairism bred thousands like you and they pissed a lot of people off, those people eventually gave up trying to have a debate and just voted you out of office.

I don’t think taking on the style of the right wing tabloid press will help the ‘left’ reach anyone or change anything: it would just make us more like the right wing tabloid press.

I read a lot of blogs and journalism that cover issues relevant to working people and people who are marginalised in society. I don’t buy a mainstream newspaper anymore, because even the ones such as The Guardian which are supposed to represent the interests of more left-wing and working class people are really just upper-middle class rags. With the exception of a few very good writers whose work I read online.

I do think it is worth asking why the tabloid press is so popular. I don’t think the answer is completely self-evident. Many families read papers out of habit, like how they vote for parties. I come from a dyed in the wool Guardian reading family and it has taken me years to break the habit.

Carmen you are absolutely right. At the election I tried to campaign on the NHS to a Tory electorate who thought that the NHS would be safe under Cameron. I was a lone voice. Even Labour supporters could not understand why I was focusing on the NHS (and NHS hospitals in particular), they thought that the NHS was safe – it couldn’t possibly be privatised, could it? yes it could and yes the process has started.

The NHS should be the focus of the opposition (yes, other public services are important too, but the NHS has a special place in the Briton’s life). This is not a left right issue, it is a right wrong issue, and what Lansley plans is very wrong. Rather than tub-thumping that the NHS is great let’s support it, I explain why the NHS is the best model. The fact that you get healthcare according to need, not according to ability to pay. That NHS providers are the most cost effective healthcare, which means that the same money goes further and provides resources to improve services.

When I have gone through the Tory health manifesto line by line explaining the consequences most people – even Tory voters – remark “they could not possibly do that!” Well, they are. The point is that we have to engage now, and explain what is happening and why it is wrong. I do not expect this coalition to last 5 years, so we have to prepare now.

Where are our anecdotes and our interviews with low-income families struggling to pay the mortgage now that the new budget has been announced?

As Kate says, they’re out there. You could try looking on Twitter and searching for ‘budget’, ‘cuts’ and so on. Crazy as it may seem, poor people blog too. Also, as Kate says, some people have been collecting anecdotal evidence.

We have some excellent writers highlighting these issues on a daily basis, but we’re reaching out to those who already agree with us, much like my own blog really. My big grand suggestion is to cast our nets much wider, and actively recruit those we have tried to distance ourselves from.

You’re not going to like this. You’re really not going to like this, but, yet again like Kate, I’m getting an ‘us and them’ vibe here, and it’s not ‘us (Labour) and them (Tories)’. It’s a discredited word, given how often Labour used it in campaigns while in power, but have you thought of listening to these people “we [ahem!] have tried to distance ourselves from”. You talk like they’re, if not actually the enemy, like Pokemon cards or something you can collect. If they don’t feel patronised by you, they bloody should.

It is worth remembering that despite how unpopular New Labour had become , and they were not left wing, despite what the idiot trolls would have you believe , only 37% of the people voted tory.

That is not very impressive for a party that has almost non stop propaganda in the media. Even the BBC wanted the tories to win, and the millions of £ they had to spend on the election. They are only in power thanks to the Lib Dems , who are being used as patsies. I don’t think they realise that they are being played as fools. They sat there at the budget and let Osborne claim it was a progressive budget which was a lie. They are now nothing more than tory light, and people on the progressive side of politics will not forget.

I think the problem for the Left is that for the general public they appear to get embroiled in silly debates that the vast majority of the population are simply not interested in. I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t be concerned about the Afghan justice system; I am suggesting that they mostly are not.

We are witnessing an outright attack on the welfare state, and the most co-ordinated one since it inception yet the Left seem unwilling to go and defend it, lest a few Lib Dems get offended by it or, God forbid, asked difficult questions. Remember, this attack has not occurred in the last week, or last month, but at least the last five years. The Daily Mail have been pushing these stories regarding “benefit scroungers milking the system” every day since God knows how long, and that view is now firmly entrenched in the psyche of the Nation. Yet ‘we’ know that these stories represent a minority of claimants and that the real sufferers will be thousands of decent, normal, people who will be put through humiliating procedures, just to get swindled out of a few quid.

Case in point. Last week I met someone and got chatting to her, she has been forced to look for work that doesn’t exist after her appeal to keep her invalidity benefit was lost. When I heard her story, it sent my blood running cold. She is just the kind of person that the Welfare State was set up for and yet she was being denied help. When I thought about it, I wish I had got her name and number and gave it to a campaign group…

…Except I couldn’t think of one. I couldn’t think of an MP, journalists, blogger, lawyer or anyone who is prepared to take up the cudgels for the weak and the dispossessed of this Country. Why is that? Why is their no-one on her side? Why are we prepared to sacrifice her human rights? Why are hundreds of thousands of perverse decisions being allowed to take place without a murmur of complaint? Not just in West Lothian, but the entire Country?

Had she been fiddling the system, I could have found dozens of people who would have highlighted it, but I cannot think of anyone doing the same for our people?

You didn’t read the post, did you Matt Munro?

Start a Mail-level left wing mainstream newspaper. Somebody would put the money up if it were well-marketed & innovatively used modern technology (why not be entirely online & ad-funded…). Idea for a project?

Jim: Except I couldn’t think of one. I couldn’t think of an MP, journalists, blogger, lawyer or anyone who is prepared to take up the cudgels for the weak and the dispossessed of this Country.

I can think of several disability rights charities and mental health charities who have been doing work in this area for quite some time, and I’ve seen the issue highlighted on several blogs (The F-Word, for instance.

It is an area that is often ignored by the mainstream left (and actually, given how common it is for left bloggers to compare their opponents or their proposals to various forms of mental illness, ignoring the issue completely might sometimes be an improvement)

cim @ 12

Oh, I am sure that there are charities that could run a successfull publicity exposes of these things, though given that would entail standing up against the Tory Government I think it unlikely that they are going to be biting the hand that feeds them. Good luck to them though. We don’t really need these stories ghettoised though in some kind of ‘left wing blog’, but we need to get them into the mainstream media, where possible. Not the Daily Hate, but decent papers read by decent human beings.

14. Rosannablabla

I think it is totally right that we should join up with welfare rights groups who are promoting the rights of these people who are going to be at the receiving end of the worst aspects of the policies of this government – and there will be quite a few. I have seen quite a few bitter, working class people, on comments pages who begrudge anyone else getting support rather than sympathising and forming bonds with other people in trouble. It is hard to blame them – our culture and the mainstream media promotes an individualistic culture that always blames the individual rather than explains outside forces (neoliberalism) which has caused their plight. I think this movement needs to be as united as possible, help the dispossessed etc. I also think it is really important to reach out to as many people as possible by infiltrating the mainstream media. Maybe a paper could work but it could be a lot more easier if we use this opportunity, where there is a lot of hatred for the government, for right wing policies, to put a different, less individualistic, story across. I also think the left has to get a lot better at not talking in their ‘language’ – I follow what is going a lot but there were still a lot of terms and references at the blog nation conference which I didnt get – how is someone who isnt on the inside going to respond to that. They are going to ignore it.

15. Rosannablabla

I also think that if there was to be a paper, we shouldnt be afraid of using humour and entertainment – the reason why so many people read the mail is because it has so much light reading and it appears ‘exciting’ and glamorous – if I was feeling really tired and braindead after a day of work I would probably read a london lite not a guardian. Also most people read papers on their journey into work so people need to be able to read this stuff in 20-40 minutes.

16. Alisdair Cameron

A bloody huge obstacle that currently feels insurmountable is the horrid,toxic legacy of New Labour. As sally (blimey, I’m quoting her) says

they were not left wing

and pace what Richard Blogger and Jim say above, about NHS privatisation and welfare ‘reform’ (workhouse) respectively New labour’s policies pushed for more privatisation, and of course bullying the sick and the poor (c.f. Purnell’s sickening measures and the use of ATOS).
With these kinds of things not just happening on Labour’s watch, but being actively pursued, and the likes of David Miliband still giving out warmed-over uber-Blairism and neo-liberal crap, all the while claiming (mendaciously) to be of the left, then for much of the public, there doesn’t seem to be much about the left as New Labour presented it to like. Factor in wars and staggering economic incompetence mixed with intrusive authoritarianism, and divisive identity politics, and it’s little wonder folk turn away or don’t listen when you speak of the left: they think solely of what they’ve been told was the left, either by right-wing media outlets, or just as pernicious and misleading, by 13 years of propaganda from a neo-liberal,market-obsessed clique who said they were of the left.
The real left needs decontamination from the legacy of the entryist careerist, unprincipled New lab spivs, but the bugger of it is that the means of doing this, namely the channels of communication (you might say the means of production of the message) it with the enmey, and that persists with the upper echelons of the Labour party, as it seems likely david Miliband will take control of its rigid mechanism.
What does that leave but guerilla campaigning, issue by issue, attacking the vile Tories but also utterly repudiating New labour? I’d echo Rosannablabla’s point about not talking in “their” (the Tory and New lab) terms, the usual consumerist bullshit about being progressive,flexible, the marketing and management consultancy bollocks, vague,woolly phrases strung together to hide odious policies . It’s about people, personal stories and injustices suffered. Keep those live, out there, and maybe the wider public might start to wonder if the marketised,atomised,consumerist,individualised-to-the-point-of-fragmentation pap they’ve been fed for the last 30 odd years via Thatcherism and Blairism is wrong.

17. Rosannablabla

I do wonder, if we maybe dont focus so much on Labour, but change the culture out there, what the public want etc, then Labour might follow suit, implement some policies that reflect what the party actually, once, stood for, before they bowed to the pressures of the right wing press? I am starting to get fed up with focussing on this renewing the Labour party crap – the man on the street doesnt care about that and we need to reach out to the average person – because if we dont, the right wing press will.

“I think the problem for the Left is that for the general public they appear to get embroiled in silly debates that the vast majority of the population are simply not interested in.”

And this is a prime example:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/07/07/harry-potter-and-the-fascist-ubermensch/

I am not picking on the author in particular here but it was an article I can recall that immediately popped into my head. The average non-political person isn’t going to think “goodness me, Harry Potter is a dangerous series of books that glorify a form of magical fascism”, they are more likely to think “WTF”? It simply encourages the idea that lefties are puritanical bores who insist on de-constructing and politicising everything. I am reminded of John O’Farrell’s excellent autobiography “Things Can Only Get Better” in which he mocks his past self for such behaviour, not to mention CND protesters for alienating the public by dressing up in stupid costumes and being utterly naff on their protest marches.

19. Charlieman

The Daily Mail sells papers because it has a touch for what interests people and a touch for crude, nasty human instincts. Thus it can spot a celebrity interest story, identify the unpleasant soul in its readers and create an aura of contempt. The Mail sells newspapers by appealing, in a very clever way, to unpleasant thoughts. Few people would assume that nastiness consciously, but they are sucked in.

Look at the Daily Mail website every day. The right hand column contains a thumbnail of a “celeb” followed by a brief commentary blowing her up (few hims) or knocking her down. Look at that page every day.

The founders of the Independent tried to create a sensible newspaper nearly 25 years ago. It is/was middle class, quite readable and is a failure. It may be the lastly produced UK serious national newspaper. Sadly, I don’t think that there is a space for a newspaper that appeals to the pleasant soul in its readers unless the Mirror gets a very smart editor.

20. Chaise Guevara

“We were divided up into tables of about 10-15 people, covering a range of topics, and asking round my table why the Daily Mail is the most popular newspaper in the UK, no one could provide me with a suitable answer.

Is it because it’s cheap? Does it really reinforce the opinions of the majority of the UK? Is it because it’s written to accomodate those with a reading age of less than perhaps the Telegraph or Guardian?”

Is it because it’s not?

Sorry, I’m not having a go at the article in general, but the Mail isn’t the most popular newspaper in Britain. It’s not the most widely circulated, and if you actually took some kind of popularity census allowing both positive and negative votes, I suspect it would turn out to be the most hated newspaper in the UK. It’s a fucking punchline where I come from, both currently (Manchester) and originally (the Home Counties).

21. Chaise Guevara

“The founders of the Independent tried to create a sensible newspaper nearly 25 years ago. It is/was middle class, quite readable and is a failure.”

The Indy’s problem is that it ultimately failed to be sensible. May as well be called the Partisan. It basically turned into the anti-Mail, running campaigns on everything instead of just reporting facts.

I remember an advert for the Indy a while back. The picture was the front cover of the paper: a huge stormcloud with the words “GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL”. Under that, the slogan: “The Independent: make up your own mind.”

Now, I doubt anyone here disbelieves in global warming, but making a definite statement on a contentious issue IN FUCK-OFF GREAT CAPITAL LETTERS and then saying “make up your own mind” just recalls Fox’s “fair and balanced”. If you want a sensible left-wing paper, read the Guardian.

22. Charlieman

@21 Chaise Guevara: I wrote “…tried to create…” and there was a bit of context around that. I would not try to defend many Independent headlines today.

Like Luis Enrique, I pick up the Guardian for news (and good photo journalism, which was also the Independent’s forte in the paper’s day). I’ll peek at Comment is Free online, but personal dignity prevents me from reading Polly T in public.

Of course, the Mail actually achieves sod all. Sure, lots of people fume each morning over tales of villainy and woe, but we’re still in the EU, there’s still mass immigration and young criminals aren’t yet strung up by the gizzards. Things will only be enacted if they’re congenial to power; media tyrants haven’t – yet – monopolised that.

24. Rosannablabla

Its largely due to the Mail and its ilk that the tory party can push through policies that completely discriminate against single mothers because the public think they are scroungers and not worthy of support.

Its largely due to the Mail and its ilk that the tory party can push through policies that completely discriminate against single mothers because the public think they are scroungers and not worthy of support.

So, if it wasn’t for the Mail the public would have risen up in frenzied, unignorable support for single mothers, forcing the Tories to back down?

26. Rosannablabla

fair enough, I probably overstated it. But the amount of seemingly decent people I talk to that regurgitate crap they read in the mail is shocking.

“So, if it wasn’t for the Mail the public would have risen up in frenzied, unignorable support for single mothers, forcing the Tories to back down?”

Well, not just the mail but the media in general possibly. It’s the way the right tend to operate, they talk about something, they get it in to public consciousness through their public presence in the media…and then it’s amazing what people will just start to accept as common and conventional knowledge.

People enjoy belonging, and media outlets have become the source (and are perhaps now losing some of their power on these terms) of conventional wisdom that people can “belong to” and feel like they are like those around them. It’s fascinating how people will adapt their own beliefs to “fit in”.

But of course without a leftist source doing the whole “everyone is supporting single mothers, because they’re made of gold” side of the story that same sense of people conforming their views to a social norm wouldn’t side to that kind of view 😉

@20

Sorry, I’m not having a go at the article in general, but the Mail isn’t the most popular newspaper in Britain.

Hmmm… it’s the second most popular in terms of readership, and is the most popular so-called “middle-market” paper by a long long way (with the only competition being the Sexpress it’s unsurprisingly).
So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to take the Mail to task.

The Mail is popular because it focuses on human interest stories, which are by far most popular with readers.

It combines the human interest stories with political narratives it wants to run, which makes it a strong political force. That’s the problem.

Kate – I think Carmen’s last para does have that caveat you were looking for.. no?

QRG: I don’t think taking on the style of the right wing tabloid press will help the ‘left’ reach anyone or change anything: it would just make us more like the right wing tabloid press.

No, you’re confusing political leanings with journalism style. It’s perfectly possible to take the story of a woman having an abortion and making it a pro-choice article, as much as it’s possible to use for an anti-choice line.

we’re still in the EU, there’s still mass immigration and young criminals aren’t yet strung up by the gizzard

Your examples don’t prove what you think they prove.

The EU debate is framed in “should we stay in the EU as it is now, leave, or lobby to make the EU less powerful” – there’s no voice for “should we join Schengen”, “should we make the Parliament more powerful”, etc, unlike the position in most other EU countries. That’s primarily the fault of the way the right-wing press shapes the narrative (see: my post yesterday).

The whole concept of “mass immigration” is tabloid framing, implying we’re being swamped when we very obviously aren’t. As a result of the right-wing press shaping the narrative, both major parties are trying to turn immigration from being very difficult (as it has been since the 1960s) into near-impossible.

Similarly, even though we’re much tougher on criminals than anyone in the nominally-civilised world other than the US (with the impressive result that we have, erm, higher levels of serious crime than anyone in the nominally civilised world other than the US), the right-wing press has shaped the crime narrative into “should we be pansy and soft on criminals like we are now, or should we bring back hanging and flogging?”. The sensible, left-wing answer of “no, we should do what everyone else in Europe does” again doesn’t feature in the policy debate.

31. Flowerpower

Carmen

Where are our anecdotes and our interviews with low-income families struggling to pay the mortgage now that the new budget has been announced?

Mortgage payments are pretty low at the moment. And the reason you haven’t seen any teachers, police officers or firefighters complaining about being made redundant by the Coalition government is because none have been.

The reason there is so little by way of illustration to accompany the standard left wing narrative is that the standard left wing narrative is a lie. There is no evidence to support it in the real world because it simply isn’t true.

It isn’t true, for instance, that the deficit was caused by wicked bankers. It was caused by a spendthrift government before the credit crunch.

It isn’t true that the Tories want to cut classroom teachers or Policemen on the beat. They want to cut outreach officers, assistant deputy heads of diversity and jobsworths. The Conservative project is about shifting power and resources from arrogant, bullying bureaucratic commissars into the hands of ordinary citizens. Trying to paint it as an attack on the working class will not wash. Sorry.

As sally (blimey, I’m quoting her) says

they were not left wing

Alisdair, please don’t take this the wrong way, I have read your points on many-a-place and agree with most – but the point of the OP is exactly that, IMHO. Because Sally says it as she sees it should not, ever, be discounted.

Fuck, even Sunny and Sunder have said that I am too old Labour to be in the real world. That may be the case for this new, new left – but we are still a part of it and do want left-wing policies to prevail.

I, not speaking for Sally, want some of those old left policies to come to the fore, because I do believe that people want to see them, too.

I do agree that the left do need an outlet, it would be good for a ‘new’ Mirror to arise and fight on the front lines, but it won’t – too scared, much like New Labour was/is too scared of the Mail.

The left is forgetting who they should stand for, what it should stand for and keeps this centrist meme like it is the Holy Grail. It isn’t! If you need a red top then tell the mirror to be that stand point, if you need the guardian do that too!

There is always radio, TV too expensive yet, unless there is a real multi-millionaire who would back the left. Ask those record artist, film producers/actors, writers to fund a TV channel/radio/newspaper.

If you want to really fight the right-wing, you do in on their ground – yet, you have to be more vicious at doing so – that is where the left has lost it. Not I, but most left, have lost the will to to punch the right in the bollox, and do it again, and again, and then kick their heads in until they understand that they are not, not ever will be in the majority – after that take it to the people.

The left have lost the will to fight clean, let alone dirty.

Thanks Flowerpower for your excellent demonstration of how the right-wing narrative is utter bullshit but popular.

It isn’t true, for instance, that the deficit was caused by wicked bankers. It was caused by a spendthrift government before the credit crunch.

Bullshit. Before the banks blew up, the national debt as a % of GDP (which is the only relevant measure) was at one of its lowest levels ever. The reason there is a deficit now is that tax revenues have failed to keep pace with planned spending, because everyone’s (not Labour’s – EVERYONE’S) projections of economic growth for 2008-2010 were vastly over-optimistic. That’s not directly the fault of wicked bankers, but it is definitely the fault of the recession, not a spendthrift government.

It isn’t true that the Tories want to cut classroom teachers or Policemen on the beat. They want to cut outreach officers, assistant deputy heads of diversity and jobsworths.

Policemen literally on the beat make absolutely no difference to anything, aside from making idiots erroneously feel safer. But let’s assume you meant ‘policemen responding to crime reports and solving crimes’, just out of charity. In which case, the UK’s most senior policeman disagrees with you, and believes police numbers will be cut.

As far as the other point goes, yes, of course the Tories have lied that the cuts will be paid for by efficiency savings, despite the fact that there’s no evidence of any major scope for efficiency savings. Remember, we’re talking the real world here, not the imaginary world framed by the right-wing tabloids. And in that real world, the departments that aren’t ring-fenced will have to cut spending by more than 30% in real terms. If you believe it’s possible to do that without cutting services, you are an idiot.

Also in the real world, only a tiny proportion of government spending goes on community projects (oh noes! engaging kids in civil society! how evil!), ensuring that government bodies don’t discriminate unfairly against minority groups (oh noes! the police can’t bully brown recruits until they quit any more! how evil!), or on whatever your definition of jobsworths might be.

“It isn’t true, for instance, that the deficit was caused by wicked bankers. It was caused by a spendthrift government before the credit crunch.”

Bullshit. Before the banks blew up, the national debt as a % of GDP (which is the only relevant measure) was at one of its lowest levels ever.

Debt =/= deficit, for perhaps the hundredth time. For all the current popularity of Keynes on the left, he prescribed budget surpluses in boom years to pay for the increased deficits in recessions. Britain ran a budget deficit every year from 2001.

35. Flowerpower

John B

Bullshit. Before the banks blew up, the national debt as a % of GDP (which is the only relevant measure) was at one of its lowest levels ever.

We weren’t discussing the national debt. We were discussing the government’s annual overspend. The Labour government was running deficits from 2002/3. These were good times in which the country should have been paying back past debt, not running up more. Between 2002 and 2007 the government should not have been running deficits at all. But it did. Year after year.

Turning to the national debt: in 2007 and 2008 the national debt as a % of GDP was NOT “at one of its lowest levels ever”. It was (in both years) as near as dammit to 36% of GDP as opposed to 29% in 2002, 27% in 1990 & 19992 and 25% in 1991. More importantly, under Alastair Darling’s plans, it was set to double over the period of this Parliament.

Labour and its supporters on this blog may now be saying that the deficit doesn’t matter and that cuts are unnecessary and being pursued by the Tories only for ideological reasons. but that is not what Labour said in government. It passed the Fiscal Responsibility Act making borrowing reductions mandatory; it pledged the halve the deficit in 4 years; and it pencilled in circa £50 billion of unspecified cuts in departmental spending.

You are quite wrong about policing. Watch and Ward is a better model than response. In my own ward crime has more or less ceased since the re-introduction of a foot/bicycle community beat team of one sergeant, 2 PCs and 2 CSOs just over a year ago. In our street it was common to see three or four cars with smashed side windows on any given morning. There has been only one such incident in 2010 so far. No armed robberies, as opposed to three in 2009. no burglaries, as opposed to 6 in 2009. The louts who used to hang out in an intimidatory way, and almost certainly were dealing drugs, have been run out of the area. The sound of gunfire (common enough on Friday and Saturday nights last summer) has ceased altogether. Thanks, Boris.

And no, the Tories haven’t “lied that the cuts will be paid for by efficiency savings”. They promised to find the first 6 bn in efficiency savings. Labour said it couldn’t be done. The coalition found them within six weeks. The mendacious narrative of the Left is that the rest of the cuts will be on frontline services and targeted on the poor. Neither is true. The state will withdraw from large areas of national life (where it has no business being anyhow) but key services and the most vulnerable will be protected. Except, of course, by Labour councils who will do their evil best to cut key services in the most painful way in order to make the government unpopular, while protecting their overpaid, worse than useless, functionally unnecessary clientele in the public sector unions.

It is not the Right’s narrative that is utter BS. It is the Left’s.

How can the left reach out to more people?

Easy, present an honest, clear and attractive narrative of what you want to do. Don’t get caught up in internal wrangles, reaction to what the government does with no logic or simple opportunism.

Find a message, promote it and show how it will improve things. And hope like hell that the message is better than ‘look at these poor victims of cuts; we’d be nicer’. Because at the moment the left is associated with economic failure, overspending and waste, and not having an argument or a direction to counter this image will only make things worse.

37. Alisdair Cameron

@ Will (33). Nothing to take the wrong way. I think we’re thinking along similar lines. One of New lab’s biggest failings was to use the managerialist language and terminology of the right (and of course, worse,they believed the accompanying dogma too). To reach out to people, the left shouldn’t be using that discredited language and its weasel-words.The Mail and co are indubitably right-wing, but alos like Govt-knocking, and their ‘constituency’ will very soon be starting to get hit: Middle England is less secure and has a lower income than you might think. Okay, they are still typically better off than the poor, the dispossessed and marginalised, but they’ll be suffering too soon, albeit to a much lesser degree. What has to be countered is any Tory attempts to pit this fragile Middle England demographic against the truly poor. Use their stories of middle-class hardships (my heart’s not exactly going out, but hey…) to point out even worse hardships. You could then construct a Broken Britain narrative against the Tories. That’s fighting dirty, in a way.
All media outlets love human interest stories. What the left has to do is to push those that are emerging (workfare,privatisation,growing inequalities) to the fore.
n.b. The reference to quoting sally was tongue-in-cheek.Her passion is admirable..

@ 36

Watchman, you are quite right. There is no more dishonest narrative tan the ‘Tory cuts’ narrative. Spending, in real terms, on public services will be higher than under Labour. It’s amazing that people here don’t realize this. I see Worstall has been in a couple of times to make the point that the cuts are not to actual spending, but to recent ‘dream spending’. Actual spending on services will remain at very high levels. … higher than nearly the whole time under the last Labour government. Maybe its because Worstall is a UKIP right-winger people discount what he said. But on economic stats he know his onions. We should all listen.

“And no, the Tories haven’t “lied that the cuts will be paid for by efficiency savings”. They promised to find the first 6 bn in efficiency savings. Labour said it couldn’t be done. The coalition found them within six weeks.”

By cutting 50,000 jobs for young unemployed people, savings for people on low incomes and grants which paid for local councils to run services for children.

“The mendacious narrative of the Left is that the rest of the cuts will be on frontline services and targeted on the poor. Neither is true. The state will withdraw from large areas of national life (where it has no business being anyhow) but key services and the most vulnerable will be protected. Except, of course, by Labour councils who will do their evil best to cut key services in the most painful way in order to make the government unpopular, while protecting their overpaid, worse than useless, functionally unnecessary clientele in the public sector unions.”

Thank you for an insight into the weirdo conspiracy world of the Right.

Every single Conservative and Liberal Democrat run council is planning over the next year to cut key services which harm the most vulnerable. Why do you think that is?

40. vulpus_rex

“Every single Conservative and Liberal Democrat run council is planning over the next year to cut key services which harm the most vulnerable. Why do you think that is?”

You are just making this bloke’s point for him. You call him a weirdo for articulating what a large number of people suspect, but when it comes down to it Flowerpower’s understanding of what is a “Key Service” is probably more widely held than your own and people resent being told they are weird or selfish for thinking so.

Our newly elected Labour council in Camden is probably going to have to drop a few of its manifesto commitments – eg commitment to holding a Green Summit is one that springs to mind – is this a key service cut that will harm the most vulnerable or is just a sensible saving when cash is tight?

41. Charlie 2

Perhaps it is time for labour to consider whether a married couple with children who are self employed, run a small business or are technically skilled people employed in the private sector should vote Labour? The total remuneration package- salary, pension, holidays, days taken sick, hours worked and flexi-time are way beyond that which can be affforded by the private sector. The danger is that Labour is going to make attractive only to those employed by the state and on welfare. Labour is in danger of reducing the number of it’s potential supporters.

42. Chaise Guevara

“Chaise Guevara: I wrote “…tried to create…” and there was a bit of context around that. I would not try to defend many Independent headlines today.

Like Luis Enrique, I pick up the Guardian for news (and good photo journalism, which was also the Independent’s forte in the paper’s day). I’ll peek at Comment is Free online, but personal dignity prevents me from reading Polly T in public.”

Oh, I was having a pop at the Indy, not your good self. When I said “If you want a sensible leftwing paper…” I mean ‘you’ generally, not you personally.

43. Chaise Guevara

“Hmmm… it’s the second most popular in terms of readership, and is the most popular so-called “middle-market” paper by a long long way (with the only competition being the Sexpress it’s unsurprisingly).
So it doesn’t seem unreasonable to take the Mail to task.”

No, not at all; in fact, please do, and more power to your elbow.

The reason I brought it up at all (natural pedantry aside) is that I think calling it the most popular paper (when it definitely isn’t) courts melodrama. While it’s a good idea to deal with the Mail, the Sun is even more important (both due to a far vaster readership and a general willingness to change).

God, I despair that this even needs to be asked!

You connect with people by living with them and socialising with them. Oh, and liking them! Its what I do and why I often get frustrated by the Junior Common Room banterings of websites such as this. Arguing about economic or political throries may be useful but its not going to connect to your average bloke in the pub. Why isn’t this obvious? Here is the failure of the Left writ large!

There was an anecdote I read in the Guardian before I despaired of its useless smugness and stopped reading it. Written by a prisoner, it described a prison visit by Ken Clarke when he was Home Sec. Approached by a very mentally fragile inmate he was asked to donate to a charity. Jovial character as well as Tory bastard, he reached into his pocket and handed over some dosh with an encouraging remark. This, apparently in complete contrast to his labour predecessor who had been surrounded with minders and unapproachable. It also helped the prisoner in question to feel better about himself. Ken won some supporters in that simple way.

The funny thing is, when I put a leftish opinion to some point raised in the “Do you know what they’re doing now?” exclamation that usually follows reading the Mail or the Sun I normally get some agreement. It’s not difficult.

“Where are our anecdotes and our interviews with low-income families struggling to pay the mortgage now that the new budget has been announced?”

Actually we’ve got lots, but since we don’t own any newspapers or T.V. channels we’ve no way of disseminating them en mass to anybody and everybody. Consequently our anecdotes, policy analyses and piles of statistics pretty much remain limited to the minority of leftists who take an interest in politics online. Otherwise we could flood people with stories of the damage caused by cuts, or the danger of foxes or emos or pregnant teenagers as much as we wanted.

@TimJ Not impressed by your use of selective quoting to imply I don’t know the difference between debt and deficit.

The point is, if you have national debt at 35% of GDP, as the UK did before the recession, and you expect constant economic growth at the rate seen over the previous 10 years, as all mainstream economists in the UK did before the recession, there is absolutely no reason not to borrow more money in order to raise your country’s standard of living. National debt at 50% of GDP is perfectly sustainable, so you can borrow GDP growth plus a percent or two every year for several years.

The problem facing the UK is: 1) there was an enormous one-off rise in national debt as % of GDP caused by the assumption of bank debt; 2) economic growth between 2008-2010 is likely to be about 8% less than expected, hence the deficit. But if the bank debt wasn’t on the government balance sheet, then funding the deficit would be much less of a concern.

@Flowerpower as a social scientist rather than an ideological hack, I don’t believe in anecdotes. All data-driven studies suggest that beat policing has no impact on crime; your cutesy neighbourhood watch stories can go swivel.

@Jerry no, you’re wrong. Spending in GBP terms will be higher, but that’s an irrelevant metric. Real spending (ie after inflation) will be lower; spending as a % of GDP will be much lower.

@Yurzzem the problem is that the right-wing position on most topics involves simplistic, ‘common-sense’ solutions backed up by plausible anecdotes, despite the fact that it’s completely wrong (see Flowerpower’s policing fantasy). The left-wing position involves understanding that there’s no such thing as a simple solution, and attempting to use both theory and evidence to determine the best thing to do. Obviously, that’s inherently harder to sell to people who’re hard-of-thinking.

the point that the cuts are not to actual spending, but to recent ‘dream spending’. Actual spending on services will remain at very high levels. … higher than nearly the whole time under the last Labour government.

OK, the second half of your second sentence is true. The first half is a meaningless assertion. But your first sentence is utter bollocks – spending will fall next year compared to actual spending this year in actual money, not to ‘dream spending’ planned and not yet implemented.

49. Flowerpower

as a social scientist rather than an ideological hack, I don’t believe in anecdotes

Like most social scientists, I expect you call evidence based on actual, lived experience ‘anecdotal’ when it doesn’t fit your prejudices, but call it ’empirical’ when it does.

All data-driven studies suggest that beat policing has no impact on crime

No. The kind of policing that has no impact on crimes like car crime, domestic burglary etc. is so-called ‘response’ policing. It has no effect not least because the Police do not respond. That is, they do not attend the scene or investigate. They simply record in most cases, certainly in inner London.

Only the deterrent effect of Police presence in the vicinity impacts this sort of crime.

You may have noticed a marked reduction in these crimes over the past years – whether reflected in your “data-driven” studies or not.

@48

spending will fall next year compared to actual spending this year in actual money

It will fall slightly compared to this year, but will still be higher in actual money than 2008-9 and higher than in every year of the Labour government before that.

My point is that in real money the Tories will still be spending more next year than Labour did in at least 10 out of its 12 years in power.

A cuts narrative saying how awful it is to spend so little will therefore be easily turned back against Labour.

FFS – even in 2013-14 the Tories will be spending > 200 billion more than Labour were in the early noughties.

My dream reference was to the fact that cuts of 20% apply to planned expenditure not last year’s actual. But that’s a side issue. The main issue is that it would be crazy to start slagging off the Tories/Coalition for spending too little when they will be spending more than Labour did in fairweather years.

Has anybody considered the possibility that the people do not want any form of left wing politics and that the more you explain what you stand for the less people are inclined to support you? Just because you associate your stance with the less well off it does not follow that they agree with your analysis or like your motivation.

Great morning, I would like to say thanks for an exciting web-site about a subject I’ve had an interest in for quite some time now. I’ve been looking in and reading the replies and just wanted to voice my thanks for giving me some very interesting reading material. I anticipate reading more, and taking a more active part in your comments here, whilst picking up some expertise as well 😀


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How can the left reach out to more people? http://bit.ly/cTweww

  2. Manu Ekanayake

    RT @libcon: How can the left reach out to more people? http://bit.ly/cTweww

  3. Kate B

    Ok – I am NOT picking on a socialist feminist here. http://bit.ly/bFbHXv. Am picking on someone who hasn't been paying me enough attention.

  4. Rosanna

    was lots of how the left should respond blogs was going to read but chose Carmen D'Cruz' instead – sharp & to the point http://bit.ly/cTweww





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