Who are the real ideologues that will push Labour to a huge defeat?


by Don Paskini    
8:50 am - March 15th 2013

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Dan Hodges attacks “the ideologues of Left and Right” who are “doing their damnedest to pull defeat from the jaws of victory”, by insisting on pure dogma instead of thinking about what the electorate may want.

Reading his piece, I was reminded of one particular group of ideologues.

These people have set out what they call, with all due modesty, “a programme for national renewal”. Like Liam Fox, they think that we currently spend too much money on the NHS. In particular, they have identified that we have far too many hospitals and ought to close some.

They are also keen to tackle the pressing issue of old people keeping their home warm in winter, and the problem of too many pensioners leaving their homes and travelling around on public transport. They therefore plan to means test the winter fuel allowance and remove free bus passes from most pensioners. They’ve also noticed that the government is doing too much to protect pensioners from rising inflation, and that there are too many incentives for people to save money rather than getting into debt. So they’ll end the ‘triple lock’ which guarantees that the state pension won’t wither away, cap ISAs and tax savers more heavily.

They think that the government is spending too much on fighting crime, and too much on educating our children, and so propose to ‘hold down overall public services programme budgets’.

They plan ‘a large-scale broad tax increase’ to squeeze the incomes of people who are struggling to get by, and to keep every single welfare cut implemented by the Tories and reduce the welfare budget still further.

Who are these ideologues? Our old fiscally conservative friends from ‘In the Black Labour’.

Two years on from their original pamphlet, they’ve managed to come up with a policy platform which makes Labour’s 1983 ‘suicide note’ manifesto look like the Beveridge Report.

They refer to this approach as ‘hard realism’, taking ‘tough choices’ and so on. They also worry that opposition from ‘vested interests’, ranging from pensioners’ groups to the Labour Party, would prevent them from being able to take this message to the British people.

It’s easy to take pot shots, and they deserve credit for setting out their stall. But there is nothing particularly ‘hard’ or ‘realistic’ about putting together a wishlist of policy priorities, entirely unconnected from any sense of what is remotely politically feasible. And while it is indeed ‘tough’ to advocate sharp reductions to the living standards of elderly people, I’m not sure that many people would regard being ‘tough on grannies’ as something to boast about.

In opposition, it is all the more important to avoid sweeping pledges which threaten the services which people support most strongly. Promises from politicians are treated with extreme skepticism, and fears are magnified. Far from securing Labour’s credentials as a party prepared to take tough decisions, cutting the NHS and squeezing pensioners would reinforce the notion of a bunch of politicians who are out of touch and who don’t get how tough it is in the real world.

The problem with ‘In the Black Labour’ is not that it will antagonise vested interests who are unprepared to take the hard decisions needed for national renewal. It’s that they’ve fallen into the trap of believing that ideological radicalism is the route to disaster for their opponents, but the route to success for themselves. This is a trap which catches centrist technocrats just as easily as socialist revolutionaries or right-wing Thatcherites.

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About the author
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Economy ,Labour party ,Westminster


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Reader comments


Don, I agree with a lot of what you write here particularly on universal benefits. I think a lot of people don’t realising the levelling down effect means testing has, giving the moderately well off the chance to know what it’s like to be poor is not an appealing prospect.

I’ll also add that I think In the Black Labour was a vague flimsy peice of work that deliberately avoided setting out a definite fiscal direction. This vagueness has frequently allowed it’s writers to dodge criticism. Personally, I think the implicit message was always clear.

I do feel however that I should say something on the triple lock. Pensions are already the biggest chunk of the block labelled welfare by a long way. The triple lock would mean that even if the pensioner population was stable the cost would grow as a proportion of GDP, our pensioner population is growing. The consequence of this is that the cost of pensions is going to shoot up.

The triple lock is a trap, and the ministers who implemented it knew this. They knew that a future government would be forced to either scrap it or massively raise taxes and decided to hand this little time bomb to a future government. Something will need to be done to address this.

Hi Andreas,

“The triple lock is a trap, and the ministers who implemented it knew this. They knew that a future government would be forced to either scrap it or massively raise taxes and decided to hand this little time bomb to a future government.”

That makes a lot of sense. For me, though, this highlights the need for a cautious approach even more strongly.

Unpicking the triple lock is a hard enough political challenge on its own. It gets considerably harder if it is part of a massive package of cuts aimed directly at pensioners. Particularly if announced in opposition, rather than implemented reluctantly as a result of the terrible mess which a newly elected Labour government has discovered that the Tories have left. etc. etc.

Two other points which I should have put in the OP:

1. Some of the ITBL policies are ones which I support (I think it probably makes sense to put up income tax, for example). My concern here is about the political impact.

2. The people involved in ITBL are very smart and able people, and this isn’t meant to be a personal attack on them. The fact that there are such serious flaws with the political strategy behind ‘fiscal conservatism’, in spite of all their work, is a reflection on the idea, not on the people championing it.

4. David Ellis

Labour must defend all public spending that benefits the working classes. Austerity should be directed at the people who are both morally responsible for the economic catastrophe and who are able to shoulder the burden.

First off, however, there is no point raising taxes or cutting public spending or debasing the currency to pay unpayable debts. Anybody who thinks of themselves as remotely a `realist’ would be looking to end the bail out of the bankrupt banks as the first step to recovery and establishing a state bank with a monopoly of credit lending at base rate and facilitating social investment.

The second thing a realist would do is recognise that whilst welfare for the poor, sick, young, old and disabled is sacred the unemployment that blites our lives is an unsustainable luxury. We must have full employment immediately by sharing the available productive work.

Thirdly said realist would be looking to seize the gigantic surpluses of the cash-hoarding, asset-stripping monopolists and socialise their property and reverse all privatisations particularly of the NHS. They would also be looking to re-engage the interests of workers in their employment by ridding workplaces of Old School Tie Network or shareholder imposed managers and replacing them with worker elected managers and leaders.

Finally our realist would demand the renegotiation of the founding treaties of the EU in accordance with socialist principles as opposed to vicious neo-liberal ones.

‘the ideologues of Left and Right who are doing their damndest to pull defeat from the Jaws of Victory’

In which alternative universe is Labour anywhere near the Jaws of Victory?

If you deny compromise with the LibDems, would not you, Don, become one of the idealogues?

7. mike cobley

Well, read it, expecting…oh, I dunno, something with a scrap of originality, but it turned out to be the same, tired old callous kick-the-poor-down-and-keep-kicking-them-while-they’re-down litany dressed up in tough-boy rhetoric, in essence a great big gurgling wet French kiss for the wealthy and corporate sectors. With extra tongue. Here we are being ramrodded by a Coalition hellbent on trussing us up like a dazed chicken in time for when the EU-US Free Trade Agreement oven starts to hot enough for a bonfire of the democracies. And this is the best that In The Sack can come up with, this tweaked retread of Coalition talking points….

Back to social democracy school, Hopi.

Getting rid of Lord Ahmed might usefully set off some much-needed spring cleaning within the Labour Party. All and sundry have accrued to it over the last 20 years.

Those who actually devised the cuts all the way back when they were running the Downing Street Policy Unit under Tony Blair, those who first sketched out the Gove schools policy on the back of some mat bearing the logo of obscenely overpriced lager, those who are paid to do the bidding of the secular Israeli Far Right and who screech you-know-what at anyone who suggest that that might not be entirely appropriate. All and sundry.

By all means kick out Lord Ahmed. But only in a context of kicking out a whole lot of other people at the same time.

9. Renie Anjeh

An unfair article, considering Ed Miliband has rightly taken up a lot of the ideas from In the Black Labour. To compare it to Liam Fox’s speech is deeply misleading. In the Black Labour was a pamphlet which was 5 pages long discussing about how Labour could govern in a time when there is no money around. On the zero-budget spending review, for example, something that even Howard Reed from Compass as well as the Labour leadership supported. You seem to be falling for the same old trick, that socialism should just be determined on the size of the state and the amount of money you spending. That model is dead and buried, the people have rejected it and we have to move on. And yes, we have to prioritise universal services before some universal benefits – I thought you’d agree with that.

9

A capitalist state spending lots of money on a welfare state is not socialism btw.

5Steveb , the same universe, that we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1992, in fact there was a book called that.

11

Well if it happened it 1992, it must be right now, yes?

If labour IS anywhere near the ‘jaws of victory’ it’s not due to anything Labour have actually done since 2010, other than not being either the Tories or the LibDems.

14. gastro george

“… the people have rejected it …”

That’s a pretty wide-ranging claim.

They should join the Lie Dems or the tories. We don’t need another neo liberal party in this country.

16. Renie Anjeh

@15 – So the people who want Labour to win and are making a coherent case for social justice in tough economic times, should leave the party. The word ‘neoliberal’ keeps on being bandied around on this site but nobody seems to actually use it properly. The people who should leave the party – if anyone – is the LRC.

An earthly Utopia without Socialism? For inspiration, try this from Saturday’s The Economist:

“Over the past two decades governments led by the leftist Social Democrats or the Moderates have introduced—with cross-party support—reforms to Swedish education, health care, pensions and tax. These have made a rich and well-run country even more so: on any ranking of national wealth, health and happiness Sweden comes close to the top. No wonder many British politicians look longingly at Sweden. Its reform process was sparked, in the early 1990s, by a financial and debt crisis . . ”
http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21573536-british-politicians-want-learn-sweden-they-are-missing-its-biggest-lesson-big

Suppose not after all ,mid term unpopularity only existed in very government between year dot and 2010 when it was scrapped,

19. gastro george

@Bob B

This:

“These British Swede fanciers, from both left and right, mostly see only what they want to.”

… is a more appropriate quote from the Economist article.

Gastro

That is a fair quote. The Economist article is clear that the political consensus in Sweden depends on maintaining a sense of equality – and Britain’s Conservatives are hardly likely to go along with a tax and benefits system leading to Sweden’s relatively low – by international standards – Gini coefficient: the lower the coefficient, the more equal the national income distribution.

For comparison, Britain has one of the highest Gini coefficients in western Europe apart from Switzerland and Ireland.

The Swedish model also depends on maintaining “General government expenditure” as a high percentage of national GDP as OECD data show. Along with Denmark and the Netherlands, Sweden’s government is ranked among OECD countries with high government spending.

Something else that is often overlooked is that those “Nordic” countries have relatively small populations compared with Britain.

Sweden’s national population is only 1 million, or so, larger than the resident population of the Greater London Assembly area and a great deal smaller than that of the London metropolitan area, while the total land area of Sweden is actually rather larger than that of the UK.

It is likely to be much easier to build and maintain a political consensus in coutries with relatively smaller populations. I’ve commented before that during the 1980s, the Netherlands managed to maintain a national consensus to limit increases in average real earnings to less than 1 per cent a year in order to restore economic competitiveness.

In all, there should be a health warning in large print over notions that it is possible to borrow and emulate some policy, institution or economic feature of other countries while leaving the unpalatable bits behind.

21. gastro george

@Bob B

Precisely my point. Sweden has become a bit of a poster boy for the right wing by cherry-picking a few policies from the last decade or so – forgetting the underlying socio-economic consensus that had existed long before that.

FWIW I believe it is illuminating to make comparisons with our peer-group countries in west Europe to gain insights into differences, government expenditures, tax and benefit systems, and to glean what is politically feasible and what isn’t. Other west European countries gave up the death penalty for capital crimes and school beatings for bad behaviour long before we did.

A week or so back, I was astonished to see that in a global league table of military expenditures that Britain was ranked as having the fourth largest military budget in the world after the US, China and Russia, which all have substantially larger populations and territories than Britain to “defend”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures

“If labour IS anywhere near the ‘jaws of victory’ it’s not due to anything Labour have actually done since 2010, other than not being either the Tories or the LibDems.”
But that is always the case.
As the late great John Cole commented “Oppositions don’t win elections. Governments lose them”

24. donpaskini

“An unfair article, considering Ed Miliband has rightly taken up a lot of the ideas from In the Black Labour.”

Do you think that Ed Miliband should take up the ideas of cutting the NHS and support for pensioners?

Renie Anjeh @ 16

So the people who want Labour to win and are making a coherent case for social justice in tough economic times, should leave the party.

To be fair though, the post war settlement was built in ‘tough economic times’. It is a good job these ‘In the Black Labour’ nob ends were nowhere to be seen in 1945, eh? Christ alone knows what kind of Country we would have ended up with had such people existed. Probably the same as the one that existed after the First World War, I suspect, mass unemployment, poor housing and little or no social security and people too poor to afford health care. millions of unemployed and employed living hand to mouth with no real prospect of a real viable future.

It may suprise you to know that Labour was born and grew up in the very conditions that the Tory vermin and their ITB ‘Labour’ counterparts are hell bent on re-introducing.

Fuck me, what a sorry State of affairs when the poor are being taxed out of socail housing and cunts Like IDS and Portillio (moral maze last week) are trying to bring the ‘stigma’ as well as the poverty of the 1920s into our society.

That model is dead and buried, the people have rejected it and we have to move on.

I can remember when campaigning for gay and ethnic minority rights got you spat at or attacked in the streets, try googling Blair Peach, but the Left carried on regardless, because it was right and now look, a Tory leader has pushed through ‘Gay marriage’ against the wishes of his Party.

26. Renie Anjeh

@24 – You are simplifying the argument, but the central premise of your entire argument that ‘In the Black Labour’ is comparable to the crackpot theories of Liam Fox which is just untrue. Secondly, ‘cutting support for pensioners’ as stopping free bus passes for richer pensioners to fund a universal social care service – then I’d say go ahead! By ‘cutting the NHS’ you mean spending more on prevention rather cure, freeing up bed spaces and creating efficient cost-savings which could improve the NHS, then he should take it up. Thirdly, to be fair to ‘In the Black Labour’ (and the Fabians’ Commission on future Spending Choices) they have been working hard on areas to win back our economic credibility and practical ideas to reduce spending focused whilst staying true to our values. Give a few ideas of how you’d cut spending or fund your ‘Paskini welfare reform agenda’.
@ 25 – I’d rather you didn’t swear so much and I think it is a bit much to call anyone ‘vermin’, even if you do not agree with them. Many of the ‘In the Black Labour’-ites have called for full employment, more universal services and contributory welfare something Atlee would have loved. As for 1945, Atlee had a very tough austerity plan. On gay rights, you are right but that was because people became enlightened as times moved on. On the economy, the model of spending billions from the proceeds of ‘growth’ from the City is not an option as we are in a time of recession, austerity and we are quite rightly questioning the role of the state and of the market.


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