The left’s new divides

23rd January, 2012 10:45 am

2011 was dominated by a false unity for the left. Labour behaved as if it were still in government – loyalty was valued above all else and its words were assumed to constitute action. The first few weeks of this year have seen a clear change approach. By shifting emphasis on the party’s economic and fiscal stance, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have exposed the reality of a fragmented left. The divisions are now in full view. Such is the nature of political change – a new perspective emerges.

As this reality has emerged, we’ve only had the language of the past to cope. The prism is still Blairism v Brownism v the hard left. But these terms are from another time and fail completely in describing the contemporary conversation within the Labour party. It’s moved on but our language is stuck in the past.

Before we go into the new left tribes, it is worth exploring exactly what has happened since Ed Balls’s interview in the Guardian and speech at the Fabian conference last Saturday. As Steve Richards rightly observed in his column this week, there has been no u-turn and Jonathan Freedland has argued a similar thing. The acceptance of a cap on public sector pay increases is new but in line with what Ed Balls has argued previously, most notably in his conference speech last year. Nonetheless, a major change has occurred. There has been a shift of emphasis from the left the right leg. Labour is now able to walk instead of having to hop everywhere.

Leftist reactions to this shift have fallen into four broad camps: the hard realists, the soft realists, the change the conversationists, and the not for turning set. At the moment the party leadership itself is still flirting with all of these but seems positioned somewhere between hard and soft realism. Unfortunately, these four positions are mutually exclusive. You can’t flit between each of them in turn without leaving an almighty political mess. So, yes, those tough political choices will need to made or, at least, more firmly established. The mood music seems to be in hard realism’s favour – but not decisively.

Hard realism is essentially the position outlined in the In the black Labour paper and variants. You have to be clear about your fiscal approach in 2015 with rules attached, specify the cuts you would make in the meantime and beyond as clearly as possible, and be clear about your priorities in a constrained fiscal environment.

In other words, it is an approach where fiscal and economic limits and risks are taken into account which forms the basis of a credible economic and fiscal policy. It has the added bonus, if it works as an argument, of managing the political downside of being seen to be irresponsible. Economic and fiscal policy should be flexible, pragmatic but follow a clear policy of deficit reduction of which short-term stimulus could be a part. The politics comes second.

It is actually the opposite of Coalition ‘austerity’ which pursues fiscal consolidation whatever the economic context. Osborne’s is a damaging way of getting back on a sustainable path which, even if it does work, will cause unnecessary suffering. So those, such as Howard Reed, who argue that this is waving a ‘white flag’ have rather missed the point. It is a very distinctive perspective and approach to Osborne austerity.

It’s where Ed Balls’s speech seemed to lie last Saturday. It’s where a plurality of the British public are to be found: they support Labour’s new line on the cuts by 43% to 26% according to Comres. Labour voters are against by 38%-31% (which is hardly surprising given they’ve been told for eighteen months that cuts weren’t necessary). They support the line on public sector pay by 50% to 28% and that includes a plurality of Labour supporters 41%-38%.

It is to this political reality that the soft realists respond. Polly Toynbee is now the leading voice of this perspective. Essentially, it argues that the political reality is that Labour has to say something about the deficit and cuts but where it proposes fiscal consolidation it should be consistent with the social democratic argument.

Toynbee signed off her column yesterday with the line: “winning the election matters most” (that’s important but being able to govern once in office is as important, if not more so some may argue). Public sector pay doesn’t come first. Consolidation should be achieved by stopping things like HS2, Trident, clamping down on tax havens, taxing wealth and a state investment bank, work for the long term unemployed, restoring the worst cuts and building more houses, come first. So there are few painful cuts in there but the fiscal credibility frame is acknowledged. Many in the shadow cabinet and the parliamentary Labour party find themselves in this position.

Others, however, still find themselves in a ‘change the conversation’ position. This was the dominant position in the party until very recently but now it finds itself considerably weakened. Politically, its proponents are in a similar place to the soft realists. However, they refuse to accept the deficit frame. Instead, as Sunny Hundal has argued both on this website and Twitter over the last few days, to talk cuts and deficit is to play the Coalition’s game and betray the base.

They accuse others of triangulation but this is a classic triangulation (which makes the title of Hundal’s piece from last Friday rather curious) – change the conversation and build support as a consequence. The problem is, as has now been tacitly acknowledged by the leadership, this hasn’t worked to build either economic or political credibility.

The other internal contradiction here, and this is shared by the soft realists also, is that it argues for a ‘base’ strategy in some respects, eg opposing all cuts. However, ‘the base’ (whatever that means) is strongly in favour of the benefit cap (61% of Labour voters support a cap at the level set by the Coalition or less) and favour the immigration cap. If you are going to pursue a ‘base strategy’ then you have to at least be consistent.

Nobody can accuse the ‘not for turning’ set of inconsistency. Of course, here you will find trade union general secretaries, bloggers and writers such as Owen Jones, journalists such as Seamus Milne, campaign groups such as Occupy and UK Uncut, and economists of an ultra-Keynesian disposition. The argument (with much internal variation) is that the cuts aren’t necessary, the debt doesn’t apply to nations with their own currency, and there are billions of pounds of unclaimed taxes that can fund public services adequately.

The argument is clear, uncompromising, and assertive. This perspective has the activists, the money, a media profile, the institutional power, and a complete ceiling on potential support. Its ideas are radical but the simple fact is, unless there is a massive and seismic shift in public and expert opinion, they will never be put into action. Their power is within the left only.

And out of these divides in the broad left ,of which Labour is only one part, the party has to somehow come up with a governing and political strategy that will build a majority and sustain it in office. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband should have our complete sympathy. They could do with a bit more help from their shadow cabinet colleagues – and soon.

The best thing may well to address the fundamental arguments instead. Rather than pitch towards this faction or that, set a course and follow it. It is a conversation with the public that is needed rather than the navigation of the factional left. Leadership is not a series of tactical shifts or a desperate pitch to swing voters. It is about creating a credible argument for our national future.  The Coalition is failing on jobs, on growth, on the economy, on reform, and on fairness. The left’s argument is divided. The trick for the leadership will be not to get too distracted. And the first real test is with the publication of this week’s growth figures.

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  • “Tribes”, right.

    The “base” is minus 5+ left-wing million voters. Who New Labour drove away.

    “which is hardly surprising given they’ve been told for eighteen months that cuts weren’t necessary”

    Bullshit. UTTER bullshit. You’re madlibbing.

    In reality, Labour has left the left behind. Time for us to get together
    and go our own way, with our own party. It’s you, not us.

    • I think you are probably placed somewhere in the ‘not for turning’ grouping.

      • No, I don’t meet the caricature you try and paint of the left. Your stereotyping into tribes.

        A more moderate level of cuts, and rebalancing the economy and adopting measures like rent caps…gradual changes to de-favour capital and increase the power of labour.

        • Rent controls are a possibility but the danger is that the housing will simply be sold instead. The private sector simply won’t provide cheap housing in areas where it is in such demand

          • And that leads to stage 2. Slap a hefty tax on empty houses and unused brownfield sites.

            And yes, it will make some landlords with BTL mortgages which only inflated rents let them afford sell.

            Stage 3 – proper protections for tenants. In most of mainland Europe, there’s no ability to evict people simply because the house’s owner has changed…

            (Somewhere around 40 is “build more social housing”)

          • Problem is that a lot of the empty houses are in areas where work is in short supply. I would certainly agree that doing this in London is an absolute must because this is where the problem of huge housing benefit claims occurs.

            I don’t disagree about the BTL mortgages, but again, if landlords do sell and there is no alternative, what happens then?

            Tenant’s rights are virtually non-existent and the standard six-month tenancy is nowhere near long enough. This can cause a lot of disruption to schooling

          • Again, so landlords sell. And…the house comes with tennants, as it does in most of Europe.

            If they then want to get rid of them, they can follow a standard process. Which, yes, should take considerably longer…

          • Matt

            That’s probably correct, Mike.

            The risk with rent controls will be a return to the trend before 1988, as there would be no reason for private sector investors to invest in property where there is no return.

            And that brings it back to supply vs demand.

          • Duncan

            True – there is simply not enough social housing.  A ridiculous caricature of “affordable housing” has been allowed to develop in political circles and we have to talk about genuinely affordable housing.  Successive governments have tried to ensure that social housing rents reflect the private market too.  A market approach will not supply affordable housing.

          • Anonymous

            Well, there’s one old bloke living alone in the three bedroom social housing house next door to us. As he has been for some years. Why there is not a family there and he in more suitable accomodation, I have no idea. 

          • Something to do with the fact that its his home, perhaps?

          • Anonymous

            No. He’s a Housing Association tenant FFS. And his house stinks.

          • Anonymous

            Both salient points lol

          • I see, so if you don’t outright own where you live it’s not your home.

            Well, the bank’s house where you happen to live…

          • Anonymous

            No it isn’t. We worked hard and paid the mortgage off. Full of assumptions, you Lefties aren’t you? That’s about the third such erroneous assumption made about what I have written so far. Either you are all thick or prejudiced. 

            Or both. 

          • No, Jeremy, its you that’s thick if you think that people in HA properties don’t have ‘homes’. You can’t treat people in rented housing as second class citizens or move them around as if they have no roots, connections or local support networks

          • Anonymous

            So you feel it quite appropriate for the taxpayer to be supporting one person in a family home. This man has no friends. His son lives miles away and rarely visits him.

            Where does it end? You do realise it is people on low wages who also have to fund the welfare state – and that the cost of the welfare state since Labour got in has DOUBLED? And that it now costs more than we get from income tax receipts? 

            Where does it end? When do you stop feeding the gaping maw? What is it about the left that think you can just magic money out of nowhere? 

          • Wait a couple of years and a substantial portion of “social” housing is going to have rents above the local housing benefit…

    • Anonymous

      The left is still around the problem is the leadership see winning the next election at all cost and they tend to want to see where the public are going before saying anything, hence you are hardly hearing anything from labour on the NHS, because the public in England is silent so labour does not want to make waves.

      the big problem now of course you will not have people marching in Wales or NI or Scotland because the NHS changes is happening in England only.
      Party which follows does not lead

      • Anonymous

        Because Labour no long have any sway in England bare in Welfareville. Which is why it is essential that the West Lothian question is fully answered in this Parliament, to stop Scottish MPs – from a country which already his its own parliament – making such a horrible mess of England. Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland are all welcome to Labour. Indeed, well matched. 

  • Duncan

    This is an interesting argument but I do sense some weaknesses and inconsistencies.  Of course, as a fully paid-up member of the “not for turning” party, I dislike the use of the term “realism” to describe the approach you happen to agree with – it’s a simple but irritating hegemonic game.

    The important point is: are you putting forward a social, economic and political case for what you actually want to happen, or are you putting forward an electoral strategy?  Is there any potential conflict between the two?

    Take Ed Balls and Ed Miliband.  They stated (perfectly reasonably) that they could not make concrete policies for 2015.  Who could, in 2012?  Who, indeed, had asked them to?  But then they went on to make one concrete policy.  Just the one.  An effective pay cut for public sector workers (after what would then have been at least 5 years of pay cuts + the pensions debacle).

    Surely, even the “hardest” of the In the Black Labour lobby, if asked to name just one policy for 2015, would not come up with that!

    So you are left with the inevitable conclusion that this “tough” policy anouncement is not about real policy, but about strategy.  But what is the strategy?

    Even if your reading of the ComRes poll is correct, are those people who agree with the approach any more or less likely to vote Labour as a result of it?  In asking that question, I am not suggesting a “base” strategy.  I suppose, in so far as I want to talk about strategy at all, I’m suggesting a vanguardist strategy.  One that, to a certain extent, Ed Balls seemed to be employing until last week:

    Make the case clearly and unambiguously, keep hammering it home and change people’s minds.

    That’s got to happen anyway.  We just had a really bad election.  We’ve got to change what people think about us.  Slipping around trying to find an inoffensive strategy and call it a policy is not going to have that effect.  We have to win the argument.

    The problem is, put simply, we’re not all having the same argument.  The bold and honest strategy is to say: the coalition is making the most vulnerable in society pay for the crimes the most powerful.  They are governing for a tiny set of vested interests at the top, and we are paying for it not just in terms of cuts, but in terms of jobs too.  There has to be a full change of course.  That should have been the line, and we should have stuck to it.  Notable economists were coming over to the essential economic element to that line, any moral leadership was already with us on the moral question: by 2015 we would have been winning that argument.

    But did everybody in the Labour movement want to win on those terms?  To come to power genuinely to govern “for the many, not the few”?  I fear not, and that is why some people appear to want us to dance on a pinhead; the moral and economic argument being whether we or they are more earnest when we factor in some short-term stimulus to our deficit reduction plan!  It is these people, let’s call them “hard realists” who, I charge, want a Labour government that governs for the few, not the many.

    • ‘They are governing for a tiny set of vested interests at the top, and we
      are paying for it not just in terms of cuts, but in terms of jobs too.’

      Quite so – whether they are cynical enough to do this knowingly or not.

      It is not realism to claim that much the same economic structure can somehow produce a different social result. It is deception, whether of others or self.

    • Anonymous

      It takes a great deal of belief to think Miliband is to the left, I do not think David would have been  to much of a difference to his brother, I think both would have a hell of a problem getting people to believe in their labour party being able to run a country they messed up. Hence they follow not lead

  • Anonymous

    Well I’m a believer in soft realism, although I’m against the public sector pay freeze and benefit cap. It’s helpful to know where you stand.

  • Anonymous

    Labour just said it will vote for the benefits cap, basically because it will not affect the middle class, let the Tories get close to labours middle class and look out, but hold on what would Miliband do if the middle class had to have wage cuts and a wage freeze, well we know he would agree with it.

    The problem is not whether the left or the right or the middle of the road will say anything it’s what the hell is labour, who is labour what is labour about and where does it stand, it stands right behind the Tories.

    You tried to take over from the Tories to become the major political group in this country and you basically cocked it up big time, with the biggest down turn in history, you now need to be trusted by  doing what agreeing with the Tories.

    Labour cannot count on Welsh voters, you cannot count on Scottish voters and I suspect you will not get to many people in England looking at labour as the party to trust.

    It’s simple why vote Labour if all they are going to do is following, unless Labour gets over the idea the people did not understand us and they will vote for us at the next election because they will see their mistake could see labour in opposition for another record.

    Three terms in power and five terms out.

    • Let’s be clear what they’re actually voting for.

      It’s voting for splitting up families with disabled members.

      • Anonymous

        I see if different because as we all know housing is devolved and Wales has rejected the cap anyway. I would say it’s more to do with larger families, especially Asian families who tend to live with mother father grand parents and a lot tend to live in London.

        My rent is £95 a week my council tax is £22 a week in the private sector in my area  a house is being rented in the private sector for  £142 this is the level in which the land lord can get money from the Council. It’s the top rate the council will pay £145 a week in rent and then council tax is £22 a week.

        But of course go to Swansea a city or Cardiff  both with a University and boy your talking about a one bedroom flat £600 to £1000 and your not going to be able to rent anywhere for the price for housing and  council tax allowance which is £145

  • Anonymous

    One thing that might win Ed Miliband a bit of respite, if not support, from those crusty old Blairites who would rather see David Miliband as leader is that “their” man is busy with other things. It is reported that he has accepted £50,000 a year, for working “a few days a month” for Pakistan-based private equity firm IBH. DM has certainly inherited his masters love of money, as he has arranged for the money to be paid to a seperate company to avoid the 50% tax rate for those earning more than £150,000 a year (he is still just about MP for South Shields).

    Hopefully  his new hobby and the money will deter him and his supporters from eyeing the leadership again, and it will serve as a reminder of the rather seedy an furtive money grubbing ways of Blair and his mini-me.

    As for whether the stance of the two Ed’s will actually earn them new support, personally, I doubt it, but it might keep the enemy within, without.

  • derek

    Isn’t the change in policy to support public sector wage freeze just about labour distancing itself from “strike action”

    The benefits cap and cuts are simply a vindictive move against the poorest in society.All these changes wont bring a tax cut in for tax payers?

    “Strategy” Labour needs Scotland to win an election? or are you saying that English nationalism is on the rise and English labour is now set a course to win Southern English votes? because the hard reality maybe an Independent Scotland?

    Surely Osborne’s plan “A” didn’t work and slashing upto 155 billion in the public sector by 2015 has been overridden by having to borrow an extra 158 billion to pay for the pain?

    Sometimes, Anthony I think you’ve just taken a massive swing with a 3 iron and shouted out “Four”  

    • Anonymous

      It comes to something when LibDem peers and Bishops have to do the Labour party’s work for them because they have’nt got the guts to do it themselves. This should be a  simple matter of humanity and decency

      • derek

        I agree @Alan and in a few months time we could see Anthony’s polls change? 

        • Anonymous

          Nothing to do with council elections then?

    • charles.ward

      “The benefits cap and cuts are simply a vindictive move against the poorest in society.”

      So people bringing in more than £26k a year are “the poorest in society” now?

      • derek

        Charles, take the cost of ever increasing rents and the cost of council tax and fuel costs off and the net sum is pretty shallow? 

        • Almost all the costs reflect housing payments, and the lack of social housing. Private sector rents in London and much of the south are very high for everyone.
          There is cheap housing available here, but not a lot in the way of work.

          Families in private rented housing are very unlikely to find anything suitable for £100 per week in London or the south-east

          • derek

            Yes Mike, it’s a reserved issue,  some people trying to peddle it as a net income to spend £500 a week, isn’t true!

            Why haven’t the architects of these articles questioned the real divide?   

      • Anonymous

        So people bringing in more than £26k a year are “the poorest in society” now?
        If taxpayers? Yes.

        • Anonymous

          OK so not a family of four in which the mother comes down with cancer the father has to give work to look after the kids, you have to love the Tories sadly labour as well

      • derek

        Your penalising families that have no control over rent rates.

        Your simply trying to evict families for an issue that is set by local and national government? “Vindictive”

    • All these cuts got The Bankers a Tax break…

      I think that’s all The Torys were interested in.  Everyone else is being abandoned in the name of ‘fairness’.

    • All these cuts got The Bankers a Tax break…

      I think that’s all The Torys were interested in.  Everyone else is being abandoned in the name of ‘fairness’.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm, quoting the polls is all very well, but you ignore the 5 point fall overall. 

    Politics isn’t logical however much you try to make it so. It’s emotional. That’s what a room crammed with wonks seem to forget. 

    Labour have no alternatives, no innovation, they offer no hope no picture of a better future and however “logical” the argument you wish them to make, it just leaves the public thinking, “Right, that’s it then, we’re all fooked”

    • I agree.

    • Get well soon Suey.  The Spartacus Report was awesome work.  I look after Disabled types in Croydon ( and am Disabled myself ), and you voiced our concerns well 🙂

      As for Labours’ options? In opposition you have few.  We oppose the scale of the cuts, but have been powerless to stop them as not enough people voted for us.  And now we’re stuck with the mess, so have no idea what we’ll be able to spend in the future.  And Europe hasn’t stabilised yet either.  It’s just not pretty out there.  These Torys are wrecking the place.

      We can’t promise to spend money that is not there.  If we get in in 2015 we’ll have no choice but to focus on jobs first before we up spending.  Due to what these Torys are doing ( that we can’t stop ).

      The argument is simple.  And it is a very clear message.  The Public voted Tory, and as such tied our hands.  And this is what happened next.

    • Get well soon Suey.  The Spartacus Report was awesome work.  I look after Disabled types in Croydon ( and am Disabled myself ), and you voiced our concerns well 🙂

      As for Labours’ options? In opposition you have few.  We oppose the scale of the cuts, but have been powerless to stop them as not enough people voted for us.  And now we’re stuck with the mess, so have no idea what we’ll be able to spend in the future.  And Europe hasn’t stabilised yet either.  It’s just not pretty out there.  These Torys are wrecking the place.

      We can’t promise to spend money that is not there.  If we get in in 2015 we’ll have no choice but to focus on jobs first before we up spending.  Due to what these Torys are doing ( that we can’t stop ).

      The argument is simple.  And it is a very clear message.  The Public voted Tory, and as such tied our hands.  And this is what happened next.

      • Anonymous

        Not surprising we voted Tory after Labour’s usual ineptitude.

        • It wasn’t perfect, and I hated Blair.  But a protest vote to The Torys is as risky as a protest vote to The BNP.

          • Gregor

            No it’s not. What a ridiculous statement.

      • Anonymous

        Not surprising we voted Tory after Labour’s usual ineptitude.

  • Anonymous

    The country has changed I saw a lady argue with a women that her child should not have been born, she screamed at the women I’m bloody paying tax for that, he  of course was disabled with downs syndrome. But this disability can mean the  person is very intelligent  and understand what the lady was saying. 2002 I was tipped out my wheelchair by another lady who felt she had seen me running around the streets, she said I know he’s a scrounger.

    Society has changed in the main because of the labour party and the BBC with it program about cheats.

    I’m watching a liberal MP saying I have people living by by who would love to have £35,000 a year,  I give up

    The Tories are saying they have job providers who are providing jobs for the disabled, labour spent billions on getting 200,000 people back to work, Thatcher spent nothing and got the same number of people into work, why well every year people who may have an illness or an accident get better return to work. So the question is in a recession where are these  jobs and where are they I’d like one.

  • [email protected]

    A typically patronising piece from the New Labour chatterati.  The premise gives the game away with the presumtion that only those who support the neo-liberal consensus are realists.  This was a long piece that ultimatley had nothing to say.  unfortunatley it is spouters of such trite nonsense who have the whip hand in our Party.

  • Anonymous


    And out of these divides in the broad left ,of which Labour is only one part, the party has to somehow come up with a governing and political strategy that will build a majority and sustain it in office. Ed Balls and Ed Miliband should have our complete sympathy. They could do with a bit more help from their shadow cabinet colleagues – and soon.

    They need no help. They are doing a wonderful job – for the Tories. The latest Opinion Polls give the Tories a 5% lead over Labour.  By any normal standards , Labour should be 20% ahead.. Well of course, the leadership approval rating -50% – is a record low..  making Michael Foot like a towering political genius.. (well he was when writing but electorally not).

    If the Labour Leadership was a horse, it would be shot  to end its suffering.

    Edit:

    I thought the point of Leadership was to LEAD. Obviously not.

    • Duncan

      This is hyperbole, but it’s clear they listened to the wrong advice.

      • Given that the government consists of two parties, that it is largely doing exactly what it promised, and that we lost the last election relatively recently with a major drop in votes cast as a %, forecasts of a supposed 20% lead for us is laughable – and only made by Tories! 

        The polls have been a close run thing between the two main parties and I think that is likely to remain so

        • Anonymous

          we all know what the Polls said in Scotland and over the years the Polls said Kinnock would be the leader, Polls do not win elections, elections do.

  • Steve Jennings

    The problem with following polls and focus groups is, as the economic failure of the coalition policies unfold public oppinion will alter likwise.  Mr Balls has got to realise that he may think it’s clever to slide between the competing factions within the Party but judgement day will come most likley in 2015. The facts are no economey has ever cut its way to growth.  the prospect is that things will be considerably worse in 2015 and that further cuts and wage freezes will only make the economey nosedive.  Radical policies will be required.  He is completley wrong targeting public service workers without any austerity falling on the rich, bankers and vested interest. The truth is  if thinks are going to be as  bad are they look then all classes in our society will feel the pain, not to recognise this is madness.  The Labour movement is crying out for unity and leadership.  Tying our selves to the  Tory policies with three years to go to the election is strategicaly unforgivable.

  • I find the style of writing more revealing than the argument. I would suggest that so-called ‘Hard Realists’ should stop pretending they have a monopoly on wisdom and start showing a little bit of humility. Painter refuses to accept that there are problems in the ‘Hard Realist’ strategy, even though recent evidence suggests that Balls’ intervention was not well understood by the electorate and has not helped us in the polls.

    Unless that can be changed, it will be necessary to change the conversation, at least until such time as we can put forward the argument in a manner that voters understand and react well to.

    • Anonymous

      I think you and Ball’s are making the same argument now, that the public are to stupid to understand what is going on. We all knew what Balls  was saying, the problem was that he felt the needed to say it, a political point, if you keep thinking the public are as stupid as labour obviously think it is then why the hell should they go to vote for you

    • Anonymous

      Edward,with respect I think voters do understand what the Labour leadership is saying and that is that they agree with Duncan-Smith and the government’s stance on welfare. And to be honest, they can’t do much else – after all much of the current governments actions are influenced by David Freud – and it was Blair and then Purnell who commissioned and then acted on this investment banker/welfare “expert” so-called report,  riddled with ignorance as it was (Freud repeated his assersion in a Telegraph arcticle in February 2010 that it was the I.B. claimants own GP who “put them on IB”, when, of course, a real expert would have known that for many years it had been an independent doctor employed by the DWP who made this decision).

      What makes me really angry though is the dishonest and mealy-mouthed attitude of Labour now – they don’;t wish to oppose the government’s bill – just on the emphasis and implementation, which is a total cop-out.

  • Interesting. I am in the soft realist camp, as are most of us who have been defending the leadership and think many have determinedly not read what either Ed has actually said. The hard realist stance is much too rigid and would be unnecessarily provocative

    • Anonymous

      We all know what Balls was saying as I said before we know that money is short and we expect to be part of the sad pack of us all suffering together, you know the ones on benefits the one earning £14,000 or emptying bins and the labour MP on £68,000 plus expenses seem some of us are going to suffer harder then others.

      The problem is that Balls thought he had to tell us the fecking obvious

      • Which rather proves my point, doesn’t it? He didn’t say any such thing but you choose not to bother to work that out. 

  • AmberStar

    Labour has dropped from around +3 to -5 in YG polls since the announcement.

    8 points – & a potential HOC majority – blown because you ‘hard realist’ chaps can’t take “no” for an answer.

    The whole lot of you better get on the phone to your media friends & persuade them to sell this garbage to the voters: You owe the rest of us 8 points & we expect you to deliver!

  • Great post, Anthony.

     

    I am increasingly convinced that the
    lengthy leadership contest may well prove to be Labour’s downfall. It allowed
    the Tories to shift the terms of political debate so that the sole measure of
    governing competence is willingness to cut public spending, regardless of the
    economic consequences. This is clearly lunacy but as the polls you mention
    show, it is generally accepted by the British public.

    Ed Balls has notably come under intense
    ridicule for his earlier opposition against this position but he is of course
    right, the Autumn Statement and revised growth forecasts vindicated him- but he
    will never win politically because the nature of the Coalition allows
    ‘austerity’ to be presented as non-partisan, in the ‘national interest’, and
    regrettably, as fact.

    What is obvious from your post is
    that the ‘not for turning’ faction doesn’t offer a feasible political strategy
    to win. I would point out that one of the reasons this faction is so prominent
    is because it can be portrayed in contrast to the Coalition’s ‘austerity’. This
    is also the reason why the ‘soft realists’ and ‘change the conversationalists’ message
    is not cutting through- they cannot define themselves against ‘austerity’ and
    the public mood also drowns them out- it is quite simply too nuanced and too
    difficult to articulate. It is where as you correctly identify the Party sits
    at the moment.

     

    Labour are not going to be able to
    shift public opinion on ‘austerity’- they have after all given the Coalition an
    eighteen month head start, six of which were a powerplay when the leadership
    election took place. Unless we enter recession the best we can hope for is a
    score draw and by Ed Balls advocating a ‘hard realist’ stance there is much
    more chance of achieving this.

     

    Interestingly the divisions you
    identify are a lot more political than the previous Blairite and Brownite factions
    who can both be described as ‘modernisers’ in the crudest sense. The Left of
    the party more readily identify with the ‘not for turning set’ and the Right
    with the ‘hard realists’, for many quite understandable reasons.

     

    Personally I pick and choose
    between policies of both the Left and Right and can see merits in all of the
    positions you identify. However the only faction I see as offering a route to
    electoral success is that of the ‘hard realists’- but my reason for advocating
    this route is for a pragmatic rather than ideological reason- that is the painful
    truth of austerity.

     

    Your last paragraph
    identifies what any economic and political strategy needs to address. What is
    clear to me is that party members needs to recongise the context to which the
    2015 election will be played out in. The current situation
    can be understood using the analogy of cutting a cake. In austere times like
    these the cake is much smaller so what increasingly matters is how you cut it-
    issues of fairness and morality, the politics of division.

    Of all the three main party leaders Ed
    identified this first. His language and policy suggestions are increasingly focused
    on morality and understandably it takes time to shift the Party’s tool of
    definition from spending money on vanity projects to a more moral vision of
    society. We shouldn’t panic though, this issue will become increasingly
    important for the public, stagnating incomes and increasing inflation will
    create a huge market [the Squeezed Middle] that Labour can provide leadership
    for. Importantly the squeezed Middle and the idea of a more moral capitalism is
    apolitical- ‘fairness in tough times’ is not necessarily about Left. Vs. Right-
    as I said, traditional methods of political definition, public spending or tax
    cuts are not available, and anyway, to win a general election you need to
    resonate with a variety of bubbles, tribes- lifestyles, values, and economic
    position of voters. What Ed Miliband has set out does this. We need to back him
    up.

    It may not be quite so
    apparent at the moment because public mood still gives them the benefit of the
    doubt but since the Autumn Statement the Tories fundamental weakness is a
    gamble that they can win on economic leadership alone- they are irrevocably
    tied to ‘austerity’ and its subsequent failings- they are directionless without
    the deficit and have no view of what Britain may look like in the future. It
    may not matter right now but if we enter recession as is highly likely on
    Wednesday the Tories will have nowhere to hide and the public will become
    increasingly unsympathetic.

    In light of your identification of the challenges
    the Party faces I thought I would lend some of my suggestions how these might
    be overcome, obvious as they are:

    1.    Have
    conviction in what you are advocating and say it louder and prouder. Continue
    on the moral narrative as it will increasingly resonate with public which also
    plays to Ed’s strengths as an honest and decent bloke in comparison to David Cameron.

    2.    Recognise the huge challenge of communicating Labour’s nuanced
    position [the most under-discussed aspect of the ‘hard realist’ strategy and its
    fundamental weakness] and put a lot more effort into doing that successfully. As
    the third most important party the importance of being ‘on message’ during set-piece
    events like budgets and the GDP figure release is paramount because the figures
    rather than the misguided public position and subsequent Coaltion ‘austerity’
    is what the Labour position is gauged from.

    3.    Play to our strengths- don’t forget there are other ways to gain
    political capital. The NHS reorganiation offers an open goal and offers a much
    more profitable return than going toe to toe on economic issues.


  • The problem is, as has now been tacitly acknowledged by the leadership, this hasn’t worked to build either economic or political credibility.”

    Well since this position was adopted Labour’s position in the polling has weakened quite dramatically and it has been lampooned everywhere. If you’re on a mission to suicide – fair enough, but I’m not. The policy wonkish approach to policy is nice but utterly unsuited to where Labour is currently at.

  • Lots of interesting comments – thank you.

    What’s of most interest is that, while quite a few of you are attacking the ‘hard realist’ position (with which I have sympathy as is obvious), very few seem to be attacking the description of the splits/groups across the left. So it seems this wasn’t a bad attempt to to characterise where things are….

    Though I’m sure there will be some disagreement now I’ve said this such is the nature of these things….!

  • Anonymous

    The problem for Labour is that it is not just its approach to economics that is to be questioned; under the last Labour government we saw the greatest assault on personal freedom ever witnessed in this country. As yet, we have had no apology for this, and no suggestion that another Labour government would do anything but continue said assault. It’s bad enough being poor – but far worse to have you freedom chiselled away by those paid by you to represent you. It’s for the attack on civil liberties as much as the economics of the mad house that turned this Labour voter away from Labour. I really don’t see me ever coming back with idiots like Miliband and Balls in charge. The former is clueless and the latter as crazy as a snake. 

    • Anonymous

      Agreed.

      If a Tory Government had done what Labour did in power, we would have had comparisons with Hitler or other dictatorships.

      Instead.. nothing.

      I suspect it’s because most Labour “believers” are intolerant of any view but their own.

      After all, we saw the word “murderer” liberally applied on LL a few days ago.. The only people who murder anyone in the UK and get away with it are the NHS trusts. And funnily enough, no-one ewer mentions that either.

      It’s typical left wing authoritarianism.. so convinced they are correct, that everyone else is wrong .. 

      I hasten to add the above comments are specifically aimed at a narrow coterie of intolerants  only.

      As for Miliband  and Balls.. specially chosen by the Tories to make Labour unelectable is the best  explanation  for their current roles… cos no-one in their right minds would…

      • Anonymous

        Someone wrote recently that truth, for the Left, “is whatever they want it to be”. Abbott’s recent protestations after her racist Tweet show that to be the case. 

        • More trolling from the Right…

          • Anonymous

            I have just been accused on another thread of wanting to curtail the basic rights of public sector workers by preventing them from striking.

            I  said no such thing, nor did I imply it.

            It’s that kind of intolerance  -rather like religious intolerance of the 15th to 17th centuries  – that I object to.

            Strangely enough I think it was the same person who called everyone who disagreed with him “murderers”.. If not I apologise.

          • Anonymous

            Wait wait I know this one! It’s Leon 🙂

          • And you needed to troll to make it plain to everyone you’re here to disrupt discussion.

            Well done!

          • Labour blogs dominated by Tory posters don’t work, simple as

          • Anonymous

            What discussion? You pop up all over the place like a bad penny and say the same boring nonsense each time. “your promoting genocide”, “your a murderer”, “the deaths of the poor are on your hands” blah blah blah. Do you really imagine your sad little rants are a discussion? In a discussion you actually read and attempt to understand what the other person is saying and respond accordingly. All you have ever done is ignore what people say and even worse make up their side of the conversation! You literally come out with lunacy such as “supporting immigration caps? Thats because your part of the 1%. Your happy for people to die in the street then? Because we all know you encourage genocide” . Frankly I think that your schizophrenic and the multitude of voices in your head are the only “people” you ever discuss anything with.

          • Anonymous

            Wait wait I know this one! It’s Leon 🙂

          • You are not a Labour supporter so why devote so much of your time to posting on this blog?

            Wouldn’t you be more fulfilled if you did something positive to further your own values, or is it that you are addicted to getting worked up?

          • Anonymous

            I  like this blog. 

            That’s as good a reason as any.
            That and seeing how others think.

          • You are not a Labour supporter so why devote so much of your time to posting on this blog?

            Wouldn’t you be more fulfilled if you did something positive to further your own values, or is it that you are addicted to getting worked up?

          • True, you said that they give up ALL civil rights by their choice of employer.

            And I see, you were tossed out the Tories. So sorry you can’t understand the word “consequences” too. If you preach a creed which leads to deaths, they’re on your hands.

          • Anonymous

            You are too kind. And everyone knows Abbott was lying. And if they don’t, they should have read the article in the Guardian by the woman Abbott was instructing in the ways of us Whiteys. Had that been a white person, and the roles reversed, they would have been done. And you know it. 

      • Nope, I condemned what they did.

        The Tories have already gone WELL beyond anything Labour did, and you’ve just admitted that you’re talking to a narrow band of intolerant people like you.

      • Anonymous

        True on the NHS. And as for reward for failure, that is as rampant in the public services as in the private sector (the difference being that the taxpayer funds this in the public sector). One of the top bods at the Mid Staffs Morgue got a 7 figure payoff and then went off to grab one of the to jobs at the utterly disfunctional “Care” Quality Commission. What we are seeing – and the new shower have done bugger all to deal with it (bonfire of the Quangos, haha) – is wholesale looting of the taxpayer. 

    • Anonymous

      I must look out for those crazy snakes

      • Anonymous

        Just what are you talking about, Pete?

        And whatever it is you are on – can we all have some? 🙂

        • Anonymous

          The last line described Ed Balls ‘as crazy as a snake’.

          • Anonymous

            Sorry my apologies. I don ‘t think myself Balls is crazy, just rather mixed-up, and a bit devious

      • Anonymous

        Just what are you talking about, Pete?

        And whatever it is you are on – can we all have some? 🙂

      • Anonymous

        You’d be well advised to. Turn your back and he’ll snaffle your pension. Turn you back again and he’ll tax you. And then say “so what?”

    • I agree to a degree.  The Enabling Act of 2006 was off-the-scale dodgy.  Those Blairites really messed us up.

      The Deal In The Desert was another fine one.

      We may have done well on The NHS, investing in jobs, and some parts of the Welfare State, but some of the things Blair did were HIGHLY dodgy.

      I was Green Party back then.  I only joined Labour recently.  Brown made sense, as do Balls and Miliband these days.  But the earlier Blair days were simply not good enough.

      • Anonymous

        Highly unlikely I will ever vote again. They are all useless, scoundrels or both. Labour frighten me most because they have developed a severely authoritarian streak, and seem to think compulsion can change the way people are. Nasty stuff. As a former Labour voter of many years, all I can say is that I voted Labour all that time as I thought they represented the “common man”. More fool me. 

    • I agree to a degree.  The Enabling Act of 2006 was off-the-scale dodgy.  Those Blairites really messed us up.

      The Deal In The Desert was another fine one.

      We may have done well on The NHS, investing in jobs, and some parts of the Welfare State, but some of the things Blair did were HIGHLY dodgy.

      I was Green Party back then.  I only joined Labour recently.  Brown made sense, as do Balls and Miliband these days.  But the earlier Blair days were simply not good enough.

    • Anonymous

      I feel much the same way, Jeremy. The only remorse Blair ever showed was for bringing in the hunting ban. 

      What is worse is that if Miliband fails, it is a dead cert the Blairites will get out of their coffins again and install David Miliband.  That is, if it pays enough for the greedy DM. Or Yvette Cooper, the New Labour version of Duncan-Twit

      • Anonymous

        How can ANYONE rate David M. He messed up at DEFRA – Foot and Mouth and the Rural Payments shambles (scandal), got moved to the FCO where he managed to royally piss-off Russia, Sri Lanka, Israel & India – the latter so badly Mandelson had to be sent there to poppet them. The man is an idiot. All of the Labour front bench are unfit for high office, and most of the other side as well. Though I am keeping my fingers crossed that Huhne gets done before he destroys the country with this insane energy “policies”. 

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  • Kernow Castellan

    There are some serious divisions here. As with most things, time tends to heal wounds, and a long-ish period out of power generates unity like nothing else (just ask the Tories after 2005, or Labour after 1992).

    The biggest risk to Labour is to paper over these differences in their haste to return to power. Owen Jones and Dan Hodges can barely be civil to one another at the moment, let alone stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The problems will only be solved once all sides agree to set aside their differences and work together. If one faction “wins” before that point, then that will breed resentment from the other 3 factions.

    So, it’s not the answer you want, but my prediction is that this internal war will not be solved until after the next election (and possibly the one after that).

    For the factions now, the most important thing is to get the new activists. The Tories solved their 30-year split on Europe by making sure all new candidates were Eurosceptic. It took time, but they are unified on that now – I can only think of Clarke as a pro-European Tory MP; all the others were booted off to the Lords.

  • Anonymous

    Pehaps the author should write about the categories of people who leave comments. 1 – Totally unrelated blown out of proportion anger about something Tony Blair did. 2 – Extremely long often good but far too long comments. 3 – Reasonable comments

    • Anonymous

      Tony Blair did a lot of harm. We are still witnessing some results of his bad calls and actions   in deaths in Afghanistan to give but one example.

      He was a hypocrite, a sponger, and I would suggest, the most devisive leader Labour  had.

      As for long posts – well kif they tire you don’t read them

      “Reasonable comments” – who is to decide what is “reasonable”?

      Are you recommending censorship to make the site more acceptable to yourself?

      • Anonymous

        Fully agree. But Brown did even more harm to Labour with his denying members the right to decide on becoming leader, his lack of humility and even now his drawing an MPs salary (courtesy of the taxpayer)  whilst hardly been seen in parliament. Both Blair and Brown have shown that they are far more interested in themselves than the party. Labour, at the very least,  needs a shadow cabinet of members who actually believe in something and not just themselves.

        • Anonymous

          I can’t disagree, but I think Blair is more venal than Brown – Brown does draw his salary, but then again Stuart Bell does as well, and he is rarely seen at the Palace of Westminster and reportedly does little for his constituents, and, of course, David Miliband is so busy setting up companies to “advise” companies and organisations, it begs the question just how committed he is as an MP. As for Blair he can beat many Tories for greed.

          It is sad that most ministers and shadow ministers are so self-serving – who can forgett Patricia Hewitt and Milburn both Health Ministers at the same time as “advising” private health companies.

          I would dearly love to see a good clean out so that the greedy and the incompetent lost their jobs.

    • Anonymous

      Tony Blair did a lot of harm. We are still witnessing some results of his bad calls and actions   in deaths in Afghanistan to give but one example.

      He was a hypocrite, a sponger, and I would suggest, the most devisive leader Labour  had.

      As for long posts – well kif they tire you don’t read them

      “Reasonable comments” – who is to decide what is “reasonable”?

      Are you recommending censorship to make the site more acceptable to yourself?

  • Mr Chippy

    To paraphrase Marx I would never accept categorisation into a pigeon hole you care to place me. Groucho of course. Seriously why is there an inclination to compartilise all thought. Reminded me when I used to cross swords with the trots in the CLP meetings of old. They used to call me a right-wing stalinist. They were wrong I was not right-wing.

  • Mr Chippy

    To paraphrase Marx I would never accept categorisation into a pigeon hole you care to place me. Groucho of course. Seriously why is there an inclination to compartilise all thought. Reminded me when I used to cross swords with the trots in the CLP meetings of old. They used to call me a right-wing stalinist. They were wrong I was not right-wing.

  • Mr Chippy

    To paraphrase Marx I would never accept categorisation into a pigeon hole you care to place me. Groucho of course. Seriously why is there an inclination to compartilise all thought. Reminded me when I used to cross swords with the trots in the CLP meetings of old. They used to call me a right-wing stalinist. They were wrong I was not right-wing.

  • What Ed Balls described is simple enough to understand.  We’d love to spend more cash, but we can’t.  As we’re not in power, and The Torys have wrecked the economy.  That wrecked economy gives us bog all money to spend if we get in in 2015.  I very much doubt things will have improved by 2015 at this rate.

    And as for the Unions?  If they were serious about stopping The Torys they’d stop arguing for wages that simply are not there.  It’s a simple argument.  10 people employed, or 9 people employed on higher wages and 1 person on the dole.

    Where’s the solidarity?

    The Unions seem to prefer to sacrifice a few to cover their members.  Which dances close to what Thatcher did in the 80’s to cover her own terrible policies.  Leaving bits to die, so her core voters were ok and kept her in power.

    This is why I am shocked The Unions are doing this.  They of all people should know better than to follow such a daft line.

  • What Ed Balls described is simple enough to understand.  We’d love to spend more cash, but we can’t.  As we’re not in power, and The Torys have wrecked the economy.  That wrecked economy gives us bog all money to spend if we get in in 2015.  I very much doubt things will have improved by 2015 at this rate.

    And as for the Unions?  If they were serious about stopping The Torys they’d stop arguing for wages that simply are not there.  It’s a simple argument.  10 people employed, or 9 people employed on higher wages and 1 person on the dole.

    Where’s the solidarity?

    The Unions seem to prefer to sacrifice a few to cover their members.  Which dances close to what Thatcher did in the 80’s to cover her own terrible policies.  Leaving bits to die, so her core voters were ok and kept her in power.

    This is why I am shocked The Unions are doing this.  They of all people should know better than to follow such a daft line.

    • Sure, it’s simple enough for the right to understand, since it’s the agreeable message for you and your like-minded friends.

      Keep on pretending that you’re not spitting on the unions for holding up their principles. For not agreeing to betray everything they stand for.

      “Surrender”, you cry, “we surrender”. And it’s worked out fine for the Tories who you’d actually be ideologically at home with, +6%…

      • I worry that *some* unions are less about equality, and more about creating a different elite class, comprising their own 1% members.

        • Er? Of course unions are there to represent their members.

          Asking them to backstab those members by signing onto a surrender…

          • So at what point did solidarity go out of the window?  Or are those unions just yet another vested interest group, like bankers and MPs?

  • Anonymous

    A good article, although I disagree slightly.  Soft realism seems to be the best approach in opposition.  I accept that there is a risk of this becoming hard realism in government when things go wrong.

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  • Rob, ex labour voter, lincs.

    Labour need to accept that we have gone as far as we can with this whole government giving everyone a job thing. Its the private sector or nothing from now on. Fools like owen jones and bob crowe should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Labour are just regarded as the dole scroungers party these days.

  • Which shows why the PRS can’t supply decent low cost housing

  • Anonymous

    “Consolidation should be achieved by stopping things like HS2, Trident, clamping down on tax havens, taxing wealth and a state investment bank, work for the long term unemployed, restoring the worst cuts and building more houses, come first”

    this is not what the ‘reluanch’ was about ( please correct me if i am wrong). The relaunch had a simple message – ” we are keeping all the cuts and no promises for growth”.

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