Three different Labour Parties…

January 17, 2012 12:05 pm

There seem to be three different Labour parties this week.

There’s one at the grassroots which consists of tens of thousands of ordinary members burning shoe leather to make further council gains in May or to get Ken elected as London Mayor or to defend Glasgow City Council from the SNP. As a local activist and an NEC member I keep meeting this lay Party and the more I see of it the more I like. Solid, decent, loyal people. Serious people going about the business of getting another Labour government or running their council, or preparing to run it. Motivated by public service and a passion for social justice. The members I met in Twickenham last week who had been standing in the cold on 3rd January leafleting tube stations. The members from across Kent I met in Maidstone who were carefully working out an education manifesto for the 2013 County elections. The members clocking up record amounts of canvassing across the country – many multiples of what happened at this point in the last electoral cycle.

Then there’s the one at the top level in Westminster, Victoria Street and the union HQs. After months where Labour’s line on the economy was not being stated clearly enough to the public so we were being accused of a fantasy approach to the deficit, we’ve finally had a co-ordinated series of announcements and speeches that spell it out. Murphy, Byrne, Twigg and Balls. And Ed Miliband himself last week. All making it clear that whilst we rightly fight the speed and depth of the cuts now, and would have a different economic strategy now if we had won in 2010, based on growth and jobs, we cannot make lazy, hollow promises now about reversing cuts in 2015. I do not understand why this has surprised some people. Ed’s conference speech was all about the same theme: that we will have to govern in a period of continuing lack of cash and find other policy tools than increased public spending to advance our values of fairness and social justice.

To my mind the clarification of our position on cuts is a statement of the absolutely obvious. Some of the cuts, if not stopped now, are physically impossible to reverse, e.g. kit that has taken years to procure, design and build is sold or scrapped, skilled staff teams disappear to new jobs. We won’t be able to magically expand in one go a budget that has been cut severely to 2010 levels without economic chaos if we did somehow get elected with such a policy – there are markets and an IMF that take an interest in this, as well as taxes that would need to be levied or loans to be obtained to do it. And if we did have such a policy it would be unpopular with the majority of electors who, all the recent polls show, think cuts are necessary, and probably seen as a lie or election bribe that proved we were not serious about governing by most of the rest.

We’ve had a policy on the economy that chimes with where the electorate are for a long time – that the cuts are too far and too
fast but we are serious about deficit reduction. Now at last we are articulating it loudly enough that voters might hear us and not
believe the lie that we are economic fantasists who think we can spend imaginary money.

The task of making sure voters hear that message has been helped by the entry from stage left of non-Labour Party members Mark Serwotka (a former member of Trotsyist faction Socialist Organiser, and later a Respect supporter) and former member of the Stalinist CPB Bob Crow, and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey (who is a Labour Party Party member), crying betrayal. This comic opera chorus of cartoon stereotypes of everything the public don’t like about trade unionism have helpfully reminded the media and the party that both Eds are firmly part of the party’s moderate mainstream. They reinforce my view that one of the crucial challenges facing Labour moderates is to stop the proposed Unite and PCS merger and retake Unite for the tradition of Sir Ken Jackson and Ernie Bevin. We can’t allow Len and his ilk to lead Labour’s largest affiliate, and with it the union link, to destruction with the kind of boneheaded interventions he made today. It’s not the two Eds who would disenfranchise Labour’s core vote, its Len and his “no cuts” sloganising which is a Socialist Worker headline and a transitional demand (a deliberate Leninist political line, designed to whip people up behind a policy that sounds good but is unattainable under capitalism and democracy), not a economic policy or an election-winning campaign stance. I write this as a proud Unite member who voted for Len and organised people to participate in the march on March 26th. The General Secretary of my union needs to listen to all his members, not just the Trot fringe.

Speaking of the fringe, there’s a third Labour Party on Twitter. In a medium where anyone with something controversial to say can make a name for themselves you would think that the choice facing Labour members was between the ultra-leftism of Owen Jones (a bright and entertaining writer who needs to grow out of the tendency to cry “betrayal” at the slightest compromise with reality by a Labour politician), and the ultra-“Blairism” of Dan Hodges. I’ve put inverted commas around “Blairism” as it bears no relation to the Blairism actually practiced by Blair or any of us who supported him in office and defend his record now. Indeed Dan was actually attacking Blair in 2006 when he most needed support, and other online “Blairites” turn out to be youths so callow they were not party members when Blair was leader, or not even Labour members now.

There’s a similarity with those “Thatcherites” who want to leave the EU even though the lady herself led the UK into the Single European Act and the ERM. In the absence of new pronouncements from the lost leader they extrapolate a trend line from the direction of travel when power was lost, and assume their hero would have pursued it – presumably by 2100 self-proclaimed “Blairites” will face a confusing choice over whether the by then late Blair would have wanted them to invade the USA or privatise the Armed Forces.

The hysterical hypercharged frenzy of Twitter and its mob mentality – like a student union meeting on steroids – reached its peak on Monday with the online defection of Luke Bozier, (a big name online but relatively obscure in the “real world” of meetings and door-knocking) to the Tories. This was not entirely surprising as my namesake had been trolling i.e. winding-up Labour people by being deliberately provocative, for months, and seemed to have only a tenuous grasp of what the Labour Party actually stands for. I had assumed he was based in the USA as his knowledge of British centre-left politics seemed so shaky. His political confusion , and the Twitter debate’s disconnection from political reality was encapsulated by his defection on the grounds Labour was too leftwing at exactly the moment that Ed Balls clarified that it wasn’t at all.

Oh well, at least after the last few days we are a bit clearer about the paradigm we are in – the usual, or historic, one where moderate Labour leaders have to take on and beat the fruitloops in their own ranks in order to get the party back to an electable state. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt at NOLS Conference in 1996. Still wearing it and always will be. Hasta la victoria siempre – until the eternal victory, as Che might have said if he was a Labour moderate.

  • http://twitter.com/GuidoFawkes Guido Fawkes

    “The hysterical hypercharged frenzy of Twitter and its mob mentality – like a student union meeting on steroids”. Great innit.

    • Anonymous

      No. Everyone is sick of students thanks. Even the students.

    • Anonymous

      Guido, the hang ‘em, flog ‘em lock ‘em up ‘libertarian’? Try to spend more time with the racists, sexisst and homophobes who comment on your blog.

    • Anonymous

      No forgetting of course Tony Blair was head of his student Union, the Union of conservatives.

  • Alex Andreou

    Luke, I think the complete denial by “the second Labour party” as you describe it in HQ that there has been any shift in policy – merely a clarification – does not help the cause. Nor does the assumption that the people reacting badly on Twitter to the weekend’s announcements do not include grassroots supporters or HQ people. I think you will find they do.

    I invite you to refresh your memory with Ed Miliband’s speech at the “March for the Alternative” on 26 March. http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2011/03/ed-miliband-hyde-park-speech

    Having read that, do you insist that what happened last week was a mere clarification of this policy?

  • Duncan

    Luke – your first Labour Party are the very people (in my CLP at any rate) who feel so dispirited by the “clarifications” you refer to.

    But yes, generally we are still at NOLS Conference 1996.  Ho hum.

  • Plato

    I haven’t seen Mr Bozier attacking anyone or being rude about them – all he’s done is leave and say why. In return, he’s had appalling abuse from the TwitMob.

    Yet there seems to be an irresistible urge to be rude about him either directly or by innuendo – there are three references in the above article alone that jumped out at me and I’ve never met him nor even exchanged a tweet.

    Please stop it.

    It’s ugly, it’s ad hom of the lowest kind when the target isn’t around to defend himself. It doesn’t make me want to vote Labour again.

    There are actually five Labour Parties that I can see:

    1. The sort my father-in-law was a branch sec for. The solid, decent, honest family man who was embarrassed at being out of work/accepting ‘hand-outs’. It was about H&S, fair working practices and how to keep trades alive through apprenticeships.
     
    It was about homes with few or no books, but a desire to get on and make something of yourself. Knowing where your kids were, being law abiding and not making excuses to absolve your side of responsibility. I’d call this the Tony Parson’s Party.

    2. The intellectual elite end who spend a great deal of time telling us what to think and what’s good for us. They don’t like NOTW readers passim and think everyone else should read the Guardian, as the only true source of unbiased news and valuable opinion. These people don’t often fall naturally into 1. This is the Polly Toynbee Party.

    3. The Everything Is Fatcher’s Fault Party.  They usually frame their arguments in the language of Billy Elliott extras, yet have little first hand experience of this period or the nuances of living it. This group spend a lot of time over-talking everyone else thinking this means they’ve won the argument. Owen Jones is its President and has a regular slot on Radio Five.

    4. And finally the Pressure Group Party that is packed with special interests all lobbying for their share of the pie, using language like ‘fairness’ when they actually mean ‘give me more’.

     This includes those who describe themselves as trade unionists, community leaders, rights activists etc.  Lots of these are also TwitMobbers who see this as  a way to ‘get me more’ using intimidation or coercion or fauxrage.

    5. Doesn’t exist – The Electable Party was lead by Tony Blair until jealousies, petty-fogging turf wars and egos destroyed it.

    I’d vote for the Tony Parson’s Party in the absence of 5. Since 1. and 5. aren’t available – I voted Tory for the first time in two decades.

    • Duncan

      Then you’re an idiot.

      Sorry – if your conclusion was that you didn’t vote, or you voted for an Indepdendent or some other party that you thought were vaguely progressive then you might have something to say, but “Tony’s gone so I’ll vote Tory?”  Whatever.
      Sorry if that comment was “ad hom” by the way.

      • Anonymous

        Funny how these swing voters all stick up for the Pratt like Bozier then go on to tell us how great our dearly beloved Tony was. 

    • Anonymous

      “The Electable Party was lead by Tony Blair until jealousies, petty-fogging turf wars and egos destroyed it.”

      Pease don’t rewrite history to suit your own ends.

      Whether you like it or not, Blair helped in his own downfall by involving us in several wars, one of which (Iraq) was of questionable legality, he also stuffed his cabinets full of cronies, some of whom had very deep flaws – often to do with greed and dishonesty.The main embarrasssments caused to Blair was not through the left wing of the party , but from ardent Blairites: Mandelson, Byers and Blunkett to name but three.

      I am never surprised now by reading or hearing somebody say they voted Tory because Blair was no longer an option – it says more about you and your sort of “Labour” supporter than it does about the Labour party, because Labour 2012 can certainly not be described as even remotely left wing.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        @ Alan Giles,

        I think there is a big change ongoing (but will take another decade to complete) in political differentiation, and it is not between the old distinctions of left and right, but between authoritarianism and liberalism, which is a completely different axis. The old economic arguments for left and right are reduced to parties fighting about position on an increasingly tiny part of the left/right spectrum (and the battleground is slightly to the right of centre).  People like Chris Cook can make some very intelligent points about different paradigms, but while they may very well be correct, no-one is about to change wholesale the fundamentals of the economy.  We have to deal with what we have got.

        Labour’s best route back to power is to talk in terms of the balance between personal responsibility and the responsibility of society to provide a safety net.  We need both, and both of them need to be strong enough to endure.

        • Mike Homfray

          The thing is that this axis already exists but it’s not confined to one party or the other. and Tory and Labour tend towards authoritarianism or luverism on different issues. So today we hear of Tory social conservatives opposing gay marriage. Labour are more likely to support an interventionist state. Some issues cross party boundaries entirely such as law and order and the use of intrusion. I think this axis is alive and well but I can’t see it characterising party divides in any major way

        • Mike Homfray

          The thing is that this axis already exists but it’s not confined to one party or the other. and Tory and Labour tend towards authoritarianism or luverism on different issues. So today we hear of Tory social conservatives opposing gay marriage. Labour are more likely to support an interventionist state. Some issues cross party boundaries entirely such as law and order and the use of intrusion. I think this axis is alive and well but I can’t see it characterising party divides in any major way

      • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

        Or left wing.

    • Stuart

      To be fair my quick scan at Twitter only found 1 example of Mr Bozier being a bit rude – apparently sending a direct mail to an MP calling them sanctimonious.  It is not on for people to advocate giving chaps like this a doing on the Internet.  My experience is that they live on the internet.  They are usually completely different in real life.  The problem is all these online thingyabobs is that people sound off from behind the safety of their keyboards.  So I won’t be joining an on-line mob attacking Mr Bozier.  If I ever bump into him in person, which is doubtful, then I would explain to him that he is a Tory tosser.  Seems fair enough really.

  • Gillian Kalter

    Luke,  I don’t think people expect or believe  “lazy, hollow promises… about reversing cuts in 2015″.  Most people just want to know that there is fairness and decency across the board while these “savings” are being made and that individuals are being asked to make sacrifices according to their resources and not exploited according to their vulnerabilities.

  • Anonymous

    yeah .. right … there is a big difference in saying that there won’t be enough assets, money etc to reverse SOME  of the cuts, tax rises etc AND saying that we won’t be reversing all of them ( this being the key implication of Friday announcements). Only today we here some ‘clarification’ from party leadership.
    The electorate are not a bunch of idiots and nor is the party. Everyone realises that regardless of how well or how badly the economic recovery progresses,  the budget needs to be tightly controlled so as not to expose national finances to so much PRIVATE SECTOR risk ( this what Balls should be talking about)!!  if we, the Labour party do not reverse some of the cuts and changes, especially in housing provision, NHS and  education then I see no difference between Labour and Tory …  

    • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

      They don’t EVEN need to directly reverse them. Slash work weeks, cap rents…

      But no, Labour’s signed up to the Tory vision of this country too. Hook, line and sinker.

  • Duncan

    Actually – trying to work out why you picked 1996 NOLS conference (sad old hack that I am…)  What particularly happened at that one?  I assume  I was there…  Was that the one in London when Michael Dugher was “elected” Vice Chair, or am I mixing them up?

  • Stuart

    Also a little bit bemused to hear that Labour have a ‘new economic line’, when it sounds to me like what they’ve been saying for the last year: as Ed Balls put it Labour have never questioned whether to reduce the deficit, but how and when. Also find the look-at-me! elements of the Labour ‘twittersphere’ dull-witted and over-the-top (especially Dan Hodges, although sadly a couple of Owen Jones’s recent articles have been a bit attention-grabbing too).

    That said, I really like Len (my general secretary too), I tend to like what he says and I like the way he says it – I wish our politicians had some of his passion and intelligence. So I’m conflicted, all in all – I think what Labour politicians are saying is fairly sensible (it boils down to ‘we can’t make any promises’) but I’m not that keen on them as people and don’t really believe they understand how hard people’s livse are, while what Len and Paul Kenny are saying seems a bit unreasonable, but I trust them and like them. So I guess I end up where you began – it’s the foot soldiers (across all wings of the party) who make me hopeful.

  • Stuart

    Also a little bit bemused to hear that Labour have a ‘new economic line’, when it sounds to me like what they’ve been saying for the last year: as Ed Balls put it Labour have never questioned whether to reduce the deficit, but how and when. Also find the look-at-me! elements of the Labour ‘twittersphere’ dull-witted and over-the-top (especially Dan Hodges, although sadly a couple of Owen Jones’s recent articles have been a bit attention-grabbing too).

    That said, I really like Len (my general secretary too), I tend to like what he says and I like the way he says it – I wish our politicians had some of his passion and intelligence. So I’m conflicted, all in all – I think what Labour politicians are saying is fairly sensible (it boils down to ‘we can’t make any promises’) but I’m not that keen on them as people and don’t really believe they understand how hard people’s livse are, while what Len and Paul Kenny are saying seems a bit unreasonable, but I trust them and like them. So I guess I end up where you began – it’s the foot soldiers (across all wings of the party) who make me hopeful.

  • Stuart

    Also a little bit bemused to hear that Labour have a ‘new economic line’, when it sounds to me like what they’ve been saying for the last year: as Ed Balls put it Labour have never questioned whether to reduce the deficit, but how and when. Also find the look-at-me! elements of the Labour ‘twittersphere’ dull-witted and over-the-top (especially Dan Hodges, although sadly a couple of Owen Jones’s recent articles have been a bit attention-grabbing too).

    That said, I really like Len (my general secretary too), I tend to like what he says and I like the way he says it – I wish our politicians had some of his passion and intelligence. So I’m conflicted, all in all – I think what Labour politicians are saying is fairly sensible (it boils down to ‘we can’t make any promises’) but I’m not that keen on them as people and don’t really believe they understand how hard people’s livse are, while what Len and Paul Kenny are saying seems a bit unreasonable, but I trust them and like them. So I guess I end up where you began – it’s the foot soldiers (across all wings of the party) who make me hopeful.

  • JB

    Original Labour – sensible, paragmatic, patriotic, collectivist, one-nation democratic socialists; in short a feasible party of government. This was a party led by Harold Wilson and latterly Jim Callaghan in the 60s and 70s. It won four general elections out of five and hauled the country back from the brink of disaster in 1974. They may have even beaten Maggie if they had gone to the country in ’78.

  • Anonymous

    I always thought the problem with the Labour Party was there were too many Blairites called Luke in it. One down…

  • Anonymous

    Luke, I think excellent article and thanks for explaining stuff so well.

    The only bit I felt perturbed by were your comments on the “unions.”

    I tend to think of the ordinary folk and workers/professionals that make up
    those unions- which may indeed resemble some of the grassroot supporters
    in their backgrounds and type of issues concerning people.

    I’m think particularly of those working in frontline public services,
    and low paid workers, who probably understand and empathize
    with the public, and have a real social conscience?

    I’d like to see more of these people coming together who have
    experience at the coalface….ideas can be shared.

    I’d like to see far less of the polarized positions within the party
    which seems to be being reflected, more as a power struggle
    than cohesive base?

    It’s incredibly useful to hear what’s going on Luke-
    in a more practical sense; fully appreciate how much hard work
    must go into all this.

    Thankyou, Jo.

  • sp[ireite

    Luke,
    Your article is absolutely correct especially your comments about grassroot members.Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=697126564 Paul Halsall

    McCluskey is right.
    Perhaps it’s time for the unions to form a *Labour* Representation Committee, to, you know, represent labour and working people rather than a bunch of SPads, Oxford PPE types, and people who think social solidarity is an old fashioned idea.

    • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

      Perhaps it’s time to realise that this isn’t new and Labour won’t change now.

    • Duncan

      It does exist Paul!  Please consider joining up…

      http://www.l-r-c.org.uk

  • Davidbrede

    Whats needed is that the leadership should always be giving hope to the voters and indeed union leaders.  What he says is correct but it has not come across very well if the reinstatement of normal bargaining is not high up his agenda for a Labour Government.

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  • http://twitter.com/Newsbot9 Newsbot9

    Rubbish. You’ve swallowed the Tory framing of the argument and refuse to do anything differently.

    Time for a new party on the left. A lot of the foot soldiers will shift too, as you well know. Scared? You should be.

  • Anonymous

    Not forgetting are we that Luke sounds like the type of chap who is solid labour, but which labour Luke is a die hard New labour type, who spouts most of his new labour rubbish on Progress a group who aim is to get a New labour party back into power, or Labour if it  helps him get a power base.

    It all sounds so nice we have to get the two parts of labour back, the Union are part of labour, come to my local party to see how many Union people bother turning up, last election the local party had to ask people from out side the area to knock on doors.

    Labour is struggling many of the die hard real labour people walked away, and now what is left in my local party are the swing  voters the people who are hoping praying David will end up as the leader.

  • Steve Jennings

    The party is finished if we continue to follow the neoliberal consensus Balls has made things worse.  The labour movement may never forgive him for this grave lack of judgement

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