The politics of the press room is failing Labour

February 19, 2012 11:13 am

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I wrote on LabourList last month about Labour’s problem with seminar room politics. The point still stands. Our message is frustratingly frequently articulated through Guardian comment pieces about the nature of the state and social democracy instead of anything that affects normal people’s everyday lives. But we have another problem. Press room politics. Our shadow ministers sometimes seem to deluge the airwaves with opposition to government policy without any attempt to talk about our alternatives. In the place of popular policies to rally around, we appear to be attempting to win favour with endless press releases opposing every dot and comma of every new initiative and piece of legislation.

What will the next Labour government do to make people in Britain’s lives better? We know what Ed Miliband thinks of Stephen Hester’s bonus. We know what he thinks of News International. We seem to know what Labour’s position is on all Westminster Village fads, but still don’t know what our party will seek to do in power. Our shadow cabinet are stuck opposing every minutiae of government policy because they are allowed to say nothing else. On High Speed Rail, we were in favour of the idea but opposed to the route. On a consultation about small charges for Freedom of Information requests we screamed with horror over a change that would, realistically, minorly inconvenience a few journalists. We even bothered opposing the handling of breast implants recalls. This isn’t the way a government in waiting behaves.  Our approach to opposition cannot be based on a desperate attempt to get a quote in an article about decisions made by someone else. We need to get serious and show that we are capable of changing the lives of the people who need the Labour Party in government.

People in Britain are hurting. Real incomes are falling. Netmums reported on Thursday that one in five mothers regularly miss meals to feed their children and that one in three families are using credit cards simply to pay the bills. The middle class, living in marginal constituencies, are being throttled, not squeezed. The people that previously bought Mondeos or built conservatories are counting the pennies, not thinking about whether Stephen Hester deserves to be grotesquely rich or merely filthy rich.  They deserve alternatives to the Tories program of destruction.

The Labour Party’s unified rejection of Andrew Lansley’s attempted destruction of the NHS goes some way to illustrating the problem. Labour is right to fight the destructive reforms and is right to attempt to push them up the agenda. But our opposition is unsustainable without some indicators of a future Labour Party agenda for the NHS. There is no status quo option. As our population gets older, a future government will need to make choices about how we deliver health and social care. My preferred option, more socialised funding of the NHS and a National Care Service funded by taxes on privatised health insurance schemes and wealth taxes on the most expensive houses, is controversial. But so are all the options. Continued funding of an increasingly expensive healthcare system exclusively out of general taxation is controversial. Part privatisations and charges for minor operations and lifestyle caused diseases are controversial. If Labour wants to be taken seriously, we need to show that we are ready to take on controversy and take a lead on sometimes difficult decisions. We haven’t shown that yet.

Our party is better than this better than this. We have tremendous strengths going into the 2015 election. We are buoyed in the polls by disgruntled ex-Liberal Democrat supporters. We are startlingly united as a party. We have a leader prepared to be bold and a country that desperately needs bold action. David Cameron arrogantly assumes that any challenge to market orthodoxies will result in electoral defeat for Labour. He doesn’t understand the anger at train and energy companies so well articulated by Ed, and fundamentally doesn’t believe in the use of the state to make people’s lives better.  All this should be fertile ground for the Labour Party.

We are almost exactly half way through the Parliament. So far Labour has failed to explain why our party deserves to be elected in 2015. We don’t need the politics of the seminar room or the press room. We need some policies.

  • AlanGiles

    One of the problems – often seen here on LL as well – is that many politicians are so too pleased with their own intellectual qualities, they cannot resist showing off – like a brassy trumpet player desperate to show he can blow C above C. This might go down well with their fellow (psuedo?) intellectual colleagues but you fail to communicate with the ordinary person with the worries you mention. If you are finding it hard to make ends meet, who is going to bother to fathom what the message in David Miliband’s waffle is – assuming there is one?. They have time and money to sit and attitudenize, Mr & Mrs Smith have more immediate and pressing concerns.

    Also some people (Will Straw gave a magnificent example on here on Friday), think that by stringing together a few platitudes embroidered by clever wordspeak they will somehow give their articles/speeches more “relevance” – to give it and them that “serious” and “cerebral” touch.

    I single out these two as a couple of the worst offenders, but there are many more. People want to hear a straightforward message in straightforward langauge, devoid of artifice. They will not be swayed or impressed by the great intellectual qualities these people think they have

    Remember Gertrude’s advice to Polonious? “more matter – with less art”. A good rule to follow

    • treborc

      Like where does labour stand on the NHS, not the new labour but this Labour, because it’s hard to see where labour is heading.

      Labour lumped into the middle class the working poor those on the Min wage, because they have no idea of what to do with these people.

      I can tell you now if a middle class on £32,000 is struggling imagine what somebody on £13,000 or part time on £7,500 is doing.

      I get £26,000 by adding my wife’s earnings to the pot if you took my  income on it’s own I get £9,600 a year boy is that hard work.

      labour has forgotten who it was made for it has become a middle class party and  now it finds a lot of them have turned to the Tories.

      I have to say when I hear the Tories say labour left them without money it rings true, after all even a labour MP left a note saying the same.

      Socialism or New labour-ism,.

    • TomFairfax

       Hi Alan,
      (Will Straw gave a magnificent example on here on Friday), think that by
      stringing together a few platitudes embroidered by clever wordspeak
      they will somehow give their articles/speeches more “relevance”

      Obviously I miss that one. There was another that was about 2% good points, 48% inaccuracy, and 50% dross.

      I trust you’re not meaning that one.

      • AlanGiles

        It probably was, Tom. I can almost imagine Will writing his essays with his Platignum cartridge pen and Pa Straw reading them over to see if they are long-winded enough to carry the Straw imprimatur “what have I always told you, son? – don’t use one word when you can use twenty”

  • John Dempsey

    spot on- The policy should be to give the Tories no peace-every plan to oppose what Cameron is doing should always include a section on “what Labour would do”- another problem is that Ed Milliband does not speak to people-he speaks at them in a quite off putting stream of jargon and slogans-with an echo of an earnest English teacher-he doesnt talk workplace or market place or passion-and I voted for him!-but also the Parliamentary party  is not brimming with talent or original thinkers.
    People out there wants to hear a leader with passion and clearly stated positions, with MPs who have had real jobs and run Councils or represented Trade Unionists, not political geeks-last but not least we need to swill out all the Blairistas, cryto Tories, free market enthusiasts from the Parliamentary Party and any postions of influence-we want our Party back.

  • Edward Wheatley

     Sounds like what we need is some of that ol’time religion !

    Trouble is that while the Tory leaderships is upper-class, the Labour leadership is at heart middle-class. They all sound like they want jobs at the BBC or Guardian and will never get down and dirty to promote the real views of the working class on matters like immigration.

  • Joanne28

    Good article Gus, and I agree policy has to be made explicit and firmed up this year.
    (Maybe approach is to combine with results of Refounding process; I don’t know.)
    There has been a good start in some areas I think.

    On the NHS, could I just say, services in primary care were running smoothly about 18 months ago? Staff I spoke to at one of the GP practices said they had finally got things to where they should be, after a lot of hard work.

    Now it appears a great deal of anxiety and disarray in prospect-
    and all for politics- top down inteference.

    Aside from the PFI projects,(in my view,)Labour has a good track record on
    commitment and working with the NHS; also I thought Andy B’s suggestion
    about a “national care service” was excellent.

    But to cope with the increasing demands of an ageing population, I think
    joined up health and social care is well overdue; but also funding issues
    needs a cross party consensus as well as wide consultation with people working
    in these sectors over time.

    Surestart was also a great success; we need to build on these models.

    Jo

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