Posts Tagged ‘Labour List’

Nowt wrong with being illiberal when necessary.

February 17, 2010

I’ve only just got round to reading yesterday’s Labour List interview with James Purnell, the former Cabinet member who keeps popping up in the media to remind us that he still exists and to try to prove that he’s a brainy hope for Labour’s future.  

In the interview Mr Purnell is talking about inequality and is asked to give his thoughts on the possibility of a High Pay Commission. He replies:

I think a cap on high pay would be illiberal and probably counter-productive. I think the idea of Government – or anybody – deciding what the maximum pay should be is too much of an interference in the ability of society and the market to run themselves.

I was somewhat surprised to see Purnell express distaste for “illiberal” measures. As Work and Pensions Secretary he spent much of his time promising to get tough on welfare claimants, talking about “penalising” people who did not try hard enough to find jobs, instigating crackdowns, etc.

And of course he was for many years part of a Government that pursued numerous policies decried in Guardian editorials as illiberal (i.e. ID cards, terrorist suspect detention without trial, ASBOs).

Some of these policies I support, some I don’t, but that’s not the point. When it comes to discussing Labour’s approach to economic inequality I think it’s a bit of a cop out to get scared of illiberal ideas.

If we are supposed to be socialists/social democrats (I suspect Purnell is very enthusiastic about the ideologically bland term ‘progressive’ and describes himself as such with great vigour) then this means we put the interests of the many before the few and shouldn’t get our knickers in too much of twist over illiberalism.

Being frightened of excessive interference with “society and the market” has meant that after many years of Labour Government we are still in a situation where a tiny percentage of the population own a hefty great chunk of the nation’s wealth while 4 million children are living below the poverty line.

If a Labourite wanted to convince me that a High Pay Commission would be a very bad idea, I would want to hear other, more practical arguments being put forward. 

For example, if a Government clampdown on high wages meant there would be a significant exodus of business talent and investment which would harm the UK’s economic performance then this would obviously make me think twice about the proposal.

Or if the Labourite produced some polling evidence suggesting that introducing the High Pay Commission would harm Labour’s electoral chances in key marginals then of course it would clearly be problematic.

But criticising the High Pay Commission idea as illiberal does not do the trick. It instead betrays a ridiculous lack of selfawareness considering the illiberalism that is accepted in other policy areas and it suggests a lack of genuine committment to tackling inequality.

I still find James Purnell thoroughly unconvincing.

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Why ‘Against the Odds’ should not be in the running.

November 14, 2009

 Last week LabourList published an article  calling for the short film ‘Against the Odds’, which was shown at Conference, to be Labour’s next party political broadcast. Several hundred Labourites have joined a Facebook group in support of this proposal. 

‘Against the Odds’ can be viewed below:

Whilst I am someone who gets very excited about Labour history and who also likes the idea of a positive, upbeat video that reminds people of the party’s achievements over the years, I think there are some obvious reasons why ‘Against the Odds’ would not make a suitable PPB.

It concentrates on the past and does not mention any current or future policies. Surely one of the principal points of a PPB is to reinforce voters’ awareness of what the party is doing and what it plans to do. Considering the state of the economy and other pressing issues that Labour urgently needs to win voters’ trust on (public services, crime, immigration, the war in Afghanistan), it would be ridiculously self-indulgent to use a whole PPB to bang on about good ol’Labour opposing Mosley in the 1930s and Apartheid in South Africa. Even if voters – like Labour Party loyalists – do get a warm fuzzy feeling out of seeing images of Bevin, Bevan, Wilson, Kinnock et al (please note how unlikely this is) they may still think at the end of the broadcast: “Well, that was nice but I’ve got no idea what Labour is going to do to help me find a job today”.

We are now living in the longest period of continuous Labour government ever. It may therefore seem a tad desperate for a Labour PPB to contain so many references to the achievements of the past. After 12 years of Labour in office, shouldn’t this government have secured enough popular reforms that it can stand on its own record rather than having to hold up the establishment of the NHS in 1948 as a reason why today’s voters should stick with the Labour Party? I know this is related to the first point but it’s so important that it needs reinforcing! Talking almost entirely about the party’s past in a PPB reeks of lacking confidence in the party’s present and of lacking ideas for the party’s future!

The corniness factor of the film is pretty high. Maybe that isn’t in itself a massive problem (plenty of reasonable successful PPBs have been a bit cringeworthy) but some of the schmaltz of ‘Against the Odds’ would be vulnerable not only to mocking but also to serious criticism – I’m thinking especially of the reference to the “true Brits” at 2:08. The press would inevitably compare this to that dimwit Sarah Palin’s moronic claim that Republican voters represented the “real America”. I can see the Tory press and blogs easily establishing a meme along the lines of: ‘Controversial ZaNuLabour broadcast says that only Labour supporters can be considered “true Brits”‘.

To be pedantic: some of the history isn’t on very firm ground. Although Labour members did join in the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, the official party line was that people should stay away from the anti-fascist demonstration. To be ultra-pedantic: for some reason the third image in the film is a photograph of the moment when it was declared that Labour-turned-National Government Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald had lost his parliamentary seat to Labour candidate Emanuel Shinwell in the 1935 general election. Yes, MacDonald turned traitor, but spitting on his memory is unnecessarily vindictive. He did much to help build up the early Labour Party and was Labour’s first Prime Minister, after all.

I am willing to change my mind about ‘Against the Odds’. If focus group research, for example, suggests that voters respond positively to the film then obviously everything I’ve written here is wrong. Also: if the party does not have enough money to make a better PPB then ‘Against the Odds’ would be better than nothing.

However, I think Labour has to do better than this. In the LabourList article it’s suggested that “perhaps we need a little less ‘head-ruled’ campaigning and we should let the heart take over for a while”. That’s not going to work. If we take politics seriously and genuinely want to try to win the election rather than just feel good about ourselves then we need to put voters’ concerns at the heart of our campaigning strategy. I don’t see how ‘Against the Odds’ does that.

At best ‘Against the Odds’ being broadcast would probably be a non-event that wins precisely zero votes for Labour but maybe reinforces the enthusiasm of some party activists. At worst the broadcast could actually turn more people against us as we offer them an idealised version of the party’s history rather than a popular policy programme designed to address the issues of today. 

Another Labourite that must be prevented from ever reaching any position of power or influence

July 8, 2009

My efforts at cataloguing the mentalists from within my own party’s ranks continue. Here’s a post at Labour List I only noticed recently: ‘Decommissioning cluster bombs is barking mad’.

It is a bit cheeky of the author, Dan McCurry, to suggest that it is those wishing to ban these weapons who are the loopy ones. He only puts minimal effort into familiarising himself with the arguments put forward by campaigns such as the Cluster Munition Coalition (and indeed our own Labour government) before coming to some very odd conclusions.

Previous posts from Mr. McC contain lines such as “a billion dollars has been spent by the west on overseas development aid; mostly it has been squandered”. His advice for confronting racism? “My way of handling them is to simply nod acknowledgment of what they’re saying, but not to respond other than that.”

I have heard that this gentleman has attempted to be selected as a parliamentary candidate in the past. I hope that his current level of success in this endeavor continues unabated.

Derek Draper steps down from Labour List

May 6, 2009

I’ve just had an email from Derek Draper – I’m not sure if it’s been sent to the whole LabourList email list, or just to contributors.

Dear All,

I am emailing directly because I wanted you to know before anyone else does about developments at LabourList.

Two weeks ago I posted on the site saying I was sorry for my role in the Damian McBride affair. Of course I regret ever receiving the infamous email and I regret my stupid hasty reply. Instead I should have said straight away that the idea was wrong.

I do ask people to remember, though, that in the end its contents were never published by me or anyone else involved in the Labour party and they would never have seen the light of day were it not for someone hacking into my emails and placing them into the public domain. Because of that, what was a silly idea ultimately destined for the trash can became a national scandal. Nonetheless, I should have made clear they were unacceptable from the very beginning.

On a much smaller note I al so think I got the tone of LabourList wrong sometimes, being too strident, aggressive and obsessed with the “blogosphere”. Having said that I am proud that I was the founder of LabourList. It really was a Labour of love. In just over 100 days there have been nearly 250 contributors, over 500 posts and 18,000 comments. I’d like to think one day I’ll be judged on all of that rather than just one, admittedly awful, email.

What has become clear, though, is that my continued editorship can only detract from what LabourList needs to do now. That is why, after a couple of weeks of reflection, I am passing on the editorship to Alex Smith, who has been a very able Deputy to me from the beginning. I have no doubt that Alex will steer the site to bigger and better things and I urge everyone who wants Labour to have a vibrant, active space on the internet to give him your backing and get involved in whatever comes next.

Derek Draper

For what it’s worth, I think that Derek Draper has probably been hard done to over the past few weeks.

Nobody can deny that the exchange between Draper and McBride was purile, insulting, and wrong. But tellingly, neither of them sought to publish its contents – despite the fact that they had the means, via various channels (including all of their media contacts, LabourList, and “the Reg Rag”) to do so. People who pull back from doing wrong deserve a degree of credit for their self restraint, in my view.

Derek has also diagnosed correctly a big, and correct, criticism of LabourList under his stewardship: the focus on taking on the big right-wing blogs. This is something that I was worried about, privately, from the beginning.

However, like everyone else who has contributed to LabourList, I set that aside and got on with it – and I’m glad that I did, because the site that Draper built was far, far more than that. For every second Derek put into his unwise forays into web-based political combat, many hours were put in – by him, by deputy editor Alex Smith, and by hundreds of contributors – towards the goal of an interesting site that could act as a genuine hub for Labour supporters online.

I think that this has substantially been achieved. Perhaps, like someone else I know of, he can take succour in the fact that his achievement will stand long after people forget about his mistakes.