Posts Tagged ‘party politics’

The left must lose its instinctive defence of multiculturalism

February 6, 2011

David Cameron made a perfectly sensible speech at a security conference in Germany and – predictably enough – many of my fellow travellers have got their knickers in a twist.

Billy Bragg complains about the timing of the speech on his Facebook page, coinciding as it did with the English Defence League’s march through Luton. Dozens of fans then write on the Braggmeister’s wall to suggest that David Cameron is working in cahoots with the EDL, that making the speech in Germany is akin to saying ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’, and that Tory ideology is based on white supremacy.

As I understand it, the PM’s attendance at the security conference was a longstanding commitment. Fine, the timing was maybe a bit unfortunate considering the EDL march, but the scheduling of Government business shouldn’t be dictated by the events calender of a right-wing street movement.

Some Labour MPs agree with the claim that Cameron is encouraging the EDL and other Muslim-bashers with his speech. Labour MP John McDonnell has tweeted “In every recession politicians find a scapegoat so instead of sorting out the bankers and their bonuses Cameron attacks Muslims. Same old”. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan made a similarly stupid comment about Cameron producing propaganda for the EDL.

This despite the fact that the PM said “We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing” and rejected “Islamophobia”. McDonnell and Khan therefore appear to be essentialising all Muslims as religious reactionaries who reject women’s rights, gay rights, secular democracy, etc. This is far more untrue and offensive than anything Cameron said in his speech.

Such lefties have an unsophisticated view of the world in which hatred and distrust of Tories outweigh their ability to perform objective analysis. I suspect that if David Cameron made a speech proclaiming that the Earth orbited the sun many of them would call for a general strike to demonstrate disagreement.

But it also comes from a the left’s attachment to the concept of multiculturalism. Opposition to multiculturalism, however defined, is equated to support for racism. However, the debate has moved on, with today’s far-right boot boys proclaiming themselves to be anti-racist and embracing the language of universal human rights. Suzanne Moore has a good article about this narrative shift here.

In contrast to the EDL, the left has failed to fully adapt its thinking and its discourse to deal with the rise of political Islam, the communitarian divisions which have been imported from the subcontinent, and the incidents of British Muslims becoming involved in terrorism.

The left needs an approach that will address people’s concerns and channel them into something other than the EDL’s ‘tide of patriotism’. And it could be to our electoral advantage if we do a better job of this than Cameron.

Considering the Conservatives’ sometimes uncomfortable relationship with issues around race and multiculturalism, I would say that Labour is better placed to produce a radical redefinition of multiculturalism. Or to just drop the word altogether.

Labour leader JR Clynes said that he came into politics not to practice the class war but to end it. That struggle continues, but it sits alongside cultural concerns and divisions that the left must also address.

Labour should uphold policies aimed at reducing cultural divisions rather than exacerbate them through crude state-sponsored multiculturalism – seen in policies such as propagating faith schools and trying to protect religious beliefs from criticism (yes, conveniently enough for this secularist my solution demands consistency through widespread secularisation!).

Demands for women’s rights, gay rights, secular laws, religious freedoms. These are all marks of human progress and all have originated from the left.

We must not surrender this language to the bigots of the EDL. We must not let our Conservative opponents pretend to do a better job of standing up for these demands. We must not compromise our values for fear of upsetting reactionary Muslim religionists.


No room for complacency

May 15, 2010

It has been noted that many Labourites are quite comfortable with our party’s return to opposition.

The thinking goes that after thirteen years in power it will be healthy for Labour to take some time out, have a ponder about its future direction and then come up with some stonking new policies.

Harriet Harman told an upbeat meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this week that a return to government would not be far off.

I’ll admit that I partly share this sense of optimism. Labour obviously couldn’t remain in government forever and needed to refresh itself.

Cameron was at least denied a parliamentary majority. Many new Tory MPs obtained fewer than 2000 votes over the Labour candidates. Taking many of these seats back at the next election should not be an impossible task.

With the Lib Dems signed up to a coalition with the Tories, political logic suggests that as people become disenchanted with the new government they will turn to supporting the Labour as the principal party of opposition.

All seems hunky dory then. But I can’t help but feel that we Labourites are getting a little bit complacent about the ease of returning to power after a brief spell in opposition.

The last time that a party was limited to only a single term in office in the UK was back in the 1970s. The pattern since then (and indeed in previous years) had been for parties to enjoy extended periods of government – and unfortunately it’s usually been the Tories enjoying this most.

And look at the list of Labour leaders elected immediately after general election defeats: Arthur Henderson, George Lansbury, Hugh Gaitskell, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Notice how none of these fellas went on to occupy No 10. (Ok, John Smith would perhaps have been the exception to this trend had he not died)

Of course there are no fixed laws of politics which mean that we’re guaranteed a decade of Tory government. The fact that the Tories have had to establish the first peacetime coalition since the National Government of the 1930s demonstrates how unpredictable things are.

But I think claims that opposition will necessarily be easy and that Labour can be confident of returning to power within the next few years should be tempered. Some sober caution would not go amis.

The Chancellor-off

March 29, 2010

Well, Alistair Darling was a bit more passionate than expected, which was good.

Gideon Osborne was less sneery than expected, which was good for him.

And Vince Cable kept the audience happy, which I’m sure the Lib Dems are very pleased with.

Darling definitely seemed the least articulate of the three. I was also annoyed with his continuing conservatism. But he laid some good punches on the Tories.

Osborne had well-rehearsed populist lines up his sleeve, yet I don’t think he came across as Chancellor material.

The Channel 4 website has the following opinion poll result:

 Who is the best choice for Chancellor?
36% Vince Cable – 32% Alistair Darling – 32% George Osborne


March 2, 2010

So, we’re definitely going to be treated to a series of televised leaders’ debates during the upcoming election campaign.

I don’t like how the focus on the leaders personalises politics. I can see the importance of these sorts of debates in the American presidential system, but it should make less constitutional sense over here.

However, I am still looking forward to them. In this day and age where the population is spoilt for televised choice it is ridiculous to say that voters should watch Prime Minister’s questions on BBC Parliament if they want to see how the party leaders perform against one another.

I also think there’s a high probability that lots of people will get mixed up between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The two men look the same and sound pretty similar on many policy issues. This could confuse anti-Labour voters when they get into the polling booth. Excellent.

Summary of Thoughts 22/2/10

February 22, 2010
  • The Bully Brown story is a crazy mess. I’ve been keeping an eye on developments all day and it’s very hard to predict who’s going to come out worst. Gordo can clearly be a bit of a charmless grump, but the one time I met him he was perfectly pleasant. It was election night 2005 and I’d managed to get into the main Labour Party party. I was blocking Brown’s path to the drinks table or the toilet or something and so he said “Excuse me”. Very polite. No nonsense, uncompromising, but polite. The Pratt-by-name-prat-by-nature woman who squealed about her charity’s Downing Street clients has zilch credibility. How sadly predictable for Cameron to call for an inquiry – what happened to rising above the Punch and Judy politics? A more mature political culture would examine the Government’s success in prioritising anti-bullying efforts in schools.  
  • For once I agree with Nadine Dorries. Every MP should be made to undergo something like the Towerblock of Commons existence. Austin Mitchell was as disappointing as ever in this weeks episode – the final of the series. It was so frustrating to hear the manager of the threatened Youth Club say that she thought Mitchell could have done more to help her. I drew much satisfaction, however, from Dorries’ young host saying he still didn’t trust David Cameron even after meeting him and being subjected to the full ‘Call me Dave’ charm offensive. Dorries looked annoyed, but the young fella’s reaction seems to reflect what we’re seeing in the opinion polls.
  • Today in the Commons saw Oral Questions to MOD ministerial team. Lots of MPs – most of them Tories – were using the occasion to indulge in some enthusiastic saber-rattling. Concern was expressed with both Argentina continuing to lay claim to the Falklands and pirates in Somalia continuing to do piratey things. Tough Government responses were urged. Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell promised to be tough on piracy, tough on the causes of piracy. Personally, I’m beginning to think the greatest threat to our nation would be posed by a Pirate-Argentinian alliance invading Gibraltar. 
  • Politicians are usually campaigning to save hospitals. Well, any politician who campaigns to close one particular hospital can count on my support. The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital treats people with water. Homeopathy is, in the opinion of myself and anyone who applies scientific tests to the ‘treatments’, a lot of tosh and it is a scandal that it receives any public funding. If expenditure cuts are needed anywhere please can we make sure that NHS homeopathy services suffer first!
  • 11 weeks before election o’clock! Argh!

The political pleasure, the political privilege is mine.

February 20, 2010

Before I moved to Islington two years ago I had always lived in safe seats – constituencies where political campaigning is generally considered to be pointless.

Things here though are very different. I now reside in both a parliamentary constituency and a council ward where the upcoming elections (hopefully to be conducted on the same day, Gordo!) are going to be extremely close fights. 

Every single vote counts. There is zilch room for complacency. The happy result of this state of affairs is that my Labour MP, Emily Thornberry, is very hardworking and my Labour councillors have helped formulate a bold policy programme that they would implement if the party regained control of Islington Town Hall. Even when things nationally are looking bleak and uninspiring, the local political struggle is invigorating.

The resurgence of the Conservatives under David Cameron has also made things around here less predictable. Politics in Islington has traditionally been a contest between Labour and the Liberals, but the Tories have emerged as an unwelcome presence in the election results!

Middle-class anti-Labour voters who may have previously voted Liberal Democrat now seem to be turning blue in increasing numbers. This could help Thornberry hold on at the parliamentary level (Islington will not be returning a Conservative MP anytime soon) but there is a nasty danger that an anti-Labour vote uniting behind the Tories could unseat my Labour councillors. I really have very little idea what will happen on May 6th. Will I wake up the next day with a Labour or a Lib Dem MP? With Tory or Labour councillors?

What a wacky situation! But it is so much more preferable to the mundane consistency of political life in a safe seat.

Less than 3 months to go.

February 7, 2010

This weekend I attended some Labour campaign training. The best bit about it was hearing a comrade who works in the party’s Election Strategy Unit link our local efforts to the bigger picture.

Apparently the last few months have seen a sudden increase in the number of people not only joining the party but also going out knocking on doors for Labour up and down the country. This fella then highlighted all the quantitative evidence demonstrating that people are much more likely to vote for the party whose activists make face-to-face contact with them in the months before an election.

This is especially true amongst working-class voters, and Mr Election Strategy did not hesitate in saying that a lot of the party’s energy is going to have to be focused on motivating these people and making sure they get to the polls on May 6th.

He sounded very confident in declaring that the Conservatives are not going to break above 40%; that voter turnout is going to increase in this election; that Lord Ashcroft’s money isn’t a substitute for having enthused and committed activists going out canvassing; and that setting clear dividing lines between Labour and the Tory policy will rally more people to the red flag, so to speak (not his words but my interpretation!).

It all sounded very determined and it made me think that even if the prospects of Labour victory still seem very remote at least the party can put up a good fight and minimise any Tory majority in the Commons – if they’re lucky enough to get one at all!

However, I’m still concerned that:

a) This Election Strategy bloke working at Labour HQ had to admit that it was only an assumption that the general election would be held on May 6th. The Prime Minister could still make the slightly *CRAZY* decision to hold it on another date. Gordon’s decision-making has not always been great.

b) It seems that whilst election strategists working for Labour may recognise the importance of having some clear red water between us and the Tories, certain members of the Cabinet do not do a very good job of emphasising great distinctions between the parties. I’m thinking of people who are apparently horrified by the mooted ‘Labour investment versus Tory cuts’ strategy. Policy fudges and surrendering too much ground to the Tories on deficit reduction will make it difficult to present a clear message to our supporters.

Akehurst is an asset.

January 5, 2010

Luke Akehurst has sadly been very ill. Fingers crossed he’s getting better. His blogging has not been quite as regular as before. However, I was pleased to see that he has had time to put up some cracking posts recently.

Go check out Luke’s blog and read his criticisms of the Tories’ (vague) plans for marriage promotion through tax and his thoughts on the limits of e-campaigning.

Then there’s his post that rips into John Major. Former PM Major attacked former PM Blair the other day for his conduct of the war in Iraq. Luke is not letting Major get away with trying to take the moral high ground, and I think he needs to be quoted in full:

My top prize for New Year sanctimony goes to John Major for his pious little lecture about Iraq. Presumably he is proud that on his watch as PM he didn’t take the chance to topple Saddam at the end of the Gulf War, and instead allowed the Kurds and Marsh Arabs who had risen up in the expectation of liberation by US and British forces to be slaughtered, and in the case of the Marsh Arabs subjected to the destruction of the very environment they lived in. He must also be very proud of Britain’s “Unfinest Hour”, our refusal to act in Bosnia when the Serbs ethnically cleansed the Bosnian Muslims. To quote Nick Cohen on this “‘Pessimism’ doesn’t quite capture the malice of British policy. American attempts to lift the arms embargo on the Bosnian government were opposed by vehement mandarins. No-fly zones, relief for Bosnian enclaves, war-crimes tribunals and armed protection for humanitarian convoys were fought to the last ditches of the European Union and United Nations. ‘Any time there was a likelihood of effective action,’ said Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, ‘[Douglas Hurd, Major’s Foreign Secretary] intervened to prevent it.'” And equally proud of doing nothing to stop the deaths of over 1 million innocents in the Rwandan genocide. I know which one out of former PMs John Major and Tony Blair should be able to sleep at night and it isn’t the one who has been giving interviews about how carefully he followed legal advice.  

I don’t agree with some of Luke’s policy positions and I often find his views about the internal politics of the Labour Party to be a tad OTT, but posts like these confirm that the man’s no-nonsense thinking and unwavering committment to the cause make him a valuable political asset. Long may he continue to blog!

Conservative Future lash-banter.

December 22, 2009

A journalist has gone undercover at the Conservative Future Christmas party. Read about his amusing experience in the article he then wrote for Prospect magazine.  Go read it now!

Here’s a highlight:

Meanwhile, to my left, one young Conservative is explaining his scepticism about joining the party to two CF members. “I vote Tory—you know I vote Tory. I’m just not a Tory member. I don’t like parties.” He pauses. “Well, I like these kinds of parties obviously! God… can you imagine what a Labour version of this would be like?”

“Well,” his friend replies, “there’d be a lot more ethnic minorities for one thing.” “Oh really?” the other replies. “I thought the Labour party was trying to make itself seem more respectable!” They laugh awkwardly, seemingly aware that even as casual racism, it doesn’t really work.

As I shape to leave, I hover for one last cigarette. Three new acquaintances are making idle smalltalk. “Tim is such a common name…” one of the smokers is saying. He checks himself, not wanting to offend the Tim in question: “sorry, not, you know, common… I mean ‘popular’.”

“Yah but your surname is Jenkins,” his friend says through a mouthful of teeth. “That’s such a butler’s name!”

It’s exactly the sort of stuff that makes you recall Nye Bevan’s infamous rant and think maybe he was onto something: “No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred of the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned, they are lower than vermin”.

Some decry the idea that social class is a legitimate topic of political debate and are convinced that it would be a mistake for Labour to bang on about ‘Tory toffs’. I’m not so sure. I think that Labour pointing out the extremely privileged backgrounds enjoyed by the vast majority of the Conservative Party leadership is fine as long as:

a) Labour simultaneously presents a positive programme of policies aimed at eradicating inequalities in Britain and commits itself firmly to the ultimate goal of creating a classless society.

b) Labour works harder to encourage people from non-privileged backgrounds to join the party, stand as candidates, and rise through its ranks – recalling the party’s historic mission of representing the working-class.

Without these efforts I concede that ‘Tory toff’ attacks are indeed shallow and hypocritical.

Yellow Tories trying to pinch votes off Blue Tories in Islington.

December 18, 2009

My flatmates (but not me!) received a letter recently from a Mr. John Szemerey that was published and promoted by Islington Liberal Democrats.

John Szemerey is someone who readily admits to having spent many years of his life campaigning for the Conservatives in Islington (hardly a productive use of anyone’s time). Apparently he has twice been the Tory parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Islington South and Finsbury. A Conservative man through-and-through, you might think. 

However, John Szemerey says that he is so “desperate to see change in Islington” that he is now supporting the Liberal Democrats. Nevermind that the Lib Dems have been in control of Islington council since 200o! Szemerey clearly thinks that the Labour Party is the principal enemy of both Tories and Liberals.

Let me quote some of this at you:

In Islington South & Finsbury, the Conservatives just can’t win. In fact, a Conservative has not been elected round here for 45 years.

Suggesting that Szemerey’s years of campaigning for the Tories did not do much good.

Just 484 votes separate local campaigner Bridget Fox and Gordon Brown’s Labour Party. Voting Conservative will actually help Gordon Brown and his failed Labour Government hold on.

Comically, Mr. Szemerey seems to think his Tory-sympathising readers must be a bit slow on the uptake. He repeats the above message almost word for word at the end of his letter:

I hope you’ll join me in lending your support to Bridget Fox and the Lib Dems at the next election.

With best wishes,

John Szemerey

P.S The Conservatives can’t win in Islington South & Finsbury. Voting for them will just help Gordon Brown hold on. Only Bridget Fox’s Lib Dems can beat Labour here.

I was always brought up to believe that the postscript was meant to contain additional information to the main body of the letter, but nevermind. Szemerey wants to bang his point through.

This letter basically makes me think that:

a) The local Liberals are terrified of the middle-classes turning to the Conservative Party rather than voting for them.

b) The local Liberals would prefer a Conservative government to a Labour one. Szemerey is essentially saying that the best way to get Cameron into No 10 is to tactically vote Lib Dem in this constituency, and Islington Liberal Democrats are happy to print this.

Shame on these Tories of both the blue and yellow variety! The next time I come across a voter on the doorstep who mistakenly sees the Lib Dems as a left-wing alternative to the Labour Party, I will draw their attention to this letter.