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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

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Councillor Warren Morgan

In the warm days following May 1st 1997, I imagine that I was not alone in believing that Labour had secured at least two terms in office with a majority that was unlikely to be overturned in one push. Of course history was not on Labour’s side. A big majority in 1945 did not translate into two full terms, and the 1960s and 1970s again saw Labour’s chances of a continuous period in office stymied by global economic uncertainty.

If you had said to me that Labour would be in power still, more than a decade on, with time yet to serve, I would not have given the idea much credulity. Perhaps that is due to growing up under eighteen years of Tory government, perhaps that is a belief that when the economy hits rough times the electorate are even less likely to be forgiving of a Labour government than a Conservative one. It is arguable that Britain, or at least England, is basically a centre-right leaning nation with a press that is predominantly Tory-friendly and, more often than not, critical of Labour in office.

There will be many attempts to analyse the reasons for the longevity of this Labour government once it has gone; the repositioning of the Party under Blair and New Labour, the weakness of successive Conservative leaders and their failure to unite their Party around a popular, centrist programme, the long period of economic prosperity and growth, the unprecedented unity of a Party that seemed for so long in tune with the mood of the electorate.

Britain is not post-war Scandinavia, with a settled and secure Social Democratic government seemingly placed in perpetuity at the head of government. The revolving door of the sixties and seventies, with tribal loyalties at the core of party support have though gone. It is tempting to look at the long, slow decline of the Conservatives from around 1988, evidenced in an annual culling of Tory councillors and by-election defeats, with a long and desperate final term ending in a landslide defeat, and draw parallels with what is happening to Labour now.

Of course a modern 24 hour media and unrestrained blogosphere is competing to draw an ever more gloomy portrait of the Labour Party in terminal decline, with record low poll ratings, serious financial issues in the wake of the “loans for peerages accusations” and a local government base in an almost unprecedentedly weak position.

There is no doubt Labour faces the risk of a very heavy defeat at the next election, and possibly worse in that independence for Scotland (tabled by the Nationalist government in Edinburgh and less than vigorously opposed by the supposedly unionist Conservatives in London) could result in a House of Commons with an inbuilt Tory majority.

Another danger is that Labour will fall in on itself, with the left heaping blame upon New Labour for the end of a period in office that New Labour itself was responsible for, and a retreat away from the broad appeal which delivered 1997, 2001 and 2005 toward a “core vote” strategy which it could be argued only ever delivered 1992. In my own ward and others like it in my constituency, the “core vote” on the council estates is far more likely to be switching to the aspirational Conservatives than hankering after a more left-leaning Labour manifesto.

Labour does have some remaining strengths in a progressive appeal that can still offer a great deal in terms of creating opportunity for all, reducing and eliminating the child poverty which lies at the root of so many of society’s challenges, and in the fact that the Conservatives have not undergone the same transformation that Labour did in the 1980s and 1990s. Scratch the surface, or even watch debates in the House, and you can still see the same kind of old-style thinking and prejudice that rails against modern British society and the diversity and equality it now enshrines in statute.

There is some hope in the Labour community online, through blogs by people like Luke Akehurst and Hopi Sen, Facebook groups for young candidates such as Emily Benn and Clare Hazelgrove, and with NEC members like Ellie Reeves, that the Labour Party is not an ageing and withering movement but one which has the talent to mount a recovery should defeat be unavoidable.

The Conservatives under Cameron do not equate to Labour under Blair on any deeper level than presentation, and the desire for a Conservative government is not founded on the appeal of their policy platform but on a disaffection with the long-term incumbents fuelled by an economic slump. Their path to Number 10 could yet be derailed by events or by an economic recovery, by an ever more forensic scrutiny of their spending plans, or by a determination and unity on behalf of Labour, its’ allies and the anti-Tory vote to turn things around.

Labour has the progressive thinking and the talent for a new government or a vigorous opposition, from the cabinet down to the grassroots, and we owe it to them not to collapse into bitter recriminations or division, or to retreat to our political comfort zone in the way that the Tories did condemning them to a decade in opposition.

In an era of multiple-term governments we should not allow ourselves to believe those who write Labour’s obituary, and look back to the time when defeat at the polls was only the starting point for the next election victory.

Warren Morgan

Warren Morgan is a Labour councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council.

Andreas Paterson

Michael, this really is one of the best pieces on Labour's situation I've read for a while.

I consider myself the kind of soft-left person who has very compass style views but I think your criticisms of Compass are spot on, they generally can't be nailed down on solid policy ideas.

I think you can even be forgiven for your talk of "Having a debate" since the subject is nailed down so precisely.

Altogether, an excellen post.

Andreas Paterson
Norwich South CLP

Miller 2.0

Bit of a slanted view on the blogs and facebook sites there. Reads like a who's who of Labour First.

Speaking of which, how are we to hold these people accountable for their ideas? Why won't they follow the honesty and accountability of other groups, and make their policy arguments and personalities apparent?

If you want concrete policy ideas from Compass, you could do worse than reading all this: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/programme/

Further, if you look here: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/publications/thinkpieces/
you'll find proposals to Europeanise corporate tax (which, coincidentally, addresses another of your criticisms of Compass), some children's policies from David Lammy, policies on welfare, come hard ideas on education reform, peace and security, social care, climate change, sustainable energy, railways, benefit levels/citizen's income, and land value taxation.

There's also all the philosophical underpinning stuff about our vote and our values too.

In essence, there's a lot there. You just have to be bothered to look. ;o)

"Britain is not post-war Scandinavia, with a settled and secure Social Democratic government seemingly placed in perpetuity at the head of government. The revolving door of the sixties and seventies, with tribal loyalties at the core of party support have though gone."

And that's hardly Compass's fault either!

On 'the politics of platitude' and 'business speak', once someone from Progress can explain to me, in political terms, what the words 'progressive', 'reform' and 'modernisation' mean, and why, we'll all have a nice day.

If you're so big on 'the market', I'd like to know what differentiates you from Cameron (aside from the claim that he wants to irrationally hurt people, contrasted to pure-of-motive marketisers from the blairite fold). Where's the material analysis?

"Blairism is dead and as a party we're finding its demise painful."

I ain't. What I'm finding painful is the stuttering and inability to replace it with something coherent and new.

Rounding off, I really don't know why Progress has to have regular pops at Compass. Can't we show a bit of comradeship and concentrate on policy, rather than getting all ad hominem?

Plenty of people are members of both organisations, and I am convinced that there is some overlap between Progress and Compass's right flank, just as Compass's left flank overlaps with the campaign group.

In this time, it is more important that we keep our minds open and avoid being overly dismissive than ever. If we had done during the last budget, we'd have avoided the 10p tax debacle altogether.

If you are, going to be dismissive, at least dismiss the policy and what organisations have actually said, rather than simply attacking the organisations and people involved themselves.

LeftyCampaigner

Michael, this post and the others from Stan in the last couple of days really some up what I feel about the Compass project.

This combined with the defeatism amongst the Liberal/Left press should not distract us from the next two years of Progressive Government, and a still fighting chance in what will be in 20120 the most contested General Election since 1992.

It seems sometimes that only Progress is really interested in winning this election, which must be won for those the Labour Party represents, not the George Monbiot’s of this world.

Your salient advice in ignoring the press for a while should be followed by all those from the top to the bottom of the Labour Party. However, constructive they think they are being with their articles, briefings, think pieces and posts. Getting on with the job of running Britain is far more likely to impress the hard pressed voter than another think piece or debate for Compass.

Miller 2.0

I'm sorry LeftyCampaigner ('RadicalCentrist'Campaigner?), but I really don't see the evidence for Compass etc wanting to lose elections. If you can find some that doesn't depend on you injecting your own notions of what you think is electable (just as Compass have a right to also do), I'll send you a tenner in the post.

From the Compass point of view (and mine), it is clear that our biggest haemorrhage of votes is among working class people... there is no longer a sense in traditional communities that Labour is their party, or that it represents them.

This is not to say that we must return to the policies of '83. We didn't represent them then, either.

What it does mean is that we must gain back their trust, and a sense of empowerment for them through our party.

I believe that this can be done without hammering the middle class, as does Compass. I don't really think that's what Compass's policies would do in an objective sense either, were they put to the test. All sorts of thing (random example, green energy feed-in tarriffs, which the government has blocked) would actually benefit middle class people, and are designed to do so.

The big problem with them is that they would win middle class votes without becoming the Daily Mail.

You might see this as a bad thing, but I see it as a way forward.

We need a coalition of working and middle class people, but the starting point (and I mean exactly that-we must consider everyone else too) is with working class people, for the following reasons.

1) It is right to fight the hardest of all for the least advantaged of all. We are social democrats and democratic socialists. Apart from John Hutton and Stephen Byers, most of us see ourselves as being somewhere on the left half of the political spectrum. Our constitution and history certainly do. It's what we're about, fundamentally. That's the principle bit.

2) Power. Working class people have always provided us with a base from which to win, and to fall back on and rebuild when we have lost. We are damaging our long term future by letting this base totally disintegrate.

3) More power. We need working class people as well as middle class people to vote for us. for the last ten years we have held the middle while the working class vote deteriorated step by step. This was wrong in the first place.

Now we can be assured of neither block turning out for us.

4) Now we have neither, we need to gain back the working class as well as the middle class. We should not choose to forget about either of them. Further, they now have new shared interests (e.g. more progressive tax structures).

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