I’m a big fan of Guy DeBord’s Cat. It’s a truly excellent blog.
I regularly re-blog his pieces here partly because I’m lazy but mostly because his analyses are consistently on the money.
It’s almost as good as the Mambo, although to be honest no one can compete with the incomparable DC, whose latest effort is simply a tour de force.
Anyway, The Cat has written a typically interesting piece regarding the Labour Party and Ed Miliband. In it he seriously slates the failure of the current Labour leadership to provide a genuine alternative to the Conservatives. He perceptively points out that part of the Labour leadership’s current approach must be driven by a desire to win over dissident, “social democratic” Lib Dems. Something demonstrated today with the revelation that Miliband is exchanging texts with Vince Cable. (It’s always nice to see a statement being totally vindicated. I’ve had it happen to me once or twice too……)
(‘Predistribution’, the current buzzword amongst the Labour leadership, is just another tedious and largely meaningless label for policies that fail to really provide the challenge to the current political and economic climate that we need. It’s a new word for “equality of opportunity” . It’s almost as bad as “Neo-Gaitskellism”, in fact.)
Twas ever thus though, sadly. The Labour Party has been characterised by its timidity for the vast majority of its history (arguably, all of it). Labour governments are better than Tory ones, but at times the differences have only been marginal.
And right now those differences are nothing like as profound as they should be.
Indeed, if Labour had stayed in office Alastair Darling made it quite clear that as Chancellor he would have been making cuts not entirely dissimilar to the ones currently being implemented. We would still have had to endure the language and practical reality of “tough choices”.
The cuts wouldn’t have been quite as savage, petty, spiteful and gleeful as we have had to endure from the Bullingdon crew, the language not as Victorian and the intellectual underpinnings not quite as wholly economically illiterate as the fools currently running the show, all of whose PPE courses at university don’t appear to have examined the period after 1929, when the economic theories they put forward now were completely discredited.
The mood music has been slightly different from the two Eds but in policy terms there has been no distinctive break with the Darling plan.
The Cat is right to suggest that the talk of ‘responsibilities’ from the Labour leadership is meaningless, moralistic drivel designed to appease Daily Mail readers who probably won’t vote Labour anyway, under any circumstances. And the starting point, although not argued as explicitly as it was by the Blairites, is a deeply pessimistic one, and is that “Britain is a naturally Conservative country”, or slightly more subtly (and disingenuously) that “elections are won from the centre ground”. There is no point advocating radical policies as the British people won’t vote for it. Look what happened in 1983. And so on.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I don’t share the overwhelming cynicism of Labour “moderates”. I think there is an argument out there to be won, now more than ever. Whilst I think we are miles from winning that argument that is no reason not to try. And no reason to assume that we can’t win it.
And in any case to talk of re-building the demographic coalition that voted Blair to power is totally delusional. It isn’t 1997 anymore (thankfully). The political and economic situation is totally different, much to the chagrin of the Progress crowd, who try and pretend that the answer is more of the same Blairite-vintage triangulation and Murdoch brown-nosing.
So where does that leave those of us who still think (foolishly?) that the best way forward is the Labour Party? Well, in the first instance we need to define the debate we are involved in. The Cat is highly critical of Miliband:
“If you were any doubt that Mr. Ed’s Labour Party is a different beast to Lord Snooty’s Tories, think again. This is the same beast but it speaks in warm words and wears a sickly smile. It still has its neoliberal claws and fangs, they’re sheathed… for now.”
Now I’m certainly not under any illusions that a Miliband government would be vastly different to a Cameron one, but I think in key areas the sheer zealotry demonstrated by the Tories wouldn’t be as violent. I couldn’t imagine Miliband or Balls cooking up the disastrous NHS bill for example (whether they will reverse it or not is another matter of course……) And with the union affiliation (plus the not insignificant fact that Ed M owes his position to union support) I think there is a limited scope for applying some leftward pressure on him and the Party’s leadership.
I also think we need to define the Labour “right”, which is a little more disparate than sometimes I possibly give them credit for. Broadly speaking I would divide them into two camps:
1) The sincere ones. In this camp I would put Gordon Brown, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband and Cruddas (although he does talk some complete bollocks). They are quite genuine in their belief in moderate social democracy and using the state to equalise some of the more ghastly iniquities of an untrammelled free market. They see more radical moves as impractical economically and politically.
Gordon Brown, who I’ve always had a (probably irrational) soft spot for, clearly wanted to use the current system to make the lives of those at the bottom more bearable. I might totally disagree with his methods and intellectual assumptions, but I think his heart was and is in the right place.
It was interesting to observe the reaction to Gordon Brown at the Paralympics the other night. Considering the sustained campaign of media vilification he had to endure when he was in office, to be welcomed so enthusiastically was a bit of a surprise. But I think that the crowd recognised that whatever his many flaws, he was on their side.
2) The bullshitters. Blair, David Miliband, Jim Murphy, Liam “the biggest wanker in the West Midlands” Byrne, Mandelson, the Progress mob, many of the middle class thinktank ex-student twats that I’ve got into fruitless exchanges of bile with on Twitter. They say that they are opposed to a shift left because it makes the party unelectable. But what they really mean is that they don’t want a shift left because they don’t like the idea of socialism. It appals them. They get gooey-eyed and weak-kneed at free-market capitalism. They worship wealth (look at the way that Blair has behaved since he left office). They share many of the Tories assumptions regarding the poor and utterly despise the labour movement. They support austerity and think that Labour’s failure of late has been not supporting the cuts vociferously enough.
In programmatic terms there might not be a huge difference between these two camps, but there is still a difference. Its why, when all is said and done, I’m glad Ed beat his brother. I think he is trapped by his ideology, but Labour in 2012 is a marginally better prospect than Labour in 1997.
And of course, if not Labour, who?