Alan Johnson and the politics of ‘delusion’

PMQs was entirely predictable yesterday. Cameron, never one to miss a chance to kick into an open goal if the opportunity arises, accused Ed Miliband of being a flip-flopper. A charge that will stick, at least temporarily. Ed Miliband of course is hoping that people will quickly forget that there has been a significant change of line on the cuts. And of course, when it comes to sounding like the Tories, there are plenty in the Labour Party who will defend their leader’s right to out-Tory the Tories to the bitter end.

Enter the fray Alan Johnson. British politics answer to Del Boy. He’s a cheeky cockney chappie, you see. A bit of a geezer. And he thinks the unions are being very silly by condemning the Miliband/Balls U-turn. He thinks they are facking mappits, as it were.

Johnson’s intervention in the debate is a relatively rare one by his standards. He was found to be somewhat out of his depth as Shadow Chancellor in Ed Miliband’s first shadow cabinet, and there were other ‘personal issues’ that we won’t go into now, and he has kept a low profile for a while now. Whether this will presage a comeback remains to be seen.

Johnson’s attack on the union ‘dinosaurs’ is basically just the rolling out of the usual anti-left tropes, attacking the ‘culture of betrayal’, McCluskey’s ‘outdated ideology’, ‘vested interests’ and suggesting that Labour needs to be a ‘credible alternative’ and needs to take ‘tough decisions.’ He is against the policies and ideas of the ‘delusional left’.

It’s tired, tragic, cliché-ridden stuff.

Delusional is thinking that aping the Tories is a viable long term strategy politically or morally. It is all very well saying that moving to the right won Labour three consecutive elections, but to what effect? Did they significantly change the lives of working people for the better in those 13 years?

Delusional is thinking that on the one hand Balls can say the cuts aren’t working and are choking off the economy, and on the other saying that his starting point is that he is accepting those self-same cuts. Who is going to buy that?

And delusional is thinking that the same old neoliberal guff that has been tried out for the last 30 years, and that got us into this mess in the first place is the answer.

It is Johnson, with his ‘same-old, same-old’ political and economic prescriptions, that is in thrall to an ‘outdated ideology’.

It is positively Orwellian to argue that the Labour Party, by making this shift, is now offering

“the public an opportunity to make a real choice in politics.”

What choice do the public have when all three parties are committed to the same cuts and austerity programme? Or is Johnson forgetting the huge drop in turnout at successive elections that is fairly obviously caused by this political convergence? The truth is that Johnson is applying the old Blairite (there you go Alan, I said the word Blairite) principle that all that matters is appeasing Middle England and Daily Mail wanker man, as the left of centre voters and trade unionists will have nowhere else to go. Trying to actually change the terms of the debate is fruitless. We have a built-in centre-right majority.

As the week has gone by I am starting to see this as less of a mistake and more of a deliberate act of provocation by Balls and Miliband, and by talking of disaffiliation the union leaders are falling into their trap. The two Ed’s seem to inviting this confrontation. Of course there needs to be a response, but not the one we have had so far.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Phil C.
    Jan 20, 2012 @ 15:48:41

    Great article!
    And I am very much in agreement!

    But the real evidence is not the little that New Labour achieved for ordinary people in 13 years of Govt, it’s the feebleness in Opposition since May 2010 to offer any kind of protection to those who look to a Labour party to represent them politically.

    In my view, Cameron and Clegg have exposed and damaged the Blairite project, fatally. Blairism in Opposition amounts to a free run for a right wing govt who are banking on the LP moving rightwards to ‘counter’ them. Cameron doesn’t need to fear alienating centrist voters by being perceived as “too far to the right”.


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