The story’s done the rounds that the Tories have removed old speeches from the internet. Yes, the Tories’ actions do raise questions about the ability of others to hold them to account but, wait. What’s this? It’s the Register pointing out in “Oh My GOD! Have the TORIES ERASED THE INTERNET?*” that the reports are technically inaccurate and Labour have done the same thing (and giving their former colleague, now at Computer Weekly and who started the panic, a swift kick in the shins in the process). Neither of our biggest parties wants us to look too closely at what they’ve said in the past and neither needed to resort to sinister tactics to do it. So there you go. I’d suggest that if you plan on holding the Lib Dems to account for their many many broken promises, you nail the original promises down fast before they do the same thing (if they haven’t already).
I said I’d come back to some thoughts on Ed Miliband’s speech but then the Daily Mail carnival came to town and I didn’t really want to stroll through the sideshow with you. No offence. I’m sure if we could rustle up some candy floss from somewhere it could’ve been fun but I just wasn’t in the mood. The Mail was (as it so often is) like the screams of every single person on every single ride at a fair, only the rides are shitty feeble things not worthy of all that fuss. Don’t get me wrong, I think what the Mail said was low but it was also absurd. Even the on the Mail’s most knicker-knotted day nobody there can seriously believe that Ed Miliband wants to take his party to the far left. Surely? The Mail’s attack of the vapours was an extreme response to the question many of us must have been asking though: what did Miliband mean when he said Labour are bringing back socialism? What does Labour stand for these days?
When Newsnight asked what Miliband meant, after the Mail kicked off, it suggested Miliband is taking Labour back to 1983 as if it’s accepted wisdom all of a sudden but I found something interesting when I was puttering around on Google. First I’d read Miliband’s speech. Have you read it? Ok. Now read this from Tony Blair in 1997. We’ve gone from spotting what’s missing from the picture in my first Labour Conference post to a game of spot the difference. His language and tone are hardly miles away from Blair’s in the opening section of the 1997 Manifesto. This spurred me on to read Labour’s 1983 manifesto. Stylistically, it’s a very different affair to the 1997 manifesto and Milliband’s speech. Less polished, which isn’t surprising, but it also has a less jingoistic feel. I’m not saying I agree with everything in it and some pledges are unfeasible 30 years later but others are making the comparison between Labour now and Labour then and Miliband himself said Labour’s returning to socialism.
Naturally, there are some similarities in policies between the 1983 manifesto and Milliband’s speech but look at the things you won’t see today. No rent cap. No promise to scrap Trident. And no promise to renationalise privatised services. I’m not even convinced partial privatisation of services in the NHS and probation and courts services would be reversed under Labour, if and to the extent the Government has implemented reforms by 2015, but even if it does it’s a far cry from a sweeping policy of renationalisation of assets, production and services and at the heart of socialism lies nationalisation. When Miliband criticised energy companies, he wasn’t criticising the concept of privatisation. He was saying it should create a genuine competitive market which doesn’t exhibit cartel behaviour. Blair said the same thing in 1997. Where Milliband departed from established wisdom is by saying that if they don’t stop abusing their position, they will find their prices rigged in the opposite direction. Every party agrees that energy is a hot topic. It reminds me of being polled sometime between 2001 and 2003, before I learned to drive. The pollster read a list of issues and asked me to tell her the most important one to me. When she got to petrol prices and I didn’t jump in to say that, she repeated it in case I hadn’t heard her. So many people had listed it as the single most important issue to them that she couldn’t believe I didn’t. It goes to show just how closely our political opinions are tied to our household budgets. It’s only natural politicians want to give us a palatable solution to rising energy bills. They don’t need to give a damn about rising fuel poverty to know energy prices can’t be ignored.
Because time has passed since Miliband’s speech, we now know that the optimism some people felt after it may very well have been misplaced. I have to admit that until I started looking more closely at what was and wasn’t being said on employment and social security for my first Labour Conference post I felt a flicker of excitement myself. Thinking about the similarities to Blair’s manifesto afterwards, I wondered why we wanted to believe a new dawn was coming. I suspect the answer is that Blair was a snake oil salesman. I never trusted him. Miliband has sincerity going for him. He comes across as value driven, an ideologue, not a suit. To some people, this gets put alongside his Mr Nice character and counts against him. He’s often criticised for seeming a bit too laid back and nice, maybe leading to concerns he can’t quite see what’s at stake or that he’s too soft to deal with Cameron. He’s not statesmanlike enough. His characterisation as Wallace plays on this in a pretty obvious way and if you put Wallace in the ring with Preston, it’s hard to see him making it out in one piece without Gromit (and no, I don’t see Ed Balls in the role of Gromit). It was interesting that in a BBC interview about the Mail’s Ralph Miliband story, Ed Milliband appeared mild and smiled frequently when he was clearly furious. It really does seem to be his default setting. Remaining calm can be reassuring but it was always inevitable that some people would ask whether the duck’s paddling under the water or just drifting along with the current. I have personal reasons for not underestimating him – it’s easy for people to underestimate me for similar reasons (too laid back, too pleasant, too prone to making jokes, too drawly) – so maybe I’m imprinting my own experiences onto him but there’s no reason to think he’s not actually ambitious and pragmatic.
On the Monday, before Miliband’s speech but after he promised to bring back socialism, Newsnight called for Labour to appeal to Middle England and banged on about the “conservatory” test. If you haven’t heard of this, the idea is that to get enough votes to win a majority Labour needs to appeal to people who have or aspire to have a conservatory. Apparently Blair targeted people using this test in 1997. I’d quite like a conservatory if I moved to an area where house prices weren’t so high but Labour needn’t sit in the centre on my account. There appeared to be a suggestion again that Labour needed to move right on “welfare” and immigration. Rachel Reeves was on the show (a return visit after the whole “boring snoring” thing) and defined helping people with the cost of living by reference to the minimum wage up to the “squeezed middle”. So, shortly before she was shuffled into the Shadow Work & Pensions job, she didn’t include unemployed people or people unable to work in the list of people who need to be rescued from rising inflation. I can’t say I’m altogether surprised by her interview with the Observer last Sunday.
I’ve mentioned Newsnight in both this post and the one on social security. I know everyone’s getting in the act of accusing the BBC of bias these days but I’m finding that more and more I’m asking myself how often Labour allows itself to be led by the editorial content of the media. As I said in In a spin, it’s not just the policies themselves that I want to see improve from Labour. The sense that they’re reacting to (often quite lazy) reporting and editorials (across the board, not just at the BBC) instead of setting the agenda, selling it and sticking to it is a far greater flaw to my mind than Miliband’s personal presentation.
What it all boils down to is this: I’m still not satisfied, particularly with policies that seem to be designed to appeal to lower to average income Tory voters without any attempt being made to move people in the centre to the left. Despite Milliband’s speech putting a spotlight on a few areas which are key to me, the past few weeks suggest to me that Labour remains determined to steer a course between the rocks of the left on the one hand and the hard place of general centrist ideology which many New Labour voters were comfortable with (and which Cameron claimed as his own between 2006 and 2010). The challenge for Labour if it wants to do that is that it It can’t ignore its left wing supporters, not because they’re likely to vote for anyone else in 2015 but because a public stink over Labour’s failure to meet left wing expectations would make its leadership look weak and put the centrist voters off because they’re already not convinced that Milliband has the necessary leadership skills to be pm. You only have to look at coverage of Labour’s relationship with the unions to see that. Labour is trying to please as many people as it possible to please: here’s a red rose for you disabled person, here’s one for you working mother, here’s one for you unemployed school leaver, here’s another one for you graduate living with their parents…you get the idea. Or, to go back to the fairground analogy, it’s like Labour’s operating a ring toss where we all get to pick our favourite toy or goldfish but the toys are badly stitched and the goldfish are already in advanced old age.
As for the Mail, although the Miliband family are (rightly) distressed by the way the Mail went about it, it’s arguable if you want to be cynical that the Mail did Labour a favour by telling everyone to watch out for commie tendencies. Their reaction was, unwittingly, in the best traditions of the fair. We were supposed to be looking for socialist policies but the shell game meant we ended up with a Marxist under every cup. Where’d reality go? “Why, sir. Look. What’s that behind your ear? It’s Rachel Reeves being tough on social security. Now, I have nothing up my sleeve, except a new-found tolerance for free schools.”
The reason I’m on the fence between Labour and the Greens at the moment can largely be summed up in one word: justice. Labour left me feeling pretty bitter about it during its 13 years in office. The Labour government was hardly filled with paragons of virtue in this arena and its centre leaning (and beyond) policies were there from day one. You might not have seen me share my Criminology lecturer’s anecdote, which he told us shortly after the 1997 election. He saw Jack Straw at a function and Straw said ‘the trouble with “you lefties” is’, without irony. My lecturer was one of the most respected criminologists in the world but he was written off as a lefty by the newly minted Labour Home Secretary. If their criminal justice policies were bad, things were to get worse once they got onto anti-terror legislation. The various Home Secretaries and Lord Chancellors/Justice Ministers who had held office under New Labour have been swept away since then but I’m still left wondering how far Labour’s really moved from the centre ground over the past three years. Labour isn’t under pressure to talk about some of the issues which worry me at the moment though so Yvette Cooper was able to focus primarily on three areas which have been in the limelight and could be expected to resonate with the public in her speech :-
– police numbers;
– it’s just one fuck up after another on Theresa May’s watch; and
As with Social Security, there were good points in Cooper’s speech (eg. improving sex education in schools, which is important for numerous reasons). I was also far more thrilled than anyone ought to be at her mentioning the connection between rising shoplifting and rising poverty. Even though many issues weren’t mentioned at all in Cooper’s speech, I had the gut feeling reading it that criminal policy remains an area where playing on people’s fears and prejudices remains the easiest course for politicians seeking office though. The tone of her speech felt familiar and that sentiment came across in Sadiq Khan’s speech too. Khan’s speech wasn’t without some serious high points. It demonstrated a willingness to consider hard solutions instead of tough ones, searching for the root causes of crime in poverty and recognising that many mentally ill people who commit crimes are being let down by the State:-
“We need a Justice Secretary who’ll persuade the Education Secretary that cutting Sure Start or family intervention projects is a false economy. One who’ll work with health colleagues to end the scandal of those with mental health problems languishing in our prisons.”
Still, the language of fear was there. I know there’s no room in a Conference speech for nuanced explanations of policy but the words which are chosen speak volumes. A phrase like “reckless gambles with public safety” to describe the proposed privatisation of the Probation Service makes me slightly queasy because it points to a party which still feels the politics of fear are good enough, or that they have no alternative way of reaching the public. Yvette Cooper ended her speech saying we need hope. I agree but hope doesn’t spring from the language of fear. Similarly, it may be popular to do so but I don’t believe it’s necessary to use the language of retribution to oppose the idea of plea bargaining (as Khan did).
Khan defended the European Convention of Human Rights in his speech but that’s hardly a bravo moment. The fact that things have got so bad that the Tories think they can get away with withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights just goes to show how screwed up our country’s attitudes to human rights have become. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that earlier this year Labour abstained on the retrospective amendment to the workfare scheme on the basis that the country couldn’t afford to compensate people who’d lost out under the procedurally flawed scheme. Another instance of Labour delivering the message we can have all the human rights we like as long as they don’t inconvenience the Government of the day?
Moving on: Legal Aid. If you want to know more about Legal Aid under New Labour, I put a long series of links covering most of their time in office together in Legal Aid: the New Labour years after a more general brief history of Legal Aid in Call me a cynic but. You don’t need to read all of the links to see why lawyers might be suspicious of One Nation Labour. Willie Bach led a heartening, bitterly long fight against LASPO in the House of Lords and remains committed to Legal Aid but when he tried to get a vote of delegates on the protection of Legal Aid at the Conference he lost, despite Labour Commons mps having mouthed the right words on LASPO and proposals for further “reforms” in the arenas of public and criminal law this year. There was no blanket defence of Legal Aid at the Conference. It didn’t rate a mention in Miliband’s speech at all. Sadiq Khan only mentioned Legal Aid in relation to judicial review proceedings and cases involving domestic violence. We desperately need it to be preserved in those cases but it’s very much the thin edge of the wedge. It’s entirely possible, when you look at the specific examples he chose that he was just sticking to examples which he knew would elicit public sympathy but it feels like a door closing on LASPO.
The trouble with looking at a Conference is that I’m only ever going to be able to skim the surface of what’s been said because of all the fringe events. I didn’t even try in relation to social security but I did look at the coverage of a panel organised by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group on Monday, where Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry emphasised the importance of Legal Aid but also said:
“‘there won’t be a lot of money around’ and so the party would ‘have to be careful about what we spend our money on.'”
This was after the ballot on opposing the Government’s reforms was defeated at the weekend. So it’s business as usual for Labour then. It’s laughable that she complained that constituents were going to their mps for legal advice but couldn’t always get it because not all mps are former lawyers. Many are and, given the likelihood of many practising lawyers losing their jobs between now and 2015, I’m sure she could find some more than willing to stand in the election in return for tripling their salary and having the opportunity to provide free legal advice to their constituents.
I suppose I can at least take heart that there are former lawyers in the shadow cabinet speaking out against reforms. It’s a huge step up from people like Jack Straw muttering about opticians. Anyway, enough. Labour will do (or to a greater extent I suspect, not do) what they will do when it comes to these issues. I only hope that people like Lord Bach keep speaking out because public opinion won’t change if they don’t and only public opinion is likely to change Labour’s position on this. I’m also pretty proud of the way my profession’s handling the crisis. Not at the top: frankly the Law Society seems to have abysmal pr skills and the Bar Council had the advantage of an excellent president last year but probably isn’t any more reliable than the Law Society. We need people to see that we’re human and have strong values – too often all the public sees are the deeply embarrassing instances of individual lawyers demonstrating they’re utterly out of touch. Remember Jerry Hayes’ appearance on Question Time earlier this year? The one where he argued that rape didn’t happen if there’s no resulting conviction, dismissing the trauma of the thousands of women who’ve chosen not to report being raped. I can’t remember who the other embarrassment was that day or why but I remember tweeting that the Bar Council must be in need of a stiff drink because someone else had been shown up in the papers on the same day. And then in August we had the barrister who portrayed a child victim of a sex offence as a Lolita. I’m proud of all the individual lawyers writing blogs, responding to consultations, writing to mps, attending demonstrations and tweeting who counter negative images like these and the image of uncaring city fat cats living the high life. I’m proud that people outside the legal profession are getting to see that a lot of us truly care. It’s passionate lawyers who got over 100,000 signatures for the Save UK Justice petition. By the way, the petition closes on 10 October. If you haven’t already signed it, please do. We desperately need to demonstrate to all parties that Legal Aid has the backing of non-lawyers. It’s the only way we’ll be able to convince anyone to push back against the reforms. They haven’t and won’t just take lawyers’ livelihoods. They have and will take away your rights.
My last post was about Conference season, written before Labour’s Conference. During the Conference I was reflecting on what I’d said about Labour in that post. The plan is to split this up into three posts. Otherwise it’s going to be a really long post and might not get posted until Spring Conference. I’m not looking at how Labour can deliver the promises it’s made and I’m going to limit it to some issues which are particularly important to me. I’m asking myself whether or not I can say “thanks Labour. You exceeded my expectations of the ideological position you would take in your policy announcements at Conference”.
A few hours after I saw that Ed Miliband was finally committing to the abolition of the bedroom tax on the Friday before Labour’s Conference started I watched the BBC’s 10 o’clock news and Newsnight and found the post-match analysis. Regardless of Labour’s reasons, the decision to scrap the bedroom tax is the right one but, as far as everything I said about what I want from Labour goes, the reasons matter to me. In fairness, Miliband did say that the bedroom tax is hurting people but the BBC coverage went on to suggest that he’s only making a commitment now because the bedroom tax polls so badly among Labour voters. Well, it’s true that it does and, yes, I think it’s also likely that the increase in overall opposition to the policy (from 51% to 59% since its introduction in April) added to his decision to finally stick his neck out. That and the fact that, if he didn’t, divisions within the party over the issue could’ve come to the fore at the Conference. The BBC also warned that he needs to stop there so Labour doesn’t come to be seen as soft on “welfare”. God forbid that should happen (a few months ago it was Newsnight who revealed the Tory-lite proposal of matching what people get out of social security to the level of their contributions but hey ho).
The bedroom tax was sold by the Government using the politics of resentment: the resentment of people who receive housing benefit and live in social housing by people who are financially better off yet unable to afford a home of equal size, whether to buy or rent. The Government wanted to financially punish people on housing benefit for having the audacity to live in the homes allocated to them by their social landlords. People came to see the underlying unfairness of this. A vocal campaign made that happen. Activists (particularly but not exclusively disabled ones), social landlords and some councils have made the running when it comes to changing public opinion. The result is that the public has been able to see past the figleaf of housing distribution that caused a lot of people to initially support it. More people see it for what it really is now they realise how spare rooms are defined and that there’s nowhere to move people to. They’ve seen it for what it is and they say “that’s wrong”. I don’t believe that the national Labour politicians have done a great deal to achieve that (but give some credit to Labour councillors). Other people made the running to change hearts and minds on the bedroom tax by putting it in the spotlight. In his Conference speech, Liam Byrne acknowledged the contributions that a variety of people make to changing public opinion. Obviously a large section of the public still support the bedroom tax but it’s progress. You might think it doesn’t matter how Labour’s new bedroom tax policy came about if the end result is the same but I’m thinking about whether Labour is proactive or reactive in setting policy.
Pundits on Newsnight went on to say that, while Labour might get away with talking about the bedroom tax, it ought to reaffirm its commitment to benefits uprating, although my understanding of Labour’s current stance on benefits uprating is that it’s warning the issue’s not at the top of its priorities as far as budgeting goes, rather than that the party thinks it’s an inherently fair measure. The BBC coverage does seem to be how it goes. One step forward then rapidly urged to take one sideways, to the right, and then back. The media acts like an over indulgent auntie telling Labour to just give the kiddies what they think they want, even if it’s dolly mixtures for breakfast, without necessarily stopping to ask the kiddies if they’d rather have something more healthy. On Newsnight uprating was called a popular cut. However, when I checked to make sure I hadn’t missed something new on benefits uprating in the Conference, I found a Labour List post saying Labour’s opposition to benefits uprating early this year had public backing. That post also made the same case for open dialogue with the public that I made in my last post. In the end, benefits uprating wasn’t mentioned by Miliband or Byrne at the Conference. I’m left wondering if the reason for that is that Labour’s concerned about being seen as soft on social security or whether it’s actually that the party doesn’t want to remind Labour voters of its wait and see policy. It could even be both, which is what’s irritating about the approach of selling only what people already know they want.
Saturday rolled round and Miliband had replied to the question “when are you bringing back socialism?” with “that’s what we are doing, sir” (which made me laugh because it sounded so like something the Tripe Marketing Board would tweet, but anyway). It made for fantastic headlines. Over the course of the weekend more policies were revealed, followed by Liam Byrne’s Conference speech. Looks good on the surface, doesn’t it? But what struck me was who was saying what and what wasn’t being said at all. Certain issues have been noticeably absent.
What were promised were easy policies. For example, a pledge to terminate Atos’ contract is a no brainer coming from Labour. It’s hardly cause for celebration. It’s another vote winner because, no matter what their views on payment of sickness and disability benefits generally, everyone has seen the stories of cruelty and incompetence related to Atos. Even the Daily Mail has published them, while continuing to push the argument that most recipients of ESA and DLA/PIP are up to no good. An unprecedented level of activism from disabled people has, I believe, put disability rights onto Labour’s agenda at the Conference. Byrne acknowledged the contribution disabled activists have made. I have a huge amount of respect for disability rights activists who haven’t given up in the face of everything from apathy to scorn and have continued to challenge Labour to stand up for disabled people. The steady pressure they’ve brought to bear has driven the unfairness of the bedroom tax and Atos assessments home to the public, despite a climate where disabled people are increasingly demonised as scroungers.
The proposal to introduce a specific offence of disability hate crime is also welcome. It should have been done sooner but it’s telling that it was Liam Byrne who made this announcement*. The creation of a new offence would be an announcement best left to Yvette Cooper, given the two hats she wears as shadow Home Secretary and shadow Equalities Minister. To me, including it in the shadow Work & Pensions Minister’s speech implicitly accepts the Government’s and media’s narrative that all disabled people are on benefits and legitimizes their agenda. It’s like saying it’s ok to have negative attitudes to disabled people, just keep it within the law. If they said that about other minority groups, I expect they’d be pilloried for it.
Byrne’s speech is a bit like one of those what’s missing from this picture puzzles. He says that there must be sickness and disability assessments, with or without Atos. That’s stating the obvious and people can interpret it how they want. It looks to me like the only thing Labour intends to change at the moment is Atos. I’m not holding my breath for a return to old medical assessments. He also says Labour will look at a better approach to the provision of health and social care but doesn’t mention the possibility of reversing the new criteria for disability benefits in the form of PIP. During consultation plenty of responses dealt with the question and in considerable detail. Was Labour listening? The April Labour List post linked to above cites a YouGov poll which found only 11% of people polled backed cuts in DLA so there isn’t public support for cuts per se but I’m not so sure about public opinion on medical criteria for entitlement, which would be telling. The stories of extreme hardship experienced by the most severely disabled and terminally ill people have gotten through but there’s a high level of public suspicion that claims are being fraudulently made. Maybe it’s too much effort to address the negative attitudes to disability benefits being pushed in the media. Maybe Labour just doesn’t believe people who will lose out under the new criteria. I found this footage from March where Milliband took a question from someone who will lose out. I found it a bit disturbing that, even as he was giving reassurances that DLA/PIP and motability would be looked at, he sounded like he didn’t really know much about it. Looking at it now, after the Autumn Conference, it feels like maybe Labour have just shelved the issue for now.
What else is missing from the picture? Byrne said:
“And the cardinal principal is this, full employment first,”
Fair enough. That should be the goal of any government: a job for everyone able to work. At Conference Labour talked about the minimum wage, inflation and even backed a living wage in a limited way but didn’t mention workfare. I get that Labour supports back to work schemes (well, back to work schemes that actually lead to long term employment) but how can Labour claim it stands for a fair day’s pay if it won’t commit to paying minimum wage under workfare? How can Miliband say it’s wrong for everyone’s favourite villains to pay minimum wage but it’s right for others, including large retailers, to pay nothing at all? As far as I’m concerned, silence on workfare is another sign that Miliband is looking for easy wins. There is so much resentment towards unemployed people now that short term slavery has become socially acceptable. He doesn’t have to do away with sanctions or work schemes completely to make a positive change but he’s not making the case for change at all.
As I mentioned above, there was no mention of benefits uprating, despite rhetoric about inflation and despite the fact that many people receiving benefits and tax credits are in work. The fact that Labour wasn’t prepared to go there, even after Byrne said:
“We’ll need a campaign for the living wage because it is wrong that we are spending the nation’s tax credits propping up low pay at firms with rising profits”,
is weak as far as I’m concerned. We get it. You’ve told us that there won’t be limitless cash in 2015. Couldn’t you at least commit to doing what you can?
I’m going to post separately on Ed Miliband’s Conference speech and the overall impact of the Conference on me but it’s fitting to end this post with a quote from his speech:
“We know what we’re going to see from these Tories till the general election: the lowest form of politics, divide and rule. People on benefits against those in work, people inside and outside unions, private sector versus public sector, the north against the south. It’s the lowest form of politics.”
I’m having some trouble seeing how Labour’s policy announcements prove they’re really going to strike out in a new, brave direction though. It seems to me that Labour gave potential voters what it was confident they already want when it comes to social security.
* since writing this I’ve read Yvette Cooper’s speech and gather from that that Byrne was actively involved in forming this policy which is even odder as far as I’m concerned, even if it does explain why he was the one to make the announcement
Sometimes it all gets too much to keep kicking against the Government. Sometimes it even gets too much to watch. Sometimes it all feels futile and I just feel so angry that I have to turn away. I’m feeling that way at the moment. I need to dust myself off and throw myself back into the fray but I need to get to the bottom of the problem first. We’re being proven right day after day and if the Government doesn’t back up the juggernaut now so many people are going to suffer so much more badly this winter than they have been up to now. That’s the inevitable consequence of Government reforms. It leaves me feeling helpless. It adds to the sense that everything we say in opposition (in the non-party sense) is futile and the certain knowledge that what I’m feeling about all this is a drop in the ocean compared to the people who actually have to live with the consequences of the reforms. I’m feeling sociological angst while people are living in fear: dreading Atos assessments, utilities being cut off and the loss of their homes; wondering where a job will come from or living with the uncertainty of zero hours; going hungry and cold and walking to foodbanks to feed their kids. While they hurt, politicians are shameless enough to pose for photos at foodbank openings and I stare slack-jawed in amazement and speechless with rage at the utter inhumanity of the bastards who’ve made foodbanks a necessity grinning back at me. Did they even bloody well donate?
All that should really be making me shout louder though. I know myself well enough to know it doesn’t account for my current malaise. I said on Twitter the other day that conference season tends to wind me up and leave me feeling grouchy. It’s deeper than that of course. The self-congratulatory hypocrisy of the LibDems is likely to be followed by wishy-washy prevarication by Labour, who seem determined not to commit themselves to any ideological position until they can see what way the wind’s blowing, and more reactionary twattery at the Tory conference.
When I criticise Labour and make jokes about them on Twitter, it’s not because I don’t want them back in office. I do but I want them to be so much better than they’re being. I want a Labour party that makes the running and doesn’t just carp from the sidelines. I want a strong leadership giving us a clear and consistent vision of the future. I want a firm commitment to social equality, backed by actual policies. Right now, I’ve got no reason to believe that their policies on justice and civil liberties will be any better than they were last time around and I don’t see them reversing all of the Coalition reforms in areas like social security, healthcare and justice.
One of the frustrating things about conference season is the reminder that so much is about the quest for and retention of power, that it’s not about what’s best for people but about what sells. I don’t want to vote for a party that’s shoving the policy equivalent of salt and sugar into their policies to get me hooked. I want substance. I want what’s really right. If they want to sell me something, sell me hope. Sell me the hope of a future where there’s less suffering and more opportunities. But they probably won’t. They’ll sell us policies intended to make the lives of middle class voters like me better on the assumption that all we really care about is ourselves. What really burns is the possibility that maybe the only way Labour can get back in office is to sell middle class voters a little more ease at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. Yes, there are policies I would support for middle class voters (like a far more effective plan for pre-school childcare costs) but not at the expense of the poorest people in the country. Is that really the only way for Labour to get back into office? To compromise the party’s values further and further until it’s just Diet Tory? God I hope not and I don’t really believe it is.
I just don’t believe people are really as selfish as the current state of British politics would suggest. Some people are, yes, but I can’t ignore the level of misinformation we’re fed. The other day at work someone repeated the myth of rampant disability benefit fraud (while another colleague nodded along) so I told them the actual figure (0.4% – I’m going to keep saying it). They’d had no idea. Now they do. Two people’s world view just shifted a tiny bit. Is it too much to ask that instead of pandering to the simplistic arguments put by the Tories to enable them to divide and rule, Labour should say that the Tories are wrong, that they should change hearts and minds instead? I spend a fair bit of my working life delivering bad news (particularly during the past five years). Not only do people take that advice but they thank me for it. I believe (and some of them have specifically told me so) that the reason for that is that I give enough information and explain things clearly enough for them to reach their own conclusions so it’s not just faith in humanity which leads me to believe Labour could change the dialogue. I understand the importance and the difference that delivery of a message makes. Ed Miliband may not be perfect but when he actually makes the effort he’s sincere and convincing. Why can’t he take back the moral high ground by persuading voters to do the right thing? Why should politics be about brutally simplistic soundbites? Miliband shouldn’t assume people are too stupid or selfish to change position if you talk to them. To assume that is to dehumanise the middle class everyone’s so keen to court just as surely as the Tories dehumanise the working class.
I suppose I’m not very good at compromising my own beliefs. I can’t just support Labour without saying anything about the issues that bother me and knowing even now that the best we’re likely to get in 2015 is the least worst option makes me feel sad. Sad enough to overwhelm the snarky scathing voice that usually speaks its mind. Sad enough to just leave me staring silently at a Twitter timeline full of anger and despair, with no words to express what I’m feeling. I have to criticise Labour. If I don’t, I’m admitting I’ve given up on the possibility of us getting a better government, one which cares and treats all equally. What I really want is for Labour to give me a party to believe in. For crying out loud just give me a party to believe in.
You can get some interesting results if you google “Labour effective opposition”. This is just a prologue to a longer post at some point (wouldn’t have googled it otherwise). I’m not happy with Labour’s performance in opposition, although I’d definitely rather have them in power than the Coalition. For now, I found one source that I couldn’t resist posting some quotes from now, in a pub quiz kind of way. Any ideas who said:
“Though observation of the enemy in full flight is extremely gratifying, there is a danger that Labour becomes mesmerised by Tory self-destruction”
“the search for the safe centre led to a passive, defensive posture that failed to articulate any coherent vision of the future or even sense of direction.”
“At times it seemed that all that Labour could demand from the less-than-dynamic duo was that they apologise for their mistakes”
“only by creating the basis for a real public debate on Europe through taking an independent and critical stance of the Government, can Labour legitimately avoid the currently justifiable demands for a referendum.”
“renewal requires that Labour presents a positive agenda for change. But the emphasis should be less on the detail of what Labour would do in office, than on what kind of Britain Labour wants to help build. The difference is crucial, for the former leads to more policy reviews and working parties, while the latter prioritises the development of strategic vision and a sharper ideological cutting edge. In other words, ideology should be the driving force of strategy, which in turn should determine policy and tactics.”
“At the heart of a social agenda lies the question of public services. Whereas Tory policy on the economy is characterised by too little intervention; in education, welfare, local government and other spheres it frequently intervenes where and when it shouldn’t. For all the talk of citizen’s charters, Government policy is still driven by a dual and destructive combination of attempts to govern services by market forces and, particularly in education, to effect a return to ‘traditional values’. Both feed off and reinforce a hostility to the very idea of public service,”
“the current economic circumstance cannot but produce a round of deep and damaging public spending cuts. Once again Labour cannot advance on the policy terrain without a stronger and far more explicit ideological offensive in defence of a public interest.”
You’ve probably guessed that these aren’t recent comments. It’s a trick question because when they were made caught my eye more than who made them. All these quotes come from the first article in the first issue of a journal called Renewal in 1992, after the Tories won the 1992 election. I don’t agree with everything in that article by any means but alarm bells start ringing when I see so many parallels between then and now. Labour’s a very different party to the one it was in 1992 in many ways, although my feeling is that it is in the midst of another identity crisis. I suspect the similarities between the issues raised by Renewal then and the situation now say as much about the Tories as they do about Labour though.
Note 15/7 today the press are covering the 40 Group,
and the upcoming publication of their pamphlet, also called Renewal. Two entirely different things, of course. The new Renewal comes from a group of Tories clinging on to their marginal seats by their fingertips who are apparently keen to take advantage of the public’s misperceptions on issues like immigration and teen pregnancy.