I am a liberal social democrat in a country full of liberal social democrats with no liberal social democrats to vote for. I briefly hoped that this would not be so after the general election. That Labour would turn away from the defeated soft leftism of Ed Miliband. Not to an arid New Labour that leaves even ardent Blairites cold. But to something more vibrant, contemporary yet classic, what I call liberal Labour, in tune with the increasingly liberal, broadly socially conscious UK that Jeremy Cliffe’s work for Policy Network charts.
There is no love for Conservatives in this country. They won the general election in spite of themselves. But they still won it. There is no route to Labour recovery that does not confront that. Yet paradoxical claims persist, which the Miliband years should have tested to destruction, including that Labour can win with the votes of non-voters.
Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.
If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.
Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Jonathan Todd with his top ten.
1. Most people are not interested in politics. At best they see it as irrelevant to them. At worst they are actively hostile. Most politics, therefore, passes most people by most of the time. They only pay attention when things they hadn’t expected happen.
“Emotional landscapes. They puzzle me. The riddle gets solved and you push me up to this state of emergency. How beautiful to be!”
As the UK confronted emergency in the Scottish referendum, I played the Bjork song Jóga obsessively. There is something in the urgency of Bjork’s voice and the tune’s texture that felt of last September’s zeitgeist. And it was beautiful to be in Trafalgar Square at the Better Together rally when Bob Geldof reminded us:
Chairman Mao lives in 48 PLP members, including 19 elected under Ed Miliband: “We should support whatever the enemy oppose and oppose whatever the enemy supports”.
When the Conservatives cut tax credits in a way that is unnecessary, will increase poverty and reduce work incentives, it is sorely tempting to oppose them.
Ten years since 7/7. Ten years since London won the Olympics. Ten years since Robin Cook was telling Labour party events that he was meeting people whose fortunes have been transformed by tax credits, but who don’t realise that they have the (then Labour) government to thank rather than some obscure administrative change at the Inland Revenue.
While the Labour government did good, Cook argued, it was not credited with having done it, as it was done by stealth. The tax credits architecture that Gordon Brown quietly built, and which helped the UK to an impressively robust employment performance, even after the financial crisis, was loudly dismantled in George Osborne’s Budget.
Somehow Iain Duncan Smith retains a frontline political role. Tony Blair doesn’t. But, even after the Iraq war, Blair looked set to defeat Duncan Smith so comprehensively that serious, sober people wondered whether we’d see another Tory government. Then Michael Howard steadied their ship and was returned not to government but with honours at the 2005 general election.
As a widely respected figure, who’d just fulfilled his brief by performing better than Duncan Smith was expected to, Howard was well-placed to stay on as leader during the extended leadership election, which, ultimately, resulted in the youthful but arguably more electable David Cameron, not the older but arguably less electable David Davis, emerging victorious.
“We as a country,” said President Obama in his first statement on the Charleston shootings, “will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” He spoke with a forlorn resignation that was odd coming from the world’s supposedly most powerful person and realistic, given “the politics in this town foreclose a lot of (gun control) avenues right now”.
In the past week, however, Washington DC has not been the cradle of disappointment that it has for Obama. Through rare bipartisanship, he’s taken a big step towards completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal intended to cover 40 percent of the world economy and an important plank of Obama’s legacy planning. Obamacare and gay marriage, issues upon which the Supreme Court has this week backed him, also feature in this legacy.
James Forsyth recently branded the last Labour leadership election – the one that dragged through a summer, as this one will; the one that allowed the Tories to determine the terms of trade for a parliament, as this one may – “dull, dull, dull“. I don’t recall it being a laugh either. More importantly, it wasn’t a political success. It took an age and strengthened the Tories.
If that was a dreary, drawn-out failure, what is this? Farce springs to mind after the scramble to place Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot, but ultimately he will be irrelevant.
Do we really need the commission that Margaret Beckett is to lead to look “in a forensic way” at the reasons for Labour’s electoral defeat?
Harriet Harman seems to think that a “truth and reconciliation” commission is needed. She used that phrase in her quote in the Observer story and in her media appearances yesterday.
The Miliband years were rich in intellectual touchstones, including Blue Labour’s social conservatism and economic statism. As much as improving Labour’s polling on economics and leadership is the absolute precondition of Labour government, Miliband is right that ideas matter.
Just saying aspiration is not an alternative idea to animate the post-Miliband era. There are some terms, like aspiration, with New Labour associations: effective communication, solid economic policy. These are not ideas as much as truisms of political success.
I asked five questions about this week at its start. Now we are at its end, we have our answers. And few of them are pretty. But amidst the rubble of Labour’s defeat, shards of opportunity protrude.
Will a “Sheffield rally moment” happen?