Thursday, 5 January 2012

Is Dan Hodges the Saviour Of the Labour Party?

Dan Hodges is Fun
I cannot tell you how much I enjoy reading Dan Hodges’ stuff. Yes, he is a one-message man. Yes, he is outspokenly critical of the Labour Party and the left. Yes he does ‘have it in’ for Ed.
But, after 40 years as an author, I know that the way to deal with even the most negative and nasty criticism is not to ignore it.
The way to deal with hostile criticism is to strip out the expletives and see where the criticisms are valid.

Dan Hodges’ attack today on Labour, the left and Ed Miliband is neither personal nor unpleasant. It is just blunt.

In it, he divides the Labour Party into two – ‘Flat-Earthers’ (the left) and ‘Realists’ (the right).
The flat-earth lefties, he tells us, ‘want to radically re-shape society, and ultimately the world. They want to smash the existing power elites, tear down the cold establishment monoliths and turn Britain into a beacon of progressive liberalism. And they want to look really cool while they’re doing it.’ The fact that he uses the pejorative term ‘flat-earthers’ shows what he thinks of them. They are, he says, pushing Labour to ‘political oblivion’.
Against them, Hodges pits ‘the Realists’ who ‘just’ want a ‘coherent political strategy’ and to win the next election.

The whole article is a delightfully provocative piece of melodrama wholly designed to get Hodges’ arch-nemesis Owen Jones hopping with outrage. As a spectator sport, this kind of journalism is better than women’s hockey – ostensibly about the ball, but in reality a wild-wielding of sticks peppered with sly, niggley fouls.

Dan Hodges is Wrong
Just because I love Dan Hodges’ journalism, however, doesn’t mean that I agree with him.
We need to separate the substance from the show.
Dan Hodges is not a fool, and he too would be well-able to deconstruct his own hyperbole.

1. The Labour Party is NOT polarised between Left and Right.
It includes all shades of opinion – blue, red, black, purple … and, at an individual level, spectacularly variegated. The ‘war’ between left and right is barely happening, and only happening at leadership/theoretician level. There IS, at activist level a swirling sea of ideas, and the key to Labour’s future is to treat it as (and restrict it to) a debate, out of which can come an agreed set of policies. The leadership is currently messing this up, as they announce policies without consulting the members, but that error is easily corrected.
The main danger is that the competing politicians, stoked by aggressive journalists like Dan Hodges, will turn the debate into a war, but that is not happening at rank-and-file level, not yet.

2. The Labour Left are NOT head-in-the-clouds Trotskyite poseurs.
Many of their policies are practical and costed. Their principles are ethical – often unarguably so. Hodges himself admits that ‘the two camps, the Realists and the Flat-Earthers, do not have wildly dissimilar beliefs’.
The problem for the Leftists is that the Shadow cabinet and the post-New-Labour Party leadership are packed full of right-wingers. Thus the Party Rightists have the say, are making the statements, driving the policy. The leftists – many of whom lack leadership or official experience into the bargain – are always on the outside, jumping up and down shouting advice. So of course it is easy for the Party establishment to portray them as out-of-touch loonies.
The truth, however, is exactly the opposite. If the leadership – the in-group – would bother to talk to the Party rank-and-file, it would discover (to its horror) that those ‘leftist loonies’ are not only many of them from the rank-and-file, but they are saying things with which the rank-and-file actually agree.

Dan Hodges has utterly missed the REAL polarisation which exists within the Labour Party which is NOT a split between Left and Right, but between a twittering Party elite who bitch at each other whilst formulating out-of-touch policies, and a fairly left-wing rank-and-file who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with a leadership which no longer represents them.
Whom do I support in the chaotic morass of blue, purple, black, progress, brownite, blairite etc? I couldn’t care less. I have my own views. And I simply want a Party which consults its membership before it announces its policies so – even if they don’t wholly mirror my beliefs – at least I have had involvement in their making.

3. Hodges’ ‘Realists’ do NOT have a monopoly of reality.
Actually, Hodges is vague about what the ‘Realists’ stand for. He tells us that they want to win the next election. That they want a coherent policy. That they see Labour as a political Party.
(In which case I too am a Realist.)
I wonder who these ‘realists’ really are? Not the Lefties – they are loonies. And not the leadership – they are losers. So we are left assuming that the ‘Realists’ are people who agree with Dan Hodges.

Dan Hodges is Justified
But although the ‘Realists’ exist only as a concept in the mind of Dan Hodges, that does not mean we can write off what they are saying.
You know how I started off by saying that when faced with hostile criticism one needs to strip the kernel from the husk?
So let’s do that now – what ARE the messages from Dan Hodges’ article?
Let’s ALL be ‘realists’.

1. We DO need a coherent policy.
We need something which distinguishes us clearly from the Tories. We need something which the rank-and-file can communicate simply, effectively and enthusiastically at grassroots level ... and so we need something which reflects and embodies the beliefs of the Party membership.

2. We DO need to focus a priori on winning the next election.
And so we need the sort of restraint and discretion that characterises an election campaign. We need to stop debate turning into a war. We need to stop discussions about policy (which are essential) turning into personalised battles (which are destructive). We need to play the ball not the man (Dan Hodges and Owen Jones are you listening?)

3. And, yes, it pains me to say it, but Ed Miliband DOES need to raise his game.
He needs to assert himself as leader. He needs to be the one above faction. He needs to be the one who orders and polices the debate, who collates the ideas into a coherent policy, and who then advocates the agreed Party line unashamed.
The ‘Leader’ in a democratic Party need not be infallible, but he needs to control his Party, and he needs to speak out much, much more. He needs to realise that the people to whom he is responsible, the people whom he must not upset, are US.
And he needs to spend more time finding out what we want.

So thank you, Dan Hodges.
Let’s hope the Labour Party listens to the messages your article is sending.
If they do, you can go down as the saviour of the Labour Party.

1 comment:

  1. I also used to enjoy Dan Hodges pieces at the NS and Labour Uncut despite disagreeing with him radically - he just does vituperation so well and he is right about poor Ed's complete unelectability.

    Can't be bothered seeking him out at the Telegraph though.