In the world of academia, you are wise not to publish in haste. If you want academic respect, you need a text which is factually and conceptually watertight, and that involves redraft, redraft, redraft.
In the world of politics, you need to publish today at the latest. Leave it till tomorrow and it is likely to be already out-of-date – the political realities move on very rapidly.
Labour’s lost Liberalism
My immediate response to Patrick Diamond and Michael Kenny’s recent article on Labour’s lost Liberalism is that they should have published it last November or December. We were ALL colours then – Blue, Purple, Red, White-flag – and a very interesting debate it was too, about what Labour-in-opposition should stand for. This latest accusation that Labour has not cut a sufficiently-prominent profile on major issues, and the authors' suggestion (for a kind of ‘Orange’ Labour) would have been apposite.
Even after New Year (when the Progress wing of the Party made its big play for a 'Black-book' agenda which admitted ‘the mistakes of the past’ and embraced Tory-style austerity) a message such as this might have been very welcome … not least to we on the Left of the Party, who were left just-a-little reeling and bewildered.
The article's core messages are:
- that Labour should reinforce social progress in women’s, ethnic minorities and LGBT issues;
- that the ‘communitarianism versus liberalism’ dichotomy is a myth; and
- that Labour ought to advocate ‘welfare and equality’, ‘redistributing power from corporate and bureaucratic elites’ and ‘how to reform British capitalism’.
If the authors had published this article in January, these ideas might have been seized on by many on the Left as a realistic basis for Labour Party policy for the next election.
The Victory of Pragmatism
But, to be honest, things have moved on in the Labour Party. In the last couple of months, Andy Burnham has demonstrated that the best and most constructive thing that Labour can do in opposition – as the ‘opposition Party’ – is … to oppose!
To be fair to myself, I had been ranting for months that Labour’s chief task was to STOP trying to pretend that it was the Party setting the direction of government, and to accept that its constitutional role was simply to find the flaws in the government’s proposals … and how easy and necessary was that amidst a Tory legislative programme which truly has sought to subject the poor and the vulnerable to corporativist oppression?
Neither is it just Andy Burnham and the NHS, though that is the flagship campaign. Yesterday, the Eds nailed the Tories by calling for tax cuts and zero-cost economic stimuli as an alternative to the Tory obsession with Austerity. Labour has also dipped its toe into opposition to the Welfare Reform Bill, and is beginning to make its mouth go about things like rents and housing.
Labour has abandoned the navel-gazing, and has buckled down (as it should have two years ago) to a pragmatic policy of opposing the Tories.
And, as a result, we are riding high in the polls with a 4% lead, the Party at grassroots is motivated and campaigning, and the leadership is secure. Spats about Party administration and Eric Joyce’s drunken rampage have come-and-gone without causing any particular PR harm.
Even – to a degree – the Press are on our side, with even the Daily Mail carrying criticism of the Welfare Reform Bill, and Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot crusading to effect in the Guardian.
The Role of Reflection
It will all end, of course.
There will be one campaign which goes too far for the public to stomach (a good candidate will be strikes during the Olympics) and the ‘Opposition-Opposition-Opposition’ approach will falter.
Neither have the right-wing of the Party gone away – they are lying in wait, biding their time and waiting for the moment when the Party turns again to formulating policy … do not think for a moment that the success of left-wing realpolitik has convinced them of the validity of a more left-wing manifesto!
One day, we are going to have to sit down and argue out a specific policy. And when that time comes, it might well be that Mr Diamond’s and Mr Kenny’s ideas CAN be taken as the basis for a united Labour platform.
But, for the moment, people should be too busy trying to save the NHS to bother with all this theoretical ‘insights of early 20th century progressivism’ stuff.
Right ideas? Maybe.
Wrong moment? Certainly.