Oh Brother…

Since certain people appear to be seeing Blairite conspiracies everywhere at the moment, it probably would be divisive and self-serving for someone who self-defines as a Social Democratic Fiscal Conservative"*  to respond in kind to today's attack by Len McCluskey and Paul Kenny on Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.**

So instead of lambasting my comrades in the Union movement, can I try to be constructive?

Coming at all this from the other end of the telescope changes your perspective. While the left are outraged, I am puzzled by their anger.

That's because, while I strongly agree with the Leadership, I don't see any reason to declare that the likes of "In the Black" Labour have  won the party to our programme, not least because our "programme" is currently more of a first sketch than a detailed landscape. Trust me, this isn't a policy coup, Blairite, Black Labour, or otherwise.

What the leadership have done is say we'll start in Government with the situation the current lot leave for us, and that with a tight fiscal inheritance there will not be room to both unpick the choices of the immediate past and focus on increasing employment.

Given that, they say creating jobs must be the priority. Quite right.

Yet the weekend's acceptance that the next Labour government will begin where the Tory government ends has led to two union general secretaries, who represent mostly private sector workers, threatening disaffiliation because the Labour party threatens to embrace a policy priority of… creating more private sector jobs.

If I were advising a Union GS, I'd be telling them that any pay deals they reach with the current government will obviously not be unpickable by the next Labour government, that the major political challenge for the left is to win the battle over the 2015-19 policy agenda, and so the smart move would be to use leverage gained by tacitly accepting Labour's decision not to unpick 2010-2015 decisions to secure a strong commitment to a more expansionary post-2015 policy. 

Further, I'd argue the announcement over the weekend says nothing about the spending commitments Labour will make in it's next manifesto, so there is ample room to argue that the next Labour government should go further and faster in using the state's resources to "create jobs".

What's more, I'd point out that the Leadership, and indeed the wider party, would find it very very hard to resist calls for investment led expansion, especially if couched as a drive for full employment and private sector growth.  

Obviously, I am not advising a Union GS, and Messrs McCluskey and Kenny have instead decided to invite the Leadership of the Labour party outside, presumably for further detailed discussions.

I think this is a tactical error on their part. There is little appetite in the wider party for internecine warfare, as Luke Akehurst says. Also, you should rarely enter into a fight your opponent feels he must win. The Eds can't be seen to lose this tussle. Next, McCluskey and Kenny have invested so heavily in Miliband and Balls that to turn on them would be self-harming.

Last, and most important, I think they've misread the actual politics and the policy so are fighting on the wrong ground (On this, I find myself agreeing with Jackie Ashley).

By picking a battle they're very likely to lose, they may also lose ground on the post-2015 agenda, which is what really should matter to them.

Clearly, all this is coloured by the fact I agree with Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on this issue.

To secure the agenda I prefer, the best thing I should do is to take my own advice, and focus not on the fight over what we do up to 2015, which is a dead end, but on what we should do afterwards, which is what might win us the next election

I want a fight about Labour's policy priorities. I think it's important.

But the fight I want is about the future, not the past. So please, Mr McCluskey, Mr Kenny, can we fight about that instead?

I promise, you're much more likely to win than I am. 


* I know, it's dreadfully pretentious. Still, since I'm sick of being defined simply by a leader who left politics four long years ago, it will have to suffice until my attempts to popularise "Sennite" meet with more success.

** It would be particularly churlish to link to pieces like this one, by Owen Jones, called "Why the Labour left should welcome the appointment of Ed Balls" and append some cutting remark. Unfair too. The all powerful Blairites have clearly got to Balls in the meantime, as he's well known to come over all knock kneed and lily-livered when faced by pressure from Blair and Blairites.

20 Responses to “Oh Brother…”

  1. Peter C Johnson

    Great post, Hopi.

    I think the unions are hurting. They thought they had elected “their” man, who they clearly had unrealistic expectations about. Their reaction is instinctive, an initial reaction.

    They have had a sharp dose of reality this week. I say that, incidentally, with absolutely no malice intended towards any union or member thereof.

    The unions are already in a dog-fight on one front against the government, it would be an act of gross irresponsibilty in relation to their members if they were to open up a second against the Labour party.

    On the other hand, nothing is sacred any longer, all is change, all is possible, old loyalties are fracturing and the unexpected becomes ever more the norm.

    • BT

      Of course the Unions are hurting.  Now all three parties in Britain are supporting the Tory cuts!   All three parties have forgotten the lesson of Keynes:
      "The boom, not the slump, is time for austerity at the Treasury."
      Britain is in the midst of sustained private sector deleveraging – a la Japan's lost decades.  That means 10 years of large government deficits are necessary to prevent depression.  The Tory cuts are only just starting to reduce the deficit – watch GDP stagnate and unemployment rise as a result.  When that happens there will be renewed calls for a Plan B – fiscal stimulus.
      Read Richard Koo.  Japan went through all of these political deficit struggles well before Britain.

  2. Damian Buckley

    The only problem with this blog is that it leaves me feeling too stupid to comment. Hopi, please dumb down a bit so that the likes of me can post our knee-jerk reactions below the line without feeling that they have to be all thought-through and that.

  3. Leon Wolfeson

    No, it’s no coup, it’s the final straw in a long series of victories by the centralists.

    “Jobs”. Never mind *people*.

    Well done, and enjoy your victory. I’ll be working towards a new party of the left. The fight’s moved on.

  4. aragon


    I can’t speak for the ‘Union Leadership’, but as I indicated in response to your ‘Death of New Labour’, the problem is the acceptance of the premise of Neoliberalism. ‘In the Black Labour’ is Neoliberal in it’s assumptions.

    “Further, I’d argue the announcement over the weekend says nothing about the spending commitments Labour will make in it’s next manifesto”

    There is no evidence that Ed Balls is open to an expansionary policy, both Ed’s see it as a zero sum game, with less money to be redistributed, resulting in a trade off between pay and employment.
    Raising the income of the low paid public and private sector employment, is one way of expanding the economy.

    We have the Tory lite attacks on the irresponsible poor, and now public sector pay.

    As for ‘Why the Labour left should welcome Ed Balls’ appointment’

    “Ed Balls offers the promise, at least, of a different course. In a key speech he made during the leadership contest, he moved towards rejecting the logic of the cuts agenda in favour of a growth strategy.”

    A promise broken. No real change, it turns out, just a return to the New Labour, Brownite comfort zone.


    “So the two Eds weren’t being credible, just capitulating to the Tories failed economics of austerity. They weren’t making ‘tough decisions’ either, just ones already written for them by the leader writers of the Times and the Telegraph.”

    Ed Balls strategy is to accept the same fundamental constraints and economic model, as George Osbourne, and when I say I don’t accept the premise, it is because I have a different economic model, not just tweaks to neoliberalism, or the neoliberalism with some redistribution of the Brown and Balls era.

    “The Eds can’t be seen to lose this tussle.”

    They must loose or loose the country, whom wants a choice at the next election of Tory, Tory, Tory.
    Tory lite is still Tory, and Neoliberalism, may be better known in the UK as Thatcherism.

    Jackie Ashley:


    “The great danger is that it leaves Labour looking as if it’s simply too close to the coalition government – that there isn’t a radical enough or credible alternative being put before the country at a time of momentous economic and political turmoil.”

    But Ed is not subtle, and not nuanced, when his ‘big idea’ is the regulation of the ‘cheapist’ tariff for winter fuel payments, and now limits to public sector pay, not radical, not credible, just Tory lite.

    “On Sunday Ed Miliband talked about a dramatic new set of rules for finance and business”

    I am not optimistic, that it will be dramatic, lets see Ed address financialisation. Alan Johnsons intervention is just the last straw.


    “Guardian today that unions are at risk of being the “delusional left” and arguing for a “fantasy utopia based on outdated ideology”.

    The ideology of full employment is not outdated, it is the defeatist who can not imagine a different future. It is about the future, it just that Neoliberals want the future to reflect the neoliberal past, and have a view that framework of neoliberalism is the template for the future.

  5. CS Clark

    Are you really confused about the outpouring of anger, or is this like you thinking that the worst people say about you is that you tend to ramble on and are a bit scruffy?
    Because I'm pretty sure a smart fellow like you can tell that what the Eds have done might be hard to distinguish (even though I'm quite happy that it is completely different) from a) returning to thinly slicing bits off an increasingly small number of floating voters rather than trying to appeal to vast numbers of non-voters b) offering a 1% less bad than the Tories manifesto c) attacking your own best supporters to appease the press d) all of the above and then some, especially when it might be seen as a deperate response to the latest leadership crisis set about by people who have been sniping and attacking and anonymously briefing for the best part of a year about Labour not being 20 points ahead in the polls and Ed M not having a second career as a gigolo. And if it *was* seen as a response to that, then you might think it's teaching a lesson about the best way to mould the Eds, or at least get their attention, being to act like a one-note asshole.
    It's not paranoia when there are people out to get you. And while it is easiest to laugh at the explicit calls for leadership changes as coming from no marks engaged in the frothy rough and tumble (ooer) of politics, it would help if the more reasonable social democratic fiscal conservatives did more than make placatory noises about other being overall winners, took a leaf out of the Big Book Of What The Left Gets Told To Do All The Bloody Time and criticised their own extremists.
    PS – neoliberal, neoliberal, neoliberal, neoliberal, neoliberal, neoliberal, neoliberal… neoliberal. There. I think I've met my quota.

  6. Paul Newman

    Sennite = Traditional tax and spend Socialist  who applauded every pound spent building the structural deficit  who expects the country to behave like a  battered wife and come back for more because "He`s changed ".
    I don`t understand why it has taken so long to  create some worthless spat with Len, it was predicted months and months ago by Sunny Hundal and me and other clever people. You do know what the mad bastard thinks don`t you ? Right of Len  and mammalian are almost an identical set . I see no  firm  commitment not  to smash the piggy bank  even if such a commitment was plausible anyway. 
    This complete lack of an opposition  is bad news , everyhting Cameron does  has an unspoken  question.." So what are you going to do , vote for Ed Milliband …and Balls …really …actually put a cross  next to that"

  7. Dave Dalton

    I find myself in between the "Blairite neo-liberals", if I can combine familiar insults, and the old Labour stalwarts.
    First, this is because the longer-term question isn't really about fiscal policy.
    Fiscal policy can offset a slump in demand to some extent and for some time. If you cut too far and too fast, you risk tipping the economy back into recession. If you don't make the right noises and some progress on cutting the budget deficit, at some point borrowing costs will soar: even more so in the febrile atmosphere of today's international financial markets. That is, both positions are true, depending on the specific circumstances. Also, the level of spending that was affordable in the 2000-07 bubble (the greatest bubble in human history) is affordable no longer now that the bubble has burst. The system of private ownership and generalised commodity production is not neutral between possible solutions: it favours making working people rather than property owners pay. These are really technical questions about how capitalism works now.
    But I think where the unions and the old Labourites—and those on the left of the party more generally—miss a trick against the "Blairite neo-liberals" is, as you say, over the longer-term and ultimately more important questions of the kind of society we would like to live in—that is, what kinds economic and social structures, which if any of these are plausible, and if so how might we practically develop them?
    On this second set of questions of practical social and moral philosophy—which will be at the heart of what the Labour Party becomes, assuming it is capable of change in time—the old Left seems to have very few, new positive creative proposals, which is unfortunate.
    As for Ed, I think that, for practical short-term political purposes, he needs to stick to stick to "fiscal conservatism" (if that means addressing the structural budget deficit over the longer term)—especially as 2012 could well be a very bumpy year economically—while at the same time offering the unions and the old Labourites something positive and attractive and big on the practical social and moral front that they can hold on to.

    • BT

      "If you don't make the right noises and some progress on cutting the budget deficit, at some point borrowing costs will soar: even more so in the febrile atmosphere of today's international financial markets."
      Wrong, wrong, wrong.  If you have your own central bank, it can set interest rates on bonds at whatever it wants them to be.  Central banks are much more important than the bond market in setting bond rates.  The key factor that drives up bond rates is the prospect of inflation – not currently a risk in our balance sheet recession.

      • Edward Carlsson Browne

        Bonds can be offered for sale at whatever rate you choose, but if you set a rate people do not find attractive then they will not buy them.
        Note that the problem with several recent debt auctions has not been the price at which they were offered, but the fact that they were not able to sell all their bonds.
        We aren't in the position where that is likely to happen to us any time soon, but that doesn't mean that we could sell at whatever yield we wanted and be sure of takers.

        • BT

          The Bank of England can purchase bonds – swapping bonds for reserves in the banking system.

    • Mike

      The old Left seems to have very few, new positive creative proposals.
      I'd say that traditional Labour are producing all the ideas (eg. Murphy's Courageous State), essentially a rejection of neoliberal capitalism, while New Labour are completely intellectually bankrupt (eg. In The Black).
      And this is the problem. Traditional Labour and the Unions are actually giving up on Labour in frustration and decamping elsewhere. New Labour have relied heavily on the Anti-Tory vote, which may now go elsewhere.
      And BT above is correct on Government borrowing. This is currently cheap because we're not in the Euro. Austerity is the thing that will make it expensive (eg. France).

      • Dave Dalton

        Rejections are all well and good, Mike–I'd probaly reject a few of the tenets of "neo-liberlalism" myself, if I knew what they were. But what the Labour Party needs, I think, not least to hold the two big bits of the party together, is some practical, sellable proposals, an attractive vision of the future, post-global crisis.
        I've not seen the courageous state thing, but, given the evidence of the past 100 years, I don't think state-led socialism ala the traditional left is the answer–or isn't the whole answer. I think it would be better to try various kinds of state-sponsored social socialism, experiments in economic and political democracy. There can be no socialism if it isn't at least as productive as capitalism. The Real Utopias stuff has some concrete alternative that should at least augment the thinking of the traditional left, but it doesn't seem to.
        And I wasn't talking about the cost of government bonds for the UK government now. I was talking about advanced capitalist ecomies in general. So, as I understood it, Ed Balls was talking about the response that would have to be made in 2015 after the Tories cuts policy during a next year's second global downturn in 4 years leaves the economy in even worse shape than when the Tories came in. That seems like a good point to face up to to me, but, at the same time, I don't think it should crush our socialist–or social democratic–dreams if we are creative enough.

  8. Edward Carlsson Browne

    It's worth noting that Paul Kenny's comments this morning suggest he may be aware of this problem:
    "This rise in unemployment was made in Downing Street. The truth is that jobs are haemorrhaging in the public and private sectors and no one in the government seems to know what to do to stop this … The number one political priority has to be securing a reduction in unemployment."
    Granted, he was talking about unemployment and he'd hardly be likely to say that didn't matter, but the fact he refers to it as the "number one political priority" suggests that his analysis of the situation is fundamentally the same as Balls' and that he may not want to escalate things.

  9. Dave Dalton

    "The key factor that drives up bond rates is the prospect of inflation – not currently a risk in our balance sheet recession."
    But fiscal deficits over the long-term and the build up of debt is one of the things that can fuel the prospects of inflation in bond markets.

    • BT

      Yes, government bond issue can promote inflation, because bond issue creates credit, but this is not a risk when the private sector is paying down debt en masse.  Britains private sector debt:GDP ratio is at 450% and could slowly fall to 1990s levels of 150% over a 'lost decade' or two.  Britain's current 5% inflation is cost-push inflation from commodities not demand-pull inflation from a credit boom.  Google Richard Koo and Balance Sheet Recessions.  Or Google private sector deleveraging.

  10. Dave Dalton

    "can fuel the perception in the bond markets that the there is a prospect of rising inflation"

  11. David Brede

    To state the bleeding obvious the union leaders are there to represent their members so they are going to be upset if a Labour leader offers them as little as what Ed Miliband did.
    Somewhere Ed and the rest of the Labour leadership have got to offer the unions a vision of what a better future will be if they are elected to power. Indeed they have to communicate this hope to the electorate as a whole who are far from impressed at the moment.
    With sky high unemployment and businesses failing daily Labour should be streets ahead yet Cameron gets away with it.
    So get a grip. Lets see what the alternative is.


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