“Why are you even in the Labour party?”

This comment, which I got yesterday reminds me of the boneheaded stupidity of some political actors, myself included.

If someone who joined the Labour party at the age of sixteen, has been (an admittedly, not very good) councillor and worked for the party for nigh on a decade is insufficiently pure of heart and soul for your purposes, then perhaps the question should not be "Why are you even in the Labour party?" but instead, asked of the interlocutor "Why are you even in politics?".

After all, a political party that seeks to denude itself of loyal supporters is one destined to fail. Whenever I get this question, I'm tempted to answer, "because if the likes of me no longer supported the Labour party, chances are we'd have a Tory government forever. You seem keen for that to happen. What's up with that?".

But this is an uncharitable response. It is a response that comes out of irritation and churlishness. It does not seek to persuade, or to understand. It is defensive, rude and arrogant.

It goes to the heart of what another comment that was left yesterday suggests:

"It seems to me that at the moment the default position of any Labour commentator coming from the right is to say that what the Tories are doing is good and / or clever. And that what our politicians is doing is bad and / or stupid.
Some of the time, what they are saying may have some truth in it. But it is politics so normally it will be contested and their continual lack of scrutiny of the government pushes them further from the centre of the debate and action. People need to feel that they are arguing with someone who cares just as much about the outcome and wants to achieve the same ends. At the moment too many on the right don't give that impression.

I think this is a fair point.

Indeed, it should worry me, that some look at what I write and ask "What is the difference between what you suggest and Osborne is doing". Because to me, the gulf is enormous, and important.

First, what Osborne is doing right now, is both harmful and stupid, let's get that out of the way first.

Second, being harmful and stupid it is likely to worsen the position any putative Labour government will face. The next Labour government will likely be faced with high debt, high unemployment, low wage growth and stagnant living standards (We can always hope for an external deus ex machina to save us from this prospect, but I'm cautious about assuming that.

Third, in that context, it is vital that the next Labour government not only exists, but succeeds in its governing mission.

This will, primarily, be one of finding a way of lifting the living standards of people on low to medium incomes, increasing the growth of private sector jobs, equipping the next generation with the education and skills needed to realise their potential  (which in effect means being competitive with rising educational and skills standards around the world). In the medium term, this will allow growth to return, and allow the virtuous circle of growth feeding tax revenues, feeding investment in social goods, feeding further growth (both human and economic). 

I argue for a tough approach to these issues, not because I think the Labour party needs to evade, or shrug off it's historic mission of social justice for all in our society, but because it is essential that the Labour party succeed, and to succeed, it must have a policy agenda that cannot be swept away by crisis, or undermined by criticisms of waste, or be attacked as risky.

We need a Labour party that can lift living standards for all of us in the long term, and that requires being in office, and not just for a single term.

This matters because the alternative to Labour growth is not no growth under the Tories. The magic of capitalism will see there is growth, even under George Osborne, but lumpy, unequal, discriminating growth. Growth which favours the fortunate, the capitalised, the already-well educated, the successful. Now, I don't think Tories go round plotting the downfall of the poorest, but this division is the inevitable result of a policy that minimises the role of the state in helping those who are not already favoured.

David Cameron is right to say that the family is the most effective safety net and the best way to solve many social problems, but think about what that means for those whose families are not so fortunate. I've long argued that the greatest thing about privilege is the way it allows people to fuck up completely and still succeed, From the right background, drugs, or a pregnancy, or an alcohol problem are difficult but survivable. Far too many of our fellow citizens are only one fuck up away from a wasted life. For others yet, it's not even a question of making a mistake.

Is the state the only answer to these challenges? Of course not. But whether it is the central state, or society, or local government one thing remains true.

By the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone.

That's why I'm Labour. That's why I'm desperate for Labour to win. That's why I am so passionate about not just making the argument that the Tories are a terrible government, but on building a Labour government that can govern on the firmest of foundations.

16 Responses to ““Why are you even in the Labour party?””

  1. John D Clare

    Obviously heartfelt!  :)
    Fair comment too – I despair that within the Labour Party the reaction to an alternative view is too often 'why don;t you leave then?'; it is a recipe for fragmentation and an electoral wilderness.

    My constant beef is that the Labour leadership should be promoting debate and discussion towards a joint polocy which we all could then either fall in behind, or looby to get changed.

    It is the vaccuum at the top which allows and feeds the fractiousness below.

  2. Tommy Judd

    It is a good question and your description of a “gulf” between you and Osborne is not convincing. I was in the Labour Party from 1983 until the Brown-instigated rebellions against academies, tuition fees and foundation hospitals convincec me I had little in common with the average member. I am a fiscal hawk and default to the market when a public policy problem arises, but I am also pro-EU, a social liberal and would feel as out of place in the Tory Party as I would in a church. As for the Lib Dems, to me they are still the cynical party of the Bermondsey byelection and Tower Hamlets Council. Watching them discover the art of the possible has been a joy over the past two years.

    So, nowhere to go. Every time I am tempted back to the Labour Party, I listen to Ed Miliband do a Toby Ziegler on how government is the space that people come together or to virtually anyone I know slam Free Schools but then send their own children to independent schools and i cannot do it.

    Do you genuinely believe that this government’s policies on schooling, university funding and welfare reform will in the long term lead to greater inequality or even inequality of opportunity. Those three areas under Successive Labour and Tory governments all played at equality but just reinforced privilege and, at best, reallocated who the privileged were. Welfare locked in deprivation and deskilling over generations.

    On budgetary policy, Osborne only looks dangerous to the parochial eye. Our growth performance is entirely what you would expect for an open, developed economy going through severe deleveraging at this stage of the cycle. The US has special advantages and is not comparable. By pursuing a fiscal only a little tighter than what a re-elected Brown government would have done (and, by the way, if that had happened, the party would have suffered the same fate as the dishonest Gyurcsany government in Hungary), this administration has been rewarded with highly accommodative monetary policy and low long-term rates.

    My point, I suppose, is that I think you (like many of us) stay in the party for historic and cultural reasons. There is no gulf anymore.

    • Hopi Sen

      First of all, love the line about the LibDems discovering the art of the possible over the last two years.
      On the question of the gulf – I do think the government's welfare and schools policies will make things worse, even thought I don't think the principles that underly either are utterly objectionable. My beef with the way free schools have been introduced is that they fail to address the fact that for such schools to succeed, you need over-capacity in the system. What worries me is that there's every sign that they'll simply reduce budgets (orhold down) in order to create the space for free schools to work.  This risks sending weaker schools into a rapid spiral of decline, which will hurt the least well off worst. I don't have a problem with weaker schools closing, I do have a problem with them getting worse and hurting educational prospects as they bottom out.  (Conro Ryan has written well on this recently)
      On Welfare- again the principles are not unreasonable, but the mechanism of introducing Universal Creidt on a budget while holding down welfare and tax credit budget overall is painful and unfair, a stance exacerbated by the pensions "triple lock". . For the life of me I can't understand why benefits and pensions are going up 5% while tax credits are frozen and cut. I also strongly support labour' greater emphasis on conditionality.
      On universites, My opposition is more nuanced. I don't have a fundamental problem with the Browne report – and if I'm honest, I don't think out 6k tuition fee, not 9k makes much sense as an FHE expenditure priority (I'd like to see the money either go to poorest students, or to support vocational post 16 education), but that's a quibble. However, using Browne as an excuse to strip our state support for certain subjects is a bit silly. It would have been much better to introduce his proposals lock,stock, and seen an increase in overall educational investment

      • Paul Newman

        Your objection  to educational reform is pathetic   and  with teachers forming half of the Labour Party`s membership it is likely to remain so.  Are you seriously so blind that you cannot see the suplus waste in  education now . You have to have surplus for choice, magically once you have choice all the choices get better .
        No way Labour would have handed this zeitgheist over  without the Milliband disaster and you know it .

        • Edward Carlsson Browne

          Teachers forming half the membership of the Labour Party? Do you really think this is credible? Basic maths ought to tell you that's gibberish, even if the failure of any teachers' union to be affiliated to us wasn't enough of a clue.

          • Paul Newman

            Ok ok , activists I should  have said  I was mis quoting Peter Oborne , seems a bit vague but  I wouldn`t be suprised , who else has the time to be an activist with a full time  job( sort of )
            Its a good test case education. The coalition, whom Hopi has to  pretend  are terrible right wing demons are extending a Blairite  initiative.
            Hopi does a  delicate  pin head dance  to  disapprovingly approve,  but  if I read his thinking right , he is  concerned  that  the left  have  got to be seen to care about waste ,and  need to "think the unthinkable " on delivering  public services if they are to retain  confidence in the power of government to do good.
            There is no better example  of it than the gold hosed on education for nil improvement in results . The Blairite vision of a classless country depended crucially on education( x3) succeeding and it did not . It has failed  for a number of reasons, but above all the  feather bedding and lack of accountablity afforded to teachers.
            So everything  says  Hopi ought to support the coalition on this, apart from anything else, schools are for children and parents, not  to provide sinecures for middle-class slackers  as, I  am certain, Hopi would agree
            None of this is possible with the  teachers and their Unions so powerful on the left   and especially  with their boy in charge
            I suggest this. Hopi is clearly left wing and a meddler by instinct  with little affection for what I think of as this country  his loyalty to Labour is  beyond all doubt . Unfortunately he is stuck in a Party which is  tied to  defending the status quo in the Public sector just when left wing objectives require  a new approach
            The truth is  he could achieve more of what he wants in the coaliton at this point . A not disimiliar  thing happened  at the end of the Major period , ( the other way around )

          • Edward Carlsson Browne

            I'm not going to engage with you about education, because that's a conversation requiring a lot of back and forth and the comment strings don't seem to be going long enough now. Suffice to say that I disagree that there was absolutely no improvement – primary school results are significantly improved and the assumption that this is due to dumbing down lacks any evidence whatsoever. Whether there was enough improvement, and whether it was evenly distributed, is another matter, as is whether free schools and the expansion of the academy system will actually help.
            As for your source, you'll note that Oborne produces no source. You'll also note that he's not a member of the Labour Party nor sympathetic to his aims, and therefore wouldn't have any obvious way of knowing this. I am a Labour Party activist, and I'll tell you for free that whilst I know a few teachers who are Labour Party activists, upwards of 90% of the activists I know are not teachers. In general the need to go canvassing at 6pm on weeknights in the month before an election is not something that is liable to enthuse most teachers who've got back from a day of screaming children and a boring staff meeting. Oborne is just making shit up.

  3. John D Clare

    I have just finished reading Luke Akehurst's blog (http://labourlist.org/2012/04/i-am-still-haunted-by-the-ghosts-of-1992/), with its on-the-ground authenticity of experience of what it is REALLY like to fight (and lose) an election, I was reminded that Luke too has worked long and hard for the Labour Party, and great personal cost of time and money, and yet still suffers abuse at the pens of Labour Party members.

    My own experience is at parish level, but it includes election after election treading round my 'patch' of 1,500 houses, delivering leaflet after leaflet, and even doing much of the canvassing – occasionally on behalf of candidates who could not even be bothered to go round with me.

    And, just personally, I think those years of service deserve more respect than to be told to get out of the party by so-called 'activists', some of whom you know for a damn fact have only just re-joined the party having left allegedly for 'conscience sake' in the years after 1997.

    I know that your blog did not have this message, but this is the message I am taking from it; that anyone who might want to have a say needs first to do this – "Serve your apprenticeship, earn your spurs, do the work.  And then maybe you'll have earned the right to suggest who should be in the party and who shouldn't."

    If this is too harsh, or stirs up a hornet's nest, I apologise.

  4. Paul Newman

    Just finishing my thought ,…. that no-one cares about anyway …. I  suppose much the same question was  asked of Shirley Williams Polly Toynbee  et al , all Labour to the finger tips,  who  went off to form " Continuity  Social Democracy". and came very close to  toppling Labour .I daresay  Hopi would have been with them at that time

  5. Paul Newman

    ECB for what itst worth I agree with you about Primary schools which are much improved . I have three children in a  local Primary and  very good it is . On the overall state of play I am quoting the OECD study  which came to the conclusion no progress had been made and  I might also have quoted almost any international Comparison to show our relative decline Funding went up about 50% in adjusted terms and  as a parent surveying the scene  with other parents I can assurre you that the Secondary  choices are regarded with dread. This is all likely to get an airing when we get the next teachers strike.
    Yes Oborne is not good source on the amount of teacher activism but  they are almsot universally  left wing , for obvious reaons and unusually active ( due to vast leisure time and  having never left schoool IMHO) its  a fair point  in general terms 
    Example – Coalition wants to make it less impossible to sack useless teachers …NUT object ,(of course). Does Ed side with parents or the Unions ? 
    Answer- He does both  and a bit of yeah but no but . Thats hopeless  if you are fighting entrenched sectional interest
    If Hopi wants Public Sector reform  then  he ought to be in the coalition which , after all, includes people just as left wing as him, much to my irritation
    Its not as if this is news , Blair knew he had to get away form the Unions to  deliver a state tax payers trusted  that was why it was such an unusually corrupt  administration .

  6. Neville

    You all need to accept that labour in its current form, is dead….. and leftists need to form their own political movement…

  7. Damian Buckley

    Great article, and the explanation of the way privilege works is something I'll remember for a long time.
    I was a kid during the Thatcher/Major governments, and disliked them on a mainly emotional level. Since May 2010 I've been determined to dislike this lot on a more rational basis. I've tried to look coolly at what the Tories are doing and identify where, and why, I disagree with them. I've come to the conclusion that although I like many Tories as individuals, and think there is plenty of competence on the Government benches, there are two flaws to their worldview – the two identified by Hopi: an underestimation of the power of privilege, and a misunderstanding of the state.
    The Louise Mensch interview in the Guardian six months or so ago was a great example of the privilege thing. She said she wanted to convert Guardian readers to Toryism and there was little I could disagree with until she started talking about her career. There was a complete lack of acceptance that her millionaire family, home counties, public school and Oxbridge background could have helped her career in any way. She'd got where she was entirely on merit, in her eyes. Talented as she is, the failure to understand that there are many equally talented people who don't get those rewards struck me as quintessentially Tory, and basically deluded.
    Equally sub-rational is the idea that, if the state just gets out of the way, jobs will appear as if by magic across the swathes of disadvantaged post-industrial Britain. This seems to be the coalition growth strategy, yet it's based on ideological mumbo-jumbo that's disproved by our country's experience over the last 30 years.

  8. Tommy Judd

    Damian, I agree with you about Mensch's comments but that applies across the political spectrum. With a few exceptions, leading Labour figures don't come from money but they do come from political, material, intellectual and nepotistic privilege. Most have had tiny little helps-up that, to them, would be nothing but, to the rest of us, are the crucial career breaks we never had.
    Ed Miliband (son of legendary LSE professor grew up surrounded by the left aristocracy, got his first break with Tony Benn, his second with Harriet Harman, who then got him his third…), Harman herself (niece of Lady Longford, a pupil at St Paul's, NCCL, wife of Jack Dromey), Ed Balls (son of an anti-grammar-school campaigner who sent his son to fee-paying Nottingham High School, who found a champion in Larry Summers, then another in Martin Wolf at the FT, then another in Gordon Brown), Yvette Cooper (daughter of the General Secretary of Prospect, student friend of James Purnell and Ed Miliband, then researcher for John Smith, then adviser to Harman). The list could go on and on. 
    Nothing terrible in this and some of these people do have talent. My point is that, as I said near the top of this thread, there is nothing especially virtuous or different about Labour. This government's education policies are an extension of Blair's, its fiscal policies are an extension of Darling's, and its health policies an extension of Milburn's. I think it's a sign of success in a democracy when it doesn't matter that much who you vote for among the mainstream parties.

    • hopisen

      This is true – it's also important to say that the people who gain advantages from this system are not doing anything wrong.

      They (as their equivalents in other parties are) are driven by a desire to make a differnece to the best of their abilities – and in many cases, those abilities are considerable and supported by experiences gained very early (Winston Churchill was an MP remarkably young..)

      However it's also something Parties should be conscious of, and trying to do something about. Unlike women's shortlist, this isn't something you can address simply by mechanistic solutions, but requires a sustained cultural interest in. That means, for example, making sure that there is a lot of effort into developing people fro different backgrounds in all areas of the party. Often, internal politics is about who you trust – so part of the emphasis must be on widening the circle of trust.

  9. Tommy Judd

    They're absolutely not doing anything wrong. If I had known influential people when I was young, I'd have done exactly the same thing. But let's stop pretending Harman, the Miliband brothers, the Benns, the Balls-Coopers or the Straws are any more down with the kids or even understanding of the "squeezed middle" than the "cabinet of millionaire" constituency MPs.

  10. bert

    Hopi, the reason you're in the Labour party and not the Conservative party is because, like most left leaning types, your politics and world view is driven by emotion and not logic.


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