The millions of people who don’t give a damn about us matter most.

I really don’t care that much about the internal politics and structures of the Labour party.

Oh, because I spent so long within the party, I have firm views about what should be done.

I want open primaries in small, inactive constituencies. I want an end to the block vote in policy making. I want a national policy forum that decides policy in the Labour party openly, not functions as a cage match between faceless fixers from the unions and the party one year in four and is an meaningless talking shop the other three years. I want a party selection process that isn’t basically broken (and so is manipulated, by everyone).

I want all these things, but I don’t really care about them so much that I want to make them the central issue in Labour politics.

None of them should be important, but they have become so because they’re all merely an expression of a bigger problem.They’re the consequences of a party and movement that looks inward, not outwards. The problem with the existing structures and culture of the left is the way that they encourage us to wrestle with our own demons in place of concerning ourselves with what ‘outsiders’ think, which often make us uncomfortable as a movement. It is that we have to change.

A small example.

Last week, I was asked to go on the telly to talk about the seven days wait for Jobseeker’s allowance. I politely declined, because I hadn’t had the chance to pay much attention to the detail of the policy, so wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. I then watched incredulously as the issues of the government’s reform turned into a struggle over what ‘being Labour’ meant.

This argument, typified between the debate between Owen Jones and Simon Danczuk, was less a debate about policy and more an argument about identity. As an experienced Labour hand, I understood all the references to Labour’s past (Ben Elton, Neil Kinnock’s militant speech, etc etc) I just had no idea how any of it related to what the government was proposing. “You sound like a Tory” versus “You’re an inauthentic Trot”

Invited to talk about welfare reform, we preferred to talk about ourselves.

So I went and had a look. I discovered that the government is not in fact proposing a reform to Jobseeker’s allowance.

It’s proposing a reform to Universal Credit, beginning in 2015, which would lead to a delay of seven days for new Universal Credit claimants under conditionality, providing they hadn’t made a claim in the previous six months.

As a reform, this changes things radically. It’s nothing like the rhetoric of Osborne in the CSR.

If you’re a low paid worker, you’ll presumably be claiming Universal Credit anyway, so how will this delay apply to you? If you’ve lost your job and claimed Universal Credit in the last six months, it won’t apply to you. So in those senses it might be better. Yet equally, as Nicola Smith at the TUC has pointed out it might apply to people who haven’t lost their job, as conditionality applies to more people than just those in JSA.

If the Labour party cared rather more for the people it seeks to represent, and rather less about what being ‘a good Labour man’ (or woman) was, we might have spent our time talking about these things, not about Ben Elton and Neil Kinnock.

This is where a politics of internal focus takes you, ultimately.

What matters is not what you do, or the impact of what you propose, but how much you represent the ‘real’ Labour party, whatever that is.

I even keep a sort of internal score for Labour ‘realness’. For example, I am a son of a single parent (plus ten points) who went to a state comp (plus ten points) in an inner city  (plus five points) who joined the Labour party at sixteen (plus twenty points) and have been a union member all my life (plus five points). But I also went to Oxford (minus ten points), dislike canvassing (minus ten points) and talk kind of posh (minus five points).

This gives me a Labour credibility score of twenty-five, which means I’m more Real Labour than Owen Jones, but less Real Labour than Luke Akehurst. I can therefore pompously lecture Owen about the party, but have to listen humbly to Luke’s wisdom.1

This is all completely mad.2 It’s also the reason why Labour selections so often degenerate into a sort of bidding war of Labourishness.3

The challenge for Labour isn’t about what reforms are going to be proposed to the NEC next week.

It’s whether, as a movement we want to worry about ourselves, or about the country.

We’re going to hear an awful lot about the millions of men and women who are members of Trade Unions. Quite rightly. But will we also hear about the need to represent the millions of people who aren’t?

We’re going to hear about the need to reform the way we choose our people. Quite rightly. But will we hear about the way we choose our policies and who they speak to?

We’re going to hear about the proud traditions of the Labour movement. Fair enough. But will we also discuss the millions of people for whom those proud traditions are either meaningless, or utterly unattractive?

The choice for the Labour party now is whether it wants to be the best ‘Real Labour party’ of our imaginings, a sort of fantasy party where Clem Attlee is the Leader, Barbara Castle is his deputy, Crossland is running the policy review and Bevin is the General Secretary of Unite, or a Labour party that seeks to represent and speak for people who simply couldn’t give a damn about the Labour movement’s proud traditions and values.

However good the reforms we make are, ultimately they will fail, just as Refounding Labour has, as OMOV has, as the NPF has, if they are about managing the Labour party, not about talking to the people not in the Labour party.

  1. I’m also way more Real Labour than almost anyone in the party leadership, who are all a bit too posh. []
  2. not listening to Luke, obviously, very sensible that []
  3. The current Euro-selections are a perfect example of this. It doesn’t matter what you think, or how good you are, as long as you do your doorstep, work in a caring profession and owe everything to your state school teacher. []

9 Responses to “The millions of people who don’t give a damn about us matter most.”

  1. Quietzaple

    The dictatorship of the two Eds preferable to diktat by ignorant, ill directed debate. And, hopefully, with Len sidelined, the former is the main thrust for 2015.

    After that? Events, dear boy, events …

  2. PooterGeek

    I visited the Labour Party Website one day last year and posted about it on Facebook, because there were no policies on the site, but there were multiple pages describing the various party ghettos you could join according to the colour of your skin, shape of your genitals, etc. As I put it back then: “Labour: Taking the politics out of ‘identity politics'”

  3. Steve McCabe

    Couldn’t agree more. All these nuisance voters who want us to listen to what they care about instead of listening to what we are telling them

  4. Steve McCabe

    Couldn’t agree more. These pesky voters who want us to listen to their concerns instead of listening to what we’re telling them. Recognise the points score and have spent too long meeting ‘Labour’ people who are more interested in the points than the voters.

  5. Quietzaple

    The notion of publishing policies to which Labour would be held two years before the next election should amuse not only Blair and Cameron – both more or less electorally successful – but also anyone who has noted that Blue Peter approaches such as UKIP and the SWP’s, have not become terribly popular thankfully.

  6. TickyW

    Isn’t the point to restore Labour to its mission, that is, to promote the interests of workers (whether unemployed or not) as its primary goal? These are the people who the last Blairite administration let down and who will need full and effective representation should Labour be elected next time. Labour should not be representing banks and the other filthy rich about whom it is intensely relaxed; that is the purpose of the Tories.

    To properly represent all those who need an effective government to rescue them from the vicious Labour-supported “reforms” a wholesale cull of Blairite MPs is needed

  7. therealguyfaux

    Although he was really referring to writers and literary output, George Orwell discussed this sort of sniff-sniff-are-you a-good-anti-fascist more-orthodox-than-thou tendency amongst the Left intelligentsia, almost to where the brute facts on the ground (trite phrase, I know) become irrelevant to the discussion. Rather, a mindset of “Am I helping my opponents by an honest critique of my side, and where we may fall short on certain issues?” creeps in. (Essay, “Inside The Whale”)

    This is not any sort of new phenomenon; Henry Clay, the great 19th C. American politician is quoted as saying he’d “rather be right than President.” Ideological purity gets you only so far; if you cannot get the chance to put ANY of your programme into effect, because you will not concede a need to work with others who are not so fervently committed as you, and you won’t tack accordingly, perhaps nothing will ever get done. And it may be that your programme is flawed anyway– for it to be implemented all at once may even be a worse outcome than piecemeal.

    The point is to get into the game and come up with something that addresses the problem at hand and solves it without the hydra-head situation. Perhaps easier said than done; failure is always a possibility. But is standing back and watching the problems multiplying whilst doing nothing, for fear of being called some sort of name, any better of a strategy? Kinda tells you what’s really on some people’s minds by how they answer this.


Leave a Reply