[Marxism] Guardian: The party should remember that pride comes before a fall

Jack Cade jack.cade at btinternet.com
Wed May 25 18:00:42 MDT 2005


	This is as good as it gets: the epitome of political
wisdom today. What happens when there is no working class
politics. This is Jackie Ashley, daughter of former Labour MP,
Jack Ashley and wife of BBC Political Editor, Andrew Marr. These
New Labour bastards apparently think they are doing things for
people who are too damned ungrateful!

Jack Cade
......................................................

The party should remember that pride comes before a fall

Jackie Ashley The election was a warning, not a triumph. Labour
must learn from it
London Guardian, Thursday 26 May

After elections, it is the fate of opposition parties to have
fierce philosophical debates; and it is the fate of winning
parties to get on and govern. But as the Tories and the Liberal
Democrats begin the tortuous business of deciding what they are
for, it is becoming ever clearer that Labour too could do with
some fundamental rethinking. As ministers get back to work,
"business as usual" should be seen as a danger, not a boast.

There has been no revolt, no serious challenge to Tony Blair at
all. There has been nothing like the spectacular display of
discontent with Michael Howard in the Tory backbench 1922
Committee - afterwards Conservative MPs queued up to enthuse
about how power visibly ebbed from their leader. Even Howard's
former allies were prepared to attack him.

On the Labour side, it has been almost the opposite: with the
prime minister's decision to chair a record number of cabinet
committees, and the continuing signals that he will help Gordon
Brown to a smooth and orderly succession, the centre has never
been more powerful. Blair's choice, Anne Clwyd, was elected as
chair of the parliamentary Labour party and, for now, all but a
couple of dozen MPs in the Campaign group are crossing their
fingers and shutting up, wary of breaking the fragile truce
between Blair and Brown. After the coughing and clanking of a
botched reshuffle, you can now almost hear the smooth whirr of
the machine working well.

This does not always mean that the machine then produces good
politics. Take the "respect agenda", currently engorging huge
amounts of Whitehall time. This is essentially a hobbyhorse of
the prime minister's, bundling together lots of different issues
- a vague description of unease that reminds some of us of John
Major's back to basics. In private, it makes some ministers tear
out their hair: how long before every act of street yobbery or
classroom misbehaviour is used to mock Labour for its latest
failure? But what Tony wants, Tony gets. "He's digging in, you
know," say the ministers.

Some of the new earnestness is welcome. The speed with which John
Prescott and Gordon Brown have engaged in the pressing need for
more houses, first with the shared equity plan and then the
release of hundreds of public-sector brownfield sites, is
commendable.

But it contains dangers if it means that Labour, unlike the
Tories, now forgets the election. Whitehall in late May feels
much like Whitehall in February and, listening to some debates,
it is almost as if those hurly-burly weeks of electioneering and
that night of toppling Labour seats and majorities had never
happened at all. When I interviewed Iain Duncan Smith about the
need for the Conservatives to reconnect with the dispossessed and
to stop speaking the language of Westminster intrigue, at least I
felt that here was someone honestly trying to rethink his
politics from first principles. There's nothing like the shock of
personal failure to make you take stock.

Ah, you may say, but Labour did not fail. Labour triumphantly
succeeded in winning a historic third term, and with a perfectly
workable majority. This is what the solid middle of the party
seems to have decided is the agreed story of the election - a
gentle period of back-slapping is in order. The defeated comrades
are waving vainly from the other side of the glass. The large
number of seats with majorities in the hundreds - indeed there
are more than 40 with majorities under 5,000 - is an issue hardly
discussed.

This is good for a prime minister who wants to retain his
authority for the year or two before he steps down. It is also an
excellent way of preparing to lose power at the next election. So
I was relieved to find at a Progress meeting this week that the
complacency isn't universal.

There is still a big appetite for analysing the election result -
hundreds of people were unable to get into the room to hear a
range of Labour people, from Ed Balls to Stephen Byers and Neil
Kinnock. There was even a representative from behind that glass
wall - Stephen Twigg, defeated in Enfield. Labour's failure to
take a clear lead on immigration was a clear theme, but perhaps
the most interesting issue bubbling through the evening was a
worry that even where Labour has delivered real improvements, the
voters neither know nor care.

This is something ministers harp on about in private too, and it
can sound a bit injured, a bit Lady Bountiful: "They're just not
grateful, these people - look at all we've done for them and they
don't bother to say thank you. I mean, really." Bloody
electorate: you put all that money into the NHS, with all those
thousands of new doctors; you tart up the schools; you listen to
their worries about crime and set up a whole new force of
uniformed bods and bodesses to patrol the streets . and what do
they do? They mumble about politicians all being the same, and
they stay at home on polling day.

It was just this rising sense of worry that produced Labour's
last-minute election slogan: "If you value it, vote for it". The
trouble is, looking at the swing from Labour, particularly among
the crucial C2s, skilled workers (who showed a 6.5% swing from
Labour to Conservative), they appeared not to value it, or at
least not enough to vote for it.

This needs to be at the core of Labour's self-examination,
because the bigger message is genuinely frightening. It suggests
that even if Labour succeeds in building tens of thousands of new
low-cost houses, producing more popular secondary schools,
finally tightening the immigration- system, and all the things it
promises, then it may not impress an easily-bored and cynical
electorate. Success may not be enough.

The explanation for what seems an insoluble paradox is actually
simple. If you treat voters like consumers they will respond like
consumers. If you couch your political language and programme
entirely on the basis of personalised services, choice and
delivery, you will find yourself competing in people's minds not
with the Tory cabinet of fading memory but with Dixons, Next and
Apple.

It isn't enough to make the hospitals cleaner and more efficient;
you always need the next trick, the next change, the new brand.
And in the slower-moving though more substantial world of public
service, this is completely impossible. You are on a hiding to
nothing. So you got street crime down last year? It's as relevant
as last year's line in lingerie. Ask Marks & Spencer.

Politics is not shopping, and never can be. Labour urgently needs
to reclaim a political language that appeals to our altruism,
sense of community and social optimism, and must begin to discard
the thin mimicry of the language of the high street and business
schools. It happens when Brown and Blair talk about Africa, but
it happens far too rarely on the domestic front. The election was
a warning, not a triumph. Far from putting it behind us and
getting on with the job, the lessons need to be learned now.

jackie.ashley at guardian.co.uk






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