by Dan Hodges
The world is round. It’s a shame, I know. Personally, I’d love a flat world. Think of the excitement of being able to go on “Edge of the World” tours. Sneak up to the boundary; take a peak into infinity.
But alas, it’s not to be. We’re just so mundane. Too damn spherical.
Once upon a time, people thought the world was flat. It had to be. What else could it be? Then, all of a sudden, everyone knew the earth was round. Of course it was. How could anyone have ever though otherwise.
But in between there must have been a transition period. A time when views gradually shifted:
“I was chatting to my mate Ampelius the other day. About this round world stuff”.
“Yep. You know what? I think there may be something in it”.
And then there would have been the hold outs. The diehards who clung to the earth in all its glorious flatness right till the very end: “I don’t care what they say. It’s flat, and that’s all there is to it”.
What happened to those people? The “circumference deniers”. Were they mocked? Oppressed? Or did they just fade away?
I’ll tell you what they did. They upped sticks and joined the Labour party.
Over the past couple of weeks, Labour’s “flat earthers” have been out in force. About Ed’s leadership. The Tories. The debate over the economy.
On Comment is Free on Saturday, Sunny Hundal, editor of Flat Earth Times, better known by its other name, Liberal Conspiracy, wrote the following: David Cameron and George Osborne are losing the debate with Labour over the economy. Public confidence in the coalition is collapsing to such an extent that they are going to adopt a new strategy of claiming their deficit reduction plan is the same as Labour’s. What’s more, Labour would be reaping a political dividend from all this were it not for three reasons. One, “The partisan effect”; that is that Tory and Lib Dem voters (seriously, Lib Dems; go and read it) are so partisan they are still giving David Cameron and Nick Clegg “the benefit of the doubt”. Two, the public have not seen enough of Ed Balls and Ed Miliband. Three – and, I promise, I am not making this up – a significant proportion of voters think Ed Miliband is being too right wing on the economy and other issues.
Forget that the majority of the public think Labour sits to the left of them, and Ed Miliband sits even further to the left than his party.
Forget that on Monday George Osborne “strongly defended his austerity measures” – Guardian; “issued a trenchant defence of his deficit-reduction plan” – FT; “dismissed critics of his economic plan as “left wing academics” – Telegraph.
There is a world out there where the world is flat, the Tories are desperate to swap their stance on the economy for ours, and if only Ed Miliband could convince more people he’s left wing, we’d be striding to power.
As the harsh realities of opposition continue to bite, it’s a world with growing appeal. Labour List, a web site which has consistently, if sometimes tenuously, maintained a grip on reality, also chose this weekend to give up the ghost and join Sunny Hundal and Sarah Palin in the belief the earth terminates west of Alaska.
Under the headline, “Ed Miliband and the future of Social Democracy”, Mark Ferguson wrote: “If Ed Miliband were to fail as Labour leader that would be sad, but the greater victim would be social democracy as a force in the UK – and that would be tragic”. He went on, “if Ed Miliband fails, the Labour party – and British politics – will likely fall back into a discredited pattern of triangulation and political cross-dressing. The electorate will lose interest. Turnout will continue to dwindle”. At stake is, “nothing less than the future of social democracy in Britain”. The result will be political apocalypse, “Social democracy, under siege for so long in the media, will wither and die, fulfilling the right-wing prophecy of its irrelevance”.
Out there on the edge of space and time, where the earth bows to the heavens, Ed Miliband is the sole, final hope of progressive socialism. If he fails, Labour’s historic mission is over for eternity. The left will “wither and die”.
I’ve said it before, and I make no apologies for saying it again. The Labour movement is losing its marbles.
At the moment, the cult of the flat earther is everywhere. “It’s not true we have a huge funding problem”, said Harriet Harman to Andrew Marr. The local election results were great. There is a progressive majority in this country. Ed’s problem is that not enough people have got to know him.
This is not simple denial. Denial is an inability to face the truth. We’re not just ignoring the truth, we are constructing an entire alternate universe.
In politics people will always have different perspectives, even those on the same side of the political fence. But for debate to be meaningful, there have to be some basic areas of agreement to act as points of reference, and anchor the dialogue. At the moment, within the Labour party, those points of reference simply do not exist.
The last time I experienced this was in the late 1980s. Thatcherism could only be defeated by a genuine socialist alternative; Labour could not afford to compromise with the electorate.
Nor was the creation of alternate realities the preserve of the hard left. I remember arguing, because I genuinely believed it, that Neil Kinnock’s poor poll ratings as a potential prime minister were simply the inevitable reflection of his current position as leader of the opposition. I really thought that national poll leads of 8, 9 even 10 points were the basis for victory. I watched us beating the Tories by 3 or 4 points on local and European election nights, and poured scorn on the psephologists who said the gains weren’t really enough for Labour to hope to win.
And I was wrong. Hopelessly, utterly and completely wrong. My world was flat. The world everyone else was living in was round.
By all means, let’s argue about Ed Miliband’s strength’s and his weaknesses. But let us at least begin that argument from a position of reality: our leader is not cutting through with the electorate.
Yes, let’s debate our stance on the economy. But let’s start by recognising that whatever doubts the voters have about the Tory-Lib Dem government’s strategy, their doubts over ours are greater.
And, above all, let’s drop the fiction that “things are moving in the right direction”. They are not. At best we are becalmed. At worst we are going backwards.
That is not defeatism, nor a betrayal. It is simply truth.
There is a real world out there. It is populated by people who need a Labour government. What they don’t need are dreamers, or idealists or fantasists, however well intentioned.
It is a world that is not flat, but round. And if we want to conquer it we must start to recognise that fact.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.