Stop shouting at me – I’m on your side

by Emma Burnell

I regularly read the blogs of people I disagree with. I think it’s vital to do so not only to challenge your own perceptions, but also to work out how best to frame your arguments. I also regularly read blogs of people I agree with. Sometimes these are the same people. Politics can be a bit like that. Some days the person I’ve had a blazing Twitter row with about the necessity of trident, the very next day I’m nodding in agreement with about the campaigning future of the Labour Party. Modern communications are both fun and confusing that way.

Like real life, people have different moods online. Some days I’m feisty and argumentative, others I’m contemplative and receptive. Sometimes I just want to have a laugh. Because I’m political that laugh will often be at the expense of the Tories or their allies.

There has grown up on all sides of the Labour party a filtered response to all other parts of the party. I know because I get both sides of it. Those on the right of the Party get called Blairites and those on the left Trots. Then they all go about their business with not a single idea improved through debate, a mind changed or a voter won over.  This leaves me in despair when people I know to be interesting and highly intelligent are losing the opportunity to actually try to change a mind.

When I first decided to write this blog, it was because I had read something that angered me; a lazy stereotyping of left and centre-left thinking from a centre-right Labour blogger. It added nothing to the level of debate and nothing on policy. Luckily, I’m as lazy as the thinking behind that blog piece and took a few days to actually put fingers to keyboard. I had the distance to realise that the piece I had wanted to write would have been just as annoying, just as provocative and just as pointless as the piece I was responding to.

You hear a great deal in politics about Drew Westen’s The Political Brain about the role that emotion and emotiveness plays in political choice. It’s an important and fascinating argument, but it’s usually deployed incredibly clumsily and misguidedly. If it is true, as Westen says, that people make political choices based on emotion rather than rationality, it is true that we need to consider the way our audiences absorb our messages in order to best sell our messages to voters. But too often from both the right and the left of the party, there is an obstinate sense of positioning our cliques against the rest of the party which will – in and of itself – heighten negative emotions before there is a chance to discuss the rights and wrongs of a policy position.

By defining ourselves endlessly against ourselves we quite often create opportunities to win fights. My guy won the leadership… your policy on nuclear energy has been adopted. It feels good to win. But it doesn’t do us a lot of good as a party. If we allow ourselves to fossilise into static and dogmatic strands of opinion which take turns to dominate debate, we practice only winning internal fights – not changing minds. The latter skill is far, far harder – particularly with people who already have pretty ingrained opinions. But if we can change minds among those with strong opinions, doesn’t that set us up to better change minds among the public who look to us to make the nuanced arguments clearer?

I’ve been blogging for just a little under 18 months now. It’s been an exciting time and I’ve learned a great deal. I like to think my writing has improved through regular exercise, though some of my regular critics sadly don’t agree. What I think has definitely improved is my sense of nuance. I started as quite an angry blogger. Labour were about to lose an election and I felt my party slipping away from me. I was – in my way – quite reactionary and there were times when I have been just downright rude about New Labour. I’m trying to do that less now though although I am the first to admit I don’t always succeed – especially on Twitter which is quite an instant medium and on which I don’t lazily cogitate the right response for a few days.

There are many reasons to blog about politics. Some do it to showcase their skills of analysis, some to shout loudest and hardest, some to demonstrate their insider status and contacts, some to demonstrate their separateness. All of these are valid and have an interesting place in the pantheon of political discussion. But for my taste, the best blogs and the best bloggers make arguments and explore ideas. Those are the places I can get a sense of how Labour reaches out to itself and to the wider public.

As a Party member of 21 years standing, I have an incredible respect for all other members of my party. When I think you’re wrong I will tell you. But I promise I will also try to tell you why I think so. I will listen when you respond with logic and argument rather than sloganeering and rhetoric. Please do the same.

Emma Burnell represents the socialist societies on Labour’s national policy forum and is author of the Scarlet Standard blog.

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3 Responses to “Stop shouting at me – I’m on your side”

  1. John P Reid says:

    ,I accept on the left, there are People who left over Iraq who have come back for that reason,
    the Blairites believe that the party membership can raise ,money if it’s worth raisng or the union fund will just result in us being under their wing. there were things in the 2005 manifesto that we didn’t get around to doing, the police mergers the PND database so someof the Blairite ideas still need listening too.

    the so called trots are the likes of Ken Livingstone who’s still refusing to come to outer london ,depsite that he fact he needs it to win,

    there’s Blue labour and equally opposite arguments from Helen goodman, and Luke akehurst, same as campapigning swing to the left could lose us more votes.

  2. Personally I was a fan of New Labour but hey-ho. Anyway, excellent piece of writing there Emma, easy on the eye, and I hope you keep it up.

  3. Robert says:

    Join the Tories then seems labour did

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