We need to stop talking to each other

by Charlie Cadywould

David Miliband’s response to Roy Hattersley in New Statesman represents a problem that seems to be endemic to parties of the centre-left. As soon as they are voted out, parties of the centre-left have an identity crisis, and spend years discussing to whom precisely they are to try to appeal.

Hattersley tells us that Labour must go back to its roots, talking explicitly about social democratic values and the morality and efficacy of the central state. Miliband does not disagree on the importance of the central state from a policy perspective: he agrees that there are things that only government can do, and other things that only government can do fairly.

What he objects to is that narrative that Hattersley wants to construct. Miliband wants to talk about making government better, but he agrees that the state needs to do more, he just doesn’t want Labour to frame the argument in that way. Hattersley, no doubt, agrees with Miliband that government can be better, and that local government has an important role to play, but he would prefer Labour’s narrative to be unashamedly about morality and the central state.

The debate between these two ex-frontbenchers is grounded in the false premise that Labour must have a consistent narrative in all its campaigning. It’s a false premise because a degree of inconsistency is absolutely necessary to winning elections.

Look at the way the Tories campaigned in 2010: “In Europe, not run by Europe”. In itself it is not an inconsistent policy, but the point is that the slogan can be framed in a way that appeals to hardcore euro-sceptics and moderates at different times. “I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS”. Hammer home the first part to Telegraph-readers and Taxpayers’ Alliance members, and the second part while doing a question and answer session for Mumsnet. Consistent policies, inconsistent narrative.

There is a tendency on the left to consider this kind of strategy to be lacking in principles, to be part of the trend towards the centre-ground. Over the course of the last Labour government, the two did appear to go hand in hand – the perceived need to get the support of the right-wing newspapers led to a narrative that coincided with some very unleft-wing policies. But this doesn’t have to be the case, especially not in opposition.

You can have the right policies, but frame them in different ways for different groups, just as the Tories do so well. You don’t have to, as the Hattersley-Miliband debate seems to suggest, sell out on your principles to win power.

Labour can be for a more active state, for example with bank regulation, and at the same time, for more efficient, decentralised government where appropriate.

The best campaign strategy is to have an inconsistent narrative. So long as the policies are consistent, and the factual claims truthful, there is nothing immoral about the campaign. The Tories do it, and so progressives, social democrats, democratic socialists, whatever we want to call ourselves in any particular moment, should do the same if we want to win.

Labour doesn’t need to figure out what it’s for, it can be for different things to different people, it needs to figure out which policies are right for the country, and then frame them in a way that wins the next election.

Charlie Cadywould is a student and Labour party member


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7 Responses to “We need to stop talking to each other”

  1. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Yes well anyone who currently wants to understand what Labour, Left or “Center” is about only have to read the article on P17 of the Sunday Times, while the homlessness leads to people freezing during this winter, while risking a return of the BNP who used Housing as a serious issue, risking Ken Livingstone’s campaign and worse showing that elected Labour Reps are here for one purpose only to abuse, insult the public while they cash in as they did with their expenses.

    To think the Labour Leadership chose this trash over me should tell you all about what Labour is planning to do should they ever take power again, their actions will be very different indeed to their empty incoherent and inconsistent shabby rhetoric.

  2. It’s “Cllr”, Ralph.

    Good article Charlie. Though I’m afraid I doubt it will cut the mustard with those on the Left that prize purity over power. They’d much rather lose elections, preferably heavily, but at least they fought a pure campaign.

  3. Ralph Baldwin says:

    David,

    I did not and do not hold much stall in Titles, I prefer political change and I’ve won more elections than I have lost thanks. Though you can’t count safe seats that are in the bag whether you are pure or putrid. I do love the way corrupt politicians and their following love to label anyone who generally (not always) abides by the Law as somehow wrong, I think you’ll find the voters are with me on this one.

  4. Ralph Baldwin says:

    Oh and by the way “A councillor or councilor (Cllr, Coun, Clr or Cr for short) is a member of a local government council, such as a city council”.

    ;)

  5. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    Oh a useful link, by the way, I did warn both ed Milliband, Harriet Harman’s Offices about this and they refused to do anything when I attempted to explain it would be detrimental to the Livingstone campaign if it got out. It got to the stage when I threatened to campaign for the Tories unless they addressed this issue 9after fighting the BNP on Housing a major issue)…here is the net result, truly capturing modern labour Values, and if its any consolation showing that area of behaviour that clearly united Ed and David Milliband…..http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2096781/Liam-Smith-Council-leader-accused-jumping-queue-11k-people-2nd-flat.html

  6. swatantra says:

    We have to be consistent and we have to get that message across.
    We can’t be like the Lib Dems .. promisng everything to everyone.
    We can’t be like the Tories that promise one thing before the election and do the the other.
    The public has the right to know what we stand for and what we manifest to do, and the public shouldn’t be surprised that when we get into power we carry the Manisto promises out.
    The recent navel gazing Refounding Labour should bring a ifferent approach to how Labour operates and comes to decisions, with the full support and approval of Labour members, ie members must have an vtal role to play in the decision making process. And it has to be a denmocratic process. And we should expect all members inc elected members to go along with those decisions arrived at democratically. If they don’ like it, they can resign and do something else instead.

  7. swatantra says:

    I think David Talbot was refering to your typo ‘Clr’. Normally it’s ‘Cllr’.
    But there should be an investigation into the way your Labour Group is run and the charges you make. Its often the case that too many Labour Groups have an in built self destruct mechanism, which doesn’t help the Party very much in terms of credibility.

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