Posts Tagged ‘Future of Labour’

Sunday review on Thursday: Has the future a left? The thoughts of Zygmunt Bauman

15/03/2012, 01:19:59 PM

by Ben Cobley

The European left “is probably taking an afternoon nap”. That’s what the brilliant eighty-six year old Polish social theorist Zygmunt Bauman told a capacity crowd which included David Miliband, in London last night.

Speaking on the subject “Has the future a left?2 at the London School of Economics, Bauman gave a typically all-encompassing account of the challenges posed by contemporary capitalism and the left’s relation to them, bursting with ideas and full of luminous turns of phrase.

Though sticking to the broad brush and characteristically not pointing the finger at individuals or particular institutions, Bauman’s thesis was clear: the left “has sold out to the right” and become “a fake replica of what it was” in its “appeal to the poor, needy, and also the dreamers”.

He posed a question that he said he asks himself a lot: Do social democrats know where they are going and what they are aiming for? Do they have a vision for the good society?

In place of this, he said, the left has been defining itself in two different ways:

1) in terms of ‘whatever the right can do we can do better’

2) from collecting people who are discriminated against and trying to compose a “rainbow coalition” out of them – a perspective that is probably now losing ground.

Referring to the occupy movement and its Spanish forebears, the indignados (the outraged), Bauman said, “Some people think that if governments cannot do things, perhaps we can do them ourselves. The jury is still out on that.” In fact the signs are that such street protests are more effective in totalitarian regimes, he added, asking: “Where is the inch of change in Wall Street because of ‘occupation’? I wonder if they even know they have been occupied.”

Instead, Bauman made a plea for leftist politics that stick to principles, that we be self-assertive in defending our values, while measuring the quality of a society by the quality of life of its weakest members – something that is very distinctive from the right’s way of seeing things.


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Sleepwalking to irrelevance, pt II

19/05/2011, 12:00:06 PM

by Lisa Ansell

There can be no doubt that New Labour is over. As had repeatedly been warned, attempts to maintain the status quo, in the hope that people would be cross enough to return to the Labour party, without it addressing the reasons people are angry in the first place, did not succeed. In the purest economic sense, Labour is currently a right-wing party, with the confidence of the market at its heart. Like many of Europe’s “left wing” political parties, with right wing economic strategies, they have found themselves in crisis. The financial crisis revealed that neo-liberalism can no longer even appear to be tallied with values of equality and redistribution. It is toxic to the majority now, not just the marginalised few.

Since the disastrous election result, there have been bitter recriminations within the Labour party about the failed gamble on the “progressive majority”. Ed Miliband had declared himself the “progressive champion” three days after last years netroots conference. The conference had been the cherry on the cake of an attempt to co-ordinate the Labour-supporting blogosphere. Ed tried simultaneously to frame Labour as the party of opposition to the cuts, while distancing himself from opposing the cuts that hurt the most vulnerable. Promising market confidence, and attaching himself to aspects of the perceived “left” which did not require a change in economic policy. The “progressives”.

The “left”, as Labour views it – a spectrum with itself at the moderate heart – is dead. It has had no relevance for a long time outside the imaginations of those at Labour’s Islington epicentre. It is certainly does not found on the political map that is unfolding. The “liberal left progressives” whom Ed Miliband wanted to champion, are among the more toxic aspects of the Labour brand. An arrogant “liberalism” which assumes the ignorance of those it dictates to, and assumes all faults lie with those who do not agree.

The “Yes to AV” campaign’s approach of telling people they were stupid if they didn’t want AV, and then not only blaming them for the failure of an insulting and patronising campaign, but for apparently condemning Britain to an eternity of Conservative hell fire, was a clear demonstration of the problem.

The liberalism at the heart of Labour’s progressive “majority” is a tedious distraction to those whose belief in market forces attracted them to Labour. “Progressives” willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable in our society for their own political survival (while crying socialism and fairness) demonstrate a hypocrisy which alienates people across the political spectrum. The factionalism of an “old left” who want to resurrect battles long lost, remains as toxic as it has ever been.

The research done by Searchlight had already sunk Miliband’s view of the progressive majority. This research into identity politics has been pored over at length, and undoubtedly contains warnings for Labour – but the inequality exposed by the cuts is likely to expose more problems. The realisation that all three parties are willing to have mothers forced into dependence on relationships, or be pushed into poverty whether they are working or not, has raised slightly bigger questions than the deficit. The war on disabled people, and those too sick to work led by Labour, and continued with relish by this government, means that disability groups are now fighting for political representation rather than against welfare cuts.

No party attempting to create a coalition of progressives could hope to be successful while so many are fighting it as the cause of their disenfranchisement. And it certainly cannot do so while pandering to racism, and agreeing that demonisation of the poorest should continue with blue Labour.

But does this mean that the “progressive majority” does not exist?

The demand for a re-examination of our economy in the context of the global financial meltdown is being ignored by Labour, but outside this echo chamber British businesses are looking for answers. Business link services have been scrapped; regional development agencies, who could offer grants to small business have been replaced by a regional growth fund with a minimum investment of £1million. Cuts to tax allowances which allowed firms to invest in themselves were sacrificed to pay for a corporation tax cut which only benefits companies with the ability to choose between nations. The fixed and low income spending which sustains small businesses is being deliberately sucked out of the economy. It may seem an obvious point, but the expected jobless recovery is one that doesn’t benefit businesses outside the already bloated financial sector. And they know it.

Professional bodies across the board are speaking out against the policies being implemented by the Tory-Lib Dem government. The combination of low wages, inflated house prices, and a personal debt bubble several times our GDP is ringing alarm bells far outside the traditional vanguards of the left. The “squeezed middle” that Ed Miliband was concerned with is crying out for a political party to discuss the vice like grip that housing costs, debt, and welfare cuts have on their lives. Concern that an approach which transfers public debt originating from the banking crisis to individuals and businesses who have no capacity to accommodate it is not exactly the domain of student radicals.

It is easy to dismiss the SNP victory in Scotland as an indicator that Scotland wants independence immediately, or as a protest vote against Labour; a sign that Labour needs to “focus”. To do so would be simplistic at best. Like the True Finn party, the SNP have redefined themselves in the context of the current situation and in the context of their national needs. Abandoned traditional ideas of left and right, and asserted the right to represent voters, and respond to the current economic challenges. At the first sign of any alternative, as we saw with Cleggmania, people grabbed it.

At a time when a political party would have to do very little to recapture the kind of cross party support Tony Blair enjoyed, it is only the arrogance of Labour leadership and its core supporters that is preventing Labour from becoming a political vehicle which could do the same.

Britain’s personal debt bubble, inflated house prices, and stagnated wages are at the heart of discussions about everything from the financial crisis, welfare spending, the decline in living standards that most of us are experiencing, and the major risks our economy is exposed to. Yet they are completely absent from Labour’s rhetoric.

While Labour agonises over how to unite working and middle class voters, it maintains an economic strategy which casts adrift the poorest, punishes the hundreds and thousands of working people who are welfare dependent, and not only attacks the squeezed middle’s incomes and services, but asks them to pay proportionally more than the people who caused the crisis. While their children face bleak futures, and while those fulfilling roles outside breadwinner have their services stripped and privatised, and are left with nothing.

The “radical” left has redefined in the context of global economic shifts. With roots in decades-old anti-capitalist and environmental movements, the financial crisis and the response of western governments to it, has politicised a generation after decades of perceived political apathy. This is a “left” not defined by an obsolete left/right axis, but by a changing economic and political landscape. Identity politics, economic inequality, generational shifts. Equality for women, and rights for those with disabilities surfacing as important facets, after their marginalisation ensured that they would make easy targets for the fiscal responses to the banking crisis. The desire to move away from the neo-liberalism which is at the heart of Labour’s economic policy is the cause at the heart of new “left”, and it is this shared aim which unites so many disparate groups.

This has happened after decades of politicians declaring the British public apathetic, even when inquiries like the Power report showed clearly that disengagement from political process was a failure of our democratic system, rather than due to the indifference and comfort of voters. This is not confined to the UK, and has been seen in Wisconsin, and across Europe. Most importantly for Ed Miliband, it comes after 13 years after the only political vehicle for the left embraced the economics of the right, and a foreign policy which ensured that many turned their backs on Labour.

Arrogance and fear of short term political consequences is leading Labour to ignore a rapidly changing political and economic map. And, in doing so, it is losing the opportunity to become the political force that takes the country through the current crisis. The “left” continues to redefine in a political vacuum, and in the long term it is inevitable that this will give birth to new political forces. In the shorter term, Labour could remove the necessity for such a force, but it has to be bold enough to shake off conventional wisdom. Analyse the long term risks to our economy, and assess the situation voters are actually in. Bold enough to present a new economic vision.

The progressive majority exists. But they are progressive in that they want to see a credible alternative to what is happening. A government which has the ability to unite people through this crisis, and assert its duty to represent voters over markets. Labour is so busy trying to squash criticism, and manufacture a “progressive” majority which will unquestioningly go where Labour leadership wants, that they can’t see, hear, or represent them. And in doing so, Labour risks sleepwalking into irrelevance. After all, there are other parties with Labour’s economic policy, who are willing to do it quicker, and with conviction.

The first part of Lisa Ansell‘s critique appeared here last week.

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David Miliband looks to Labour’s future in DC

07/05/2011, 10:25:03 AM

by Jonathan Todd

On the day before his brother’s attendance at the royal wedding, David Miliband was in Washington DC. This followed his tentative steps back towards the philosophical front line with a speech at the LSE on the decline of the left in Europe. Then, at the centre for American progress, he addressed the politics of identity and fear. On both occasions, therefore, he tackled in an international context issues of profound domestic significance.

This approach, obviously, has the advantage of minimising any sense in which David is stepping on Ed’s toes. But such internationalism is also instructive. The challenges facing Labour are similar to those facing social democratic parties elsewhere. The rise of the English Defence League is not the only instance of the search for identity turning ugly. In different ways everything from the birther movement to the success of the True Finns and Thilo Sarrazins can be seen through the same prism.

Miliband identifies “a backlash against globalisation. In the context of a big shift in power from west to east, there are no votes in being an internationalist and there are votes in being nativist”. The west-east shift is involved with a deepening of the global economy, but political impulses form a counter-reaction to this. They may be less pronounced where economies are strong. Canada’s economy is relatively healthy and Bloc Québécois, who might be considered a nativist element in Canadian politics, suffered in recent elections.


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Sunday News Review

15/08/2010, 09:09:58 AM

Bring in the ringers

Alan Milburn has been appointed to give political cover to Clegg

As expected there’s been a furious response from ex-Labour deputy, John Prescott to the overnight news that former arch-Blairite cabinet minister, Alan Milburn is possibly going to return to government to act as “Social Mobility Czar” – whatever that means. Prezza Twittered: “So after Field & Hutton, Milburn becomes the 3rd collaborator. They collaborated to get Brown OUT. Now collaborating to keep Cameron IN” For the three Labour figures named were all opponents of the Gordon Brown premiership which makes it easier for Prescott to condemn them in this manner – though I do wonder whether the term “collaborator” is taking tribal politics a bit too far. – Political Betting

Labour’s Alan Milburn is poised for a shock return to Government as David Cameron’s “social mobility” czar. And it was reported last night that former Cabinet minister David Blunkett could also boost the coalition with advice on poverty, benefit cheats and the pensions crisis. His former Cabinet colleague Mr Milburn will advise the PM on helping people from humble backgrounds into lucrative careers. – The Mirror

The appointment of the former Health Secretary will anger Tory traditionalists who fear there are already too many left leaning policies being drawn up by the coalition. The announcement will be made by Nick Clegg, perhaps as early as Wednesday. A Liberal Democrat insider said the appointment had been agreed between Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron as a way of promoting the former’s “fairness” agenda. Many will see it as a way of shoring up the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader who is facing internal trouble in his own party over the severe spending cuts he has backed. – The Telegraph


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Saturday News Review

03/07/2010, 09:11:03 AM

Electoral reform

“Labour leadership contenders David and Ed Miliband said they would campaign for a “yes” vote if they were in charge. But rival Andy Burnham yesterday dismissed voting reform as a “peripheral issue”. He said: “It is not my party’s job to prop up the Liberal Democrats by helping them win a referendum that is important to them.” The expected timing of the vote, on the same day as the Holyrood parliament elections, has caused fury in Scotland.” – Scottish Daily Record

“Mr Cameron always intended to turn the tables by pushing Labour out to the left. The coalition with the Liberal Democrats wasn’t planned, but it may make his task easier. The candidates in Labour’s leadership election could make the same mistake as the Tories after 1997, as they fish for Labour votes, apparently forgetting that they will soon need to appeal to the wider electorate.” – The Independent

“Labour has backed the introduction of AV for Westminster, but some Labour MPs still see the referendum plan as a chance to embarrass the Coalition. Ed Balls, a candidate for the Labour leadership, also criticised the suggested date. “Holding it on a day when some parts of the country have elections but others do not will lead to unfair differential turnout,” said Mr Balls. A May 5 referendum would also be in defiance of advice from constitutional experts. Earlier this year, the House of Lords Constitutional Affairs Committee concluded that there should be “a presumption against holding referendums on the same day as elections” because of the risk that voters would be confused and results distorted.” – The Telegraph


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Sunday News Review

27/06/2010, 07:33:10 AM

All you need to know about the candidates in one place

“On 25 September the result of Labour’s leadership election will be announced at the party’s annual conference in Manchester, but what will this change of management herald for a new New Labour? We invited David Miliband, Ed Balls, Diane Abbott, Andy Burnham and Ed Miliband to talk politics, purse strings and the perfect night’s television.” – The Observer

Daily roundup highlights Liberal meltdown

“Nick Clegg is suffering a fierce public backlash over the coalition’s VAT rise, with almost half of Liberal Democrat supporters saying the tax U-turn makes them more likely to desert the party. A YouGov/Brand Democracy survey, which will alarm already restive Lib Dem MPs, shows 48% of those who voted Lib Dem at the election are now less inclined to back them again as a direct result of the increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20%.” – The Observer

“A senior Lib Dem MP confirmed that a number of disgruntled colleagues had “talked tactics” with Labour opponents over the possibility of at least obstructing key measures, including the increase in the rate of VAT from 17.5 to 20 per cent.” – The Independent


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Saturday News Review

26/06/2010, 08:07:05 AM

The first out of the blocks

“David Miliband received an early boost in the battle for the Labour Party leadership as he secured the backing of one of Britain’s biggest trade unions yesterday. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), which has 386,000 members, became the first union to endorse one of the five candidates for the leadership.” – The Independent

“General secretary John Hannett said: “David is a long-time friend of Usdaw and is someone who really understands the needs and aspirations of our members.” – The Shields Gazette

Daily roundup

“Mr Cable told the Standard: “I was angry. I was trying to restrain my anger and give a reasoned response. He was trying to wind me up. “The Labour people are being very provocative but it is having no effect. The coalition is solid. I think the behaviour of people like Ed Balls does not reflect well on them and I don’t think the public find it attractive.” Labour has launched a campaign to embarrass Left-leaning Lib-Dems known to have felt uncomfortable about going into government with Tories.” – Evening Standard

“Despite widespread public unease about the war and the British mission, none of the major political party leaderships oppose the deployment or significantly question the current Western strategy. But is that about to change? The Labour leadership election has seen recently-removed Cabinet members chucking the party’s former policies overboard with gay abandon: the Iraq war, mass immigration and even European integration have all been decried by various men called Ed or Miliband or both.” – The Telegraph

“Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham used the social networking site Twitter to exclaim ‘god bless the Treasury’. ‘Lansley’s on a 1-man mission to turn NHS from order to chaos. They’re right to block him,’ he wrote.” – Healthcare Republic

Welsh issues

“Labour’s leadership election in Wales saw a genuine battle of ideas that was good for the party. One can only hope that now nominations have closed, the same will be true of the UK leadership contest. It matters to Labour in Wales that Labour in Great Britain is in a position to win again at the next general election. But a battle of the bland won’t do it for us. So let’s see the same preparedness to argue out ideas that we had in Wales last year, rather than a rolling-out of platitudes. Hyperactivity is no substitute for deep thinking. A leadership election should not be a form of distraction therapy after a political defeat.” – The Guardian

“Labour leadership frontrunner David Miliband has stepped into the row between Europe and America over Government loans to the Airbus factory in Flintshire. During a visit to the site yesterday he defended the aircraft manufacturer which is embroiled in a bitter row over alleged illegal subsidies for the development of new airliners.” – The Daily Post

Education matters

Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband believes UK universities could be better funded if graduates were to pay extra tax rather than tuition fees. Writing in today’s Guardian, Miliband says he would consult vice-chancellors and universities to produce a plan to replace tuition fees with a graduate tax.” – The Guardian

 “The government’s academies programme is a “Trojan horse for selection”, the shadow schools secretary says today, as he tables an amendment to legislation that, if passed, would block academies from being allowed to cherrypick pupils. Ed Balls claims a mechanism he brought in to allow good schools to expand will now be used by the Tories to give grammar schools the right to do the same, in a “perversion” of the system.” – The Guardian

London leadership 

“On Thursday, the Labour party announced that its two principal contenders to be Labour’s mayoral candidate in 2012 would be the former mayor Ken Livingstone and Oona King. Earlier this week, the London Evening Standard reported that Johnson had been “toying with the idea” of running for a mayoral second term and is expected to declare his candidacy in the next few weeks. A spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats said that the party was aware of Öpik’s desire to run, but added that no decision had been made on who would stand as the Lib Dem candidate.” – The Guardian

State of the race

 “On the hustings, Abbott has proved the left of the Labour Party has attractive and ­relevant policies. Scrapping the hugely expensive weapon of mass destruction that is son of Trident can be popular with the ­electorate and earns loud applause from ­audiences whenever she raises it. The living wage has been adopted as one of Ed Miliband’s selling points. David Miliband publicly acknowledges that George W Bush was a disaster for Britain and the world. Ed Balls and Andy Burnham concede that Labour lost touch with traditional, ­working-class voters who are the party’s base.” – Kevin Maguire, Tribune

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Friday News Review

25/06/2010, 07:22:18 AM

Liberal lies and more post budget fallout

“Labour leadership candidate Ed Miliband seized on Mr Hughes’s remarks as evidence that cracks were beginning to appear in the coalition. Privately, LibDems are concerned that capital gains tax was not raised enough for those on high wages.” – The Daily Mail

“What’s really going on is that Paddy Ashdown would love to have been Deputy Prime Minister and he has leader envy. He sits there looking at two nodding Lib-Dem dogs on the front bench and he’s not one of them. And it hurts.” – David Miliband, The Mirror

“Two things in life are inevitable, said Benjamin Franklin, death and taxes. The Conservatives campaigned against “Labour’s death tax” and against “Labour’s jobs tax”. But Labour left it to the Lib Dems to campaign against the Tory VAT tax bombshell. So how will Labour characterise the VAT rise that will bring an end to the New Year sales? They’ve got a little time to work it out…” – The New Statesman

“Labour leadership contender Ed Balls makes clear in today’s Mirror, VAT is a regressive Tory levy on the people of Britain. Mr Osborne’s raid on ordinary, hard-working families was avoidable.” – The Mirror

“The Labour leadership contenders have all declared that they will vote against the legislation to enable “free schools”. But once the genie of choice is out of the bottle, it is a brave socialist who tries to stuff it back in. Parents who send their children to these schools will have reason and motivation to vote Conservative as long as Labour opposes them.” – The Telegraph

Housing takes to the stage

“David Miliband – “For me, community is one of the things that makes life worth living. And while it’s often said how fast moving the modern world is, a sense of belonging to the place where we live is still just as important as ever. That’s my starting point for thinking about housing policy.” – Inside Housing

“Abbott also predicted that, “I am going to see thousands of people in London evicted precisely as a consequence of these housing benefit changes.” Is she right?” – The Guardian

The other race

“Labour nationally is now going through a process of renewal and change to a new generation of leadership. We in London need to do the same and choose a mayoral candidate for 2012 who reflects the modern 21st century London. London is a dynamic vibrant melting pot of different cultures. We need new leadership which reflects that dynamism and vitality. We need a…” – Mike Gapes, Progress

Eyes down under

“When Julia Gillard’s family emigrated to Australia from South Wales in 1966, little did they dream that their daughter would make history as the country’s first female prime minister. Yesterday, after her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, was unceremoniously dumped by his own party, Ms Gillard was sworn in – appropriately enough by the nation’s first female Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.” – The Independent

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Fabian Hustings: laughometer

15/06/2010, 08:23:14 AM

This is the laughometer from last night’s Fabian society leadership hustings.

Tiny chuckles weren’t recorded.

We maintained our rule that to score you had to get a proper laugh from a significant portion of the room.

David Miliband 5
Ed Miliband 7
Ed Balls 9
Diane Abbott 7
Andy Burnham 6

These numbers are significantly higher across the board than for previous hustings. Last night was a first outing for the Uncut reporter operating the laughometer on this occasion.  We have not yet been able to establish whether the leap in laughs was due to operator error, or to the candidates loosening up and getting funny.

Views from those present at last night’s Fabian as well as more than one other hustings would be welcome.

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Friday News Review

11/06/2010, 08:09:38 AM

Ed Miliband leans left

“Ed Miliband has delivered the most personal speech of the Labour leadership election, coming clean about his early life and political inspirations. The speech also marks out clear territory on the left of the party where he will base his campaign, with demands for a limit on the gap between rich and poor and rules on pay differentials in the private sector.” –

“FAT cat bosses in the private sector should have their salaries pegged back to tackle inequalities in British society, Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband has argued.

A Government plan to ban public sector bosses from getting paid more than 20 times the salary of their lowest paid employee should be extended to the private sector, he said in an interview with the Yorkshire Post.” – The Yorkshire Post

“The government must do more to reduce the pay gap between rich and poor, Labour leadership contender Ed Miliband has said. He called for the coalition’s public sector High Pay Commission to widen its scope to look at the private sector, saying wage differences were “high”.” – The BBC

“I came away from my meeting with Ed feeling inspired and excited. He has the personality, passion and drive that is needed to make an excellent Labour leader and Prime Minister. It is common for politicians to talk about “listening to the voters”, but I’m not sure we always hear what they are trying to tell us. I am confident that Ed is someone who doesn’t just listen, but really hears voters concerns. And acts on those concerns.” – Rachel Reeves MP, Yorkshire Post


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