It’s time to stir up the policy debate, says guest editor John McTernan

Over the next ten days I’ll be Labour Uncut’s first guest editor. Many thanks to Siôn for the chance to do this. I hope that regular readers will get the same enjoyment from the site that they are used to – and that I can add something different as well. So, the usual Uncut team will be joined by a range of other voices. I’m planning to have some international reflections – the crisis of social democracy is Europe-wide – but it won’t all be pessimism, there’s an Australian General Election in the offing with Labor, under its new leader Julia Gillard set for a second term.

There’ll be voices from the grassroots, not surprisingly some will be Scots. One of the dangers of the immediate post-election is that in pausing to draw breath after the exhaustion of a campaign period we break all the good habits we have established. Now is precisely the time we should be redoubling our campaigning efforts as the excellent by-election results in Walsall and Preston show – as does the constant flow of disaffected Liberal Democrat members to Labour. But most of all, I want to provoke a lively policy debate.

Firstly, because we will never get re-elected unless we have a renewed purpose and for all the importance of presentation, communication and campaigning any message we craft has to be framed round a rigorous argument and placed on a firm intellectual basis.  From that point of view the leadership campaign has, so far, been a disappointment.

Most of the new thinking has been pandering  – “Let’s put Trident into the Strategic Defence Review (not, of course, that I’m a unilateralist, that’s a mad election-losing strategy, I’d just like the unilateralist vote)”; “Let’s use state power to force churches – even though they are autonomous institutions – to conduct ceremonies (marriages) they have freely decided they don’t want to (through their own governance structures), all in the name of freedom.”   Or it’s been an extraordinarily economically illiterate (and dishonest) rejection of what we learned the hard way in opposition – and yes, I do mean the Living Wage. In what universe does a 20% hike in wages for workers on the National Minimum not mean a corresponding 20% cut in costs (ie jobs.)

We win power when we are honest about trade-offs and explicit about the ones we have chosen. We never win when we pretend that every choice is cost-free (and therefore not really a choice).  Which is why Pat McFadden’s speech to the Fabians was so welcome.

Secondly, we face a Coalition Government whose Holy War on public spending has been launched with the certainy of zealots and converts. Their analysis of the state – debt bad, surplus good; spending bad, cuts good – initially has the compelling power of all such black-and-white totalising ideologies. Every complex problem has a simple solution.It reminds me of listening to Militant in the 80s. Or the SNP when formed a minority government. Of course, you fight fire with fire – our overarching narrative against their’s. But equally we need to take apart their actions and argument step by step. So expect some of that this week. And finally, as my friends and readers know, I love a row.

The fun starts here. 

John McTernan will be editing Labour Uncut for the next ten days. He is a recovering special adviser. He writes for The Scotsman and The Daily Telegraph.

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4 Responses to “It’s time to stir up the policy debate, says guest editor John McTernan”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John McTernan and Tom Bage, Labour Uncut. Labour Uncut said: It's time to liven up the policy debate – @johnmcternan's editorial – […]

  2. ‘In what universe does a 20% hike in wages for workers on the National Minimum not mean a corresponding 20% cut in costs (ie jobs.)’

    The real world. For f**k’s sake, I don’t recall the introduction of the Minimum Wage leading to millions being chucked out of work, and in much of the country that saw far more than a 20% increase in wages.

    Were you running the Tory economic operation at the time, or are you just defining as pandering anything that a candidate has suggested that you disagree with?

    Not that much of this ‘pandering’ you refer to is very true anyway – nobody serious has been calling for churches to be forced to perform gay marriages, they’ve been calling for civil partnerships to be named what they really are.

    What you call pandering I call speaking to the concerns of our membership and voters. For far too long we’ve pandered to people like you, in the name of ‘moderation’ and ‘winning elections’. Guess what? We’ve abandoned any prospect of a debate on nuclear weapons – and it isn’t 19-83 any more, Yuri Andropov is dead and it’s frankly dishonest to pretend that it’s an automatic election loser anyway. We abandoned the idea of standing up for a real improvement in living standards – and got our asses kicked three ways to Sunday as the issue was inevitably blamed on immigration. We were progressive on social issues, but kept quiet about it because of the assumption that our voters are racist, homophobic bigots, and therefore millions of ignorant middle-class progressives voted Green or Lib Dem. We abandoned the idea that you should vote for Labour for a positive reason, rather than to keep those other buggers out.

    You lost the election for us. You lost it badly. I don’t mean you personally, but I do mean the establishment and ideologies you represent with your Telegraph column and special adviser past. You played a big role in destroying any reason to vote Labour, which meant we couldn’t recover from the shocks of the recession, the constant plotting, the dysfunctional leadership, Gillian Duffy and all the rest.

    If we took your prescription, we would kill the party. Whether you like it or not, the Labour Party relies upon people on the left of the party sublimating their ideological misgivings knocking on doors to elect people on the right and, to a lesser extent, vice versa. It can’t be sublimated for ever. We actually need to have those discussions. If you reject that as pandering, all you’re doing is setting it up for it to explode as a maelstrom of anger and back-biting. You know, like in the 1980s?

    I’m open for you to put your opinions out. I welcome McFadden’s contribution, even if I think that he overplays the extent to which we need to set out spending priorities. But your attempt to shut down legitimate debate, and the frankly amateur method in which you set out to do so, is frankly pretty shameful. I hope this doesn’t set the tenor of the entire guest editorship.

  3. james says:

    If a Living Wage is a bad thing, why have private companies decided to introduce it?

    When the minimum wage was mooted, there were similar arguments about it costing jobs…

  4. paul barker says:

    On the ” constant flow” of Libdems flocking to Labour. About 450 LD members have resigned, of those I doubt that more than 1 in 3 have joined Labour.
    Labour membership has risen, by about 14% but LD membership has also risen, by about 14%. That suggests the reason for both rises is the same, the increased interest in Politics accompanying the last Election. Good news for Democracy.

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