Labour Party Propaganda, Norwich North and Red Toryism
Hardly a day goes by when Labour Party members don’t emailed en masse by some cabinet minister, senior party apparatchik or other figure within the Labour Party. Often these are of questionable quality. Every second sentence is a request for money. The type of analysis-lite gushy nonsense sent out in these emails would surprise absolutely nobody who has even the most cursory familiarity with New Labour. Particular weaknesses are evident, however, when Tory policy comes into focus.
A recent example is the press release about Tory education policy, dated July 15th. It attacks a Tory policy document which suggests culling one-seventh of the number of schools to be rebuilt under Building Schools for the Future. Of course, the small print is that the cull is to reallocate money to the ‘Swedish schools’ project (Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap, Opportunity Agenda, Conservative Party, Policy Green Paper No. 1, 20 November 2007, p.39). Merits of each policy to one side, the obvious intent of the release is to continue the Party line that Tory = cuts, without suggesting what alternative Labour offers.
In the recent Norwich North by-election, the Party seemed to have pulled out all the stops (not to mention all the politics) from its leaflets in a bid to prevent the Tories from winning the seat. The leaflet in question, which can be read at the link, offers a choice between Labour and the Tories and scare-mongers against the Tories. I’m all for hitting the Tories where it hurts: their policies will help the wealthy, harm the rest of us and are best jettisoned into the dustbin of history – but scaremongering is not how to do that, for several reasons.
Firstly, it jars too obviously with the softly-softly approach of the Conservatives. As Jim Jepps outlined in a Morning Star piece earlier in the week (and followed up at his blog), there are different stripes of Tory. Jim’s thesis was about how, right now, the lambs are leading the lions of the deep shires because it suits the lions to have an element of the sheen of early New Labour about the place. Phillip Blond’s recent fame and his emphasis on community, with other Tories hammering away on ‘choice’, is not just borrowing but wholesale theft of New Labour sentiment.
Actually this emergence of ‘soft’ sentiment is what generally precedes an election. Anyone who remembers the 1979 election will remember that it was a key area of Thatcherism to emphasize the need for the success of small business (with associated clichés about human industry and ingenuity) against monopoly capital, while advocating a rolling back of the State. Under Thatcher, of course, large companies grew even larger – to the detriment of many independent businesses and producers – and the State seized as much power as it possibly could. ‘Red Toryism’ is only new in nuance – but it can successfully deflect blunt attacks.
Damning all Tories with the same battery of criticisms at every turn deadens the effect and dabbles in an expectations game that Labour cannot win. If we are claiming that the world as we know it will end come a Tory victory, then we’re going to look very stupid when it doesn’t. There will be cuts, that much is certain, people’s lives will get worse in different ways, but the police are not going to be defunded, schools will continue to operate and Sure Start will carry on in whatever renamed guise the Tories dream up to claim the idea was theirs. Yet these are all things highlighted on the above Labour leaflet, which is headed “Don’t wake up on Friday with a Tory MP” in large, red, bolded letters.
Being remotely politically knowledgeable, we know in advance that Conservative rhetoric is pretty hollow. How then do we communicate such a sentiment to the electorate without such scaremongering? This leads me to the second weakness of Labour Party propaganda. That is, it is clear that the Labour Party cannot attack the Tories with one hand while being very similar. If Labour is to be the bulwark of a fightback against the Conservatives, it can’t be a Labour Party which is so easily tarred with the same brush. Let me take another Norwich North example:
“The Tory candidate is a Westminster insider; who will always put her political career before our interests. She even tried to become the MP for Ipswich. We’re not interested in being anyone’s second choice.”
Er, whoops. Turns out that joining Labour at all was Chris Ostrowski’s second choice. He was originally part of Conservative Futures at UEA, and judging by his desire to offer support to any shadow cabinet members coming to speak, he already had his eyes on the prize: a shot at a parliamentary seat. Not to mention that any number of New Labour flunkeys are parachuted into safe seats after having fought or attempted to get selected in other seats. The whole attack is hypocrisy of the highest order – and not the only example of it.
Any sort of criticism rings hollows when it the person or group making it is standing in a dubious position vis a vis their own actions. This is going to be the stick which will beat New Labour the hardest at the next election, one they’ve made for their own back. The first priority of Labour after the elections should be cleaning house: if we are the people’s party, then I see no reason why we our representatives shouldn’t act like it. Our PPCs should be local (and locally chosen; take note, NEC!). Our first policy goal should be casting the mote from our own eye before casting aspersions at the Tories. This we will never be in a position to do with Blairites, Brownites and their sorts about the place.
Speaking of Blairites and Brownites I’m brought to my final criticism of Labour Party propaganda. If exposed to it for any length of time, it becomes painfully easy to see through. Labour Students had transport laid on for activists to go to Norwich and get involved in canvassing – and the results of the canvassing were mentioned at Labout List. Judging by the results in the by-election, which Ostrowski lost by more than seven thousand votes, the report that ‘voters showed a very warm response to Chris’ was both exaggerated and very, very premature.
I use the example from the LabourList post on Norwich North simply because it is topical. There are plenty of other examples of glossing over unappealing truths offered by New Labour. The rhetoric, in some cases, is practically Orwellian, as I have discussed in many different articles over the course of my online witterings. If something is bad, we should be able to say it is bad. The only reason being honest within our own movement can ever be a danger is when the link of accountability between leadership and movement is so weak that press speculation replaces genuine debate and discussion.
These several criticisms, being neither an exhaustive list nor balanced by examples of some ‘good’ work done by activists, are still relevant as we move to fight the next General Election.