‘What we’ve go to do here is get people to understand it’s not a referendum it’s a choice and as a choice it has consequences,’ says Sean Woodward MP at the Labour party conference.
And the fast emerging electoral strategy, as reflected by Labour Matters, is all about ensuring that the voters see the clear blue water between Labour and the Tories.
The focus, say the electoral strategists and the PR people, should be on the way Labour is dealing with the economy, and the 1937-style disaster that may well ensue if the Tories get into power.
And as election strategies go, it’s pretty good one, especially as it’s starting to be sharpened up by a concentration on how the Tories will ‘target investment on a tax giveaway of £200,000 to the 3,000 wealthiest estates’; in general the focus is on reminding people that, in the end, it is the Labour party that is wedded to the interests of the working class, not the Tories.
Leave aside the small matter of the actual record of New Labour on commitment to the interests of the working class for just a moment, and we get an electoral pitch which is, on the doorstep at least, starting to gain some traction. The slight narrowing of the opinion polls since the party conference is not all about the Tories failure to ‘seal the deal’, or about their indecisiveness over Europe; there is the start of a real move back to Labour, and the message is starting to get through in places where it is being well sent.
Time then, for Labour members, you’d think, to get behind the message.
If you’re on the so-called moderate wing of Labour, it’s all about the best way of winning a new term; if you’re on the Left, at least the broad narrative is swinging in your favour, and it’s something to hang on to till the real opportunity to organize anew starts in May 2010. The main thing for now is to defeat the Tories, because their winning really will be a disaster for everyone but the privileged few.
Unless you’re Frank Field, that is.
Our loveable old maverick Frank has been thinking the unthinkable again, decided he doesn’t care for any of this ‘spending our way out of recession stuff’, and has come over all biblical
In his Comment is Free article, Frank warning of an impending economic apocalypse, and says that the only way this country can possibly survive is to cut savagely, and cut now.
The fact that he is utterly, utterly wrong, and wouldn’t recognize a considered leftist economic argument if it struck him on the head from a very great height, need not detain us long.
Briefly, his fear of massive inflation is simply nonsense, when the by far the biggest threat is Japanese-style deflation if the economy is kick-started.
Likewise, his argument that we run an imminent risk of losing our AAA+ credit status if we don’t cut now (no mention of other ways of reducing the deficit, note) is simply scare-mongering, and only likely to come true if he and his right wing friends keep the scare-mongering up.
As Martin Wolf has pointed out, cutting the UK’s credit rating would mean that logically, the US’s credit rating would also need to be cut, and can anyone really see that happening (especially given the rapid flight to ‘safe’ US government bonds in the light of the Dubai crisis)? Logically, even if the US rating were to be cut, the AA+ rate would simply become, in the case of the biggest world economy, the new AAA+, because for the medium term at least a stable US economy cannot simply be dispensed with. The market, with their servants in the credit rating agencies, is not going to cut off its capitalist nose to spite its capitalist face.
Such real world thinking is, in any event, of little concern to Frank Field. What is important to him, it seems, is that he should be out of step with mainstream Labour thinking, and be seen to be. That’s our Frank, the loveable maverick.
So long as it was a vicious disregard for the real lives of the poor, in his ‘unthinkable’ welfare reforms, it was all ok, because it was only one step beyond where New Labour and Purnell were headed anyway.
This time, though, it’s different. In setting out a line on economic policy which is absolutely out of the Tory mismanagement manual, Field is setting his face directly against the government’s electoral strategy, which is to create an ‘investment vs. cuts’ distance between themselves and Tories.
As such, the only reasonable assessment of Frank Field is that, given his high media profile, he has become an electoral liability.
And what does the Labour party do with people that it considers make it unelectable? It expels them. Ask Terry Fields (well he’s dead, but you know what I mean), another Merseyside MP.
If there’s any consistency in the way the Labour PLP deals with rebels that are damaging its electoral chances, Field should be given his marching orders, and a more compliant PPC put in place in time for the election.
Yes, there’s a small chance that it might backfire and the seat be lost, but there is any event no guarantee that Field isn’t simply biding his time in a fairly safe Labour seat before switching sides after the election, and that might mean the difference for Labour between loss and hung parliament, or hung parliament and victory.
Better, I contend, to take the bull by the horns now and get rid of Field.
In so doing, Brown would send out a message not just of new found strength and authority as PM safe from Compass-led plots, but – more importantly – send out a stronger message than any second hand party political broadcast can ever get over that Labour is serious about having a distinctive economic policy, one which really does defend Labour ‘hard working families’ in the tough times.
Will it happen? Well, if the idea gets taken up by @bevaniteellie on twitter, it might just.
Of course, if the Labour grassroots builds a head of steam on this, and gets rid of Frank Field, then Tom Harris MP (who had the same virulently ‘anti-Gordon’ banner advert as Iain Dale on his blog all weekend), would surely be next in line.
But business before pleasure.
Gender has been one of the prime subjects du jour on the thinking person’s blog. The relationship between feminism and socialism has been discussed by HarpyMarx and I; Paul has discussed the role of gender in partitioning health care workers and now, the issue of Men’s Societies is creating a storm, with contributions from Comment is Free, Third Estate, Jim Jepps. Indeed this dispute has even acquired that modern emblem of political import: a facebook group.
The question of Men’s Societies being recognised by university student unions comes up in the context of frequent campaigns to attack women’s representation. Oxford University, one of the two universities seen to pioneer the idea, frequently faces attempts to abolish the position of Vice President (Women) in the Students Union, or to ‘merge’ the position into that of VP (Welfare and E-Opps), which doesn’t have to be a woman. Manchester suffers the same tendencies; e.g. the Conservative Future Women’s Officer who abolished her own role, after election.
Locations may change, the arguments stay the same; “having women’s officers is discriminatory”, “positive discrimination is still discrimination”, “men should have someone to represent their interests too”.
Now up comes the question of Men’s Societies in Manchester, ‘led by a couple of Tory toffs, a UKIP support, an evangelical Christian and an Orange Order supporter’. All in all, impeccable credentials for people who are supposed to leading discussion about how men can be oppressed through the genderised roles imposed on them by capitalist cultural hegemony. I think not. Nor is a venture like this liable to be any better if ‘the Left’ tries to intervene and seize control of such a society. The very idea is counter-productive.
Alex Linley, a supporter of the Manchester society declares, “There is so much conflicting information for men. There is massive confusion as to what being a man means, and how to be a good man. Should you be the sensitive all-caring, perhaps the ‘feminised’ man? Or should you be the hard, take no crap from anybody kind of figure?” Except Linley puts his finger on two very genderised stereotypes as the alternatives to be ‘investigated’ as potential identities for men. The point of course is to deconstruct and break down all identities.
Opponents of the societies characterize the methods of investigation of these stereotypes as, “Top Gear shows, gadget fairs, beer-drinking marathons and Iron Man competitions” (c/o Jim Jepps). I leave it to the reader to decide whether or not that’s accurate, but knowing Oxford University, and the sort of men who propose these sort of ideas, it’s more than likely to be true. I mean, this is a university where the Tory Association was seriously rebuked for anti-semitic japes. Intelligent debate doesn’t rank highly on their agenda.
Not to say that my opposition to Men’s Societies is a way of closing down discussion about male gender norms and how to defeat them. Quite the opposite. Yet since white and male are the ‘default’ identities of Western society, it stands to reason that white men can best challenge that norm by constructively engaging with other identities, rather than attempting to come up with an identity of their own. It needs to be said that women’s groups don’t allow that opportunity to engage as well as they should, but Men’s Societies certainly won’t.
Men, therefore, don’t require their own group or their own ‘welfare officer’, because there’s never a danger of straight white guys going unrepresented on a union executive. They certainly don’t go unrepresented in the popular imagination (except perhaps in Melanie Phillips’ Daily Mail column, where black gays and lesbians are taking over the universe). Men can certainly attempt to ‘deconstruct’ the concept of male identity – but the very idea of that deconstruction is socialistic.
It can be theoretically debated in socialist societies across the country, and can be practically challenged every time a man goes to a poetry reading, or does something off-the-wall, but it doesn’t require corporate action to correct ‘oppression’ – we’re not oppressed.
If there is a crisis in male self-confidence, it’s not because of a decentred identity; it’s because of a more rigidly defined identity being imposed through popular culture and lads’ mags whilst capitalism offers us ever more commodities and avenues by which we can defy that identity. All we have to do is choose, and if we want to talk about our choices and their significance, we can. It doesn’t require a Men’s Society.
On the other hand, from a practical point of view, whilst a lot of women involved in student public life take no shit from anyone (I heart Liv Bailey, Helen Bagshaw etc), a forum where women can say things without the risk of calling down male derision upon themselves is quite necessary. Without wishing to impute a genderised stereotype, the vast majority of men I’ve known have no fear of calling down female derision; politics is not a girl’s club, it is still very much a guy’s club, and student politicians can be amongst the worst of all.
Just remember, it’s men at Westminster who are being forced to address the nature of their all-male exclusive clubs, not women. This is just the tip of the iceberg of oppression, of course; I’ll let Catriona Rylance of Communist Students say it.
In our society, men experience no oppression simply because they are men. Women, on the other hand, experience oppression in numerous ways, whether from the double burden of childrearing and work, or through the myriad of sexist remarks, jokes and advertising that are the norm in the world we live in.
If you don’t believe this is the case – if you think women’s liberation has been achieved, or even gone too far – you can look at the underrepresentation of women in every democratic body from parliament to city councils to trade unions.
1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. On average, women earn 20% less than their male counterparts. And if you think equality has been achieved in Students’ Unions, you need only consider the paltry number of women Presidents in the UK.
The imbalance in the reality necessitates the imbalance in the approach to each gender. It’s that simple.
This post, and the posts that will follow at some point, started life in my mind as a companion piece to my personal story about class difference in the NHS 1980s, which was kindly edited by Don Paskini for publication at Liberal Conspiracy and attracted a good deal of, mostly supportive, comment.
That first post was supposed to set the scene for an exposition of how nursing and the NHS has changed since then, but how class bias remains at the heart of what remains wrong with the NHS. It set out in brief the challenge that remains for those of us who want not simply to laud the successes of the NHS – which are considerable – but to use it as a springboard for a properly socialist health service.
The original post, focused on how class bias affected nursing in the 1980s, was ‘inspired’ by a series of crassly ignorant, reactionary posts on rightwing blogs following the announcement that all trained nurses in England will have degrees by 2014 (none of these bloggers noticed that this is already the case in Scotland and Wales).
Between the original post and this one, however, my blogging comrade Dave wrote an interesting, brief (for him) post setting out the need to retain the primacy of class analysis and struggle over and above gender analysis. The post prompted strong reactions from socialist feminists who contend that the struggle against patriarchy, and the struggle against capitalism, are and must be interrelated.
This new series of posts seeks to put flesh on the bones of that discussion, by examining the very real relationship between gender-focused and class-focused activism in nursing between the 1970s and 1990s.
My main contention is that the gender-focused nursing activism that took place in this period has militated against the working class as a whole, and has contributed to a less good NHS as a result.
I recognise that this is a controversial assessment, and it is not a conclusion that I have reached happily, not least because it might be interpreted as a reactionary assessment more in keeping with the ‘anti-feminist’ Melanie Phillips (see below) rather than one on keeping with values in support of the feminist movement.
Nor is it an assessment that leads me to the conclusion that all gender-focused movements are destined to be deficient if they do not specifically recognise the primacy of the class struggle, though I recognise is that is how it might be interpreted by ‘classical Marxists’. (Indeed I would argue, along with Norman Geras (20 years ago), that the whole conception of classical Marxism is in itself an invalid ‘post-Marxist’ construction, and a product of intellectually incoherent thinking of the same 70’s-90’s period that I examine here.)
Rather, the ‘generalisability’ or otherwise of the primacy of class over gender in the overall socialist struggle – in itself a term worthy of contestation – is something I would hope that will come out in the commentary on these posts.
While I seek to set out a historical analysis of a period and an environment in which I believe a narrow focus on nursing (and by contestable extension) women’s position within capitalist society has actually been deleterious to the cause of socialism, I retain an open mind in whether ‘class-free’ feminism may or will always create the same problems. Like many male socialists, I struggle to come to terms with what feminism should mean to me, or even CAN mean to me, and as Tim acknowledged in his comments on Dave’s post, I make no pretence either to being as well-read as I should be.
While I will make up what follows in subsequent posts as I go along, and while any comments may mean changes to the trajectory, this is the general schema I have in my head at the moment:
Part 2: The development of a new ‘ethos’ of nursing in the 1970s (initially in the US) and how it culminated in Project2000, the new degree-based nursing, with a focus on the (contested) centrality to these development of feminist conceptions of ‘traditional nursing’ as a Judaeo-Christian patriarchal narrative of oppression;
Part 3: The popular narrative of changes in nursing, as expressed by influential rightwing commentators like Melanie Phillips in the changing NHS context’
Part 4: A class-focused analysis of the changes in the NHS and of the development of the popular narrative about them, set out in part 3.
Here, the focus is on how material changes in the NHS under Thatcherism co-opted, in the absence of coherent leftwing opposition, the emergence of the new nursing ‘profession’ to its own ends, and resulted in a MORE exploited workforce and poorer care feeding into the popular ‘anti-feminsist narrative’ described in part 3.
This part will build on and integrate some of the comments made by nurses and others on the original piece at Liberal Conspiracy, which were largely supportive of and brought historical detail to my provisional claim that class bias in the NHS is a significant constraint to its progress, and how ‘divide and rule’ tactics employed by NHS management and government in the 1980s and 1990s have led to both worsened terms and conditions for those at the ‘bottom’ of the workforce, and concomitantly reduced standards of care.
Part 5: Conclusions, if I can be arsed, though I’m hoping that what develops from the comments may mean there is no need for this.
There is useful background reading, should you feel so inclined, in Celia Davies’s ‘Gender and the Professional Predicament in Nursing’, a contemporary (1995) feminist account of the changes then feeding through, and in Ann Bradshaw’s ‘The Project 2000 nurse’. There is also a fascinating and revealingly elitist ‘definition of nursing’ provided by the Royal College of Nursing here.