The confusions of Hopi Sen
Hopi Sen wants it both ways.
First, there’s his defence of the Labour leadership on this past week’s ‘accepting the cuts’ bullet in foot:
Trust me, this isn’t a policy coup, Blairite, Black Labour, or otherwise. What the leadership have done is say we’ll start in Government with the situation the current lot leave for us, and that with a tight fiscal inheritance there will not be room to both unpick the choices of the immediate past and focus on increasing employment.
Right so that’s clear. Ed & Ed are just making it clear that the country will be in shocking state by 2015.
But then Hopi has advice for the unions:
Messrs McCluskey and Kenny have instead decided to invite the Leadership of the Labour party outside, presumably for further detailed discussions.
I think this is a tactical error on their part. There is little appetite in the wider party for internecine warfare, as Luke Akehurst says. Also, you should rarely enter into a fight your opponent feels he must win. The Eds can’t be seen to lose this tussle.
What? So Ed & Ed are not just clarifying things. They’re taking on the unions and desperate to win.
As I say, Hopi’s trying to have his cake and eat it too (to be fair, he no longer eats cake).
But this is simply a starter confusion. What really get my leftie goat is this advice to the union leadership:
[T]he smart move would be to use leverage gained by tacitly accepting Labour’s decision not to unpick 2010-2015 decisions to secure a strong commitment to a more expansionary post-2015 policy.
Hopi doesn’t expand on what leverage, exactly, will be gained by accepting without demur the two Eds’ acceptance of public sector wage cuts of around 15% in real terms over the four years for which they are due to run.
That’s presumably because there won’t be any.
How on earth are union leaders likely to gain bargaining power – this is what I assume he means by leverage – by NOT defending the interests of a substantial number of their members? Surely, logically, the Eds would take this as a sign that the two biggest unions agree with them that there is some strange, anti-Keynesian trade off between wages and jobs, and that it’s therefore a good idea to enforce a tight incomes policy for the duration of the 2015-20 parliament.
Hopi’s quasi-advice to the unions is at best confused, but he is right to say that we should look forward, not back, so I’ll do a Hopi and offer my own unsolicited advice to Messrs McCluskey and Kenny,
This advice recognises that it’s currently their core job to defend the financial interests of their members, but also recognises that total disaffiliation would leave the unions with no prospect of credible representation in parliament. This is not to say that it’s great representation at the moment, but to throw away the long-held institutional ties, and with it any prospect of improved representation, over a couple of opposition speeches, would be foolhardy in the extreme.
So what to do? How is genuine pressure brought to bear on Ed & Ed to rethink how their Keynesian macro-economics and their oppositional politics need to connect, but without talking up the ‘nuclear option’ into a narrative a way which can ultimately become self-fulfilling, and disastrous for the labour movement.
The answer is to move, very publicly, towards a radical restructuring of the way in which the unions affiliate to and support the Labour party. As I’ve set out previously, this would involve putting in place plans for:
1. Disaffiliation by Unite, the GMB and others from national Labour party;
2. Re-affiliation by these same trade unions to CLPs (or branches) with a commitment to the same or more financial contribution overall;
3. A campaign for the re-affiliation to CLPs of trade unions which have already disaffiliated from the national Labour party;
Such a structural change (and I accept it might happen most easily at regional level as a transition step) would have a huge impact upon the way the Labour party both operates.
The key impact, obviously, would be that the reversed flow of financial resources. Unions and ordinary members would start to get a say both on how affairs are run locally, and how their MP (if there is one) represents them, because they hold the purse strings. The PLP leadership would lose its de facto power over a signficant chunk of its funding, and would need to deal with representation from a wide range of MPs now much more open to union influence.
If Ed & Ed want to play hardball with the unions – even at the expense of their own economic logic – they are entitled to do so, and of course they are as aware as I am that the union threat to total disaffiliation is probably an empty one, at least at this stage. But they should also remember that the unions have ways and means of exerting influence on behalf of their members which fall short of the nuclear option both sides want – nobody but the ruling class gains from a labour movement apocalypse – but which are effective nonetheless.