Chris Cook, one of the few centrist media people worth taking seriously – largely because he is open to new ideas and data – tweets surprise at a Neal Lawson column, in which the latter suggests that New Labour’s key failure was its success in getting votes from the rich.
I well remember crunching my way up gravel drives past BMWs in Enfield the day Stephen Twigg ousted Michael Portillo – oh, how we cheered later that morning. But in hindsight the wrong people were voting Labour. The tent was too big and you spent the next 10 years trying to keep the wrong people in it: the very rich, for example. What meaningful project includes everyone?
And I’m surprised at Chris’s surprise. Has politics really become a PR exercise to the extent that for even one of the better commentators, the idea of different material interests, served by different political parties, seems ridiculous?
This is not to say that Lawson is entirely correct in his equating Enfield gravel-pathed residence and BMW ownership with a set of interests that only the Conservative party can meet. Many of those people had very valid reason to vote Labour in 1997, given the manifesto promises made (and quite well fulfilled) around state education, just for example. For myself, I prefer the Tory/Labour constituency dividing lines drawn up 80-odd years ago by RH Tawney, who argues convincingly for the inclusion of “brain workers” in the development of socialist democracy oriented towards socially useful work, while the capitalist owner of the means of production can only ever be on the other side of the political gain line.
But Lawson is right to say that when a political tent is too big, too inclusive, then political direction can be (and was) lost, not least because it is the very visibility (and openness to metaphoric description) of opposing interests which helps maintain that direction (cf. UKIP’s progress in relation to visible immigration).
Indeed, the principle of material interests in political opposition to each other has to be accepted if the votes of, let us say, the self-employed and small business owners, are to be properly contested by one the one hand, a Tory party claiming them in the spirit of capitalism (without the capital for the greater part), and a Labour party which can and should argue that in the early 21st century self-employment is often imposed, and that many small business owners actually manage* – sometimes heroically – to operate within a cut-throat supply chain environment while still maintaining a viable moral economy in relation to their employees and clients.
Those votes are worth fighting for and actually, yes, they may be better votes than ones from the very rich.
* There’ll be more on this in coming posts, especially around how legal structure has become more important in policy than the reality of work norms, not least as I count myself as one of these small business owners, although one without too much need for heroics.
On Facebook, Dave Osler poses the question about Labour’s plummeting support in Scotland:
Generations of international relations students have studied the ‘who lost China?’ debate that took place in the US under the Truman administration. I think pol sci majors in future will equally argue about ‘who lost Scotland’ for the Labour Party. Does the blame lie with Labour’s Westminster leadership, largely oblivious to social trends beyond north London? Or is it the fault of the management team at the branch office itself?
I don’t currently (though I will presently) have much to add to conventional wisdom here, but I think HM Drucker’s warning from 1979, in his Doctrine and Ethos in the Labour Party may be instructive:
Since Labour’s ethos emanates from a specific past one may ask what the implications of this task are for the future…….Labour cannot be simpliciter a party of the future. Such a possibility may be available to a radical social democratic party. It is not possible for the historic Labour party. The attempt by Crosland in his The Future of Socialism (happy title) (1956) to condemn Labour’s tendency to cling to the principles of its past is futile. Any attempt to redefine goals for future action must always be seen to be strictly consonant with the past.
A second implication is that Labour’s support can be eroded by a general change of consciousness. If the ties of class-consciousness are weakened, then Labour is threatened. If Labour comes to be seen as an increasingly middle-class organisation, it could lose its support even if its supporters remained class-conscious. ….Class consciousness, as a historical fact, is obviously endangered by changes external to it. Gaitskell saw prosperity as one such threat. Nationalism is another – one whose power is more real in the 1970s than would have been foreseen in the late 1950s. As Scottish and Welsh working people have come to identify themselves as Scots or Welshmen first and workers second, Labour loses their support to nationalist parties. As this happens, one witnesses an exchange of one past for another as the new choice comes to appear more vivid. If in future elections Labour loses parliamentary seats as a result. it will be paying a high price for the loss of class-identity (p.39, my emphasis).
More to come from me on what this means for Scottish Labour’s response to this now seemingly inevitable loss.
As Labour unravels in Scotland and Glasgow slides SNPwards, a note from fairly recent history:
It seems likely that if, or when, Nationalism becomes powerful in the large cities of Scotland or Wales it will have to face problems similar to those faced by the Labour party at the moment. Thus, while Nationalist parties may bring many of the working classes back into political activity in the short-run, the long term effects may be even greater disillusion (p.135)
Cameron and his team are looking to outflank UKIP by restricting access to National Insurance numbers as a way of capping lower skilled worker entry to the UK labour market. This, as Barroso says, is illegal under EU law, and it just isn’t going to happen, though Cameron will be hoping to keep up the pretence that it might until the other side of the Rochester byelection.
For Labour (and the liberal-left in general), there’s a positive in this. There’s a short window in which it might set out its own more coherent proposals for restricting freedom of movement, and a legal mechanism to do so.
Let’s start with the legal mechanism, which requires an initial bit of myth-busting about what can and can’t be done under EU law.
Just about anyone in the commentariat or UK politics who claims to understand the EU will tell you that freedom of movement is ‘sacrosanct’, and a basic principle of the Single Market. They may also tell you that if a EU state restricts freedom movement for citizens of other EU states, then it’s in breach of the Lisbon Treaty.
This, though, is incorrect.
This is what Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty actually says (my emphasis)
1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.
3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:
(a) to accept offers of employment actually made;
(b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;
(c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;
(d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.
The limiting clause is there for a reason. It is there because early formulators of the legislation (and the limitations date from Clause 48, para 3 of the 1957 Treaties of Rome) understood that total freedom of movement might be difficult to implement, and that there might be occasions when it is best to take a step back.
Now, it’s not quite as easy to invoke the limiting clause as it might once have been. This is because in 2004, EU Directive 2004/38/EC tightened up the process for curtailing freedom of movement by requiring that any person whose movement is curtailed has to be named, and specific reasons provided for the curtailment. Thus, if freedom of movement were to be restricted on a large scale, including for whole states, that Directive would need to be repealed. But the point is that, with political willing from all states, this repeal could take place through the ordinary legislative procedures of the EU, and would not require treaty change.
There are two questions that arise from this. First, why on earth would Southern and accession states voluntarily accede to the repeal of Directive 2004/38/EC when their citizens stand to lose freedom of movement and therefore earning power? Second, what good would it do Labour to engage in such a process (or set out promises for same in its manifesto.
The answer lies in another section of the Lisbon treaty. Article 30 states that “customs duties on imports and exports and charges having equivalent effect shall be prohibited between Member States. This prohibition shall also apply to customs duties of a fiscal nature.” but article 32 clear the way for exceptions to the rule:
In carrying out the tasks entrusted to it under this Chapter the Commission shall be guided by………the need to avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.
Invocation of this aspect of the Lisbon treaty as part of the overall deal between richer and poorer states would create the room for temporary suspension of the single market, and the creation of export subsidy/import substitution mechanisms, such that convergence can occur at a much quicker pace than might otherwise happen. It would effectively, give the newer EU states the space they need to catch up, as long as they agree to their side of the bargain – keeping and feeding their own citizens, especially if it were to go hand in hand with a redistribution of EU structural funds** towards the poorer states:
1. It hoists Farage by his own petard. He has claimed that slower economic growth in Britain is a price worth paying for reduced immigration, and what is proposed here is a route to just that, not just because in the real world immigration into the UK is an economic good, but because UK companies stand to lose business through temporary tariffs. Farage can hardly object to concrete proposals to put into practice what he adovcates.
2. It allows Labour to argue, correctly, that the root cause of EU immigration is the failure of the free market within the EU; economic convergence between rich and poor states has simply not taken place through free trade, and policy intervention by the EU is now needed to help convergence along the way.
3. Labour has no choice. Trying to outdo UKIP or the Tories on toughness is just a non-starter given the very low levels of trust the party suffers on immigration generally, which stem both from a hostile media and from the party’s failure to be clearer about the benefits of EU immigration back in the early 2000s – when it did enjoy considerable trust. Similarly, a late attempt to win over the electorate to the economic benefits of such immigration are doomed to failure, given the evidence that any form of redistributive policy, seen as demanding some form of self-sacrifice, is almost certain to get a hostile reception when political trust is low.
In these circumstances, the only realistic way forward for Labour is to be seen to accede to the expressed demands of much of the British population, and seek to reduce immigration from the EU in the short to medium term, irrespective of the fact that this may actually damage the economy (though in the longer term real economic convergence will benefit all EU states, of course).
*I use the term liberal-left purposely in order to distinguish it from the Marxist left. As a fairly gross generality, the Marxism-inspired left would see what I propose here as an accommodation with nationalism and xenohpobia, that the left’s efforts are better directed at collective action against the real enemy, capitalism, and that the desire of a large part of the population to reduce immigration is one rooted in false consciousness. I have some sympathy with this analysis, however crudely I express it, but I am also a democratic socialist who believes that people do have the right to express preferences, and that telling them their preferences are a product of ignirance is not productive for the most part
**Jacek Rostowski, ex-finance minister for Poland, said recently:
No Polish government could agree to Cameron’s renegotiation proposals except in return for a mountain of gold.
He, of course, recognises that there is a deal to be done. even if Cameron doesn’t.
As for why and how Labour would gain from setting out these proposals, there are three points to make.
Labour is busy internalising and responding to last night’s near miss in Heywood & Middleton. It’s the usual stuff: we did alright because our vote share went up; we didn’t do alright because we didn’t connect; we must talk about immigration; we must DO SOMETHING.
In all of this, there’s been little mention of the most important bit of any campaign: the candidate.
So let’s focus on Liz McInnes MP, and on how and why she was selected for this safe Labour seat which, had it not been for a superb organising job from the North west regional office, and a lot of activist who smelt the danger and got stuck in on securing just enough turnout, she would have lost.
Liz, who I am sure is a perfectly decent person and with whom I have no truck whatsoever, was selected as part of a stitch-up operation that went wrong, in which Harriet Harman’s chum Miriam O’Reilly was supposed to land the selection. Miriam, if you don’t know, is a television presenter. I know nothing of her other than that she tweets about having tea with Ed and Justine.
The plan was that Miriam should stand against three relative no-hopers, of whom one had to be fairly local in order to ensure some credibility (perhaps mindful of being caught out in Erith & Thamesmead) This local-but-not-too-local was Liz. The other two candidates were a councillor from the South of England and a doctor from the other side of Manchester, neither of whom stood an earthly and were shortlisted for that very reason. Unfortunately for the pro-Miriam plotters, the local party voted for Liz.
This is the tip of the iceberg.
The NEC broke its own rules, by abandoning the normal process for byelections. These rules require a longlisting process, with a first interview held (in London) to create a shortlist to go forward to the local party. This was the process set out on the Labour party website until after the selection was complete – with close of application Friday 19th 9am, longlist interviews Monday 22nd, shortlist hustings and selection Tues 23rd. In fatc, the NEC met on the afternoon of Friday 19th and decided to cut out the longlisting process.
It did so in order to exclude a good number of very strong candidates, who would have presented a big challenge to Miriam in terms of both their track record and what distinctiveness they would bring to the campaign. Amongst this number were at least two Labour members who are experts in combatting Child Sexual Exploitation, highly relevant to the campaign given the fact that UKIP were bound to, and did, run hard with an overtly racist campaign about the Labour party allowing the rape of white girls by Asian men.
In summary, the NEC colluded in a clear attempt by the party hierarchy to parachute in ‘one of their own’. In so doing, they exposed the local party and the regional organisers to a campaign fronted by a solid but unspectacular candidate around whom only a weak and locally irrelevant ”save our NHS’ could be generated, and which then relied in sheer doorstep muscle power to squeak home. This was at the expense of a campaign which could have been distinctive in addressing key issues.
The result might still have been close, whoever the candidate was, but the main point here is that the Labour hierarchy, with NEC collusion, deliberately hijacked the selection process, utterly complacent about the possible disaster that faced them.
This kind of action has no place in our party, and I am – as an associationalist who believe in the development of parallel legitimacy of state and civil organisation, but understands that this is only valid if the rule of law is applied in non-sate organisations – for the first time seriously considering whether I can remain a member, especially as this is not the first time in the last 12 months that the NEC has broken the party rules as set down for it by conference, just because it made it easy for the hierarchy. I have to balance this (Bernard Williams-based) ethical standpoint with my enduring and countervailing utilitarianist leaning, and decide whether the utility of remaining on the party* still outweighs my ‘agential integrity’.
I will decide in the next month or so whether I remain a member.
* I will know within a month as there is one specific project I’m working on which has undoubted social utility and could be enhanced by my ongoing membership. There ar other projects where not being a member would be an advantage, though less clearly so.
At 3am on Friday 19th September, hardly a single person in England had given much thought to devolution of power beyond Westminster, or to the West Lothian question. By the afternoon, the people of England were apparently clamouring for a debate, and politicians were responding urgently.
Utter nonsense, clearly, yet there is a political theory to describe what took place today. The politicians were rustling around in the garbage. in Cohen, March and Olsen’s (1972) words, we saw pretty well in real-time
a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work.
The fit is perfect not just with Cameron and Miliband, but with a host of journalists and commentators desperately digging around in their trashy old pieces to come up with the solution to the non-problem.
So a quick moment of order, please, before the garbage rustling begins again:
1) Questions of devolution in England are entirely unrelated to what happened in Scotland on Thursday;
2) The West Lothian question is not a question people actually ask, as it doesn’t really affect what happens in people’s lives,
3) Westminster’s parties, and UKIP, have failed to recognise that constitutional devolution is not the same as devolution of power. By suggesting that it is, and making stupidly rash (Labour) or (cynical) commitments (Tories/UKIP) both parties are embarking on a course remarkably similar to the one followed after 2008. Then, the financial crisis led to risk and accountability being transferred from the rich to the poor, but no power came with it. This time around, risk and accountability will be transferred from Westminster to areas beyond Westminster, but without the powers needed.