Why I am Left Wing

Open Left, the project for which James Purnell is the director at Demos – “renewing the thinking and ideas of the political Left” – asked various types their reasoning for being left-wing. I had a couple of minutes so I answered the questionnaire. As follows:

What is it about your political beliefs that puts you on the Left rather than the Right?:

The so-called political surgeons are attempting to suture up the old left/right divisions, but the fair arrangement of capital, the welfare state and the public services are best overseen by those with everyone’s best interests, regardless of class. It is on the left that these values will stay put, where the right might only flirt with them for political gain.

What do you consider made you Left wing?:

Initially it would have been a mixture of two things; discussions with my Grandad who worked for the TGWU, and discussions with participants at anti-BNP/NF demonstrations (which I would attend before I had been politicised).

How would you describe the sort of society you want Britain to be?

One in which Government isn’t held to ransom by the City. A society that measures success by fairness and equality and not by growth. A society where information is not dealt to the highest bidder, where education isn’t seen as an investment but a right, where pension pots are safe from economic fluctuations. A society where the Labour party is the Labour Party again.

What one or two changes would make the biggest difference to bringing that about?

Firstly, to root out the bad wood in the Labour party, those careerists, rightists, and opportunists who figure the best way to win elections is to meet head-on with the Tories, then secondly turn our backs to donators who hold the party ransom for their own personal clout.

What most makes you angry about the way Britain is now?

Sidelining discussion for compromise. James Purnell hit the nail on the head when he said that Labour’s lack of debate on immigration put their political clarity on the subject in flux, and in impromptu discussion on the matter just seem lagging on the back foot. Politics in Britain, when its not in compromise, its contrarian, and this is enough to make any left-winger go red in the face.

Which person, event, era or movement from the past should we look to for inspiration now?

Saint Paul; he knew that political salvation was not meant to be for a select committee, but for everyone, regardless of race, creed or class.


What now for Labour after Norwich North

A comment made by atropos on the live coverage of the Norwich North by election reads “I think the real battle is for second place. If Labour come anywhere near third place, Labour are doomed for 3 terms.”

The reporter taking on the election at Norwich for the BBC has spoken dismissively of there being a leadership challenge as a consequence of today, but certainly if Labour come third, its curtains.

In today’s by-elections, the 45.88% turnout (heads up from Norfolkblogger) may be good for the Tories, as politicalbetting has noted, “The general theory of low turnouts is that the campaigns which benefit most are those that are best organised” and on the basis of Tory candidate Chloe Smith’s highly organised operation – thanks to no less than 6 visits by Cameron, along with entourage Hague and Osborne – there is no reason to doubt this judgement.

At this time (10.08am) Sky News has word that Labour have conceded defeat and its a fight for second-place between them and the Lib-Dems.

So this is ripe time for a general plan of action – where now for Labour?

I had hoped that when Alan Johnson was sniffing around for the PM job that the tables would turn, but they didn’t, and I wrote about a leftwards shift before its too late, and it didn’t happen – and now the party is spoken of as having doomed.

Another thorn in the side. I said I didn’t want to see a Labour leftwing shift after an (general) election defeat in 2010, because this would be too late. I didn’t realise how right I would be. Strategically, a leftwing shift might not be popular among the Labour benches because the Tories themselves are calling dibs on this – one Tory even saying that James Purnell’s Open Left turn should point him in the direction of conservatism. It beggars belief, but the Tories might succeed in appearing more leftwing than Labour, even though this is clearly claptrap (Jesse Norman says that the Tories will champion leftwing/working-class traditions (often thoroughly small-c conservative) of self-help).

So one strategy is to undo that turn of academic progressive conservatism at an academic level (which is why, in spite of Purnell’s non-leftist reputation, I support the Open Left forum and am excited by the prospect of Cruddas and other encouraging voices from the left), and to also show Tories to be the party, not of communitarianism, but of big business, and that Red Toryism, or any other “political cross-dressing” is a front.

Will Gordon Brown ruin Labour forever?

The rebels failed to amount to anything at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting; the reshuffle has settled the shifts; Mandy is happy, the Miliband’s are happy; Polly Toynbee is furious; the James Purnell story on Guido Fawkes is probably bollocks; he probably helped keep Brown from drowning; Alan Johnson has not ruined his chances of being leader by looking like he wants it too much, and Brown lives to see another day.

So we rebels who hoped Compass would help direct Brown to the door have to ask ourselves the question; is the question of leadership change big enough to collapse the party (see David Aaronovitch’s intervention) or will the party suffer as a consequence of rebel silence?

In other words, should the rebels bite their lips to save the party, or will this complacency lead to defeat beyond repair.

Nick Cohen offered up some scary details at the weekend, and though rather exaggerated, do outline the very worst case scenrio for the Labour Party if the wrong decision is to be taken. He says;

“The banking crash led to recession, which led to a popular fury at the often minor, but still telling, corruptions of MPs who were fiddling expenses while the financial system boomed and bust. That anger has now concentrated on the shattered Brown administration, whose manifest failings could destroy Labour’s chances of winning another election – maybe forever, if the Liberal Democrats and Greens take over what remains of the centre-left.”

Roy Hattersley reminded us elsewhere that Labour should re-deliver its social democracy promises, just as Europe reminded us that the left’s chance to prosper (during an economic crisis) had failed.

But this is by far not a call for the left to give up, and I back Hattersley’s sentiment. The point remains; is Gordon Brown doing the right thing for the greater good by staying, if the worst that could happen come next election is that Labour slip into fourth place, behind the BNP, forever more?

The consequences of Brown staying on are far greater than an election defeat in 2010, and so the question is on: will the (definitely disavowed gesture of) silence by the rebels be a gesture that returns to haunt them in the future?

Putting our Balls at risk

What surrounds the talk of reshuffle is a feeling that Brown is not only bringing to the fore fresh talent, but that he is shedding dead weight.

There was despair when he criticised Blears but not Purnell and Hoon.

Now Darling is clinging on. Just.

But do the rumours that Brown is tactically losing Darling hold?

On the side of YES it is a tactic, is the looming prospect of Ed Balls becoming introduced to the treasury, which Brown made no secret of condoning over the weekend.

Reuters notes;

“Some aides say they have been urging Brown to put schools minister and close ally Ed Balls into the Treasury for a while, arguing it would bring more discipline to the ministry and give Labour a better chance of winning a national election due by next year.”

Balls would be a fresh face to the party’s top team, and is already a recognisable face to the city, not only being a former FT journalist, but as Brown’s right-hand man when he was finance minister.

While Darling is in the media for his expense claims, Martin Kettle in his article today suggests that the Telegraph‘s reporting of Darling was scandalous itself, and that Darling, and his team, are all pretty straight guys. It is all hype, Darling’s claims were not as bad as the ‘graph made it seem, and its all a plot.

On the side of NO it is not a tactic, Brown doesn’t want to stand down, so reports the Guardian, because he wants to deal with the issues at hand, namely the economy. And as the Balls move would look too much like the Brown/Darling duo haven’t had hold of the economy the whole time (bearing in mind the promise that the economy will stop sliding sometime early next year, as opposed to other predictions that it could be at least 3 years) surely only a massive cock-up like “Darling billed us for two homes at the same time” could spur on such a dubious reshuffling.

There is, of course, a viable third option suggesting that it is a little of YES and a little of NO.

But in any case a leftwards shift in finance – spearheaded by Balls – would be an encouraging prospect, despite the view that Balls will have little opportunity for manoeuvre in the present economic climate.

As the Reuters report finishes;

“Darling, 55, is also less likely to take risks than Balls, 42, part of a younger generation of ministers who will probably fight to replace Brown at some stage”.

Of rumours and reshuffling

Regarding Brown’s comments on Hazel Blears, it was going to be jolly difficult playing down the rumours that there was tactical bitterness between the two; Blears criticising the YouTube performance, Brown responding by highlighting Blears’ unacceptable expenses claims.

Harder still will be playing those rumours down now that Brown has defended two other cabinet ministers James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, whose abuses seem rather identical, according to Toby Helm.

He added: “Were Hoon and Purnell less guilty because they had not slagged Brown off the weekend before the expenses revelations started to emerge (as Blears had done)?”

The argument from Hoon’s people, as the blog entry continues, is that there was no confusion as to which was the first and second home to the authorities, whereas with Blears there had been.

With ongoing uproar surrounding the expenses scandal – which claimed its first Labour Member of Parliament, Wirral South’s Ben Chapman, today – the bar with which we, the public, now judge abuse has been lowered since MP’s left, right and centre have been highlighted (perhaps Polly Toynbee has hit the nail on the head, calling for a system of fewer MP’s, although cutting MP’s in half might have its own set of attached abuses). Consistency – in this case Hoon’s – counts for so much more nowadays.

To Helm’s question What’s the difference between Hazel Blears and James Purnell? the answer seems to be not much by everyday standards, but in our new set of parliamentary rules, Hoon comes up trumps.

Although Hoon, like Blears, is not completely safe from a reshuffling. In fact they are both noted as most vulnerable.

Ed Balls is likely to be shifted, too. And plans for Alan Johnson to take a role as party spokesman will keep leftwingers appeased.

Peter Mandelson has come out in support of David Miliband’s continuation as Foreign Secretary – a long time sought after role for Mandy.

Miliband’s upkeep of US backing has today brokered further loyalty when addressing the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. His tone was apologetic when noting that “the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, aroused a sense of bitterness, distrust and resentment. When people hear about Britain, too often they think of these things.”

Gracing his presence in the dialogues with Pakistan, announcements of a new China and the chuminess with the US, Miliband’s job is secured. And the rest of the world is spared our privatisation-fetishist PM (Peter Mandelson, that is).