Fancy "refreshing the Labour brand"?
The Labour training session at the weekend was a long-overdue attempt, pioneered by Chinese For Labour's chair Sonny Leong, to engage the Chinese, Britain's third-largest ethnic minority, in mainstream politics in order to find "credible" candidates for the 2011 election and haul them out of their isolation. The sad part of this innovation was the revelation that New Labour lurks like a coiled viper ready with the same old toxic policies that got us into the present mess where a right-wing coalition demolishes with no meaningful challenge what remains of the egalitarian society in which I grew up.
New Labour returns
Just when you thought it was safe to rebuild your movement ...
Richard Angell, the Deputy Director of Progress, the organ set up by arch-Blairite Derek Draper, opened proceedings by extolling the virtues of this "new Labour pressure group". Surely I must have heard that wrong? So I checked that he meant "new Labour ..." and not "New-Labour", but no, he was proud of the New Labour record that led to a fall of seats in the South from 45 to eight and ushered in the unelected ConDem Bullingdon vandals aided by Ramsay McClegg's lot. Arch-villain and New Labour architect "Lord" Peter Mandelson is, after all, supportive of key aspects of the coalition's attack on the poor.
Angell rushed in where even fools know the score, insisting that "we must know where we went wrong". But exactly what was it he identifies as going wrong? Like a pomo ad-man doomed to repeat history in ever diminishing circlets of hell, he ascribed the electorate's revulsion with Labour to not using "language they understand". We needed "the answers, not the problem ... solutions." We had to be "in the game and winning it," and "thinking the unthinkable". Be "bold, radical." "Yes we can," at the very moment the coiner of this platitudinous phrase was losing his mid-term election by a landslide.
And Angell's solution? It was crime what done us in. Even when all the figures show that crime was not the public's chief concern no matter how hard the Daily Mail tried to tell us it was so, and even though the crime rate was falling. Not the economy, not the war, not the crackdown on civil liberties, not the corruption, the sleaze, the expenses scandal, the infatuation with the rich and powerful and contempt for the poor. It was crime. Not even the causes of crime. It all fell apart when "we let the treasury deal with crime." People must learn not to commit crime ... crime ungood ... don't do it again. On Planet New Labour it is drummed into us that, "actions have consequences", which is hilarious when you consider these physicians can't even heal themselves.
How to rectify this? Fight them on the beaches? Organise in the workplace? Win the propaganda war at the hustings, in the media? Nope, we had to "go to the bars and talk to the people." I kid you not.
Platitude after platitude, cliché after cliché came thick and fast, but mostly thick, and had us reeling on the ropes. It was like banal rape — taken up the wrong'un with no chance of impregnation. The response to this utter vacuum of ideas, this tsunami of insubstance, this blizzard of buzzwords and rehashed politics while Rome is about to go up in flames, was a marked coolness from the 40 or so Chinese present. Hey, Richard, the stereotype of the Chinese being smart contains a grain of truth and if you think the ethnics are going to swallow your nonsense even with the implicit carrot that careers can be made, you are even more unsmart (to borrow his Orwellian Ministry of Truth speak) than you looked. As a seduction it was a big fat fail.
Sarah Mulley (IPPR), Mee Ling Ng, (Chinese For Labour), and Sonia Sodha (Demos)
Women wonks rool
The two women wonks, Sarah Mulley, Associate Director of the Institute For Public Policy Research (IPPR), and Sonia Sodha, Head of the Public Finance Programme at Demos, on the other hand, were far more impressive and on top of their brief.
Sarah Mulley's flawless analysis, locating the cracks in the coalition government's vicious policies, homed in on their emphasis on immigration as a problem for them. This is in meltdown as she demonstrated with forensic clarity. They've set an impossible task for themselves resulting in splits in the government and even their business supporters kicking up over the cap on the importation of skilled labour.
In their haste to number-crunch and halve net immigration from 200,000 to 100,000 per year, the government neglected to work out how they can do this in real terms. With only foreign students paying top-whack fees, families, migrants already here and the highly skilled — such as lawyers, academics, doctors, and Chinese chefs — to pick on, they will end up cutting the figures by only ten percent. Boy, will the Mail be pissed.
Unlike Ed Balls who made immigration-as-a-problem his Unique Selling Point (USP) in the recent Labour leadership contest, Mulley said that this is one area where Labour has to avoid a race to the bottom with the Tories as they can never win. Besides, "this is not as big a concern to the electorate as the economy." Balls's campaign revealed the dark night of the Labour soul and the conflict between its internationalist impulse and exaggerated doorstep anxieties. Labour should stand their progressive ground and refuse to fight this battle on Tory turf.
Mulley understands this well, and yet they don't seem able to extend this principle to other issues of fairer taxation and wealth distribution.
Sonia Sodha talked abut the spending review and how the Tories had succeeded in boosting its economic credibility.
She said that despite Blair and Brown winning the economic argument in the run-up to the 1997 election and Brown making all the correct public sector investments, as well as bailing out the banks with the support of the Tories in the wake of the crisis, the Tories had turned the narrative on its head.
The silence of the shams
Unfortunately, she made no mention of how this happened, ignoring Labour's almost total silence between June, when the cuts policy was announced, and the October Bullingdon Budget, when that narrative was taking shape, or questioned why Ed Miliband couldn't even turn up to the first (very late!) protest as he had promised. In the face of such an onslaught, babies and leadership contests are no excuse for people who purport to be leaders of our nation: if you can't walk and chew gum at the same time, you should not be doing the job.
While the Tories are cutting too hard and fast, she claimed Labour would halve the deficit in 4-5 years. Even though the crisis was not of our making, Labour still capitulates to the right-wing claim that we need a combination of cuts and tax. It's just the proportions they are quibbling about: a quick death or the death of a thousand cuts. How very feudal Chinese of them. As Harpy Marx pointed out at another showdown with the Dark Forces, we've not had our £1.3 trillion bailout back, £70 billion is lost every year in tax avoidance or evasion, and we still have funds for Trident.
Not only that, but someone scrutinising the Sunday Times rich list spotted that "the richest 1,000 people in the UK could pay off the whole of the £159 billion public deficit tomorrow, just from the profits they have made last year out of the economic crisis. The collective wealth of the country's 1,000 richest people rose 30% last year in the wake of the economic crisis. Their combined wealth rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, the biggest annual increase in the 22-year history of the Sunday Times rich list."
Ross McKibbin in the London Review Of Books questions the whole con-job assertion that the cuts have anything to do with the economy and says the crisis allowed the Conservatives to transform a crisis of the banks into a crisis of the welfare state:
To the historian, especially of the 1931 crisis, the whole thing is sadly familiar. There is the same paralysis on the part of the Labour Party ... and everywhere the same ramped-up rhetoric: the country is on the edge, going bankrupt, capital will flee, and it is all Labour’s fault. And this time, as in 1931, there is much that is spurious. The country is not on the verge of bankruptcy. There is no evidence that the bond market was reacting against British debt, despite the best efforts of the Conservative Party to encourage it to do so. Our fiscal position was never like that of Greece, which had cooked the books and was struggling to cope with short-term government debt, though Osborne et al insisted it was. Why was it necessary to take such drastic action at all? Our debt ratio was much higher after the Second World War and neither Attlee nor Churchill felt any obligation to do what Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have done. Even Darling’s proposed schedule of deficit reduction seems excessively prudent. A less political chancellor might simply have allowed economic recovery (i.e. increased tax returns to the Treasury), modest reductions in new spending and inflation to deal with the debt.
(LRB hat tip Gauche who writes on Labour's poor showing here.)
The reality of the Tories' "Big Society" is 78 percent spending cuts and a miserly 22 percent rise in taxes. While Sodha points out that even Norman Lamont in the 1980s split the fiscal readjustment 50/50 between cuts and taxes, she still buys into their version — the best Labour can offer is the Tory levels in the Thatcher years. I asked her how she would like the deficit divvied up and she confessed she'd like to see it at a marginally more generous proportion of 60/40. In which case, why did "Red" Ed Miliband promote economics ignoramus Alan Johnson to the Treasury when he advocates 50/50, snubbing Ed Balls and his 60/40 split?
We know that the spending review is massively regressive with the bottom ten percent of the population (minus the very top two percent) picking up the tab for the banking crisis. But who is protecting them? Not Labour. In this climate, when the majority of the electorate would like to see the rich taxed highly to alleviate the pressure on the poor by the Bullingdon bullies, Johnson is hinting that he might even axe the measly 50 percent top rate of tax. To quote Amy Winehouse, what kind of fuckery is this?
Labour is stolidly on the back foot with the media determining policy in a time of crisis.
If this was a movie, we would be in the final reel with the monster still not dead. In fact, this promises to be an umpteen-sequel franchise which won't come to an end until Jamie Lee Curtis comes in swinging a bloody great axe to put the New Labour horror out of our collective misery.
Richest 1,000 could clear the deficit here