Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not me gov

Some Aaro Watching on Twitter:

So this is the narrative for new Labour leaders - 'sorry' over Iraq (ie, not me gov) and 'listening' on immigration. Ugh.

I doubt many AW readers will disagree with the second sentiment. As for "listen" David Miliband referred to it four times in his leadership launch speech.

My parents came to this country having fled persecution. They saw the power of ideas to cause suffering on a monumental scale. But their response was not to close down debate. They championed new thinking. I listened and tried to learn.

I'm trying to work out if that's a joke or not. David Miliband's thinking is certainly 'new' when compared to Ralph's.

New Labour did fantastic things for the country. But now we are out of power, what counts is next Labour. Listening, idealistic, open, engaged, thoughtful, radical, decisive, Labour.

So that's 'next Labour'. What was 'New Labour' then?

  • we will listen to every MP and candidate, whether or not they support me, for their ideas about what the country needs and the public want; they’ve just spent weeks on the doorstep and we need to make the most of that knowledge

  • we will listen to the country as well as campaign in the party; we will take the party and its ideas out into the constituencies we have lost as well as those we have won

There's "we will listen" twice. As if they didn't before. But, here's Simon Hoggart from Tuesday 8 November 2005:

Which brings us to New Labour's answer to Mr Sarkozy, Hazel Blears. I don't know what she does to the bombers, but by God she frightens me. When she said, "and we are a listening government, yes, we are a listening government", I felt like someone hearing Genghis Khan talk about being responsive to our consumer base.

I think 'listening' goes back further than the early months of New Labour's third term, but that's the earliest I can find easily. So shorter me: New (Next) Labour always claim to be listening in the present and in the immediate future, while also claiming, somewhat unconvincingly, not to have been listening in the past. What this means, re immigration I think, is some bloody awful rhetoric, perhaps culminating in a fireside heart-to-heart between the most desperate candidate and Richard Littlejohn, and, a few years down the line, the same thing all over again.

I know a few readers are political activists, and probably did knock on doors during the election campaign. I didn't, but I bet the feedback wasn't at all straightforward. Here's How Britain Voted in 2010 (Ipsos Mori). Labour did lose votes from the famous C2 class (Men: -11; Women: -15) but those votes didn't all go to the Conservatives (Men: +4; Women: +7); some went to the pro-immigration Lib Dems: (Men: +3; Women: +5). From that, I would not conclude that immigration lost it for Labour. Either it's irrelevant, or the C2s are split, a small majority against, but a significant minority in favour.

But I meant to write about Dave's first problem: well, it wasn't them. Neither Ed Balls nor Ed Miliband "were MPs when the decision to invade Iraq was made." (Political historians: are there other precedents for party leadership candidates who have only served one term as MPs? Cameron only entered Parliament in 2001. Is this new?) Via Sim-O, Balls claimed to the Telegraph, "For the first time I’m free to be myself." Presumably, he means "for the first time, since being in government" but ministers are always free to resign if they disagree with government policy. I'm starting to warm to Balls, mostly because Nick Cohen hates him. But he's entirely wrong here (coming back to Dave's tweet):

“We [the leadership candidates] all have similar messages, on welfare reform and immigration, because we’ve all had lots of conversations with people like Mrs Duffy. Gordon would have had a better campaign and a better time of it if he had spent a lot of time in public, having those conversations. You can’t do politics through the speech and the delivered message.”

PMs don't spend a lot of time meeting the public: they have to run the country - and that means doing politics by doing stuff rather than just making speeches and delivering messages. You really can't blame Gordon Brown for that. He had advisors, one of whom was Ed Balls of course, to keep in touch with public opinion.

The thought of Gillian Duffy's uninformed prejudices swaying the Labour leadership election - to quote Simon Hoggart quoting the Duke of Wellington - frightens me.

The fun thing, of course, is how they're all running from Iraq now. Well, it was too much to listen to Hans Blix or Robin Cook or two-million odd marchers at the time. Labour will listen now, and if they don't, well, I will never believe another thing that I am told by our government ... ever again.

(Personal note: coming back from the shops this morning I was asked by my new neighbours, whom I hadn't met before - well, I wouldn't have, as they've only been here three days - to look at their boiler, which they couldn't get to produce hot water. People who know me will understand that this was life-endangering on their part, and an explosion, fire, flood, or other disaster could have followed, as happens when I try to 'fix' things. The neighbours are a little girl and her grandmother, who were housed by the refugee council, which they confuse with the local council, who actually provide the house. I know they're from Pakistan, and the refugee council has placed them in a home with next to no furniture, and I also know that people are basically conservative. Emigrating is fine is you're young, skilled, and seeking your fortune. It's not the natural course for the very old or the very young. And so I conclude - I didn't ask - that they moved because of something pretty bad. Not having been able to fix the boiler, or contact the council - they don't even have a phone; I'll have to let them use mine on Monday when I come home from work - I was nearly in tears when I closed my front door. So, fuck everyone who wants to cut immigration and make it harder. Ed and Ed and David and the rest, perhaps you could talk (that means listen) to some refugees too. Or is that unimportant?)


Blogger Sunder Katwala said...

the history point: yes, this is very unusual in terms of Parliamentary experience. The link below gives Prime Ministers, not all party leaders. But Cameron has the shortest Parliamentary experience for a PM at 9 years, and a party leader after 4.

Yet, of course, Balls can be said to begin a political career in 1994 and is in government in 1997; ditto David Cameron as a Spad in 1992.

5/22/2010 12:28:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

As with "the Big Conversation" in 2003:[First quote from David Willets]
"I hope he really does listen. The trouble is all the evidence is he won't.
"After all, he's just announced this week that he's bringing in top-up fees and - that is not something students want, it's not something we want and it's not something many of his backbenchers want."
Liberal Democrat chairman Matthew Taylor was also dismissive.
"Labour has been ignoring people for years now, this simply makes it official," he said.

"E-mail your views, but everyone knows that from foundation hospitals to war in Iraq and tuition fees, Labour doesn't listen."

5/22/2010 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks for those guys. We have the best commenters. Sorry the post was so long. Just meant to say 'heh' to Iraq war 'not me, gov' and got carried away (as always).

BTW, if anyone's ever travelled by train to Kiev, David A would like to hear from you.

5/22/2010 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I knew a girl there once.

It seems such a long time ago now.

5/22/2010 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

A Ukrainian friend of mine told me a dozen years ago that she had a set of the works of Mao Tse-Tung in Russian that I could have if I went to her family's place in Kiev to pick it up.

Curiously, I have never been over there to collect it.

5/22/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They're beginning to run from Iraq now, but it still seems to be more about the effect that the invasion of Iraq had on the Labour Party than about breaking international law or turning Iraq into a failed state.


5/22/2010 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"Listening to the people" is an old political cliche used by politicians when they are in the shit.

Tony Blair in 2000 after the hauliers strike and petrol shortage:
"I am listening. I hear. And I will act"he promised."

Tony Blair in 2005 after being returned with a reduced majority:
"We have got to listen to the people and respond wisely and sensibly."

But as Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary said after Labour lost this month:
"It is not that it wasn't listening - it was that it didn't know what to do with some of the things that it heard"

Dennis Potter, writing in 1993 about what was happening to the BBC, wrote: "...each age, even each decade, has its little cant word coiled up inside real discourse like a tiny grub in the middle of an apple. Each age, even each decade, is overly impressed for a little while by half-way bright youngish men on the make who adeptly manipulate the current terminology...."

Is "change" possibly "the little cant word" of the moment?

When New Labour was being formed in the 1990s "the little cant word" was "modernisation". So if you opposed some hare-brained, right-wing idea being adopted by New Labour, some half-way bright youngish man would reply:
"You're against modernisation, then?"

(Actually I can still in my head hear Denis MacShane still saying it)

5/23/2010 01:34:00 PM  

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