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May 16, 2015

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"But it's perhaps more likely that a leader who has false ideas buttressed by the groupthink of a coterie of lackies can do real damage."
Thereby completing the destruction started by the last two most recent leaders with false ideas?. I suggest the Country could be comforted by that thought

Metatone

On the one hand - I generally agree.

On the other, if we learned anything from the last five years it's that this first period of government is where the narrative is set. If you don't stand up to the narrative now then you're starting from in a hole.

Austerity will come back as an issue with the budget in July. The Human Rights Act thing will rumble on as a prelude to the EU vote.

Labour desperately need some kind of caretaker leader who can stand up and be counted in the next "100 days" otherwise they cede the political momentum in a drastic way.

So - perhaps, like the Roman Dictator, Labour should be drafting in someone who I wouldn't like (self-awareness moment) but the media do (Alan Johnson?) to keep nipping at the heels of the government while they work out a leader and a platform for the future.

From Arse To Elbow

Metatone makes a plausible case for what is essentially a managerialist tactic (albeit an effective one, in Chris's terms), namely the appointment of an interim CEO. I suspect this may happen anyway, for structural reasons.

Labour's problem is that the Blair years have weakened the institutional capability of the party to listen to both members and supporters, having replaced an active (and therefore troublesome) organisation with a passive one, and having made autonomy suspect (thus handing the SNP a gift in Scotland). The legacy of Philip Gould is a party incapable of generating new thinking from the grassroots, as opposed to taste-tasting the output of thinktanks and the media bubble.

As a post-democratic party, Labour finds itself lacking a democratic culture at precisely the point when it needs one most. The decision this week to have a four-month leadership election process is an obvious compromise between the Blairite desire for an early coronation by acclamation and the non-Blairite desire for the party conference to act as a hustings.

It would have made more sense to adopt a split strategy: appoint an interim leader now (if Harman isn't up the job, why was she appointed Deputy in the first place?); and spend the next 2-3 years rebuilding the party's democratic capability from the ground up. Of course, the very idea of democracy will give some grandees the heebie-jeebies, but if there is one cause that is genuinely common to the fragmentation of Labour support across the SNP, Greens and UKIP, it is the failure of representation.

Steve

The great leader Blair only got 200,000 more votes than Milluband when he won a good majority of seats in 2005. If Labour had not blown it in Scotland, Milliband would have got more votes than Blair in 2005.

ChrisA

Milliband would still have lost though even if he had held every Labour seat in Scotland. The reason he lost was that the floating voter went for the Tories and UKIP and abandoned the Lib-Dems. Basically the core vote held up for Labour but no-one else was convinced so they tactically voted to keep out Labour. When Blair was there, the floating voting didn't worry about him so much, so didn't bother with tactical votes to keep him out. So the problem remains for those of the left - people vote against leftism or perceived leftism.

On Chris's point about Managerialism - sure there is an alternative call democratic decision making that, on average, will likely deliver better expected decisions than relying on the judgement of a hero. But political parties (pace Hanson) are not about delivering better decisions but about hero's. In other words, who goes into politics to grind in committees? They go to get their ego's stroked. So politicians manufacture their own demand. And of course leaders, because they are less likely to chose a "sensible decision" will sometimes achieved unexpected success, which again reinforces the hero cult idea.

Chris

The real challenge is to have good managers focussed on the future, rather than the short term ones focussed on the end of the next period like most UK Companies I've experienced.

I wonder how much our recent productivity issues relate to companies targeting short term profits over long term success.

rogerh

A very difficult problem. For a start I am not sure decentralisation is the answer but neither is managerialism. The problem is who gets to capture government and bend it to their will. The Tories seem captured by corporates - look at their mad ideas re education. But the unions may be as bad, terrified their members and themselves will disappear down the the low wage stem of the cocktail glass pay structure but with no real way of avoiding that fate.

My fear is that decentralisation leads to 'divide and conquer'. Where does the funding come from and who controls it. You can be sure every decentralised arm will be assailed by consultants, regulators and advisers. It is they who become the power behind the thrones. They too are terrified they will slip down the cocktail glass stem. Therein lies the key problem, our pie is shrinking, no-one wants to share it more equitably or even admit it is shrinking and some still want to grab more for themselves.

Matt Moore

Good post. All organisations tend to suffer from attribution bias, and think too much of the great man's ability to overcome structural constraints.

Blissex

But parties exist to be eventually elected, because that's what benefits their sponsors.

So the overwhelming priority for Labour is to deliver electability, and if the "floating" voters are craven opportunists who like (non-leftist) smooth heroes who deliver tax-free effort-free capital gains, that's where Labour's priority must be.

Consider Clegg's enormous success in the 2010 elections as a younger Blair.

Consider the Tories total dedication to winning elections to deliver bungs to their sponsors, even if it takes using Cameron as a "smooth hero" front-man while the real winner of these elections is Osborne.

The alternative is to spend years trying to re-educate the electorate and in particular floating voters in the South East to vote for anything other than their short/medium term wallet.

But even that is much easier in government; the Tories spent and are continuing to spend a lot of taxpayer wealth on deep social engineering with Right-To-Buy bungs and New Labour tried to follow them in exactly the same way in order to destroy their Labour wing.

With some motivation: the Labour wing of the Labour party is effectively unelectable given that most (floating) voters are property-mad speculators.

Blair vote in 1987, before he went full-on tory:

www.lrb.co.uk/v09/n19/tony-blair/diary
«In retrospect, the seeds were sown in the Sixties and Seventies, when the leadership of the Labour Party was content to concentrate on stitching up the block votes, manipulating Party Conference – and, to be fair, was preoccupied with governing the country. But at the grass roots the Party was withering. Party members were not being recruited, many local organisations were moribund and participation in key decisions was limited. Once the 1979 defeat occurred, and the pragmatism of the Party’s senior figures seemed not just tired but failed, a wave of constitutional reform swept over the Party.»
«The difficulty was that though the theory of greater democracy and increased accountability of MPs was fine, the practical context in which the theory was operating was fraught with danger. What was missing from the theory was any appreciation of the vital necessity of ensuring that, as well as MPs or leaders being accountable to the Party, the Party was accountable to the electorate.»
«Post-war Britain has seen two big changes. First, and partly as a result of reforming Labour governments, there are many more healthy, wealthy and well-educated people than before. In addition, employment has switched from traditional manufacturing industries to a more white-collar, service-based economy. The inevitable result has been that class identity has fragmented. Only about a third of the population now regard themselves as ‘working-class’. Of course it is possible still to analyse Britain in terms of a strict Marxist definition of class: but it is not very helpful to our understanding of how the country thinks and votes. In fact, of that third, many are likely not to be ‘working’ at all: these are the unemployed, pensioners, single parents – in other words, the poor. A party that restricts its appeal to the traditional working class will not win an election. That doesn’t entail a rejection of socialism’s traditional values: but it does mean that its appeal, and hence its policies, must address a much wider range of interests.»
«Mrs Thatcher didn’t create these circumstances: she was a product of them and her policies are a response to them. But the measures most closely associated with her – council-house sales, trade-union ballots, wider share ownership – reflect, at least rhetorically, the notion of devolving power. Her slogan in 1987 was ‘power to the people’; her Conference speech borrowed a phrase – ‘an irreversible shift in power in favour of working people’ – from Labour’s 1974 Manifesto. In other words, even Mrs Thatcher has had to pretend that she is extending opportunity and power. The weakness of Thatcherism is that, whatever the rhetoric, the policies don’t work. They end up concentrating power in the hands of élites, in restricting freedom and in centralising control. The ‘free’ market does not distribute fairly or efficiently: it produces inequality and monopoly.»
«The fundamental error of Dr Owen (and, oddly, of David Steel since the election, though not before it) has been to surrender to Mrs Thatcher’s philosophy and say that power can only be devolved through the market. The 1990s will not see the continuing triumph of the market, but its failure. If in 1974 a soothsayer had predicted that by 1984 Birmingham North-field, with its 10,000 Labour majority, or Sherwood, with perhaps more pits than any other constituency, would be Tory, he would have been considered deranged. It has come to pass, but for reasons that can be analysed and understood and thus overcome. Labour can start its journey on the road to recovery with confidence in its beliefs and values. But it must keep an open mind and face difficult thoughts. The alternatives are not to embrace Thatcherism or escape from reality in some comforting romantic atavism. There is another way: to go back to our founding principles of a hundred years ago and apply them afresh to the world as it is today.»

That was really Blair writing.

Guano

Yes, indeed: the Labour leader election is bundling together two separate questions. The question about the party's message and the question about who should be leader. Unfortunately many of the remaining party members are incapable of deciding on the party's message: they hope that the leader will decide that for them.

Guano

Allowing the leader to decide policy, when the leader was Blair, led to Labour having some policies that went down well in the media but turned out to be disastrous in practice. The media don't have to accept responsibility, in the long run, for the coherence or success of the policies that they advocate but the parties do, to some extent. So passively allowing Blair to set the policy on Iraq, without asking the obvious questions, has turned out to be a big mistake for Labour. The Party, though, doesn't seem to have come to terms with that error.

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