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May 18, 2010


photo ex machina

The sad truth is that in 1997 Labour marginalised most of their ideologues in order to gain electoral success and so over their time in office careerists and chancers filled the void.

What do they stand for now other than themselves? I really don't know. I wonder what John Smith would think of today's political landscape.

Mike Woodhouse

Therein, I submit, lies the dilemma of the "conviction politician", driven to seek power because of his convictions, but unable to attain it because of, er, his convictions.

So are we now entering the age of Pragmatic Politics? (idea for a book title right there, surely) And would that necessarily be a Bad Thing?


"But what if the overlap between Labour values and voters’ values is small or non-existent?"

Isn't it more a case that the electorate fail to understand the differences between Labour and Conservative?

So for example, the working classes mistakenly believe they are voting for an anti-immigration Tory party against a pro-immigration Labour party.

The reality is that they are voting for a pro-immigration Tory party with no progressive tax and benefit system.

After five years then of experiencing first hand a Tory administration, they will realise that they are worse off and that they do actually support the policies you've mentioned.

Paul Sagar

Well I was going to write a blog post, but then I came here and saw that you'd written it already...

plashing vole

Depressingly, you're right. Most voters want a nicer Tory Party: consumerist, capitalist but still somehow caring.


Ed wasn't talking about unskilled workers suffering from cheap immigrant labour. The example he gave was builders.

Anyone who thinks building is an unskilled trade has never tried it.

But what would a theoretical socialist know about carpentry, bricklaying, plastering, painting, wiring, plumbing?

Grumpy Optimist - Andrew Richardson

Labour's values are that the state can take over and protect you better than you can yourself and that it is justifiable that the majority pass laws to tax the rich and middle class - justified by the moral turpitude of the rich and middle class for just being rich or middle class.

And there are loads in this country (most of whom gain their livelihood from the state) who would vote for that - after all 30% did at the election despite Brown (who was pretty well universally and rightly loathed) and incompetence and mendacity on a truly industrial scale.


I'd like to back up Stephen's point, it was *skilled* manual workers who swung away from Labour.


@ Stephen - I wasn't saying building is unskilled. The example Ed gave was a poor one. There's little evidence that immigration reduces wages in the building trade. It might even increase them. Eg, if Polish roofers fill a shortage in the UK market, plasterers and electricians can get more work done, so their wages rise.
And a lot of immigrant builders didn't (initially?) so much displace British ones as do ones that the Brits were too busy to do; in London in the boom, it was almost impossible to find a British builder, so people turned to Poles.
I misinterpreted Ed in order to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he thinks skilled workers, on average, lose from immigration then he is just plain wrong.
If he wants to be sceptical about technoracy, then fine. But if he wants to just ignore rigorous evidence,I have a problem.


Let's not forget what there is a durable 'demand' for among voters: a social democratic settlement, roughly similar to that lasting from 1945 to 1975. This, or a radicalised version of this, is what most voters backed in the 1980s. They have not had the option of voting for such a settlement since then, of course, though the majority have always tried to at least vote against neoliberalism. Polls consistently show that there is a 'demand' for higher taxes on the wealthy, more trade union rights, nationalisation of utilities, etc.

But issues of 'demand' are partly issues of political leadership. The poll-tested 'demand' for redistribution of wealth has demonstrated a considerable decline under New Labour, and arguably - per John Curtice - this is precisely because New Labour systematically attacked such ideas, and the egalitarian ideology underpinning them, while depicting welfare recipients as anti-social scroungers and crooks, part of an amoral underclass that others had more reason to fear and despise than to want looked after.

So, if Labour's dilemma is that there is no demand for the kinds of policies that you say would be liberal, egalitarian and efficient, one obvious way to create this demand is to start arguing for them. People aren't fools - if there's a case to be made, they will listen. If it really speaks to their experience - ie, if the diagnosis of the Left that most people are basically exploited and dominated, and suffer as a result of it, is correct - then they will mobilise behind it.

Surely the deeper issue here is that New Labour was a product of serious, sustained defeats for the organised labour movement - defeats which proved to Blair, Brown and their penumbra that the working class wasn't a powerful enough agency to base a successful electoral vehicle on, and that no policy could really succeed if it wasn't already pre-approved by the more magnanimous sectors of capital. Hence, any explicit commitment to egalitarianism was thrown out, with the result of a prolonged collapse in Labour's core working class base. Now, those formed by New Labour are having to find ways of re-connecting with the 'heartlands' without promising anything too radical, because they don't believe they can (or should) deliver. The only way they can think of doing it is by offering pseudo-populist social authoritarianism on the assumption that their core voters are basically reactionary on issue of crime and immigration.

Luis Enrique

I'm not sure that "bring back 1975" would be such a vote winner.


Where's the evidence that these ideas are actually unpopular, rather than just being considered unacceptable by potential candidates for leader of the Labour Party?

Luis Enrique


Well the polls on immigration are pretty conclusive, regrettably.

Worker ownership is a bit vague. I think we'd need to know exactly how it would be achieved before we know whether people support the idea. How would workers take control of Vodafone? Or are we just talking about having a 'workers' representative on the board. How about all those small businesses? If a sensible policy be articulated, I wouldn't be as sure as Chris that there'd be no demand for it from voters.

I've read a lot of bloggers and commentators writing wistfully that much as we'd like a 'real' left wing Labour leader, it's just not going to happen. Why do they think that is? is it:

1. Deluded and/or selfish voters show a stubborn attachment to capitalism. Probably something to do with false consciousness. There's no helping it, at least not while we have a right wing press etc.

2. 'real' left wing policies actually aren't very good ideas after all, we just have a romantic attachment to them, hence the wistfulness.

Or are there 'real' left wing ideas that are still left, but not traditionally left. For example, the idea of increased worker power and less power for bosses is quite compatible centrist left-capitalist third-wayish thinking. Does that mean it's not really left wing?

For instance, are these "leftist policies" that we should hope to see the Labour party adopt, or a warmed-over collection of unpopular and discredited old-Labour rubbish the sooner the left is shot of, the better?:


john malpas

You seem to be besotted with money and control. Many people do not want immigration because they do not want to be swamped by foreigners. Yet dare not say so because they are instantly vilified.
As for worker control - how would a plumber run a hospital?


Chris: you wrote "There's little evidence that immigration reduces wages in the building trade. It might even increase them. Eg, if Polish roofers fill a shortage in the UK market, plasterers and electricians can get more work done, so their wages rise."

Now if there were a shortage only of roofers, and there were an influx from Poland only of roofers, that would be true.

But given an influx of skilled Polish building workers of all sorts, which is more what happened, it was not true. There were more skilled workers, and many of the Poles (family left in Poland, living in crowded temporary lodgings) might well be prepared to do the same work for less than an equivalent skilled British worker. So the wages of s.B.ws would be expected to fall.

Even if "in London in the boom, it was almost impossible to find a British builder, so people turned to Poles" that should surely have reduced the premium British builders could get for their scarcity value.

Or have the laws of supply and demand been repealed in the building trade?


This is a basic, fundamental, long-term problem of proletarianisation. Stripped, on a multi-generational basis, of the sense that they could control their economic destinies, proletarians have historically demanded that someone else give them what they need. Capitalism answers this call with bosses, Leninism with the Party, social democracy with bureaucrats and bosses in uneasy partnership - but always above and outside the ranks of the workers.

The proletarian condition gives the illusion of security and stability; but also the real comfort of it not being your fault if it goes wrong, and the real ability not to have to care about what should happen. There's always someone else to blame. And that goes for the politics of immigration as well as the economics of supply and demand.

Trying to resolve this from the left is an awful conundrum - how could we create economic institutions that were at once run by their workers for their own benefit, and also serving the interests of all? Is there a 'socialist invisible hand'? And does it grip tightly enough to make people want to take such decisions for themselves? Can cooperatives compete with each other? On what terms? And so on, and so forth...

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