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January 02, 2012


Sarah Ditum

I'd guess that in part the left "demands" vs right "offers" stems from a shared perception of where the power lies: there's very little idea of the left as having any authority at all, and so no conception that the left is in a position to make offers.

Richard Blogger (@richardblogger)

Interesting read. But "demand" is not exclusively from the Left, the Right use it too. For example healthcare. The undermining principle of the NHS is care according to clinical need. There is no "demand" there, but there is that important word "need".

The Right do not like a healthcare system based on need. (We could get into a complex discussion here about the deserving and undeserving needy.) Instead the Right want a healthcare system based on demand. This is why Lansley says that we should demand the right for a named consultant team (OK, the "team" in there waters things down a bit). He says that we should use our patient choice as a way to demand better healthcare. The whole talk about patient responsibility is as much about patient demands as about patients doing the right thing. (Should a hospital close? The Left say only if it is not needed, the Right say only if there is no patient demand.)

And finally, look at the current furore over PIP implants. The Right says that worried well women should demand to have PIP implants removed by the NHS, whereas the NHS principle is to give care according to clinical need (for example, if the implant ruptures). The correct stance should be that the women with PIP implants should demand that the original private sector surgeon replaces the PIP implant with another implant fit for purpose. However, Lansley is more likely to demand that the NHS acquiesces to the demands of worried well women and remove the implants. This fits in with his ideology to move away from a service that reacts to patient needs.

Demand is an important tool of the Right.

James Bloodworth

Point taken. ;)

I found your argument about the unions - making "offers" instead of demands - particularly interesting.


This is slightly trivial. The real issue is who has the best policy not what words you use. I "demand" good ideas. You also need to justify your ideas. If people do not like left wing ideas it is as a result of not seeing them as justified. Or practical etc As for recalling mps that has obvious problems. Who is an mp responsible to? And who decides if this or that manifesto promise has been breached? Having elections more frequently is a possible solution but that has drawbacks too. MPs are fallible human beings and it would be contrary to socialism to threaten to sack them without some very good reason. It is a little dubious to assume that policy failings are all down to individual failings by MPs rather than the general social or economic situation imposing limits on what they or party leaders can do. Both primary elections and the recall exist in the USA but I see no evidence they actually produce better Government. Both state Governors and representatives face problems that constrain them and they can and do get thrown out but the new ones face the same problem. It is well to carefully consider how the whole political and economic system operates in toto before embracing any specific proposal for change to the political machinery.


Agree 100%. Excellent start to the new year Mr. D.


Interesting but wondering if you don't have a very un-Marxist focus on the use of language. Consider 'demand' in different contexts: parents 'demand', customers 'demand', decency 'demands'. It's only when trades unionists demand stuff that it becomes a bad thing...


The Gondoliers
By Gilbert & Sullivan

Duke of Plaza-Toro
Duchess of Plaza-Toro
Their daughter, Casilda

DUKE. Be so good as to ring the bell and inform the Grand Inquisitor that his Grace the Duke of Plaza-Toro, Count Matadoro, Baron Picadoro--
DUCHESS. And suite--
DUKE. And suite--have arrived at Venice, and seek--
CASILDA. Desire--
DUCHESS. Demand!
DUKE. And demand an audience.


The left doesn't need demands, we need a plan for government and a plan of how we're going to achieve government, even if that takes ten years or more. This isn't the same as putting pressure on the Labour leadership - we need to organise to bring Labour under left-wing control.

As far as plans for government go, the underrated Labour manifesto of 1983 might do as a pinch.

Larry T

I quite agree. Simply insisting that the world to bend to your will is never very effective.



Well the labour plan for 1983 was not very successful at winning the General Election. Control of a party is not much use without a way of winning a Parliamentary majority which requires appealing to the electorate and threatening MPs with deselection is not a way to motivate them to sell your ideas. It is applying the worst tory attitude of boss exploitation to treat MPs like factory hands in Hard Times. You could just select MPs for public execution but that has the same draw back. You also have the problem of socialism one country; even with a Parliamentary majority the world capitalist system imposes limitations on what you can do. A Left wing Labour Government still needs to deal with all these constraints. Thumping the table at the local GMC and slaging off the MPs and ministers as sell outs makes you feel good but has little useful effects. Actually having a plan is better I agree than having none as seems to be the case with our existing Labour Party; but flexibility is required in any actual Government or potential Government and tactical revisions to deal with the constraints on your plans. A failure to appreciate this tends to lead to electoral defeats as in 1983.


Sorry that should be socialism "in" one country.

John H

This is great stuff. I agree with Sarah Ditum that one reason why "demands" language is used is to reflect where power actually lies, but I suspect that another reason is that it's a stirring, fist-punching, rabble-rousing word that makes the user feel heroic, radical and confrontational.

John Goodwillie

Could it be that the word "demand" was taken over from the French "demander" (to ask), just as the demand for workers' control was taken over from the French "contrôler" without realising that in French it means more to check than to have power over?

James Bloodworth

I'm split on the issue, really. The way I use the term was not to imply that we on the left should go about saying "we demand this, and we demand that", but to make the point that we on the left need to actually start standing up for things we believe in, which at present I do not believe we are doing.

I take the point about the unions/strikes etc - if it helps to use the term "offer" rather than "demand" - as I readily agree it might - then we should certainly start doing that. However, on an issue like taxation I very much believe the problem to be the opposite - I'm sick and tired of so-called lefties on TV saying things like "well, we should ask the rich to pay a little bit more".

No; we should demand that the rich pay more - plus what they already owe - and I see no evidence that such a strategy would put people off because a) nobody ever does it; they usually do the opposite; and b) the tactic I have just alluded to is currently not working at all.

Interesting post, however.


You mean if Trotsky had developed a system of 'transitional polite requests', all would have been well?

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