What do we need to make our world come alive?

The people want guts, passion and vision argues AIDAN SKINNER


Like Love, Labour is a many-splintered thing. Never mind the narrow TB-GB divisions, more a 21st century question of style over substance to many people, our party is home to a wildly and widely divergent group of people. From the socially authoritarian types with a brother-of-sorts in Torquemada to the beardy sandal wearers who talk about Marx and Engels, God and Angels (but don’t really know what for) we can all find a home in Labour, to varying degrees of comfort.

There’s a home for us all here because, while we disagree about the means and the inputs, we do actually agree on what good outcomes look like. I’ll avoid trying to nail that down too specifically, we all basically know what that looks like: everybody who can work in work, everybody who can learn in education, that sort of thing.

Truth, social justice and the American Way (so long as that American is John Rawls).

We also know what it doesn’t look like: high unemployment, turfing tens of thousands of families onto the street. Those are, to put it mildly,
not what want.

Neither does Scotland. Well, not most of it. The Tories are very good at articulating that sort of vision and still get 15-ish% of the vote here, so there’s plainly an electoral market for somewhere we can sell one another for fifteen cents.

The Greens are very good at explaining their vision, although somewhat hamstrung by the electoral system. What they want is clearly understood by the electorate. Nuclear free Scotland, radically local democracy, an immediate transition to an environmentally sustainable economy. There isn’t any question about what they want.

The Lib Dems used to be good at that and, in Scotland at least, were seen to implement it. Their current woes (I’ll be kind) are due to the immense cognitive dissonance between what they were saying on May 4th 2010 and what they agreed to on May 12th 2010. Campaigning on A, B and C and then agreeing to not-A, not-B and not-C is just not going to go well.

As for the SNP, well. They have one policy that rules them all. One policy that brings them together. One policy that binds them. The public are in no doubt as to what they believe. It’s their answer to many of the complicated questions about things like child poverty or higher education funding. It doesn’t actually make any sense in many of those contexts and is akin to shouting “Look! Behind you! A three headed monkey!” but it’s what’s they stand for.

Labour? Well. People used to know what we stood for. People liked what we stood for. People still like what we stood for. We know what we stand for. But we don’t talk about it. When we do, we couch it in technocratic language nobody can listen to for more than a few moments without inadvertently starting to think about ham instead, even when they understand what the difference between the gini co-efficient and 90:10 income inequality is. There’s no passion. It’s almost like we’re scared to feel too much. To feel so hot we get out of control.

But that’s what people like in politics. They like passion. A clear vision, articulated with guts and conviction. They don’t, by and large, like business men humming AOR. This isn’t radical Zizekian thinking.

Tony Blair did this. He was great at this. No matter what happens, no matter what regressive governments come after, somethings that government will endure. It doesn’t even matter that he wasn’t that interested in them. What matters is that he was able to communicate what we wanted. The achievements of that first, radical, transformative Labour government like devolution, LGBTQ equality and the minimum wage will stand the test of time. That sort of communication is what we have in Wales and why we won there.

It’s what Ed Miliband had last year and why he won the UK leadership. It’s what Scottish Labour needs to show.

We need to show what we will build, and what will be left when stone is dust and only air remains. Power is hard to come by and harder to hold.

We need all the love we can get. We need to inspire.

Aidan Skinner is a member of the Labour Party trying to stay involved. He’s professionally involved in developing Open Source software and enjoys arguing on the internet. Complaints to @aidanskinner on Twitter.

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6 thoughts on “What do we need to make our world come alive?

  1. Before the 2007 election SNP activists were rounded up and taken away to be briefed by a psychological guru who was going to teach us all about the benefits of positive thinking and how we could win the election.

    One of the things she taught us was to avoid cognitive dissonance – that is, expecting voters to believe two contradictory things at the same time. Because voters pick up on that kind of inconsistency pretty quickly and it undermines trust. I am not sure we have avoided it completely but we’ve done not too badly whereas Labour during 2007 – 2011 were inconsistent to the point of lunacy at times.

    To just give a few examples – you were against minimum pricing because you didn’t want to add to the profits of Big Business but you were against the Tesco Tax because Big Business wouldn’t like it. You were against local income tax because it would make Scotland more highly taxed than elsewhere in the UK and punish hard working families but you were (for a while) against the council tax freeze because the same hardworking families who would have been punished by a local income tax benefitted from the council tax freeze – of course that was only the position until you changed your policy just prior to the election.

    So if you were that hardworking family what were you supposed to make of Labour’s position? Firstly Labour DID NOT want them to potentially pay more tax through LIT, then they DID want them to pay more tax by abolishing the council tax freeze and then they changed their mind again and said actually we don’t want you to pay more tax over the next few years at least. As clear as mud wasn’t it?

    And there are loads of other examples like that. Teacher numbers. Labour blamed the Government for the decline in teacher numbers but also blamed the Government for interfering in education issues like school closures because decisions on education are supposed to be a local government not a central government matter. Except when Labour councils like Glasgow start reducing teachers when it becomes the sole responsibility of the Government.

    Another one that springs to mind – Labour supporting the SNP on bringing forward capital spending to help the construction industry at the height of the recession – but then attacking the SNP for cutting spending the next year. You do not have to be an economic genius to work out that if you bring spending forward you cannot spend it again the next year.

    And so it went. It was pretty clear to everyone that Labour looked at every issue and every policy in terms of how they could use it to attack the SNP. The merits or otherwise of a particular policy or decision were irrelevant. So before you can even begin to think about what you want to build you need to address that issue. We would all benefit from that.

  2. Central principle of Rawlsianism: inequality can be tolerated provided it works to the benefit of the worst off. The reality of Labourism: the incomes of the richest skyrocketed while those of the middle and lower strata stagnated then fell.

    1. That is an absurd comment. The income gap flatlined during Labour’s time in power with only minor fluctuations until the gap CLOSED in the final year of office.

      That final point is further proof that the action taken to protect the country from the worst effects of the global economic meltdown were based around the principle of fairness.

      Labour raised the ceilling at the same time as raising the floor.

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