Labour gives up fighting giants

The Labour party doesn’t hate the welfare state like the nasty Tory party. No, no. The Labour party just hates what the welfare state has become. If only it hadn’t strayed from the first principles of the 1942 Beveridge report, we’d be free from the dread perils of “scroungers” and “benefit dependency”, which the Labour party would like you to know it hates very much indeed – hates more, in fact, than the Tories ever could. Continue reading

What to say about Ed

It’s the decision that will determine Labour’s fate over the next five years. It’s the difference between a demoralising era of electoral devastation for the party, and the chance to mount an effective challenge on the next polling day. It’s the choice that could make Labour a force that’s ready for power, or inaugurate a bleak era of impotence.

No, it isn’t the election of a new leader. That matters, of course, but the effect of having one is probably as important as the effect of choosing any individual candidate over the rest. Even with no leader and only a provisional shadow cabinet, the gap between Labour and the Tories has been narrowing consistently in polls since the summer, with public attitudes hardening against the cuts. If Labour can organise itself behind a face that isn’t implicated in the perceived failures of the Blair/Brown period, sustaining and advancing that trend should be obvious. (I’m not saying that Labour can’t fuck this up. Just that it would be an impressive fuck-up if they did.)

Ed Miliband seems likely to do a decent job heading up his party. But there’s another  big call to make: how is the hostile media going to characterise him? There’s been an early move to mark him out as “Red Ed”, but that seems like a smear based on the mistaken assumption that the British public is as riotously anti-state as the American one – it isn’t, and anyway Ed is only pinkish round the edges. The Express has even made an early run at the Tea Party approach, with a story headlined “DEDICATED LEFT WINGER FOLLOWS HIS FATHER’S DREAM” apparently modeled on Dinesh D’Souza’s voodoo analysis of Obama (“Obama shares his father’s anti-colonial crusade…”). The gulf between The Express’ curtain-twitching paranoia and the grand insanity of Fox News is filled with bathos, and this stuff looks unlikely to stick for now.

Matthew Parris made a more convincing move, interviewed on the BBC at the Labour conference today, when he said that in five years Ed Miliband would be known as a “ditherer”. By lunchtime, Christina Odone had grabbed the idea and bundled it up with the Mail’s astonishing revelation that Miliband LIVES WITH A WOMAN and HAS HAD A BABY WITH THE WOMAN but is NOT MARRIED TO THE WOMAN. “This is a man who has problems with relationships,” oozes Odone, accusing Miliband of “commitment phobia” as if Ed was liable to run out on the country and leave the electorate chasing his through the CSA.

The Tory-supporting media is shuffling the elements at their disposal like Frankenstein playing with a set of body parts on his operating table (Son of a commie dad! Usurper of primogeniture! Scorner of wedlock!). Eventually, they’re going to make something that’s just close enough to the actual man for it to be functional.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010

Paper chasing

Guardian, Guardian, why did you desert Labour? Since The Guardian plumped its electoral backing behind the Lib Dems, there’s been a l0w cry of anguish from some Labour supporters, involving words like “betrayal” and “hypocrites” and “haha, look, David Cameron’s the prime minister anyway”. Kerry McCarthy MP goes for The Guardian again in a blogpost this weekend:

… with its ‘once in a lifetime chance to get PR’ line, [it] lost us the chance of winning several seats where the Labour challenger would have made a far better MP than the Lib Dem incumbent. See Lucy Powell’s campaign in Manchester Withington, where victory looked a dead cert until the Guardian stuck its oar in, and Bristol West, where the votes ebbed away after the Guardian came out for Clegg. And Labour was offering a referendum on AV anyway, which could have put PR on the agenda for discussion too (especially if Labour had been the biggest party, with the Libs holding the balance).

Shot By Both Sides, 22 May 2010, “Puttin’ it down”

One of the curious things about this election was how little the campaign seemed to matter. Back in October, when the feeling of inevitability for Dave was running high, I caught an episode of The Week In Westminster with a pollster and a psephologist discussing the relative standing of Labour and the Conservatives after conference season. Both of them called it for a hung parliament, on the grounds that the swing needed for a Tory majority was immense. Six months before polling day, before most of the papers had pinned on a rosette, it was known that the general election would come down to two things: how big the swing from Labour to Tory would be, and which party was most successful in courting the Lib Dems.

So did the papers’ support make any difference at all? Not really. After all, if The Sun’s Camobama fantasia and The Mail’s dire threats of a fiery doom couldn’t sway it for the Tories, it’s laughable to imagine (even in tentative brackets as McCarthy does) that The Guardian’s support might have made Labour the biggest party in Westminster. As it happens, the Lib Dems gained a measly 1% of the vote and lost 5 seats – hardly a triumph for tactical voting. This was a bad election for newspapers, and a combination of poor judgement and hubris served to underline the fact that newspapers really aren’t as influential as they’d like to be.

But politicians still believe in the power of the press – still crave the cushion of a friendly new agenda. Which leaves the depressing spectacle of the Labour leadership contenders running around, chirping anti-immigration talking points back at the right-wing media that created them. This dedication to becoming BNP-lite seems more likely to undo Labour than any amount of disagreement with The Graun over electoral reform. Labour’s pursuit of press support will hurt it much more than the withdrawal of media backing ever could.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010

A shrug of complaint

In 2002, I joined a Stop The War march in Sheffield. I didn’t enjoy my time as a protestor very much: I was a pushing a buggy, my baby started crying, there was some chanting, we shuffled around the city centre perimeter, and then I peeled off glumly to finish my shopping, feeling slightly embarrassed.

It wasn’t a moving moment of communal resistance. It was a tired shrug of complaint directed at some ministers who weren’t even looking. It rained a bit, and later on there was a war because there was always going to be a war anyway. So that was a good use of an afternoon.

It’s the Iraq war that feels like the biggest disgrace and disappointment of the Labour government. I hate the PFIs, and the patronising and ignorant populism, and the student fees, and the ruinous way that business and banking interests were whored to. Those things have all been depressing and awful and deceitfully introduced, obviously, but they mostly haven’t involved actually killing people on purpose. It doesn’t matter when the Labour party shunts out Brown, or who ultimately replaces him: I don’t want to vote for them until they’ve purged every person who ushered that bloody war through parliament.

That doesn’t matter very much where I live, because it’s a solidly Lib Dem area with an MP I won’t hate myself for electing. But you can’t build hopes and dreams on the Lib Dems. They’re political stodge: acceptable and wholesome enough, but a bit depressing when you’re looking at a whole plateful. Better, though, than the Tories – whose prospective government promises to continue everything grim about the current one while unapologetically rewarding the rich for being, um, rich. So I want the Tories to lose, Labour don’t deserve to win, and the Lib Dems fill me with limb-deadening ennui. Election 2010 will be an early night for me, I guess.

© Sarah Ditum, 2010

[Comment is Free] The trouble with Tory Twitter

My piece on the ill-conceived, crassly-executed #Kerryout campaign went up yesterday on Comment is Free:

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy has had an unobtrusive career since she entered parliament in 2005, voting along party lines with relentless loyalty. Her parliamentary expenses are a bit more interesting, if you’re keen on interior design – McCarthy furnished her London home from Habitat – but even then, she’s a fairly middling figure. TheyWorkForYou gives her claims for 2007/2008 a ranking of 215th out of 645 MPs. That leaves plenty of more spectacular receipt-flashers ahead of her.

The Guardian, “The trouble with Tory Twitter”

Follow the link to read the full piece – although with today’s news, I’d guess the PLP is more worried about internal enemies that the little blue gnats behind #Kerryout.

© Sarah Ditum, 2010

Broken bloggers

The big blogger story of the weekend isn’t interesting because it shows that online communications are crucial to UK politics (obviously they are), or because it shows a freakishly self-destructive willingness in Labour staffers to experiment with badly-handled smear tactics (although it’s astonishing that this was done so badly), or because it showed how itchy the media are for a good story to stick it to Labour (that’s four days now that the news has been preoccupied with not just a smear but a meta-smear).

Anyway, the thing that’s interesting about the story, which is actually a pretty petty, depressing and self-involved bit of Westminster toss – and anyway, was anyone actually thinking of voting Labour even before this came out? I’m considering moving into Vince Cable’s constituency as I can’t think of anyone else I could bear to stick an X on. The thing, anyway, that stops this stupid story from being totally, irredeemably nothingish is that between themselves, Draper and Guido have pretty much consummated what Adam Curtis said about blogging in this interview with The Register:

First of all, the people who do blogging, for example, are self-selecting. Quite frankly it’s quite clear that what bloggers are is bullies. The internet has removed a lot of constraints on them. You know what they’re like: they’re deeply emotional, they’re bullies, and they often don’t get out enough. And they are parasitic upon already existing sources of information – they do little research of their own.

What then happens is this idea of the ‘hive mind’, instead of leading to a new plurality or a new richness, leads to a growing simplicity. The bloggers from one side act to try to force mainstream media one way, the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.

So you end up with a rigid, simplified view of the world, which is negotiated by mainstream media in response to the bullying extremities. Far from being “the wisdom of crowds”, it’s the stupidity of crowds. Collectively what we are doing is creating a more simplified world.

Discrediting Nadine Dorries shouldn’t require unsubstantiated slurs. It should be sufficient to say that she’s incompetent with evidence, ideologially driven and weirdly prickly about democracy. But that’s the opportunity cost of this sort of politics: there’s no place to discuss ideas or policy or capability, only insult and counter-insult. Fucking blogosphere.