Funny how the forgotten words of Harold Wilson fit so well in this modern era.
I think of all the terms used to describe the Labour Party, at the moment, a crusade is probably not one that would come up with too great a frequency.
The incipient panic (among policy twonks and politicians) that flows whenever strong terms invade the blandness of well spun political dialogue is probably a key to the problems we face. We being a political society. When all the parties play by the same triangulation and focus group code it is small wonder that the differences seem marginal at best.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not calling for a ‘Red’ revolution or a ‘freedom for Tooting’ type of political dialogue. I am, however, sure that blandness and spin to appeal to ‘mondeo man’ or ‘Joe the plumber’ is a self-defeating spiral that has left an electorate disillusioned in the extreme and one which is disengaging with the current parties. The impact of this schism is a rise in the extremity parties and single issue parties. Democratically reflective of what the electorate think? probably not.
So back to my crusade (in the week that the last of the Jarrow marchers passed away), when did the zeal for change get lost in the sea of management speak? When did pragmatism become the master and principle become the expediently forgotten relative? I can pinpoint it fairly closely.
The morning after John Major managed to beat Neil Kinnock in the General election. It seemed to many on the left that it was impossible to shift the Tories from power without appealing to middle england voters. A wooing as it were. A ‘Don’t frighten the horses approach’ that tied Tony & Gordon to the Tory spending plans for a while. A ‘trust us’ we’ll be better Tories approach.
Living standards for many have risen over the years of selfish neoliberal economics and some have become fabulously wealthy. I for one am not comfortable with the massive gap in distribution. We have more ‘Stuff’ but that merely hides the long slow decline for many as worklessness bites.
So Crusade. For what? Wilson had the big fights for better workers and civil rights, better living standards, workplace improvement and raising living conditions after the post war era. funnily enough we have similar fights. Although these seem to have been forgotten.
Workers rights are being eroded, benefits and welfare support under attack, disabled being vilified in the press as scroungers, pensioners choosing between heating and eating, unemployment structural and difficult to shift, hopelessness among the young, a crisis of confidence in the establishment. A lack of social housing or care for the elderly, mistreatment of the mentally ill,foodbanks the only growth in the economy, flatline growth, the list can go on and on.
Into all of this we are fed a diet of lowest common denominator populist drivel with a ‘what plays well in the press’ approach. If a different approach is used, the vociferous criticism soon shuts it up. Johann Lamont found this out quickly. Asking hard questions on affordability but got punished by the spectre of means testing.
Why then is the radical party of the UK (ie the Labour party) so timid? Because we have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before. The Sun killed Kinnock after the Sheffield Rally and we have been carefully media friendly ever since.
Balls and Miliband (et al) are trying a ‘don’t spook the Souff’ approach which may work but will not yield a crusading Labour Government. It will yield a slightly more left approach and a pragmatic core. Not at all whats needed. This same don’t scare the horses approach is the same one used in the Independence referendum campaign for Yes. Don’t panic it’ll all be the same. No it wouldn’t and hopefully the electorate won’t be taken in.
So I say to Ed, Ed, Andy, Douglas, Harriet and the rest, its time to put on our campaigning boots and drive an agenda that is radically different from the Coalition programme. Be bold on principles and keep banging on about where we want to go. Political triangulation is what has cost us over the longer term (membership and vote declined rapidly after 97) its a tool but not a roadmap. Focus groups need to be replaced by doorknocking face to face interaction. Activism is the key.
We made some reforms, now its time to fight to make reforms that matter.
Crusade or nothing. It’s a simple choice.
Funnily enough this sort of thinking is used all the time in business and to a lesser extent in political circles as core voters are analysed and deciphered.
It set me to thinking after reading a blog post on Labour hame, of which I am an intermittent visitor. http://www.labourhame.com/archives/3316#more-3316
Where a musing was made about the new tory logo and whether Scottish Labour needed a makeover of its symbol. I’m not convinced it does but it did set me off on a musing of my own. If we are asked to imagine the parties as people how would they look. I am as always prepared to be wrong.
So here goes….
Scottish Labour – A middle years woman with a grown up (and growing up) family. A bit frumpy at times. Sensible and weighed down by responsibility to family. Steady and at the centre of her family. Good sense though not particularly over educated.
SNP – A sharp businessman, with a drive to get what he wants. Competent and professional. Cold and wanting control. Thinks he knows best.
Scottish conservatives – Older, well-to-do, sensible man who exudes calm and resists change, paternal and condescending. Grey and a bit round the middle.
Scottish Liberal Democrats – A middle years teacher who’s involved with local fetes and the like, a bit grey and a bit well-meaning. Very earnest and middle class. Well thought off in general. Not too dynamic. Probably a bloke (not quite in a tank top).
Now if these are people as brands then we can see why the SNP have managed a good fit to theirs. Emphasis on competence and drive, pugnacious and control focussed. One issue and driving for it.
It seems to have worked when we consider that polling data suggests they do well among men of 25-45. They are honed in on many of their frustrations about lack of control of their lives. Their ‘take control’, ‘poor downtrodden us’ ‘all their fault’ mantra resonates with this group across all economic sections (or decile if you will).
Scottish Labour on the other hand are attractive to women with families and those of a sensible, more cautious vent. Older people poll better for anti-independence, as do women with families. Labour it seems has become like its supporters and has focussed much of its attacks on the SNP Government on uncertainty, dishonesty and trust. Going further to ensure arrogance and sharp, smug FMQ responses allow Alex Salmond to keep turning off these groups. It is working.
The Scottish Conservatives are struggling in the hangover of Toxic Thatcher brand. They have found it difficult to move on from this as few will give them a fair hearing. This has been ingrained as an Anti-English / Tory message from the SNP and to a lesser extent Labour. The current Tory PM, stinks of privilege and is a reinforcer of this viewpoint. Etonians telling us poor wee scots whats good for us. Even with a new badge and a female leader, it’s a long, long road back to influence let alone power.
Scotland is conservative with a small ‘c’ and currently rejects the Conservatives with a large ‘C’.
As for the Libdems, the coalition with the Tories at westminster has blotted their copybook and exposed their compromising (over principle) as a weakness not a pragmatic virtue. It has exposed them to ‘yellow Tories’ tags and ‘untrustworthy collaborators’ as labels. Both are unfair but mud most certainly sticks leaving the Scottish Libdems in a mess. Unsure of how to retain their core voters after own goals (VAT, tuition fees, coalition, cuts, welfare reform) and a relentless assault from the Scottish press. Now viewed as worse than Tories by some. As for fit with their brand person the teacher is falling out of popularity with his groups and while he can attempt to justify his positions, he’s less well-respected at the moment.
Do the leaders reflect their Brands?
Johann Lamont – fairly well reflects the brand person (she is an education professional however).
Alex Salmond – For the last 25 years the face of the SNP – the brand person and he are almost inseparable, but he is getting on a bit looking bloated and tiring (lots of younger MSP’s to fill the brand mould however). Nicola Sturgeon is a good female fit for the brand too.
Ruth Davidson – doesn’t fit well at all (although Annabel Goldie did). She is struggling to change the brand and will not make it fit better in the short to medium term.
Willie Rennie – Pretty much reflecting the brand person. Sensible contributions but not dynamic nor able to shake off the ‘Coalition damage’.
Now I wholly appreciate that some of the language used above reflects my inner dislike of the SNP, the Tories and, to a lesser extent, the Libdems. I am biassed, as are we all, but I think I have captured the essence of the brands.
Sadly, I think that Scottish Labour have a bigger problem in attracting other groups of voters (seen as a little old-fashioned) especially the young.
Whatever happened to the red flag singing socialists? Well they grew up, had families and bills to pay. Responsible adults can still be radicals, a message that has been lost in the (Scottish Labour) brand. If Labour is a middle-aged woman then its time to tell the youngsters about the demonstrations, placard wielding, CND supporting, bra-burning protesting times of our youth and be a newly discovered cool, role model to emulate.
Brands are more than a symbol, they add value. It’s time Scottish Labour started to use it.
So Johann it is then.
She won 2 of the three electoral colleges and 51% or so of the vote.
You can only win under the system set down, so we need to accept the result. We do, of course, need to change the system to OMOV and review how we deal with affiliates and levy payers.
Anyway, that’s for another day.
Anas for deputy by a similar margin.
Today I have heard Lord Mandelson advise Ed, ex-labour bloggers spouting advice on how we should be all apologetic to the country for, well, just being Labour. Every man and his dog has been giving advice on how Labour needs to be changed in Scotland. Or maybe that should read every Dog and his man has been barking and howling advice to Johann.
I didn’t vote for Johann. I voted for Ken.
So what? Exactly, the party has chosen Johann to lead and we all have to support our new leader. I am encouraged because apart from Johann we have discovered (excluding her deputy) four other politicians who can help us get back to where we should be.
They have given masses of their time, massive effort and tried their best to be selected. They have answered all sorts of questions at numerous hustings to find the vision for our party and its way forward. I am proud of each and every one of them.
Some of the campaigning by supporters was a bit suspect but understandable – it was a contest after all.
So Johann & Anas are called to serve. To lead us in next years local elections and begin the long road back. It will take all of us pulling together to make steps on that road. This task will be added to the list of Herculean tasks.
So to the Advice.
Ignore the triangulation, new speak, focus groups and spin doctors and just – Be yourself and trust your judgement.
Don’t be afraid to get help from those around you, after all….
We are a team all pulling in one direction.
Some members just haven’t realised it yet.