Thoughts on opposition: it’s rubbish

Some Labour-supporting blogs are advising a decisive shift to the left in order to shore up our core support. This would be electoral suicide. To pursue this path would be to admit that Labour’s natural place is in opposition.

Here’s my philosophy on opposition: it’s rubbish. New Labour is not a PR strategy, it’s a political philosophy, one that has delivered more success – in delivery and in electoral success – than at any other point in Labour’s history. It’s based on the premise that governments should, in fact, govern for the whole nation, and not just those who voted for them, and far less just their core electors.

Most of those calling for a left wing realignment are the same people who have always been calling for a left wing realignment. Our response to them should be the same as it has always been: we will not abandon the coalition that brought us to power in 1997, even if, for the time being, much of that coalition has abandoned us.



Filed under Blogging, Labour, Politics

4 responses to “Thoughts on opposition: it’s rubbish

  1. Tom – I think you’ve read this completely wrong. Yes, of course the people calling for a left-wing realignment now are those who have always been doing so: because socialism isn’t a PR strategy either, it’s a political philosophy.

    But a raft of policies (that I’m guessing you would see as a move to the left) such as those recently proposed by John McDonnell, is not a ‘core vote strategy’, it is a strategy focused on rebuilding that winning coalition. Yes, it would bring back much of the old ‘core vote’, but it would bring back pensioners, public-sector workers, students, progressives and liberals, peace campaigners, environmentalists and many other parts of that ’97 winning coalition too.

    That isn’t the reason to do it. The reason to do it is that it’s the right thing to do. It’s just a happy coincidence that now, it’s the only strategy that makes any sense. More of the same certainly isn’t going to get us anywhere.

  2. Ducan, I understand the point you’re making. But the 1997 and 2001 winning coalition included – crucially – ex-Tory voters. At the next election we need policies that will attract those who supported Thatcher and Major as well as our core vote. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

  3. I agree it did include ex-Tory voters, and one of the successes of ‘New’ Labour was alleviating the fears such voters had of Labour and what sort of a government we might produce.

    Some of them, of course, chose not to vote Tory but still didn’t come to us – they voted for other parties or stayed at home. That helped the scale of our victories too.

    While those who actually voted for us can, I agree, be won back, we probably can’t count on all those things working in our favour next time. We have little control over the extent to which Tory voters feel confident in voting Tory next time. I don’t think we should abandon trying to get those voters (I don’t think any voters are ‘beyond the pale’ – we just have to persuade them); it would not make political sense to concentrate our efforts on those potential votes to the detriment of the rest of our vote who can, at the next election, be just as crucial as those swing voters were in ’97 and 2001.

    Everyone seems to agree that we need a raft of impressive policies for the next year or two, because it’s right anyway, and also to win back voters. I’ve yet to hear many disagreements with the policies people like myself have been proposing, just concern over the fact that they are labelled ‘left wing’.

    Nobody’s suggesting we forget the valuable lessons that ’97 taught us. But we’ve got to what’s right for 2008, and I’m not hearing much from any other wing of the party.

  4. I don’t think anyone is calling for any voters to be abandoned. I would like to see the boundaries of our coalition stretched, back to where they were when we started off, when we still had core voters.

    The ‘oppositionalist’ tag is, some idiotic newspaper hacks aside, largely one which represents a hidden straw man.

    The question within Labour is not ‘opposition or not’, but more ‘how do we keep power, and how should we be exercising it’.

    I would suggest that a good consensus to approach this point from would be that of not challenging Brown’s leadership. Why aren’t all our ministers going on TV?

    “New Labour is not a PR strategy, it’s a political philosophy, one that has delivered more success – in delivery and in electoral success – than at any other point in Labour’s history.”

    Success at delivering something fundamentally different to the previous goals and values of the Labour Party. I am sick of hearing ministers spitting on equality while lauding the achievements of the super rich in gaining their biggest ever pieces of pie. I am not ‘intensely relaxed’ about it in the slightest.

    I am also convinced that the interests of the multi-billionaire are not the middle class interests which became a winning part of the new Labour pot.

    Tom, New Labour might be a philosophy. Unfortunately it is a philosophy which changes its arguments constantly. Basically post-modernism, which I regard as valueless, because it asserts that the only values which have any currency are those which are transitory (and can later be ditched for electoral gain, e.g. the principles behind progressive taxation). In my view, 10p tax as an example has been the rule, not the exception. A shameful one for a party which was made to stick up for the poor and most marginalised. We are, after all, not the Liberal Party.

    It is not mine. I am a democratic socialist, and I do not believe that to be so is ‘old fashioned’. Beyond the confines of our shores, there are millions of them, sister parties, friendly activists and supporters. We are the missing link, the refusers of social democracy in the social democratic organisations.

    We have got to the point where ministers assert on the news that being ‘left wing’ is unacceptable for Labour MPs. I am a comparative moderate against many that I have met. I am proud to compromise with the electorate, but proud to be ‘left wing’.

    Anyway, more thoughts here.

    But basically, my thought is this. If ministers such as Mr Hutton are ashamed to have people who are ‘left wing’ within the party, where do people who still see themselves as social democrats and democratic socialists go? Especially if we are proud of the socialist international, and Labour’s work in Europe?

    I am no opposition fetishist.

    But I make no apology for steadfastly opposing the removal of fair taxation, social mobility, and the equalisation of people’s opportunities to have a fair crack at success… along of course with ignorance for international law and complicity in the the facilitation of dictatorship and terrorism alike. In other words, I continue to support an ethical dimension to British foreign policy.

    Government with these things is of equal value to opposition without having caused them; for Labour’s thirst for Government is only justifiable in the light of any publicly discernible thirst to eradicate rather than perpetuate injustices.

    Essentially, although opposition is rubbish, at least you can campaign against injustices, often defeating them, while in government, if you are as philosophically flexible/idoelogically neoliberal as New Labour, you just end up carrying out what you would have opposed from a neutral point of view.

    Secondly (sorry for not being very gung-ho here), opposition, while inferior to government, is not totally fruitless. The fruit of a good opposition programme and strategy is government itself. And it’s good to be in government remembering exactly what you opposed about the last lot.

    “Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile.”

    The first part of that quote is important, but in my view, the whole philosophy of new Labour is, pretty much, to ignore the first bit, while (incompetently) striving for the latter.

    My view is that we shouldn’t have to choose which side we want.

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