Sunday, 21 June 2015

Questions of leadership, party and trust

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently electing new leaders.  In the light of electoral ignominy, the fracture of what had been a tacit centre-left tactical alliance and the accelerated breakdown of a national political framework, this is surely the time at which questions of both principle and tactics should be at the forefront.

Instead we have contests that are focusing on managerialism and competency, rather than asking the basic questions that the party machines need to consider.  This is the perversion of politics that is the logical consequence of Blair's abandonment of morality and principle, dressed up as modernisation and Christian cant.  In an electoral system that does not deliver even a suspicion of a democratic outcome, and in the context of a cultural framework that defines political interest and the ability to consider nuances as some form of threat and an eccentricity to be punished, this is a wasted opportunity.

Much attention is being focused on the reality of a government pursuing an agenda that the majority did not vote for (although this is somewhat alien emerging from parts of the Labour Party that were content with an even weaker mandate after 2005), rather than what is the function of politics and the role of party in delivering these outcomes.  Tribalism trumps principle and quick fixes dominate over discussion of how to respond to an emphatic rejection of both majoritarian opposition and the vanguard role of Labour across the whole of Great Britain.

Promoting managerial competence in itself is neither sufficient nor, in the context of five years' Parliamentary opposition, necessary.  The rejection of Labour and Liberal parties is only partly explained by the vicious and defamatory campaigns run against them by the press and the push-pollers.  What is missing is the recognition that shifting loyalties requires a message of hope, change and connection with reality.  Large-scale anti-austerity protests demonstrate that there remains a huge gulf between the Westminster charnel house and its perspectives and the experience of the electorate.

From the way in which the leadership elections are being conducted, the impression is that we are living in a political context that is closer to the 1960s and 1970s than today.  Presenting party as trumping policy will not be enough - Labour cannot climb the mountain needed to secure even largest party status in 2020 without a major recalibration of its role, and the destruction of its Scottish redoubt will be allied to a further dilution of loyalty if its ineffectiveness at articulating general antipathy to the neoconservative coup continues.  Offering nothing positive, beyond reheated centrism and clever soundbites, seems to be the order of the day from the mainstream candidates.

Labour needs a leader who will recognise that the centre and left is fragmented, and that securing power by assimilation is no longer an option.  This does not negate the need for it to articulate a revised social democratic message, but to take on board the surge in progressive national sentiment and the growth of the Greens - and not to be afraid of pluralism before it reaches the ballot box.  This is not a plea for a rapid endorsement of electoral reform, as I am increasingly convinced that the argument for it needs to follow from a rebasing of politics around the citizen and his or her interaction with the system, rather than from what can be caricatured as self-interest from the political class.

There is a clear opportunity now for a constitutional and political rebasing, which is the real basis upon which the Bullingdon set can be challenged going forward.  Hoping that their stupidity and complacency will be sufficient to dislodge the Tory hegemony in 2020 is not realistic, which means that a radical rebasing of discourse is a ganble worth taking.  The forces of tribal conservatism are rebuilding themselves in the opposition parties - just when it is the wrong time for this to happen.

The candidates for both contests are competent, decent people for the most part.  In opposition there is a need for outsiders, rather than insiders - people who can talk beyond their parties.  Labour's choices are more diverse, although it will be much more interesting to see where the deputy leadership contest ends up.  For the Liberals, it is probably easier.  Connecting with the electorate through articulating their concerns, rather than propitiating the party faithful is the challenge, and I am as yet unpersuaded that there is a formula that will deliver a new political narrative and take the challenge to the heart of Tory actions rather than a Commons pantomime.

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