Graeme Archer is a statistician and a former winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Blogging.
Would this be a concise summary of the modern Labour Party, as it heads towards its exciting leadership election? There are basically two factions: one which doesn’t admit to having made any strategic mistakes – it is willing to concede that the “Ed Stone” tactic may just have misfired – and another, which does admit that Milibandism was wrong. This latter camp is led by Liz Kendall, who’s going to win, so we’ll come to her last.
First, the un-Kendallistas. An elfin head, those weepy eyes (“me old mam! I luv football, me!”), and a very Islington (i.e. non-hipster) beard: behold the perfect leader-head for continuity Labour, Jeremy Burnham Cooper. She’s a woman. She’s been working on her skin colour but so far, so white. So sorry.
Yes, yes, I know: we’re supposed to pretend that vast chasms of ideology separate the Corbyns from the Burnhams and so on; and I know also that to Labour Party kremlinologists the discussion of such differences is a source of both career and intellectual satisfaction; but I’m going to use the results of the 2015 election to suggest to those kremlinologists that these “enormous” differences, from the perspective of – what shall we call it? – “the vast majority of the electorate” – are vanishingly small, to the point of indifference. Our indifference, I mean.
In other words, the Yvette Jeremy Burnham hypothesis – that the UK has shifted to the Left/is basically a Left-wing country – was tested to destruction last month. In the leadership election the various manifestations of Continuity Labour turn on one another, like the weaving, snapping jaws of a multi-headed hydra; who could care less which toothy protuberance comes out on top? It’s still a monster.
The time of the monsters is over (for now.) Liz Kendall is going to win this election. So let’s think a bit about her.
Kendall seems clear that Milibandism – i.e. socialism – isn’t “the answer”, though it’s unclear whether she thinks that error tactical (“I’m a socialist but see this won’t win an election so I must pretend to be something else”) or strategic (“To build a fairer society requires some form of market mechanism, and probably not so much state-control of gas and rent prices.”)
So I read a New Statesman profile of her with interest. The NS is fascinated by Liz’s comfort around the Daily Mail, which is in no way at all an insight on the modern Left’s ability to focus on entirely the wrong thing.
The key fact which leapt at me from the piece is that Ms Kendall’s heroine is Patricia Hewitt, whose seat she inherited. I find this significant, more significant than Liz tolerating the company of Daily Mail readers without screaming at them in horror.
Patricia Hewitt! Stripped of its idiot foreign policy, Blairism was indulgent (hopeless) in its approach to public services, McCluskey-ite in its approach to public spending…and Hewitt-ite in its approach to lifestyle.
We’ve forgotten just how inimical to liberty was this non-economic strand of Blairism. The Blairite future: imagine a boot crushing down on a fag packet, for ever. Then pouring your gin down the sink with one hand, while snatching e-cigarettes from the jaws of Welsh train passengers with another.
But look at the new Sure Start centre. Shiny! “I’d really like my gin back.” Hewitt-ites, smiling, through gritted, clenched teeth: “Look at the new Sure Start centre.”
Blairites, in other words, weren’t “sort of” Conservatives. They were control junkies. If one of those stupid word-clouds had followed discussion of the Blair government around the country, the biggest bubble would have been for “hectoring”.
Addicts of various psychoactive substances often wean themselves from their toxins by substituting another fixation. The strand of the Labour movement from which Liz Kendall dangles replaced its addiction to the command economy (“We know which car you should drive – we own the factory”) with one for command lifestyles (“We know how much wine you should drink. Here’s Patricia to tell you your glasses are too big.”)
At the start of the crash, it became popular for hacks to write pieces on the theme: “In an age of austerity: what is the Left for, when there’s no money to spend?” I probably wrote one. Everyone did.
Too many words. What’s austerity got to do with the Labour Party’s pointlessness? We could all be as rich as Croesus before Andy Corbyn Cooper had anything useful to tell us. But watch that Liz Kendall!
What is the Left for?, ask the movement’s bewildered supporters. My dears, it’s perfectly obvious, and it hasn’t altered by one Hewitt-shaped atom: control. Kendall-Labour want power in order to tell you how to live. While the Yvette Corbyn Burnham creature eats itself, the Hewitt-ites are preparing for power.