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‘Can Labour Win?’ Not if we follow Patrick Diamond’s advice

Blair-ClintonThe dramatic leadership contest this summer has overshadowed Labour’s poor result in the General Election in May, but the war of ideas in explaining Labour’s defeat is still quietly raging. One of the latest explanations offered for this defeat – and a set of prescriptions for 2020 – comes from Oxford lecturer and former SpAd to Tony Blair, Patrick Diamond, in a book for Policy Network titled, Can Labour Win?

Diamond is a Blairite policy wonk through and through – he served as Chair of the National Organisation of Labour Students in the late 1990s and then held a variety of positions in the IPPR and Policy Network, also working closely with Alan Milburn in the run up to the 2005 election, and also as Director of Progress. The purpose of this latest publication is to diagnose the problems that the election throws up – something it does rather well, before assigning a set of policy prescriptions – specifically, recoding Blairism for a post-2015 Labour Party. Unsurprisingly then, the interviews with successful 2015 candidates on how Labour can win next time are conducted with Ben Bradshaw, Peter Kyle and Wes Streeting, three MPs firmly on the right of the party. 

The principal argument of the book is that, “to achieve victory in 2020, we have to recognise both the scale and nature of our defeat, accept that the world has changed and launch a major revision of our ideas, strategy and policies.” The failures of Labour are apparently that the leader was not well-regarded by the public, that Labour was not trusted on the economy, and that underlying this the electoral strategy of cobbling together 2010 Labour voters with disaffected Lib Dems was insufficient – the so-called 35% strategy. It concludes, “Ed Miliband wanted to take Britain back to the world of the 1970s, not forward to the 2020s.” Unfortunately for Diamond, the policies he offers, of a tack to the right on welfare, spending, Trident and much more, amount to little else than taking Britain back to the world of 1997.

The decent parts of Diamond’s book are related to why Labour lost in 2015, and make some difficult reading for those of us who spent so much of our time out on doorsteps in May. Diamond points out Labour does have a Southern problem, and that marginals in the south that Labour has always won when it has been in government – in 1945, 1964, 1974, and 1997, were written off, and that Labour now holds no parliamentary seats at all in large English counties such as Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Where Diamond is wrong is in thinking that these seats are simply full of affluent, middle-class professionals that would never vote Labour unless they felt it was sufficiently pro-business. As I pointed out in the New Statesman yesterday, Cornwall is the poorest region in England, yet all six MPs are Tories, while Iain Duncan’s Smith’s seat, Chingford and Wood Green, has the fifth highest proportion of low-paid workers in Britain, with half earning below the living wage. The Tories have always held some seats based on their working-class support, and to pretend that this working-class has now ‘disappeared’ or is ‘shrinking’, rather than changing, is a common mistake Diamond makes.

Detailed polling by Ipsos Mori shows just how negatively the public still viewed Labour in May. Fewer votes compared to 2011 thought Labour was close to people in the South, or middle-income people, while only 16% of voters trusted Labour most on the economy. Meanwhile, YouGov figures between 2010 and 2015 show that Miliband never got above the mid-20s when voters were asked who would make the best prime minister. Cameron, although not liked, was always between 30 to 40 per cent. Most worryingly, among “C2” skilled workers, Labour was seen negatively by 48 to 19 per cent. People believed Labour’s heart was in the right place, but the mood was one of total lack of confidence in the party. These polls cannot be ignored by the left any more than they can be by the right.

In the final chapter of the book, Diamond sets out a range of Blairite policies that just do not match up with the criticisms of the 2015 campaign. He suggests more ‘public sector reform’, and “new integrated models for organising public services to achieve ‘more for less’, capturing the productivity gains that have revolutionised other sectors of the economy”, which can read as coding for privatisation. There is also talk of “reviving the contributory approach” to welfare, reducing the reliance on the trade unions, and keeping Trident (surely a surefire way to bid Scotland farewell for another generation).

Diamond seems to know where some of the problems are. He talks about community organising, engaging more young people, and refining and sharpening the party’s image – but despite his tokenistic nod that we cannot return to the politics of the 1990s, that is all his book Can Labour Win? offers. It is a thorough, well-argued and coherent argument for a new Third Way triangulation – but nothing more. We live in a new world, and we live in 2015, not 1997. For Diamond, the old ways may be the best, but for Labour, deeper thinking is needed.

14 Comments

  1. Sandra Crawford says:

    I attended a Momentum meeting recently in my area.
    I was expecting of course, to see many new Labour members. I thought that these people would include many working class people, unemployed or under employed, struggling with food banks, etc. But no. They were all middle class, very articulate, they had joined because of Corbyn. They like his stance on austerity, the NHS, schools, education. Most of them hated the Blair years.
    I feel that from this experience the Blairites are making the above up. They want Thatcherism for self centred reasons, maybe the second job, the private health company etc.
    They want a continuation of Blairite Thatcherism because they have interests. Not for us. We should be very wary of Thatcherism in the Labour Party, as it offers a one Party state, and is very bad news for the young, the vulnerable and the poor.
    My main fears are that the working classes are voting UKIP, as they have been indoctrinated to blame immigration and the unemployed. This is the argument that the left need to win – that UKIP votes will only deliver a Tory government, and so will the Blairites.

    1. gerry says:

      Of course Momentum is stuffed full of middle class people – why on earth did you think it would be any different to the rest of the anti- austerity movement?!

      You are right to say that unless we address working class peoples’ justified fears about immigration, the EU, extremism, welfare and housing (all are connected in the UKIP/Tory narrative which is very appealing to many voters) head on, we will never attract working class voters again, except in some of the large cities. There is no sign that JC understands the gravity of the situation, or that it was New Labour’s decision to open the door to 4 million EU workers which was the single biggest reason for our collapse in working class support since 2001. Very sad.

      1. David Ellis says:

        Labour lost the election because New Labour were an utterly toxic, unelectable, hated and despised brand. Thirteen years of corruption in power and a relentless assault on the working class followed by four years of non-existent opposition meant they were wiped out in Scotland and had they not been defeated in the leadership election recently Labour was well on course to being reduced to a Lib Dem sized party in England and Wales by 2020. New Labour are finished never to return. Objectively there is no room for some Third Way myth. It is socialism or barbarism. But it has to be said that Corbyn and Momentum are doing their best to try to reinvent one with their timid and vague talk of investment and anti-austerity that does not represent any kind of existential threat to capitalism whatsoever even whilst capitalism has effecitvely died at its own hands. Couple that with their Stalinist paranoia about some non-existent threat from the SWP husk and their constant reassuring of right wing Labour MPs that they are protected and safe and we can see that the Corbynistas are actually beginning to look like Labour’s new right wing but with nothing much to offer. They are preparing to vote with Cameron in the EU referendum, they initially supported the finance bill and there will be a free vote for Labour MPs if Cameron puts forward a motion to bomb ISIS in Syria. Who knows, with Milne in place and with such bombing likely to help his beloved Assad Corbyn might even vote for it. They have also said they will support the cutting of tax credits if the minimum wage rises first failing to point out that this job subsidy is all that stands between the working class and mass unemployment not between it and decent wages. Labour needs to go back to the working class. Momentum and Corbyn and McDonnell’s programme such as it is does not represent a serious effort in that direction and if it doesn’t happen soon Labour’s pasokification will recommence and accelerate.

        We need: full-employment by sharing the productive work, a People’s Bank to replace the bankrupts, workers democracy to replace the fat cats, social ownership of the means of production and exchange, a federation to replace the Union and a socialist Europe to replace the neo liberal EU.

        1. gerry says:

          Socialism or barbarism: catchy! I remember as a student reading Jean Paul Sartre who talked about a group by that name which grew out if the May 1968 student/worker rebellion…if they still exist, they may sue you for copyright infringement….

          Theres lots of good stuff in your analysis, as usual, and your final paragraph is the real deal esp for a certain type of socialist…

        2. John P Reid says:

          There are still people voting Toey because they recall the winter of discontent, and the loony left London councils of the 80’d I’m still voting lsbour,because I recall the Tory government of the 80’s and yes a few people won’t vote labour because they recall Iraq, but the idea that,it was the reason labour lost in 2015 was daft,as the people lsbour needed to make us win, voted Tory,if those people think, labour in 2015 is still as bad as the latter Blair years, they wouldn’t have voted for the Tories,and the de toxifying that Cameron did, shows some people who have never voted Tory before were prepared too, this time

        3. Gerald Allen says:

          So David; After a couple of years of reading about how Blair and Mandelson(latterday Gaitskell and Jenkins, would have put George Brown in there but he was just an extreme rightwing thug and alcoholic and clown and was seen to be nothing but a joke, whereas Jenkins was an intellectual) have destroyed the Labour Party/Movement(true)and that the attempts by such as Foot, Kinnock, Brown and Miliband were just utterly misguided Mensheviks, who with the support of Stalinists like Jack Jones, Scargill, Skinner, Len McCluskey etc trying to save Capitalism in the guise of a benign form of social democracy that is bound to fail and has nothing to offer the workers of the U.K. never mind the rest of the international working class and masses(of which there is a certain amount of truth in your vapid ramblings).So therefore the thought has crossed my mind that maybe you will be able to tell the world and myself how the Trotskyist revolution that you are so articulate in promoting on this and any other blog that you post on is, performing and that you can tell us where you live(normally I am all for anonymity/confidentiality on blogs) so we can all come and view your workers paradise and hold seminars, conferences, workshops to analyse where we have all gone wrong since the Industrial Revolution; or will it be that we will find that you are another bedsit Trot wrapped up in his/ her weird and wonderful fantasia?
          For my part I will carry on like I have done for the last 55 years working for the return of a Labour government; while knowing that they only offer a mild form of social democracy they are the only political party that can defeat the Tories, bearing in mind the words of an old dearly departed friend/comrade who was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain from circa1937-1993 “My father and I have seen since 1924, not one Labour government betray the working class, but 3/4 Labour governments and the Tories return to give us an even greater kicking, but until there is a real socialist alternative, and I don’t mean Trots, we must seek the return of a Labour government as a means of progress for the working class on a minimum programme of maximum unity”

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      It’s been a reoccurring and consistent tactic that the new, (provisional,) members, those of us voted for JC, (but who might not necessarily have voted Labour at last election,) are being pretty much kept at arms length by the CLP’s and the party machine; but I can assure that non of the people that I know who voted for JC could even loosely be described as being, “middle class,” and that most of us correspond very closely to your exceptions above; poor, disabled, living on the meager state pension and/or in rented or social housing, dependent on the NHS and so on.

      But Blair pretty much geared the entire Labour party machine to automatically exclude and render mute such individuals, remember poor Walter Wolfgang, (charged with terrorism for his criticism of Jack straw,) or Miliband having security remove the disabled delegates, frog marched off camera at the Labour conference to make a photo opportunity for his well heeled bright young vermin.

    3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Well the Blair years were certainly good years for the middle classes and of course they’d like more of the same for their friends, families and children, unfortunately the Blair miracle was financed on the back of a classic economic bubble and since it collapsed they’ve been pretty much been, “mugging,” the rest of us but particularly those poorest and most vulnerable in our society, to sustain their own inflated exceptions about what constitutes a decent standard of living; private school, private health care, second homes 3 cars, secure jobs with career progression, gold plated pension plans, etc, whilst at the same time our sick and those most vulnerable are being callously turned away from the job centers to beg, steal or even die horribly in poverty, humiliation and destitution.

      1. Sandra Crawford says:

        The Blair years were disatrous for the middle classes. Tuition fees and light touch regulation have put their young into crippling debt with student debt and high house prices therefore bank debt. Salarys have also fallen for thirty years and are now on average a tenth of the value of the average house in the south east.

        1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

          If you say so; but frankly from where I was standing the opposite seemed to be far more true, (and the middle classes no matter how prosperous they really are will always cry poverty,) to me they seemed mostly to profit outrageously particularly those who benefited initially from the various Thatcher period giveaways of public assets and then the from the financial bubble when owning property became almost a license to print money.

          Advantages that they remain determined to retain at any cost to rest of us and generally speaking I find their definitions of both, “poverty,” and, “hardship,” (increased tuition fees, boo hoo,) hilarious.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Just too point out that labour felt it didn’t need the C2 skilled working class to win this time,under the 35% strategy, 2010 was the first election,labour got more middle class votes than working class ones,ever,although,labour got more middle class votes than working class ones in London 2008 mayor election

    But labour had a strategy, get women’s votes get mums who can’t afford baby sitters to go back to work, or the BME one and we can ignore the skilled working class,it was a failure

  3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Some interesting comments most of which entirely miss the point.

    Diamond seems to be arguing ,, (in my view factiously,) that Labour lost because they were, “too labour,” (too socialist,) when in my own view quite the opposite is really true, and also perversely that answer is for Labour to become even more Tory still; even though it was the right, (the Tory wing,) wing of the post Blair Labor that pretty much aliened, (repelled wouldn’t be too strong a description of,) so many traditional Labour voters from Labor natural consistencies, the low paid, the disabled, the 3-6 million people unemployed, single parents and from our various ethnic minorities, older people scraping by on the sate pension, in rented or social housing or people who depend on the NHS and so on.

    These are the very people that Diamond’s the party of middle class professionals felt they could, (or certainly would like to,) do without with entirely predicable and entirely disastrous consequences electorally.

    The attempt to make Labour into a weird post socialist political lobby group, (Progress or Momentum and I can’t personally see any real difference between them,) for hire to the highest bidder was doomed from it’s inception and has completely divorced the British Labour party from it’s traditional grass roots, and from it’s memory, traditions and socialist values and has nothing at all to say to spirit that drove men to fight and die, (and still does,) for those same principles all over the world.

    I was looking at a picture in Oldham art Gallery a couple of days ago, of 5 young men who fought and died in Spain as part of International Brigades and who gave their lives to oppose fascism and Franco and I was wondering what they’d have to say to a Labour party who’s last leader was multi millionaire property speculator speaking to, “all you poor people out there,” from the servant’s quarters of my £2.6 million London Mansion?

    And these people still, don’t seem to get why they suffered such a complete and abject defeat at the last general election.

    This quote from Tony’s smarter older brother (as it were,) Eric, sums the situation up perfectly for me.

    “One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than a planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all.”

  4. Bazza says:

    Grassroots, bottom up, policy from the life experience of members hopefully will produce dynamic policies following consultations and discussions (including on-line) and all finally approved by a more democratic annual conference.
    Perhaps the days of the great men and women of history (and top down) are over and its time for the great mass of history.
    International solidarity.

  5. Bazza says:

    Right wing people seem to believe in standing on your own two feet, and individualism and it’s everyone for themselves and if people fail it’s their own faults due to their laziness or fecklessness etc. and the big stick rules over the carrot.
    Although it is quite amusing that the most passionate individualists have often inherited millions and have no real need for public services really.
    It was no accident Diana left the Princes Harry & William £16m each- perish the thought that they would ever in their life (unlike millions) have to worry about paying household bills or mortgages/rent.
    The Left on the other hand whilst recognising you have to an extent look after yourself (and families also think of others and recognise the disadvantage caused by structural inequalities.
    So is it any surprise that some of the working class fall for Tory ideology especially when it is promoted in right wing newspapers like the Sun and by right wing politicians.
    As democratic socialists (working with international partners) the best we can do really is try to politicise working humanity and to empower them, trying to wipe the cobwebs from some eyes.
    It is still the labour of the working billions that creates the wealth and make societies work and the rich and powerful who legally nick their surplus labour, so we need to also think and work internationally, like capital.
    I once joked that if we ever had a colony on Mars we should send the Neo-Liberlal Tories their to live there in a free market paradise but charge them for oxygen- but what if they couldn’t pay you may ask – I would not be so cruel as to cut them off – but perhaps they would suddenly learn the importance of human intervention and the benefits of collective provision.
    Someone once told me a lovely story; some Aliens landed on Earth and they saw mainly mainly Western warehouses stacked high with drugs then they saw millions of human beings living with illnesses and they said why don’t you give these to them?
    The pharmaceutical industry said oh we can’t do that, we have to sell them to make a profit; such is the madness of capitalism.
    So perhaps we need to suport Left Wing reforms then if and when successful (working with our sister parties internationally) consult working humanity globally re how we may develop a fairer, greener and effective (plus more democratic) global economic system.
    Hopefully the Times they are a Changing indeed.
    International solidarity!

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