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“What are your top priorities for Labour?” asks Andy

Andy BurnhamLike all other Labour Party members I received an email from Andy Burnham a few days ago:

I know that if Labour is to win again, we have to change … I want you to be part of that change.

I have a strong vision for how our Party needs to change. About how we should rebuild our emotional connection with the millions of people who we’ve lost touch with …

The truth is, the biggest strength of our Party is our people, and our collective knowledge and experience. It’s only through us working together that we’ll make our Party great again.

So today I’d like to hear from you. David Pavett, will you tell me your top priority for Labour?

Despite the claim that he thinks that that “the biggest strength of our Party is our people, our collective knowledge and experience,” Andy Burnham has taken on John Lehal from the Insight Consulting Group, which lobbies for Big Pharma companies, as his campaign director. Lehal is joined by Katie Myler, who is a managing director for the lobbying firm Burston-Marsteller, which includes private healthcare providers and union-buster INEOS among its clients. Might it not reasonably be suggested that this gives an idea of just how much he values the members’ collective knowledge and experience?

Even though many of us feel battered into senseless rage at the inanities of the marketing gurus on whom Labour leaders place more faith than in those holders of collective knowledge and experience to whom Andy Burnham refers, it looks as though we must steel ourselves for more of the same.

The infamous Edstone should have done with these people forever. But they are still with us. Labour still has more confidence in PR companies than in the Party when it comes to how to put its message over.

You may say “What message?” and that is indeed Labour’s problem. However, the last people in the world to resolve that problem are the practitioners of the dark arts of PR and advertising. But what I really want to discuss is the language of priorities.

Priorities are objectives placed in some kind of ranking with respect to each other. Parents of young children normally feel that their top priority is the well-being of their children. But what does this actually mean? In order to ensure that their children have a roof over their heads they may have to work long hours that prevent them from spending the time with their children that they believe is what they should be doing.

In other words no specific decisions can be taken directly from the fact that the children are the top priority. What has to be done as a consequence of this depends on the context. It’s simple, I know, but Labour politicians (and not only them) talk as if the language of priorities provided a direct line to policy decisions. That’s a crass thought and it is sad to see that Andy Burnham either doesn’t understand that or is beholden to advisers who don’t understand it – and who, even worse, probably don’t care because they live in a world of hype in which reality features but little.

Deciding on priorities doesn’t mean that some things will not be done because they are not top priorities. Bins still need to be collected when governments are thrashing around trying to deal with this or that crisis. If I have priorities ranked as 1, 2, 3, 4,  and 5 that doesn’t necessarily that they will be dealt with in that order. It might mean that resources are allocated according to rank order. Or it might mean that the higher ranking items are more difficult to resolve and therefore need more research and discussion. This might have nothing directly to do with the resources required. People often talk as if making something a “priority” issue had immediate and obvious consequences. Without further qualification it doesn’t.

And finally there is the business of asking people to select their top priorities. Suppose 10 people all agree that their top priority is getting people back to work. However, at the same time they agree about the importance of other issues e.g. bringing schools back into the local authority fold and building houses at a rate high enough to meet demand. They will almost certainly have a series of other concerns as well. So what will be learned by having them all say that getting people back to work is their top priority? Next to nothing. It is an idiotic question asked in an idiotic context. It is pure marketing and has nothing to do with researching people’s opinions. This sort of question is there to make people think that someone is interested in their views. But if they were genuinely interested they would not ask for information in this way.

I wrote to Andy Burnham to say my top priority for Labour is that its leaders stop asking stupid questions like “What is your top priority for Labour?”. That would be a good place to start changing Labour. It would also be a good idea to stop treating policy as if it could be dealt with on the same basis as voting in a celebrity contest.

17 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    If Burnham doesn’t win Labour’s Left must walk – including MPs.

    There’s no point in backing the likes of Burnham and co and resolving to begin the battle for socialism the day after Labour wins the next election.

    There will be no win with leaders like Burnham. And remember, the unions have already been shown the door following Miliband’s cooked-up Falkirk crisis.

    Better to bite the bullet now and do what has to be done. No need to wait five more years during which the LP will become even more marginal.

    1. Rod says:

      “If Burnham doesn’t win… ” – should be “If CORBYN doesn’t win…”

      lol.

      1. john P Reid says:

        http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/rod-liddle/2015/06/forget-jeremy-corbyn-im-backing-liz-kendall-for-labour-leader/
        according to Rod liddle, Cooper is in more denial of why labour lost than corbyn

      2. Tim Barlow says:

        “If Corbyn doesn’t win, Labour’s Left must walk – including MPs”.

        I totally agree (and they should sue the Progress tendency for the rights to the name Labour while they’re at it!), though some, like Meacher, appear to be too emotionally bonded to the party to leave (or make any kind of stand) under ANY circumstances. At least Corbyn had the balls to throw his hat into the ring and in last night’s debate was easily the most commanding, intelligent and, above all, authentic Labour presence on stage. The trouble is, if the Nuneaton audience is anything to go by, much of the British public’s political consciousness has been lobotomized by incessant Tory propaganda and wouldn’t know an authentic Labour voice from a hole in the ground! All they respond to are reassuring, inane buzzwords like “aspiration” and “deficit”, without realising that their “understanding” of the debate has been entirely (and deceitfully) framed by the neo-liberal right.

    2. Robert says:

      Not Miliband he was just the tool or the fool Progress used for Falkirk . Labour is now run from within by a committee set up by Progress, Burnham and Kendal will be easy to get on side, Cooper not to sure or course Corbyn will need to prove he can take on Osborne since he will be heading for the top job soon.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    “What are your top priorities for Labour?” asks Andy ?

    Filling my own pockets, (particularly with expenses,) continuing to to promote my mates and their financial interests at the expense of the voters, sucking up to various unsavory capitalist predators and covering their backs even when people have probably died as a result of their venality, incompetence and dishonesty, being all thing to all men, continuing to privatize the NHS and implementing schemes many people believe were deliberately intended to bankrupt it and laving a coat of unpleasant slime on anything I come into contact with.

  3. Sue says:

    I answered Andys email and said I wanted the Labour Party to support the NHS reinstatement Bill ——– currently they dont and yet all real authorities on NHS say this is a must. I also said I wanted to see the redistribution of wealth with big corporations taxed as they should be and avoiders chased down. I am not sure if we will get responses to our emails?

  4. Barry Ewart says:

    I said it was getting power back to the grassroots.
    I also said I was backing Jeremy.
    Then I got another e mail which I deleted.
    PR like advertising is just propaganda.

  5. David Pavett says:

    I obviously express myself very badly, or made no points of interest, since none of the above replies have got anything to do with what I wrote. Shame, I have always found the misuse of the language of priorities to be both widespread and highly manipulative. I’ll try to express it in another way some time.

    1. Matty says:

      It was a good article and made the point very well about this being a vacuous marketing exercise. Unfortunately, I guess that a lot of the BTL commenters don’t even bother reading the articles. They prefer to push their own agendas and will never respond constructively (eg Reid and Craig-Weston amongst the worst offenders).

    2. Sue says:

      Hi :0) I agreed with your article and my note saying what my “priorities” were ( in reply to Andy Burnham) was sort of to illustrate the stupidity of the question he ( his PR guy) asked. I asked those things to sort of take the p. Not that I don’t want them, but to illustrate the absurdity of the question :0) I know there is no way Andy will offer them and that the email is a PR stunt! My county council are currently doing a spending review consultation. One question ( to the public) lists 23 council services ranging from street lighting to child protection and asks the public what their 5 top priorities are?! Totally ridiculous!

    3. Barry Ewart says:

      Yes David like Sue I responded to a fake consultation but was honest to a politician (as a democratic socialist) re what I really believed in.
      I was also honest re who I was supporting, both quite revolutionary really.
      Good points by Matt – I always read the articles here and try to contribute positively to left ideas to try to help us to bettter work with the opressed in the UK and the World in response, but some of the contributions here I must admit are like broken records and some even hide behind fake monikers – I learn mainly from the main posts.
      I wish more socialists would post here.

  6. Mukkinese says:

    Well, number one would be to get off your backsides and start acting as though you are in a fight.

    This last five years, Labour has been one of the wettest least effective oppositions ever. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, it was not policies that lost this election, it was the supine state of Labour at the feet of the right, with barely a whimper of protest.

    Osborne brought the recovery he inherited to a standstill for eighteen costly months, the OBR just confirmed his austerity policies were the biggest contributor to that flatling. Any decent opposition would have been hammering away at that mess relentlessly, not this lot. A million British citisens had to beg for food last year and more this year, a half-competent opposition would be shouting about this from the rooftops, not this lot.

    And the list goes on; personal debt, rent arrears among the poor and evictions reached a record high last year and are predicted to do the same this year. Hardly a peep from this “opposition” on that.

    Legislation was brought in to gag NGO’s from criticising the government in an election year. only a token bit of whining over that one.

    A 40% rise in the numbers of the disabled who die after being told they are “fit to work”, never even mentioned by these “leaders of men”.

    Arbitrary sanctions on the unemployed, workfare which pays at a fraction of the legal; minimum wage, ignored by Labour.

    I could go on and on with injustice and cock-up after cock-up that Labour just shrugged and walked away from or merely made a token protest over.

    Any opposition other than this lot would have taken up any or all of these issues and relentlessly hammered the government with them again and again, but apparently this lot just do not give a damn.

    What lost this election was Labour’s pathetic showing as an opposition that was not even barely credible. they let the tories tell their simple message over and over ; “We are fixing Labour’s mess” and they let them tell it with no apparent attempt to defend themselves or correct the implied and real lies.

    Who is going to vote for a party that lies down rolls over?

    We can pick and choose from a long list of policies to match the mood and concerns of the voters, but that is a longer-term, and to be honest, secondary concern.

    Unless Labour get up off their backsides and start acting like they are in a real fight, they will be ignored again next time, no matter what promises they make…

    1. Tim Barlow says:

      Well said Mukkinese!
      Indeed, it’s tempting to conclude the entire New Labour project was all about filling the party full of neo-liberal stooges whose purpose was/is to provide a limp, non-opposition (and an illusion of a meaningful democracy) and thereby discredit the Labour name for ever. If that were the case, they’ve done a bang-up job so far…

  7. swatantra says:

    Surely one of the main priorities must be to defeat islamofacism?

    1. John P Reid says:

      The inquiry into Islam and its part in UK society is a good idea

  8. Chris says:

    We shouldn’t think that by choosing a leader we are choosing a policy direction. Wilson was seen as a left winger, but he wasn’t a left wing leader. Same goes for Kinnock.

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