Tuesday 12 May 2015

Standing For Something

Mephistopheles In A Savile Row Suit: Lynton Crosby (of the infamous Crosby/Textor firm of right-wing political consultants) conducts a master-class on behalf of the Patchwork Foundation. Crosby's catch-phrase "When in doubt - stand for something" is one the Left would do well to ponder.
“WHEN IN DOUBT, stand for something.” So says Lynton Crosby, the man who, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “really won the election for the Tories”. On the face of it, Mr Crosby’s catchphrase appears to be a statement of the bleeding, bloody obvious. But, the fact that he has had to reiterate it again and again over the course of his long and highly successful career as a political campaign adviser, strongly suggests that to a great many people in politics the need to “stand for something” isn’t obvious at all.
An old friend of mine, a Labour Party activist in Glasgow – God help him – was railing at me about the shallowness of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) candidates and their paucity of policy. He’d just witnessed good Labour MPs, who had stood by their constituents through the bitter years of Thatcherism, wiped out by callow youths barely old enough to shave. It wasn’t right. It simply shouldn’t have happened.
But what did Labour stand for? That was the question which so many of Scottish Labour’s former supporters could no longer answer. It’s why so many of them voted for the SNP. Because the Nationalists unquestionably stood for something. Not just for independence – although that was hugely important – but for the sort of society that more and more Scots have come to believe only independence can bring.
Crucially, for my embittered friend in Glasgow, that’s the society which Labour’s founding heroes – like the Scotsman, Keir Hardie – promised to build. The society that Tony Blair effectively cancelled when he persuaded the Labour Party to remove the in/famous  “Clause IV” from its constitution.
Clause IV had promised:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
That’s what Labour used to stand for. That’s what hundreds of thousands of Scots believe a party of the working-class should still stand for. That Labour no longer stands for anything remotely resembling Clause IV is why the SNP’s derisive nickname “Red Tories” was able to wreak such historic havoc upon the electoral map of Scotland.
After defining what they stand for, the next thing Lynton Crosby advises his conservative clients to do is attempt to define what their opponents stand for. The effectiveness of this strategy may be seen in the way Labour’s democratic socialist objectives have been made to stand for (at best) union tyranny and gross inefficiency, or (at worst) secret policemen and concentration camps.
“The socialist objectives of Clause IV confuse ends with means,” the Blairites helpfully parroted throughout the early 1990s, “the triumph of Labour’s values cannot be secured by the methods of the now defunct Eastern Bloc.” As if the UK’s welfare state, its National Health Service (NHS) and nationalised industries were in any way comparable to the totalitarian Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union. As if the privatisation of the UK’s water supply and railway network has been a roaring success. As if the hollowing-out of the NHS (under both Conservative and Labour governments) has made Britons healthier or happier.
What, then, do the Tories stand for? Supplying a politically persuasive answer to this, the most important of questions, is how Lynton Crosby really earns his money. The most truthful answer: the Conservative Party stands for the untrammelled right of those already in possession of wealth and power to make and acquire more; would not play well with “the man down there on the corner waiting for the bus”. Even so, Mr Crosby’s and his ilk’s description of Conservative aims and objectives is only slightly altered.
What contemporary conservatism stands for is the right of persons possessing the requisite energy and talent to acquire wealth and power without unwarranted obstruction or restriction. In a funny sort of way, this formulation is not so very far from “Old Labour’s” promise to “secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry.” The difference, of course, is that the Tories expect the workers to secure these on their own.
Labour used to be feared by the people the Conservative Party represents because it stood ready to expose this “you can make it on your own” mantra for the cruel con it has always been. That Labour was so easily defeated in England and Scotland last Friday is almost entirely due to the fact that it no longer offers workers any answer except “make it on your own”.
That is Mr Crosby’s greatest triumph: not only helping the Tories to remember what they stand for; but making Labour forget.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 May 2015.


Anonymous said...

It's all in this article! It is too late for the British Labour Party to learn the lesson in the near future.

Not so with the New Zealand Labour Party. They have got time. However, they need to sort themselves out quickly! What do they stand for? I don't know.

Brendan McNeill said...


It appears that people are more willing to accept a coercive state than they are a coercive workplace. They reject the idea of being coerced into union membership, but seem willing to embrace the welfare State, which I presume they imagine is funded by someone else. It would appear that the State has legitimacy in people’s minds whereas unions do not.

I don’t pretend to understand these phenomena, as both are intrusive and coercive.

I do suspect however that at our core, we are inclined to believe we can make a better success of life ‘on merit’ rather than rely upon the dead hand of the union to act in our best interests. It is a financial overhead that the industrious and inspirational can easily do without. Besides, the worker finds no shortage of advocates should they find themselves on the wrong side of an employment dispute. The ERA has an outstanding track record of punishing employers over a breach of technical process in favour of staff that have often behaved very badly indeed.

For Labour to change its fortunes, it needs to embrace people of aspiration and abandon 20th century paternalism. What did you say in a recent post? Oh yes, “…people should be allowed to manage their own affairs.”

Quite so.

Anonymous said...

Nationalised industries in Britain were a disaster.
If you don't acknowledge this, then nothing else you say will make sense.
They were inefficient, because there was no reason for them not to be. Until they had to compete with foreign (usually asian) companies, then they became unsustainable.
The unions (and governments) largely saw them as engines of employment first and producers of wealth second. So they held on to unsustainably huge workforces.
This is one of the problems with the left view of companies.
In reality, a company exists to make profit, and any employment is a side effect. Of course, people need employment. But if you target the company at employment, rather than profit, pretty soon it fails and you have no employment at all.

As I'm sure you recall, it was similar in NZ, until the bill in came in 1984.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Unfortunately Brendan, for many people the coercion is the other way. They are coerced into not joining a union. Large firms sometimes like unions because they don't want to negotiate with individuals, but small to medium firms hate them. If only it were a simple matter. We would all join them because in countries with strong unions workers simply do better. And in countries where unions are encouraged to take part in management, companies do better.

Andrew R said...

If the important thing is to stand for something, doesn't that undermine your arguments that Labour must head towards the centre, and (effectively) reject the left?

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
The quote , clause IV from U K Labour looks as if it was drawn directly from" Das Kapital" , Was it?
I have wondered since folioing your blog if your frequent disparagement of "capitalism" just reflects a disagreement with the way recent western governments control, or rather refrain from controlling its function ; or if you believe there is an alternative system you have in mind that is distinct from capitalism that can and should be replacing it.
Could you answer this for me please?
Cheers David J S

peterlepaysan said...

Labour forgot what it stood for between 1984 and 1990.

Now it cannot remember that it stood for anything.

Labour is in the same shop window as National and do not look all that appealing.

Unfortunately there is a very significant number of voters who have given up looking in the shop window.

There are a lot of boutique shops that attract other voters.

Ackshully it is difficult to see what Key and his party stand for, apart from retaining.

Crosby Textor are Machivellian shap shifters and Key is a very good actor.

Charles E said...

In the case of Labour here and the UK (Aus as well) I think they need to stand for something NEW. But I don't know what that is yet.
I think the last election here and in the UK showed the electorate, if it could for argument sake be seen as one person, decided to stay with the known rather than plunge forth with the unknown quantity of a possibly quite unstable coalition. Labour's mates or potential mates frightened the horses, so out came the middle in numbers to keep the incumbent, even enhance that known entity. No compelling reason was seen to take a chance on a change of tack. That would be reckless, although eventually that can happen when the electorate really is sick of the sight of the current mugs. So this electorate being ('Guya' I'll call him/her) wisely (like a crowd can be wise) chose not to fix what is not broke, yet.
Too simple?

pat said...

with one qualification....not broke (enough) yet for enough voters

Gerrit said...

There is a golden opportunity for Labour to stand for something. With almost universal loathing of the Auckland City Council ineptitude and, to a lesser degree, Central Government for foisting the Len Brown abomination on the good burgers.

Labours aim should be to provide policies (stand for something!!!!) that will kerb the councils monolithic powers and win over at least 45% of the Auckland voters with sound policy to address the out of control Len Brown fiasco.

The voters want to see real policy from political parties (you listening National?) not rehashed slogans like clause four that sounds like a mission statement (remember those?) from a failed 1980 corporate.

So please stand for something that effects us NOW (Labour vote would go even further backwards in the Auckland if Goff succeeds the Labour endorsed Brown).

That is how Labour will win the 2017 election. Oh and whilst at it, ditch the old 1980's people still representing you in parliament.

chris73 said...

I don't always agree with what you write but its always worth reading


Anonymous said...

The main benefit of state ownership was that profits (surplus value), rather than flowing into the pockets of private shareholders, would flow to the state where they could be used to benefit everybody. There are probably other ways of achieving this using the tax system.

Davo Stevens said...

Gordon Campbell has some good points here regarding the UK and NZ Elections.

~"According to the pundits, Labour here and in Britain needs to (somehow) become the party of the aspirational middle class and small business, and not merely be the champion of the underclass. That’s easier said than done. For one thing, it assumes that the current economic settings and the wellbeing of the middle class and small business are compatible. Yet what we are seeing with the rise of income inequality is the stifling of social mobility and the shrinking of the middle class. Small business is being squeezed by the unchecked concentration of economic power.
Market economics has killed the low skills jobs vital to the wellbeing of communities here and in Britain, and the same inexorable process (fed by digital technology) is now chewing its way through the white collar jobs that used to sustain the careers, incomes and aspirations of the middle class. Getting ahead is becoming a lottery where fewer and fewer people can hope to hold the winning tickets, for themselves or their children.
For Labour to pretend otherwise for its short term electoral advantage would not merely be dishonest. Ultimately it would be suicidal for Labour as a political movement if it chose to regard the current economic settings as being the only politically credible economic framework for a modern society. On election eve in Britain, Little and his Labour colleagues reportedly hosted a gathering of business leaders at Parliament with the aim of convincing them that Labour poses no threat to the status quo."~

And: ~"If it has the gumption for it, there’s a more challenging task facing Labour. No matter how hard it tries, it will never be able to sell a Tory Lite message to voters who embraced the real thing long ago, and seem relatively happy with it. The centre-left’s future doesn’t consist in trying to attract existing voters with the same bait as its more successful opponents, but to inspire those who currently see no point in voting at all. This isn’t just wishful thinking. Falling voter turnout aids the right. One of the ‘successes’ of neo-liberalism has been to induce a large slice of the electorate to give up on democracy altogether. The research evidence indicates that non-voters are more likely to reject the gospel of small government."~


As I have said before, Labour here has to start thinking about the poorer people who are struggling to survive not just the so-called "Middle Class" (almost non-existent right now) and get small business up and running properly again.

As for unions, it does well to remember that it is/was the Unions that made sure that at least some of the profits generated by the workers, spread throughout the economy instead of going into mostly off-shore Bank Accounts. By doing so, the economy grew and poverty decreased.

Capitalism always finishes in one of three places: A Monopoly, a Duoploy or a Cartel.