The discussion began when it turned out that my MP, who I had voted for, was one of those who had tabled a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. I said that I honestly wondered if people like me were welcome in the party. I have been quite open about have been one of the "three pound members" who registered as a supporter in order to support his leadership bid; and who became a full member of the party literally minutes after his election. An old friend, who has been an active member of the Party for many years, asked, not unreasonably: "Did you join a party, or join a person?"
I believe in trade unions, libraries, nationalized utilities, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. I believe in welfare payments to the unemployed and family allowances to mothers, old age pensions and student grants. I believe that no-one should be denied medical treatment through lack of means. I don’t think criminals should be hanged and I don’t think children should be hit. I believe in maternity and paternity leave and positive discrimination to overcome built-in prejudices. I am against genocide, and am against wasting money on weapons of mass destruction. I am not against all wars, but I am, like President Obama, against dumb wars. I don’t think countries and borders matter all that much, and I don’t think race matters at all. I am in favour of free movement; I live and work in a multi-cultural community. I am in favour of equal marriage, although I admit it took me a while to come round to that.
I rejoined the Labour Party when it elected a leader who believed what I believe. If the next leader believes what I believe, I will stay in the party. But I fear that if Corbyn is ousted, New Labour wing will denounce anybody who believes in what I believe as a Trot. There will be no place for Socialists in that Labour party, and I will have the same choice that I have had since 1992: the choice between two Tory parties, and not voting at all.
The Idealist believes in things, gives their support to the political party that believes in those things, and tries to persuade other people that she should believe in those things too. The...what shall we call him? political wonk? party man? activist?...wants his team to win, and thinks that his team should adopt whatever beliefs will deliver that victory.
Sure, there are such things as political tactics and honest compromises: but when Polly Toynbee starts saying (and I paraphrase) "well, it seems the Working Class are quite racist, so Labour needs to be a more racist to win the working class vote" I walk away.
Very few of us are 100% Idealist or 100% Wonk in real life, of course.
Tony Blair wore the right rosette and won elections, but he had no point of connection, that I could spot, with any of the things I believe.
I suspect -- and I am sorry to go all serious here -- that this is actually a religious question. I am a Socialist because Socialism seems to be the best chance we have of applying Jesus's moral principals to the complicated and messy political world. Which is not the same thing as saying that Jesus was a socialist, or that all Christians have to be Labour, or that moral principals are the most important thing about Jesus. Giles Fraser does not have a point. This is why Christians like me can feel drawn to Marxists like Jeremy Corbyn and Billy Bragg: we all start from the position that something is fundamentally broken in the world, that a CEO being paid 100 times more than his cleaner is not so much a sign of a healthy, competitive economy, as a moral outrage.
"The main requirement for a political party is delivering the things it believes in; not just wanting them"; yes, of course, but if that ever becomes "the main requirement is being elected, which we can only do by not trying to deliver those things" then, against, I walk away.
I don’t think that “prevent the Tories winning a third term” is Labour’s main objective. I don’t think that “We are not the Tories” is a sufficient selling point to justify Labour's existence.
I can picture three outcomes for the next election.
Best outcome: Progressive government; Conservative opposition
Second best outcome: Conservative government; Progressive opposition.
Worst outcome: Conservative government, Conservative opposition.
It makes very little difference whether, in the worst case scenario, the conservative government has the label “Conservative Party” or “New Labour”. Either way, the poor are fucked. But only me and the Queen Mother think like that. and she's dead.
You don’t get to implement your ideas by jetizoning them. There is no point in becoming the Tories in order to defeat the Tories. Labour is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.
I have a set of political beliefs about how I think a country should be run. Those political beliefs derive from a more deeply held set of moral beliefs (Christian, in my case, but that is incidental to the argument) and lead to me giving my support to a party. I support the party that reflects my political beliefs, and I hold political beliefs because they are a way of implementing my moral beliefs. I sort of assume that people go into politics because they also have political beliefs, based on moral beliefs, and want to persuade other people that their beliefs are the best. I even hope that they have thought there political beliefs through more carefully than I have.
Why do we want to prevent a third Tory government?
There are two possible answers:
a: We don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government. Those are the rules of the game: if a guy with a Labour badge gets in, our team wins. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.
b: We don't want a Tory government because we think that the Tory government will do bad things or that a Labour government will do better things. "Good" and "Bad" are here defined by our political beliefs which come from our moral beliefs.
The idea that a political party might shape its agenda (as opposed to its presentation of that agenda, or its propaganda) based on what will win elections implies
a: that you can pick up and put down political beliefs at will, like picking a new tie
b: that it's quite all right to SAY that you believe the thing that will win the election, even if you actually believe the other thing
c: that winning elections, rather than doing what is right, is the object of the exercise.
This seems to be to psychotic, if not actually evil.
Politics is not only about what you think should happen; it's about making detailed plans and policies to ensure that it does happen -- about expertise and competence as well as belief. Candidate A and B might be united in their belief that everyone should get medical care when they need it; but honestly differ about whether socialized medicine or subsidized private insurance is the best way of achieving that. If you think Candidate A is on the wrong side of the argument, it would be better to say "Candidate A has not done his sums right" rather than "Candidate A obviously wants poor people to die long, agonizing deaths". I think that the point at which someone says "Socialized medicine is better because socialized medicine is better and I don't care about the sums" is the point when you can fairly accuse them of being obsessed with ideological purity.
If I run a dairy farm, I might very well get marketing people in to tell me how to get punters to buy my milk. "You need to sell it in different kinds of cartons; you need to look at selling flavoured milk and skimmed milk; maybe you need to come up with a company mascot the kids can related to" are all good suggestions. "I think you should concrete it over and sell motorcycles", not so much.
If selling milk is your objective. If making money is your objective, then the motorcycles plan might be a very good one.
Is the Labour Party about selling milk or manufacturing motorcycles?
The question about whether the Labour Party is "too far to the left" or "too far to the right" is a moral one. You can show me that my morals are wrong ("you say that killing is always wrong, but have you considered the following circumstances...") or you can show that my political beliefs don't reflect my morals as well as I thought they did ("you think that paying benefit alleviates poverty, but did you consider…”) but you can't ask me chose my morals or my politics based on what will win elections. It's like asking a judge to consider the possibility that murder is a bit less naughty this week than it was last week.
A new Labour Leader who believes in being nasty to criminals, nasty to immigrants, nasty to the unemployed, and wasting money on WMDs that we will never use might (perhaps) be able to win an election. But I come back to my first question: in what way would that be better than a Tory government?
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