Friday, 7 August 2015

Short Notes On the Cruddas Report

It's been picked over already, but there are a couple of points that need picking up on re: the Jon Cruddas inquiry into why Labour lost. For him, the findings confirm that anti-austerity politics is spurned by the majority of those asked - the subtext being, of course, that Jeremy Corbyn's course will sail the Labour ship into very choppy waters. This drew a response from Team Jez, arguing that Jon has spun the results to fit his own preferred conclusions. In fact, if anything, they underline the position Camp Corbyn has taken. Who's right?

Unfortunately the data sets have not been released so I can't go swivel-eyed pouring over them. Thankfully, Jon's own commentary provides meat enough to be going with. His overall view is that the British electorate are fiscally conservative but economically radical. Most voters, including Labour voters, agreed that "we must live within our means so cutting the deficit is the top priority". So this doesn't stand in isolation, other views were sought on whether they're more likely to vote for a party promising rich-to-poor wealth redistribution, favour parties that meet their individual financial interests, and whether the British economy works for the benefit of the rich and the powerful. The first two cases found a plurality in support, and the last affirmed by a majority. As Jon observes:
The Tories won because voters believed they would cut the deficit, even though a majority understand that the economic system is unfair. The Tories’ message on the deficit was clear, Labour’s was not. The Tories were trusted to manage the country’s finances, Labour was not.
Does that justify the anti-austerity spin? When considered in tandem with the supportive Graun piece, yes. Punters' comments on why Labour didn't win were full of stuff like "Free stuff! We’ll give you free stuff and somebody else will pay!" and "Chaos, more public spending, more borrowing, more tax! Strong anti-business rhetoric."

Even then, should that be counted as support for austerity? Well, no. On two counts. As Jon well knows, "cutting the deficit" does not necessarily mean public spending cuts. We've addressed it many times here, as have others elsewhere. Since 2010 the Tories performed a great confidence trick and have connived with their media chums to reduce the measure of economic competence to perceptions of deficit cutting, of transforming a crisis in the economy into a crisis of public spending. On this score they failed their own targets and abandoned tight spending completely during the election campaign. Labours response however was hopelessly contradictory: it half-criticised deficit determinism while capitulating to its "commonsense". Mixed messages make a muddle. The key, which Ben Folley makes in his Corbynite reply, is coherence.

Another disappointing aspect of Jon's inquiry is not so much how he leaves his inferences open to easy criticism, but the rather naive empiricism with which he approaches the issues. Surprising considering his previous life as a philosopher, and doubly so that he doesn't address himself to them as a politician. When we're dealing with social facts, when individuals and organisations undertake mass surveys, what they uncover is a snapshot. A moment not just in the life of individuals, but a snippet of what a cross section of society is thinking and doing. The truths established are not eternal, they are always shifting, always changing.

Where Jon's inquiry falls down is he establishes the reasons why a significant sample of people did not vote Labour. But as someone au fait with epistemology and politics, he should have also asked why those surveyed thought what they thought and what Labour can do to win them back. He did not capture where they were coming from or where they were going. In other words, the truly useful information the party needs wasn't even investigated. For instance, every single quote used in the Graun piece simply regurgitated Conservative attack lines. They bore absolutely no resemblance to Labour's real manifesto. What Jon has done, and the party is in danger of doing, is accepting this as established wisdom instead of trying to change things. That is not political leadership, that is not meeting people on their own ground and seeking to persuade them the merits of your position, and that is not the way you can win people back.

11 comments:

red tux said...

And the headline question was asked in isolation (and leading)

Igor Belanov said...

Exactly. If people vote against you because of your image and don't know your policies, then I can't see why changing the policies will help.

asquith said...

Igor Belanov is quite right. even taking into account the general inconsistency and incoherence of public opinion, polls are unreliable because most people may want the railways renationalised, all immigrants deported, etc. but wouldn't vote for a party that promised as much. Socialists love quoting opinion polls that agree with them, but a party that planned to reintroduce the railways, raise the top rate of tax etc would soon become associated in the public mind with profligacy, and too anti-immigrant a party would come to be seen as unelectably nasty.

It doesn't, thus, matter that Corbynite ideas are "popular" in opinion polls now. Have you read the book Sex, Lies and the Ballot Box? It has informed my thinking in this department.

Speedy said...

Image is formed by policies, as TB knew when he dropped Clause 4. What you are all missing is that political parties are like oil tankers and they take a long time to turn, in the public mind. Since Labour lost power the party has been turning in the wrong direction, away from public trust - first by electing Ed and failing to nail the Tory lie about fault for the recession and now by, apparently, electing JC, at which point it may as well scupper itself as far as electability is concerned for a generation.

So much of this discourse is based on a fallacy often witnessed by marketers - "build it and they will come". Actually the much-loathed focus groups serve a purpose, they indicate if there is a market for your product, and there is plainly no public appetite for JC. As a brand, Labour is going the way of British Leyland (and you're right - it no longer exists).

It is difficult to think of a way out of this act of mass hari kari, except to hope the polls are wrong and people will come to their senses.

Igor Belanov said...

Clause 4 wasn't a Labour policy, it was a vague aspiration included in the constitution! Extending social ownership was not a part of Labour's 1992 manifesto and you know it. The reason why Blair changed it was because it was an easy way to differentiate 'his' party from what had gone before, and to cement his personal authority by altering such a long established feature of the party's ethos.

There is no way that any Labour leader can commit a similar move without irrevocably splitting the party. I think Speedy is secretly looking forward to this.

Speedy said...

Did I hear you say "splitter!"? Yeah I know Clause 4 wasn't a policy, but you know what I mean (and JC has just pledged to bring it back btw).

On the contrary I dread the thought of Labour splitting, but only because it would make power less likely. I may be "tribal" Labour but I do not place the party above the people it was created to serve, as if it is some kind of fucking religion (and reading the comments of some people here you would think it was all about "faith").

Labour exists only to serve the people, not itself. That it cannot win the argument is not the fault of the people, but it's own. Again, I come back to the contempt - the bourgeois contempt - JC and his supporters personify. If the people cannot understand the wisdom of their plans then so be it - more fool them, at least we have the moral high ground. Meanwhile the Tories take more and more from "our" people. Pathetic, quite unforgivable and profoundly narcissistic.

Phil said...

What would it look like if there were any "public appetite" for Corbyn, Speedy? Smaller meetings? Fewer people signing up as supporters?

Yes, yes, all those people are the wrong kind of supporters, they're not representative of the general public, we know that. After all, all those tens of thousands of people evidently support Corbyn, and as we know there's no public appetite for Corbyn.

A friend on FB asked whether Corbyn was going to bring back the "Anyone But Labour" voters. I'm not sure he will - for that you'd really need a Nothing Like Labour candidate - but I don't think there are that many people who think like that. There are huge numbers of non-voters, ex-voters and never-voteds, though. And this is a new phenomenon: from 1974 to 1992 (when the franchise was extended to 18-year-olds) the number of non-voters* never reached 12 million; since 2001 it's never been below 15 million. I think Corbyn stands a better chance than Kendall of reaching those people, and a much better chance than the other two.

PS Corbyn in 'sense of humour' shock:

As reassurance to nervous people in Labour, Corbyn chooses an unlikely candidate as the party leader he admires most. This is the cautious and establishment figure of John Smith, who listened to Corbyn’s opposition to a welfare report for two hours even though he did not support him in the 1992 leadership contest. “What a decent, nice, inclusive leader he was. What a tragedy he died when he did.”

Well, I laughed.

*Calculated on the basis of published turnout %ages and the number of votes cast.

Speedy said...

Well, we can all dream, Phil, but forgive me if I cannot see JC feeding the five thousand, so to speak (it's in the abbreviation) with his loaves and fishes.

The people flocking to him are largely not the disenfranchised former industrial working classes but the Lib Dem and Green Left, the Occupy lot, and the Toby Youngs of this world - all in all the very worst of the worst, the muesli munching "wankers" of Jim Callaghan's memoirs. I bet there is a large proportion who'd like to boycott Israel, get rid of nuclear weapons and think 9/11 was a put up job, man. The important point is, however, it is not even a beginning - this lot will not formulate policies that attract the ordinary person because they have nothing but contempt for the ordinary person (indeed, their whole self-image is about being "extraordinary").

A complete waste of time, in short, and utterly "decadent" as (the other) Phil would say.

Boffy said...

The whole who is most likely to win debate is a diversion. If Nick Griffin was the chap Labour needed to make them popular and win the next election,is he the one they should choose?!

The whole point is that its about changing people's minds, and thereby creating the conditions under which socialists are the most likely winners of elections. Blair in recent comments understood that, saying that even if socialist policies were the ones needed to get elected, he still wouldn't support them

I disagree with all of the statist/reformist elements of jeremies approach, as i said some weeks ago, and it runs the risk of giving too much attention to leaders and not building a movement, but so far, Jeremy has himself stressed the need to build such a movement.

To the chagrin of all the trolls, sectarians, and deluded who had an interest in claiming that Labour was dead, and that they needed to build a Labour Party Mark II, or simply were contented to live in their own enclosed world talking to themselves, tens of thousands of young people have been motivated to get involved. That is the start, now its necessary to have a discussion about ditching the statist/reformist approaches of the past, and building a real movement based on self-activity and self-government, which is the only way of bringing about a transformation of ownership of the means of production.

Igor Belanov said...

The argument of existing to serve 'the people' seems even more like 'some kind of fucking religion' to me. For one thing, it's pretty clear that 'the people' don't function as one undifferentiated whole and, as the last election demonstrated, have a range of different, often incoherent, interests, opinions and principles. What socialists do generally argue is that certain people through their wealth, status or position in a hierarchy exercise more power and receive greater privilege than the majority of others. As such, they usually try to oppose rather than appease these people.

I doubt therefore that Corbyn represents THE people, though it is clear that he stands for SOME people. Whether he could effectively take on those with power and privilege is another matter, and would depend on how much support he could gain. But I sense that part of the frustration of the Labour establishment comes from the strong hold on them of the argument that winning elections depends on being as insipid, unadventurous and inoffensive as possible, and the kind of positive support gathered by Corbyn is something a bit alien to them.

Igor Belanov said...

"all in all the very worst of the worst, the muesli munching "wankers" of Jim Callaghan's memoirs. I bet there is a large proportion who'd like to boycott Israel, get rid of nuclear weapons and think 9/11 was a put up job, man."

Gor blimey, who will defend the good old full English breakfast?? And who would suggest all that extremist stuff about getting rid of nuclear weapons on the 70th anniversary of one of mankind's crowning achievements, the bombing of Nagasaki??

About time the Labour membership got back to its real duty of cheering on its political betters, the enlightened leadership of the likes of Jim Callaghan. They know exactly what 'the people' think.