Wednesday 5 January 2011

Ed Miliband's Policy Holiday

Guest post from Brother G

There has been growing hysteria inside and outside the Labour Party about the performance of Ed Miliband. Criticised for being ‘weak’ and a ‘ditherer’, a number of commentators and activists have been quick to attack the perceived lack of leadership coming from the top. Exhibit A amongst the evidence cited is the lack of concrete policy proposals coming from the shadow front benches.

It will come as a relief to those people then to see Ed Miliband finally make a decisive policy announcement, though not the kind his critics might have been hoping for. Because the policy is ... there is no policy. As Miliband reached his 100th day in office, he announced he will be waiting two years before establishing a complete set of policies for Labour.

This hasn’t gone down too well. Among my circle of comrades, several are frothing at the mouth and clawing at the walls in their frenzy to condemn this ill-judged descent into contemplation and self-reflection. Such an attitude is hardly surprising. For many comrades of a certain age, being a party member meant being a paid-up spokesperson for New Labour. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown policy was something which was dictated down to members from on high, not developed through a process of democratic negotiation.

For many who've only experienced activism under the shadow of an incumbent Labour Government, the sharp shock of being cast adrift without the safety blanket of Downing Street diktats must be a strange and unsettling experience. For 13 years discussion of, and opposition to, party policy has not only been ignored but sometimes discouraged. The result has, in too many cases, been disillusionment among more idealistic comrades and a worrying anti-intellectual streak of the many time-servers who still clutter up CLP executives up and down the country. It could well be this attitude to policy that allowed Gordon Brown to stumble through the government's twilight years with nary a hint of the radicalism which defined our movement, or that man’s own youth. They do say, after all, that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

However, those of us who've been looking for opportunities within the labour movement to encourage a return to left-wing ideas, this change of pace should be viewed as an opportunity. As someone who voted for Ed Miliband in the leadership election I can say I've got what I voted for: a chance to redefine the way policy and debate is handled within the Labour Party. Some may see this as a lack of leadership on Miliband’s part, but I ask you: in the media saturated 21st century, what could be a better example of decisive leadership than refusing to participate in the tit-for-tat policy soundbites that have pervaded our political landscape in recent years?

It is incorrect to suggest a lack of official policy proposals will hinder Labour in local elections. Such elections can only be won by reconnecting with voters, and this cannot be achieved by pulling populist policies out of a hat. It must be done by rebuilding ourselves as part of a serious mass movement, by defending the hard won victories of working people not just in words but in deeds, and by mobilising the grass roots of our party to share their time, their energy and, most importantly, their ideas.


Phil said...

Good piece, Bro G.

You are right. We are in an unfamiliar situation for a lot of members. But regarding you wider point, I'm in two minds. Yes, the space gives members the chance to think for themselves and pay attention to the policy agendas promoted by the various platforms (I hope in these more positive circumstances for socialists that people will start picking up on our ideas). But there is simultaneously a need to present an alternative to the Tories.

At the moment Ed and the leadership are quite happy to oppose this and that and advocate slow and shallow cuts. Within the terms of the Westminster game, that's okay. Apart from deficit reduction the Tories have no narrative or strategy for getting the economy growing. The Tories are quick to point out how the front bench haven't got any policies, but that's to deflect attention from the massive policy vacuum at the centre of government.

But outside Westminster/medialand we do need to stake out alternatives. I would suggest Labour lefts should argue on the door steps for the sort of programme they'd like to see.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with Phil, an alternative to the Tories needs to be presented. But I'd go somewhat further in suggesting that the current lack of policy alternatives is hampering the ability of the Opposition to hit the Government even while they are offering up such juicy oppertunities to do so. Take the attack on VAT rises recently, it's hard for Ed to be taken seriously when he continues to uphold the Tory obsession with deficit reduction. Unless an alternative economic strategy is put forward it's inevitable that the deficit has to be reduced some how, and raising VAT is one way to do that.

I think we're starting to feel the damage done by electing a leader who feels his position is so insecure that he appointed Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor.

Gary Elsby said...

I disagree with the blog and it smacks of desperation.

The Labour Party is littered with policies, and those policies still hold water, unless of course, you want them to sink (tuition fees etc).
The argument that policy id 'dictated to from up high' is wrong. It is negotiated through the PFD.
Whether you think the whole process of publishing the final document is wrong is another matter.
I think there are around five areas of general policy within the document ad the whole process of submitting amendments to those individual document would begin quite soon.
Those five documents will arrive at the CLP and it will be up to members on what to do with them.
Every single line in each document is up for alteration by all of the 650 CLps throughout the UK, as was the final, current PFD.
The power lies with being on the final PFD general meeting which will hear all competent ammendments.
Each PFD section will go back and forth to all CLPs to see all accepted alterations.
To suggest that this process is not democratic would be wrong. To suggest that it is the best way forward, in my view, is also wrong as it appears to be a stitch up from start to finish.
However, I thought the whole process and the responsibility that went with it, was most rewarding for the activists within the CLP.

To go out on the door-step preaching how it really should be, is a way that will get you nowhere, but is one that I am a Master of. My belief (correct) is that Stoke Central CLP is the voice of Stoke Central and not any other place, but having similarities with neighbouring CLP inside and outside of Stoke.

The view of Labour is the PDF, when all said and done and that is why Labour is out of power.
If only they had listened.

Plese note: Stoke Central is the only CLP given credit almost throughout the whole of the West Midlands within the PDF, so plese ignore all insults to our being "Idle and not contacting anyone for a Century"(oh, how the Mayor disciples crow).

(contributor to the 2010 final PDF)
ps. It took my 3 days to submit all of Stoke Central ammendments to this document.
Majority by the now shadow Labour Party.

Gary Elsby said...

Phil, have you noticed my predictions for the Shelton Ward are coming true?
Do you know how I knew this would happen?

ModernityBlog said...

You might imagine that the Labour Party leadership would have learnt something?

But no, they echoed many of the sentiments of the Tories in the votes for prisoners debate.

Once more the Labour Party seeks to outflank the Tories from the right....

Budapestkick said...

Your mgical crystal ballsack?

Phil said...

Gary, are you going to stand in the local elections this year?

Phil said...

The Labour leadership will only learn the lessons they think are relevant to their particular social universe. See here.

There's a gap for the left and socialists. I plan on making the most of it.