Wednesday, 14 July 2021

From Renaissance to Relapse

One thing about Labour is how endlessly productive it is of reviews, coalitions, initiativism and ginger groups. Off the top of my head, in the last five years we've had Momentum on the left, and on the right Labour to Win, Progressive Britain, Labour Together, the People's Vote, and commissions and policy reviews galore. So why not one more? Announcing its existence on LabourList, Renaissance promises to target research, resources, and activism on the so-called red wall seats to win as many back as possible. Sounds sensible. It also badges itself leadership-loyal and styles itself as helping Keir Starmer "develop his storytelling". An admission, if there ever was one, that he's gone down like a lead balloon in the former heartlands. Can Renaissance pump enough helium to reinflate his chances?

Fronted by Stephen Kinnock with Yvette Cooper and Ruth Smeeth on the advisory board, Renaissance wants to keep Labour out of the "comfort zone" and "reconnect" with "working families". Tipping its hat in a Brexity direction, Kinnock argues that the UK needs to stand on its own feet and it does this by investing heavily in manufacturing, married to the usual gubbins around sound money and kowtowing to the imagined taxpayer. Naturally, a report will come in September focusing on why people who've supported Labour previously haven't and what can be done to win them back. This is England and Wales only. Despite committing Renaissance to the vision of Labour as a Britain-wide project ("whole nation" in wonk speak), they're strangely uninterested in what former life-long voters in Scotland have to say.

Avoiding hard answers, at least where the Labour right are concerned on matters Scottish augurs ill for this new initiative. As does the accompanying puff piece by Ruth Smeeth. She writes how Labour has always been an alliance of workers and the progressive middle class, typified respectively by The Mirror and The Graun. Unfortunately, the 2019 manifesto was lopsided toward the latter. The party lost its ideological anchor and was set adrift in seat after seat as the old base deserted the ship.

If you're interested in understanding a problem, it pays to approach it in full possession of the facts and that your thesis has some evidential basis. Shall we consider them? Smeeth says Labour talked about tuition fees but had nothing to say about meeting rent payments. Turning page 79 of the 2019 manifesto, we find pledges for rent controls by capping them. Local authorities would be granted powers to curb rents further, no-fault evictions ended, the enforcement of minimum standards of habitation, and public funding for renters' unions so tenants can best defend their rights. Sounds utterly divorced from working class interests, doesn't it? Sticking with the Labour right's obsessions with tuition fees, she argues further education mattered more to her former constituents than measures that would benefit students in higher education. Pages 37 and 38 are our oracles here, and they committed Labour to expanding FE provision, reintroducing the EMA grant for FE students, giving people lifelong access to FE (and HE) for reskilling in the face of the next wave of automation, and integrate the whole lot into a National Education Service. Fancy that, tuition fees can be abolished while lifelong learning and FE are revolutionised.

She goes on. Rail nationalisation is nice and Stokies would have liked it, but the appalling state of the local buses matter more. As someone lacking a gas guzzling megamobile to ferry myself around the Potteries, I know this very well. Which is why pages 19-20 went down a treat:
Labour will ensure that councils can improve bus services by regulating and taking public ownership of bus networks, and we will give them resources and full legal powers to achieve this cost-effectively, thereby ending the race to the bottom in working conditions for bus workers. Where councils take control of their buses, Labour will introduce free bus travel for under-25s. We will increase and expand local services, reinstating the 3,000 routes that have been cut, particularly hitting rural communities.
She then criticises the party for failing to address concerns over job security. Talk about a green revolution smacks of change being done to voters rather than working with them. A good job then page 17 sees Labour pledged to invest in heavy industry, including science and research spend for cleaning them up and backed by a Britain-first procurement strategy to stop offshoring. This was in addition to three gigafactories, four metal processing plants, and a package of measures to keep the British steel industry going. Huge sums would be invested in plastic reclamation and recycling, a process the manifesto terms 'remanufacturing'.

The examples Smeeth cites to support her fairy story of a disconnected Labour Party are shown to be false. Or to put it plainly, pure bullshit. If her constituents didn't know these were priorities, then whose fault is that? She had a two-year lead in to tell the good people of Stoke North and Kidsgrove how a Labour government would change their lives for the better. History records she elected to spend her time with the Labour right torching the party's chances instead.

What this also means is the answers from the Renaissance report can be forecast now with unerring accuracy. There will be no findings that contradict the distorted preface Smeeth has offered, no honest accounting of the role Brexit played. Nor, for that matter, how the remain-focused strategy of the current leader properly torpedoed the party - something red wall voters haven't forgot, in case anyone's still bewildered by the poor results from the last two Labour defences. We'll just get a reiteration of the party is too middle class and too socially liberal, which will entirely coincidentally support Starmer's idiotic embrace of Blue Labourism.

It's worth remembering these people think they're the election winning specialists. They're also the people who deny their efforts at blowing the party up had any effect on Labour's reception, are completely uninterested in the character of the voter coalition we currently have and stupidly assume it's going nowhere, and argue pivoting toward social conservatism as the country is trending toward social liberalism is super smart, strategic politics. Perhaps instead of 'Renaissance', they should have called themselves 'Relapse'. This is a prospectus for promise-nothing, status quo-tailing Labourism, a vision so anaemic that you'd have to go back to David Miliband's policy platform in the 2010 contest to find anything so weak. With this shower in the driving seat, Labour's going nowhere - and it's our people who'll pay the price for their failure.


David Walsh said...

As regards Renaissance (in a Freudian slip, there was a 70's southern based band of fading rockers, who had one small come back with a single called 'Northern Lights") this old hack just sees them as Yvette's launch pad for any leadership contest that might just pitch up in the next two years or so.

Anonymous said...

Cooper spent most of the 2010 - 2015 period going on about "legitimate concenrs about immigration", in an attempt to reconnect with northern working-class voters. The result was mainly to alienate other groups of voters while amplifying UKIP's narrative in northern working-class communities.

The output from this new group is likely to have similar results.

Labour is at present communicating with what it considers its traditional constituency through very superficial focus groups and the pages of tabloid newspapers, and that distorts the messages. Meanwhile other groups of potential voters have a very different view of the world. Reconnecting requires new channels of communication, but I very much doubt that is what this group has in mind.


Blissex said...

«Fronted by Stephen Kinnock with Yvette Cooper and Ruth Smeeth»

Oh what a demonstration that "personnel is policy"!

Blissex said...

«Labour is at present communicating with what it considers its traditional constituency through very superficial focus groups and the pages of tabloid newspapers»

Nothing new there, it is vintage mandelsonism, here is one of my favourite quotes from Tony Benn, 1986-03-24, 35 years ago already:

The Party's Campaign Strategy committee, where four men and a woman from something called the Shadow Agency made a presentation.
They flashed onto a screen quotes which were supposed to be typical of Labour voters, for example: “IT'S NICE TO HAVE A SOCIAL CONSCIENCE BUT IT'S YOUR FAMILY THAT COUNTS.”
What we were being told, quite frankly, was what you can read every day in the Sun, the Mail, the Daily Express, and the Telegraph. It was an absolute waste of money.
Labour was associated with the poor, the unemployed, the old, the sick, the disabled, pacifists, immigrants, minorities and the unions, and this was deeply worrying.
The Tories were seen to have the interests of everyone at heart including the rich. Labour was seen as yesterday's party.
I came out feeling physically sick.

To supplement this, a quote from "The politics of marketing the Labour Party", showing that the presentation that made Tony Benn feel sick had been arranged by Peter Mandelson, already zealously at work for thatcherism 35 years ago, showing hwo little New Labour has changed over the decades:
Value free campaigning? The repackaging of Labour
The SCA and their ‘client’ representative Peter Mandelson provided the impetus behind the re-launch of Labour in 1986. In contrast to previous initiatives, the campaigns that followed were highly disciplined exercises. As Mandelson admitted: ‘Communications means throwing your net much wider than publicity. It means deciding what we say, how we say it, and which spokesmen and women we choose to say it’. The name of each campaign betrayed the party’s marketing conscious approach: ‘Freedom and Fairness’, ‘Investing in People’ and ‘Modern Britain in a Modern World’.
All three were highly media-centred operations. Input from the party faithful was limited to purchasing mugs and other merchandise from the revamped Sales and Marketing department.
Launched in the run up to the 1986 local elections, the Freedom and Fairness campaign became a journalistic story for its manner as much as its theme.‘ Devised by a team including advertising executive Trevor Beattie, it featured a nine-year old reaching skywards. The campaign was praised in Tribune, The Observer and The Guardian, the latter of which called it ‘light years ahead’ of previous efforts though not all the coverage was favourable: ‘One day the twee nuclear family living in a semi in a suburb will have vanished from our TV screens altogether except, of course, in the Never Never Land of commercials for Milton Keynes and Labour Party Political Broadcasts’.
[...] It also identified significant voter antipathy towards so-called ‘scroungers’ and, by implication, Labour policies devoted to helping these `undeserving poor´. The promotion of such language was a marked feature of New Right Strategy had been popularised through the Tory press during the late 1970s. Lamentably it now began to inform opposition thinking.
In his first major qualitative-based study for the party, Philip Gould argued the party’s ‘minority agenda’ was a major electoral handicap.” Consequently Freedom and Fairness was tailored to appeal to what marketers, and particularly those associated with BMP DDB Needham, termed the burgeoning ‘aspirational’ electorate. This strategy was outlined to CSC members at a SCA presentation on the topic of ‘Society and Self’.

Blissex said...

from something called the Shadow Agency made a presentation
The SCA and their ‘client’ representative Peter Mandelson

Just to make sure: the SCA is the "Shadow [Communication] Agency", the same entity in both quotes.

Just to make sure: I admire Peter Mandelson for his devoted, consistent work to advance his "whig" political ideals, with several of which I agree (most "bourgeois liberties" are good for workers too) I just wish he had not chosen to manipulate the Labour Party to do so.