Tuesday, 12 May 2015

It's Complicated

Does politics fit into the techno(logy), psycho(logy) and socio(logy) brief of this blog? Yes of course it does - especially in the latter category.

So I guess you are now appraised of the fact that I'm going to bang on about politics for the next few hundred words. If that's an unpleasant thought, you'd better click away now.

Isn't it funny that, especially during and since the recent UK general election, everyone thinks that their punditry matters. That'll be the democratising power of the internet I suppose - even if this supposed pluralism is largely an illusion. Power exists even here.

So to politics and the future.

The Labour party took quite a beating on Thursday night. Since then, grandees and others have emerged from the gloom scattering advice like seeds of hope (or perhaps the bullets of old scores). One MP has even announced his candidature. His name is Chukka Umunna.

Chukka is an interesting character, he is a very natural and polished performer and in that respect quite unlike his predecessor. As far as I can tell he is aware of the whole metropolitan elite critique that has been levelled at him (hence his announcement from the very un-metropolitan Swindon). His key message is that the party needs to retake the centre ground which was once successfully occupied by Tony Blair and New Labour.

This too-obvious statement already leads me to think that Chukka may not be the man for the job. I wait to see the substance of his personality and ideas, but it's important to remember that the creation of New Labour was an incredibly bold and radical move at the time. It was a reinvention of the party in some quite unexpected ways, even though with hindsight it appears blindingly obvious. To me, Chukka's approach is far too expected. Over the next five years UKIP and David Cameron (attacking from different flanks) will be all over that one.

Also, regardless of the spin that will no doubt be spun, Chukka is part of that 'metropolitan elite', and furthermore his racial background may irk those with a beef about immigration. This may be especially so in the North, where those who maintain an allegiance to Labour do so because of their class attachments to people like Dennis Skinner, Arthur Scargill and even John Prescott. Not because of their colour or race of course, it's because these politicians are seen to understand the lot of the working man. Chukka ain't that.

If Chukka was a black man who had been a union leader or some such, he would have had a hope of being attractive to this constituency, but as a millionaire lawyer, that has to be a forlorn hope. UKIP are becoming ever better at playing the "man in the street" card, and when allied to their latent xenophobia they will hoover up the former Labour voters who would feel alienated by Chukka. Don't think that such a core constituency meltdown could happen? Just look at Scotland.

Chukka will then be left with the aspirational centre ground which Cameron already has firmly in his sights. He should also be able to attract the metropolitan elite, but that won't be enough - especially if new boy Boris Johnson is at the helm of the Tories come 2020. He has track record in winning metropolitan elections.

For Labour to stand any chance next time, they need someone with true guile, someone who could take Labour to unexpected places. They'd need to be a master strategist able to outflank both the Tories on the centre ground and the UKIP 'common man' discourse. This could be done via the creation of a strong message of radical left wing social justice agenda (which I think the aspirational and the traditional Labour activists will go for), in tandem with centrist aspirational policies. For example:

Left wing policies:
  • Higher taxes to pay for better services, a la Scandinavia
  • Nationalised Railways - instead of profits being spent on shareholders mansions, why not re-invest it into the trains. Not ideology, just sense.
  • The creation of a government-owned energy company to undercut the prices of the 'cartel' and provide real competition in this market

Centrist policies:
  • Sensible taxation for freelancers and contractors (I would say that!)
  • Enterprise-driven society
  • Recognition of changes in work (start-up culture, protean careers etc.)
  • Reward for merit

These are simply policies to deal with the complicated present. It's unhelpful to think in terms of right or left in the re-invention of Labour. The new challenges have outgrown such labels although many of the big ideas of left and right are still very relevant.

Finally, some at the top of Labour need to see beyond raw personal ambition (as exemplified by Ed Miliband), and get back to thinking about ways to serve the constituencies that they were elected to represent. Any real Labour renaissance will need to have at its core ideas related to conviction, and a genuine desire for the common good if it is going to turn things around.

And no, I didn't vote for Labour last time out..

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