Mhairi Black: I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy

My first speech of the week post was also a Mhairi Black one, so perhaps I should just have a “Badass Things Mhairi Black Said This Week” tag …

“I often find myself looking across that chamber at the Tory MPs and I think ‘are you so genuinely out of touch that you can’t see the damage you are doing’.

“Either way I am tired of being lectured by Tories as to why austerity is essential, why these welfare reforms – in fact they’re not reforms, they’re cuts – are essential. I’m tired of being told pensioners cost too much, I’m tired of our young people being told they’re not good enough, I’m tired of immigrants being scapegoated for the mistakes of bankers and politicians.

“I’m tired of being told that pain and misery are necessary for a stronger economy, for a long term economic plan.”

There could be a strategic opportunity here for UK Labour. The right, throughout Anglo countries, has dragged the political conversation in their direction, defining “common sense” or “the centre” more and more in their own terms. It leaves the big parties on the left chasing after them, crying “we’ll be fiscally responsible too!” or “we’re even better at delivering surpluses than they are!”

The big-party right (cough, National, cough) has often done it by having a more-extreme group on their flank (cough, ACT, cough). It makes them sound far more reasonable and measured when they say “well look, we’re not going to privatise all the schools/sell all the assets/eliminate all forms of taxation like those people want to, we’re finding the middle ground.” Even when the middle ground is a neoliberal wet dream.

With the SNP in a strong position and people like Mhairi Black speaking some damn fine truth to power, UK Labour has a readymade, strong left flank. Corbyn is being painted as an absurd extremist, with the kind of labels the right (and his own “centrist” colleagues) hope will distract voting people from the fact that most of the policies he supports are incredibly popular ones. The SNP, who are unafraid of saying radical things like “your welfare reforms are cuts, stop playing” and are frighteningly, well, Scottish, can be a fixed point to Corbyn’s left – a concrete bit of evidence he isn’t the resurrection of Lenin.

They can’t start in Scotland, of course. The worst thing Labour could do is run around undermining its natural allies by talking to their voters about how scary and extreme they are. They need to show the people who’ve been voting Tory for the last few elections that they can have stable, safe government and not sell off the NHS.

That’s how the left redefines the middle ground: by showing there isn’t just an alternative, there are multiple alternatives. Give people options and say, pick the one which matches your current comfort level. And move from there, leftwards.

Transcript via The Scotsman.

Don’t meet the people where they are

It has been a ridiculously busy week, dear readers. On Wednesday we celebrated the launch of E tū, the new union formed from the merger of the EPMU and SFWU. And Thursday and Friday I had the great privilege of attending a workshop with Anat Shenker-Osorio, the author of Don’t Buy It and a thoroughly inspiring speaker on progressive politics and communication.

She’s on Q&A this Sunday, 9am on TV One, and I highly recommend tuning in. Here’s some tasters of her style and thinking.

On trying to capture the middle (which may make it obvious why I’m a fangirl):

 

On education and the language of investment:

 

On how we deal with inequality:

Centrism and Canada

I’m not an expert on Canadian politics, so the only thing I have to go on regarding its New Democratic Party is what Rob Salmond says in his latest argument on trying to campaign for the centre.

It’s like a poster child for every political consultant’s “grow from your base, then reach to the centre” fantasy. …

That focus on middle-income earners, and on widely shared, optimistic self-images about “hard work” is textbook political strategy, employed by left and right parties alike. Tell swing voters in particular that they’re the most important, tell them they’re great and deserve more, and if you’re the challenger tell them the incumbent is failing them.

But there’s a logical hiccup. Rob himself says right up top:

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) stands proudly for the progressive left in Canadian politics. Very few would accuse the NDP of being “Blairite.”

And good for them. But this pretty much ruins any argument that the NDP proves that a move to the right is a winning strategy for parties like UK or NZ Labour.

If there is validity in a push to the centre, it surely only works when, like the NDP, you’re still seen as “standing proudly for the progressive left”. It works because the left feel secure. They aren’t worried you’re selling out for the sake of a Crown limo.

This is not a luxury afforded to leftish Anglo parties like UK Labour which have been described as “Blairite” on a regular basis.

I said in The base is what you build on:

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Label them fringe, call them the Twitterati, accuse them of living in an echo-chamber and being out of touch with ~real voters~, but someone has to run your phonebanks. If your strategy is “winning both the left and the centre”, you need to win both the left and the centre. What concerns me is the idea – illustrated in another post – that:

Around a third of New Zealand’s population are leftists. Same for right-wingers. But you need 50% of the vote to govern

… so you assume you’ve got 33% in the bank and just need to convince half of the swingers (no pun intended) to back you.

For the non-Scottish parts of UK Labour, that’s not too silly, especially after the Lib Dems slit their own throats. In New Zealand, with MMP, it’s dangerous. Leftist voters have other options. One is “not showing up”. And we’ve had two elections to see exactly what that looks like.

There are other issues with Rob’s analysis. Implying that only a centrist strategy can have “professionalized “slick” messaging” is a bit weird, given that Jeremy Corbyn won with some pretty slick, professional campaigning. It would be sad if Rob were trying to paint people to his left as mud-covered rabble.

monty python executive power

Rob also sneers at Jeremy Corbyn’s style of campaigning by saying “the progressive citizenry now demands conviction politicians who say what they mean, no matter how out of step it might be with swing voters”. But the polls – the data – show that Corbyn is firmly in-step with swing voters in the UK. He is “a mirror to swing voters’ self-images and desires”. And he can say exactly what he thinks.

And there’s this:

If you go centrist on innovation, you can go left on climate change. If you go centrist on taxes, you can go left on education. And so on.

I want to believe, folks.

i want to believeI’m honestly interested to know which issues the NZ Labour Party’s centrist crew are willing to go left on. Because when it’s come to extending benefits, advancing gender equality, or not participating in the second invasion of Iraq, it’s been a resounding no. Tinkering at the edges of student loans or hospital waiting lists isn’t “going left”. If we’re selling our soul to polling, I want to see more out of it than a halfway public-private KiwiBuild policy.

We hear a lot about how moving to the right doesn’t mean compromising our principles. But I still don’t know what the centre stands for.

The base is what you build on

all your base

An easy way to dismiss the success of a staunch leftwing candidate (like Jeremy Corbyn, who is evidently providing all the inspiration for my posts this week) is to write off their internal supporters as “just” party diehards – not real people.

The local “centre-left commentator” peddling this line will not surprise anyone.

The basic tenet of centrist politics is the centre is fixed; we must move to occupy it. The left disagrees: we think the centre can be moved; the question is how.

That’s where the base comes in.

We’ve all heard the eye-rolling dismissal of bloggers and Twitterati and “social media echo chambers”. And it’s correct, to a small extent. There’s a certain type of person who has the resources, time and inclination to gabble on about politics online. They aren’t legion. They don’t represent ~the average voter~.

But for Labour, they’re the base. They’re the people who talk politics away from their keyboards, with friends and family and coworkers. They’re the people who give up evenings running phonebanks or weekends door-knocking or putting up hoardings or waving signs at the side of the road.

The National Party provides an interesting comparison. We’ve only recently started to see the rumblings from their base (at least, the Auckland chapter of it). But they can’t be happy. Key’s popularity is built on slick media management, invisible dirty politics, and swallowing plenty of dead rats. He hasn’t been benevolent, by any means, but despite our worst fears, he hasn’t gone all-out on the privatisation/extinction of the public service/strip-mining the economy for foreign interests front either.

That’s got to be pissing off the kind of Tory who after nine long years of Clark’s rampant socialism longed for some union-smashing poor-bashing environment-obliterating vengeance. Instead, classic National policies like Jami-Lee Ross’ strike-breaking bill have been shut down out of sheer pragmatism: it threatened the reasonable, even-handed facade they used to push through unfair employment law reforms.

Why doesn’t National worry about annoying their base? What they have, and Labour doesn’t, is money.

 

National can buy every billboard in the country. They can run super-slick ads all over the place (even if they don’t apparently pay musicians for the use of their intellectual property.) They can hire as many local halls and drive as many branded buses around the streets of their electorates as they like. They can pay off stale old MPs to ensure lots of fresh faces are coming up through the ranks.

Visibility isn’t the only thing that matters in an election, but it does matter. And where National can get its message across with money, Labour has traditionally done it through sheer, well, labour.

It’s basically a metaphor for the whole left/right worker/bourgeois struggle, innit?

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Here’s another thought: more and more Kiwi voters aren’t showing up on election day. Maybe they skew left, maybe they align with the voting population as a whole. But they need a reason to turn out, and turn out for Labour. Unless someone dies and leaves a whopping bequest, the people giving voters that reason will be Labour’s base. They’re going to work a lot harder for a leader they believe in, who gives them a reason to be proud of their party and hopeful for the future of their country.

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has seen 15,000 new members join the UK Labour Party in a single day. Maybe he will have a big job ahead convincing ~average voters~ that he’s not a dangerous threat to national security. I doubt it, but if so, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier with that many people to help him.

And now, a song that got unaccountably stuck in my head while writing this post.

A UK Kiwi’s perspective on Corbyn

I’m no expert on UK politics, so thank god for John Palethorpe. He also has a smashing beard. His thoughts on the Corbyn victory are well worth a read:

The assumption that the Labour left was dead was like Goldfinger departing before the laser had finished cutting 007 in half. Presenting the membership with three candidates who were very similar and graciously allowing the fourth on the ballot to ‘broaden the debate’ was breathtaking hubris. Failing to recognise the intricacies of the electoral system they implemented to stop the Unions swinging the vote, like in 2010, sheer incompetence. In combination, it is possible the best demonstration of how poorly the self-appointed natural leaders of the Labour party understood what their leadership had done to the party.

Labour members decided that Henry Ford was right, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ They’ve done something different, without quite knowing what they’re going to get. That’s admirable, that’s brave in a time when we’re constantly warned that changing anything will bring about economic, cultural or other disasters down upon us.