Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Labour's Monoply Tendency

In an article in the Guardian  on Monday our Batley and Spen MP, Kim Leadbeater (Labour),  referred to her murdered sister's  well publicised  theme; "We have far more in common than that which divides us." 

I'm pleased that the "in common" tendency in the Labour Party is alive and well, but regret  that  it doesn't as yet seem to permeate the majority of the party, still less the party managers.

At our Batley and Spen Liberal Democrat AGM last week our guest speaker was a friend of long standing, Baroness (Angie) Harris of Richmond,  She described in detail the efforts  being made in the House of Lords to modify the damage to such building blocks of our democracy as our right to protest, some people's right to vote, the modest improvements made so far in our  electoral system (second preference votes for Police and Crime commissioners),  and claimed, more in sorrow than in anger that, "the Labour Party rarely* supports our amendment, though they expect us to support all theirs."

This is an unfortunate feature of our modern Labour Party: that good ideas are only good if they come from the Labour Party itself  How different from the Labour Party of Clement Attlee's day, which eagerly seized on and implemented the social security policies of Liberal William Beveridge and the macro-economic management policies of Liberal John Maynard Keynes.

Two examples of this "we have the monopoly of good ideas" tendency are evident in Labour's behaviour during the 2010-15 Coalition.

Labour had in their manifesto proposed the Alternative Vote (AV) to make the electoral system more representative. As part of the Coalition Negotiations the  Liberal Democrats obtained the right to hold a referendum on the reform of the electoral system.  Although AV is not the preferred reform for most Liberal Democrats, not wanting to let the best to get in the way of the possible, we chose AV for the Referendum,  in the expectation  of Labour's support.  

We didn't get it.  Their leader Ed Miliband was in favour but the party would not campaign for it, the Tories used their media muscle  to oppose itand the referendum was defeated.

It is perfectly possible that, with AV in place, David Cameron would not have won a majority in 2015, and almost certain that the Tories would not have the majority of 80 which, despite their incompetence, will keep them in power for at least  another two years.

Similarly the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Negotiations obtained the right to  propose a reform of the House of Lords. Again,it wasn't perfect.  Again, the Labour Party, although vaguely in favour, refused to vote for the parliamentary time necessary  to debate the bill.  Had it been passed  it would have been impossible for Mr Johnson to add to an already inflated House  82 new peers, which include his brother, Lord Frost, and 13 former Tory Treasures who had each contributed at least £3m to party founds. 

Not only wilt they  now be law makers for life:they'll now each receive £310 for every day they sign  the attendance register   (Unemployment benefit is £71.70 a week)

All is not lost.  I forget who it was, but a commentator recently speculated that, whatever their parties' hard liners thank, Ed Davey and Kier Starmer seem to have an understanding that they will not ostentatiously campaign in those seats where  the other has a better chance of winning.

Personally I would like to see the Liberal Democrats, Labour , the Greens, the Nationalists and anyone else remotely progressive   form a grown up alliance for one election only to introduce proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.

Sadly our democracy does not yet seem to be mature enough for this adult approach so, not letting the best get in the way of the possible, will the die-hards in all these parties please recognise that we really do have "far more in common than that which divides us."  Otherwise we are lumbered with the likes of the shambles of the present incompetent  corrupt short-termist self-aggrandisers for decades to come.

 

* She may have said "never," I'm relying on memory. 



4 comments:

  1. Their leader Ed Miliband was in favour but the party would not campaign for it, the Tories used their media muscle to oppose itand the referendum was defeated.


    This juxtaposition implies that there was some causal relationship between Labour's lack of support and the referendum being defeated… but surely the margin of victory (68% vs 32%) shows that, unlike the knife-edge EU referendum, this one never had a snowball's chance in Hell of passing, because the British electorate is fundamentally small-c conservative to its core, and viscerally opposed to big changes to tings it is comfortable with, like the voting system? (It's one of the things I like best about the British electorate)

    It is perfectly possible that, with AV in place, David Cameron would not have won a majority in 2015, and almost certain that the Tories would not have the majority of 80 which, despite their incompetence, will keep them in power for at least another two years.

    Indeed, which is another reason why the British electorate — which hates hung parliaments and coalition governments, because what they want out most of all of an electoral system above all is a clear indication of who they can blame and a good chance of being able to boot them all out when they're tired of them, rather than having them slink back in with a different coalition partner like Leo Varadkar has just done — was bound to reject a system which would all but guarantee coalitions for ever more.

    Similarly the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Negotiations obtained the right to propose a reform of the House of Lords. Again,it wasn't perfect. Again, the Labour Party, although vaguely in favour, refused to vote for the parliamentary time necessary to debate the bill. Had it been passed it would not have been impossible for Mr Johnson to add to an already inflated House 82 new peers, which include his brother, Lord Frost, and 13 former Tory Treasures who had each contributed at least £3m to party founds.

    Wasn't the problem, as always with House of Lords reform, that everyone was agreed that they wanted change but nobody could agree on what they wanted to change it to? In the real world you can't just get rid of something, you have to replace it with something else, and if you're not careful then the 'something else' you replace it with can be even worse than what you started off with. Indeed there's a good case to be made that that has already happened, and the present state of the house of Lords, which is the result of Blair's botched attempts at reform, is worse than it would have been had he just left the thing as it was in 1997.

    Remember the lesson of Chesterton's fence, and add to it the next important rule: not only should you not be allowed to remove the fence until you can explain why it was put up in the first place, but you should not be allowed to remove it until you have presented a concrete plan for what you are going to replace it with and convinced everyone that your replacement will be better than the present situation.

    Otherwise, you had best leave well alone, because 99% of the time in politics, any attempt to fix something ends up making the situation worse than it was before.

    After all, almost all the problems we have in politics in this country are the result of previous attempts to fix things…

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  2. An interesting post, but I must take issue with you where you say "Personally I would like to see the Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Greens, the Nationalists and anyone else remotely progressive form a grown up alliance for one election only to introduce proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. Sadly our democracy does not yet seem to be mature enough for this adult approach ..."

    This sort of language - "grown up" and "adult" - conveys an attitude that you and your view clearly is intrinsically superior while those who do not agree are 'child like' and mere "children" and is sadly far too common in some areas of Lib Dem political thought. However it is bad - bad analysis, bad expression and bad politics.

    We all know that different people, even different Lib Dems, can come to radically different conclusions on the same issue and this is due to their differing priorities, experiences and views as to the likelihood of success. Coalition proved that.

    Those who liked Nick could not be persuaded to consider the risk of long term damage (despite their being very convincing evidence of it) those five years were doing to the party, and this was in part emphasised by senior figures referring to "grown up politics" and comparing 'Lib Dems for Change' as smaller than 'Lib Dem Friends of Cake'.

    Ultimately, none of us has full knowledge of the past and the assessment of risk of failure of what seems a good idea or plan is a judgement call. Acknowledging this, accepting, analysing and considering alternatives makes our own position stronger. We are after all a party that believes in the importance of diversity.

    Sadly describing one's own view as Grown up or adult, simply shows a disdain for these other views, and even worse at a political level is likely to alienate them from supporting you you on other issues they may agree with you on.

    I would urge you to reconsider and hopefully reject future use of such terms in all circumstances.

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    Replies

    1. Anonymous: "Chesterton's Fence" is new to me and so far a search on Google has produced no explanation of what it actually was, but a lot of discussion on second order thinking. Maybe it's the same message as : "Always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse."

      But piecemeal rather than dramatic reform (eg the French Revolution) has been the way the British Constitution has evolved. Gradually the powers of the Crown have been transferred to the elected government. Gradually the franchise has been extended (although there are a few backward steps in the present bill). Gradually in the Second Chamber the hereditary landed aristocracy have been replaced by "persons of merit." Of course we have to be "careful what we wish for" as the persons of merit become increasingly donors to the parties. We need to limit that, and we also need to take measures to ensure a more balanced media. Many of us thought social media would help here, but it seems to have become a hindrance. Seemingly constitutional reform is a never-ending process.

      David Evans: You have a point and I promise to be more careful in future. However, I am not alone. It's a long time since I read it, but I seem to remember the protagonist in the "Ragged Trousered Philanthropist" was very frustrated by the failure of his colleagues to realise they were being exploited, and the ease with which they were bought off by employers' treats (eg the works trip)

      The late great Richard Wainwright argued that in politics you need to "catch the wind." The wind is not yet blowing in favour of electoral reform so it is up to those of us who believe in it to continue quietly and without being patronising, to argue (I almost wrote preach) its virtues , especially in the form of the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencie

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    2. "Chesterton's Fence" is new to me and so far a search on Google has produced no explanation of what it actually was

      Well, fortunately for your ignorance, G.K is out of copyright:

      http://www.gkc.org.uk/gkc/books/The_Thing.html#04

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