In the 1980s, Labour faced an existential threat.
For most of its existence, it had managed to fight off a particularly awkward challenge from Leninists of one kind or another. Initially, in the post-wat years, it came from The Communist Party, and it was awkward because Leninists were always been able to present themselves as the expression of Labour’s soul – socialism of an uncompromising and pure type.
This has been my ‘pinned tweet’ for a while.
Here’s how I think it may work.
Imagine you had been offered a cake. It will be the most fantastic cake that you will ever taste. It’s like nothing you have ever imagined before.
Eating it will be so good it will have a transformative effect on you. It will change your life forever. It’s not so much a cake as a whole new culinary paradigm.
Some observations following (the first?) 2017 election from a Corb-sceptic Labour Party member.
1) Labour didn’t win the election, but…
The Tories may have been humiliated and hobbled, but Labour has a lot to apologise for today. Not only were we defeated, we created the conditions that allowed the Tories to damage the country quite badly. Oppositions have to take responsibility for their failures, and Labour has played very carelessly over the past two years. The point of democratic politics is to make the country a better place, not to lose surprisingly well.
A while ago, I posted something here about micro-targeting;
This has been explained in some detail here for anyone who wants a full practical understanding of what it is with a detailed case study of the way that the Tories are using it here from The Guardian. My friend Peter Geoghegan has outlined what we can call “The PAC problem”—of “unincorporated organisations” that filter money into political communications in a targeted way.
This fascinating paper in Nature makes a case that is, I think, instantly persuasive. That the quest for “equality” is hugely problematic, and that humans are more attached to “fairness” as an aspiration.
I’d go further than that. This is something that everyone who is active in electoral politics has known all along. The public don’t completely buy the version of equality that the different political tribes are selling, and, for a politician, success depends on an ability to steer a battle-cruiser through the holes in the version that is promoted by their rivals.
The solution to this also seems obvious to me, to the point at which I wonder of I’m not missing something.
It can’t be this simple, surely?
I write here as an avid defender of representative democracy. The most important constitutional checks and balances that we have in the UK exist because of the rights (and duties) MPs have to place their own good judgement ahead of the opinions of their constituents.
Referendums can often give a government an instruction that its ministers believe will be difficult to carry out. There is advice on how to handle this from a former Danish minister—here. [Shorter version: you can do what is in the country’s interests once you’ve exhausted every other acceptable possibility].
I don’t believe that any serious observer doesn’t at least suspect that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK and there may come a point where the downsides are so obvious and vast that the UK will try to throw the engine into reverse.
This post about micro-targeting is worth a look, whether or not you accept that it was a really decisive factor in Trump’s electoral success last November or not. We’re hearing similar, possibly overhyped claims about Brexit.
Because Labour can be joined online at very low cost, participation in Labour’s £3 affiliate scheme has all of the hallmarks of a “clicktivism” activity. Even full membership, for the purposes of voting only, has most of those attributes for people who are not on a low income.
Labour’s problem, in a nutshell, is this.
The internet has sucked people who treat politics as a recreational tribal activity into the party, and into online political activity. These clicktivists will always outnumber and outvote the people who have joined the party because they treat politics as a means of changing society. Real world political activity is less attractive. It involves legwork, time, a willingness to think, to compromise and to make the kind of difficult moral choices no self-aggrandising clicktivist would ever consider. The anonymous variety of online activist won’t even suffer any social consequences resulting from their wrongness.
There will always be more clicktivists than declared activists. Until the party has a reason to deal with this problem, it will keep dying.
The UK has a credibility gap with the rest of the EU, and its one that has dramatically weakened Teresa May’s bargaining hand in so many ways.
The EU27 suspect that the UK won’t really leave for two reasons.
1. It can’t actually leave. According to this argument, the practical barriers will eventually accumulate and drown out the threats that we hear from Brexiters whenever any practical scepticism is voiced, or when constitutional checks-and-balances (AKA “the enemies of the people”) are used.
2. It doesn’t want to leave, no matter what is says to the contrary. We’re not certain that the people really want to leave. Referendums are never a good way of working out what citizens want to happen, and June 2016 was hardly decisive. Moreover, from a continental perspective, many EU member states have a well-founded historical distrust of referendums and their results.