Thursday, September 30, 2010

The dawn of a new kind of politics?

So I had a bit of fun the other day with Ed Milliband's speech, but there is much in there to be welcomed. In particular, rather than attacking the Liberal Democrats - Labour's favourite pasttime for the last few months - he almost sounded like one of us at times.
Let’s be honest, politics isn’t working.

People have lost faith in politicians and politics.

And trust is gone.

Politics is broken.

Its practice, its reputation and its institutions.

I’m in it and even I sometimes find it depressing.

This generation has a chance - and a huge responsibility - to change our politics. We must seize it and meet the challenge.

So we need to reform our House of Commons and I support changing our voting system and will vote Yes in the referendum on AV.

Yes we need to finally elect the House of Lords after talking about it for a hundred years.

Yes we need more decisions to be made locally, with local democracy free of some of the constraints we have placed on it in the past and frankly free of an attitude which has looked down its nose at the work local government does.

This could easily be from one of Nick Clegg's speeches.
Let’s be honest, changing our institutions won’t be enough to restore trust on its own.

Look in the end, it’s politicians who have to change.

We've got to reject the old ways of doing politics.


Some of the political figures in history who I admire most are Keynes, Lloyd George, Beveridge, who were not members of the Labour Party.

Frankly, the political establishment too often conducts debate in a way that insults the intelligence of the public.

We must change this for the good of the country.

I will be a responsible Leader of the Opposition.

What does that mean?

When I disagree with the government, as on the deficit, I will say so loud

and clear and I will take the argument to them.

But when Ken Clarke says we need to look at short sentences in prison

because of high re-offending rates, I’m not going to say he’s soft on crime.

When Theresa May says we should review stop and search powers, I’m not going to say she is soft on terrorism.

I tell you this conference, this new generation must find a new way of conducting politics.

If the rest of the party listens, this represents the most radical change of direction since the New Labour project. New Labour was defined as much by its posturing - and outdoing the Conservatives - on crime, on terror, on throwing away our hard-won civil liberties, as by anything else. New Labour since the election has done nothing but opposition for its own sake - if only because it was easy and they lacked a leader who might have the authority to do anything more difficult.

Of course there are dangers to our party if Labour were suddenly to agree with us too much, but it is still something to welcome. That we have comprehensively won the arguments on civil liberties, crime, Iraq, political reform and the culture of political debate, is a huge cause for celebration.

I hope Ed can take his party with him. It will be very difficult to engage in constructive opposition, particularly on the deficit. As John Maynard Keynes famously said:
"A public sector deficit of 10% of GDP should be halved in 4 years not in 3."
...or something like that. This means the honest opposition to every cut is either: a) we would do this same cut 6 months or a year later, or b) we would cut somthing else or raise a tax instead, with specifics.

But I am optmistic. I think there is a demand for a better kind of politics. Politicians are so much more beholden to the media these days. We're not even allowed to be old - Ming Campbell was destroyed for that crime - lest the pecking order between journalists and politicians might become less clear. We live or die by their praises or damnation, and they are untouchable. But judging by the way we conduct politics, we deserve no better.

Of course the media's desire for a good scrap has often shut down serious debate of the issues, and this is not going away. I am talking about how politics now responds to the situation we have. Playing the infantile games - spin, smear, and opposition for its own sake - has given some quick wins and will continue to do so. But being more grown up will better serve us, will be truer to the passions that brought us into politics - to make the world a better place - freedom and fairness.

It is not easy to leap first into a more grown-up kind of politics, but with the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives already co-operating, Labour need only leap last. Good luck.

1 comment:

Oranjepan said...

You make a couple of really interesting points, Joe.

But I have to offer some disagreement on one thrust.

As I've been reminded on LDV recently, politics is about real lives - it is about blood and guts - so on one philosophic level I'd be disappointed if the sense of theatre was turned off.

Compare the scale of disengagement in the US to the UK!

Or in France where striking is the active role cast to unions.

Participation levels in politics are directly related to the ability to perform a part - whether it's as a lead or in the supporting cast, a cameo, a walk-on or in the chorus.

Or, put it another way, would you prefer decisions affecting your life to be made by faceless bureaucrats who never went through the process of learning and understanding the real experiences people go through?

Because as soon as you see the face you connect with the passion - and that's the same whether it's on stage or in the street, on the front page or the football field, behind a despatch box or face to face.