The Left

Put the kettle on

So the left is engaging again in what it thrives at – navel gazing contemplation about what we stand for, something which I am as guilty of as the rest.

It is easy to laugh but we need to do it of course, every political movement needs to step back now and then and take a broad view of where they are going. But why does this current debate make me want to put the kettle on?

Lets just briefly look at what we have so far in this grand discourse on the British centre-left:

Peter Mandelson and various remnants of the Third Way international are gathering in London to discuss whether their always ill-defined ideology really exists anymore and if not can they come up with some fresh buzzwords.

On a more local and party political level, Tony Blair is talking about the new need for renewing his project of renewal.

His opponents on the ultra-left demand we Save Our Party from newness and demand a return to an oldness that never really existed anyway.

And to complete the picture, the Guardian’s Hugo Young says the solution to mid-second term drift is for Tony Blair to resign because we’ve all got a bit bored with him.

Now I think it is clear by now that I don’t have much time for the vacuous buzzwords of Peter’s Progressives nor the slogans of the rejectionist left. My objection is as much to the language used as to the politics – in fact in the case of New Labour ideologues it is primarily the language that turns me off.

Yes policy is what matters but the tone of the message can never be under-estimated. And I was glad to read Tony Blair complain about how the reforming message has been over-dressed in eye-glazing managerial jargon and British Spin has highlighted the inherent elitism this approach fosters. The PM could set an example himself.

Straight talking, clear messages, concrete commitments and positive policies are what are needed. We have had our fill of empowering, enabling, inclusive, community-centred claptrap.

There is simply no need for it and if anything such phrases have now become counter-productive. An increasingly cynical electorate presume that anything dressed up in such sweet coatings probably has a rather unpleasantly fudgy soft centre.

If I was forced at gunpoint to place myself on a political map I would probably opt for some awkwardly located position to the left of the Labour leadership but firmly distanced from the old school sloganeers. I like to think that probably the majority of Labour Party members are swimming around in that same pool and I would think that the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee has been in that water for some time.

She offers some ideas today on what kind of ground Labour should be covering in the next manifesto and above all calls for a more authentic social democracy. There is nothing new or starling original in what she says, but why should there be?

One of the biggest problems of ‘re-branding’ New Labour, is the assumed need for everything to be new and radical and be dressed up in the language of modernity. But cut away all the policy documents, the think-tanks, all the conferences, forums and workshops and there is nothing really too complex to discuss.

That is why Tonybee’s contribution today is so refreshing. She spells out what she thinks Real Labour should be about in clear language. You might agree or disagree with her pro-Euro, US-sceptic, social-justice agenda (I happen to quite like it) but at least you know where you stand. There is something to talk about.

I hope others will follow suit. One key part of Labour’s agenda should be getting people back involved in the party and in local and national politics.

It should be about encouraging people to be involved in their town’s and cities, about recreating the idea of the public-spirited person and not only in politics but in voluntary work of all kinds.

But that won’t work if we have to talk about ‘re-defining active citizenry’ or ’empowering the individual to be pro-active in the community’ will it?

Above all, Labour needs to be a passionate campaigning party again and to do that it needs ordinary people to be involved at every level, not just professional politicians.

The buzzwords and jargon that we have allowd to infect our political debates do not encourage people to take the step into active politics and we have to change that.

Or do I really have to say, the narrative of our discourse is not inclusive?