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January 26, 2013

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dsquared

Doesn't this all seem a bit like a parlour game or a round of "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" where the word you are not allowed to say is "Green"?

leinad

Don't think Green politics has the populist socialist and rabble-rousing qualities being sought here. Hard to build something like that out of an ideological tendency that is ambivalent about material accumulation and is more comfortable talking about communities than classes.

Also, if Germany and Australia are anything to go by Green parties tend to be decidedly technocratic in office, and understandbly more focused on the environmental parts of their platform than their commitments to economic equality.

dsquared

But not to even mention it at all? It seems very weird to me to be doing a big "where is the movement of the left? Why oh why are we not finding any interest in politics of the left" and having all your analysis being based around the SWP, rather than noticing this great big actually existing party with MEPs and a Westminster MP, visibly to the Left of Labour. And if part of the new value proposal is to ignore something that's pretty much the defining political issue of the time as being all hippy and environmental and nothing to do with Real Socialism, it's not surprising it hasn't had much legs.

leinad

Look at the politics of tackling climate change: markets in carbon, shuttering industrial totems etc, - hard to sell that to Real Socialists and the wider public is still pretty much on board with 'In times like these the economy has to come first' - that's difficult enough for Greens to combat, let along people who aren't really down with the ecological equivalency thing.

This orthodoxy has problems explaining why kids these days are much more interested in this hippy dippy stuff than good old class struggle but I can understand why they're leery. The UK Greens, like their Aussie counterparts do well in proportional elections and struggle to break through in the lower house. Labo(u)r types aren't wrong to note the limited demographic appeal.

As well, in the Australian experience the presence of a largish party to Labor's left hasn't produced a Labor keen to recapture ground on its left flank. Instead, Labor has tried to define itself against the economic and social agenda of the Greens from the right, with predictably dismal electoral and policy outcomes. Given the Antipodean strategist conveyor belt that saddles the Tories with Lynton Crosby and the ALP with John McTernan and Alan Milburn I'd expect the same should the UK Greens prosper in like fashion.

johnf

At the last election our village had a meeting where all our parliamentary candidates were allowed to speak. (Only our ultra-rightist, ultra anti EU multimillionaire standing Tory MP didn't bother to turn out and sent down a magnificent and charming twit from London to cover for him).

The Kipper was young and very funny and distinctly Left in a lot of his policies and enthusiasms and emotions. He was the candidate who refused his UKIP party bosses orders to stand down in those constituencies where ultra anti EU Tories were standing.

As a result of his refusal to stand down the Tory lost to the Liberal by a handful of votes. (The Tory's wife - the reason for all his wealth - then got stonking drunk and started lurching round the village insulting any voter she set eyes on about their treachery).

Mind you, our Tory twat had already been smeared by the horse-dung-claiming-on-parliamentiary-expenses scandal (of which, living in the village, I know the entire baroque details and would be prepared, money having changed hands, to unload all).

Keir

I don't think you can blame the ALP's rightism just on the Greens --- they've always been pretty right...

Dsquared --- in a roundabout way he acknowledges this when he points out the Greens "bigger" by some measures than UKIP.

Phil

The Tory's wife - the reason for all his wealth - then got stonking drunk and started lurching round the village insulting any voter she set eyes on about their treachery

Wonderful - a real-life version of Steve Bell's Labour/SDP renegade Ned Lagg ("MY NAME'S NED LAGG AND YOU'RE ALL A BUNCH OF BASTARDS!")

Phil

The interesting thing about the OP is that there was until quite recently a formation that was precisely a "left UKIP" - it was called No2EU, it put the socialist case for British disengagement/renegotiation (which is a reasonably good case) and it bombed, so comprehensively that it's been forgotten by all concerned. Left populism is surprisingly hard to bring off.

On D^2's point, I was at a conference in about 1991 where the prospects for a Socialist Party were being discussed; at the time we were anticipating a hung parliament after the next election, leading inevitably to the introduction of PR as the Lib Dems' non-negotiable price for participation, creating space for a new party on the Left of Labour and so on. Happy days. Anyway, somebody at the session argued that we were pinning far too much hope on PR - even under PR, most electoral systems only have room for one right-on left-of-centre party of any size, and it's generally called "the Greens". So it's not like we haven't had the memo. (Obviously the entire British Left wasn't in that one meeting, but still - the data is out there.)

The problem is that, while that's a perfectly good answer for the Guardian-reading classes, it does leave unanswered the question of where the Scargill/Galloway/Bob Crow left-wing working-class vote is going to go. "Labour as usual, nowhere at all or very occasionally a Galloway, Sheridan or Dave Nellist" seems to be the answer.

Alex

Labour seems intent on maintaining a complete lockdown on anything that might generate ungovernable enthusiasm

That said, I've discovered a whole new appreciation for bland technocratic competence since June, 2010. Count me on Team Desiccated Calculating Machine.

Keir

New Zealand had a left-of-Labour party in the Alliance. Established following a right-wing move by the 4th Labour government in the 1980s, it polled 10-20% for a bit, until various things caught up with it and it imploded after a term in coalition government with Labour. It did drag Labour to the left, probably. I think. And now we do just have the Greens, who left the Alliance before the implosion and now occupy the Parliamentary left-of-labour space, along with Mana, a left-indigenous grouplet.

(The Alliance was founded in the FFP system and collapsed in the the MMP system, for what that's worth.)

Alex

Also, the question is surely "do we actually want a left UKIP?"

Seeing as the main effect of right UKIP is to make the Tories rather less likely to win the elections, while promoting more drivel in politics, electing some really arse-awful MEPs, and supporting the careers of creepy drunk uncle Farage and Tim "Tim Worstall" Worstall, I imagine that the effect of left UKIP would be to lose Labour a couple of marginals and indulge in idiotic gesture politics while helping a couple of horrible wankers big-time it in Strasbourg. DO NOT WANT.

Alex

I do think we need to rediscover the economic thinking of the Labour eurosceptics, though.

leinad


I don't think you can blame the ALP's rightism just on the Greens

Good thing I didn't then?

Igor Belanov

What would be the role of that thinking if Britain was to remain in the EU and import controls etc. were not on the agenda?

belle le triste

Obviously the entire British Left wasn't in that one meeting [citation needed]

Phil

Actually, now I think of it... My particular group was remarkable for the number of different groups people had come from, some of them quite scary - there was an ex-Spartacist and at least two ex-WRPers, all of whom were thoroughly nice people and very laid-back. Right little confluence of the tendencies, we were. We even had some actual Pabloites - there's glory for you. But the SWP and the Mils would never play with us, so they probably just sent observers.

chris y

We even had some actual Pabloites

The prospect of deep entry in the CPGB always struck me as particularly dispiriting, but in 1991 it would pretty much be the definition of pointlessness.

Phil

Nowt to do with the CPGB, us.

Alex

Igor: although I do know a TUC economist who had a whole complex scheme of export subsidies worked out at the worst of the eurozone crisis, I was thinking moving to an explicit and low sterling exchange rate target.

Keir

Good thing I didn't then?

Yeah you are right, you didn't, and that was a bit of a glib way to put it. Sorry.

Overall the ALP is a dispiriting example of almost always taking the rightmost option possible, no matter the electoral or political stupidity. (See, Queensland.) So I generally just blame the ALP Right for everything.

Martin Wisse

In the Dutch PR system there has been room for more than one party left of the Labour party, though this has not necessarily left to any greater leftwing turn of the labour party, or more space for leftwing politics in general.

With the Dutch system, what you have is the simplest of PR: number of voters divided by seats in parliament equals numbers of votes you need for one seat, making it relatively easy for a decently run party with some mass appeal to get into parliament.

What I still don't understand is why the Lib Dems didn't make a similar system the price for deliberately toxifying their party by going into coalition with the Tories, rather than letting themselves be fobbed off with a referendum on a particularly unworkable flavour of pseudo-PR they didn't have a hope in hell to win, nor wanted to.

chris y

Nowt to do with the CPGB, us.

So what were the actual Pabloites liquidating themselves into?

Phil

They were "Socialist Self-Management" and we were the Socialist Society. They were the British affiliate of the International Revolutionary Marxist Tendency, but we've got a page on Wikipedia, so we win.

Chris Brooke

What I still don't understand is why the Lib Dems didn't make a similar system the price for deliberately toxifying their party by going into coalition with the Tories.

I don't think that's so hard. The Tories would have turned down that deal, with the likely consequence of an early general election, at which they would have won an overall majority, and the Lib Dems would have been obliterated.

ajay

Would they, though? Have won an overall majority, I mean? Look what the polls were like six months after the election. Labour was pretty much neck-and-neck with the Tories, and that would have surely given Labour a majority. Unless you argue that the Conservatives would have been more popular governing by themselves as a minority than as a coalition with the LDs?

Chris Brooke

Yes, I would argue that.

Phil

I think Clegg played a weak hand badly. Apart from anything else, I seem to remember that Gordon Brown called the LDs' bluff on this one by offering them a referendum on PR if they went with Labour. Any half-decent negotiator would surely have used that for leverage against the Tories, not used it to justify settling for less (Labour are offering more than this, we're not going with Labour, therefore we obviously don't want more than this).

Alex

Yes, I would argue that.

Why?

ajay

Indeed. It's difficult to imagine someone who:
a) did not vote Conservative in May 2010
b) would not have voted Conservative in December 2010, after six months of Coalition government

but

c) would have voted Conservative in December 2010 had he just lived through six months of government by a Conservative minority.

Chris Brooke

Had Mr Cameron formed a minority government in 2010, the Lib Dems probably would not have gone into an especially full-throated opposition. Cameron would have used the parliamentary arithmetic to try to discipline his right wing; he wouldn't have adopted a terribly bonkers programme. The strategy (I think) would have been to govern cautiously, before dissolving parliament sooner rather than later, asking for a full mandate to govern.

I think back in the Spring of 2010, this looked like them most likely outcome of the failure of coalition talks. The Labour Party didn't want to fight a second election in 2010 (it didn't have any money), and it would have been hard for the Lib Dems to persuade people to vote for them, when they'd been asking for a hung parliament for decades, and then had failed to capitalise on one (by forcing their way into government) when it appeared. And I don't see why it shouldn't have worked. Both in 1974 and in 1964/66, the electorate cautiously rewarded a party that had recently entered government and was asking for a majority after a truncated parliament.

It's true that in history-as-it-actually-happened, the polls steadied out fairly quickly into something like their current position: a Lib Dem collapse, and a steady-but-not-overwhelming Labour lead, pointing to an overall Labour majority. But one reason (I think) for this outcome is that Labour were able to take their time over sorting out the leadership. If they had been expecting a second general election, either Brown would have stayed in post (electorally disastrous), or we'd have been much more likely to end up with the other Miliband as leader--and I'd have thought in that circumstance, there'd have been a more viscerally New Labour stance than we have at the moment, and it would be hard to see why voters would reward that, when they disliked it so much when they had it on offer in May.

Cian

Cameron would have used the parliamentary arithmetic to try to discipline his right wing; he wouldn't have adopted a terribly bonkers programme.

I remember similar arguments being made for why a coalition would be moderate in ambitions and practice. Yet here we are.

I also think this assumes basic competence. A leadership that knows what its ministers are proposing (selling off the forests), who can manage news cycles. What's different in your alternate universe that results in competent leadership of the Tory party?

I agree with your analysis of the Labor party, but your analysis of the Tories seems way off.

Igor Belanov

The Lib Dems could easily have come to an agreement that let the Tories form a minority government but preserved their independence and ability to stifle the Tories on any areas of principle. I think that the obvious driver for the coalition was the desire of the Lib Dem party elite to enjoy cabinet status and the trappings of power.

It would also hardly have been a winning stratagem for the Tories to go into a winter 2010/spring 2011 election blaming the Lib Dems for frustrating their austerity manifesto.

Chris Brooke

Maybe. I suppose the perspective I'm still keen to hold onto is the "what did things look like from the vantagepoint of May 2010?" one, since that's the one that helps to explain why politicians did the things that they did during the period during which the coalition was constructed, and I think in May 2010 the Tories did look quite a lot less like an evil clown-show than they do now.

Chris Brooke

(My "Maybe" there is a response to Cian, not to Igor.)

Chris Brooke

Replying to Igor: I agree that one driver of the coalition was the desire of the Lib Dem elite you identify. But I don't think it's so obviously the whole, or the main story. I remember being on Twitter when the party was having its special conference to decide whether to back the coalition, and apart from one delegate pointing out (I think) that the deal wasn't obviously a good one for the Welsh working class, there was vanishingly small opposition inside the party to the deal: just some fairly muted mutterings from people like Charles Kennedy, if memory serves. I thought ahead of time that it would be tricky for Clegg to get a deal through the celebrated Lib Dem "triple lock". In fact it was piss easy.

Igor Belanov

Maybe Michels would have used it as an example.

Cian

I think in May 2010 the Tories did look quite a lot less like an evil clown-show than they do now.

Oh sure. I don't disagree with that, or that parties had to make calculations based upon that assumption.

I do disagree that if that had come to pass that the Tories would have had the discipline, or competence, to pull it off.

Alex

The key fact, though, was the Osborne economic policy. I know I was scared of the Tories for that reason. I do not believe the Tories would have held off because they lacked the vital support of the Lib Dems.

Martin Wisse

That's the other mistake the LibDems made, not getting any of the actually worthwhile ministries.

Alex

Had the Liberals gone with a confidence-and-supply/toleration agreement, the two cases that such an agreement explicitly requires them to vote with the government are a confidence vote, and the finance bill. Hence the phrase "confidence and supply".

They'd have been free to object to anything that didn't matter, in short.

Phil

It's the mood music, though. It would have looked like a weaker alliance, and having certain areas of disagreement ruled out would have made the areas where they could disagree more prominent. For the LDs as a party it would have been win-win. It's odd that it didn't look that way to the party. I think there's a definite culture of deferring to the leadership in the Lib Dems, in a way that there isn't in the main parties (Thatcher and Blair were worshipped, which is a bit different).

chris y

That's the other mistake the LibDems made, not getting any of the actually worthwhile ministries.

They got the ones they wanted. Arguably they didn't get enough but that's a different question. They obviously weren't ever getting the Treasury, but they got Chief Secretary; they got BIS because Cable specifically demanded it if he wasn't going to be Chancellor, they got Environment because Huhne (whose trial starts this week) demanded it and knew the field pretty well and they got Scotland because it's a traditional power base of sorts. Possibly Clegg could have demanded the Foreign Office instead of a non-job, but that's the only place they might obviously have done better.

Alex

I think there's a definite culture of deferring to the leadership in the Lib Dems

also, I was a member at the time and we really, really weren't consulted, involved, or informed in any way at all before the deal was evidently a done thing. think democratic centralism; the fed exec was convened after the event to legitimise it, not to decide.

perhaps someone who cared more about LD internal politics would have heard something, but then I remember speaking to the then LD mayor of Islington and the guy responsible for procuring LD digital work nationally just before the election and I think they had no idea going with the Tories was seriously being considered.

also, I don't think anyone fully appreciated how economically hard-right the leadership had got. I think Clegg is more influenced by his time at the European Commission than most people realise, but not in a nice way - marinated in the EMU and Internal Market directorates' hard-money neoliberal culture.

Labour people tend to identify the EU with the social chapter, and so do Tories when they're not seeing Hitler-face tentacles bursting out of their ears. But it's not compulsory; obviously, a lot of people like a right-wing EU and quite a few of those work for it.

Phil

I'd actually forgotten that about you, Alex.

Q: Where on my blog does Alex's name appear crossed out, and why?

A: This post from 2010:

I hope that the conditions leading to this unwelcome situation will rapidly be rectified with the introduction of a fair voting system and the holding of fresh elections (in which the Lib Dem vote will surely drop like a stone). I recognise, however, that this is unlikely, given that the Lib Dems’ new chums are certain to shaft them royally on that issue as on most other things. I note finally that Nick Clegg, the Parliamentary Liberal Democrat Party and the Liberal Democrat Executive did not come down in the last shower and have collectively gone into this with their eyes open, and conclude from these observations that they’re allying with the Conservatives because they want to ally with the Conservatives

I stand by that - and the more considered version here.

Alex

And before you ask, yes, bitter.

Rob

Chris, if the likely outcome of the failure of coalition talks was a Tory majority in six months time, why did the Tories bother going into coalition at all? I can see why you would think that the Lib Dems couldn't have got any more, and why Labour would have wanted to avoid an election, but why didn't the Tories capitalise on that? Are they really that stupid? Or, perhaps better, does David Cameron really think his rightwing is that uncontrollable?

Cian

also, I don't think anyone fully appreciated how economically hard-right the leadership had got.

Which is odd as it was all there in the Orange Book. They were fairly open about it unlike, say, the NZ Labor party. I kept trying to get LibDem friends (as in members, now ex-members, of the party) to read the damn thing, but none of them would. The evidence was there, the LibDem rank and file were in denial unfortunately.

gastro george

Seconded about the Orange Book. That's about as transparent as you are likely to get.

nathan

my brother in law was at a Jethro Tull concert with Stewart Wood on the monday (?) of the coalition talks and he showed him some of the texts he was getting from Cable and advisors.
To them it looked like the LAB/LIB coalition was possible and certainly not TORY/LIB. Certainly It appeared there was a serious attempt by Cable etc to find some agreement. but I guess the centre of gravity in the Libs was in the CLEGG/LAWS camp who presumably were just as keen on the Tories. Totally agree about the orange book I suppose the problem is that its actions that define peoples views of Parties and until they have the power to act its hard to get a sense of how a split party like the LD's will act.

Chris Brooke

Rob--it's a good question. I'd appeal to a bunch of things: if a coalition with the Liberals was possible, Cameron probably didn't want to be seen to be the person to prevent it, as voting behaviour in a subsequent election would in part be shaped by judgments over who was responsible for the failure to form a stable government. But I also think Cameron was risk-averse: having failed to win an overall majority, coalition was the way to get his hands on the keys to Number 10 as quickly and securely as possible. I also think that he was genuinely attracted by the idea of transforming the Lib Dems into the left wing of the Tory party, to counterbalance his right-wing inside the party, but I may be wrong about that.

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