Logic fans out there will be familiar with the concept of ‘Morton’s fork‘, that is to say, a choice between equally unpleasant alternatives.

That, in my view, is the broad situation of the Labour Party; though it is one that can be overcome.

Two key bits of blogging successively paint the problem, and the solution. The first is Gerry Hassan’s contribution on OurKingdom, which in my view, basically sums up the dilemma. I respect Gerry greatly. His book ‘After Blair‘ pointed out some pretty sensible ways forward for the left. But in my view, his piece is both sin and salvation.

I find the start of it intellectually offensive. Hassan’s language about ‘comfort zones’ and such like is reminiscent of the Blairism he declares by the end that he would like to vanquish.

The tone of it is along the same lines as that recently taken by Compass, which led to my leaving the organisation. My gripe there was about tactical voting for Liberal Democrats, but I saw it to be symptomatic of a wider logical problem for an organisation seeking to represent, alongside others, Labour’s centre-left.

The problem is utter abandonment of class and of materialism. These are an important context within which to view social reforms that do not initially appear to have wider financial or political implications, and they are left behind when someone calls for votes for right-wing liberals, more so than any call for votes for Blairites. In the same way, Hassan’s piece is littered with easy liberal truisms, priorities in complete ignorance of material reality. Millions of jobs being lost outside.

When lampooning Labour for retreating to ‘old comfort zones’, Hassan writes that the party is:

“viewing itself in opposition to what it calls a ‘Tory Government’ and opposing public spending cuts which it is seeing as the return of Thatcherism.”

Gerry, do you get the Parliament Channel?

How could this be anything other than a) a Tory government, especially on the biggest issues of the day, i.e. the economy, and b) a return to, if not a multiplication of Thatcherism? All of it is simple, concrete fact.

Perhaps Gerry’s objection to this logic is that the Lib Dems are in government. Quite why this bit of ubiquitous party-political trinketry is supposed to matter to the people whose lives are affected by policy changes, I don’t really know.

Surely any social democratic party, or party of organised Labour (and I would like Labour to be both) should oppose these voluntary impositions on the part of the neoliberals with every weapon at its disposal?

Seeing itself as an opposition to this mass callousness is actually very welcome, and proves that somewhere inside, the heart of some kind of Labour Party still beats.

Gerry mentions the excesses of New Labour:

The curtain can be drawn on some of its worst excesses: Iraq, 90 days detention, ID cards and the DNA database.

Well, quite. But once again, the major issue of the day is the economy. Bigger cuts to spending proposed than ever before. A gaping maw of well toothed inequality. An economy of wide joblessness and despair.

I like neither, but I would carry a million ID cards for these people to have jobs, not as a question of false dichotomy, but one of real political priority. One is clearly more important than the other, yet the objections Gerry raises to New Labour could have been thought up in a bubble made of 24 hour news and Comment is Free pieces, floating free and independent of the real impending suffering in the decaying estates below.

I may be reading too much into this, but it smacks of an approach that is basically disconnected, confused and irresponsible.

These are all problems.

But what John McTernan says below essentially sums up every single thing that has been wrong about the Labour Party for the last decade.I’m not going to get into the details, for there exists for too much ribald neanderthalism for anyone to ever fisk with propriety. But it is nothing short of a disgrace, something I’m sure Mr McTernan would be very pleased to hear people like me say.

Which is why they must be removed.

As Gerry correctly points out,

“This experience was similar in its feel and tone to meeting a vulgar Maoism or Stalinism of the hard right: a revolutionary politics of fervour which captures the inner psyche and mindset of New Labour.

In an analogy that I am sure would find favour with McTernan, New Labour were a force of counter-revolutionaries who have found their utopia ill-conceived and unworkable; it is time to completely defeat their discredited ideas and begin developing the post-New Labour era.”

That’s more like it Gerry!

Now, here’s the dilemma. I want to do this. Further, I believe that most of these people are pig obstinate ‘stop the world’ types. We can’t look only to defeating their ideas. We need to defeat them internally, with proper politics. As far as I am concerned, they are Conservative Party entryists, on contested political turf (i.e. the Labour Party).

However, if we replace political relics like John McTernan with people who think along the lines laid out by Gerry, or indeed the leadership of Compass, in it’s current mood, where our political outlook is founded on the priorities of Lib Dem sympathising Guardian readers rather than the people losing their jobs, we might as well pack up and go home.

ID cards, internment, the lot. It’s all bad. It should change.

But for god’s sake, we need a social democracy that is actually rooted in communities and actively responds to the biggest contemporary concerns within them – not one that thinks change begins with palling up people high within various political parties, doing a bit of lobbying, writing a CiF article and sending a few emails. That may be what the ‘professional left’ wants to do, and it has great skills to offer, for all its secondary foibles and mental insulation.

But if you want to create change, look to the primary concerns of those who are disadvantaged by the status quo. Right now, it starts at the Job Centre.

Surely there must be more than a choice between lightweight liberal niceness and John McTernan style madness? If not, one needs to be built.

So where is the place for people who think like us? And on that solution I mentioned, who is the candidate?

* An affidavit – I don’t believe that Blairites should be kicked out of the Labour Party, or any of that nonsense. But they (and their ‘ultra’ wing in particular) have been limiting the influence of all other strands of Labour thought for years, and I think it’s time we saw a better balance, and a more pluralist, fluid space.

Given their level of unified uncompromising obstinacy among ultras, this means the proportion of them in senior positions must be reduced before such conditions are reached.

2 thoughts on “Morton’s fork – Labour’s non-choice

  1. Just been told that the Tories intend to reduce MP’s in Wales by nearly a half, if you’d like a bet how many do you think will be labour seats. The Tories are also saying Wales needs it’s own law making and tax raising powers, which is the method you use to call a country independent, but of course the Tories will not go that far and we could end up with voters in wales , saying well we are Welsh why should we vote in England.

    The Tories are going to do as much as they can now to ensure labour never again comes back into power, so how does labour defeat this, well it has to become a better stronger party, this means pinching back those middle England swing voters, so the days of the Labour left have long gone.

    Blair has won.

  2. History will move on, and so will Labour. It may take many punishments before the lesson is learned. My job, as I see it, is to make sure that the time and effort it takes to basically become a proper social democratic party is as short as possible.

    The people of this country are not conservative. Fundamentally they are a mixed bag. But politics is not – you just get different sorts of neoliberal.

    Something has to give.

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