Dead Men Left

Monday, April 11, 2005

Roy Hattersley is also in the "stinking ninth category"

Blair's increasingly unconvincing left flank, Peter Hain, followed David Aaronovitch's lead over the weekend, having a crack at those "dinner party critics" who "quaff chiraz" and dare to criticise a progressive, reforming government despite having never done a day's work in their lives, etc. (Lenin summarily despatches this trite nonsense over here.)

Like the smile on the Cheshire cat, when the substance of a former socialist's beliefs disappear, all that remains is a certain detached fondness for a bastardised rhetoric of radicalism. Hain adopts the old stalwart of speaking for poor, downtrodden but honest and decent workers against deceitful sneering people who read too many books. It is a lazy and unconvincing cliche, which is why David Aaronovitch is so keen on it.

Hain, however, is in the Cabinet and must try harder much harder if he is to retain any credibility. Chairman Mao referred to the rootless, shiftless intellectuals as the "stinking ninth category" and I wholeheartedly commend the phrase to all New Labour paper tigers.

Anyway, Roy Hattersley. Conveniently illustrating the difference between right-wing Old Labour and "left-wing" New Labour, Hattersley offers his thoughts in today's Guardian:

I am still enough of a professional politician to want Labour to garner all the votes it can get. The idea that abstaining will reduce Labour's majority and give Blair a "bloody nose" is the absurd product of moral self-indulgence. If the Max Hastings Tendency [natural Tories voting Labour] were an increment that could be added to Labour's basic vote, there might be an argument for trying to maintain its allegiance. But the strange coalition that produced two New Labour landslides has dissolved. The more that is done to keep footloose Tories inside the big tent, the more genuine (though tactically misguided) Labour supporters will decamp.

Starting from the same premise - vote Labour at all costs under all circumstances - Hattersley and Hain/Aaronovitch arrive at dramatically opposed conclusions. For Hain/Aaronovitch, the Tories are so great a threat that only self-indulgent snobs would so casually refuse their own support to New Labour. Anything to keep the Tories appeased and docile is justified and whinging from the left is not to be tolerated. (This is, of course, taking both creatures at their word, a point I will return to.) For Hattersley, the Tories are a great threat - but that is precisely why the buggers should be fought.

Few of the Tory reinforcements who joined New Labour's irresistible advance in 1997 and 2001 will be in the trenches with Blair this year. If he has any sense, he will make sure that he is reinforced by as much of Labour's poor bloody infantry as can be rallied to his banner. There are battalions waiting, and longing, to be reassured that he will open fire on the real enemy - not turn the guns on his own troops.

Hattersley's assesment is broadly correct. It is by no means the case that disenchantment with New Labour is confined to dinner parties in Hampstead; one of the sharpest drops in their support since 2001 has been recorded amongst manual workers (PDF file).

But Hattersley is Old Labour to his bones. The concept of a non-Labour left is alien to him, or at the very least far beyond measurable political orbit. This is his great weakness; beyond appeals to morality, or even basic political commonsense, he has nothing to offer that will push Blair in a direction better able to mobilise Labour supporters and activists. As we have seen over eight years, appeals to morality or commonsense are wasted on this ideologically-committed Prime Minister, who, with his merry band of renegade liberals, have systematically torn apart all the democratic machinery the Labour Party once offered to Part activists. (Hattersley himself, when deputy leader, oversaw the early stages of this process, using the assault on the Militant Tendency to cover a more general destruction of inner-party democracy. I doubt very much that he intended this wrecking operation to run as far as Blair has pushed it, though.)

The situation for the Labour left is so bad, in fact, that only a non-Labour left can save it. Many a left-leaning Labour Party member has already grasped as much, including - if rumours are to be believed - a few Labour MPs. A significant vote for the non-Labour left, and most especially the election of a Respect MP, will do more to destroy New Labour than any number of (justly) irate column inches. It will do more to shove Labour as a whole to the left than any number of (rightly) irate appeals to Blair's reason.

This is, I suspect, the possibility that most alarms New Labour ideologues like Aaronovitch. The entire Blair "project" has depended on its ability to use a demoralised Labour Party for its own purposes, presenting itself as the only game in town. Large chunks of the party membership (or ex-membership) and supporters - probably the majority - have never been won to Blair's strategy, even as they confess admiration for his political sophistication, or his previous ability to win elections. They would continue to support Blairism only as long as it seemed to deliver results; post-Iraq, that simply does not apply.