Friday, 29 January 2010

It's not Torygeddon yet.

Hanging around outside the Houses of Parliament last week, angry in the way that only a British smoker can be when it's the middle of winter and they've caught the runny nose that's going around, I met two American tourists who were genuinely convinced that David Cameron was the prime minister of Britain. It was almost impossible persuade these people that Cameron hadn't been in power for at least a year, swooping in to fill the power vacuum left by the universally beloved Tony Blair.

All of this would have been pleasantly diverting if the entirety of the British left didn't seem to be labouring under the same delusion. On the eve of what's supposed to be a huge symposium of liberal thought and policy, can we please - just for one weekend - stop behaving as if the Conservatives were already the party in power?

Because the Conservatives aren't in power yet. If Torygeddon does occur, if it occurs, it won't be till after the election in May. After the election, not before. And yet both Labour and the liberal press are behaving like the ballots are already in. This week on Labour List alone, we've had Alastair Campbell's analysis of Cameron's 'grab a gay' policy [ouch] and Ed Miliband's mortifyingly concessionary open letter to Cameron on the environment.

The Guardian is the worst offender in the mainstream press, with Alan Rusbridger positively salivating over David Cameron's tantalisingly unreportable remarks at the Davos conference today. But the blogosphere is by no means exempt. How much energy have we spent over the past six months offering responses to draft Tory policy plans? How much time have we wasted taking the debate to staid conservative social re-engineering projects like the Centre for Social Justice, rather than laying out our own plans for truth, justice and the revival of the job market?

The Conservative party's ideas - sorry, their slogans - are nonsensical, but at least they have some. Broken Britain! Tax breaks for married couples! Character-building! We can't go on like this! It's service-station paperback political narrative, but it hangs together, and it's reasonably compelling. Labour, on the other hand, after six months of lukewarm, weak-willed, quasi-theoretical equivocation, have just about decided that it's okay to use the word "class". The government has come up with precisely zero policy platforms or post-election goals, almost as if it were hoping that twelve years of overseas conflict, widening inequality and educational meltdown would speak for themselves. It's a very special blend of arrogant defeatism, and it's not pleasant to watch.

It's not as if the people of this country are out of progressive political ideas. The work being done by Power2010 and 38 degrees clearly shows that there's a hunger not just for reform, but for liberal reform. Voting is open for the ideas canvassed at the public Power 2010 conference, which include an elected second house, votes at sixteen and capping political donations. In the absence of any liberal narrative at all within the party system, young people of the left have had to invent a whole new kind of politics in an attempt to force attention towards the real nature of the public's thirst for change. Meanwhile, the only strident politics coming from nominally liberal Whitehall parties over the past six months have been direct responses to Cameron's trashy, pulpy politics. As if Labour and the Lib Dems were already in opposition. As if the left had nothing more to say.

It's not pretty to observe the Sun and other such skin-flakes of the lumbering Murdoch empire drooling temporarily over the Cameroons, but it is expected. By contrast, it's bloody embarrassing to watch the left obsessively picking over what ideas Cameron might or might not have about gay rights, the economy, the environment, the poor, the welfare state, whilst at the same time brazenly declaring that Cameron has no ideas. We're discussing his PR machine, his policy platform and his hairstyle with precisely the same sullen illicit exactness with which you might spend a lonely evening examining the vital statistics and profile pictures of your recent ex's new squeeze on facebook, downing shots of cornershop vodka and wondering what she's got that you don't.

That sort of thing is perfectly acceptable behaviour for a week or two, but really, guys, it's been months. It's time for whatever part of the British liberal conference represents the Sensible Friend to turn up, take the booze and recriminations away, and force us into a long hot shower of self-analysis so we can move on and start laying out some coherent, practical ideas of our own.


  1. If the Tories win, I'll be sorely tempted to move to Paraguay. But then, being in the north of Ireland colony, I don't get a say in who forms the government - unless the DUP end up holding the balance of power... (shudder)

    Look, tonight's bunch of polls are putting the Tory lead at 7 or 8 points. Psephologically, that's game on. And I hate the bastard Tories. But apart from that purely negative reason, I've still not heard any reason why I should positively care about the Labour Party or wish it another term. If they can't throw a bone or two to people who should be sympathetic, they really are beyond hope.

  2. "Voting is open for the ideas canvassed at the public Power 2010 conference, which include an elected second house, votes at sixteen and capping political donations"

    Those aren't liberal reforms. They're, at best, changes that would make it easier to pass liberal reforms, although they wouldn't actually (although the last one is likely a good idea). What actual substantial policies do you suggest?

  3. My personal feeling is that the Labour party have accepted that they're going to take a beating in the polls come election day. Rolling out policies at this stage under Brown will just leave them tainted with failure - so there's no point saying anything until a fresh start has been made.

    Go, go, Liberal Democrats!

  4. Y'know, I don't think an Old Etonian can possibly hate the poor and the disabled as much as a New Labour politician does.

    He might do as much damage as the latest campaign against disability benefit claimants, through ignorance, but I don't see the personal, visceral hatred there.

    Plus, of course, Tory politicians don't hate the risch. Actually, Labour obes don't, either: "Some of the nicest people I know are billionaires and we go for holidays on their yacht" was surely misheard in the 'Prawn Cocktail' dinner-party campaign a decade ago. But the rich people Labour politician like don't pay taxes anyway - billionaires are above such things - and the worst of their venom (and tax hikes!) are directed against he moderately-successful professional.

  5. I might even get the spell-checker to work again...

  6. Sure, its not Torygeddon yet, but I am a little confused by your article.
    Do you think that Labour is worth supporting no matter their betrayal of core values and sucking up to the rich? Not to mention their PFI, Iraq invasion, poor stewardship of the economy and so on?
    Or is it a matter of voting labour because they might not be quite so nasty as the Tories, since at least they tried to keep people a little happier by giving money away for circuses and a bit more benefits?

    Or maybe we should let labour die and support the lib-dems as a more left wing alternative?
    Or how about taking labour back over again and actually using it for what it was supposed to be for, which is representing the majority of the working people?

  7. Finally, a blog which stimulates and educates! Been trying to find some blogs like this for ages, after wading through miles and miles of 'cupcakes and beauty' blogs. Thank you!

  8. We can't go on like this.

    We NEED a Conservative government.

    * I bet this comment gets filtered *

  9. The Red (the long haired one)1 February 2010 at 20:55

    I'm planning to vote Lib Dem. They may not have a clear manifesto, but there isn't a single party that does so that's hardly a point against them. In their favour- they haven't had power at any point in living human memory. They're a chance for something new and different, or at least not quite so terminally wrong-headed, destructive, wilfully ignorant and outright dangerous as the other two big parties. They won't have the same easy confidence the others have of being re-elected sooner or later, so they'll genuinely try hard and do their best to really be worth re-electing instead of taking for granted their chances as the other two do. And if they got in, imagine the shake-up. The chaos in Labour and the Conservatives, the sudden drive to actually appeal to their disenfranchised voters again.

    Let's use the Lib Dems as a protest vote, cause a bit of a change, scare the other two into a reasonable facade of sanity, maybe even manage to elect a halfway tolerable government.


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