Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A matter of principle

A lot of the political narrative over the last few weeks has centred on the idea of political principle and the application of it - or, on occasion, the lack of application of it. I don't know what I'd call myself - I've been involved with the Labour Party for as long as I can remember (literally), I was brought up under Tony Blair's leadership and would consider myself Blairite - to an extent. Post-Blairite? Maybe. Blair did a lot of good stuff - though he could have gone much further. That's not to say that everything we achieved in government was perfect or even just good, but then hindsight's a wonderful thing that we shouldn't dwell on too much, for want of actually cracking on with problem-solving in the here and now.

So, what am I? I updated my Twitter bio the other day and decided upon Labourite, Nordic Social-Pragmatist. A bit of a play on words, I suppose, as a third generation Danish immigrant, and as a sociopragmatic linguist. Nonetheless, I consider myself a pragmatist above all else. Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall infuriated some several months back by suggesting "What matters is what works" - and I'd tend to agree with her, to an extent. I've little time for ideologically pure discussions that achieve little but make us feel good about ourselves. I'm not involved in politics to say stuff. I'm in politics to do stuff. If I don't like something, I don't want to form a committee. I want to change it. I want to make it better. Because there's very little in this world that can't be improved upon. And the way to go about making improvements is through pragmatic empiricism - do what works, ditch what doesn't.

I've been called a "Red Tory" for my views, of course. Well, who hasn't, these days? But that's not all, oh no. No, some of the Trots decided that because I expressed an opinion in favour of something that Tony Blair had written, I was therefore a "paedophile". Christ on a Boris Bike. For the record, my time with the Labour Party dates back to the 1994 European elections (I was 2 1/2), and since then I've worked on all five General Election campaigns and most of the local election campaigns too. I don't know how many doors I've knocked on or how many leaflets I've stuffed through letterboxes (I'd imagine they're both well into five figures), but the idea of some Johnny-come-lately telling me I should "fuck off and leave" a party that I've given my life to is somewhat ridiculous.

You see, this magical notion of "principled opposition" doesn't sit well with me. I don't want to oppose stuff. I don't want to sign petitions and go on marches and complain about stuff from a moral high ground. Because it doesn't change anything. It just entrenches both sides of the argument. Real politics doesn't work like that. Real politics isn't the politics of Prime Minister's Questions. It's not braying and shouting between opposing camps. It's sitting down with people of differing opinions and working out a solution that delivers maximum benefits to the maximum amount of people. And sometimes, the people you're sitting down with are the electorate. There's no point in telling them that they're wrong. The electorate is never wrong. If politics is a business, then the electorate are our customers, and customer is king. If you don't offer what they want, they'll go elsewhere. And who can blame them.

I'm supporting Yvette Cooper in the Labour leadership race, because I believe she's our best hope of returning to power in 2020. And that has to be the objective, at all costs. Because a single day of a Labour government in power delivers far more for the people of this country than decades of Tory rule. And we can only deliver our vision for Britain if we have the power to do so. That involves getting over the threshold of 10 Downing Street once more.

A friend asked me the other day what my thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn were. Quite simply, I believe he'd make a great leader of a protest party. He is a professional petition signer and the Bennite circus surrounding him is verging on populism similar to that displayed by Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage in recent years. Corbyn hasn't a hope in hell's chance of ever coming close to forming a government. And that is what matters. It's what I'm in politics for.

I want to actually achieve something and make a difference to the lives of kids like me. Third generation immigrant, brought up in a 2-up-2-down on a council estate, with one parent (my Dad) on meagre benefits for years under a Tory government thanks to another fine economic mess, and the other (my Mum) working hard to support us. I went through a bog-standard comprehensive education and thrived, I've worked 12 hour shifts on the minimum wage, and was the first in my family to go to university - or even leave West Cumbria!

Frankly, you can achieve a grand total of jack shit from opposition. Having worked my backside off in opposition over the last two years, I can attest to this - no matter how hard we tried. Not a comma of legislation was changed. Corbyn has a track record as the Waldorf and Statler of British politics - 32 years of sitting on the sidelines and protesting at just about everything, just because he can, and has only sought to commentate on events with his own opinions and political viewpoints rather than to roll up his sleeves and try to actively work to change them.

We cannot afford a rerun of 2010-15 and the never-ending tragedy that was Ed Miliband's non-leadership. The millions of people in this country who desperately need a Labour government cannot afford that - and some will not survive it. I don't know how many thousand doors I knocked on in the 2015 election campaign, but if I thought for one minute that Jeremy Corbyn would actually be a popular choice with any of the people that I talked to, and had the right answers to take Britain forward, not back, then I'd be the first one to back him to the hilt. But the majority of people I spoke to were terrified of the prospect of a weak Labour leader propped up by the marauding SNP, and many were swayed by the populist rhetoric and easy answers of UKIP.

It is imperative that we fight 2020 and not badly re-fight 1983 (Corbyn), 1997 (Kendall), or 2015 (Burnham). We did not lose seats because we weren't Left enough, but because we abandoned the winning centre-left formula that led us to three brilliant election victories - and the Tories have been very quick to move their tanks to the vacant centre-ground, as Osborne's budget and his "National Living Wage" have showed. So, we need new, radical - and credible - solutions, and we need to be able to outsmart the puppet-master himself, George Osborne, the greatest political operator of the last decade.

If I'd had to pick anyone to lead Labour, I'd have probably skipped a generation and gone for someone who was a complete clean break from the past. Of my three choices, one pulled out, one declined to stand, and the third never had their name mentioned as a contender, sadly. Still, I suspect we may well be going through all of this again before too long.

Above all else, I am a pragmatist with plenty of principles (some to the left of Corbyn!), but the only way I can ever hope to be able to put them into practice is by being part of a movement that is electable to the British public as a whole in the first place. It's never about ditching principles - it's about ditching dogmatic idealism, and instead how we can pragmatically and realistically apply our principles to the world of today and the world of tomorrow. There's kids out there like me who depend on that. I'm where I am today because of the achievements of the last Labour government. It's time I repaid that favour.