Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Speaking the Language of the Left Won't Work

Harriet Harman's desire to appear more left wing than she really is, is not only a reflection of her desire to be a leadership player when the time comes, she calculates that it will resonate with the country as well as her party. Jon Cruddas makes a similar calculation in his Independent article this morning. It's called positioning. Harman and Cruddas believe that the electorate is fed up with so-called fat cat capitalists and the way that markets have failed the British economy, and they want to reflect that in what they are saying. There are two consequences which result from this.

Firstly, in times of economic difficulty there's always a blame game. The bankers are getting it in the neck this time. In the early 1990s it was the ERM, in the early 1980s it was the unions. This means that those of us who believe in markets and the free market system must robustly defend it and warn against the alternatives, all of which have failed.

Secondly, it would be a mistake to to believe that politics in general has moved to the left as a result of the economic crisis. Harman and Cruddas clearly believe that the use of language designed to appeal to the left might help them achieve their own aims, but the British electorate is a conservative (with a small 'c') beast and doesn't react well to collectivist language.

People understand concepts of 'living within your means' and 'sound money'. They instinctively know what has gone wrong. They know that borrowing and credit got out of control and that the whole economy is now paying the price. They are also realising that yes, there is a global perspective to all of this, but there are also some domestic regulatory pigeons coming home to roost.

The politicians who will emerge from this crisis with their reputations enhanced are not those who speak the language of the collectivist left - they are the ones who sound as if they have some ideas about how to rebuild our shattered economic confidence and make a new market system work effectively for everyone.


Victor, NW Kent said...

The new politics must be pragmatism, not any ideology.
All ideological methods of government have been shown to fail. We now need a government that identifies priorities and works out rational solutions based on speed, cost and durability.

TheBoilingFrog said...

HH can position herself all she likes and while it may do her good in the party, fortunately, as Brown has found out, there's always the pesky British public to contend with.

While they may be rather annoyed with bankers, I calculate that if HH ever faced a General Election as Labour leader she would be told where to get off in no uncertain terms, regardless of what anti-banker language she used.

Good to see the leadership speculation start again in earnest, though

Matthew said...

Of course, language like "living within your means" and "sound money" is political positioning too.

You're right that this language is more resonant than Harriet Harman's leftist claptrap.

But it doesn't provide a routemap out of the economic crisis. Indeed, this mindset would make the recession far worse.

Such language performs a purely political function. It makes the Tories look responsible, while pinning responsibility for the crisis on Labour. So just who is playing the blame game?

dheigham said...

Harriet and John are concerned with taking control of the labour prty, not of the country

Old Holborn said...

Police complain at having CCTV in the Police canteen

The Irony

Cynic said...

This is about short term opportunism. The aim is personal advancement - but only from the highest of ideals of course. I have no doubt that Harriet sees herself as a new Thatcher - not that she would ever admit that - oh no. But the parallels are there.

Newmania said...

Reading a collection of essays by published by the Bow group about reversing Conservative decline just prior to Cameron` election I notice interesting parallels with Labour’s current state of denial . They identified what I call the Cinderella syndrome .( If you really knew me , you would love me ...)
The denial is perhaps forgivable .The Conservative Party went back to basics with immigration and super-bugs .They flat lined in their safety zone for about nine years .New Labour also have better excuses .Nonetheless an amnesia to set in about the extent of their unpopularity before the economy imploded .
These are the ingredients for Labour`s humble pie
1 They are far to the left of the British people
2 If and when the economy recovers they will not
( Iain has instinctively grasped this I think )
This is such a nasty tasting medicine that there is an “I`ll show you” stage to be suffered and this is what we are seeing as the left gather their forces around Harman .

The Bow group contributors sifted the polls and prescribed the antidote. Cameron persuaded the Party to eat it .In fact both Liberals and Conservatives have been undergoing an ideological renewal for this purpose .
Cameron found resources in Conservative tradition to make the new direction seem ~”Conservative “ .He emphasised the quietists , moderate , conserving side of the Party , the suspicion of dogma and much more to balance Thatcherite free-marketeers . Clegg and ambitious Liberals reached back to 19th century Gladstonian models with success .

AS a Conservative I greatly hope the forces of the left take Labour further down the back to basics road . Should Harman be the figurehead that would be birthday and Christmas

Colin said...

People are in the process of figuring out that giving a bunch of unreconstructed left wing student union level politicians, control of fiscal policy and complex capital markets was a disaster waiting to happen.

We've had all the left wing crap we can handle in the UK to last us several lifetimes. Which, incidentally is how long it will take to recover from this dark age; that started in 1997.

Harman, Harperson or just Har? Don't make me piss myself laughing.

Two words:

John Denham...

davidc said...

'The politicians who will emerge from this crisis with their reputations enhanced are not those who speak the language of the collectivist left---'

for a fine example of the 'language of the left' i refer to the interview with angela eagle on the world at one today (19th feb) and defy anyone to understand what on earth seh was on about other than ' it wasn't us guv'

Anonymous said...

Victor - I have not noticed much ideology over the last 12 years.

Summer said...

A great story doing the rounds today and worth sharing.

Apologies for the length. I've no idea who the author is, but well done to them.



The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building
and improving his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the
summer away. Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.

The shivering grasshopper has no food or shelter, so he dies out in the




The squirrel works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building
his house and laying up supplies for the winter.

The grasshopper thinks he's a fool, and laughs and dances and plays the
summer away.

Come winter, the squirrel is warm and well fed.

A social worker finds the shivering grasshopper, calls a press
conference and demands to know why the squirrel should be allowed to be
warm and well fed while others less fortunate, like the grasshopper, are
cold and starving.

The BBC shows up to provide live coverage of the shivering grasshopper;
with cuts to a video of the squirrel in his comfortable warm home with a
table laden with food.

The British press info rm people that they should be ashamed that in a
country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so,
while others have plenty.

The Labour Party, Greenpeace, Animal Rights and The Grasshopper Council
of GB demonstrate in front of the squirrel's house.

The BBC, interrupting a cultural festival special from Notting Hill with
breaking news, broadcasts a multi-cultural choir singing 'We shall

Ken Livingstone rants in an interview with Trevor McDonald that the
squirrel got rich off the backs of grasshoppers, and calls for an
immediate tax hike on the squirrel to make him pay his 'fair share' and
increases the charge for squirrels to enter inner London .

In response to pressure from the media, the Government drafts the
Economic Equity and Grasshopper anti Discrimination Act, retroactive to
the beginning of the summer.

The squirrel's taxes are reassessed.

He is taken to court and fined for failing to hire grasshoppers as
builders for the work he was doing on his home and an additional fine
for contempt when he told the court the grasshopper did not want to

The grasshopper is provided with a council house, financial aid to
furnish it and an account with a local taxi firm to ensure he can be
socially mobile. The squirrel's food is seized and re distributed to the
more needy members of society, in this case the grasshopper.

Without enough money to buy more food, to pay the fine and his newly
imposed retroactive taxes, the squirrel has to downsize and start
building a new home.

The local authority takes over his old home and utilises it as a
temporary home for asylum seeking cats who had hijacked a plane to get
to Britain as they had to share their country of origin with mice. On
arrival they tried to blow up the airport because of Britain 's apparent
love of dogs.

The cats had been arrested for the international offence of hijacking
and attempted bombing but were immediately released because the police
fed them pilchards instead of salmon whilst in custody.

Initial moves to return them to their own country were abandoned,
because it was feared they would face death by the mice. The cats
devise and start a scam to obtain money from people's credit cards.

A Panorama special shows the grasshopper finishing up the last of the
squirrel's food, though spring is still months away, while the council
house he is in, crumbles around him because he hasn't bothered to
maintain the house.

He is shown to be taking drugs. Inadequate government funding is blamed
for the grasshoppers' drug 'illness'.

The cats seek recompense in the British courts for their treatment since
arrival in UK .

The grasshopper gets arrested for stabbing an old dog during a burglary
to get money for his drugs habit. He is imprisoned but released
immediately because he has been in custody for a few weeks.

He is placed in the care of the probation service to monitor and
supervise him.. Within a few weeks he has killed a guinea pig in a
botched robbery.

A commission of enquiry, that will eventually cost £10,000,000 and state
the obvious, is set up.

Additional money is put into funding a drug rehabilitation scheme for
grasshoppers and legal aid for lawyers representing asylum seekers is

The government praises the asylum-seeking cats for enriching Britain 's
multicultural diversity, and dogs are criticised by the government for
failing to befriend the cats.

The grasshopper dies of a drug overdose. The usual sections of the press
blame it on the obvious failure of government to address the root causes
of despair arising from social inequity and his traumatic experience of

They call for the resignation of a government minister.

The cats are paid a million pounds each because their rights were
infringed when the government failed to info rm them there were mice in
the United Kingdom .

The squirrel, the dogs and the victims of the hijacking, the bombing,
the burglaries and robberies have to pay an additional percentage on
their credit cards to cover losses. Their taxes are increased to pay for
law and order, and they are told that they will have to work beyond 65
because of a shortfall in government funds.


Anonymous said...

Far more interesting that Harriet Harman (who cannot begin to understand what a post-feminist world is - she is sooo 20th century) is Alan Johnson who wrote a fascinating article about David Cameron today in the Guardian.

Why Speaking Language of the Left might not work for David Cameron...

"The Cameron veneer"
Their leader may sound un-Tory. But his sweet talk on public services hides a reactionary policy

Alan Johnson

"With all eyes focused on our economic fortunes, it would be easy to think the job of reforming and improving our schools and hospitals is less important right now. But that would be a mistake. If we want a stronger, fairer world when we get to the other side of this global crisis then better public services must be part of that ambition.

As the two main parties increasingly diverge on the economy, it has been interesting to watch David Cameron try to hug us close on public services. I've been impressed with his ability not to sound Tory. Even when advocating the most reactionary Conservative values, he's able to sound quite unlike Norman Tebbit. On schools and hospitals, he seems to understand what the public want to hear. His PR background serves him well. But while his language is nearly pitch-perfect, his party's policies still strike an entirely different note. After his unsuccessful attempt to stand up to his party in the row over grammar schools, he has little to offer on genuine reform......"
"When challenged on public services, Cameron will point to his commitment to match Labour's overall spending levels on schools and the NHS. But that promise is only until April 2010. And for all the talk of compassion, his plans for education reform look distinctly laissez faire. Take his plan to open schools and expand surplus places wherever parental demand is strongest. I'm all for parents opening and running schools, but I cannot see how an old-fashioned free market experiment, removing all strategic oversight - and cutting £4.5bn from the school building programme in the process - can help struggling schools.

Equally, I am unimpressed with his announcement this week on "localism". There is a huge gulf between his rhetoric of decentralisation and the reality. We have already implemented some of his "new" ideas - such as increasing flexibility for local councils or elected mayors. Others such as scrapping the regional development agencies would remove the tailored support that thousands of local businesses depend upon.

So while I applaud a great deal of the sentiment in what Cameron says, it is clear he has spent far more time thinking about careful delivery of speeches than fair delivery of public services. I've pushed through some difficult reforms myself, for example on higher education - a policy Cameron once opposed but now supports - and learned that real policy change requires a lot more than just a few vague sentiments. After three years of slick presentation and skilful imitation, there is a surplus of style and a very real shortage of substance. Perhaps more worrying is that he may come across as reasonable, but the policies his party advocates are often anything but."

Please will Gordon Brown accept that new job from Angela and let Alan Johnson take over?

At least the next general election would then offer a real choice.

Dave said...

to Summer @1.49

Was this written by the ghost of Ayn Rand?
Pretty spot on

Bill Quango MP said...

To Summer
What happened to the squirrel?

I fear that if he was left so impoverished by his loss,he may have lost interest in gathering nuts and preparing for the winter.just sat aboput all day. Then he may even have turned to drugs...

The wheel turns

Jeremiah said...

Ha! Harman is so opportunist she'll turn her beliefs to anything that benefits her. Fortunately, the levels of her opportunism are matched by the levels of her incompetence. There rarely was such a person so incapable of understanding a public mood.

And Summer, I much enjoyed the squirrel story. A most excellent parable.

Mirtha Tidville said...

Alan Johnson?...yet another untrustworthy and disloyal little oik!!....wouldnt trust him as far as I could throw him. Interesting though the level of despair that is sweeping the Cabinet, let alone the backbenchers. I thought this would happen but not as soon as it has.

Long may it continue, wonderful for the morale...

pxcentric said...

I believe the present crisis will affect our approach to politics more profoundly than you seem to suggest and am not at all sure that more of the same will be acceptable in future.

Yes, markets must work effectively for everyone from now on, but I do not think that a conservative approach will achieve that.

The Grim Reaper said...

I think Iain's post can be summed up in the words: "We are all doomed".

Lola said...

"...and the way that markets have failed the British economy,.." You surely don't mean that do you? The current situation is precisely the opposite. It is the markets succeeding and passing judgement on massive failure by lefty governments all over the world.foy