Saturday, March 05, 2005


Equality, democracy & choice

Equality and democracy are the values of Compass, recently launched successor to the defunct Labour Coordinating Committee. The LCC were an underpinning of Neil Kinnock's soft-left leadership of the Labour Party.

Compass has now got over 500 members, so it is setting up democratic procedures. A draft constitution has been written, and an eight person management committee will be elected by April. It's different to the LCC in its emphasis on policy and flexible organisation using tools such as the net. It's an inside left umbrella group supported by think tanks and other critics of New Labour who are far from "hard left".

Gordon Brown was the keynote speaker at Compass' full-scale conference in October, but the group is not tied to any political figure. Once the election is under the bridge there will be another Comapss conference. Assuming a third Labour Government, Compass' influence can only grow, as it presses for greater democracy and social equality.

The area of greatest controversy for the inside left is the politics of choice in public service provision. Compass has held a seminar with the think tank Catalyst suggesting choice is a paradox - that more is less. Labour rising stars magazine Progress has just devoted a whole issue to the subject, where many contributors argue extending choice is compatible with social equity. Whoever wins this debate, there is likely to be consensus that any extension of choice must be effective for the many not the few.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


UK gears up for tough election (for US readers)

Britain is a matter of weeks from a general election and bitter recriminations are in full swing. The governing Labour Party has already had to withdraw attack posters dubbed anti-Semitic. The professionals behind the posters were alleged to be established Blair aides, rather than hired admen, so perhaps the overreaction was based on a deeper Labour fear.

That fear is that the strategy adopted by Karl Rove to re-elect Bush could work in the UK. Although Rove declared opposition Conservative (Tory) leader Michael Howard persona non-grata at the White House after he wobbled on Iraq, one of his main election planners, Liam Fox, met Rove before Christmas and borrowed Voter Vault, Rove’s software that now allegedly has personal information on every voter in Tory target seats.

If that isn’t terrifying enough for Labour, Howard has hired two Australian hard hitters, Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby.

Textor perfected wedge politics in the Australian Northern Territories by mainstreaming the aboriginal issue. Howard has tried to do wedge politics in the UK on immigration. Both Labour and the third placed Liberal Democrats have had to respond more robustly than they would really like to stay in the game.

As controversial a technique as wedge politics is push polling. Allegedly used by George W Bush to beat John McCain in South Carolina, this form of bogus polling has a strong pedigree in Australia. The Tories have denied they will use it in the UK, but if this pledge is ever broken, it will be a new innovation in UK politics.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Labour. The Tories are running from a low base after two landslide defeats in 1997 and 2001. Even better for Labour, there seems to be three way tension between the Australians, Fox and the veteran Lord Saatchi. The renowned adman ran Mrs Thatcher’s successful 1979 “Labour isn’t working” cinema ad campaign that saw her become premier, and is now back in the front line as joint campaign chairman with Fox.

The Tory campaign managers have to decide whether to increase their dismal tally of seats by concentrating resources or go all-out to form a government. Their deepest fear may make them cautious. What petrifies them is that the Liberal Democrats, who being third placed always concentrate resources, will “decapitate” several of their leading figures. Nearly all Tories were elected on less than 50% of the vote at the last election in 2001, so big Tory fish could be vulnerable to a concerted Liberal Democrat push in rural areas where they are now second placed. All that is needed is tactical switch voting to Liberal Democrat by local Labour supporters to end the political careers of some big name Conservatives.

Rove got Bush elected by increasing turn-out of core supporters. The Tories have a lot of work to do in this area, so they are likely to copy Rove. Labour assembled a majority at the last two elections by winning over cautious right-of-centre voters who have some concern about public services, especially education and health. Once the campaign gets under way, this segment will be keenly fought over. Without them the Tories cannot win, no matter how many core Conservative supporters come out to vote.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005



Michael Howard has an Australian political guru, Lynton Crosby and Tony Blair has secured the services of American Mark Penn. Crosby aims to engergise the Tory base in key marginals - a miniaturized version of Bush guru Karl Rove's presidential election strategy. Penn will draw on the 1996 Clinton campaign to triangulate, transcend the difference between Labour and Tory, and get the right of centre votes Labour needs to win another landslide.

Labour seeks the middle ground of commitment to a stable economy and public services, Tory the common ground of concern about crime and immigration.

Penn versus Crosby will be a fascinating test of the two hottest theories in the political market place - energise the base in the places where it matters vs triangulate. Watch this space.

Saturday, January 22, 2005



Walk along a busy street and your mind will be hit by corporate logos hanging from the side of shops. The signs stimulate the mind to buy and re-enforce brand loyalty.

Global brands are well known, but the symbols of politics are not. In the UK, most people would not recognize the Labour Rose, the Tory Torch, or the Liberal Democrat bird, let alone identify them with that particular Party.

The signs that do sell in politics are the individual props and foibles of top politicians - Churchill's V, Wilson's pipe, Thatcher's handbag, Blair's smile, and George W Bush's endearing inability to string a sentence together. The political image makers, not having the brand building budget of the big corporations, are stickers for the cult of personality.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005



An early criticism of Blairism was that it sought to change the discourse of politics but not politics itself. Communitariaism, Etzioni's theory was all the rage. At extreme it suggested no significant change to social structures was necessary, only a new way of treating ones fellow citizen. But Blairism was right not to underestimate the challenge of globalization. Going back to the politics of the 1970s and trying to build a just society in one country seems to be a non starter. To its credit the new Labour government has provided a dented shield for ordinary people against chill global forces, but very little more, except for the bottom 20% who have more benefits. Apart from limited gains, why can't we have industrial democracy and change the structure of our society instead of talking so much in the challenging language of this chill new world and doing less than we can.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


The question on eveybody's lips

Blair or Brown? Who would be best for Labour & best for Britain? For Labour the answer would seem to be Brown because of his record of delivering the goods and belief in a more equal society. For Britain the need is to have the strongest non-Conservative Prime Minister and government leader possible. The jury is still out - Brown can point to his substantial domestic achivements, and Blair his leadership skills. The danger of a Blair premiership extending itself beyond its natural life is that Labour could be cannibilized by the Tories in 2009, instead of winning a 4th term by striking out in a bold direction. Over to you Tony. Please time it right.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Another Historic Compromise

Enrico Berlinguer very nearly took the Italian Communist Party into government. The basis of his party's political advance was the "historic compromise" with Italian capitalism. Tony Blair led the British Labour Party to a historic compromise with neo-liberalism/conservatism and Labour was rewarded with office. Having achieved that office, and some creditable reforms, as well as macro-economic stability, after 7 years of government, the question remains, was too much sacrificed for an acceptable performance, when instead a blow could have been struck for social justice and equality?

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