Yesterday a mate of mine emailed me this excerpt from a speech John Denham (who I have actually always thought to be a decent and sensible bloke) gave:
'The left needs to stop holding up egalitarianism as the ideal. If we continue to believe that the egalitarian approach is really the right one, and we somehow have to find more cunning ways of getting there, we will fail.'
Of course the context in which his remarks were made may change the meaning somewhat, but the message is pretty clear. And it's a message that I find thoroughly depressing.
Being rather more pro-market than many other party members, I consider myself to be a fairly moderate Labour supporter. But this incessant drumbeat seeking to deny the ideals that motivate many of us to be involved with Labour at one level or another is dispiriting, and personally I think in the long-term does us no good. I have heard plenty of arguments over the years about the need to win on the centre ground, to pitch to the swing voters etc, and there is a lot of sense in them. But to deny that we are interested in a greater equality of outcomes either means a) I'm in the wrong party or b) we have lost our way.
Whilst I'm a bit ambivalent about the 50% top rate tax - on tactical grounds mainly - it was no surprise to me that Stephen Byers was straight out of the blocks to attack it. And this time it hammered home a thought to me that I should have had more often. Maybe the Right of the party is simply wrong.
It's easy to fall victim to the halo effect when considering senior politicians' views on a given policy. Just because Byers has been around a long time, and has demonstrated that he isn't attached to ideas for ideas' sake (hence the journey from Left to Right of the party), doesn't mean he has any particular insight. He also pushed for 'reform' of inheritance tax - something Labour duly embraced to a limited degree but to no advantage I can see except for the limited number of very rich people affected. In post-crisis world does it really look like this was a pressing concern?
Equally Labour's pitch to the aspirational voter is sensible provided that it doesn't overlook those lower down who simply need our support, or those who are motivated by fairness. I would argue that at present it is these latter two groups that Labour has problems with. The decline in support for Labour amongst, for want of a better term, the white working class is a big part of the problem. So is the desertion of the lefties who want a society that's a bit fairer, whether to the Greens, the Trots or to apathy. (Obviously there is a big overlap in these two groups).
My own personal low-point was the appointment of Digby Jones as trade minister. However politically 'clever' this must have seemed to someone somewhere I can't see it as anything other than a disaster. For one he queried government policy on the tax status of foreign nationals whilst a minister. I also bet it had precisely zero impact in terms of appealing to those swing voters. But to anyone in the trade unions it was a slap around the chops. In union terms the CBI has had bosses who are half-decent (Turner), bad (Diggers) and largely invisible (Chistopher Lambert or whatever ths current guy's name is). Diggers was a piece of work though, never missing an opportunity to stick the boot into the unions. What message did appointing him send to those of us who still think unions are a pretty good idea actually?
The weird affect of all this on me as a party member is that I almost feel I'm not welcome. I almost feel like my fingers are being prised off the pencil in the voting booth each time I read an unnamed minister come out with some guff about the need to not appear 'Old Labour' or anti-aspiration or whatever. And I can't believe that this is a feeling that isn't shared by others who aren't particularly on the Left of the party.