Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blogging4Lack of Booze

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not in London right now, which is why I’m not – at this very minute – at the Bloggers4Labour social in a pub near Mansion House.

(Yes, I’m in the Labour party. If this revelation is so horrifying that I lose half my readership in disgust, then bye-bye, it’s been nice having you both around.)

Anyway, while my comrades (e-comrades? Blomrades? Oh, I don’t bloody know) are making merry with whatever it is that modern metropolitan lefties are supposed to drink these days, Muggins here is stuck indoors with a modem and a keyboard. So I thought I might do some, you know, blogging for Labour. Like what it says on the tin.

There was a thoughtful piece in the Staggers a little while back by Nick Cohen, in which he rightly noted that Labour seems to have lost its way lately. After nearly a decade in power, the controversies and the failures and the ‘events, dear boy, events’ are steadily racking up, as they do for every long-lived government; there’s a sense of drift and an uncertainty about what Labour is actually for.

A period of drift needn’t be fatal; but if it goes on long enough, and if there’s an opposition capable of making hay with it, then it becomes a major problem. Or, if you like, a Major problem. Now, Labour in 2006 is in a much better position than the Tories were in the mid-1990s, and while David Cameron is doing reasonably well in the polls, he’s still only in Neil Kinnock/John Smith territory rather than making the sort of advances Tony Blair once did at John Major’s expense.

But you can lose power without losing by a landslide. The fact that Cameron isn’t as far ahead as Blair was doesn’t mean he won’t still win the next election, either with a modest Tory majority or in coalition with the rightward-creeping Lib Dems.

There’s also still a lot of time for things to change in all sorts of ways before the next election. But (to get back to Nick Cohen’s point), that doesn’t mean Labour can rest easy for the time being. If things carry on the way they are for much longer, then the sense of staleness and lack of momentum will grow to the point at which they become near-impossible to shake off, even with a change of leader. Nick reckons the party should, by around the end of this year, be coming up with the following:

* An intelligible narrative of what’s gone well, and badly, since 1997 - and why.
* An understanding of which political issues are now most important, and what to do about them.
* A “progressive language of the common good”, as David Miliband puts it – a way to communicate the agenda in a way that engages people.
* A way of settling the Blair/Brown leadership issue.

I think this is more or less right. Labour needs to think about these things urgently, and to be willing to agree on a way forward. I have some ideas floating around my head, and I’ll try to flesh a couple of them out here over the weekend. Constructive suggestions extremely welcome.

Cheers! [Update: see here and here and here.]

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