Something I left out of this piece, because it doesn’t really fit my self-imposed terms of reference for the Pol, is my own two cents on what the Labour party should do. (Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?)
The problem, according to me, was defining a political statement that addressed about four quite divergent constituencies. The cliché options – Blairism, Blue Labour, imitation SNP, Socialist Labour like the party of that name – only seem to address two out of four at best. Ed Miliband tried to identify a constituency that cut across them, in essence, people discontented and robbed by the design of the UK-wide markets in energy, housing, transport, labour, and media created by Thatcher and Major. This didn’t work but at least he recognised the problem, which is more than you can say for the entire leadership field from Tristram “literally the least popular MP in the country” Hunt across to Liz “Who?” Kendall via Andy “I worked for Gordon y’know” Burnham and Yvette “So did I” Cooper and even Keir “let’s impress the ‘kippers with a human rights lawyer, that’ll work” Starmer.
Here’s my suggestion. What about rejectionism?
All the constituencies can, at least, agree that we reject the Tories. Rejectionism doesn’t aggravate the divisions among them. Rejectionism mobilises, which is good. Rejectionism is tactically appropriate in the context of a parliament with a majority of 11. Rejectionism will put us in the right place for the London Mayoral elections, the EU referendum if it happens, and the Holyrood elections.
I think it was Graham Lowe who said that you should work on your best performances and your worst performances. (Years later I realised this was just the principle of management by exception, but there you go, and it’s worth having a Rugby League quote that’s not from Jack Gibson.) It’s not just that the best outperform when they’re playing at the top of their game, it’s that they don’t collapse completely when they suck, as they inevitably do some of the time. It’s important not to let the Tories repeat the 2010 experience, rushing to action while we’re arguing.
The lesson here is from the US Republicans and the French conservatives. Like Labour, they were in charge when the great financial crisis blew up and were punished by the voters. They have, however, managed to cause a hell of a lot of trouble in opposition. Even if the teabaggers are no closer to the White House than they were in 2008, they have managed to colour public discourse, advance their agenda at the state and local level, and keep the activist base mobilised. French conservatives have the advantage that France is stuck with the euro, but we ought to be impressed by the speed with which they went from utter rout in the 2012 elections to filling the street with numbers against the mariage pour tous. The only parties who were in charge in 2007 who have managed to renew themselves did so through hairy-arsed, gut rejectionism, and especially, through an aggressive campaign in local government.
I would point out that this should not be confused with your favourite left-of-the-left campaign. The problem with those is that they always come with a shopping list of nice things as long as your arm, half of which is unacceptable to one important constituency or another. Rejectionism skips this in favour of the clearest possible message: no.
So here’s my advice. Appoint Tom Watson as combined Opposition Chief Whip and Defence Commander. Appoint somebody party leader. I’m not sure I really care who. Then pick a highly emotive issue (it doesn’t much matter which) and start the biggest possible row.
This may not be a policy, but then, who cares? Ed Miliband had one of those and look what they did to him. In the end, perhaps my point is that we all spent too much time being an alternative government rather than yelling NO. Anyway, as the Germans say, kommt Zeit, kommt Rat. With time comes counsel. We can work out detail later. For now, we need a big fuck-off row, and hairy-arsed rejectionism. This is the only option I can see that minimises the damage and contests both UKIP and the SNP as well as confronting the Tories.