Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Why I Can't See Myself Voting Labour Ever Again: It's Tribal

I suppose I could, like a good little politico, go on about how much I dislike the policies. & Lord, isn’t that fertile ground? I mean there’s the War that 2 million marched against, obviously; there PFI; there’s Academies; there’s the brutal acceptance of inequality; there’s the weird Soviet/Californian managerial hybrid of target driven marketisation which has so disfigured our public services; there’s stray ‘smallish’ polices like ASBOs and Respect which really get my goat. I could write a lot about all that and then sit back and feel what a clever, principled and unsullied Lefty I was.

But, let’s be honest, it’s not really about the policies as such for me. It’s tribal – it’s about the culture and the sociology. Labour no longer feels like my tribe. In fact it feels like the tribe that despises mine.

Let me explain. The old Labour Party was always a sociological alliance between, in the main, manual workers and middle class state-orientated Fabian social reformers. Both elements contained their 'Left' and 'Right', so Old Labour produced Bessie Braddock and Dennis Skinner, as well as Anthony Crosland and Tony Benn. So I could come from an apolitical but Labour voting unskilled manual household, get an education and a job in the welfare professions and still feel I was part of a particular tribe.

Thatcherism’s attitude to this tribe was more sophisticated than many allow. Sure, it smashed its characteristic modes of industrial and political representation in a fairly cold-blooded, direct way. But, sociologically, at least as important was the way it more or less self consciously split the tribe. ‘White Van Man’ it bribed with council house sales and utility privatisations; ‘public service person’ it demonised as someone determined to pursue provider capture, that is to run public services in the interests of the staff not the users. & New Labour inherited these broad sociological attitudes, unexamined. It didn't challenge them, it didn't try to put the tribe together again - it just continued the Thatcherite programme of stamping on its face, over and over again.

Which is why I'm always bemused by accusations leveled at the Blair/Brown government about excessive public spending. It very largely went on PFI scams as far as I can see. Or dodgy wars. Or kowtowing to the so called aspirational classes. Whatever else it did, it didn't rebuild my tribe.

But it's nice when someone else remembers the tribe. Which is why I'm more than prepared to give a big thumbs up to Hilary Wainwright's latest offering, “Public Service Reform…But Not As We Know It!”, an account of a genuine partnership with the Trades Unions in Newcastle Council intended to head off privatisation and improve services. Read the shortened article here, and buy the book here.

It's not the revolution, but its a good thing for the tribe.

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