Monday, July 07, 2008

Guest Post: Where is the left’s sense of entitlement?

This is our final guest post of the week and it's from the excellent Sunny Hundal who is, among other things, editor of the excellent Liberal Conspiracy. I've found it an enjoyable week of guest posts to celebrate two years of the Daily (Maybe). Although after today guest posts wont be coming in daily I'll still be continuing my policy of regularly having "outside" contributors to the blog, never fear.

The problem I have with most gatherings of lefties is that they are not strategic enough; they are simply talking shops. Places to vent anger at the direction of the Labour Party or the economy without any real plan for going forward.

It hit home especially a few weeks ago at the annual Compass conference. There were lots of good speakers and energy but it was difficult to figure out what was holding back the progressive values we held to take over the country and whether there was a plan of action to move forward .

There was a point Baroness Helena Kennedy QC made at the end that struck home. She said the Labour party felt no sense of entitlement to its victory in the last few elections, and thought that if it tried to make the case for a more progressive agenda on poverty, taxation, redistribution of wealth, and equality then the electorate wouldn't buy it. There has been some halting progress, but clearly not enough.

This is a very important point, and not just with regards to the Labour Party but the liberal-left in general. I always get the feeling, when reading blogs or even newspapers that we're too afraid of our own rhetoric. That we're happiest when preaching to the converted but get scared of putting our arguments forward to a potentially hostile audience.

And that’s probably because most liberal-lefties in general, it seems to me, feel that the country is to the right of them and hence being too open about their political leanings wouldn't work, politically.

I think there's several reasons for this, the most important of which is that we have become too insular and prefer just talking to our own.

But unless we spend time trying to argue with the masses and convince them, then we'll never know what their concerns are and how to couch our language in a way that convinces them.

The upshot is a liberal-left class that is too scared of making a populist case for its own agenda; too unwilling to put its case in more populist language.

This is dangerous not only for the obvious reasons. It is dangerous because we have started to believe that this is a nation only inhabited by Daily Mail readers and that all of them are xenophobic or selfish cretins. Politically and intellectually, that's not good enough.

In a way we have to learn from the language of the new left in the United States, who are not only unafraid of their electoral strength (by building an electoral alliance of immigrants, ethnic minorities, middle class liberals and blue collar Democrats).

This problem of course goes to the heart of what is wrong with New Labour today – it has given up on grassroots politics and building loose coalitions of different electoral segments because it feels ideology is an electoral weakness. That is only true if you not only lack the courage of your convictions, but cannot find ways to convince the wider electorate of the strength of your arguments. Growing up in the shadows of Thatcher, New Labour still lacks a sense of progressive entitlement. It doesn’t believe in itself.

The broader British left too still seems to be afraid to come out of Thatcher’s shadow and more assertively forge a wider agenda. It is why the left failed to build momentum on the back of the Iraq war and instead descended typically into sectarian factionalism. We still haven’t found the big narratives, ideas or conviction to take our agenda forward. We haven’t done that because we are still too afraid of where it might take us and the compromises that we may have to make. Unless the left finds that sense entitlement to this country’s future, it won’t get anywhere anytime soon – New Labour or not.

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