Monday 23 March 2009

Can Labour have movement politics after Iraq?

Ben Brandzel has asked whether "the party that is responsible for the biggest disappointment for movement politics in recent times" can now connect to a political movement.

Iraq is in the room, so David Lammy throws it over to Alastair Campbell to some laughter from the audience.

We won an election in 2005 after 2003, says Campbell.

He thinks what that shows is that, as long as you engage with the bigger frame, and the choice facing the nation, then that is the key to elections.

As we are a parliamentary democracy, I think this is more important than in America, where a new candidate can be presented as entirely fresh, says Campbell.

"The movements that you talk about may be single issue related. But the job of the politicians is to win the argument issue by issue, but to paint that bigger picture and to have that broader frame of what is at stake", he says.

"If I am being absolutely frank, I don't think that is being done terribly well at the moment. I think everything is being framed as a referendum on Labour. Everything is being framed as single issues - be it Iraq, be it tuition fees. And I think we have to keep going back to that frame"

"Issue by issue you have to win the argument. But you have to fill in and paint the picture".

"I think the public know that politics is different, that politicians will spin you a line from time to time. They for sure know that the major media organisations do. I think that people are locking on to the need for a deeper debate". We need, says Campbell, more on the one hand and on the other hand; an acknowledgement that issues are difficult and that politicians will not have all of the answers

"Obama fought a brilliant modern campaign. He also fought a brilliant old fashioned campaign". The argument must be one street-by-street and issue-by-issue, he says.

"I think we have to stop saying to ourselves that it gets harder the longer that we have been in power. Of course, its going to get bloody difficult. This is not the 4th term election. This is the 1st term election after an economic crisis that is convulsing the world. And when it gets back to that question of left and right".

Catherine Mayer agrees with this. But she says that the left needs to take the leap into more open debate. "The left blogosphere is too often scared to get off message. The history of the left tearing itself apart is that it is scared of debate. I think one of the reasons that Iraq was so toxic"

Will Straw says this is one of the key messages of his and Nick Anstead's pamphlet: a cultural glasnost in the party. "The government is still bouncing the party. it is still bouncing the public. And since people can comment any time anywhere on anything, they expect real engagement says Straw".

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