Monday 9 March 2009

Hain's warning

Peter Hain's contribution to Labour's debate about the argument and agenda which the party needs at the next election strikes me as constructive, and accurate in its analysis and argument.

Hain notes that the contrasting responses to the recession have sharpened the political choice, but is surely right that Labour's overall future argument does not yet address the question 'what would a 4th Labour term be for'. Hain is right too that there is not a 'more New Labour' winning formula that can win the next election because it has won the last three. (I made a similar argument in my Fabian paper The Vision Thing eighteen months ago).

In his interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Hain also has some interesting comments on Labour's approach to the financial services.

Everybody except maybe for a small group on the left was caught up in the incredible success of finance and investment banking. I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and at the time I was flying to America to get Citigroup and Morgan Stanley and big financial institutions to invest there and bring jobs in and it was quite successful.

In the previous year 42% of the growth in the British economy came from financial services and the City. I was caught up in it, we were all caught up in it.

Parties need to be able to talk and think out loud. This is the sort of intervention which senior backbench voices should be making.

The greater danger for Labour - given that the party is not going to return to the type of largely contentless and personality-based tailspin over the leadership last summer - is not the danger of appearing 'divided' through this kind of debate, but that the party fails to think and talk enough how the economic crisis changes politics, and what that should mean for applying Labour's values of fairness.

Of course, the focus of the government is on the domestic and international policy response to the recession, though the politics of this will need to be much more than the intergovernmental action plan arising from the G20. It is true too that broader agendas are not going to come across to the public easily at this point, or transform the political situation overnight. But that is all the more reason to be debating what needs to happen.

The battle of political ideas internationally is increasingly being fought on left-of-centre territory. But Labour must counter the idea that it has run out of steam and ideas or it can not re-energise and mobilise the progressive energy needed to give Labour a chance of rebuilding a broad electoral coalition at the next election.

That is a job for government ministers, but not for government ministers alone.

PS: Martin Bright, former political editor of the New Statesman, now blogging from the left for the Spectator, also sees Hain's contribution as useful and constructive. James Forsyth notes this can't be a leadership or deputy leadership bid, so thinks it must be about the post-2010 shadow cabinet elections. Politicians are politicians, but the media offers too thin and predictable an analysis when it can always and only see any intervention as motivated by personal manouvering, so immediately discounting any analysis of the content of what is said.

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