Thursday 7 January 2010

Splits at the Staggers

I was amused to read the intriguing coded aside buried in James MacIntyre's fantasy review of how 2010 panned out in the New Statesman Christmas special.

It was against this backdrop that Britain went to the polls on Thursday 6 May for the most closely fought election since 1992. By polling day, Labour had secured the support of only the Mirror, the Independent on Sunday and, in spite of internal divisions, the New Statesman. Exit polls on the BBC and ITV predicted a Tory victory of between 30 and 50 seats; only Sky News forecast a hung parliament.

It was all the more shocking, therefore, when the following morning it emerged that Labour had scraped through as the largest single party in parliament.

This week's New Statesman editorial demonstrates part of the dispute rather clearly.

The magazine's political team of James MacIntyre and Mehdi Hasan have voiced a staunchly pro-Brown position, and have taken a good deal of flak from the right-wing blogosphere for their indefatigable willingness to take the fight aggressively to the Tory enemy.

But the editorials increasingly beg to differ.

So, alongside the reporting of why Brown has survived the final coup attempt, the paper this week editorialises in favour of one more post-Hewitt and Hoon heave to reopen the question once again.

(Did print deadlines have something to do with it? Perhaps not. Liberal Conspiracy's Sunny Hundal was making a similar call in the cold light of day this morning: I am among those, in the comments, to disagree).

It really is time to think of that question as all over.

This divergence of views would appear to reflect editor Jason Cowley's publicly expressed desire for the magazine to rise somewhat above the Westminster fray and reject any sense that it is the house magazine of the Labour party.

Well, pluralism is a good idea. I have personally been advocating a pluralist Lab-Lib response to the economic and political crises for some time. So the question "tribes or causes" is one of those we will debate at the Fabian conference "Causes to fight for" on Saturday 16th January - an event involving the NS as a media partner.

The idea of testing in good faith Tory claims to be progressive should be a valuable. But if the testing is to be substantive, then there is certainly a very strong case for considerably more scepticial interrogation before anointing the rather untested Phillip Blond and the new ResPublica as having met those tests in large measure. Indeed, the reasons were set out rather well in Jonathan Derbyshire's New Statesman profile authoritatively unpacking Blond's ideas last year.

The Statesman editorial has a valid account of the pragmatic case for, and the unravelling of, Labour's Faustian pact with finance-led growth. But there is considerably more debate bubbling up within the Labour Party than it acknowledges.

So I apologise for lapsing into this dreadful media habit of calling for a debate then declaring a split when we get one.

The future of the left is certainly up for grabs.

It would seem that the nature of the NS' contribution to it is too.

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