In the debate about the future of the Labour Party, there are already people demanding a return to the policies of New Labour, which I have already discussed as a mistaken idea confusing correlation with causation. Now, I’d like to discuss instead the question of how to shape the future of the Party and its campaigns.
In The West Wing, Annabeth Schott explains to Toby Ziegler that the press should be seduced, rather than seeing them as the enemy. I extend that idea to include voters in general.
Over at Sometimes, It’s Just A Cigar, Jemima writes of needing inclusiveness within the movement and the Party; Carter writes of finding the grassroots, and putting its narrative first: “In place of asking what will win, I would put a Labour party that decides what it stands for. In place of a fear of losing, I would put a certainty about what Labour is. In a democracy, that’s the most principled thing to do.”
I had already been thinking along similar lines, but my thinking is shaped in a different way: I draw parallels between Labour’s situation, and the dating advice from the more ethical branches of PUA, and those who have rejected its misogyny: people like Hayley Quinn (in the first category) and Dr Nerdlove (in the second category).
One of the mistakes that they seek to correct right at the start is one of not knowing what you want. The frustrated would-be dater often falls into the trap of thinking that what he wants is “a girlfriend”, without being too specific about what that girlfriend will be like (not as in appearance so much as in personality). He doesn’t know what he wants a girlfriend to do (beyond “have sex with me”, perhaps) or how she would behave, as long as he has one. This gets discussed in terms such as “scarcity mentality” – the idea that girlfriends are hard to get, so any girlfriend will do.
The Labour Party has, too often, acted in a similar way: they don’t know what they want their voters to be like or act like, beyond, “We want you to vote for us!”
Of course, dating is not like an election: out of millions of women, you only want a very small number (the “romantic” ideal is “one”; but there’s nothing wrong with wanting more than one as long as everyone involved is happy with that). When you want to get elected, you want millions of votes – and more than the other teams get. That said, the principles involved of being attractive are the same.
The other principle of attraction that I hear again and again from the advice-givers is that “women want a man with a strong sense of self.” Sadly, Hayley Quinn describes the following traits as “masculine”, which I think is bullshit; but in terms of being attractive, I see the point.
An attractive man, she says, has firm opinions: using words like “I love” and “I hate”. He will stick to these opinions when challenged or disagreed with; and he will take the lead. A man who can do these things provides confidence because a woman knows where he stands and feels sure of his position. A man who states opinions equivocally, or who changes his opinions to go along with hers, or who fails to make decisions or to lead, is someone who is hard to trust, and hard to open up to. This gets in the way of making a connection, and prevents attraction.
Returning to The West Wing, pollster Joey Lucas once remarks to Josh Lyman that he is like, “The French radical [who] says, ‘Look! There go my people. I must find out where they are going, so I can lead them!'”
A political party that has a firm sense of what it is for: that is able to say, in effect, “I love” and “I hate”, and that when challenged will not shift its positions to be more “likeable” but will set out clearly and firmly what its principles are, and what it will do to stand up for them, is much more attractive to a voter, if only because you know what you’re getting. But it is also attractive because it implies willingness to take charge, and to lead.
The weakness of Blairism has always been that Blairites are very willing to lead their party, but absolutely spineless in the face of populism. Carter, in the post linked above, writes, “No-one, any more, looks at Labour and knows instinctively what it is for. The key point of the Blair revolution was to tell people what New Labour was not, not what it was.”
The weakness of the Labour Party 2010-2015 was an unwillingness to be definite about anything: “Are we against austerity? Well, yes but not really, what do you think?” “Are we concerned about immigration? Well, not really but maybe a bit, what do you think?” It’s the “Nice Guy” nerd who thinks “Nice Guys FInish Last” so if he can copy the jocks’ antics, or learn a killer pick-up routine, then he will be like the “bad boys” who “get the girl”. But even if he doesn’t become a jerk from this, he still doesn’t get the girl, because the guys he’s trying to copy are being genuine whereas he is just imitating them. The women he so desperately wants to date end up choosing someone who is true to himself, even if that guy is a jerk and a nasty piece of work. Similarly, by letting UKIP define the debate on immigration, and the Tories define the debate on austerity and the economy, Labour ended up trying to imitate the bad boys but without the conviction that the bad boys have. You don’t beat out the boy offering her a diamond ring by offering a cubic zirconia instead. You win her over by offering something that he can’t, or doesn’t want to.
The two questions the Labour Party needs to answer are, “What will we take a stand for?” and “What do we want our people to be?”
And one important step is to be different from the bad boys of UKIP and the Conservatives: to stand up for our view and to assert it as better. To say bluntly, “No, you’re wrong. Immigration helps our country, and is a symptom of our success and our principles. We should be proud to welcome the needy.” and “No, you’re wrong. Austerity measures are destroying our country, and destroying our people and the foundations on which we have built this great nation.” Oh, wait. Somebody did say that in the 2015 election Leaders Debate. And her party practically swept the board in constituencies where they stood.
We need to tell the country plainly what sort of principles we would like them to share with us, and how we are going to reward those principles by creating policies that put our principles up front. I’m not a political genius, nor an economics whizz. I don’t understand fully the levers of government to be able to say what the details of those policies would be.
But we need to stop asking “What do you want us to be? Just tell us, and we’ll be it!” We need to say, clearly, “This is who we are; this is what you can be.”