Why the Labour Party cannot grow up

by Stephen Tall on November 17, 2006

Oh, for goodness’ sake… Everything I most dislike about the Labour Party, and which prompted me to quit its ranks seven years ago, are encapsulated in these words of Matthew Taylor, the Prime Minister’s ‘chief strategy advisor’:

“We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government,” Mr Taylor told the audience [at an e-democracy conference in London]. Like “teenagers”, people were demanding, but “conflicted” about what they actually wanted, he argued.

The reason I left Labour was not that I had abandoned the cause of social justice – that is as important to me as it always was – but the realisation that ‘the left’ view social justice as something which government does to people, rather than something government enables people to achieve for themselves. The state will give power to the people, but only once they accept that it is on loan, and that it can be called-in by the government if it feels the people are abusing their freedom.

“Not yet capable of self-government” – perhaps the most astonishingly brazen (yet remarkably honest) descriptions of Labour’s core attitude towards us, the citizenry. Perhaps Mr Taylor would like to advance his frankness, and define what steps the public must take in order to come up to the mark, to show ourselves to this Labour Government to be worthy of being entrusted with the power to rule ourselves?

I suspect it would mean agreeing with what the Labour Party says and does. Only at that stage would we have proved ourselves to be sufficiently mature.

Mr Taylor’s argument continues:

“The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands. If you look at the way in which citizens are using technology and the way that is growing up, there are worrying signs that that is the case.”

I love the patronising tone – “the internet has immense potential”… well, yes, it does. It also has an immense presence in the here and now. What really bothers Mr Taylor, I suspect, is that his government doesn’t have the ability to mould it, to tame it, to control it.

I imagine Mr Taylor and the Labour Party would prefer to see the Internet resemble a canal system, with varying water levels carefully regulated by ever-watchful lock-keepers. They believe themselves to be the true gateways to equality, enabling easy navigation, and that without them no journey is possible. Sadly – for them, but not for us – the Internet is a torrent, incapable of being dammed (although frequently damned) by over-officious patriarchs who consider they know better.

It’s true the medium veers towards the shrill, though most of the blogs I read – and those which are most widely read – present rational arguments, albeit with an earthy vocab, and from an unabashed vantage. Guido Fawkes is perhaps an exception, but to criticise his glibly partisan coverage is to miss the point – you might as well bemoan the lack of fair-minded balance in Private Eye’s HP Sauce column.

Besides, the readership of blogs pales into insignificance compared with the numbers who listen to radio phone-ins, which are – wholly, universally, and without exception – vacuous, vicious, and vomitous.

And finally:

“What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are. [Can anyone point me to a more egregious example of poor sentence construction? “Basically”, “generally speaking” – both repeated twice… FFS.] The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government.” … Part of the problem, he added, was the “net-head” culture itself, which was rooted in libertarianism and “anti-establishment” attitudes.

I’m unconvinced that blogs are “the big breakthrough” for politics on the web. They remain a minority interest, albeit punching well above their weight. As for being “hostile” (I assume he means to Labour), what was he expecting? Rank upon rank of virtual cheerleaders for one of the most authoritarian governments on record?

Blogs are often, by their very nature, obsessively monotonal. So what? Readers are sufficiently clued-up to decide for themselves both what to read, and what to believe of what they read. I offer opinions, tempered by facts. In that order. This blog does not exist to inform (though it may do), but to stimulate, and (occasionally) to persuade.

Mr Taylor may regard political blogs’ indulgence in ‘fisking’ as a destructive force (especially if he happens upon this article). But surely it is just that kind of robust, detailed, line-by-line deconstruction which shows the Internet at its best? Whatever your viewpoint, it’s hard to see how it detracts from the sum of human knowledge.

Indeed, Mr Taylor’s argument is a little muddled. If the ‘net-head’ culture is ‘rooted in libertarianism’, it’s hard to see how this “adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government”. Unless Mr Taylor is complaining about that rare breed of libertarians which demands more government intervention.

What I think Mr Taylor’s argument is really about – though he’d deny this – is the resentment of those who’ve been accustomed to being at the centre of political debate, intrigue and gossip finding their club is no longer as exclusive as it once was.

Labour politics is ironically circular: in order to continue fighting the class war, the class war must never end. As a result, Labour politicians are imbued with an impregnable aura of self-righteousness: because it is their job to save the lower classes from themselves. It is the ultimate in infantilisation. That they do not, cannot, trust the public is why the public increasingly distrusts them.

The rest of us are growing-up. Perhaps the Labour Party might care to join us?