Tuesday, July 8, 2008
What could Labour learn from America?
David Lammy MP gave a Fabian speech last week 'Lessons from America' arguing that both the Obama and McCain campaigns have important lessons for Labour.
I think it is one of the most candid and punchy political speeches given by a government minister in the last year. Lammy argued, taking questions, that, as the youngest member in the government, he should advocate an opening up of the cultures and structures of politics.
Lammy was pretty careful to speak warmly about both the Obama and McCain campaigns (and rather inventive in finding quite so many McCain reference points to do this), and to observe the formalities of government neutrality, but of course his personal views are very obvious.
In many ways much of the core argument is a statement of obvious truths, but it is sometimes difficult for government ministers to do that! And it is good to see some acknowledgement that we need to think radically about our message and mission, and the way we do politics too.
Some of the key arguments:
* The winning candidates are both political 'outsiders'.
"The real problem with the toff campaign was that it picked the wrong target. Because the issue is the political class, not the upper class."
* The 1990s looks very tired and dated.
"the use of triangulation, of defining yourself against your own party, of a managerial language which drains the values from policy also became a habit – a reflex –which alienated people in the party and left the public disorientated".
Labour needs a greater confidence in its distinctive collectivist mission and willingness to assert the values behind policies. Our achievements sometimes feel like bullet points on a list, not a mission for social change.
* Obama mobilised from below. He was prepared to let go. This is "light years away" from the culture of politics within the Labour Party, where the barriers to entry are much too high. Lammy went on to say that "New Labour was never a movement".
This is an analysis which is along similar lines to that of the Fabian pamphlet Facing Out.
As Andrew Sparrow says in his incisive blog post at the Guardian, I am sure that it is a contentful speech trying to open up a discussion about how we change how we do politics, rather than a Westminster critique of the PM, but the implications are pretty radical.
If these are the right lessons from the US, or about the culture of our politics, then the bigger question will be about how change can happen in practice.
As the Washington clocks strike twelve on 20th January 2009, listen carefully and you might just hear a swooshing sigh of relief travel around the world. The Bush Presidency will not leave the legacy its architects intended. But a critique of what should have been done differently since 2001 is not enough. This blog is about the new ideas which can create a 'new multilateralism' to tackle the global challenges we face.