Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Leftier than thou

George Monbiot attacks 'the most right wing government in history' (the current one, apparently).

He starts with a short list of things which he concedes the government has done right (it's got some odd omissions, of which more later), but argues that 'the catalogue of failures, backsliding and outright destruction is much longer and more consequential'.

Then there are four paragraphs criticising Labour for being allied to the Americans, and some of the consequences of that, from Iraq to arms sales. There's a paragraph on crime where he appears to be arguing that the UK has a more punitive criminal justice policy than China, Burma or Saudi Arabia. Then that the government hasn't regulated businesses enough, or taxed the rich enough.

There's the quickfire round, the government has made it too easy to build houses (boo!) and hasn't built enough houses (boo!), has closed post offices, GPs surgeries (this is the only mention that the NHS gets in his piece) and not done enough about climate change. And to finish off, Labour has also destroyed hope by delaying electoral reforms which would have benefited the party that George Monbiot supports (again, no mention of the Scottish Parliament or Welsh or London Assemblies).

How to respond to this? There are some criticisms which most Labour supporters would probably agree with, even if the overall picture is rather distorted, and where change would be welcome.

Another point to make that people like George Monbiot were writing in 1999 and 2000 that the Democrats were so right-wing that it would make no difference if America elected a 'compassionate Conservative', and there's rather less excuse for this kind of argument now that we know how that turned out.

There's clearly a challenge for the government and for all of us who don't want David Cameron to be Prime Minister to make sure that people don't just dismiss all the achievements of the past eleven years, or only think of the NHS in the context of whatever has been most recently in the news like GPs surgeries.

But I prefer to respond to this article in the style of George Monbiot himself. I note that in his entire article he fails to mention even once the creeping menace of Identity Cards. Or the plight of the Palestinians. It's no surprise that we have such a corrupt and authoritarian government, is it, when establishment commentators like George Monbiot don't even use the platform that they have in the media to hold them to account for these disastrous policies.


At 12:36 pm , Anonymous Ben said...

These shocking omissions from his article are just the latest evidence that George Monbiot is the most right wing columnist in history.

(Actually, I can't stand George Monbiot about as much as I can't stand David Cameron, albeit for different reasons. I feel my hatred is getting a little thinly spread these days.)

At 1:22 pm , Blogger ejh said...

Heh, Ben. Nice one.

At 1:37 pm , Blogger ejh said...

Meanwhile, closer to reality:

There are some criticisms which most Labour supporters would probably agree with

Well, why don't they, Don? There's really not much mileage left in having a go at critics of the government: nobody finds it very convincing any more. It's a bloody shambles of a government: it's lost all the friends that it made to its right in driving away all the ones it had to its left. Absolutely nobody who's not a Labour loyalist feels like standing up for the government any more. It's a damned sight more than a "challenge for the goverment": if people "dismiss all the achievements of the past eleven years" then maybe it's because they really don't think there's been remotely enough of them.

Too bad. You can't dissolve the people and re-elect another. The government's caving in as a consequence of its own failings and not as a result of the failings of its critics. Complaining that other people on the left are letting you down achieves nothing and convinces nobody. People would, actually, like to support a Labour government: if they've found they can't then maybe that's the fault of the government and of the Party that sustains it. Really, it can't be pinned on George Monbiot. We're not all out of step except our Johnny.

At 2:14 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

ejh - I certainly wasn't trying to argue that somehow the current problems for the government are all the faults of George Monbiot or leftie critics more generally.

But I think Monbiot's overall critique of the government is wrong, and the idea that he's pushing that the Tories wouldn't really be any worse is actively harmful.

"People would, actually, like to support a Labour government"

I think (and hope) this is still true. I don't think it is true of George Monbiot, though.

Worth noting that in the past fortnight the government has cut taxes for low and middle earners (operating on standard Keynesian principles), taken on the religious lobby and Daily Mail in legislating for scientific research and equality, and agreed new rights for agency workers.

You'd probably agree that these are all exactly the sorts of things that a Labour government should be doing, though even being an optimist it will take time (and the political will to keep on this path) for them to feed through into an increase in support.

At 2:36 pm , Blogger ejh said...

Worth noting that in the past fortnight the government has cut taxes for low and middle earners

I really think that that's a bit of an optimistic description of the recent 10% fiasco.

The thing is - whatever the virtues of Labour Party members, which are many, and having respect as I do for loyalty to that party (my late great-aunt was a loyal member for 57 years) they do nevertheless have a couple of habits that really annoy me.

One is a tendency to make private criticisms of their party leadership and policies but then to blaze away at anybody who makes similar criticisms from outside their ranks. Of course that fault is by no means particular to Labour Party members, far from it, but it's quite a significant thing when it's that party in government.

But the other - and this is pretty particular, I think - is to consider other people as having a duty to support the Labour Party rather than that support having to be earned. I think this derives from the fact that it is the natural party of the left, but nevertheless absolutely nobody has any duty to support it whatsoever. Not you, not me, not George Monbiot. We're all of us capable of understanding that there are consequences if the Tories win and that therefore we should think very seriously before we do anything other than vote for Labour. But nevertheless, we're capable of thinking about that ourselves and we're also capable of feeling that there are times when that loyalty has been abused and we should neither give Labour our vote nor advocate that others vote for them.

Where does that point come? I don't know. It's not a fixed point anyway. But people can't be harangued into voting Labour. Labour has our natural loyalty: ergo if it doesn't attract our votes then that's its own fault and nobody else's. Really, people aren't looking for reasons not to vote Labour, and if they are they're not your natural supporters anyway so it's still up to you to earn their votes.

For what it's worth I supported PSOE enthusiastically in Spain earlier this year: they might not be everything I want, but my God, Zapatero's no Blair and no Brown. They earned it. New Labour have gone out of their way to do the opposite. They made that choice.

At 3:01 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

Both fair points (certainly Labour has a lot to learn from the PSOE).

Reading what you had to say about the 'inch of difference' argument, though, I do think you're coming from a rather different perspective than Monbiot (I don't think he would have voted for Zapatero).

It's in some ways analogous to the point you made a while back about many Decents and Trotskyists and the way that they debated and engaged with others.

Monbiot's attitude to government is generally based on an assumption of bad faith and betrayal, with little consideration of what is and isn't possible or constraints which constrain action, and some curious choices about what is considered as important and what isn't.

Sometimes that way of analysing comes to the right conclusion (same is true of Decents and Trotskyists), but I think it's still worth criticising.

At 3:35 pm , Blogger ejh said...

I do think you're coming from a rather different perspective than Monbiot

I probably am (actually I have very little idea what my perspective is these days) but that doesn't mean I disagree with him or that I think his perspective is particularly wrong.

I don't know if he'd have voted for Zapatero - he might have.

One thing about PSOE is, they have parties to the left, and for that matter regional parties, which whether you or I (or George) agree with them or not, have, I think, the virtue of keeping the left-of-centre party honest. If they go to far to the right, they lose large chunks of their electorate, or fail to attact large chunks of the left and regional parties' electorate, whichever way you want to look at it.

(The absence of PR used to mean this didn't happen so much in the UK. Now that support is haemorrhaging, it's going in all directions, but in a way the most signifcant may be a quite sizeable number of leftist-minded people, many of them young, who are unlikely to vote at all, but if they do, would never, ever vote Labour.)

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