The Right Left

A Pressure Group

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Review – Utopia by Penny Woolcock at the Roundhouse

A slatted polythene screen hides the entrance to Utopia – a video loops upon it, images of corpulent bankers and shoppers falling over each other to get to sales bargains are interspersed with images of people living on rubbish dumps. Just in case you don’t get the message a prerecorded loop of audio warns us that there is more to life than trainers.

It is a thuddingly obvious start that gives a fair indication of how the rest of the attraction will wear on. It is not long after this that you will be hearing the voices of young people explaining how the education system discarded them – literally from inside a bin.

Penny Woolcock recorded thirty seven people from Camden over the course of two years, this material has been brought together to generate the hundreds of stories that intersperse through Utopia

But for all this audio there is only one voice and that is Woolcock’s, and her voice is disappointingly pedestrian, patronising and desperate for approval. It is a mediocre Guardian article given authenticity through the voices of people whose only purpose here is to serve the artists preconceptions.

By the end of the attraction Woolcock has given up on pretending she cares about those people whom were interviewed and simply has them read More’s ‘Utopia’ for the camera. All that remains after this is for us to visit the corner of the attraction where she kindly gives offers visitors a reading list. ‘This will blow your mind’ she writes after recommending ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ by Baudrillard.

Utopia might be less insufferable were it delivered with care or aplomb but it is not. The sound designs are obvious and unexceptional the playback systems show nothing by way of innovation.

Block9 whom designed the sets are clearly capable of great work, you can see quite a lot of it in the program – where it is passed off as being part of Utopia. What they actually provide for the attraction is poor.

It is little surprise to see a who’s who of the ineffectual left have been invited to speak at the event, in many ways Utopia functions best as a allegory for the hard left in 2015, a consumerist echo chamber reiterating the unproven prejudices of those involved and conveniently underwritten by the taxpayer and big business.

”This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half”

Following the row I had with @lukeakehurst on Friday* I thought it would be worth setting out some of the reasons that things got heated and suggest how the situation could have been better handled.

It started (as is mandatory with left wing arguments on Twitter) with @danhodges. Himself and Luke were rehashing (for what seems like the thousandth time) an argument about canvasing.

It’s a very old argument, one which they have had ‘ad infinitum’. Repetition of arguments on Twitter typically occur because someone isn’t listening. In this case it was Luke who (as he has done time and time again) was trying to undermine Dan by pointing out that he doesn’t go out canvassing for Labour.

Dan has addressed why he doesn’t canvas before. You might not agree but its a legitimate viewpoint and clearly expressed. That didn’t stop Luke once again pressing Dan to come out and canvas which was very frustrating, because what Luke was really saying was that Dan’s views don’t count because he doesn’t canvas.

That made me very angry and led to my snarky tweet thats quoted below, and the resulting argument:

Luke is one of the good guys, only the other evening he put up a admirable and principled fight against the mouth-breathers of Respect, it was this post that made me decide to join the party in the first place and any enemy of this pillock is my friend. However on this I think he is wrong.

Running a party is difficult, especially when money is short. As a result people need to work for nowt to get the job done – thats ok, a lot of the theatre work I do is unpaid, I’m still very happy to do it.

Furthermore, favouritism is a natural by-product of humans interacting. If Luke likes people who get their boots on and go out and leaflet then he’s going to favour them because they feel like his people. It happens in all industries – you don’t get anywhere in theatre without tonguing an arsehole or two (literally and figuratively) –  is it right? who cares? its going to happen regardless.

But there’s a difference between those two things and explicitly stating that you don’t take people seriously if they don’t canvas. I don’t want to sound like a bourgeois capitalist swine but I pay a subscription to be a party member and in return I expect to be listened to. I’m not paying to be allowed to work for free so that perhaps if I do really well Luke will think my views worthy of his consideration.

What I resent most is the implicit implication that you’re not a ‘real’ Labour member unless you’re doing a repetitive unpleasant job to the detriment of your personal life.  Its not enough to write repeatedly about how you think the party can be better (albeit with controversial views) or to make art about how society can be better, that’s soft work, ‘real’ members are those who dedicate all their personal time to doing something hard and boring on behalf of the party.

That’s not a good way to inspire a new generation of activists. There are so many ways to reach the electorate now, and so many creative ways that we can communicate and help the party. Narrowing down how a potential activist can be of use to Labour to canvassing, and then suggesting that unless you do a certain amount of this your views don’t count simply ensures that many people will not bother. Especially when there’s one law for us and another for the Labour elite (Luke seems happy to admit the people who actually run the party by and large graduated from the PPE course at Oxford and never did the work with the activists anyway.)

My generation blogs, it gets into arguments on Twitter, it creates satirical videos and memes. In my case I have spent and continues to spend quite a lot of money (with no expectation of getting it back) making art I feel is important (even if over time I come to regret it!). This takes time and effort and skills you learn over many years. If we are to bring new, young, professional and driven members into the party we need to respect those skills and engage them because that will motivate the new members, and benefit us.

I respect you Luke and you’re on the right side of the Left but your response to my second tweet should have been as follows:

@georgemaddocks ‘All members views count, but it would be great if we could find a way to get to know you better…

@georgemaddocks and for you to be able to help out. what do you do?’

That’s how you engage people and that’s how we will move forward as a strong and successful party. We won’t do any of that by urging blind allegiance, proscribing endless graft and ignoring those who aren’t prepared to prioritize that over their friends, family and careers.

*I know last Friday is a very long time ago, I would like this blog to be productive and help us move forward as a party so I’ve rewritten this piece several times. Where it is still a little angry/sarcastic I hope Luke will forgive me  it is hugely improved from the first draft which liberally encouraged various objects** be inserted up his ‘Rodger Helmer

** The complete works of Marx, Nick Clegg’s burning Cacti Collection, Nadine Dorries

I joined Labour to get one over @hopisen but now I’ve been done over by @misintervention – bastards

On 17/11/2012 I joined the Labour party, I was in part shamed by this, but mostly I just wanted to get one over all the other Centre Leftists (are we hard realists now?) on my Twitter stream.

I am, you see, a man most grievously wronged. Over the last few months as the party went from crisis to disaster and back again I penned a number of exceptionally fine blogs. My piece on Diane Abbot ‘quisnam est atrum illi quisnam es atrum?’ (‘who is dark for those who are dark?’ for all you non Latin scholars) was a masterpiece only surpassed by the terrifying genius of my piece on Ed Milibands appearances at PMQ’s; ‘for never was a story of more woe, than young miliband, and his lack of show(manship)’. Finally I surpassed even the brilliance of the above two blogs with my 3000 word piece on Owen Jones: ‘the shirt is half ironed, because the man is half formed, he is simultaneously: Atlas, holding aloft the world of idealism and: Vinnie Jones launching two footed tackles as the last dreamer on the pitch of realism’.

It was a phenomenal canon of writing and it was never published.

You see, just as I would put the finishing touches on these profound opines some centre leftist bastard would pop up on my twitter feed with a better blog on the same theme. @robmarchant did me over on Dianne Abbot. @DPJHodges slapped me around then slammed me on a pinball machine with this on Ed Milliband, and finally @hopisen reduced me to a gibbering wreck by taking down Owen Jones with a single PS. Bastard! I screamed aloud on the Number 12 bus, ‘astute, reasonable, intelligent centre leftist bastard!’.

Of course there were many other political things I could have blogged about but, in all honesty, what are the chances that @harrylangford won’t have covered them?

I didn’t know what was to be done, but then an unlikely saviour rode across the horizon with a halo of pure red. It was none other than @lukeakehurst. Most online “Blairites” he wrote: ‘turn out to be youths so callow they were not party members when Blair was leader, or not even Labour members now.”.

That hurt, because it was true, and as I scrabbled for my debit card to put things right a thought struck me: ‘Hopi, Rob, Harry, they’re all party members, they can’t become members again, none of those bastards can blog about that, this is it! my blog! all mine, my moment of glory!’

I furiously took to keyboard and set about writing my magnum opus – it was all there, my years as a reactionary militant type –  putting on plays about how we should die before we compromise and the evil of foreign invasion. The interim years of the Euston Manifesto and the slow realisation that our ideals are nothing without the power and sanity of outlook to enable them. And finally, earlier last year, my birdsong-esque emergence from the womb of of idealism into the cold but fascinating incubator of centre left Twitter.

It was (predictably) a blog of the finest calibre. As I proof read it Sunday evening it was not the hand of God I felt on my shoulder, it was the hand of one wiser. I felt the great Hitch himself was with me, nodding approvingly and muttering something slightly excessive about Mother Teresa.

Soon it was proofed, my hand hovered over publish and then…

We all know what happened next, at around 20.00 hours Sunday evening @misintervention joined The Labour Party and my one original blog post was in a stroke reduced to nothing. I’m not going to call Julie a bastard, (after the way she destroyed the last person who badmouthed her I am resolved never to even to think derogatory things about Julie, just in case…) but its fair to say that on Sunday night Julie, like so many others, ground my dreams into fine dust.

Because it’s finally struck me, I am not Snowball, I am not the three young pigs nor am I Minimus or Boxer or Clover or Benjamin, I am not even Squealer.  I am the sheep, I take some satisfaction in knowing that I am Snowballs sheep – (or perhaps Benjamin’s?) But nonetheless I am the sheep. Doomed forever to chant ‘fiscal realism good, idealistic uncosted keynesianism baaad’. I look to the future and I see a myself stamping RT on better blogs than mine, forever.

Its been hard to come to terms with this, but after a while I’ve taken solace.  I’m no Hopi, or Rob or any of the other bastards but every party needs its foot soldiers. People to take the good work out on the streets. Theres now a column in my Tweetdeck for ‘#labourdoorstep’. God (and more importantly my fiance) willing I’ll be out in the cold in the next month spreading the good word of centre left politics.

I’m sat here with my gin and I no longer dream of being a great man of words and ideas, I dream of disturbing people Sunday mornings with suspect leaflets, my struggle is finished. I have won the victory over myself, I love and follow the Right Left, and I have joined the Labour Party.

(The author welcomes DM’s improving his spelling)

Fiscal Credibility

Harry Langford recently allowed us to repost a article from his blog, in it he raised a crucial issue for Labour –

Fiscal credibility, in an age of no money for the Left to spend will be more important than ever.”

The initial stages of Ed Miliband’s leadership were an opportunity to make a fresh start and recover from the damage done to our economic credibility by Gordon Brown. This didn’t happen: Milibands initial refusal to work in bold, media friendly terms was a mistake, Alan Johnson’s time as shadow chancellor was a disaster and finally the refusal to apologise for the Brown governments mistakes was foolish. The culmination of all of these mistakes is that Labour now has no economic credibility and the Conservatives have been allowed to establish their economic narrative.

The Conservative economic narrative is roughly as follows; Labours mis-management of the economy has led to a untenable deficit, and only the Conservative spending cuts have stopped the financial markets losing confidence in the UK and a subsequent (Greek-style) crisis. This is nonsense.

 There was barely a cigarette paper between Conservative and Labour economic policies before 2008 and we are not, and never were, at risk of losing market confidence – the difference between Labour and Conservative proposed spending cuts before the 2010 election was 0.6% of GPD, market confidence was, and is, a non-issue. As Martin Wolf put it: “We are terrified of a confidence bogey who is asleep.”.

Now 0.5% growth and rising unemployment confirms an economy stagnating as the private sector fails to pickup growth – exactly the problems Ed Balls predicted George Osbourne’s economic measures would create. Despite this only 35% of the electorate trust us with the economy. Labours fiscal credibility is far worse than it should be, this is Labours fault, and we are still making the mistakes that have led to this situation.

As affirmed Brownites Ed Balls and Ed Miliband took their respective offices with immediate credibility problems. They have further exacerbated these by attempting to be radical before they are seen as competent. It is pointless to try and attack the bankers before voters see you as economically competent. Similarly, you won’t restore your economic credibility by praising the well meaning loons of the Occupy movement and trying to create a ‘new capitalism’. Yes, the City took us for a lot of money and is not disposed to give it back – but when you are the protege of a man who is believed (wrongly but comprehensively) to have trashed our economy how likely is it that the public will give you a mandate to rethink the economic system that has run the country for the last thirty years?

The Right Left is designed not to be about analysis, it is about action. I would welcome readers opinions on the following:

Until they have a reasonable degree of economic credibility Labour must not attack the City or support Occupy or similar groups, absolutely minimal (public) trade union support also seems prudent if not essential.

Five points are four more than people with a family/job/life have time to take in, Labour needs to simplify its economic message, the Tories message about the deficit works because it is simple and can be related to a households income we must establish the same simplicity in our message.

The public believe the deficit is ruining the economy, theres no sense trying to correct this assumption without economic credibility so: Labour must constantly reiterate that it is prepared to cut the deficit as fast as the Conservatives.

Labour needs to adopt the entirety of the centre ground of economic opinion, so any poicies that aren’t anathema but might promote growth we must take as our own. Osbourne is already moving to “plan A+” and starting to change course we must be able to portray this retreat as a vindication of our economic policies.

The stagnation of the UK economy must be rebranded as a crisis, rather than just a problem. Currently the economic stakes are not high enough, this is partly because with the apocalyptic situation happening across the EU we seem healthy by comparison. Labour needs to reframe the UK’s economic situation within pressing urgent terms.

We have been making economic mistakes for far too long, and have done a lot of damage to our reputation. As we frame the UK economic stagnation as a crisis we must not underestimate the crisis the Labour party faces:

“Jon Sopel: Well it’s not just the government spin is it? I mean Standard and Poor’s one of the world’s leading credit agencies have said that – issued a pretty clear warning – that ‘our triple A rating could come under downward pressure if the coalition’s commitment to fiscal consolidation falters.’

Ed Balls: Well look, we have to get into a debate here about whether the credit agencies lead the debate or follow.”

Again, theres no real worry the markets will lose confidence in us, and the credit agencies are the political wing of the financial markets – Ball’s is not entirely wrong in diagnosis. But less than 35% of the electorate trust us to run the economy. In these circumstances suggesting that a Labour government would dictate the terms of the credit debate just looks like implausible politics and bad economics, it also looks, and is, fatally arrogant.

We win no votes behaving like this and we do not have votes to loose, we must do better, and soon.

‘Where people’s personal finances are in danger, they will look to the Conservative alternative for a smaller state, lower taxes and fiscal credibility. The Left should not forget that fact.’ – A post by Harry Langford

We are exactly one year away from an American General Election that may see Barack Obama ousted as President of the United States. It is unlikely, but it is possible. There are no left-wing parties in Government in major western democracies outside of America and Australia. The last significant left-wing Government in Western Europe, that of Spain will almost surely fall in their National Elections on the 20th November two weeks from today.

The challenges for the Left in the West are immense. In recent years the Left has taken what could be generously described as an electoral hammering, and this is a trend that is unlikely to falter in the wake of the financial crisis. This crisis has undoubtedly been the biggest single challenge to face the Left since the rise of Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the US.

In Greece, a Socialist Government is trying as hard as it possibly can to destroy the Eurozone. By putting the question of the next bailout to a plebiscite, it is likely that Greece will reject austerity and bailouts from the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will cease. Greece will become bankrupt, and will leave the Euro. Italy, which has the second highest debt:GDP ratio in Europe (around 120%) will almost surely follow. The Italian Government is planning €47bn of cuts before 2013, when the next elections are scheduled. Meanwhile, the assortment of left wing parties in Italy embark on large anti-austerity protests and marches.

Meanwhile, what could charitably be called the “organised Left” in Britain, the Occupy London Protests are sitting outside St Paul’s Cathedral engaged in “protest”. It pains me to use that expression for what they are doing. Polling has shown that their general aims are supported by only 20% of people whilst 46% are opposed. Clearly, the 99% that the OccupyLSX protests claim to represent aren’t very keen on the idea. Ed Miliband, writing in the Observer has expressed sympathy with the protesters.

In short, words fail me at the state of the Left in Europe.

However. There is hope.

In France, the victor of the Parti Socialiste primary elections, Francois Hollande, has the best chance of any in Europe of forming a left-wing Government. It is not a finished matter. The unpopularity of the incumbent President, Nicholas Sarkozy, will not be enough to persuade the French People to elect their first left-wing government since 1988. The relative popularity of the French National Front, and their leader Marine Le Pen, are polling around 20%. The moderate Hollande also faces opposition from the hard-Left.

If the election were held today,  Hollande would win 39 per cent of votes, up eight percentage points from three weeks ago, whilst Sarkozy would have 24 per cent, up three points according to French pollster LH2.

A squeeze from both the far-Right, with le Pen pushing an anti-Corporatist, anti-EU, anti-bank agenda, and from the hard-Left whose candidate polled a respectable 17% in the PS Primary. Hollande faces a tough test to make it through to the 2nd round of the election, and then beat Sarkozy or le Pen.

He must build the broadest possible coalition to defeat Sarkozy.

Francois Hollande represents the best chance that the Left have to regain a foothold in Europe.

To be successful once again, the Left must emulate the great left-wing leaders of the 20th and 21st Centuries. We should look to the Blair’s, and the Obama’s for the future of the Left. Where people’s personal finances are in danger, they will look to the Conservative alternative for a smaller state, lower taxes and fiscal credibility.

The Left should not forget that fact.

Fiscal credibility, in an age of no money for the Left to spend will be more important than ever. The State must be made more efficient, and will inevitably have to become smaller in some areas. We should set out a strict deficit reduction programme to regain the Nation’s economic trust. Francois Hollande has committed himself and his Party to reduce France’s deficit to less than 3% of GDP. We should do the same. We should set out a vision for the future, and a plan for growth in the new economy.

But. And it is a but. We should remember our achievements in Government. We introduced the National Minimum Wage. We gave record investment to schools and hospitals, and achieved record levels of literacy and numeracy in schools.We are not in the financial position that we are in because we employed too many teachers and nurses. We cut crime of all types by 32%. We devolved power to Scotland and Wales.

More importantly, we found peace in Northern Ireland. People had been searching for 400 years, and the Labour Party found it.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t apologise for our mistakes. We should say sorry. We should then say “but”. We are not sorry for our achievements in Government. We should not be sorry for our successes.

We can, should, and must do it again. 

The Right Left

At the time of writing St Paul’s Cathedral is occupied by protesters. They seek to change the world so that: ‘the people command and global institutions obey!‘. The global institutions they believe are harming democracy include the IMF and WTO.

Two weeks ago 81 Tory MPs voted against their party supporting a referendum on EU membership, essentially a vote to get the UK out of the EU (a fair assumption on the basis of the AV referendum) at a time when the UK’s economy is weak and our global influence waning.

These are positions of extremity and both a direct consequence of the 2008 financial crash. The failure of the financial markets to regulate themselves, their inability to recover from their failure and the subsequent effect on Europe has convinced people on both sides of the political spectrum that radical change must come, and that it must come now. For the protestors capitalism must be radically changed to work ‘for the people’, for the Tory backbenchers it is time for Britannia to break free from the ‘the EU dictators‘.

In one sense the protestors and backbenchers are right; the financial crisis and fallout does present an opportunity to bring about change. It is not just our financial situation that supports this. The News International Scandal and the flourishing of social media is allowing people to break from from the monopoly of communication that print and televisual media has enjoyed and into an age where people can be better informed and communicate, interact and act together as never before.

But this precious opportunity to enact change is is danger of being lost as both the EU referendum vote and the occupy movement  show. The collapse of the Eurozone does not validate the scaremongering nonsense perpetuated by the lunatic right any more than the financial crisis and banks behaviour support bringing down the IMF. Sensible people see these movements for what they are – extreme and tribal political positions – neither realistic nor achievable.

This blog passionately believes that in the current world circumstance the centrist left is the only political movement that can bring about just and effective change. We understand the need for the financial markets and that they must not be attacked, but we also understand that they must not be allowed to abuse the people whose money they trade with. We understand the need for national sovereignty but we also understand that we must work to lead the Eurozone from within. We understand that a strong and forthright media is essential to prevent us from the worst excesses of our politicians but also that it must never be above the rule of law. And we understand that we live in a complicated and difficult world with many negative attitudes to democracy and that we must be careful to ensure that the emerging leaders of the world have a responsible attitude to their citizens and that those who repress theirs are thwarted.

This blog is passionate in its belief in all the above, but it is equally concerned that the extremity of political debate is pulling the mainstream left into unrealistic positions that are unpalatable to the electorate. After ten years of a left wing centrist government running the country to great effect the Labour party is underachieving against a government that is having no success on the economy and rife with scandal and infighting . This blog is reminded daily of Tony Blair’s assertion that: ‘If we can’t take this lot apart in the next few years then we shouldn’t be in business of politics at all‘.

Blogs that offer analysis and opinion that support the above are rife: The Centre Left, Hopisen.com, Mindtrumpet, Normblog, (and many more below) all superb and required reading. The Right Left is something different, it is designed to collate material that will form the basis for a political pressure group. If we are to win the next election we need to generate practical ideas, policies, plans, tactics, strategy. We must pressurise for a more realistic electoral strategy that shows the public there is still more to the Left than strikes and unconvincing economics. We must be proactive, we must make a real difference and we must always remember that all the idealism and fine ideology in the world will do no good unless we are elected.

I am obsessed with politics but not a product of nor part of the political process. I direct theatre, my medium is the words of others. The people who I look to for help and support in this blog are the ones who inspired me to create it @rob_marchant @hopisen @citizen_sane  @normblog @peterwatt123  @harrylangford  @blairsupporter @iamalexwhite @bombaylychee @forwardnotback. Between them they have made me proud to be on right side of the left, and made me passionately want to deliver a centre left victory at the next election- this blog is theirs, and yours if you share our passion. I will manage it, maintain it and support it any way I can if you are wiling to make it.

We have a powerful body of intelligent and knowledgeable political operators above, some have been in the Labour party, some are the future of the party, between us we all have an opportunity to place real pressure on the leadership to deliver the victory we deserve.

Posts for the site can be sent to – therightleft.maddocks@gmail.com. We are @therightleft1 on Twitter and I can be found on @georgemaddocks.

A final word, this is your site, not mine. Even this document is open to your alterations and suggestions. I would hope you can understand from this what I would like The Right Left to become. Help me out! Make suggestions, give me feedback, sort out my awful grammar (like so many in theatre I am dyslexic), but whatever you do, make sure that everything is practical, focused and helps us get closer to electoral victory. We have enough brilliant analysis and comment, now we must take action.

Extra special thanks to @rob_marchant, @blairsupporter and @citizen_sane who gave me the courage to put this together this weekend.

All the best, hope to hear from you all soon, no matter what you may have to say.

George Maddocks

05/11/2011