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  • Technorati: graph / links

    Online Activism in the UK

    by Shariq on 7th October, 2008 at 8:00 am    

    Sunny has touched on the internal battle between the Progress (New Labour) and Compass (Progressive) wings of the Labour party.

    With the general alienation with the current government, it seems like the conservatives will take power in the next election due to a combination of people voting for ‘change’ and many left and centre-left voters not voting at all.

    I think that its imperative that if the tories do take over, progressive Labour and Lib dem MPs aren’t the ones who lose their seats. Not all MPs are the same and I think that it would be disastrous if in the public’s general mistrust of the Labour party, intelligent, centre-left, progressives who would otherwise be the future are sidelined at the expense of more bland careerists.

    As I’ve said before, a great way of trying to enhance the role of progressives in the Labour and Lib Dem parties would be through primaries. However this doesn’t seem likely soon and we need to find other ways.

    My suggestion is that we use the internet to get people who read sites such as Pickled Politics and Liberal Conspiracy to organise and volunteer for the campaigns of vulnerable progressive MPs. Pickled Politics gets 35,000 unique visitors a month. Say that even if 1,000 of those were interested in volunteering it would make a difference.

    At present, people are put off because they know their seat is not competitive or because the local candidate may not be distinguishable from the national party. By setting up a list of favoured candidates, users would be able to locate the politicians near to themselves who they could be inspired by. Daily Kos have done something along these lines in America to a certain degree of success.

    If successful, I think that this would increase the long-term influence of progressive groups within the mainstream of the Labour and Lib Dem parties. People who kept their seats through whatever help they received would be somewhat indebted and would be more open to change the rules on things such as primaries. It would also encourage future ppc’s to develop new links with the online blogosphere helping to create dialogues which weren’t there before. I think that it would also help build a network of grass-root movements, something which Obama has done to great success and has been well documented on fivethirtyeight.com.

    The alternative is that we don’t have any control on the future direction of the party. The wrong people get voted out and the dismay with the political system continues.

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    54 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. Letters From A Tory — on 7th October, 2008 at 9:49 am  

      The next election could cause a lot of trouble for New Labour. Many of the New Labour brigade were unexpectedly elected in 1997 and have held onto their seats since then, but the safe seats are still mostly in the hands of Old Labour. An electoral hammering for the boys in red could wipe out New Labour for many years.


    2. ashik — on 7th October, 2008 at 9:57 am  

      How does one define a ‘progressive’ candidate? In any case are progressive candidates to be found only in the Labour party? Although progressive politics is usually broadly associated with the centre left, the Conservatives can argue that they are a Libertarian party which believes in reform and champions the disempowered by highlighting industry and endeavour and opportunity through both state and non-state initiatives. I still rate Maggies selling off of council housing to tenants back in the 1980’s as empowering marginalised groups more than most policies.

    3. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:26 am  

      In any case are progressive candidates to be found only in the Labour party?

      If you read the piece you’ll find he said the following:

      I think that its imperative that if the tories do take over, progressive Labour and Lib dem MPs aren’t the ones who lose their seats.

    4. ashik — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:41 am  

      And if you read my post you’ll see me move on and talk about the Conservatives.

      I think online activists can be inspired by candidates both conservative and progressive across ALL party lines. If the next govt is likely to be Conservative then it makes sense for progressive activists to mitigate any Tory lurch to the right by making sure as many progressives as possible are elected in that party.

    5. shariq — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:56 am  

      Hey Ashik, in principle I have no issue with supporting progressive conservatives (if that’s not a contradiction).

      However given that we’re dealing with limited resources, I think there’s only so far that type of strategy would work.

      First of all how many tories are there that would legitimately warrant supporting over a labour/lib dem mp. Secondly, how many liberal progressives would want to spend their time trying to get conservatives elected?

    6. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 11:31 am  

      Further to that this is a broadly progressive/liberal/left blog (with the added spice of our resident rightwing libber Rumbold of course!) and LibCon is a specifically Liberal/Left one. Why should we not fight for those candidates we view are in line with our politics?

      As Shariq says, it’d be a dilution of resources and not strategically wise.

    7. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 11:32 am  

      Anyway, moving on from Ashik’s derail. Shariq, I think this is a great idea and merits further discussion (a topic for the next meet too I think) and consideration.

    8. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 12:59 pm  

      I have no issue with blogs being ambitious, but Pickled Politics at least (and possibly LibCon) has yet to find its progressive feet.

      We have contributed and watched as PP has struggled to get to the point some of us were at ten years ago.

      Now we see the financial meltdown and have seen nothing of substance from PP. Some of us have been predicting this for years. Does PP have an alternative to offer, or has ‘progressive’ in the political sense been reduced to the social sphere.

      PP talks about the white working class but offers nothing, hopefully sneering words like chavs (and of course chavlim) has long gone.

      PP still seems to associate itself with HP but in the past been happy to pick fights with leftist thinkers only then see their links disappear post haste.

      Shariq, on Climate Change, you were promoting building nuclear power stations (forgive me if I misunderstood that discussion) but backed off only to say that really it was a short/mid-term solution. To my mind that sort of wishy-washy thinking leads you to meltdown of a different nature.

      Further, most of the propositions that tend to catch PP’s eye are to do with politicking and not politics.

      One other area which is completely lost in the deluge is the fact there is another world out there, beyond the anglo-american. Gone, it seems, is the notion of self-determination in praise of subservience to globalisation. And given the financial disaster, is anyone even looking to see what alternative economic systems we should be evaluating and promoting?

      On this subject I’d be interested in seeing David S. views.

      Ashik, Maggies’ sale of council housing is a pre-cursor of the financial crisis we have today. That did several things - but primarily it said nothing is forever, and the only thing you can do to protect yourself and family is to look after your own, that is the cult of individualism we have today.

      Shariq, if you wish to pursue this mantle of progressiveness, then there is a need for a root and branch review of what PP is about.

      I offer the above as genuine critique.

      As for voting at the next election, no I don’t think I will be voting except if it means keeping Cameron out. Says a lot about both wings of New Labour (Compass and Progress).

    9. MaidMarian — on 7th October, 2008 at 1:04 pm  

      ‘It would also encourage future ppc’s to develop new links with the online blogosphere helping to create dialogues which weren’t there before.’

      I certainly take the later point about grass-roots movements, but….

      Brutally, those that live by the internet could very easily find that they die by it. These talk-threads were only around in the most rudimentary way at the time of the last Conservative government and we have only seen their impact on a (new) Labour administration. I suspect that the type of comment that Labour has attracted during the last 10 or so years would have been more or less the same for any PM of the last 50 plus years.

      Can you imagine what the talkboards would have said about the 1991 Iraq War? the miners strikes? the 3-day week? Suez? Attlee’s introduction of atomic weapons?

      Indeed, work in another direction. In 2005, Blair won comfortably despite the talkboard oppobrium.

      For what’t it’s worth, your idea is an intereting one, but never forget that these talkboards are a mix of everything from those passionate about their beliefs to professional malcontents. And this is before we get to questions about whether talkboards such as PP actually do anything other than preach to the converted.

      Dialogue is one thing, but politics and government are two very different beasts. In 1997, New Labour’s politics chimed loud and clear, but the realities of governing set in. Candidates advantaged by your sort of online activism, like New Labour may well find that dialogue, new or old, is cheap and easy despite engaging in perfectly good faith.

      I do realise Shariq that you do not present online activism as the panacea route to progressive government and you see this as one thing amongst many. I do however feel that it is a far smaller part of the puzzle than you believe it is.

    10. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 1:23 pm  


      ‘In 2005, Blair won comfortably despite the talkboard oppobrium.’

      I think it was an uncomfortable 22% of the electorate that voted for him.


      ‘Provisional figures suggest 22% of those eligible to vote backed Labour - the lowest figure they have received at any post-war election apart from 1983 when the figure was 20.6%.’

    11. Shariq — on 7th October, 2008 at 1:39 pm  

      Maid Marian, point taken. The starting point for this post was its strange that there should be a situation in which a lot of people who care about and take a strong interest in politics won’t be getting involved due to the vagaries of our political system. As you say, how successful the long-term stuff will be is unclear.

      If anything, I think having primaries is probably the most important thing. For instance I was trying to do some research about which under threat progressive mp’s would meet my definition and I’m really struggling. They’ve hardly made any independent decisions so its tought to say who is more or less progressive.

      Of course, I don’t know if this is a utopian project which would actually undermine the stability of the political system if implemented. Are there any political scientists around?

      Refresh, thanks for the critique. I have been thinking about the economic stuff and will try and have a post up by tomorrow.

    12. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 2:05 pm  


      by PP do you mean all it’s writers and the culmination of their contributions or do you mean Sunny?

    13. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 2:06 pm  

      Brutally, those that live by the internet could very easily find that they die by it.

      I don’t see how using the net to organise for the ‘real’ world is ‘living by the Internet’.

      The net (and within that blogging/social media) is a tool which when used properly compliment not replace real world activity.

    14. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 2:28 pm  


      a bit of all three.

      And quite honestly I’d like to hear more from you, but your posts tend to be snippets and short on analysis.

    15. douglas clark — on 7th October, 2008 at 4:43 pm  


      I don’t disagree with what you have to say, but I do think that most writers and comentators both here and on Liberal Conspiracy have at least a disconnect with the Labour Party as is. The comments here and in the other place, seem to me to be coming from a more left of centre position than Blair and now Brown felt comfortable with placing in front of the electorate.

      I have serious doubts that our message - if I can call it that yet, as I’d agree it isn’t a consistent voice - would necessarily be capable of resounding with the electorate.

      So, in the meantime, I’d rather that we developed an alternate left viewpoint. I advocated turning LC, at least in part, into a think tank, to a resounding silence. Yet, for now, I think that that is a realistic way to build on the partial successes of the campaigns that have been run. A pro-active element as well as one simply reactive to the news cycle.

      I too, would like to here what our more anarchically minded folk think.

    16. Rumbold — on 7th October, 2008 at 4:47 pm  

      I think that Ashik made some good points actually. If your desire is to see ‘progressive’ MPs in power, then supporting such candidates in the Conservative party makes more sense at present then backing a loosing horse in the form of the leftie parties.

    17. Shamit — on 7th October, 2008 at 4:59 pm  

      I like the post and the thought behind it. Still, I have some reservations, if I may.

      Foremost, I think our parliamentary democracy system where the executive derives all its powers from having a majority in the Parliament - the primary concept would lead to instability and bad governance.

      Anyone coming to parliament after winning a primary and subsequent election in a party ticket would not feel at all obligated to support their party or overall party manifestos. And, you might have changes in Prime Minister and Cabinet quite often — which would actually lead to annihilation of the party system.

      The Government would hesitate to take even necessary unpopular actions as they would not be certain of backing from their own MPs.

      So, unless we have a directly elected Executive with clear separation of powers, I think primaries for MPs would have a detrimental effect.

      I agree we the position that online activism could support real world changes but the activism would have to be developed on common agreed upon principles. There are various definitions of progressiveness and I think it is self evident on the threads here. I think my progressive definition would differ on many issues from say Sunny’s. How do you bring all them on a common platform?

      In the States, many progressives got really upset with Moveon.org after their huge advert in NY Times calling General Patraeus - General Betray US. And, their agenda becomes focused on one issue rather than what is best for country or society at large? Case in point — they succeeded in beating Liberman in the primaries in the Senate elections but got their butt kicked in the general elections. And, people who are the loudest or most well known, the organisation usually evolves around their thinking and it becomes a political battleground by itself - thus killing the overall purpose.

      Finally, with the sort of activism you have suggested, there is a danger of bringing in soft money into elections without control. For example, I would be happy to spend money to beat Nadine (Abortion is crime) MP and I am sure there are many who would agree with me. But, there will be also then donations pouring in from churches and others supporting her — albeit indirectly and thereby reducing political debate to one issue. Again that would harm the country and its governance — and I am sure our goal is to improve it.

      However, despite our reservations, I think there is scope for activism on issues rather than individuals such as 42 days, the abortion debate as well as a fairer progressive tax system. Those issues are where probably the common ground lies among progressives.

      What worries me most is an activist forum becoming a ranting ground for many self serving people who have no agenda but to push their own and sometimes in ludicrous ways. case in point read some of the articles in CiF.

      by the way, the original posts and all the other comments prior to mine are really thought provoking and have excellent points on this particular thread.

    18. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 5:32 pm  

      Just to exemplify some of my thinking, I’ll take Douglas’ comment:

      ‘but I do think that most writers and comentators both here and on Liberal Conspiracy have at least a disconnect with the Labour Party as is.’

      November 6th sees a by-election in Glenrothes. I would like to see the SNP take that seat. For all sorts of reasons, but mainly to show there is value in pursuing policies which are independent of Westminster and of course New Labour. With, of course, the hope that some of those policies trickling down into England. But what does Labour do? It fails to develop its own ‘Scottish’ persona and treats its supporters as nothing more than cannon-fodder. Something the charming Blair did for over a decade.

      It fails to acknowledge the value of its own project, devolution - and goes on to undermine it.

      If I was Gordon Brown, I would acknowledge the self-determination argument and eat some humble pie. He needs to proclaim devolution a success and accept progressive politics from the north sweeping down to the south. [No tuition fees, free school meals etc.]

      So in a nutshell - what is progressive up north may not be so down south - esp. if you are wedded to New Labour. And to pick up on Shamit’s point, I would say if there is a chance to undermine the current formulation of political parties, what are we waiting for? The toughest decision that the party system forced through was based on a mother of a lie and has left us impoverished on every front.

      Shariq, you make the point well. None of these MPs seem to have an independence which merits support. New Labour drove out any critical thought, through lies and deception. And its chief architect is back in the cabinet.

    19. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 6:35 pm  

      And quite honestly I’d like to hear more from you, but your posts tend to be snippets and short on analysis.

      Well…different strokes for different folks as they say. I’m not the type of blogger to write long missives for the world (I’ll leave that to Sunny :D ), I like throwing up a quote with a sarcy comment more plus I find I’m so bloody short on time that by the time I get to finish something a little crafted it’s a week later and discussion has moved on.

      I often rattle of view of events/situations/etc in the comments when I get the chance though…

      I should be clear regarding supporting progressive candidates, I’m more than happy to do that for other parties other than just LibDems and Labour. I’m waiting for Sunny to come back to talk about exactly that (great minds eh Shariq).

    20. Dave S — on 7th October, 2008 at 6:38 pm  

      Refresh @ 8:

      And given the financial disaster, is anyone even looking to see what alternative economic systems we should be evaluating and promoting?

      On this subject I’d be interested in seeing David S. views.

      Aww shucks, thanks! :-)

      Funny you should mention it - I actually woke up the other night with an idea for such an article in my head.

      I will write it soon - perhaps even this week. But being the dad of a 22-day old little girl is taking it’s toll on my amount of writing time at the moment.

      Not that I mind - nothing like becoming a parent to remind yourself why every day is worth living and the human race is worth saving! :-)

      Anyway… my thoughts on the financial situation will I’m sure materialise on this site soon enough.

    21. MaidMarian — on 7th October, 2008 at 6:48 pm  

      Refresh (10) - ‘I think it was an uncomfortable 22% of the electorate that voted for him.’

      I think it turned into a comfortable 66 majority.

      Whatever one thinks of the situation, politics has to be about playing by the rules. Surely this is what Shariq get at in his article? That populism is one thing but there have to be actual outputs within the rules of the game otherwise activism just becomes a feel-good love in. That surely is why Shariq wants concentration on electoral outcomes?

      I don’t like that 22% figure any more than you, believe me - but one has to acknowledge reality.

      Shariq - Thank you for a nice reply.

      ‘The starting point for this post was its strange that there should be a situation in which a lot of people who care about and take a strong interest in politics won’t be getting involved due to the vagaries of our political system.’

      Yes, but decisions are made by those that show up. This is my problem with the professional malcontent element of the internet - it skates very close to blaming the voters. I don’t think that that is something ‘progressive.’

      This is why I like your article’s argument that the internet should be something to organise volunteers to do ‘real’ campaigning. I mentioned in my earlier post that a straight internet campaign, in my view, would do little more than preach to a choir.

      More civic participation, less getting it off the collective chest - a good idea all round. Primaries are probably a good option, though I do worry slightly about the potential for groups ‘packing’ meetings. Saying that I am sure a way around that could be found.

    22. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 6:59 pm  

      Leon, I guessed. An odd long missive would, I am sure, be appreciated. By ‘odd’ I mean occasional.

      Dave S., look forward to it. Becoming a dad does put a different slant on life, usually makes saving the world just a little more urgent.

    23. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 7:08 pm  

      ‘I think it turned into a comfortable 66 majority.’


      That is the sadness, it gave him all he needed to claim that the country supported him, and that the 2 million who did show up had every right but they lost the argument.

      The truth is, trying to stay on post, in occupying the centre-ground of UK politics what he actually did was hold his party and supporters hostage. Thus further discrediting politics and politicians. Worse, he also took the best of progressive activism, the voluntary sector and NGOs hostage.

    24. Nyrone — on 7th October, 2008 at 7:21 pm  

      Excellent article/proposition.

      The main thrust of the article appears to be centered around practical participation in the democratic process and using PP and other blogs to start organizing and working in a pragmatic way through collaboration to have an effect on some of the matters we care about and to support progressive MP’s that may otherwise get brushed aside by the upcoming conservative thunderstorm.

      The proposition that Shariq is hinting at appears to be commonsense in all honesty. If people are committed enough to securing decent MP’s stay in office, why not get involved?

      A couple of points:

      1) I honestly think that many of the people opposed to the idea of this form of campaigning are probably just afraid of leaving their armchairs and getting their hands dirty in the real world. If I’m wrong, I would appreciate people suggesting some new practical ideas to get involved in steering the political climate into a better place than it’s currently heading.

      2) The only tricky area I foresee requiring much discussion and debate would be in setting up a list of favored candidates, although I’m sure this would prove to be a healthy and crucial part of the project.

      I would just state, this is obviously little more than a small step in the right direction, and an action that would play a small part in furthering the links between progressive politics and the blogosphere. It’s not the be-all-end-all of anything, merely an angle or factor in the ongoing debate, much in the same way that a political protest from a human rights group might be one technique in their ongoing operation to get laws passed or change the governments mind on something.

    25. MaidMarian — on 7th October, 2008 at 8:32 pm  

      Refresh -

      I think that this is a very important point.

      It is all well and good to talk in terms of losing the argument, hostages etc but that’s the rules of the game. Those supporters and hostages could have gone out there and voted in other ways, but they clearly did not do so in a way that actually affected the result.

      This is why I think it is less than the full story to say, ‘That is the sadness, it gave him all he needed to claim that the country supported him.’ No - it gave him a mandate, that’s not the same thing a saying the country supported Blair.

      This is what I mean when I talk about politics and government not being the same thing. Shariq’s article is spot on in its talk of turning the internet love-in into actual real suppoprt. The problem comes in the government side, not the political side.

      You talk about the last election; at that election about 8 million actively went out there and said that they wanted Prmie Minister Michael Howard. You can still see the whineing on the Telegraph’s comment threads. I suspect that they would not get much out of Shariq’s type of progressive activism. To be clear, I do not mean this as criticism. What I am getting at is that politics is about populism, government is about working with reality.

      In 1997 there was a wide progressive coalition and that was reflected by what, to my mind, was more or less progressive government between 1997-1999.

      Perhaps think of this another way. In the past 100 years, Britain has only seen 3 great political leaders - Lloyd-George, Attlee and Thatcher. All three of those left their parties massively worse off than they found it and left deep divisions in coalitions. To be radical in that way, historically it would seem necessarily means leaders have to break their coalitions.

      There is an extremely fine line between political passion and political self indulgence. Shariq is to be commended for promoting real civic participation, my only issue is concern about finding candidates who let their political ideas overtake governmental reality.

      Best of luck to you.

    26. Rumbold — on 7th October, 2008 at 8:51 pm  

      Look, if we are going to get involved in promoting certain parliamentary candidates, then let us at least do it properly. Every Pickler wishing to be involved has to donate (say) £50 and an agreed portion of time for volunteering. We then back three parliamentary candidates, in constituencies in which they have a chance of winning.

      In return for our money and support, any successful candidate is branded with a hot iron on the forehead with the intials ‘PP’. They can never express an opinion unless the Pickled Politics Progressive Prospective Parliamentary Party People (PPPPPPP) allow them to. The PPPPPPP will be made up of everyone who signed up to the original deal. And the MP has to have a giant photo of Sunny in his or her office, looking down sternly at them.

    27. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 8:52 pm  

      The only tricky area I foresee requiring much discussion and debate would be in setting up a list of favored candidates,

      Well observed, it’s this area that the idea faces a real challenge (questions about whether it’d enjoy real world success come a bit after that stage although it is inter related).

    28. Leon — on 7th October, 2008 at 8:54 pm  

      I agree with everything Rumbold said in comment 26.

    29. Nyrone — on 7th October, 2008 at 9:55 pm  

      I’m in complete agreement with Rumbold and have already started work on the PPPPPPP banners, leaflets and speciality coffee mugs. I’ve also started printing out thousands of T-shirts with the inscription: “We are all PPPPPPP now”

    30. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:04 pm  


      Does it have to be the forehead?

    31. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:13 pm  


      ‘It is all well and good to talk in terms of losing the argument, hostages etc but that’s the rules of the game. Those supporters and hostages could have gone out there and voted in other ways, but they clearly did not do so in a way that actually affected the result.’

      Without unpicking the last election, it comes down to this. If you can have clever machinery to come out on top on the lowest vote then the electorate has a right to reject the system.

      There is an argument that runs like this: Not happy with the system? Then don’t give it legitimacy.

      A cunning strategy would be to watch the winning vote to fall below 20%. Wouldn’t that be a firm message to the political classes?

      In fact what I want to know is why the pundit class did not make a fuss when it fell as low as 22%.

      There are no rules which says the people have to vote. Of course some politicians would like that, along with state funding of parties.

      The truth is Blair got in, but didn’t get a mandate. Hence his exile.

      As for hostages, you can consider them disenfranchised or in fear of an alternative outcome.

      Taking NGOs and the voluntary sector hostage has had a much bigger effect. They can no longer be seen to be fighting government policy given they are required to compete directly for funds; and over the years they too have been co-opted into deliver services at very low cost.

      So who does that leave to go out campaigning?

    32. douglas clark — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:18 pm  


      Nearly, oh so nearly, our very first candidate :-) Just failing on that fundamental commitment to Party discipline that is oh, so, essential.

      We obviously need Nyrone to produce 200 metre high posters of our Dear Leader with some of his pithy aphorisms. And perhaps statues too.

      He’ll kill us when he get’s back!

    33. douglas clark — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:21 pm  

      Refresh @ 31,

      Good points.

    34. Shamit — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:37 pm  

      Nyrone —

      I dont oppose the idea but I think the idea has limitations and I dont think choosing particular MPs unless they are independents is going to work. Because at the end of the day, we want better governance not anarchy.

      And by the way, I have worked actively in political campaigns both here and in the US as volunteer and interns — and worked hard without pay. So, I am not sitting in an armchair and making judgements. Its easy to be rhetorical when you campaign but governing is compromise in a democracy.

      One thing I learnt is do not ever underestimate your opponents or their views because politics is idealism blended with pragmatism. Its one thing to write on a blog with like minded people — its another thing walking into a pub and engaging people who you know are not going to support you.

      Here we can tell people to f off when we dont agree but there you have to listen and respectfully disagree with them and try to persuade what often is a lost cause.

      And, also, as I have asked before, who are progressives? There are many shades — if you want to build up a momentum and mass support you need to have a broad umbrella where people could come together. That can happen with issues — and also I like to win. Its no point campaigning unless you wish to win..and we can win far more with issues such as 42 days, abortion, fairer tax system and many other issues. And, you can choose candidates after you choose those issues because as progressives you are looking to build a wider coalition to support your cause rather than just a political party.


      The truth is Blair got a majority of 66 bigger than anything mrs. thatcher ever got. First labour leader to win two and three elections in a row. So he wasnt as bad as you make him out to be?

      He challenged his party and while the party may not have loved him they tolerated him because his words and themes resonated with the wider populace.

    35. Refresh — on 7th October, 2008 at 10:55 pm  

      Shariq, of course he did and it must not be underestimated. But where are we today? Its only a year since his departure.

      As for the party, the second election win was on the back of the notion that perhaps ‘he was the man with the plan’, and perhaps he was ‘playing a blinder’.

      Don’t forget we’ve even had Rawnsley, Toynbee et al telling Brown to do something Labour, something Bold before its too late.

    36. Shamit — on 7th October, 2008 at 11:36 pm  


      I think you meant Shamit.

      Why Blair?

      Education and Health did improve — and it was done with progressive values. Those improvements especially in education are being reversing with an idiot of an Education Secretary who believes in Central Control and ideological dogma rather than educating our children. He gave Adonis political cover for academies and charter schools such that choice of schools is not only for the few but for the many.

      University Education — the tuition fee concept is good as our universities need more money. And, alumni of our universities, do not put their hands in their pockets like the ones in US do. Thats why in the US, Harvard and MIT as well as colleges like Amherst can offer free education to those students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Funding from public coffers cannot support that. btw, 70% of the country now agree that tuition fees was a good idea when Blair left Office

      Embarking on transforming government enabled by IT has brought major efficiencies and most importantly brought a basic level of service standard across the UK. Which not only improved service but brought the local government machinery to the 21st century by setting basic infrastructure standards. Again this was opposed by unions and by others. And now everyone loves it. There have been mistakes with IT but there have been far more successes in that area. But we dont hear about the successes — the traditional media cannot bear the thought of giving credit to Blair.

      As did devolution of powers from Central to Local Government. And starting to empower Councillors — it all started in his premiership. Devolution in Scotland and Wales.

      Same Prime Minister with vehement opposition from his Chancellor and crew, did force the Treasury to increase spending in NHS to European Standards. And, the results are there — there has been significant improvements. There is room for more improvement but no one can or should deny the massive improvements that have taken place.

      Are the poorest in our country better off than they were 11 years ago — all statistics show that they are.

      In international development, long before it became fashionable to talk about improving quality of life in developing nations especially Africa, he embarked on that journey and was supported by Brown. It is not because they think its only the moral thing but because it is in our interest. And, during his tenure as Prime Minister, UK kept all its promises.

      And Intervention in foreign countries (lets forget Iraq where you and I disagree) did help — such as Kosovo, Sierra Leone, and I can bet if Blair was PM in 1994 he would have tried to do something in Rwanda. Remember, when the whole world stood by Blair literally forced Nato to put boots on the ground and go after that genocidal dictator. In Sierra Leone, he is regarded as a hero.

      And, whether we like it or not, it was Blair who put together the Afghanistan coalition which included Iran, India, Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Russia — and he made Britian proud in the international stage. Iraq war was the right thing to do but the wrong war at the wrong time.

      Finally, Northern Ireland —

      He achieved all this with idiots such as Balls, and Alexander and many union leaders and the chattering Comment is Free authors going on about what a disaster he is. And, why he should go so that the messiah Brown can take over.

      10P would not have happened if Blair was not leaving office. And, funnily, Sarkozy wanted his blessings to win the elections and flaunted his relationship with Blair in a French Election. And that apparently helped him. As far away as Canada, Harper wants to be Blair, and so does Cameron.

      The electorate sees a lot of Blair in Cameron and thats partly why he would probably win.

      He was truly a progressive in his instincts and his actions. His governing philosophy was that central government should set the framework and set the standards that have to be achieved but he wanted to leave it to councils and communities to define the best ways to get there. And he accepted unlike his successor that there may be better ways to achieving than his ways only.

      Thats why he was special. And, history would judge him rather kindly and would look at us and say we really dont like successful PMs. Thatcher saved the country and Blair healed it and moved it forward despite what the Comment is Free and the Daily Telegraph columns keep on talking about.

    37. Nyrone — on 7th October, 2008 at 11:37 pm  


      I take your points, but I don’t see how this kind of blog-related grassroots activism experiment would produce any kind of anarchy. Perhaps I’m over-simplifying it, but at it’s core, isn’t the general thrust of the idea to mobilize people via blogs to start taking a more active, practical real-world role in the political process? There will forever be people doing the same thing around specific issues (abortion, 42 days), I don’t think it’s a bad idea to try and base it around (mutually agreed upon) progressive candidates too. Surely it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation?

      I’m not certain, but it appears that Shariq is throwing this idea out there due to watching and being inspired by the developments in the US campaign, specifically the effect that volunteers are having en-bloc for the Obama campaign in putting their time and energy where their mouths are, which is what social democracy should be about…surely this is important step going forward, in forging stronger relationships between the readers/writers of political blogs and the progressive candidates we don’t want to get kicked out.

      It’s not perfect, but it sounds like a valuable experiment to me. Shariq sums it up well in his last line:

      “The alternative is that we don’t have any control on the future direction of the party. The wrong people get voted out and the dismay with the political system continues”

    38. Shamit — on 7th October, 2008 at 11:59 pm  


      I was talking about anarchy with regard to primaries for candidates for MPs and not the blog related activities that could spur people. And I have highlighted my reasons @17.

      I am not against volunteering or trying to elect those MPs who best represent our ideals and our hopes. I am for it whole heartedly and all the way. But that does not help the progressive cause or the issues much. Because, these MPs would still be subject to party whips and patronage of their leader — and thats what happens in a parliamentary democracy.

      Therefore, to serve the progressive cause best, we need to get beyond party lines and back those candidates irrespective of their party affiliations who represent our ideals and hope. Then you would have a progressive coalition that could influence party policies.

      It took Blair, Brown, Mandelson about 12 years to change party policy and these people were the leaders of the party. The net helps but to make effective change you would need to build up a broader coalition so that in 5 - 10 years time there is a progressive coalition in all parties where the values that we hold dear are ubiquitious.

      For example, I forget his name, but the Tory Social worker candidate who happens to be Black has very very strong progressive ideas. And also ideas about personal responsibility — very similar to Obama’s ideas. But should we shun him just because he is a Tory?

      America’s politics is very different from ours where the constitution and the separation of powers give more freedom to elected officials to demonstrate their individuality. Which is rather difficult in our context.

      So I am not against what Shariq has proposed — I am just saying that we need to build a broader coalition of ideas and create a common platform.

      oh God, I just supported Ashik’s theory, that’s a first for me on PP. But he is right.

    39. Leon — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:16 am  

      I was talking about anarchy with regard to primaries for candidates for MPs

      I’m really struggling to see how ordinary [non party member] people being able to vote one who a party put up as a candidate will create anarchy.

    40. Refresh — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:17 am  


      It was never the case that everything he did was wrong. I liked the notion of levelling up.

      But somehow he managed to switch people off, especially the electorate. In much the same way as Thatcher.

      You make a very good point about Rwanda - but the touchstone for that intervention would have been whether he would have taken on the French for their complicity. Recall Clinton dithered too.

      BTW you deserve a considered response to the specifics of policies you mention, but in a nutshell consider what he was actually doing, he was pursuing a globalisation agenda where all services provided by the state would be state regulated but provided by the private sector. His ’success’ was that he was good at triangulating in time for the next day’s headline.

      In a democracy, trade unions are as much a part of the regulatory system as the Ofcoms, Ofwats etc. Coming to the OfOffs, what was particularly galling was how OfOffs were part of the revolving door between industry and public sector. As no doubt will become clearer over the next few months.

    41. Shamit — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:29 am  

      “I’m really struggling to see how ordinary [non party member] people being able to vote one who a party put up as a candidate will create anarchy.”

      Because, the party is responsible to the electorate as a whole and not the individual — this is not US congress where individuals can vote the way they want.

      With primaries, every MP, would be directly responsible for the wishes of their electorate irrespective of national interest or their party interest — which would lead to not very good governance. Anarchy may be too strong a word — I accept that Leon



      I think he was more whatever works — rather than adopting any particular way of delivering it. But he did believe that private sector has a role to play and I fear he believed in it too much sometimes.

      And as for quangos and OfOffs (Thats very well put, btw) — I could not agree with you more. You are spot on mate.

    42. shariq — on 8th October, 2008 at 3:27 am  

      Excellent discussion so far, both in developing some of the ideas and also highlighting weaknesses in my arguments.

      Nyrone, you are right in saying that I have definitely been influenced by the scale of Obama’s grassroots campaign.

      Shamit, thanks for the constructive feedback as always. There is going to be a discussion as to which candidates we support - I think that if we keep our aims managable this should be possible. There will probably be some mistakes but as several commenters have said we need to try and convert online discussion into real world action.

      I agree that we have a strongly centralised system. However I think it might be good if governments have to work a little harder in order to implement their legislative agenda. The prime minister’s party would still have the majority (unless its a minority govt), and they could offer incentives to get it done.

    43. douglas clark — on 8th October, 2008 at 10:52 am  


      You said:

      and they could offer incentives to get it done.

      Like the, alleged, deal with the Ulster Unionists over 42 days?

      We should be careful what we wish for, I think.

    44. shariq — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:20 pm  

      douglas, that type of thing happens anyways. i was countering shamit’s point that having mp’s with more independence would prevent the executive from functioning effectively.

    45. Leon — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:38 pm  

      Anarchy may be too strong a word — I accept that Leon

      It’s not too strong a word, it’s entirely the wrong word imo but I see a bit more clearly where you’re coming from now.

    46. MaidMarian — on 8th October, 2008 at 12:54 pm  

      Refresh – No, I’m sorry, but I just can’t agree with that.

      ‘There is an argument that runs like this: Not happy with the system? Then don’t give it legitimacy.’ That deserves short shrift. Not Happy with the system? Stop being so self indulgent.

      If a person does not vote they are effectively saying, ‘I do not care, you, the others can go out there and decide on my behalf. My views are not strong enough for me to express a preference.’ That turnout figure you quote is a red-herring. Franchise is the important concept here, not turnout as such.
      I suspect that not much was made of the turnout by the pundits because firstly turnout was higher in 2005 than in 2001 (from memory, happy to be corrected) and also because it would be an admission by said pundits that their coverage was not effective in forming strong and influential opinions.

      I agree with one of the later comments that history will probably be kind to Blair.

      Equally, I just cannot understand, ‘As for hostages, you can consider them disenfranchised or in fear of an alternative outcome.’ How can someone be disenfranchised by (somehow) being compelled to support one particular party, but be in fear of the alternative. That makes little sense.

      Here’s a thought, maybe people got turned off politics by the hyper bilious atmosphere that the media and talkboards created? Maybe the politics-as-blood-sport atmosphere we seemed to create over the past ten years looked unpleasant and gave a sense of hopelessness. The professional malcontent and the self-indulgent crowd and the conspiracy cranks won. That is sadder than anything else in your comment.

    47. Refresh — on 8th October, 2008 at 1:10 pm  


      It would be as big a problem if people did adopt the couldn’t care less attitude. When people, previously passionate about politics and how they’re governed are switched off then its a different matter.

      You cannot blame the electorate for being switched off.

      Political parties when in election mode are no more than marketing machines. If politics is turned into a matter of personality then why would you want to insist the public turns out? Presumably the outcomes are going to be similar.

      Blair and Bush keep relying on history to bale them out - why? Because they are unconvincing. There is no one left who feels able to lend credible support to their folly.

      In a two-party state, it is quite feasible that the alternative to the incumbent is unpalatable. Which it was. And no doubt will be again. I am of the view that where there was a risk of the Tories getting in, people turned out to keep them out. Where it was possible for LibDem to get in, they backed them up. Blair did get a slapping, of that there is no doubt, and he got it from his ‘own side’.

      Either we accept that the electorate is sovereign or they are fodder offering nothing more than legitimacy.

    48. Dave S — on 8th October, 2008 at 2:03 pm  

      MaidMarian @ 46:

      ‘There is an argument that runs like this: Not happy with the system? Then don’t give it legitimacy.’

      That deserves short shrift. Not Happy with the system? Stop being so self indulgent.

      If a person does not vote they are effectively saying, ‘I do not care, you, the others can go out there and decide on my behalf. My views are not strong enough for me to express a preference.’

      Not so - not even remotely so!

      I do not vote for any political party because no political party exists that can represent my views.

      How could such a political party ever exist inside of a system which, by definition, cannot represent my views?

      Why should anybody be forced to accept a system which by definition, cannot truly represent the views of everybody it purports to represent?

      My view is that systems of centralised, hierarchical power should not exist in the first place. That by definition of their design, they disenfranchise and disempower almost everybody!

      We are placed inside of this system of power against our will, without being asked whether we think it is an appropriate one.

      The same system of power specifically goes out of it’s way to prevent us expressing our outrage at how utterly inappropriate and corrupt it is.

      The same system of power also allows very heated “debates”, but within a strictly limited spectrum of “acceptable” viewpoints.

      It presents us with so-called “choices” like: “Which would you prefer - neoliberal capitalism, or neoconservative capitalism?”

      Well, what if you want neither!?

      People like you propose that we should just continue participating in something that we fundamentally disagree with, and that if we refuse to vote, then we are somehow “apathetic” about it!?

      Well, if pathetically low voter turnouts are not counted as a condemnation of the system, and if “spoiled” votes are not counted as a condemnation of the system, then how, pray tell, do we get to condemn this system and design a new one?

      Take to the streets, and have the police agitate and arrest us if we do anything which poses even the smallest of threats to the status quo, while the media smear us and politicians create new laws to make sure we can’t do it again?

      We can’t even do that!!!

      Don’t you get it? We are entirely inside of this system of power, and it is entirely designed to make sure that whoever we vote for (or even if we don’t vote), the state always wins.

      It is not apathy, but antipathy! Of course, politicians and the media love to go on about voter “apathy”, because to admit that the vast majority of the population almost certainly despite all slimy politicians and their corrupt systems of power equally, would be to admit that everything they stand for is completely illegitimate (which it is).

      And thus, I refuse to participate and lend legitimacy to something I find utterly despicable and wish to destroy.

      When we can vote for “back to the drawing board”, then maybe we’ll talk.

      But even then, it depends who is doing the asking - whether that entity is actually giving us more control over our lives, or whether it’s once again just dropping a few crumbs of power off the tables of the elite to pacify us.

      There’s no government like no government!

      Why should we graciously accept the token gestures and meaningless “reforms” offered to us by people who amount to little more than the latest in a long line of corrupt, murderous land thieves?

      Why the hell should we settle for anything less than control of our own lives, and a fair and equal say in the running of our world? A world which we belong to - not the other way around.

      So no thanks, I won’t accept or participate in their system.

    49. MaidMarian — on 8th October, 2008 at 4:24 pm  

      Refresh/Dave S - I hope that you both feel better for getting all that off your repective chests.

      I do not wish to prolong this and sidetrack what has been an excellent thread. My views have been set out on here.

      I will simply add two further comments - Refresh, you say, ‘You cannot blame the electorate for being switched off.’ Yes I can.

      I suspect that you are looking back at good old days that were not so good in some of your sentiment. I do not have to indulge groups simply for being brassed off. This goes right back to the article. Civic participation has to be that, civic. That means dropping the self indulgence when you don’t get your own way. Politicians do not and can not exist simply to legislate your prejudices.

      Secondly, Dave S, ‘I do not vote for any political party because no political party exists that can represent my views.’

      Again, you are mixing participation with franchise. Is there not the faintest, remotest possibility that your vies do not chime with a substantial number of the public and that the public are not obliged to pander to what sounds remarkably close to a hissy-fit.

      That thought would actually ahve more legitimacy if two party politics had been consolidated under Blair, the opposite it the case. The number of parties on the ballot rose post 1997 and rose substantially. There is a difference between political grievance and self-indulgence. I sympathise with parts of what you have to say, I really do. But you are at heart self indulgent here. Sorry.

    50. Refresh — on 8th October, 2008 at 4:40 pm  


      No need to be sorry.

      Lets not prolong it. I was sharing a view which I believe is quite prevalent. And oddly enough was also the case in the US, where Obama came along and tried to engage a huge section of the electorate.

      The next real politician will see this unaddressed constituency and mobilise them, and this economic crisis is the starting gun.

    51. Shamit — on 8th October, 2008 at 5:46 pm  


      Now, my question is what’s next? How do we go from here?

      I would appreciate if you kept me posted on how you see this developing. Would be happy to help in anyway I can — but like everyone here, finding enough time devote to this would be a challenge. But am up for it.

      Look forward to your thoughts on this.

    52. Refresh — on 8th October, 2008 at 9:53 pm  

      An interesting article:

      ‘Who’s the man with the plan now?The disintegration of the markets brings the end of neoliberalism; now the paradigm’s shifted, a new kind of politics is needed’


      An extract:

      ‘The markets cannot be allowed to manage people’s long-term social security or pension schemes. The principle of social insurance has to be reasserted. Markets cannot be allowed to deliver welfare reform, nor are they suitable for allocating the resources of care and health provision. The market has created a crisis in housing provision. Privatisation and proxy markets have undermined the ethos of public service and led to dysfunctional, demoralised organisations. The culture of capitalism has invaded every aspect of British society. Its logic of profit-seeking, its nihilism and instrumental drive toward efficiency and cost-reduction destroys creativity, and is profoundly at odds with the promotion of human wellbeing.’

      Therein are the hostages.

    53. Dave S — on 8th October, 2008 at 9:55 pm  

      Maidmarian @ 49:

      Fair enough. I’m simply asking why you can’t seem to recognise that there are plenty of legitimate reasons for not wishing to engage in / legitimise a system that is fundamentally unrepresentative?

      Or why we should have to put up with living under such a system, which deliberately removes any apparatus we could use to change it?

      Why should we have to endorse something we disagree with, simply because we are given no alternative?

      I don’t (and would never) expect anybody and everybody to agree with or pander to my points of view on life. That is the spirit of anarchism, and is probably about the only thing that you could be sure that “all” anarchists would agree on!

      All we want is a genuine, equal say in the running of our own lives and of our society. If that’s considered unreasonable, then so be it - I’m an unreasonable guy.

      As it stands at the moment, I don’t believe voting gives us a voice - rather, it takes our voice away. Thus I join with the rest of the pissed off masses into a much louder voice by refusing to vote.

    54. Shariq — on 9th October, 2008 at 11:12 am  

      Shamit, I’m going to do some more research on this and will keep you updated.

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