George Osborne, Ed Miliband and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Leader: Labour needs to be more than just a repository for anger

Labour will not return to power if it seeks to win only the votes of those who are angry at the condition of modern Britain.

In our centenary issue of 12 April 2013, Tony Blair challenged the Labour Party to be “the seekers after answers, not the repository for people’s anger”. “In the first case, we have to be dispassionate even when the issues arouse great passion,” he wrote. “In the ­second case, we are simple fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all, people want leadership.”

Mr Blair has become an embarrassment to Labour, not least because of his misadventure in Iraq and his less-than-distinguished activities in retirement. Yet his insight that Labour could not prevail if it appeared to be merely an instrument for expressing discontent with the Conservatives, rather than a means to a bold transformation of British society, was proved painfully correct on 7 May. And this much is true: since Harold Wilson resigned as prime minister in 1976, Labour has had seven leaders but only Mr Blair has proved ­capable of winning a general election.

In a passionate essay also published in this week’s issue, the actor and activist Michael Sheen echoes Mr Blair when he writes, “The question of whether Labour moves back towards the centre, doing more to seem business-friendly or breaking away from the unions, is totally secondary to the fundamental question: ‘What do you believe in?’” To which he adds a second question: “How do you turn that into policy that can make concrete change?”

Despite his heavy defeat, Ed Miliband did a good job of answering the first question. He was rightly offended by deepening inequality and, in an age of globalisation, by the widening gap between the very rich and the rest – the pressing issue of our time. Whichever politician emerges to lead Labour should not abandon the fundamental insight that deep inequality corrodes the soul of a nation.

Mr Miliband failed, however, to provide an answer to the second question posed by Mr Sheen. Under his leadership, Labour’s policy solutions were quotidian and incremental. Rather than setting the mood of modern Britain, Labour fell victim to it. For the left, in particular, this is an era of easy anger. Political action all too often begins and ends with shouting at a computer screen. That old phrase – “The right seeks converts, the left seeks heretics” – is truer than it has ever been. Mr Miliband attempted to channel people’s anger, even going so far as to persuade Russell Brand to endorse Labour. But the idealism of the young proved an inadequate weapon against the caution of the old. Labour led the Conservatives by 16 points among first-time voters but trailed by 24 among the over-65s, who also voted in far greater numbers.

Labour will not return to power if it seeks to win only the votes of those who are angry at the condition of modern Britain. It must also win the support of those who are doing well – and, indeed, the support of those who live so precariously that talk of change feels like a threat, rather than a blessing.

On all but the rarest of occasions, no single party can achieve all it wants. Even movements of the left and centre left require compromise, with one another as well as with the country at large. This can only be achieved through collective endeavour and complex trade-offs. Understanding the cause of left-wing anger – but being more than a mere repository for it – will be the biggest task of whoever emerges as Ed Miliband’s successor from a protracted leadership campaign.

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Saying the Unsayable

Wikipedia.
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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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