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The Made-Men of the NuLab Project

by Helen Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 08:42:17 AM EST

I had a fascinating conversation last night with a friend who spoke about some of her experiences on the periphery of the nascent NuLab project and what she learnt from it. Due to laws of politeness as well as libel I simply cannot name names or organisations so all of these are pseudonymous, but it remains instructive.

I do not mean by what I write here to impugn all Labour Party MPs, many of whom are good people. But I think we have all come to recognise that there is a certain cadre of metropolitan eleites who seem to be parachuted into safe constituencies and whose primary characteristic is their loyalty to the Nu Lab brand. This essay is useful in showing how they were identified from the others seemingly equally deserving.


At that time my friend Rachel was very high up in a national liberal-left civil rights organisation we'll call "Suffrage". It was led by somebody who is now a Cabinet minister (H) and their aide was somebody else who is now a senior MP (M), both were showing careerist tendencies. As with all such organisations at the end of the 80s / beginning of the 90s, there was an ongoing funding crisis and, as the Nu-Lab era dawned, one long-serving member of staff (L) was forced out with a derisory redundancy package well below that to which they were entitled. Remember; this was a civil rights organisation which should never have done such a thing.

Rachel went around saying that it was unacceptable behaviour and discovered that all of the relevant staff had been told that either they agreed to this disgraceful thing, or more "savings" would be required to pay for the justified payout. So most complied out of fear for their own jobs as it had become obvious that stickinng your head up was asking to be shot down.

As a result of this Rachel also lost her job : She became disillusioned and then very ill and the organisation used her sickness as an excuse to get rid of her. She was both too ill and too fed up to protest.

Some time later she ran into a senior figure from the organisation who is now an MEP. She asked him, now all the dust had settled and the feuds forgiven, why he had abandoned his principles in not standing up for L. He confessed that the NuLab project was principally about loyalty and they were only interested in promoting people who would be willing to do their dirty work and become "made-men" (he didn't use this phrase, but the inference was there). Thus his candidacy for MEP was partly conditional on his willingness to shaft L, or rather that not to do so would have been a career-limiting decision : Equally he mentioned that M's promotion to MP was partly conditional on bringing about Rachel's own demise within the organisation.

Suffrage has been a toothless tiger throughout the Labour years, their leaders are high profile yet strangely ineffective; as if they operate within agreed constraints. But as we have said very often in the last few months, there are too many loyal but essentially talentless people within the NuLab hierarchy. The people with original ideas are also theose who have annoying traits like principles and cannot be relied upon to be ruthless enough to stab the innocent in the back. A short term tactic to ensure message control has been counter-productive in the long term as labour now faces a period where its narrow base threatens an inner withering.

Guardian - John Harris - If we want more representative MPs, we need to start talking about class

In some circles, the fashion among politicians for pinching Barack Obama's magical rhetoric is now known as the Yes We Can-wagon. Last week it was Harriet Harman's turn to climb aboard - though in fairness, there was at least some superficial logic in her use of Obama's name. In the wake of the election of the first black president, she announced a decisive move on the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people at Westminster, and a year-long Speaker's conference inquiry into the issue of representation. The initiative came with a flurry of speculation about building on the legal status of all-women shortlists with new laws allowing all-ethnic minority candidate selection, a pledge to look at gay and lesbian representation, and the obligatory reference to the president-elect's most easily-stolen slogan. Obama, Harman told the Commons, "has reaffirmed and re-legitimised democracy in America. He said, 'Yes we can.' We should say, 'Yes, Westminster can too.'"

Here, though, is the big drawback. Even if all this is being packaged with 21st-century buzz-phrases, it smacks of Labour politics of an older vintage and the great mistake of the metropolitan left of the 1980s: keeping the flag flying for a polite version of identity politics but neglecting the issue of class.
[....]

Consider the numbers: in 1987, long after the high-water mark of working-class representation in the Commons, 73 MPs who had come from manual occupations were elected; by 2005, the figure had dropped to a mere 38. In crude terms, that makes for a startling picture: about a third of the working population being reflected in just over 6% of MPs. Worsening this imbalance, there's the continuing rise of MPs who have known precious little apart from the political whirl. Figures from the Nuffield election studies project put the share of current MPs who were "politicians or political organisers" at 14.1%, up from 5.4% in 1987 - an increase surely reflected in the numbers from Westminster-aligned trades like thinktanks, PR and public affairs.

Of course, there are politicians from all sides who are discomfited by this. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, the secretary of state for communities, Hazel Blears made a speech to the Hansard Society full of tough talk. "It is deeply unhealthy for our political class to be drawn from a narrowing social base and range of experience," she said. Parliament was in need of "people who know what it is to worry about the rent collector's knock or the fear of layoff ...

It's a reasonable essay about the narrowing of the political classes and how obedience counts more than anything these days, but he ends with this point about the Labour party, one most have now forgotten;-

In the brief debate that followed her proposal, the Labour MP Tony Wright - who says he's "astonished" at the limited remit of the Speaker's conference inquiry - was a lone voice, but he said something very important: "The Labour party came into existence because the Liberals were refusing to choose working-class candidates, so the trade union movement and others said, 'We will set up our own party to ensure that working-class people can enter parliament'. It would be odd to talk about the problem of under-representation in public life and to set up a Speaker's conference at which we could think about those issues and come up with remedies, without mentioning class at all."

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I suppose (to be as charitable as you were with this: "I do not mean by what I write here to impugn all Labour Party MPs, many of whom are good people.") part of the problem that class is even more of a nebulous concept than ethnic identity can be.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 04:04:54 PM EST
European Tribune - The Made-Men of the NuLab Project
73 MPs who had come from manual occupations were elected; by 2005, the figure had dropped to a mere 38.

The classical definition of working class in Europe relates it to people coming from a manual work background - whilst middle class derives from white collar occupations.  The use of "socialism" as an ideological mask to disguise the takeover of "working class" organisations like trade unions and labour parties by middle class careerists seems to be a common feature in Europe.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 05:20:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Different schools of sociological thought have characteristic confusions about the concept of social class: whether it refers to individuals or households; whether it is about social inequality, social change, or social mobility; and whether the relevant inequalities arise from differences in being (identity), having (resources), or doing (activity, especially working activity).

http://rss.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/6/2/190

When people start talking about social class, whether it's on the television or in the pub, I try to walk away. It is partly because the concept, like "race" and "nation", exercises people's sense of identity and therefore their emotions. But even apart from the emotion the incoherence and conceptual confusion - sheer bollocks in ordinary parlance - always seems to overwhelm any attempt to say the reasonable and important things that need saying about the subject.

...

 I married into the working class; in conventional terms they were quite well down the scale, my wife being the eldest of six children of a foreman-labourer (it says "gangerman" on our marriage certificate) with a variable income. They lived in a council house within sight of a steelworks and a chemical plant and many of the things that the middle classes take for granted were out of the question, including motor cars, holidays and restaurant meals. The furthest they ever got was a day out in Whitby, a place of which they remain inordinately fond. To make matters worse my father-in-law was killed in a road accident when five of his children were still in full time education.

All six of them are now prosperous, successful and well travelled; five of the six have degrees from good universities. They represent everything that is most admirable about post-war Britain and some government department or other should be investigating them to find out what went right. Their assets were native intelligence, self-discipline, a sense of humour and a modicum of ambition. (Only a modicum: I've known all of them since they were young and I wouldn't describe any of them as either driven or hung up about their background.). Both objectively and in their own terms they were "working class", but their practical outlook predestined them into the middle class.

To compare their success with the probabilities facing anyone in a lower class environment now is a disturbing exercise. Even if a propertyless youth on the streets of Knowsley had the native intelligence they are unlikely to possess the other assets which my in-laws had.
...

If you are a Christian or certain kinds of fundamentalist humanitarian or egalitarian then the lower class really matter. One lost sheep is more important than ninety nine. But if you are a Utilitarian the 12% only have to be taken into consideration; the consideration does not necessarily work out well for them.

... we could somehow cherry pick those with some prospect of emancipation. Or we could let them get on with it - and legalise all substances.

Lincoln Allison retired from an academic career in 2004 to become a freelance writer and broadcaster. He remains Emeritus Reader in Politics at the University of Warwick and Visiting Professor in sport and leisure at the University of Brighton.

http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/001751.php




Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 05:34:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It may well be that having grown up in a family such as that of the six described above and getting an education qualifies one for elective office in the Labor Party.  Humble origins are certainly a badge of honor among  Democrats holding or campaigning for elective office in the US, though being a scion of a political family has certainly not been shown to be a detriment.  Yet it might seem that adult experience as a laborer or hourly worker in an industry or a trade and/or experience working for or with a union organization would be even better experience.  

Part of the problem may well be the size of the potential pool of such candidates.  I have the sense, but not the statistics to validate that sense, that organized labor in Britain has taken about as big a hit in the last 30 years as it has in the US.  Reagan and the Bushes vs. Thatcher and John Major.  And it seems that the Trade Union Council in Britain has gotten about as little from Labor as has the AFL/CIO from the Democrats in the USA.  In both countries the problem has been getting a political return on the support that labor has provided during the elections.  In the US labor will likely get new organizing abilities from the new Congress and Administration, and this could lead to a reversal of the decline of organized labor as a percentage of total labor, which would tend to consolidate the position of the Democrats as the new dominant party.

In the US labor unions can support candidates of their choice in elections.  That support can be an important part of the "ground game" come election time and is going to be much more pronounced for a candidate who supports labor issues.  An increase in the number of union members can make disregarding the interests of labor more difficult for Democrats in general.  But for this to be true Democratic elected officials and union leaders will need to learn better ways of communicating with union members and of addressing their concerns so the Republicans cannot siphon them off on bogus "social wedge issues."

The situation is very different in Britain, as "New Labor" has been in power for a long time prior to the present financial crisis.  It is hard for me to see how the Conservatives would deal with this crisis in ways that would better benefit workers, unionized or not.  Has education rather than origin come to be the new divide in Britain as it has in the US.  Can the Trade Unions Council find a way to make its voice better heard while Brown remains in office?  What is its role likely to be in the upcoming election?

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Nov 17th, 2008 at 10:48:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I see the parallels, but there is a more insidious problem in that the people the trade unions will sponsor through to parliament are not the working class people who came thorugh the ranks of representation, but those who entered the union heirarchy directly from university and made the right alliances there and then. They still have little experience of real work.

Or if they did, they would find themselves with little influence with the already established metropolitan elites. It's a rather self-serving coterie of professional apparatchiks.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 05:04:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I know many who have made their career starting in NUS, moving onto being parliamentary assistants and turning up in the right places to raise their profile within the Party, and then bang, they are in line for standing as a candidate - be it local council, MP, AM, MEP.

Those who do their jobs well within the constituency can gain very valuable experience about the issues that effect people locally, the realities of day to day life.  Being out campaigning on the doorstep is a real eyeopener if your constituency has poor areas and blocks of council estates.  If you then go one step further and actually talk to these people, engage them, get them along to surgeries and genuinely listen (some do!) then that approach is hugely valuable.

Trouble is (whatever party) many MPs are not really the link between their constituency and the Parliamentary process that they should be.  So decisions get made without having a ground level view of what the impact can be for people, or at least a very selective or distorted view.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 08:19:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]

but those who entered the union heirarchy directly from university and made the right alliances there and then. They still have little experience of real work.

This is the kind of view one usually gets from the right - a a bit like ValentinD :-) - never mind all this academic theory, WE understand the real world from our experience of "real work".

In fact "real work" - cf TBG: "a white collar working class who do crappy menial office jobs - working in call centres, accounts, basic IT maintenance, salesandmarketing, training." - is likely to give you a competence in a few routine skills and very little general understanding of the world, while a GOOD academic education can quickly expand horizons and understanding enormously. Unfortunately too much higher education is very narrow in focus - just like much work.  We fund education so that people don't have to try to learn everything over again from experience.

It's no surprise to me at all that, as Drew said:


The college kids running the Obama campaign did better than I've ever seen the unions do.



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 03:56:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Which expains the exemplary quality of leadership and vision we've seen from our academically educated leaders for the last thirty years - as opposed to the previous heavily unionised Labour generation which was responsible for the NHS and extended access to academic education, among other trivia.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 07:42:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
1. The post hoc fallacy  - there were a FEW other factors involved in the various the successes and failures of the two generations, apart from education. But even in relation to education, the case is not as simple as you imply, see below.

2.I was referring to Helen's comment about "real work", not to experience in general and certainly not to trade union experience, which can often be an education in itself and the unions have encouraged members and especially union representatives to continue their education.

3. Let's look at the guy mainly responsible for the NHS, Bevan - it supports my argument :


[He] became a trade union activist: he was head of his local Miners' Lodge at only 19. Bevan became a well-known local orator
... In 1919, he won a scholarship to the Central Labour College in London, sponsored by the South Wales Miners' Federation. At the college he gained his life-long respect for Karl Marx.
...
Upon returning home in 1921 - [he was mainly out of work until] In 1926, he found work again, this time as a paid union official...
...
In 1928, Bevan won a seat on Monmouthshire County Council. With that success he was picked as the Labour Party candidate for Ebbw Vale
...
The new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, appointed Aneurin Bevan as Minister of Health, with a remit that also covered Housing. Thus, the responsibility for instituting a new and comprehensive National Health Service, as well as tackling the country's severe post-war housing shortage, fell to the youngest member of Attlee's Cabinet in his first ministerial position.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneurin_Bevan

How about the PM - Atlee - "In 2004, he was voted as the greatest British prime minister of the 20th century in a poll of professors organised by MORI."


He was educated at Northaw School, Haileybury and University College, Oxford, where he graduated with a Second Class Honours BA in Modern History in 1904. Attlee then trained as a lawyer, and was called to the Bar in 1906.

[A bit like Tony's background.

Of course general experience can be very important too:]

From 1906 to 1909, Attlee worked as manager of Haileybury House, a club for working class boys in Limehouse in the East End of London run by his old school. Prior to this, Attlee's political views had been conservative. However, he was shocked by the poverty and deprivation he saw while working with slum children, and this caused him to convert to socialism.
...
Attlee became a lecturer at the London School of Economics in 1912, but promptly applied for a Commission in August 1914 for World War I.

[And the latter would have been quite an education - nothing like ordinary "real work".]

After the war, he returned to teaching at the London School of Economics until 1923.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_Attlee



Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.
by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 04:34:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure how pointing out facts which undermine your argument is supposed to support your argument.

Bevan was famously driven by his ferocious sympathy for people who did 'real work.'

Do you think that sympathy originated at the Central Labour College, or during his time as a trade unionist?

Likewise with Attlee, whose views were conservative in spite of his impressively broad academic education, and were only changed when he worked with and for people who did 'real work.'

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 06:09:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
MY argument was:

In fact "real work" - cf TBG: "a white collar working class who do crappy menial office jobs - working in call centres, accounts, basic IT maintenance, salesandmarketing, training." - is likely to give you a competence in a few routine skills and very little general understanding of the world, while a GOOD academic education can quickly expand horizons and understanding enormously.

Clearly I was talking about much of "real work" today and its routine narrowness. Nor was I saying that education is the only thing that counts. In my reply to you I said that general experience is important and I noted that the experience Atlee had in the East End was very important.

 Having "sympathy" is one thing, understanding what to do about it and how to operate in complex political situations at a national and international level is another. Clearly Bevan went beyond being sympathetic to workers, as no doubt most workers were, to get a broader education which included the study of Marx, which he thought very important. Obviously unions thought it was not enough for their representatives to have their hearts in the right place, which is why they sponsored the education of people like Bevan.

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 07:07:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's no surprise to me at all that, as Drew said:

Not sure what you mean, but it shouldn't be surprising for one simple reason: A bunch of old UAW guys in Ohio aren't going to be able to make sense of new technology.  A bunch of college kids in North Carolina will, because they use it every day.

I don't think it has anything to do with an academic education.  There are plenty of older, college-educated people who don't get it.  (And obviously it's not universal.  There are many older people, college-educated and not college-educated, who are more up-to-date on this stuff than most younger people, and there are many younger people who don't have a clue.)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 08:16:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the US labor unions can support candidates of their choice in elections.  That support can be an important part of the "ground game" come election time and is going to be much more pronounced for a candidate who supports labor issues.  An increase in the number of union members can make disregarding the interests of labor more difficult for Democrats in general.  But for this to be true Democratic elected officials and union leaders will need to learn better ways of communicating with union members and of addressing their concerns so the Republicans cannot siphon them off on bogus "social wedge issues."

Outside of the big cities, organized labor is pretty worthless as far as the ground game goes.  They organize about as well as GM sells cars (as Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, and Hillary Clinton have all discovered).  The college kids running the Obama campaign did better than I've ever seen the unions do.

Union endorsements also carry very little weight with actual members, because union members do what they want at the polls.  It's not a sufficiently solid bloc to warrant any great amount of attention.  Kerry took about 60% of union members.  Obama took about the same.  They deliver endorsements, but they can't deliver the votes.  The return on investments in new and sporadic voters are much higher than on the unions.

Which isn't to say we shouldn't support unions and their efforts to expand.  We should, because it's the right thing to do.  But let's not suffer the illusion that the unions are really getting us anything electorally.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 08:25:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hence the caveat:
An increase in the number of union members can  make disregarding the interests of labor more difficult for Democrats in general.  But for this to be true Democratic elected officials and union leaders will need to learn better ways of communicating with union members and of addressing their concerns  so the Republicans cannot siphon them off on bogus "social wedge issues."


As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 01:36:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unionisation always seems to suffer from the problem of recreating capitalist social stratification in miniature. This can be a good thing when there's a positive vision for improved mobility, but a bad one when the focus moves away from overall worker solidarity towards a very partial solidarity which is limited to very specific sub-groups.

Unionisation worked well when relationships between workers and owners were very concentrated. Now that they're not - at least not in most Western economies - something more diffuse and inclusive could be more effective.

As long as worker pressure is split along occupational lines, it's far too easy to play divide and conquer.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 07:49:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course there is a lot of social mobility - largely because of old Labour post war education reforms - but also, more recently, with the mechanisation of manual labour, and the decline of industry, many previous "manual" workers now by force of circumstance have to re-train and many will end up in service industries and in non-manual occupations.

So yes, not only does social mobility occur - some research indicates that, contrary to popular belief, social mobility is actually more prevalent in Europe than in the USA - and also the whole basis of "class society" is changing, with manual occupations increasingly marginalised, and other indicators - education level, income range, life chances at birth etc. - being used as proxies to assign class affiliation.

Central to any class analysis, however constructed, is the notion that whatever the political aspirations to equal citizenship may be, there is great real inequality within Capitalist society, and that the interests of the owners of capital (however philanthropic) and the interests of those whose primary source of income is their labour, are not the same, and sometimes, indeed, those interests can be diametrically opposed.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 08:32:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The old blue collar working class has become almost invisible politically and much less visible socially. People still do appallingly crappy jobs, but after deindustrialisation in the UK they usually do them as temps. The localised and organised blue collar working class, who would live,  work and organise in the same neighbourhoods has been replaced by a white collar working class who do crappy menial office jobs - working in call centres, accounts, basic IT maintenance, salesandmarketing, training.

These are physically less demanding, but far more stressful intellectually and ethically, because many workplaces are set up to encourage competitive backstabbing, performance goals are carefully monitored and all-but impossible to achieve, and management has little interest in practical results and more interest in maintaining hierarchies and - in extreme cases - authoritarian bullying and abuse.

There's also a swarm of so-called freelancers and consultants who are upmarket temps employed on limited-term commissions and projects. This can be lucrative, but it's almost entirely dependent on outside factors.

It's much harder to organise in these fluid environments, so there's very little prospect of effective unionisation.

It's nice that people today have inside toilets and central heating, which they mostly didn't before WWII. But work environments have moved from one kind of abusive harshness to a different one, and I don't think anyone who works below the level of middle management is going to pretend that they're in a happy workers' paradise.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 08:50:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think anyone who works below the level of middle management is going to pretend that they're in a happy workers' paradise.

Not true.  I'm below middle management, and I get to pick my own boss.  And when he makes me angry, I can go stand in front of his house and shout obscenities without getting fired.

Beat that.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 08:22:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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