We have a fixed term parliament. As Steve Richards said at his brilliant show Rock and Roll Politics (if you get the chance to attend I hightly recommend it) it has not yet been understood quite how much this has changed the rythym of politics.
For example, it has certainly meant that Labour’s Policy Review has had the chance to start under Liam Byrne, splutter to a slow halt and be reborn as an exercise in philospohical exploration under Jon Cruddas. The shape of the new review is unrecognisable from its predecessor and the technocratic rigidity of the previous incarnation has been swept away by much greater and deeper questions that philosophically challenge Labour’s fundamental purpose. As Cruddas himself put it “There is no orthadoxy here”.
This debate excites me and frustrates me in equal measure.
I am excited because I recognise what Labour’s new visionaries are saying as fundamentally true. We must change not just ourselves but politics. We cannot fight as if nothing has changed and we cannot be less than truly bold in our sweeping vision for what the next Labour government can and will achieve. Incremental tinkering is not going to work. So I can only disagree with Hopi Sen, when he says:
“the lefts current flaw is a preference for repeatedly re-laying the telological groundwork or emergent teleonomic self-architecture of the shining city on a hill at the expense of buying the bricks or securing the planning permission required for a small extension to the crumbling house we reside in today .”
At the moment, we seem as a Party somewhat awash with philosophers, with gurus, with dreamers of big and important dreams. I am not one of them. But I share some of Hopi’s frustration. I am a faciliator not a philosopher. I have little patience. I want to act, to do. And I do. I get things done. When I have a task to accomplish, I do so. I don’t necessarily talk a good game, but I certainly deliver one.
I believe the conversation Labour is having is the right conversation, but I want to know how to make it more than a conversation. I need actions to take. I wan tto see concrete proposals coming from these discussions – underpinned by the new philosoply, but with real-life applications – cuturally, socially, economically, politically and electorally. I need levers to pull and buttons to push. I want a concrete solution to campaign for and to get behind that and work out how to make it work.
At the moment, I don’t know how best to help the Party. I don’t dream the big dreams. Those who do are having fascinating conversations about them which I am lucky enough to be occassionally privy to. But they don’t yet translate into a coherent set of actions. The philosophers and facilitators need a better interface.
I remember working for a man once who was a purely visual thinker. When we would meet, he would sketch outour discussion on an electronic whiteboard. When we were finish, he would print of the results as the “minutes” of our meeting. It wasn’t until I had spent another hour turning that picture into a list of action points that I could start doing my job properly. But at least we had an understanding that this translation was a necessary step.
At present, I am not sure that our dreamers recognise the value and need for the groundwork as well as the blue sky. Philosophy alone – however important and from whatever part of the Party – will not get us into Government and will not prepare us for being in Government. To be the new kind of Government that can deal with the seismic societal and economic changes our philopshy demands, we much prepare the practicalities as well as ensuring our thinking is robust.
If 2012 was the year Labour empowered the philosophers, 2013 must be they year we empower the mechanics who will build them their dreams.
Tags: Jon Cruddas