Hopi hopes to woo me over to the Labour side (as a long term project*).  His excellent blog may be the best chance of doing so, but that is still not saying much.  Despite my support for much of what they have done – notably Keynesianism in a deflation-slump – Labour under Brown has been an unappetising dish for a while.

I actually remember what first pushed me away – in 2007, that conference season, and the sense of Labour’s Stalinesque Rallies, a party trying to capture All the Talents and therefore stifling parliamentary vibrancy.  Brown’s complacency on that occasion ranks with the Sheffield Rally for annoying the neutrals.  His overtures to the Blue Corner just appeared undemocratic and cynical – reinforced by the next few weeks’ stealing Conservative policies that he feared rather than admired.

But more than just policies, it was the atmosphere of tribalism that first made me question my vote.  The launch of their manifesto reinforces this sense of an unquestioning, angry tribe (one that pervades the entire Tory blogosphere, except when they are debating whether they should be moving a little further right or a long way further right).

Andrew Sparrow is concerned about this rallying and jeering (see 12:15-12:18) and Sam Coates also wonders whether this is good for Brown.

I can tell him.  No it isn’t.  Jeering rallies smack of reality-denial and tribalism to the floating voter.  I know: I’ve actually been one.

UPDATE:  Michael White has a different spin on the support from cabinet members:

Taking questions, Brown sounded more at ease than usual. The press pack help him here. Even canny Nick Robinson, who opened the batting for the BBC, erred in asking too long a series of questions in which the words “MPs’ expenses” triggered boos in the audience.  “What about yours?” shouted someone. The Sun’s question was hissed. They have waited years for the freedom to do that.

*is Labour in its current form a long term project?

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16 thoughts on “Labour’s Rally Atmosphere

  1. That all depends on the result of the election. My feeling is that if the party loses office, there is unlikely to be infighting of the sort that existed post-defeat in past decades.

    But if the election is won, there will probably be a cave-in/move-in situation re: the people who really run the country, who won’t appreciate having to pay their share for a crisis they have created.

  2. Well, we need more of you.

    That’ll help.

    Long term projects require us to change. We’re trying – the manifesto was full of intelligent, reasonable things. Even the Cadbury’s law (which I worried was a bit populist) seems to be a fairly reasonable response to the possibility of debt laden companies buying key infrastructure companies, which is more a way of dealing with a problem of Liberal economies than trying to stop the free market. On a rhetorical level, it’s certainly more reasonable and moderate than the Vince and Nick show has been this week.

    As for the atmosphere at the manifesto launch, I didn’t see it (I was being a media whore on the Daily Politics atthe time), but following it on Twitter, I had almost the reverse reaction – that journalists who had inserted themselves into the election campaign as players rather than observers were upset when treated as players, rather than observers.

    I’m biassed though – I spent the general election campaign last time sucking up to the hacks as we travelled round the country, and while I liked them, I did often want to shake some of the more Prima Donna-ry Big foots, who felt they were more important than the election itself.

    Of course, the repsonse to this will be that Boulton, Kavanagh and co will make it even more about themselves. So perhaps ipoking them with a stick isn’t wise. Still, I can’t help it , I quite like it when Political Editors get discomfitted.!

    1. But you’ve had 13 years to do “intelligent, reasonable things”. Why haven’t they been done? Why is there still an unelected House of Lords? Why still FPTP? Why no devolution for England? Why has inequality still increased? Why has Labour continually joined the migrant scapegoat bandwagon? Why don’t they allow science advisers their independence, even when they say unpopular things? Why is anyone who considers whether drugs laws should be liberalized treated as Unserious? Why are people allowed to be locked away for 28 days without charge (90 if Blair had had his way)? Why has the Government colluded in torture with the United States? Why are innocent people having their DNA kept on a database? Why does the Government allow the abuse of RIPA? Why did Labour snuggle up to the BMI over the Digital Economy Act? Why is there the ContactPoint database? Why did we invade Iraq? Why did they ban so-called “extreme pornography”? Why did Gordon Brown abolish the 10% income tax band? Why is our fiscal stimulus lower, and poorer quality, than most OECD countries? Why has Labour turned against secularism in the promotion of faith schools? Why do gay people get the bureaucratically titled “civil partnerships”, instead of marriage? Why did Labour try to block the release of MPs’ expenses? Why has the Government failed to stand up for the Human Rights Act, instead consulting on a nefariously titled “Bill of Rights and Responsibilities”? Why have they banned smoking in pubs? Why is the age of criminal responsibility at 10, but the age of suffrage at 18? Why have they expanded hate speech laws? Why didn’t the Government fully nationalize those banks in trouble during the recent crisis? Why is there no separation of powers between the legislature and the executive? Why has the right to protest been clamped down on? Why did it take so long to allow the Gurkhas to settle here? Why wasn’t spending on the military adequate to fight two wars? Why did Brown ignore the housing bubble? Why did Labour bring in “Antisocial Behaviour Orders”? Why are they okay with the abuse at Yarl’s Wood?

      I could go on.

      You may well have done better than the Tories would ever have done, but Labour had two landslide victories. Being not as shit as the other lot isn’t good enough.

      And why should anybody trust what anything in that manifesto says, when Labour has the above record?

      1. Blimey, if you just typed all that in, all I can do is doff my cap to you, and promise that should I ever use it, I will try my best to remember to attribute …

  3. Posted by Alex on April 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    ‘ Why didn’t the Government fully nationalize those banks in trouble during the recent crisis? ‘

    The subsequent recovery in share prices looks like a vindication that full nationalisation was not necessary. Moreover, at the time RBS had a balance sheet of 2.5 trillion. The ONS would have insisted that the liabilties side of the balance sheet be added to the public balance sheet with no offsetting of assets.

    ‘ Why did Brown ignore the housing bubble? ‘

    There was no housing bubble and that is why there has been no housing bust. There were some hot spots due to undersupply of desired houses. General prices only declined to 2006 prices before trending higher. The exception being the oversupplied brown field flats for the buy-to-let market, which did have bubble characteristics. John Kay wrote about the myth of the housing bubble a few weeks ago.
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/31936dda-3c5d-11df-b316-00144feabdc0.html

    1. The subsequent recovery in share prices looks like a vindication that full nationalisation was not necessary.

      That’s only one measure of success. Surely full nationalization would’ve made it easier to control pay and bonuses for starters. Secondly, to me, one of the lessons from Japan seems to be that you have to take a really firm grip of these banks and get your hands dirty. Full nationalization is the best way to do that.

      Steve Waldman makes this point, and a few others, better than I could, using the example of what Sweden did (who were in exactly the situation we are in):

      http://www.interfluidity.com/posts/1232705449.shtml

      Finally, you can’t justify a policy based on knowledge from after the decision was made. No-one in 2008 knew share prices were going to recover.

      And no-one knows where share prices are going next.

      Moreover, at the time RBS had a balance sheet of 2.5 trillion. The ONS would have insisted that the liabilties side of the balance sheet be added to the public balance sheet with no offsetting of assets.

      We currently have a 70% stake in RBS. If we can handle 70% of that 2.5 trillion, we can handle an extra 30%. Clearly that 70% of that 2.5 trillion is not treated in the same way as other public sector debt – people can take the Tory line that the markets are spooked by our debt, but the markets aren’t 70% of 2.5 trillion spooked. We’re not worse than Greece.

      The ONS currently says:

      “On 19 February 2009, ONS announced the classification of Royal Bank of Scotland
      and Lloyds Banking Group as public corporations from 13 October 2008. Data for
      the two banking groups will be fully incorporated into the public sector finances as
      soon as is practicable, but they are large, complex organisations, and this may take
      some time.”

      http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/psf0310.pdf

      In other words, the ONS is looking at that 70%. Where is the market panic? Clearly those trillions aren’t thought of in the same way as normal government debt.

      I’ll reply to your housing bubble points later if I have time.

    2. Has there been a housing bubble? Discuss. One for another post.

      The banks recovered. Therefore no need for full nationalisation. Another provocative one. I would argue that a huge invisibel QE-subsidy is the reason this happened. I agree that we were right not to nationalise. But it would have been nice to have got some more back for the state when the banks in general started coining it from easy money. No easy way out there.

  4. Giles, yeah I did just type all that in. In my defence, I was feeling generally a bit grumpy earlier.

    And I can never understand how anyone can vote (let alone support) Labour any more.

    1. Seriously, when I need to summarise why I am voting as I am, I am going to refer back to your comment. In part.

      1. Why thank you. It is not every day you are cited by a Chief Economist.

        Although why do I get the sneaking suspicion you are going to say “Alex lists a number of reasons not to vote Labour. I disagree with all of them. Here’s my reasons for not voting Labour…”?

      2. No, i won’t do that. But given my Keynesian sympathies I often need reminding why I still think they are not good enough and you have done an excellent job

  5. Disagree with the logic that we need to get “some money back for the state”. Getting money for the state means taking it from the private sector. What we needed to do was direct money from the state to the rest of the economy to (drum roll please)…. raise nominal income. In doing so it was important that we ensure that this injection was not captured by special interests and actually contributed to a general recovery. This is where we failed. All of that money for the banks (20% GDP) and almost nothing for the real economy (1% GDP, IIRC). And even though we “own” (backstop) the financial sector, we still don’t actually legally own it. I can see why this arrangement is popular in the City, but what do the rest of us get out of it?

  6. @ Alex

    I suppose it all depends what you want from nationalisation. If it is to micromanage them in the way we want them to perform, then there is no logical reason not to nationalise all the banks. Who decides what is the correct way for them to perform? If the reason for nationalisation was because the company had insufficient capital to survive as a private sector company, then clearly recapitalisation that stopped short of full nationalisation was the way to go.

    The difference between the UK and Sweden is the UK is a global financial centre. It would have sent out an appalling signal if one of the largest banks in the world was unable to survive in the private sector. Therefore, part of the thinking probably was that keeping RBS in the private sector was sending a signal that full recovery in time was expected.

    The global reach of RBS assets and lending would have presented endless political problems and embarrassment for the British government if they had fully nationalised. For example, we would have had the situation of the Treasury owning a bank in the US. Every British business refused credit would be screaming about the British Treasury turning them down for a loan but lending to US borrowers. Businesses closed down by the bank would no longer see it as the bank closing them down but the government.

    Moreover, returning the state holdings of RBS to the private sector will be no easy task. They can’t just dump billions of shares on the market. They will probably need to place large portions of shares with institutions at large discounts from the market price. However, with RBS shares trading this offers the markets opinion of what the company is worth.

    I am not saying how the whole thing was handled was perfect. However, the further we get away from the depth of the crisis the easier it is to criticise. However, I have some sympathy for officials and government ministers who were trying to manage a situation where the whole banking system was hours from complete collapse. Moreover, I understand why they were trying to do everything possible to prevent full nationalisation of RBS, and feel they have been vindicated.

    1. If it is to micromanage them in the way we want them to perform, then there is no logical reason not to nationalise all the banks.

      I don’t want to micromanage the banks lending. Make sure they’re lending at a sufficient rate, but don’t micromanage who to.

      The difference between the UK and Sweden is the UK is a global financial centre. It would have sent out an appalling signal if one of the largest banks in the world was unable to survive in the private sector. Therefore, part of the thinking probably was that keeping RBS in the private sector was sending a signal that full recovery in time was expected.

      That doesn’t make any sense. We took over 70% of RBS. I’m pretty sure the rest of the market got the message that “one of the largest banks in the world” was fucked.

      Moreover, returning the state holdings of RBS to the private sector will be no easy task. They can’t just dump billions of shares on the market.

      Well, one of the solutions to the TBTF problem is to break up the banks into smaller chunks. So you would return it to the private sector piecemeal.

      I am not saying how the whole thing was handled was perfect. However, the further we get away from the depth of the crisis the easier it is to criticise. However, I have some sympathy for officials and government ministers who were trying to manage a situation where the whole banking system was hours from complete collapse.

      I agree.

      On the housing bubble point above:

      Firstly, if you are right, (and this is probably more for the benefit of others reading this, rather than yourself) that doesn’t let the government off the hook, it just means I would have to change my criticism to one about lack of supply instead of about a bubble.

      Anyway, are you right? I’ve certainly wondered whether there was a bubble, since prices haven’t done what they did elsewhere since the slump. But I remain skeptical. It could be that prices have been propped up by QE. It could be there is still further to fall.

      And I could be using the figures incorrectly, but I don’t see a lack of supply in these numbers:

      http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/housing/xls/1473575.xls

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