Signposts and weathercocks

Written By: - Date published: 12:09 pm, July 19th, 2015 - 18 comments
Categories: crosby textor, Politics, uk politics - Tags:

In her celebrated maiden speech Mhairi Black talked about Tony Benn and the inspiration that he provided her.  Benn was a true left winger who stuck to his beliefs.  He was described as one of the few United Kingdom politicians to have become more left-wing after holding ministerial office.

She referred to his famous dicta where he talked about politicians being either weathercocks or signposts.  Weathercocks changed with the prevailing wind of public opinion whereas signposts stood firm and pointed in the direction they thought our society should move in.  She expressed a clear preference for politicians who are signposts.

Her party has created quite a stir in English politics.  The inspiration provided by the SNP has led to the formation of branches throughout England.  Of course in a first past the post system this will only help the tories but you can understand the motivation and the exasperation of former Labour supporters when UK Labour has decided not to vote against the Conservative’s planned welfare cuts.

To Benn’s comment there could be added a third class of politicians, those that appear to be signposts when in fact they are weathercocks.

Recent examples from the United Kingdom and locally show how adept the Conservatives and National are at appearing to make a stand on policies that progressives support.  You get the strong impression that this is not a road to Damascus type conversion to socialism but rather a cynically targeted political tactic.  But you have to admire its apparent effectiveness.  Crosby Textor are obviously earning their fees in both countries.

A UK example is that the Conservative Government has decided to introduce a living wage.  The announcement was made at the same time that benefits were frozen but went further than what Labour had promised during the election.  The proposal will be gradually introduced and the net savings will allow a surplus to be declared in election year (where have we heard this before) but the assimilation of the language of the left is unmistakable.

We saw a similar thing happen in New Zealand with the announcement of a $25 dollar a week increase for beneficiary families with young children.  Suddenly the right can claim to be as caring as the left.  The left being too timid to do something effective about poverty means that the right can cynically out position them and claim the moral high ground.  And the media gleefully accept this framing even though the reality is that this increase is inferior to what Labour had proposed.

The problem with Labour Parties trying to inhabit the centre and refusing to fulfil their historical mandate to provide more radical solutions is that they will be easily out positioned by their conservative opponents.  And they do not have the resources to focus group the ideal position and will lose calibration competitions most of the time.  If you get the feeling that John Key is able to stare deep into New Zealand’s psyche it is because he does through the extensive use of polling and focus groups.

Labour politicians are better off being signposts.  Historically it has been the trade unions and members and activists who have meant that Labour has been able to defeat its opponents even with their far superior financial resources.  This is not going to change any time in the foreseeable future.  And they are invigorated by signposts, not weathercocks

18 comments on “Signposts and weathercocks”

  1. BM 1

    This true left winger stuff , true mandate stuff is horse shit.

    You should be trying to run a country not a church.

    Socialist parties need to be more flexible in the modern age, not rigid and unwavering, that’s the type of thinking that gets every one slaughtered.

    • weka 1.1

      more flexible, like a weathercock perhaps?

      Interesting use of the slaughtered rhetoric given that climate change won’t give a shit about the degree to which one follows the wind. It’s not the weather on the ground that’s going to kill us.

    • Chris 1.2

      “This true left winger stuff , true mandate stuff is horse shit.”

      I think you’re getting confused. How flexible are you saying a party or government should be? So flexible that it becomes unrecognisable from its opposition? For example, Black says food banks aren’t part of our social welfare system but a symbol of its failure. In NZ food banks are accepted by government as a legitimate means for the poor to feed their kids. Social security policy is currently built around the existence of private charity. This began in the 1990s and was entrenched by Labour in the 2000s. Labour has become so “flexible” that it’s adopted the same right-wing thinking it vehemently opposed as recently as the 1990s. Is that “flexible”, or a sell out? Black’s talking about basic core values, whereas you’re using “flexible” to include abandoning core values.

      • BM 1.2.1

        What ever works, that’s my motto.

        • Stuart Munro

          So why pretend to theoretical positions, like an objection to socialism?

          I like things that work too.

          Things unlike $101 billion in debt failed governments like this one.

          Bill English needs to get with this century and dump his ‘Chicago boy’ cultist mates. They never did anything for Chile, where most of them went to prison. Where they belong.

          • BM

            There’s some parts of socialism I like, there’s some parts of capitalism I like.

            If I was forced to pick one system though, I’d prefer capitalism, socialism is a bit too rigid and churchy for me.

            • Chris

              The two aren’t mutually exclusive. And you can dispense with the churchy bits of both, especially capitalism’s, which is the churchiest of them all.

          • Chris

            The Chicago boy cultists have dumped themselves. But of course that means nothing to inferiority complexed New Zealand.

  2. dukeofurl 2

    The Tory ‘living wage’ has some strange conditions:

    “….Tories as the party of working people by declaring that the living wage will be introduced from next April at a rate of £7.20 an hour for people over the age of 25.”
    They have just rebranded the minimum wag as a ‘living wage’ when its no such thing

    Its unbelievable, over 25 is the new step from youth to adult. In reality there would be hardly anyone over 25 that would get any significant increase. AS its obvious its designed to work that way.

    • mickysavage 2.1

      I agree.

      This is a PR marketing proposal rather than something designed to properly address a problem. It gives them the ability they can claim they are doing something and shows up Labour.

    • Olwyn 2.2

      With both this and NZ’s rise in benefits next year, the PR target is the wavering middle class, not the recipients of what is meant to look like largesse. In both cases, a lot of what is given, if not all of it, will be whittled away by the loss of government income supports, like the housing supplement, etc. Moreover, it allows them to effectively say, “We are at liberty to do these things because we are prudent managers and the market likes us…unlike Labour, who can’t be trusted so must answer for every cent.”

  3. Ad 3

    If you like Tony Benn, go to the source through his sensatinal biographical film “Will and Testament”.

    This film, like Loach’s “The Spirit of ’45”, paints a canvas of the great nation-building era after World War 2. But this time it’s personal to one great and powerful Minister. It’s The West Wing for Socialists, but in real life.

    You have everything to fear of National taking more of Labour’s policy ideas, and implementing just enough of them to cauterise any new oppositional muscle. By October it will happen in The Auckland real estate market, because Smith will I believe amend the RMA to specifically ensure that the Unitary Plan has even less right of appeal than now, and no ability for Council to hold it up. They want it passed by the local elections next year.

    When Key knows they are vulnerable, he always counter-strikes.

    It’s the Opposition’s job to come up with new campaigns, particular.y where the Government is doing nothing either legislatively or in policy. Labour is the sufficient policy shop for National.

  4. Olwyn 4

    I think the big question is how many signposts pointing left will be chopped down before enough remain standing to make a difference. The British LP looks to be following a pattern much like the one we have followed over the past few years. People are fed up with lukewarm leftist parties, while huge efforts are being put into thwarting alternative models – the SNP has done extraordinarily well to get as far as it has under the circumstances. I am confident that the fight back has begun, but I am not sure how long it will take for it to make a significant dent. The British Labour MPs who are plotting the overthrow of Corbyn are setting themselves up to be nothing more than understudies, to be brought on stage in the event of a mad or disastrously incompetent Tory.

    • The Other Mike 4.1

      Agreed. Look at the traction Bernie Sanders is gaining in the US with his “socialist” policies.

    • mickysavage 4.2

      That is an interesting article and shows how removed some MPs are from the activists. Fancy planning to sabotage the democratic choice of the party.

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    And they do not have the resources to focus group the ideal position and will lose calibration competitions most of the time.

    And that’s, IMO, partially due to traditional Labour Parties becoming centrist as well. They went to the corporate funding model and dropped the mass party model. A mass party has a huge financial source in it’s membership whereas a corporate funded party has only what the corporations are willing to give and that’s just not enough to fund a labour party as business will always fund the right-wing more.

  6. Alister Barry 6

    I also noticed that the Conservative Party in the UK was about to start claiming it represented “working people”, or perhaps they will use the word “workers”. This will particularly be used when making a distinction between “workers” and those on social welfare. Nice move Crosby Textor.

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    The other strength of a mass party is that it gives more feedback. Labour wouldn’t need to poll as much if it practised more direct democracy.

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