Monday 1 March 2010

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again

I sometimes wonder if people inside the Labour Party really understand the effect that Peter Hain can have on their political opponents. For such a tribalistic and antagonistic individual to suddenly discover that there is a 'progressive consensus' with Plaid to such an extent that Plaid's supporters should hold their noses and vote Labour is simply not credible. If it's a deliberate Labour tactic, they would have been better advised to deploy a more consensual politician to deliver the message.

His appeal is wrong on three levels.

His appeal is entirely one-sided. He suggests that people should switch to Labour where necessary to defeat the Tories; but nowhere does he accept the converse - that in other seats, Labour voters should similarly switch to other parties. (Adam Higgitt at WalesHome has defended this in the comments thread, arguing that there are many fewer seats in this category. Maybe – but if you want to project the idea that you're talking about any sort of 'consensus' politics, at least presenting it as a two-way street would surely be more likely to succeed).

It's ultimately a very negative approach to politics. Vote against what you don't want, rather then for what you do want – that's the nub of the message.

But most of all, if the Labour Party want to depend on people's second or third choice vote, then they've had 13 years in which they could have introduced a change to the voting system which might actually achieve the result that they want. They've chosen not to do that – and not even to talk about it until it's too late to be more than a vague promise for the future.

The net result is that, instead of opening a possible conversation about the extent of any consensus and how it might be possible to capitalise on that, Hain has managed to project Labour as an arrogant party who feel that they are entitled to the votes of anyone who doesn't like the Tories. The fact that that was probably done unconsciously rather then deliberately serves only to underline how far the attitude of some people in that party needs to change if they want people to believe that they are serious about working with others.


Adam Higgitt said...

A good argument. I guess much depends on where you imagine Hain to be coming from. If you think he his saying to other non-Conservatives "we together form some sort of loosely defined progressive front that share a number of values such that we could lend each other our votes in certain places" then the one-way street argument is wrong.

If, on the other hand, you think he's saying "non-Labour progressives: lend us your vote to keep the Tories out because they are less progressive than us", then the traffic is fairly one-way, at least in Wales.

But as you say, if Labour really really wanted to allow the voters to elaborate on their choices, they'd reform the voting system. Belatedly, that's underway.

John Dixon said...


Even if the traffic would be pretty much one way in Wales (and I'm not convinced about that - I think that Aberconwy is pretty much a Tory-Plaid battle in most people's eyes, whatever the 'notional' majority might say), it would surely have been better, presentationally at least, to appear a little more even-handed?

John Dixon said...


I very rarely decline to publish comments, but your comment was very much a case of playing the man, rather than debating the issue.

You're welcome to comment on the subject matter of the post, of course. But if you're going to comment on Hain or anyone else, please try and keep it within the bounds of reasonable debate rather than personal attack.

Illtyd Luke said...

Hain doesn't want to build a consensus that promotes progressive politics. He wants to build a consensus that promotes the Labour party. And there's alot in their record that conflicts with progressive aims.

The One Wales coalition, however you look at it, presents a platform of solidly left-of-centre policies. Yet Hain was well-known to be against that coalition and even ruled it out! We should expect nothing less of him and to be frank, it is a good anti-Tory strategy even if it is incredibly negative.

I'd dispute the notional point on Aberconwy. Arfon is a notional Labour seat, for example. It's meaningless.

Spirit of BME said...

Mr Dixon,
You have it one.
This Peter Pain man got stuck on the Marr show when Little Andy Marr reversed the argument.Nuff said.

Adam Higgitt said...

"it would surely have been better, presentationally at least, to appear a little more even-handed?"

I'm sure that's so. But at Welsh Labour's conference, maybe not :-)

Dave Edwards said...

As a Labour Nationalist, Hain's comments , particularly the illogicality of his basic premise fill me with despair. If he is suggesting that an anti tory vote is the first priority,then I am in full agreement but he must realise that in some constituencies his arguement will lead to difficult choices for Labour as well as others. The logical consequence of his stance would be to provide a seat by seat voting guide to the large anti Tory majority in Wales .
It would be interesting to see his advice in CW&SP!

John Dixon said...


I understand. But I might be tempted to conclude therefore that it's just a conference speech aimed at the faithful rather than a serious suggestion...


That would indeed be the logical outcome of his stance. But if you asked him what to do in any constituency anywhere in the UK, I think he would say 'vote Labour', even if the result of that might be the election of a Tory.