Saturday, November 06, 2004

Help From Across the Pond

No essay today, but here's two points to ponder. The first is a brilliant essay from an English fantasy writer of renown, Phil Pullman, about the power of words and the dangers of restricting discourse. The other is about the dominant English political party, left-leaning yet ultimately centrist Labour.

The War on Words, Philip Pullman (Guardian Unlimited Books),,1343733,00.html.

Time to Get Religion, Nicholas D. Kristof (NYT Op-Ed Page)

(You'll need a online New York Times subscription to view the second link. Don't worry, it's free and well worth the time it takes to fill out the information.)

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on either or both of these.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with drawing parallels between what the Democrats need to do and what the UK Labour Party did between 1983 and 1997 is that the challenges they face are not the same (despite superficial appearances). In fact, they are the exact mirror image.

In 1983 Labour was stuffed because it offered the electorate a programme of extreme socialism. Its manifesto was cruelly (but accurately) labelled "the longest suicide note in history". A basically moderate electorate fled from it as fast as they could, the left-leaning ones supporting the Alliance (now the Liberal Democrats, my party) and everyone else lining up behind Maggie Thatcher.

So the problem Neil Kinnock had, when he took over the leadership, was to start the process of making the Labour Party adopt electable positions. He lost in 1987, and again (narrowly) in 1992, but he started the job that needed to be done. John Smith took it further as leader, until his unexpected death, and then Blair finished the job. By the time he finished, Labour was no longer socialist. (Remember, the division in British politics for the last 100 years has been conservative vs socialist, not conservative vs liberal.) There is a strong undercurrent of opinion in this country that believes Blair destroyed something honest and noble and honourable in a naked quest for power. Mind you, there's a larger and more widely-held opinion that says anything was justified to get rid of Thatcher - even stealing her politics and repackaging them.

This seems to me the opposite of what the Democrats need to do - instead of repositioning an extremist party to appeal to a moderate electorate, they have to work out how to make a moderate party appeal to an increasingly extremist electorate.

Over the long course of time, most elections are won by the party that occupies the middle ground. Blair (and Kinnock and Smith) knew that. Until the reforms they introduced following the 1983 disaster, you could never have described Labour as centrist. Now you'd be hard-pressed to find any trace of ideology of any sort attached to it. What they did was impressive, but it's a hollow and (I think) misleading role model for the Democrats.


November 22, 2004 at 9:14 AM  

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