Coffee House

The easy language of opposition

14 December 2012

Isabel makes an excellent point about Ed Miliband’s One Nation spiel. It soothes political minds to talk about society rather than economics, people rather than the state, the common good rather individual utility. Voters like it, too, because globalisation and technology make many of us feel lost and alone.

But it is, as Isabel says, an easy language of opposition, even a facile one. In office, reality tends to preclude such grand posturing, particularly in an economic crisis.


As it happens, last night I went to an interesting Centre for Social Justice lecture by Jon Cruddas, Labour’s policy review chief, on the role of the state in the Good Society. Now I like Cruddas, even if he is a little too inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity. And after 45 minutes of fulminating against the purely ‘utilitarian …. the technocratic … the economistic’ way of viewing the world, he was frank enough to admit that all his highfalutin words would not be worth a jot if a future Labour government couldn’t act on it.

We saw the same process, of course, over Cameron’s flirtations with localism and Red Toryism. As soon as the Conservatives found themselves in power, all that high-minded Burkean waffle seemed a bit too, well, waffly. In the end, it was only signalling and branding, signifying nothing. When the Big Society brand went stale, they dropped it.

It’s sad, really. People – politicians included – yearn for something more inspiring than the cold arguments of state versus market. But the only way they can do it through the most managerial thing of all: a re-branding exercise. Perhaps we are so consumed by perception that we cannot change our reality. For more on this, and much better expressed, do read Michael Lind’s essay in our Christmas issue.

You can read our bumper Christmas issue for free with a trial subscription on our new iPad and iPhone app.

More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • HooksLaw

    Socio economic political interaction is a chaotic system. Harold Wilson was famous for talking about pragmatism in dealing with it.

    In the case of the Duke of Wellington he said that Napoleon’s strategy was made of harness and his was made of rope. Napoleon’s was beautiful to look at but would shrivel up if anything snapped, whereas Wellington’s was ugly and makeshift, but for that
    reason very easy to patch up when something went wrong.

    The point being that successful politics is about how you handle things when they inevitably go wrong.

  • Rahul Kamath

    This is spot on.

  • Colin

    I just saw the word cloud for the speech on Guido Fawkes. Sorry didn’t get a mention.

    For some reason the tories have been shy in really ramming home the big, strategic failures of the previous regime. This particular labour regime fail, whilst not being quite as epic as the destruction of the public finances, deserves to be exploited to the max, as often and as brutally as possible. The muppet show that is the current labour front bench, were, by and large, at the scenes of the various crimes. An uncommon opportunity.

    • Ian Walker

      I’d presume they’re keeping that powder dry for the next election campaign. Get unemployment down and the economy moving – then point out how it took five years to turn around the Labour supertanker of debt, and letting them back in the wheelhouse would be madness…..

      • Coffeehousewall

        Of course they are not keeping their powder dry. The reason they have said nothing is because they have nothing to say. How can they point to Labour’s economic weaknesses when they would and will and are following the same methodology.

        There is only one political Agenda operating at present. It is irrelevant which of the three parties appears to be in power. It is all the same project. All that divides the parties is individual and particular greed in the MPs that notionally make up the parties. But the policies are the same and the ambition is the same.

        Helen Grant MP, successor to Anne Widdecombe was a Labour Party member. So were many other current Conservative MPs. Many of the current Labour MPs have extremist Marxist backgrounds. Is there any evidence that they have changed their views, while changing their situation to better gain office?

Can't find your Web ID? Click here