In a speech to right-wing entryists Labour To Win on 13th September (2020) Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the treasury Bridget Phillipson delivered a short précis of Labour’s strategy in opposition.
The single component of her exposition of the party’s strategy was Labour should listen to the public. Phillipson’s opinion of the public was not complimentary; she assumed glibly that people are ignorant – “they don’t follow the news much and they don’t have time to follow the detail of policies that don’t affect them” – and she suggested to her audience that the public should be patronised – “we need to listen, learn and use their language.”
If the shadow front bench think the public lack knowledge of cause and effect or of how governments, the capitalist system and the economy works then they could try to help to inform the public but Phillipson said such a strategy is wrong.
For example, she wants the public to be ignorant of the causes of hardship.
“When people complain about local services being terrible, and we nod and talk about the impact of austerity, we cannot be surprised that they don’t think we see things as they do.”
The austerity programme of successive Tory governments was (and is) an ideological policy and part of an ongoing plan to migrate wealth from the poorest to the richest. Regurgitated New Labour is not opposed to that Tory policy and so it prefers the public to be uninformed of the policy’s intent and consequences while faux sympathetic ears listen to accounts of the devastation of lives and livelihoods.
Phillipson’s suggestion that people don’t understand the causes of problems, such as austerity, was countered by her request that “we [Labour] need to be alive to the concerns people have about tax and the economy.”
Phillipson’s listening strategy was presented as if contrary to strategies of Labour when Corbyn was leader. She claimed Labour’s election failure was due to not winning arguments on issues that Corbyn focussed on. Despite thorough costing of Labour’s manifesto’s spending plans Phillipson said Labour was perceived as a tax and spend party. That perception was created by politicians and client journalists who were opposed to Corbyn’s politics and it was supported by opponents of Corbyn in Labour.
Starmer, Phillipson and their colleagues were and are opposed to action that redistributes wealth and income in favour of the majority of people.
“We cannot be thought of as a party whose reaction to every problem is that the answer is more spending. It’s a habit we got into, and it’s a habit we need to break.”
Other options to a “habit” of more spending, such as collecting tax from extremely wealthy tax avoiders, cannot be conceived by front bench members of post-Corbyn Labour.
There was an interesting synergy between Phillipson’s strategy of listening to the public to decide on policy and Tim Davie’s outline of a new strategy at the BBC that he presented in an introductory speech to staff a few days after his tenure as Director-General began.
DAVIE: “Across the UK, across all political views, across all of society, and across all age groups, people must feel their BBC is here for them, not for us. So I want a radical shift in our focus from the internal to the external, to focus on those we serve: the public.”
PHILLIPSON: “Our language and our framing must reflect the world as our electors see it, not as how we might discuss it at a general committee.”
Davie and Phillipson share a philosophy that includes preservation of the status quo coupled with rejection of ideology and critical analysis. Both proposed the tactic (to fulfill that philosophy) of pretending to listen to the public (and, thus, blaming the public) in order to justify a political stance of complicity.
Everyone who observed the bystanding of Keir Starmer will not be surprised by the emptiness displayed in Phillipson’s elucidation of Labour’s intention of avoidance of action. Anti-politics is the new centrist fad. Stand by, deceptively idly, while Tories wreck; no intervention means full agreement.
Phillipson is aware that Starmer’s performances at Prime Minister’s Questions are his only visible successful tactic whereat his coherent and famously “forensic” questions contrast with Johnson’s lies, waffle and noises. She said one of the “principle challenges” facing Labour is that “[we must] reach those voters who do not watch Prime Minister’s Questions and ensure that they see the contrast that we all see between Keir [Starmer] and [Boris] Johnson.” That is all Starmer offers.
We have a Labour party that is anti-politics and anti-opposition. It is dormant and its sleepiness is its strategy.