Labour’s two big tents

The good news for London is that Ken Livingstone shows no sign of retiring and will continue to act a focal point for progressive politics in the capital. He’s already outlined his ambitions to build on an emerging progressive alliance, which has already gone so far as to see a formal agreement for Labour and the Greens to call for second preference votes to go to each other in London elections. The Lib Dems could have had some of that, but chose to stand alone and paid a price, seeing their London Assembly representation fall.

And yet when Gordon Brown tried for a ‘government of all the talents’ (GOATs) he got it wrong.

Livingstone’s alliance draws from people with something in common. People who believe in the need to change society in ways that favour the less well off while respecting the environment and, perhaps most importantly, recognise the role a strong state must play to bring that about. This is a campaigning alliance, with members expected to work hard for a joint victory.

In contrast, Brown’s GOATs were almost certainly as surprised as anyone to be invited into government. Bringing Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre in as censor of government secrets from the Thatcher years has won no favours.

GOATs like Sir Digby Jones have not fought for their position, will not be particularly emotionally involved and will feel no sense of comradery. Sir Digby Jones may be an effective and talented man, but he’s a walking time bomb whose views on trade unions and lobbying against the minimum wage show that he follows an ideology alien to progressive politics. Few can really doubt that he’s merely biding his time and will stab Brown in the back when he feels the time is right.

The point is that big tents and consensus politics are all very well; but you still need the vision thing to pull it off.

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