“We don’t see it, but our arrogance stops us from listening”

So wrote former Labour Party General Secretary Peter Watt in a piece over on Labour Uncut this week:

There is an arrogance at the heart of our politics that is going to make it difficult to really understand why we lost. It is an arrogance that says that we alone own morality and that we alone want the best for people. It says that our instincts and our motives alone are pure. It’s an arrogance that belittles others’ fears and concerns as “isms” whilst raising ours as righteous. We then mistakenly define ourselves as being distinctive from our opponents because we are morally superior rather than because we have different diagnoses and solutions. It is lazy, wrong and politically dangerous.

If you think that I am being harsh, just think about what we say about our opponents. We assume that they are all in it for themselves, that they are indifferent to the suffering of others. In fact, that they are quite happy to induce more suffering if it suits their malign ends. What we don’t think is that they may want the same things as us, but just have a different approach. Instead, we cast high-minded aspersions on their morality and humanity…

But not all of people’s hopes and aspirations may chime with our rigid moral code. And, increasingly, voters are less tribal in their political allegiances. In fact, most people are probably not even habitual voters for a single party, never mind being tribal. If we are really to connect with enough voters (such that they vote for us in winning numbers at the next general election), then we will have to find ways of understanding their moral sense of the world. We can’t just condemn or patronise everyone as not understanding just because they say or feel things with which we don’t agree.

The full piece is well worth a read.

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12 Comments

  • LabourLiberal 4th Dec '10 - 5:39pm

    A strange article. Whilst it is indeed misplaced arrogance to think “we alone own morality and that we alone want the best for people”, it is a fundamental that any political party believes their policies are the best. If the voters don’t believe your policies are the best way forward, then it’s up to you as a party to persuade them otherwise. You should use the weights of the arguments that convinced you, to go on and convince others. The alternative the article seems to be suggesting, where principles are jettisoned at the drop of a hat if the public don’t like them, is far too close to Philip Gould’s world of focus groups: an approach which produced hopeless short-termism as the Government chased popular opinion in circles, and a homogenised political system where anyone who didn’t agree with the consensus found themselves disenfranchised. Whilst the Tories and Labour moved ever-closer, the Lib Dems did seem to keep more of their principles than most, whatever the political weather; if they’re (you’re?) resorting to populism-chasing too, it bodes very ill indeed for the country.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Dec '10 - 6:18pm

    This must be a spoof. Has April come early? Such a balanced approach to reality is surely incompatible with membership of ‘the brothers’??? 🙂

    It is important never to label the entirety of our opponents’ parties as immoral. For unless one concedes the existence of the honestly different then one loses authority in addressing the activities and motivation behind the Woolas’ of this world.

  • Steve Bradley 4th Dec '10 - 7:08pm

    This sums up my experience of the Labour party in Lambeth pretty succinctly.

    In many ways they’re more like a fundamentalist religious sect than a political party – believing not just that they alone are right, but that they alone have even the CAPACITY to be right. And they have a particularly bonkers playground way of discounting others’ views in debates : for example, if you disagree with them on education, then you’re ‘anti-schools’. It’s hard to type that with a straight face, but they have no problems in deadpan oration of such nonesense.

    Their sense of mural smugness would be amusing if they didn’t take it all so very seriously and believe it so very deeply. If they don’t address such smug political fundamentalism they’ll thankfully be left scratching their heads nationally in opposition for some time.

  • LabourLiberal –
    obviously each party has to think that its own policies are best and try to convince people to support those policies. But this is very different from thinking that anybody who does not share those ideas automatically doesn’t have the best interest of the electorate in mind.

    It’s essentially the difference between playing the man and playing the ball. All of us should accept that different people may well want the best for the country and all its inhabitants, but have a fundamentally different sense of how the best is to be achieved, or even what the best is. In the end, I think we can trust the electorate to make up their mind what they think the best might be.

    While it is therefore crucial to attack each other’s ideas it simply makes no sense to assume that anybody who doesn’t share one’s ideas automatically must be morally inferior and has ulterior motives. Such an attitude is simply arrogant and, I believe, counterproductive in the long run, since it prevents the kind of deep analysis of one’s own stance which a party should continually engage in.

    Incidentally, I think that this is probably not just a problem the Labour party has to contend with, and I think it’s pretty admirable that a Labour activist wrote such a post on a Labour blog.

    Some posts on the feedback thread amply demonstrate that he has his work cut out.

  • I think Peter Watt is wrong.

    Not because I agree with Labour, but because (as Nick and Vince Cable are confirming in my mind) most politicians who get anywhere in life only care about themselves and their careers. Afte rthe years of scandal and corruption and kickbacks and stupid, stupid policies and sycophancy by all sides (recently applauded by our leadershi) I see no reason to trust politicians with good faith.

    Secondly, I think that if you go to ConservativeHome etc… you’ll see that most lib dem and Labour voters do not want the same things as Conservatives. Most Conservative voters who post on the internet think we should punish the poor and that the welfare of others is inconsquential, that the role of government is purely to protect their rights so they don’t have to pay money to help anyone else.

    So no, I don’t think all the supporters of all the main parties are looking for the same result of a happier and fairer Britain for everyone. I think that there is a wing on the Labour/ right-wing of the Lib Dems and the Conservative party who believe that there we have no duty to help other people: ‘no such thing as society’, and that a more equal societ is actually a bad thing.

  • paul barker 4th Dec '10 - 10:27pm

    Its an excellent article but its hard to see it having much impact when the Labour leadership are promoting the idea that Tories are Evil or Mad. A lot of students have bought into the same story.

  • paul barker wrote: “Its an excellent article but its hard to see it having much impact when the Labour leadership are promoting the idea that Tories are Evil or Mad”

    this is a line of campaigning that many LIb Dems have used up and down the country, in GE and LE, since…

  • Of course they were arrogant.
    You don’t get shambles like Iraq and I.D. cards without adopting a disasterous and patronising ‘we know what’s best for you’ attitude.

    mpg is correct though and the bile that has been thrown both ways between the Liberal Democrats and Labour lately will soon be joined by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats on the ground. The fiction that Nick can remain Cameron’s best friend while being the leader of a distinct and separate political Party will crumble in the face of next years elections.

  • @ Paul Barker who stated: ‘the Labour leadership are promoting the idea that Tories are Evil or Mad. A lot of students have bought into the same story’.

    My my a change of heart re students. That wasn’t what the LibDems were saying about all those nice students when they were signing personal pledges to get their vote.

    I’m not a member of the Labour leadership but I too believe most Tories are mad and anyone who disagrees ought to watch some of the new intake of MPs in Parly. It is actually scary feeling the fundamentalism that shines forth in their utterances. Thank gawd Labour isn’t in coalition with that lot 🙂

    Although I have to say that at least some of the more patriciam Tories have earned my grudging respect with their voting against their Whip on some of the constitutional changes which are being rammed through. LibDems in the main seem to be very silent on this one – strange if they feel bound by the coalition agreement and yet Tories are voting against – most definitely a form of madness,

    As to the ‘angry’ bit – well it’s the students who are angry and I reckon they’ll still be angry at the next election and be organising against all LibDem MPs who abstain or vote for a fees increase.

  • Did Nick really just say that students should be “straight” with people ???
    Unbelievable.
    His public relations skills right now are about as effective as a chocolate teapot.
    The next thing you know he’ll be on the front page of tomorrows newspapers singing “je ne regrette rien”
    Such a disasterous move could never be construed as arrogance.

  • @paul barker

    “Its an excellent article but its hard to see it having much impact when the Labour leadership are promoting the idea that Tories are Evil or Mad”

    So says the man whose standard response to the slightest criticism of the LD leadership on LDV is to cry “Labour troll, la la la, not listening”. Clearly, for some people, Labour tribalism = bad, LD tribalism = Good

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