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The Colour Purple

edmiliSUM_1726910c As everyone who knows me is aware, I am a big television and movie fan. I’m something of a geek about it.

One of my favourite TV shows of all time is the British working class comedy-drama Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

At times it’s truly exceptional, and, in the first two seasons in particular, it is one of the sharpest, most politically and socially aware shows that’s ever been on the box, examining everything from Thatcherism to the island mentality of the British, and our relationship with our European brothers and sisters.

It was a show ahead of its time.

There is a wonderful moment in Season 1 where the Magnificent Seven, who form the core of the cast, and the great stories, have survived yet another series of crises and are now, at last, adapted to living and working together, to sharing a roof, even “one that lets in the wet.” They are still living in a hut, on a German building site … but things are getting better.

They take a decision to brighten the place up. They make a plan to steal paint from a storage shed, counting on security not anticipating a theft which “re-distributes” the paint to another part of the site. All that’s left is to decide what colour to steal.

Barry Taylor, played by the magnificent Timothy Spall, the Seven’s resident nerd (perhaps why he’s my favourite character) devises a scheme where they will “elect” a colour, and the team goes along with it because otherwise they’ll end up with a multi-coloured room. (Kevin Whatley’s Neville wants his particular section painted pink). Barry doesn’t explain the scheme to them very well, (it was used to elect the chairman of the West Bromich & District Sunday Table Tennis League though) but he gets on with counting the votes.

“Apparently, the polls are predicting purple,” says Wayne, the flashy Londoner with the eye for the ladies. “Well the Poles don’t have to live in our hut,” replies another.

The colour that “wins” is yellow. With three votes. They round on Barry, to try and work out how this has happened. He explains to them that he gave everyone a first preference and a second preference. The first preference got two points, the second preference got one. “So how many voted for yellow?” Dennis, their leader, asks.

“None,” Barry tells him, and the others. “So how can it have won?”

Barry explains that everyone picked a different first colour. They all scored two points.

None of their first choices got a second preference from anyone else, but yellow got three.

“So, everyone gets what no-one wants,” Dennis says, in disgust.

“That’s democracy, Dennis,” Barry replies.

The moment always makes me laugh. Tonight, during my evening catch up of the papers and the websites, I was reminded of the moment, and of the colour purple.

We can all understand Dennis’ weariness at getting such a perverse result. It’s a perfect metaphor for what we, in Scotland, have been getting handed to us for years beyond count. Everyone gets what no-one wants. Even when we have voted Labour, and got that result, we never really get what we were hoping for. Nothing could demonstrate it better than the equally perverse debate going on within the party in London over policy right now.

The first article for this website was an obvious one; on the omnishambolic nature of Labour’s Scottish Conference. Yet, the deceit and negativity at its core is a reflection of the wider failures within that movement, and its inability to learn real lessons from the defeat in 2010. What is it with Labour that it does not do proper analysis when it suffers defeat?

Labour failed to get a grip on the banks and on the brokers. It allowed the City of London to run riot. Even when the conduct of these people almost crashed the economy, Labour rolled over. Rather than hold up their hands and admit they’d made a mistake in not properly regulating the financial sector, and promising to learn from this, they actually allowed the Tories to paint the 2008 crisis as a result of Labour over-spending, and it cost them the election.

Think about that for just a second. Labour could have fought the 2010 campaign on a promise to reform the City of London. They could have admitted their past mistakes – the public loves it when politicians do that – and gone on the offensive. They could have made that election about a genuine choice of priorities instead of letting the Tories set the narrative being all about the need for cuts to fix the “damage Labour did.”

It was an election based on lies. All of it. On all sides. The 2010 General Election was a fraud from start to finish, and it was a fraud because Labour allowed it to be, and they are letting the next one be dictated on the same terms.

They offered the public no “competing narrative” then, and they offer no competing narrative now. They didn’t challenge the big lie, because if they had they would then have had to offer a concrete set of proposals to actually do something about it.

It’s been six years since the banking crisis, four since the last election. In the meantime, the national debt has rocketed. The government’s “plan” to cut it has been a disastrous failure, and we have a stuttering economic “recovery” built on a still inflating housing bubble which, with falling earnings, is a certainty to burst.

There is no sign that any of the Westminster parties has the stomach for forcing the people who are actually responsible for this mess to pay that bill. The rest of us are paying it for them.

There is a good reason why the opinion polls have Labour with an anaemic one point lead. The party is weak and unfocussed. They are not a genuine opposition, because the opposition does not usually accept the government’s account of everything that has gone wrong. Their fuzzy thinking, their lack of fight, their craven subservience before the cruelty of what the Tories are doing to society is the product of something more than lack of a backbone.

This a party, I think, that looks at the enormous mess and lacks even the first clue as to where to even start cleaning it up. I think it’s entirely possible that there are sections of the Labour Party that do not want to win the next General Election, because then that lack of ideas, that lack of strength and determination, their moral and intellectual vacuum, will be fully exposed and the party utterly destroyed as a political force for a generation or more.

There’s a common thread that runs through Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, and that first season in particular, revolving around Tim Healy’s character Dennis, their “anchor”, and the inability of the group to properly function without him.

When Dennis refuses to make decisions on their behalf, they end up a squabbling mess, or forced into nonsensical (and hilarious) compromises like the one that ends up in the group living in a yellow painted hut.

I don’t believe that Labour will win the 2015 General Election. I think September is the only chance we have to avoid the trauma of a Tory government with an absolute majority. As the Rev has said, on Wings, many times, UKIP voters know a Tory government is their hope for Nirvana. The in/out EU referendum will never be given to them under Ed Miliband. Cameron is their one shot at this, and if he doesn’t reside in Downing Street everything they’ve done is for naught.

Scotland will not vote for it. Much of this country will vote Labour again, some out of the tribal loyalty we saw during the conference at the weekend and some because they believe every Labour seat needs to be won to offset the Tory wins in the south. In other words, they’ll see it as a purely tactical decision and grit their teeth.

I personally won’t vote for it, because tribalism is for sheep, not rational individuals, and because turkey’s voting for Christmas is a fools choice, not a tactical one. For the first time in my adult life – and it appals me to admit it – I will vote strategically, looking at a bigger picture, by far. I will vote SNP, because it’s only that party that will truly stand up for Scotland and only independence will deliver what the people of this country need.

The momentum towards that does not end if Scotland votes No. It postpones the day of destiny, and nothing more, a fact that will be apparent to even the most closed minded Scot after they’ve had to put up with four long, dark years of unrestricted Tory rule, where we’ll endure everything from the scrapping of the Barnett Formula to the dilution of Edinburgh’s executive power.

The problem is, if Scotland votes No the Tories, and Labour too, are going to see this as the near miss that galvanises them to make sure it can’t happen again, and there will be a strong temptation to try and halt the train once and for all . Voting SNP in 2015, in large numbers, will be essential if we’re to prevent Cameron and his majority government from cutting the legs off Holyrood entirely.

Now, it may just be that I’m wrong. That the Rev is wrong. That the pollsters are wrong. That the real experts in London are wrong. That something happens in the next 12 months that irrevocably changes the momentum down south, and Ed Miliband ends up Prime Minister.

My friends, all that gets us is a different colour on the wall, but it still won’t be the one we wanted. Which brings me back to the colour purple.

Purple is an unusual colour, don’t you think? Falling somewhere on the spectrum between blue and red, it’s the one a section of Labour has chosen as its standard. These “purple bookers” are influential within the party’s “brains trust”, if that doesn’t seem like a contradiction in terms. I know some of these people and they like to remind me that purple falls on the red end of the colour spectrum, and not so much the blue. For amusement they like to point across the ideological divide to the group that calls itself Blue Labour. I find neither particularly funny.

The Purple Bookers include David Miliband and his supporters. They are the tattered remnants of New Labour. They are profoundly of the centre right in the party, including Alan Milburn, Peter Mandelson and Douglas Alexander. There are some new “high flyers” in there too; Tristan Hunt and Rachel Reeves amongst them.

Remember her, in particular? She’s the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Work and Pensions, the one who agrees with the Tories on pension reform and disagrees with them on welfare because she says their welfare reforms don’t go far enough. She’s the one who’s making the working class the ultimate offer it can’t accept; that of a Labour Party that will be harsher on welfare claimants than Ian Duncan Smith.

Do you really want these people emerging on top of the “ideological battle” for the soul of the Labour Party? Do you think it matters? Because when they published their defining document last year, Ed Miliband himself wrote the introduction, and, as we can see with Reeves, he’s appointed some of the principle figures within it to key roles in his shadow cabinet. These people will be major players if he wins.

Yet, how much do you want a government led by the “theorists” of Blue Labour? Doesn’t the incongruity of the “left wing” of the party adopting the colour of the Tories, and their “One Nation” language, not come over as slightly creepy? Furthermore, if you’ve ever been on their website, you need to take a look at their introductory blurb. It really is something:

“Blue Labour is the Labour Party pressure group that aims to put relationships and responsibility at the heart of British politics … the organisation is dedicated to reclaiming distinctive traditions of reciprocity and mutuality in the labour movement … respect for family, faith and work with a commitment to the common good: sustainable politics that helps people lead meaningful lives.”

Could it be any more management-speak if it tried? Full of fuzzy sounding buzzwords and flight-of-fancy, and impossible to accurately define “concepts.” This is focus group language, the kind of stuff companies try to fill the heads of their sales teams with. Yet even for those not versed in the convoluted code of political discourse, that should have alarm bells ringing, loudly.

“Relationships and responsibility” is a simple enough code. The system should work on the basis that you have to give something in order to get something. The later use of the word “reciprocity” – trade-off, scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours – accentuates the point if it wasn’t already clear. It’s the language which propels Labour down the road towards Johann Lamont’s “end of the something for nothing culture” speech.

“Respect for family, faith and work” is a terrifying phrase, the language of the moral crusade, language with sinister connotations which send the brain reeling in a thousand directions. What does faith have to do with British politics?

When they talk about family what do they mean? Family values? Which ones? Equating work with those things is … surreal.

Their own Big Book of Ideas also contains a foreword from Ed Miliband, and amongst the “contributors” to what’s in there are The Fabian Society, Progress, Compass and … the Christian Socialist Movement. You know what the book is called? This book from the organisation which, elsewhere, has described itself as the Labour organisation that wants to “reconnect” with the core vote, and the mass membership?

It’s called “The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox.” With a name like that, you know it’s not going to be on the night stands beside the next James Patterson novel.

One of the leading lights in this intellectual crusade is John Crudass, who is a self-described left-winger. Yet one of his key allies in this endeavour is the arch-Blairite James Purnell, who I used to love to read, and quote, because of the sheer nonsense that poured from his lips, or leaked out of his pen. Try this for size:

“It brings home the nature of Labour’s present predicament … the principle of vitality and vision that must animate a Labour government is on life support. The words are managerial, the values administrative and the vision technocratic. The root cause of our predicament lies firmly in the half-lessons of the third-way paradigm and in our lack of confidence in our traditions.”

Can anyone tell me what that actually means? These are the people Crudass surrounds himself with, and this is the language they speak.

Labour is not a serious party of opposition. It’s a multi-colour-coded debating society, nowhere near serious enough for the smallest amount of responsibility, let alone the awesome requirements of governing a country like this one. A victory for Ed Miliband is a victory for fudge, compromise, business as usual … it will be neither radical, nor reforming. It will be a weak, vacillating, disconnected and perhaps even dangerous government in the damage it could do the idea of progressive politics at the UK level.

More than anything else, it will not be a government of conviction, one with a clearly defined sense of where it is going. Whatever else you might say of the right, its representatives are capable of direct, clear thought, and are driven in pursuit of their goals. A Labour Party which abandons its past convictions to embrace the least worst of theirs is not one I want to see exist, let alone one I want to see in office. It is an abomination.

When September comes, the people of this country need to be clear about what they are voting for, but also about what they are voting against.

We will be voting Yes to build a political system that doesn’t give us the perversion where “everybody gets what nobody wants.”

We are voting against the false “choice” offered us by the Orange Bookers, the Purple Bookers, the Blue Bookers and those “green book” working class Tories who would change the party name if they could, to disguise what they really are.

This is democracy as we know it in the UK. The United Colours of … No Choice At All.

No matter what coloured stickers they slap on the bottles, the stuff in them is the same.

If you pick one up, open it, and pour it into a glass you can tell, at once, that it’s not the sweet wine advertised on the label. When it looks rancid, and smells rancid, you surely don’t have to drink it to know what it is.

Politics in the UK right now  is a rotten, stinking arrangement, based on the lie that what we’re getting from Westminster is a choice. It’s not. It’s a shameful deceit.

And the worst lie of all is the one that says Labour will be any different.

These days, when I think of one of the Fifty Shades of Labour in government, I cannot help but think of Tolkien, and a paradoxically gorgeous passage in The Lord of the Rings.

“A strong place and wonderful was Isengard, and long it had been beautiful …. But Saruman had slowly shaped it to his shifting purposes, and made it better, as he thought, being deceived – for all those arts and subtle devices, for which he forsook his former wisdom, and which fondly he imagined were his own, came but from Mordor; so that what he made was naught, only a little copy, a child’s model or a slave’s flattery, of that vast fortress, armoury, prison, furnace of great power, Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower, which suffered no rival, and laughed at flattery, biding its time, secure in its pride and its immeasurable strength.”

Whatever Labour imagines itself to be now, I am pretty clear in my own mind what it is. It does not matter if it wears red, blue or the colour purple.

It no longer exists in the shadow of Beveridge. It lives in the shadow of Thatcher.

No more of it Scotland. No more.

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8 comments to “The Colour Purple”
  1. Absolutely love this James – as always, completely spot on. Auf ‘we need tae leave’ Pet is one of my all time favourite TV programmmes. There are moments when I could cry enough tears to fill the river Jordan and other, wonderful moments when my tears are caused by painful laughter! Well done with this x

  2. Another very fine piece – and an effective conceit.

    My only suggestion would be that you could come to your punch a little quicker. Compress the road in and squeeze out the too kindly letting go of the (your?) past faith in Labour as it might have been/once was. (Space wasted on multi-shaded gobbledygook pays more attention than its worth and maybe more than a reader has patience for.)

    I get the feeling your parting has been painful and you find it hard to speed brutally to your conclusion – but I think you’d be more effective if you could do so. Still a wryly bitter pleasure to read.

  3. Well said James, I am sure as another winger we are all proud of you. We, in my house look at the Labour Party as the working man’s means to making a name for himself or as they used to do in the olden days went into the Church, became Cardinal and told the King what to do.
    I think they lost their way a long time ago, sometime around the days of Ramsay MacDonald and they have just got worse and worse. I am sorry that you had to leave your party, my Dad even got around to voting Liberal one time, he was so fed up with them.
    Let us hope and pray the Scotland finds it’s brain and votes them out of power for a long long time to come.

  4. James

    Excellent post, putting some points across eloquently but you get the comment as you posted a Tolkien reference on March 25th, the day the Ring was destroyed (and the internet’s Tolkien Reading Day – I’m reading Atalante, the Fall of Numenor again)

    But this is apt. Also, for the reason above, I would love Independence Day to be March 25th 2016, but you takes your breaks where you can

  5. It brings home the nature of Labour’s present predicament … the principle of vitality and vision that must animate a Labour government is on life support. The words are managerial, the values administrative and the vision technocratic. The root cause of our predicament lies firmly in the half-lessons of the third-way paradigm and in our lack of confidence in our traditions.”

    This is policy wonk speech for we haven’t got a clue where we are, how we got here, or how to get out of it. The dilemma for Labour is that it is caught in a trap of its own making. Its chasing the tories who are chasing ukip – in other words, they are trying to out-right wing the right wing who are in turn trying to outright wing each other. I think the american phrase for it is “tail wagging the dog”.

  6. Never saw Auf Wiedersehen, Pet the first time round but caught it on repeat.
    If you are looking for a political drama then look no further than The West Wing. It was an absolute eye opener in how the American political system runs, or more importantly fails to run. It shows how party politics cause strife within the oval office and the effects on the administrative staff behind the scenes. It displays the political beast at work and the compromises made to make decisions. Sure there are hyped up story lines like the Presidents daughter being kidnapped but that in turn only highlights another absurdity in the US constitution when there is no Vice President.
    The whole seven series are a master of character building and story telling and yet they display an insight into how ‘the great game’ is played.
    The TV debates between Sheen and his Republican counterpart are genius but, as his second term winds down, a new minority candidate arrives to take on an elderly Republican candidate. This story line was scorned at the time but it is worth remembering that this was a full two years before the world had heard of Barack Obama shook the American establishment to defeat an elderly John McCain. In the middle of the series 9/11 occurred and a new episode was hastily commissioned, which as far as I know is only on the box set, titled ‘Issac and Ismael’. In this episode the White House goes into lock down during a school class visit where everyone must remain in the one room until an unspecified threat is cleared. As the tale unfolds we learn a bit about the Middle East and get to see that we are not all that different.
    Its closest British counterpart was the original ‘House Of Cards’ now remade for US television with Kevin Spacey.
    Anyway on to your article James. Labour were never going to win the 2010 election for one reason. The handbrake had been taken off the banking sector as you rightly said and it was that glut of easy credit which fuelled growth when everyone spent other peoples money, or indeed money that did not exist. It fuelled house building and prices spiralled out of control. Even in Monopoly money eventually runs out and that happened in 2007. People demand somebodies head on a stick when they are made homeless or lose their job and 9 times out of 10 it is the government of the day.
    This was still not the reason Labour was never going to win though. The reason was Gordon Brown. After 12 years of Tony Blair looking good in front of the camera, saying the right things at the right time, and looking solemn at the right time our politics had transcended the John Major, everything is grey, to a shinny new type of politics where substance is nothing and visual is god. This is why we now have David Cameron because he fits that mould. He is never a political heavy weight like Gordon Brown but unfortunately he did not need to be. Gordon Brown displays no empathy with the public and he did not have the demeanour that went down well with the electorate. Facial issues after a severe rugby accident in his early life. This was never articulated to the electorate in an attempt to overcome his short comings. The sad thing was that one of the architects of Labour’s spin doctor change could not see the problems awaiting himself. Gordon Brown is a throw back politician to the seventies but decent politicians are not what the British public want. They want people that will promise them the earth and look good in front of a camera.

  7. I consider myself to be something of a socialist yet despite this (or maybe because of) I have never voted Labour. For 30 years I have voted SNP (well I once voted for Margot McDonald on the list vote because I have a lot of time for Margot). By the time I was old enough to vote, Thatcher was in power and even at that age I thought the only way to go was independence. There were a lot of hard years being an SNP supporter in those days, before it became trendy! But now it seems my 30 years of loyal service is about to be rewarded. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t and have never agreed with all the SNPs policies but I’ve always voted for them because I have ALWAYS believed we can be a nation. I have always said I would not necessarily vote SNP once we are independent (probably would in the first election just out of sheer gratitude) but after that I am willing to see what every party brings to the table. However I am now not sure that I will ever, ever vote Labour. This once proud party of the working man is, as James says, out righting the right just to win middle England votes and their behaviour and utter hatred (and I don’t use that word lightly) of Alex Salmond and the SNP is beyond belief. Is this because they have no answer or vision to challenge them in Scotland, I believe so. People in Scotland have long memories and Labour will never be looked at the same again after this campaign. And James is right,if, God forbid, there is a No vote in September it won’t go away, it will never go away because we can’t allow it to. The thought of another 5 years of Tory government actually makes my blood run cold. It just has to be Yes in September, any other result does not bear thinking about. Rant over!

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