In a past life I was involved in drawing up a few mission statements and taking the rise out of others.
Despite what some might think, there is value to a well crafted two sentence statement, because, apart from anything else the work involved in coming up with it forces folk to ask what is the point of what we are doing?
And, no, I do not mean by that, the drawing up of the statement, itself.
However, the most vacuous and pointless Mission Statements are those that insist that your aim is to make Stonybridge the best place in the known universe to grow up in and to grow old in.
And that brings us, neatly, to Keir Starmer:
“The United Kingdom is forging a new path in the world,” he said in his New Year message.
“And the Labour Party that I lead will focus on ensuring that path leads to greater prosperity, fairness and opportunity for every nation and region, every village, every town and city that makes up our great United Kingdom.
“I believe this can once again be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.
“And with that hope and that vision, I believe that our best years are still to come.”
The Mission Statement should have stopped at the end of the second sentence. One of the reasonable complaints about Neil Kinnock’s oratorical style was that it was verbose, in other words why use one word when three would do.
Kinnock had much of the humour of Bevan and Lloyd George, but not so much of the focused hwyl.
Setting aside the silent “downward”, in the first sentence between “pathway” and “in”, the third sentence is risible to say the least. It is a prime example of English exceptionalism.
Personally, I thought modesty and self deprecatory humour were English traits, but clearly not any more on Planets Blue Labour and Gammon.
Is “I believe that our best years are still to come” a variation on Make America Great Again? I recall that Hilary Clinton debating with Donald Trump in 2016, observed that the MAGA slogan was running the USA down.
You will notice, I hope, that I am referring to England not Great Britain or the United Kingdom?
Whatever Starmer says, it is the English for whom this message was primarily written.
Any way, back to my point.
“I believe this can once again be the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.”
That England was once, ever, the best country etc is debatable. It is certainly exclusive, if not perceivable as unwelcoming so I suppose that should give it some appeal to the target audience, the Brexit unicorn that is the Red Wall or Essex voter.
But the most farcical element is “the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.”
How do you measure the achievement of either or both of those aims?
You cannot, because apart from anything else my definition of best in this context may not be your definition of best.
And what of the Gammon, the middle and working class, mostly white men with persecution complexes?
Does best, for them, mean a return to the world of 1950s?
A dreary, blustery, damp Sunday afternoon in February 1952 and the wireless is broken.
A time between the Festival of Britain and Bill Hailey and the Comets.
A time when women knew their place; homos stayed firmly in the closet; you could call a disabled person, a cripple or a retard without the PC police interfering; blacks were happy with what they were given, important, but nonetheless menial jobs and the chance to live in the best country etc; lone parents could be named and shamed; domestic violence was not a matter for the police …
The sentence has the potential to mean all things to all people. And may be that is the point?
It is on a par with Boris Johnson; “Soapy” Sunak, the conman hidden in plain sight, and Liz Truss et al waffling on about ‘levelling up’.
For on Planet Green Book, we still await a clear definition of levelling up.
Without that, underpinned by a set of goals and a list of outputs and outcomes against which the policy’s success or failure may be judged, all we have are some vanity capital projects for Johnson to pose before, grinning stupidly, with a large pair of mock scissors on their official opening day.
I have a confession to make, dear Reader, in that past life I was steeped (and still am) in the theory and practice of socio-economic regeneration and related equality matters in the diverse City of Birmingham. It was and remains a passion of mine.
I would opt to replace “best” with “better”, it means one is definitely seeking to improve on what is already there rather than planning to take a wrecking ball to it and I would speak of togetherness. And mention those of working age:
“I believe that together we may make this a better country in which to be born, to live and to grow old.”
Personally, I have always rather liked Sir Robert Peel’s definition of Conservatism, set out in his address to his Tamworth constituents in 1834, that it is about reforming the bad, but conserving the good, but that invites a debate about what is good and what is bad in our society and our economy.
It is worthy debate to have, a never ending one as our society and economy both evolve, but mission statements are meant to be unambiguous, couched in easy to understand language and not in need of footnotes to clarify their meaning.
If you think I am making a mountain out of a molehill over Starmer’s New Year Message then reflect on this fact, such messages are not drawn up in some down time between meetings.
They are the subject of meetings. A lot of time, effort and thought go into drawing them up.
Starmer free, with one bound from the stifling grip of Brexit, because on Planet Gammon it is an event, not a process, is setting the direction for Labour in the coming years.
Setting the direction with little or no reference to the Parliamentary Labour Party, the party’s membership or its activist base.
It is how he probably behaved as the Director of Public Prosecutions. I stand by my opinion that Starmer, and I did vote for him, is a manager and not a leader.
He was the head of a Non Departmental Public Body, composed of disciplined, salaried staff. It is not the same as leading a political party of volunteers.
Labour under Blair did not revise Clause IV, a mission statement before the term was coined, without widespread discussion. I well recall the subject being the main item on the agenda of a branch meeting that I attended. There was a good representation of the breadth and depth of the party’s membership present.
And we had a good debate on the need or not for a revision of the clause. One member making a good case against change, but with precious little support from those present. At the end of the discussion, she admitted she had been playing Devil’s Advocate.
The meeting concurred that a Clause adopted by the party in 1918 needed bringing up to date in the 1990s. To quote John Prescott, to reword it to set out our traditional values in a modern setting.
Clause IV is a shibboleth. People really only seem to get worked up about it when there are calls to drop it, as Hugh Gaitskell did in 1959, after Labour’s loss in the General Election that year, or to revise it as Blair did in 1995.
To be frank, my branch was not bothered much by the content of the Clause. However, this being the Labour Party, we agreed to the change in principle, but had doubts about the wording.
To return to Starmer’s Clause IV, I note the following.
He talks of “… greater prosperity, fairness and opportunity for every nation and region, every village, every town and city …”
Prosperity is not a value. Although, one might debate at some length whether or not it is a purely material concept that may only be measured in pounds, shillings and pence.
Where one would expect some fine words about equal prosperity, fairness and opportunity for all, regardless of their circumstances or some recognition that greater change for some might mean no change for others or even a diminution in their life chances so others might see some improvement in their own, we get “every nation and region, every village, every town and city”.
Let me get this straight, the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate will both share (equally?) in the harvest of the sunlit uplands that are greater prosperity, fairness and opportunity?
That is bloody ridiculous.
Greater fairness and equality of opportunity, in particular, may only be achievable, if the Gammon, willingly or unwillingly accept the need to budge up.
The status quo that favours them from the moment of their birth cannot be maintained, if others are to become more prosperous and tangibly experience greater fairness and equality of opportunity.
Heaven forfend that one might speak of the need for greater social justice in our society lest we be called woke or PC for doing so.
I was born into the white working class in Kingstanding, Birmingham, and I was brought up proper. If being woke or PC means “being polite” or “treating other people with respect” then I am woke, PC or whatever other nonsense the far right and far left are going on about this week to try and hide their inherent nastiness.
In 1999, I spent a good few months sitting across the desk from a woman, who was also disabled, from an ethnic minority and a lone parent. Disadvantaged, effectively, in four different ways.
The stories she told of the discrimination she had to endure on a daily basis were heart breaking.
What is the point of a Labour Party that will not see addressing her travails as requiring greater efforts than those needed of any response to the whines and whinges of an affluent, middle aged, middle class white male with a persecution complex?
Yes, many of them are to be found masquerading as the ‘left behind’ amongst those of that ill defined (see levelling up) group who voted Leave.
I do not see how Starmer will attract and keep the votes of the Gammon, if he does go on to underpin his Mission Statement with a well defined set of goals and a list of outputs and outcomes against which his policy’s success or failure may be judged.
May be Claire Ainsley is, as we speak, crafting a vague set of them to be all things to all people. It will not wash for ever, Claire, sooner or later you will have to step out from behind the arras and enunciate clearly what you mean.
Obfuscation will only get you so far.
And any way, Claire, your back catalogue on the Internet betrays your aim. Your intent to recast Labour as a socially conservative, economically liberal party is hardly disguised.
If you are a Corbynista reading this post, do reflect on the fact that Jeremy Corbyn took Labour into two General Elections under his leadership, pledged to scrap university tuition fees on his first day in office whilst planning, sotto voce, to leave the Tory austerity measure, the benefits freeze in place, indefinitely.
The self styled champion of the poor, sick and needy was planning to put mostly middle class youth well before tackling child poverty amongst the working class.
When Blair was asked about that order of priorities, he said, if he was still leader of the party that he would put addressing child poverty, first.
Corbynistas have nothing about which to be smug or superior.
Deliberately speaking not of people, but of places in Starmer’s New Year message is a dead give away.
If there is anything that defines the Ainsley, Paul Embery, Lord Glasman and Claire Fox axis then it is a low level of empathy. It is a trait not unique to them, they share it with the likes of Len McCluskey, the very gammony Laurence Fox, Isabel Oakeshott and Julia Hartley-Brewer to name, but four.
I confess that I never thought I would see a Labour leader seeking, even in a tenuous way to associate him or her self and our party with such people.
People, whom many rightly see as only motivated by self interest and similar. The Hartley-Brewers will speak of enlightened self interest when commenting on the generous acts of other folk. There is no act of altruism, according to a Hartley-Brewer, that does not result out of an expectation of some future reward and/or the hope of the pleasurable feeling that comes from doing a good deed in the here and now.
We are all motivated by self interest, say these sad, pathetic bastards, even when involved in an act of generosity.
It is all about them as we are seeing with the reactions of the likes of Embery, Fox, both Claire and Laurence and Hartley-Brewer to the measures designed to minimise Covid-19 cases and ease the pressure on the brave men and women of our National Health Service, who include my sister-in-law and niece.
Take it away, Tony …
“The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.“