Mephistopheles In A Savile Row Suit: Lynton Crosby (of the infamous Crosby/Textor firm of right-wing political consultants) conducts a master-class on behalf of the Patchwork Foundation. Crosby's catch-phrase "When in doubt - stand for something" is one the Left would do well to ponder.
“WHEN IN DOUBT, stand for something.” So says Lynton Crosby, the man who, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, “really won the election for the Tories”. On the face of it, Mr Crosby’s catchphrase appears to be a statement of the bleeding, bloody obvious. But, the fact that he has had to reiterate it again and again over the course of his long and highly successful career as a political campaign adviser, strongly suggests that to a great many people in politics the need to “stand for something” isn’t obvious at all.
An old friend of mine, a Labour Party activist in Glasgow – God help him – was railing at me about the shallowness of the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) candidates and their paucity of policy. He’d just witnessed good Labour MPs, who had stood by their constituents through the bitter years of Thatcherism, wiped out by callow youths barely old enough to shave. It wasn’t right. It simply shouldn’t have happened.
But what did Labour stand for? That was the question which so many of Scottish Labour’s former supporters could no longer answer. It’s why so many of them voted for the SNP. Because the Nationalists unquestionably stood for something. Not just for independence – although that was hugely important – but for the sort of society that more and more Scots have come to believe only independence can bring.
Crucially, for my embittered friend in Glasgow, that’s the society which Labour’s founding heroes – like the Scotsman, Keir Hardie – promised to build. The society that Tony Blair effectively cancelled when he persuaded the Labour Party to remove the in/famous “Clause IV” from its constitution.
Clause IV had promised:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
That’s what Labour used to stand for. That’s what hundreds of thousands of Scots believe a party of the working-class should still stand for. That Labour no longer stands for anything remotely resembling Clause IV is why the SNP’s derisive nickname “Red Tories” was able to wreak such historic havoc upon the electoral map of Scotland.
After defining what they stand for, the next thing Lynton Crosby advises his conservative clients to do is attempt to define what their opponents stand for. The effectiveness of this strategy may be seen in the way Labour’s democratic socialist objectives have been made to stand for (at best) union tyranny and gross inefficiency, or (at worst) secret policemen and concentration camps.
“The socialist objectives of Clause IV confuse ends with means,” the Blairites helpfully parroted throughout the early 1990s, “the triumph of Labour’s values cannot be secured by the methods of the now defunct Eastern Bloc.” As if the UK’s welfare state, its National Health Service (NHS) and nationalised industries were in any way comparable to the totalitarian Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union. As if the privatisation of the UK’s water supply and railway network has been a roaring success. As if the hollowing-out of the NHS (under both Conservative and Labour governments) has made Britons healthier or happier.
What, then, do the Tories stand for? Supplying a politically persuasive answer to this, the most important of questions, is how Lynton Crosby really earns his money. The most truthful answer: the Conservative Party stands for the untrammelled right of those already in possession of wealth and power to make and acquire more; would not play well with “the man down there on the corner waiting for the bus”. Even so, Mr Crosby’s and his ilk’s description of Conservative aims and objectives is only slightly altered.
What contemporary conservatism stands for is the right of persons possessing the requisite energy and talent to acquire wealth and power without unwarranted obstruction or restriction. In a funny sort of way, this formulation is not so very far from “Old Labour’s” promise to “secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry.” The difference, of course, is that the Tories expect the workers to secure these on their own.
Labour used to be feared by the people the Conservative Party represents because it stood ready to expose this “you can make it on your own” mantra for the cruel con it has always been. That Labour was so easily defeated in England and Scotland last Friday is almost entirely due to the fact that it no longer offers workers any answer except “make it on your own”.
That is Mr Crosby’s greatest triumph: not only helping the Tories to remember what they stand for; but making Labour forget.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 12 May 2015.