Is Denis MacShane about to defect to the Lib Dems?

Nah. We should be so lucky unlucky ambivalent. This is one of the more vocal backers of the Iraq war, after all.

But it’s an odd set of parallel universes we occupy if it hasn’t crossed his innermost mind, if only just once, if only on a Tuesday with a prevailing wind when the moon is in Gemini, sign of split personalities…

This particular Tuesday just gone he ventured into the Torygraph to advocate tax cuts for lower and middle income workers. For a less “them and us” take on the issue, consider his Comment is Free piece of yesterday:

Between the Blairite market and the Compass state, is there a place for the individual in modern progressive social democratic politics?

…is the opening poser. He goes on to answer his own question thuswise:

There are two offers in front of Labour at the moment. The calls for a return to the Michael Foot years are growing. All power to the unions. Keep subsidising loss-making post offices. Bring in price controls. Adopt anti-Americanism. …

The other offer is more third way, New Labour triangulation, represented by Phil Collins’s attack on the Fabian tradition in the current issue of Prospect. As a life-long Fabian I think Collins and his wing of New Labour could not be more wrong. The patient step-by-step reformism of the Fabians combined with constant political education has been sadly missing in recent Labour politics in government where short-term gimmicks and even shorter-term manipulation of headlines have been preferred.

So the options are hardcore socialism or… or… more of whatever it is they’ve been doing for the last ten years. Can’t argue with that. Those are indeed Labour’s choices. The somewhat clubby defence of Fabian ideals looks odd in the light of MacShane’s own proposed third (aha!) solution, and this is where I go into superquote mode:

So there is a policy vacuum to be filled.

Well, not vacuum so much as, er, ordinary temporal space that is already occupied by a great big fat wodge of Lib Dem policy. So in order to occupy this same space, the existing object would have to be displaced to a different space. Tsk, tsk. Our parliamentary overlords clearly have no grasp of elementary physics.

It is time for Labour to assert the importance of a 21st-century model of social justice that exists to serve the people, not the state. Unlike Sweden where people pay 25% of their income in tax to local agencies which provide education, healthcare and retirement care that are directly linked to local payment, we sign a collective national cheque for £640bn to the Chancellor and hope he knows how to spend it well.

Sweden, eh? Local control of education spending, is it? Gosh that all sounds familiar…

The time has come to allow some move away from the state and to emancipate the individuals in the lower and middle income strata by giving them more autonomy over the lives by having more spending power. It is a counter-cyclical programme of increasing community spending power by allowing individuals to have a little more cash and the state a little less.

Ooh, that sounds like a good idea. Er…

Cutting taxes is not neoliberalism. The adjective is absurd in a British economy where the state takes and spends £4.50 of every £10 earned in the nation. In the past it was easy for earlier Labour politicians or Fabian or trade union leaders to call for higher taxes because the working class did not pay any. Even as late at 1960, a worker on average manual wage paid 8% in income tax. Today, the vast mass of voters and pensioners pay tax out of their earnings. Those with families get tax credits. But a third of voters in the recent London mayoral election are individuals. They should not be ignored.

Heavens, a recognition that things have changed since the 1960s. What can be going on? And, what’s this? People without children have rights? A bold new stroke from the two-party consensus indeed. Is it me, or is it getting a bit liberal in here?

Does cutting taxes means cutting spending? Yes, it does. Ask any trade union general secretary about cutting costs to keep unions afloat. They have done it. So why should secretaries of state be exempt from being obliged to curb or cut costs in order to put more money in the pockets of low and middle income Britain?

Less state income does not mean less public policy. We need to see rises in the minimum wage, encouragement to councils to build council homes, and further moves like the agency workers’ agreement which the British Chambers of Commerce is denouncing.

Hm, a recognition that the size of the state can be reduced without necessarily entailing the mass consumption of the Babies of the Poor by frothing hordes of Tory hounds, eh? Shurely shome mishtake. And here’s the drumroll:

…If the Tories said there is no such thing as society, Labour must be careful to avoid the trap of saying there is no such thing as the individual.

Labour has a wider duty to reinvent a new form of government… Labour must now break free of the Compass-Blairite axis and shape new policies. In the present conjuncture, a good place to start is to have a little less state and a little more individual spending power.

Who are you, “Denis MacShane”? What have you done with the real Labour MP for Rotherham?

In a way, whilst I agree with nearly all its essentials, the article highlights exactly what is so damaged about Labour after ten years in power. They’ve gone native (if they ever stopped being native in the first place). A thousand word article about cutting taxes and reducing the size of the state in which there is no mention whatsoever of the only mainstream party committed in black and white to doing both? Self-absorbed and self-interested doesn’t begin to cover it.

Of course, MacShane can’t admit that much of what he is describing is the Liberal Democrat approach, because that would be to give up on the cherished party he has been a parliamentary member of since 1994 (certainly not easy), and it would also be to concede that there might be life outside the two-party system, and no-one who profits by a system wants to see it undermined.

But this man is a Liberal Democrat in very many important respects other than the admittedly germane question of international sovereignty and illegal war. Possibly he doesn’t even admit it to himself. But then again, possibly he does.

The clinching proof? Look to the comment thread on Clegg’s Whiff of Insurrection piece for the Torygraph yesterday – a thread aptly described by OneHour over at Paul Walter’s gaff as “like having a bucket of bile thrown at you”. There were a number of noble exceptions to this, in fact, but I still expect to be washing bits of half-digested vomitted-up stupidity out of my hair for weeks. At least this one can construct a sentence:

Yesterday, we had the dreadful dinosaur MacShane, proffering his agreement that Labour was a waste of money, but then in the last throes of pseudo backstabbing of his own fellow travellers, switched to twisting the facts to blame conservative ‘policies’ for the debacle resulting from the last eleven years of Labour. He is another, who runs with an ever so slight conflict of interest in representing both his constituency and the EU, having sworn allegiance to both, and coming down firmly on the side of his EU pension.

Now we have Clegg, with more of the same drivel…

Now that is what I call an endorsement.


  1. I always quite liked MacShane, in a way. Perhaps he is groping towards a realisation that economic liberalism does not equal worship of large corporations. In fact, New Labour (who, as we are painfully aware, are not liberal in any sense) are far more pro-corporate than a true liberal would be. The low earners would benefit from a regime in which they are taxed less and have greater opportunities to develop themselves because they are no longer held back by lack of education/skills and general second-class status, such as has been entrenched by Labour & Conservative governments in their different ways.

    I have a vague idea in my head that the sensible left, liberals, and right-wing libertarians should form alliances on many issues. It goes way beyond two fixed axes. There’s the civil liberties coalition, the anti-war coalition, the green coalition, and what have you.

    Sorry for not making a great deal of sense, it’s too hot & I was never that articulate to begin with 🙂

    Those Hellograph commentators are really something else, aren’t they? I thought the CiF crowd were bad…

  2. So when are you standing for Parliament? We clearly need more people with brains, as you’ve ingeniously proved on two fronts with this post. I have a friend and colleague who’s enormously intelligent and will one day be a Labour MP. And yea, I might one day get a shot at a winnable seat for the blue team. We’d make quite a triumvirate – though I’d lag behind you two ladies in the intelligence stakes.

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