Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Struggling with the Staggers

I hesitated earlier this year before deciding to renew my subscription to the New Statesman, and the Christmas issue, which I have just got round to reading, makes me wonder if I shouldn't have hesitated a little longer.

The Staggers is of course a Labour-supporting paper, and never likely to see eye to eye with the Lib Dems even when we are not in coalition with the Tories. But at its best, it is broadminded, has contributors with a range of different viewpoints and so is a good read even for those who don't agree with its politics.

So while I never expected it to welcome the coalition government, I hoped at least that it would recognise that Labour had outstayed its welcome in power, and offer constructive opposition to the new administration rather than a full frontal assault. Sadly, it has very quickly lapsed into a variant on the unthinking dogmatism that it adopted in the early 1980s, the last time Labour lost power, which made it unreadable to anyone outside the left of the Labour party. Whenever a Labour government loses power without having created a new Jerusalem, the cry of betrayal goes up from the left - normally it's the right of the Labour party that gets the blame, this time the Lib Dems are an even better scapegoat.

The Staggers' political editor, Mehdi Hasan, appears to have a visceral dislike of the Lib Dems that was on display even before the election - taking the view that any criticism of us should be accepted unquestioningly and any possible defence not even considered. So it is no surprise that in the Christmas issue his article is entitled 'Coalition? This is a Tory government'.

It's a measure of Hasan's intellectual standards that the closest he gets to rational analysis and logical argument is a playgrount taunt: describing Danny Alexander as 'George Osborne's red-headed, red-faced bag carrier at the treasury' - a sort of playground taunt. The rest of the article consists of ignoring the late Labour government's more right-wing tendencies (crime policy, civil liberties, tuition fees, setting up the Browne review to consider higher tuition fees); refusing to acknowledge the more liberal elements of the coalition programme (closing the family unit at Yarl's Wood; increasing capital gains tax etc., the levy on banks, making the Browne recommendations more progressive) or else crediting the Tories (prisons, pupil premium). It concludes with a historically misleading reference to supposed previous Conservative-Liberal coalitions. In fact the Liberal Unionists in 1886 and Liberal Nationals in 1931 were breakaway organisations that had seceded from the main Liberal party and entered into an electoral alliance with the Tories.

This sort of thing would doubtless go down well as a piece of rhetoric to an audience of Labour activists, but is hardly to be taken seriously as political analysis. One could do a similar fisking exercise on the magazine's editorial in the same issue, which continues to exonerate Labour and blame the Lib Dems entirely for the failure of the two parties to agree a coalition in May. I have a theory that there is a positive correlation between the readibility of the New Statesman and the electability of the Labour party. If so, then regardless of the fate of the Lib Dems, Labour could be in for a long spell in opposition!!

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