Wednesday, 27 May 2015

To win the left needs to get its act together and frame the political debate

Today in the Guardian, Owen Jones is urging the left to 'speak Spanish', and he makes a valid point - talk to people in terms they can understand and you have a much better chance of winning an election. He uses Podemos in Spain as an example of this plain speaking and quotes Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias:
'..... you should listen when Iglesias speaks. Last year, he delivered a speech berating the traditional left’s failure to communicate. Leftwing students never spoke to “normal people”, he said, and treated working-class people as though “they were from another planet”'
Although it is true that some on the left inhabit a world dominated by Marxist-speak there have been some really great communicators on the left. The best I can remember is Tony Benn who used to talk straightforwardly with conviction about the things that the vast majority of voters really care about - jobs, education and access to decent housing and healthcare. The right-wing media recognised this and that is why they demonised him. Bernie Sanders, the US Senator is another good example. We should study these people and learn from them.

Use of plain language and simple arguments has long been a strength of the right in Western politics, that is why they have been so dominant in recent decades. As I've posted before they have created a simple but 'convincing' 'free' market narrative which has been hugely successful, particularly in the absence of a coherent alternative from the left. I've posted about this lack of alternative before and how I think we can deal with it.

The key issue however, more important than plain-speaking, is framing the debate, and this was succinctly nailed by George Monbiot in his excellent Guardian piece a few weeks before Labour's crushing defeat:
"Labour has allowed the Conservatives to frame its politics. Frames are the mental structures through which we perceive the world. The dominant Tory frame, constructed and polished across seven years by its skilled cabinet makers, is that the all-important issue is the deficit. The financial crisis, it claims, was caused not by the banks but by irresponsible government spending, for which the only cure is austerity." (my italics)
The key thing here is the frame. Use of language is all important and through their dominant narrative the control the debate by use of frames such as 'free' market and tax cuts - i.e. market=good and taxes=bad. We hear these frames every day of our lives and they help to condition how people think about the world they live in.

So how does the 'left' overcome this and get on the road to electoral success? These are the steps we need to take:
  1. Confidence: talk about green politics/socialism as if you believe in it - which you do - and believe its possible. Politicians on the right are perfectly confident to talk about their ideas
  2. Create the narrative: keep it simple but tell the story of the political alternative and repeat over and over again
  3. Build alternative frames: create alternative frames, for example - tax security or tax insurance to describe the benefits of paying taxes - turn a negative into a positive
  4. Control the political agenda: choose the political battlefield you want to fight on - don't fight on territory chosen by them - they are simply wrong.
If you want to know I don't think the Labour Party is capable of doing this. The sad sight of the leadership contenders kow-towing to neoliberalism in defeat mean we can expect nothing positive from them in the next five years. They have already accepted that the Tories were right.

1 comment:

Viridis Lumen said...

Good points - I do think we need to come up with "stories" to illustrate how a socialist society could work (and wouldn't be the USSR!). The right succeeds by relating to how things are; we need to show how things can be if enough of us choose. Labour have indeed let the Tories frame their narrative - though looking at the leadership race, it also seems clear that they actually believe in it now themselves and are no longer an alternative, but rather a validation of market economics and its attendant inequality.