Talking to the People (or Multi-Political-Culturalism)

Matthew Bishop’s (SPERI) post (via Simon Wren-Lewis Mainly Macro) includes a terrific example of how to constructively win people over on the economic debate.

His suggestion to draw out the correctness in people’s belief’s rather than attacking the wrongness is the bedrock of negotiation.

David Miliband and Owen Smith have struck a similar chord. Understanding that the Left has to win the votes of people who voted Conservative is essential. (I have gone into the maths of why winning the votes of other leftist parties will not be enough to win power here.)

Naturally, there is a fear that conciliation means compromise, selling out or even treason.

But as Bishop points out one can keep one’s intellectual and moral integrity while being respectful of your audience / detractors / opponents. A more level headed approach to understanding how to win people over is needed.

The success of New Labour was rooted in understanding that the general election was a negotiation with the entire electorate, not just hoping the party’s core beliefs will be enough to convince. Respect for those who disagree with you is an important part of that. Hillary Clinton’s labelling of half of Trump supporters as “deplorables”  was a big mistake, picked up on by those supporters, who quite rightly said that, if she does become president, she will be their president as well, so she needs to respect everyone. (The irony of this is not lost on me.)

Brexit and Trumpism are many things, but I believe that, above all, they reveal that politics is cultural not rational. On all sides, from supporters of Trump, Brexit and Corbyn, I see sensible people quoting extraordinarily unreliable sources to justify their views.

One of New Labour’s great tactical successes was to represent many cultures of the left in its top leadership: Blair the Middle Class Moderate, Brown the Technocratic Puritan and Prescott the Straight Talking Union Man.

The New Labour use of focus groups has been denigrated. But it is not unhealthy for leaders, in order to escape their ivory tower, to engage in such democratic research. The irony is that many on the far left are critical of New Labour’s focus groups, while simultaneously criticising Blair for not listening to members.

I have considered how I would try and engage a wide range of people in a conversation about the failure of austerity in a liquidity trap. The answer is that with many people (due to my own limitations not theirs) I wouldn’t be able to.

Superficially, one might think that the language I use might not be appropriate – and yes, the words, phrases and colloquialisms are important – they are culturally specific. Using the language of different political cultures is important. But it is not just the words that differ between political cultural groups, but the content too. For Brexiteers and Trump fans, they do not talk about low demand being the cause of the global slump, so there is little point talking with them about it. They have a parallel universe of politics which is about protectionism, patriotism and religion. To engage with them, we must engage with their content. In Brexitland, the fears about long term damage to the economy was not relevant. The content priorities were national sovereignty and immigration. There was little traction to be gained by ignoring this and having a parallel conversation about the economy. There was much talk during the Brexit campaign that Remainers had won the argument on the economy. But, of course, it was of no consequence.

A recent video interviewing very poor Republican supporters revealed, unsurprisingly, that they would rather die hungry and poor than vote for a party that would compromise their morals. In this case, their morals were anti-abortion, homophobic and anti-Muslim. That aside, it is the fact that morality is their political priority not personal prosperity. How they came to this conclusion, is a different matter.

So Labour must now start talking with many heads on one body. Not contradicting each other as the Conservatives have now taken to doing, but delivering the same message using the different languages and concentrating on the different priorities of political cultures of the UK.



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