The Spice Girls told us what they really, really wanted (though quite what “zig-a-zig ha” might mean I was never sure). The most coherent message within the song’s lyrics seemed to be this one: “If you want my future, forget my past . . . don’t go wasting my precious time . .”.
Pace the Girl Power Five, the experience of my working life has been that in fact almost every person struggles to articulate what they want, but instead can quite easily tell you what they don’t want. It’s a curious phenomenon, but it’s real alright.
The imminence of Jezza-geddon is what brought this to mind. The other contenders for the Labour leadership have missed this point entirely.
I don’t want to make this piece one with a Scottish focus, but the example of last year’s referendum is a good one in this context. I didn’t then, and still don’t today, detect an overwhelmingly nationalist (in the sense of separatist) frame of mind in my fellow Scots. The reason the Yes vote came so close to winning was not that.
Better Together came very near to squandering a lead that was sitting at 20% or so at the start of the campaign, almost snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They achieved that by deciding to tell us that we were too poor, too stupid, too dependent, too wee. We didn’t like that at all.
Worst of all, Labour stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in their great endeavour. And we really, really didn’t like that.
Andy Burnham tried to scare us by telling us that the NHS could be safe only within the United Kingdom, but changed his tune a few weeks later, warning us instead that the NHS would be ruined by the Tories at Westminster.
Along came the General Election campaign. Labour took the tack that it wouldn’t oppose austerity in principle. (It would just be nicer – in some way – about implementing it.) We really, really didn’t like that.
The first major debate after the election was the summer (or emergency) Budget of July 2015, the principal driver for which was to ratchet up the scale of the cuts. The Labour front bench decided not to vote against that (never mind the spin they tried to put on things). What all of the Labour leadership election predictions are telling us is that the membership really, really didn’t like that either.
What Liz Kendall appears to be telling us is that we have to be more like the Tories if we want to win back power. Sorry, Liz, but we really, really don’t want that.
Jeremy Corbyn may turn out to be a complete windbag, short on depth when it comes to the hard realities of governing. (Or, perhaps not so much . . . who really knows?) It’s clear that his reign – even if only because of his age – will be a transitional phase only. At the very least it will achieve a break with the recent past.
I’ll tell you what we want, what we really, really want. We want to be the Labour Party. And nothing else.