Hobson’s Choice (What Is & What Should Never Be)

I once voted for Led Zeppelin.  I’m not proud of it now, but it seemed a decent option at the time.

When I did this, the previous few years had seen two general elections and a referendum on continued membership of the European Community.  What faced me then  was a local authority election for a safe seat, which meant that it was a dull affair by comparison and my individual vote really didn’t seem to be of any consequence.  Although a sense of civic duty compelled me to trudge along to the polling station, once there I felt overwhelmed by the apparent futility of the exercise.

I made a new box on the ballot paper, labelled it “Led Zeppelin”, and proceeded to cast my vote accordingly.

If truth be told, the sense of satisfaction at having stuck it to the man didn’t last long at all.  I’ve always held the view that those who don’t vote in an election surrender any right to complain about the result. You may not positively like any of the options available, but at worst you do have the opportunity to vote against the one you favour least.  And, I wished I had chosen a more hip alternative . . .

I made a further mistake when, many years later,  I confessed this youthful indiscretion to my children. I think I was trying to illustrate some learning point along the lines of “act in haste, repent at leisure“, but that got swamped by the mirth generated by a gift-wrapped present of a chance to ridicule Dad. At every new election they muse aloud at Zeppelin’s prospects (thereby demonstrating that my youthful foolishness is matched by their woeful attempts at wit).

The single most impressive politician I ever came across in person was . . . Tony Blair.  I was present at a Labour Party session in Glasgow (at the City Chambers) during the run-up to the 1997 General Election at which Tony addressed us.  Boy! He knew how to work a room.  That aside, what he told us was that his only focus was on winning the forthcoming vote, because without that he wouldn’t be able to achieve anything.  In front of us was the opportunity to seize back control after eighteen long years of Tory rule.  We all had to pull together in support of that aim.  Nothing else mattered.

When it comes to politics, I’m not interested in ideological purity for its own sake.  The real world is all about compromises, sometimes hard ones to make.  There is little point in sticking steadfast to your beliefs if it means that you never gain power.  The only way to have a chance of implementing a manifesto’s policy proposals is actually to be in office, which requires that you do well in an election.  A bird in the hand is always worth two in the bush.

On the other hand, you do need to articulate the principles that underpin your politics. If you don’t then how can you tell when you’re compromising and how do you know the course correction to make if you ever have the chance to do so?  On that note, I have to say that I think that the dropping of Clause IV by the Labour Party was a mistake. [1]

Which brings me to the current contest for leadership of the Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn didn’t get my vote in 2015, but I wasn’t completely unhappy at his success then, for reasons I hinted at in my blog post at the time.  I don’t view Corbyn as the long term solution to the Party’s electoral woes, but perhaps as a necessary staging post.

That said, he has gained in stature over this campaign by his dogged refusal to respond in kind to the many ad hominem attacks on him and by his admirable determination to stick with the programme as he sees it. The problem remains, however, that he has plenty of the “vision thing” but precious little of the necessary “realistic policy that can deliver“.

I voted for Ed (not David) Miliband in 2010.  Despite Ed’s many PR gaffes during the 2015 campaign – particularly the risible “Ed Stone” stunt – I would have preferred it if he had stayed on as leader.  I trusted his instincts regarding policy and wanted the Party to resist the temptation to bow to pernicious media pressure.

Owen Smith leaves me cold, however.  He has aspirations towards Blair’s mass appeal, but can’t pull it off.   He offers only managerialism . . . in a grey suit, to boot.  Faced with JC’s persistent popularity (with Party members – or supporters – at least), he has been reduced to moving ever closer to him in policy matters.

All he has been left with now by way of differentiation is the claim that he is more electable than Corbyn.  Who buys that?  Even if a Corbyn-led Labour Party is doomed to electoral failure, what makes anyone think that having Smith at the helm would alter our fortunes in that respect?

Both Corbyn and Smith will end up as mere footnotes in history. The simple, stark reality is that Labour will not win the next election, no matter who is leader.  For recovery, we need to look far beyond that.

There’s a saying that has become popular here in Scotland in recent years: “I didn’t leave the Labour Party; the Labour Party left me“.  (Mhairi Black used it in her acclaimed Maiden Speech.)  It’s unfair on the Party IMO.  Instead, my view is that public attitudes elsewhere in the UK appear to have diverged from mine.  The problem with the Labour Party is that it thought that the best approach was to follow that drift, in pursuit of electoral appeal. The notion of winning the argument has been abandoned it seems.

Increasingly, I feel like a spectator as regards UK politics. It no longer matters much to me in terms of personal engagement with it – and Brexit really did put the tin lid on that.

Unlike many in this former Labour heartland, I’ve stuck with my membership of the Party; but, as I tried to explain via my blog posts at the time of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, increasingly I don’t see that UK Labour has anything much to offer in terms of actually delivering beneficial change.

With a separate Scotland there might at least be some hope.  That’s the reason I voted Yes in 2014. I did get some abuse for that from friends and relations, but my sense now is that perhaps the penny has dropped more widely as regards that rationale.

Currently, I’m struggling to decide what to do in this Labour leadership election.

I’ve given this post the title of “Hobson’s choice”.[2]  By that I mean that I’m not attracted to either candidate – neither is going to be around for long anyway – with the result that for me the real choice is between voting and not voting.  Corbyn will win no matter what in any case.  My individual vote doesn’t seem to be of any consequence, therefore.

Of course, I could always vote for Led Zeppelin . . .




1.  Oh, I’m aware that it was the same Tony Blair who engineered the removal of Clause IV.

2.  The term “Hobson’s choice” does not, as often mistakenly assumed, refer to a selection between two options of equivalent worth (which would be a “Morton’s fork”) but instead relates to the circumstance of choosing between something on the one hand and nothing on the other.

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