Academics and Political Conclusions

Academics have an important role to play in political discourse. We have time to try to rid ourselves of bias and use appropriate evidence. It is therefore disappointing when academics miss doing this as Avril does in her assessment of the British Labour Party under Tony Blair. In terms of bias much of her language seems deliberately provocative. “This strategy was particularly visible at the party conference where the New Labour managers used all the tricks in the book to ensure that there would be no damaging platform defeats.” (Avril, 2016, page 8, my italics). She is saying that party managers tried to avoid damaging rifts and limit negative publicity, i.e. do their jobs, but this is described as using tricks.

Turning to evidence quotes from clearly biased sources, i.e. passionately anti-Blair, are presented as conclusive statements. Importantly, even if the evidence were actually representative a major problem remains, we can conclude little from much of the evidence given. Some “evidence” seems true but it is not clear what exactly it shows. Apparently party managers described formal meetings “as excruciatingly boring and not an activity in which any sane member of the public would want to engage” (Avril, 2016, page 8). Were party managers actively subverting local democracy or just being honest as such meetings really can be excruciating boring?

Other evidence is asserted to be proof of a problem when it is not necessarily the case. Take, for example, the observation that Tony Blair “was eventually forced by a distrustful parliamentary party to step down at a time which was not of his own choosing” (Avril, 2016, page 9). This is given as evidence that Blair’s use of party management failed. Let us assume for the sake of argument that this is true, that Blair couldn’t have hung on longer. The problem is that this evidence is simply not diagnostic. No prime minister in the last forty years has gone at a time of his or her own choosing. Given this Blair’s “failure” is common to all prime ministers. Yes, his party management did not prevent what seems to be an inevitable end but we can’t say that the party management was “mainly self-defeating” (Avril, 2016, page 5). Perhaps Blair would have had to go sooner without his use of party management.

Read: Emmanuelle Avril (2016) The (Unintended) Consequences of New Labour: Party Leadership vs Party Management in the British Labour Party, Cogitation, Volume 4, Issue 2, pages 5-14