Friday, January 22, 2016

Baleful Labour

I like this piece by Time Bale, he seems to get a lot right, though I would put some things a bit stronger than him.

I agree that
Labour cannot possibly win, nor even come close to winning, the next election unless it somehow gets shot of Corbyn in pretty short order.
Indeed, if he lasts very much longer as leader then there is every chance that Labour will gift the Tories control of government for a decade or more to come.
Yes, I do think it's this bad.

I also think he gets Corbyn's supporters right:
The ecstatic Labour delegates sitting around me in the Brighton Centre listening to Jeremy Corbyn give his first party conference speech as leader were lovely people. But they were utterly deluded. 
I would add two other points. First, Corbyn comes from what has been called the "regressive left." I have vehemently and consistently opposed it ever since I started writing this blog. Just because he has surprisingly become leader of the Labour Party, it makes no difference at all. Someone who has taken paid gigs spreading Russian and Iranian state propaganda, or who has shared platforms and promoted the views of fascists and anti-Semites purely because they are anti-western, has, to my mind, committed crimes against the very principles that the left stand on. This is unforgivable.

Secondly, well, he's a bit crap, isn't he? I mean, everything he touches turns to poo. Outside the politics, there is a genuine competence issue. As Attlee is supposed to have said to John Parker to explain why he sacked him in 1946, "Not up to the job."

That bit is easy, but Bale doesn't leave it there.
That said, there is clearly something to the Corbynite critique of what the Labour Party had become by 2010 and continued to be right the way through to its second defeat on the trot in 2015. Talk of millions of lost voters (the exact figure seems to vary depending on how left-wing those citing it see themselves as) may be overblown. But Blair and Brown undoubtedly presided over a hollowing out of the party's support, particularly in parts of the working class that might once have been seen as Labours core vote ..... Put bluntly, its thirteen years in power had made the Labour party's mainstream lazy. Rather than continuing forcefully to make the case that their ideas were practically and even morally superior to those of the left, they simply fell back on the argument that those ideas made them more electable.
Again I would go further. This wasn't laziness, it was incoherence. Anyone who has ploughed through Anthony Giddens' Third Way books would know that there was a lack of ideas at all, whether they were practically and morally superior or not. Instead we had an acceptance of Thatcherite political economy, justified by conventional wisdom, and completed with a heavy dose of grisly managerialism.

The crucial issue is political economy. It is not enough to decry an ill-defined 'austerity' or 'neoliberalism,' instead Labour needs a reworked social democracy that appeals to swing voters and to disillusioned and disengaged working class voters. This is not going to be easy, but it is necessary. Corbyn's knee-jerk leftism and Blairite smugness about their electoral victories - stripped of analysis or context of why those wins happened - is not enough. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Policy v politics

The decision over the renewal of Trident is one of those areas where politics trumps sensible policy making. This has always been the case. The politics of nuclear deterrence is dominated by political symbolism rather than strategic thinking.

Looking back to the Cold War, nuclear deterrence was a restraint. The consequences of adventurism were too devastating to risk a full-scale confrontation. But there is a flaw in the theory of deterrence. A deterrent has to be credible if it is to deter. To be credible it must be useable and ready to be used. The old theory of mutually assured destruction (MAD) is still popularly held, but was never credible. The idea that you would respond to an attack by destroying human civilisation - yours and the aggressors - is genuinely mad. That is why the main nuclear strategy was a war fighting one based on a ladder of escalation up to a first strike to take out the other side's own nuclear weapons before they can use them. It is a credible deterrent, but one with huge risks. If that primary deterrence fails, then the only way a war can be won is to strike first. The first level of deterrence encourages restraint, the second escalation. This was always the concern of more thoughtful critics of nuclear weapons. So there is a case for arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament. It isn't the one we normally hear though. Even so, because of nuclear proliferation, there still is a case for a deterrent based on a limited retaliatory capacity. We hear that argument a lot more.

But what about Britain's independent nuclear deterrent? It isn't fully independent and its military value is limited. Within the army, in particular, voices have been raised about whether the cost would be better spent on conventional forces. Further afield, there is another line that says that as we are under the NATO nuclear umbrella, the money would be better spent elsewhere and that employment would be better served by investment in non-military manufacturing. There is a real argument for a rethink. The problem is that this argument is buried under political symbolism. After all, British nuclear arms were always a political rather than a military weapon.

They were developed by the post-war Labour government primarily to keep British influence with the United States, but were opposed by the left. Since then, British nuclear weapons have become a cause, rather than a policy. And that cause has been a constant source of division, from Bevan's 1957 conversion to being a supporter of Britain's nuclear status, through 1980s unilateralism and up to today's split over Trident renewal.

The politicisation of nuclear weapons has prevented a rational discussion of policy. This was one area that would benefit from bi-partisanship. But the Conservatives have a vested interest in being the party of nuclear defence. They can paint a non-nuclear policy as both weak and extremist at the same time. There is no enthusiasm amongst the electorate for nuclear disarmament, it is a vote loser, and so the struggle in the Labour Party is over a symbol of both left/right control and electability. Military policy is merely an afterthought.

Today's Trident debate is the same. Trident renewal is opposed by the left, supported by the right and by the unions representing defence workers. The Conservatives sit back and watch gleefully. Once again, politics has prevailed.

Mind you, Corbyn has come up with a compromise - submarines on patrol with missiles without warheads. Another great idea. It makes no military sense, no economic sense and will be electorally unpopular. Again, the suggestion is political. This time it's the machine politics of the pork barrel - throwing an expensive and useless project at key supporters to appease them. Or perhaps Colin Talbot's more surreal explanation is the best one. Whatever, my head is in my hands once more.

Back to ...

Back to Manchester to be laid low by a succession of viruses and back to the nineteen eighties, at least that is what it has felt like as Jezza and the Corbynistas set about being a new romantic revival band. Yes, all the old favourites are back; nuclear disarmament, the Falklands, a looming Labour defeat. Except, I was young then and now I'm not. Bugger.