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. 


Harry Barnes said...

So to advance don't we need some form of a synthesis between the two extremes within the Labour Party? Corbyn seems to me to have done that on at least one issue - the European Union. Traditionally he was opposed to EU membership supporting the type of lines which used to be taken by Benn, Skinner and Bob Cryer. But now he accepts the EU, whilst wishing to overcome its defects. It has a democratic deficit and lacks a social agenda. A sythesis should, however, seek to take the best from the two sides of an argument. Tridents without nuclear weapons, took the worst sides of both arguments. But at least it looked like some sort of effort to undertake dialectical reasoning! We should encourage that being done, but better. John McDonnell was actually quite good on Newsnight tonight over tax avoidance. No lttle red books.

Often in Labour Politics you have to work on what you have got. Even when we had Blair - although I did rebel almost as much as Jeremy did. But that can be done without always blowing raspberrys, but by putting a positive alternative case.

The Plump said...

If we are to be dialectical Harry, then should we be looking for transcendence rather than synthesis? ;-)

The EU is a good example, but whether it is the EU, Trident, the Falklands, the migrant crisis, the Stop the War Coalition, the concerns are what animate the stereotype of the Islington leftie (his power base after all - I have found generally found them self-righteous, conspiracy minded, contemptuous of those that don't think like them, and tainted by a dose of anti-Semitism. That's my prejudice - along with New Labour obviously, oh and ...).

I think that there is a much bigger conversation to be had about the Labour Party, and it is a global one about social democracy in general. Being familiar with the car crash of the Syriza moment, I think that this is more than an issue about Britain. New Labour asked many of the right questions, but came up with a lot of wrong answers - especially in power. Corbyn is giving the wrong answers to the wrong questions, but will never see power. He is not a credible alternative prime minister and never will be. Labour can't win under him. That's a big difference with Blair.

McDonnell was good on the corporate tax issue - I saw him on Channel 4 news. He has also made one of the more interesting interventions on the debate as to the nature of the Labour Party, looking back to the cooperative tradition. That interests me and is a conversation Labour needs about its nature and purpose, but neither of these will engage the voters we are losing. But I am afraid that what will be remembered is the little red book, and little else. These mistakes take a lot of recovering from. (He is also continuing his flirtation with the Islamist far right - not clever.)

There are big contradictions in our dialectic; an economic consensus that has been strengthened rather than weakened by its greatest failure; a housing affordability crisis in an electorate that will always vote for the status quo if house prices are rising (didn't the Tories get that one spot on?); a crisis in social policy as ideas of distributive justice are swamped by a popular sense of commutative justice that makes it worse; I could go on. These are some of the issues that we need to begin to transcend, and they matter very much to the electorate. It will take a lot of imagination and good empirical research.

There does need to be a new narrative, not just what about Labour is for, but what politics is for, given the general level of cynicism and distrust. In Scotland, that narrative was provided by nationalism. What can it be in England?

I honestly don't know what should be done, but I don't like the smell of the pickle we are in. I go back to adult education. I can think of two occasions when we had absolutely terrible appointments as manager. In one of those situations we tried to get rid of the person, held votes of no confidence, organised through the union and student bodies for a change. The result, they closed us down. In the second instance, we did make the best of what we had got. We didn't undermine the person. We worked hard to mitigate the mistakes and to continue to be successful. The result, they closed us down. The only difference between the two was that in the second case the manager was promoted, not demoted.

I am not usually pessimistic, but this time I am very worried indeed.

Anton Deque said...

The left economic arguments are there to be made and won. But not by Corbyn-Trot-Stopper Labour Corbyn and McDonnell have what the crime scriptwriter's call 'previous'. Their long established affinities as 'terror groupies' cannot be excused; these are part of their core political outlooks. Flourishing the Little Red Book, quoting Enver Hoxha with approval, Trident nonsense, unnecessary Falklands interventions and appointments of lightweights like Emily Thornberry, or the frankly demented, such as Seamus Milne, are continuing series of nose dives that show no sign of slowing down. But this sort of Kremlin watcher is far too much deep analysis; it will be forgotten in due course. The average voter that Corbyn needs to win over is the average voter who, despite the allegations of Murdoch and Establishment media manipulation knows an idiot when they see one. I long suspected that Corbyn believes, since he has no great contact with anywhere outside the metropolitan activist circle, that there are some still extant industrial 'masses' waiting for the call to take to the streets and 'propel' him into power. Im not worried. I am deeply disillusioned and rssigned to living out my days under Tory governments.