Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Scattered Thoughts on the Crisis

What with all that's going on, thoughts about this and that have been popping up all over the place, thoughts that do not belong to a coherent blog post. So instead, here there are in all their variegated incoherence.

1. It's that hoary old chestnut again: "Labour MPs have a greater mandate than Corbyn." They don't. Likewise Tory MPs don't have a greater mandate than Dave or whoever their new leader is going to be. In our delightful electoral system, each individual constituency elects a member to represent them in Parliament. On paper, the electorate are sovereign. But substantively, they're not: parties are. As has been the case ever since political parties emerged, the majority of members returned are successful candidates of a particular party. If a seat happens to be 'safe', which just so happens to comprise the majority of seats at Westminster, then the only way of removing an incumbent MP against their will is not by standing a candidate in election but removing them through an internal selection process. The majority of MPs might pretend they represent the constituency, but it's the organisation in that patch which is really sovereign, and this can be confirmed in two simple ways. First, how many MPs now sitting in the Commons would be there were it not for the party label. All of them? Half? A handful? And that applies pretty much across political divides. Second, if the party isn't really sovereign then why the abject horror whenever mandatory selection becomes a topic of debate? Yes, it might be a recipe for chaos and internal warfare as incumbents and challengers constantly scrap it out for the Westminster spoils, but that itself underlines the real repository of power in our electoral system. Woe betide any MP who really believes the waffle about personal mandates and so on.

2. What's going to happen with the trade unions? On Sunday I shared my concerns about this, that the leadership contest could end up destroying the Labour Party. It could, but it all depends on how the contest plays out. If there is skullduggery and Jeremy is kept off the ballot - remember, party rules are unclear on whether the incumbent leader automatically appears and the party has received conflicting legal advice - then there will be a split. Absolutely no question. But if there is a conventional contest without dirty tricks, then the destruction of the party might be avoided regardless of who wins. Of course, the relentless dissolution of Labour's foundations carries on and will carry on until MPs and constituency parties take the problem seriously (talking about points-based immigration systems and English flags ain't going to resolve it), but the immediate danger is over. There would be bloodletting if Jeremy loses as fair weather supporters decamp, and should he win who knows what may happen, but the party abides.

3. Unison Labour Link conference next week! If memory serves, they voted by a big margin last year to support Jeremy's candidacy. Now, anecdotally, there are some former Corbyn supporters coping with buyer's remorse. Will we see that reflected in who conference decides to support?

4. More broadly, there is a huge disconnection between MPs and the constituencies they represent. Naturally, as a Labour supporter how this poses a problem for our party is my chief concern. But the Tories have a very similar problem with their core support too. At a nearby constituency held by a Tory MP, residents barely see this member from one month to the next as they play Westminster footsie and spend practically all their time in the Big Smoke. This MP was re-elected in 2015 with an increased majority, as per most places in Staffordshire. Though a good proportion returned last year on the back of a Tory campaign scaremongering about immigration, among other things, the disconnect remains. The Tories are a party in decline, but what will happen to those voters? Project Fear-type tactics lose their efficacy over time, as we have seen.

5. Who watches Big Brother any more? I was glued to it for the first six seasons and now cannot bear to watch an episode. But the show's format strikes me as the perfect analogy for a sub-section of anti-politics voters who did turn out for the referendum. Like BB, or perhaps more appropriately, I'm a Celebrity, there is no connection whatsoever between voting public and the contestants, and depending on the public mood the audience votes in forfeits, punishments, or annoying housemates to make life hellish for the "stars". The EU referendum result is the ultimate soup of pig's bollocks, and some are getting vicarious pleasure from seeing the parties turn in on themselves and MPs dash about in panic. And yes, it would be such larks if it wasn't people at the sharp end set to pay the price for this bullshit.


Igor Belanov said...

As I posted on Crooked Timber:

'The problem with a lot of the Labour MPs is cowardice and lack of vision as much as ambition.

Mainstream UK politics is all about manipulation of the electorate, as the recent EU referendum demonstrated only too well. Despite failing miserably to manipulate votes in its favour over the past ten years, the vast majority of the party’s MPs regard manipulation as an essential tactic when it comes to electoral gain.

As such, the tactics of manipulation will not work if MPs are held accountable to principles or policy, whether they are dictated by party members or sections of the electorate. This is what MPs are fighting for- their freedom to make things up as they go along.

Unfortunately, the MPs have not recognised that this style of politics has discredited them and the system among vast groups of people, as well as leaving the way open for more gross and shameless manipulation from the likes of UKIP.

What Corbyn offers, for all his real and imagined flaws, is a rejection of manipulation in favour of debate and persuasion based on principles and arguments. While this is seen as na├»ve by many, it represents the only way out of the party’s (and the Westminster system’s) impasse. What the PLP are demonstrating is not pragmatism but myopia.'

Igor Belanov said...

"There would be bloodletting if Jeremy loses as fair weather supporters decamp"

'Fair weather supporters' is somewhat unfair. If Corbyn is toppled, why would members want to remain in a party where the elite can annul the result of their democratic wishes? It suggests things will never change. Surely no member with self-respect could campaign for an MP who treated their views with such open contempt?

Ken said...

Hi Phil,
I've mentioned this site before, (Wings over Scotland) a Ipro-independence MSM monitor. Today however, he sums up the situation in the PLP as "The Suicide Squad". It's hard to disagree with his assessment. A wincingly good read.

BCFG said...

I think the MP’s are actually representing their own interests. This is the problem when MP’s get paid too much, they live in circles remote from what most people experience and develop policies that represent the Middle class circles they move in rather than policies that help the working class. Being Middle class and liberal they have a tendency to pander to racism, to bend the stick too much. As a working class liberal and socialist I can say this bigotry has to be tackled head on, and not with patronising tones.

The other problem comes with the win at all costs mentality. This way you end up pandering to the worst elements and that pandering has led to a vote to leave the EU. So much of the blame for this leave vote can be attributed to the Blairites.

The Labour party is disintegrating because we have a situation where the vast majority of MP’s do not speak for or represent the vast majority of the party. As I said the MP’s represent themselves and their own Middle class constituency. It is also disintegrating because the vast majority of MP’s have actively sought to undermine Corbyn, their leader, at every opportunity. They have never given the bloke a fair chance. I find it utterly laughable when people talk of New Labour being a broad church. The actions of the Blairites have shown it is their way of total chaos. They have caused chaos because they cannot accept mild social democracy.

I said from day one you cannot have a party where all the MP’s do not support the leader. Corbyn should have gone on the attack more. What needs to happen next is a mass cull of the Blairites from the party. They need to find a party that represent their interests and views. I can think of a couple straight off the top of my head. And if they hurry up they may be able to help prevent Boris from being the next PM! Though i suspect that for the Balirites the worst possible thing that could happen is a Corbyn victory.

Anonymous said...

Hang on.

To what question is 'Angela Eagle' the right answer?

If the PLP are going to dump JC, then they might as well go full-steam for a new leader that appeals to the mythical median voter of Downsian legend. And that leader is not Angela Eagle.


Speedy said...

Even if Corbyn had breathlessly campaigned on behalf of the EU they would have still lost. This is about getting rid of him before a General Election.

The referendum was lost because for the first time, the public had a chance to send a message to the political elites and know their vote - which is usually pointless - mattered. That they cut off their noses to spite their faces, is neither here nor there.

Labour lost the working class with Tony Blair, when New Labour stealthily opened the door to mass migration "to rub the right's nose in diversity" but actually rubbed their own people's. It was in Labour areas that the impact - only half of which was from European countries, perhaps less - was felt, and this alienated a lot of people, who felt uncomfortable with the change around them and powerless to adapt.

It's not like middle class people don't like hanging out with their own types, so why not working class people? And the problem was the working class felt a hell of a lot less likely to see it as an opportunity - their values are grounded in nationalism, not universalism.

As I've said before - it is not all about materialism. Communal identity - a sense of security, comfort, shared values, home - trumps this. I think it is interesting to see the howls of disbelief from the middle classes, who have been deprived of their own sense of identity (European). Blimey, look at those middle class people riot in Westminster! Do you think, perhaps, that in all this, there is a sense of how the angry Labour voters felt when they were disempowered and detached from the communities that they identified with?