Friday, 30 December 2016

Things I Learned in 2016

Instead of a customary look back, I'm nicking Paul's idea and having a think about what I've learned this year. We never stop learning, after all, and for anyone who comments on politics and society to make sense of them in order to change them, it behooves them to take stock and reflect.

1. Liberalism has gone the way of the walking dead. It is a ruling set of ideas every bit as decadent and useless as Conservatism, and 2016 was the year this was demonstrated in no uncertain terms. I would say more, but I'm brewing a post on this very topic in the near future. Thunder, stealing, etc.

2. Be very careful about predictions. Last year's prediction about the EU referendum was spectacularly off, but then again I find myself in the company of every politics pundit going. I was also daft enough to think Trump couldn't win against Hillary Clinton, and as the popular vote gap between the two is in spitting distance of three million, that would have been right were it not for the electoral college. However, where I have got it right - Corbyn remaining Labour leader, decline of UKIP despite the hype, resurrection of the LibDems - this isn't because of superior powers of clairvoyance, but paying proper attention to trends and balances of forces. It's not always right, but more often than not, analysis works.

3. Theresa May immediately presents as a more formidable Prime Minister than her predecessor. She's a "grown up". She appoints people who can do the job. She isn't an ideologue, but has a plan that nods towards Ed Miliband. That's where liberal analysis ends (see 1). However, scrutinising her actions finds a politician as dithery as Gordon Brown, and as captivated by immediate party interests as Dave was. To have such a PM heading up the Brexit negotiations is a recipe for catastrophe.

4. Capitalism is in deep, deep trouble. It's not about to collapse, but the crisis tendencies that drive the beast are grinding against each other painfully, and it seems no amount of austerity, protectionism, or QE without significant inroads into private ownership seem possible to bring it back to rude health. The alternatives are either decades-long stagnation, as per Wolfgang Streeck, or a displacement of market relations by cooperative, networked, peer-to-peer relations as sketched out by Hardt, Negri and Boutang and publicised here by Paul Mason.

5. Jeremy Corbyn isn't proving to be much cop, I'm sorry to say. True, he was dragged down by some of the most disgraceful, pathetic, infantile behaviour ever witnessed in mainstream politics, and true, he's earned the right to run the party as he sees fit as far as the membership is concerned. Secondly, and related to 1), this year his opponents - the bulk of the PLP - have demonstrated they do not understand the character of the party they represent in the Commons. By trying to subvert the members' will, by seeking to replace him with someone whose politics would be continuity Miliband, replete with market solutions for problems, a desire to gut the welfare state, and bang on about controlling immigration, they would have destroyed the party. The coup-that-wasn't and the second leadership contest wasn't between winning an election and losing one, but a question of whether there would be a Labour Party or not. Jeremy Corbyn might not be leading the party to victory in 2020, but already he's saved it as a going concern.

6. And lastly, despite my best efforts I've discovered in 2016 that there are only so many hours in the day. The heftiest workload I've ever had, the maintenance of this place, a commitment to politics, at times it's proven impossible to juggle the lot. The blog has suffered, the politics have suffered. That is never going to happen again.


asquith said...

As a liberal myself I think we're anything but finished, and are currently providing a better (because more coherent) opposition to Dismay than any wing of Labour, "anti-imperialist" (except Russian imperialism obvs) or Blairite (less said about them the better) is managing to.

People are going to have to come round to the fact that free trade and peace are the only way to bring about a lasting prosperity, of course people have urges in other directions but the consequences of that are becoming known.

The latest outburst of poujadism should not be greeted with inchoate, Putin-loving, Syriza-style antics but by calmly pointing out the reality of the situation, which is that as much as people can be critical of the EU and the Obama order, burning the house down will just leave you with a burnt-down house, and it's becoming clear that Donald Drumpf, as a sociopath entirely lacking any principles of his own, will allow himself to be a cipher for the same old neocons so long as he gets to keep all the tinsel for himself.

Drumpf irresponsibly destroys the peace with Iran that's one of Obama's greatest and most hard-won achievements, not because he believes it to be wrong (he doesn't believe anything) but in order to get the trimmings of power.

"I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing".

Happy new year.

Speedy said...

Thank you for your efforts this year, as usual, much appreciated.

Lidl_Janus said...

The OP raises point 5, but then spends much of the paragraph essentially walking it back. The problem with Corbyn is that he hasn't got anything, really; for all the talk of him being 'principled', his philosophy is thin, and he hasn't got the leadership ability to seize the agenda or keep the party together.

The essential problem with the Labour Party, and the left in general, is that they've become conservatives. (The far left, at this point, are basically historical re-enactment societies with committee fetishes.) Note that the only two options we're ever presented with are tribute acts to the 1980s and the 1990s. I've seen limited, abortive efforts from Yvette Cooper and a few others towards talking about the future, but otherwise it's this talk of bringing back Blairism, or bringing back giant state monopolies.

This is the central question: what should the future be? (I happen to think the answer involves radical state decentralisation (not devolution) in key areas, and that both Blairism and Corbynism involve too much control-freakery to entertain such ideas).

Also, points 1 and 2 implicitly contradict, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Yvette Cooper - has she said anything of interest ever??