Wednesday 9 June 2021

Abdicating Leadership

There were some successes from the New Labour years worth preserving. One being the legislative spadework done for LGBTQ rights, though a less generous - but accurate - reading would locate this in a vision of "inclusion", of a neoliberal politics premised on equal opportunities and removing unfair and unjust barriers to social mobility. Another, less talked about today, was the consolidation of what we might call bourgeois, or official anti-racism. Going hand in hand with the Blairist project of a superficial modernisation of the British state, the government and other state institutions pushed an official multiculturalism around respecting difference, tolerance, selecting and promoting spokespeople and "community leaders", and rhetorically generating out-groups opposed to the redefined, inclusive Britishness. Islamists and travellers qualified as the undesirables, while everyone else were hard working multi-ethnicity Brits suspicious of extremism and new waves of immigration. Naturally, this wasn't the case. New Labour ministers indulged Islamophobia, and the racism of state institutions, particularly the police, carried on. But all this was cloaked with a blanket of anti-racism and equalities talk, which ultimately increased the social costs of and shrank the tolerance for open, overt racism.

Following attacks on several footy players for showing solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and coming in for stick on social media, in a widely shared open letter Gareth Southgate took on the racists who abuse them. Defending the England team's stance on anti-racism and entirely consistent with the "progressive consensus" multiculturalism of the Blair years, he attacks the racists' sense of Englishness as old fashioned and dying out. With nods to soft patriotic markers of the monarchy, the war, and the "brilliance" of the country, he says his players have every right to stand up for the issues that matter and that all of them have a responsibility to the wider community. The clear implication being the racists are not just on the wrong side of history, they're outside a rebranded inclusive Englishness too.

Not controversial. A gentle nudging, barely even cajoling. It was a piece designed not to make racism a wedge issue but appeal to the better nature of fans who might put their love for the game before bigotry. Obviously not dyed-in-wool racists and dog whistlers like the appalling Tory MP, Lee Anderson. But in this moment on which Labour might capitalise and stand up for anti-racism, even of the most unchallenging kind, where was the Labour leader? Why did it fall to the England manager to defend this legacy of Labourist state building. How could the official inheritor of this tradition only muster a meek tweet of support?

A reminder of the context. The Batley and Spen by-election takes place in three weeks' time, a contest Keir Starmer would do well to win unless he wants a summer of unrest and rightwingers waking up to his lacklustre performance. Amid reports and whispers from the local Kashmiri community that they're minded to sit on their hands thanks to his hamfisted comments about Kashmir last year, and unwillingness to say anything about Palestinians as the Israeli government were slaughtering them by the dozen, even this, a little sign, an intimation of leadership on anti-racism might have helped a little bit. But no. It's almost as if the "grown ups" think they have nowhere to go, and somehow a sympathy vote will see Kim Leadbetter through.

Tone deafness toward an immediate and potentially existential threat to Keir's leadership is, sadly, par the course. The approach to opposition has been weak, from tailing the government and practically patting it on the head at points, to letting others do the oppositional groundwork for him. It was Marcus Rashford who gave Keir permission to start challenging the Tories on school dinners. It was Dominic Cummings's appearance before the select committee that gave Keir the strength to raise the issue of the horrors this government visited on care homes last year. And it was the G7 agreement on the corporation tax floor that encouraged him to start acting like taxing big companies is a good thing, despite Labour's awful rightwing opposition to Rishi Sunak, Rishi Sunak raising the rate. If Gareth Southgate hadn't penned his letter, it's very likely the Labour leader would not have uttered a word.

If this wasn't bad enough, we know the avoidance of wedge issues is purposeful. In his last rare intervention, his Blairness counselled for the avoidance of so-called culture war issues. Peter Mandelson did likewise. Keir did not need this advice from his forebears. By saying nothing it might hoodwink enough socially conservative voters into thinking the plastic patriotism was genuine. Or, alternatively, it clears the decks for Labour's presentation of its economic and social policy agenda. An economism of hoping warmed over Fabianism will do the trick as punters gaze upon the next manifesto in awe, but without actually saying anything now about what Labour would do in office. One might suggest picking priorities and banging on about them until the election might associate the grey blur of Keir Starmer with something substantial, but there's no sign yet this penny has dropped.

It's one thing to accuse leaders of not leading. All party leaders attract these brickbats at some point, but rare is the politician who is so hapless (or mendacious) that their entire strategy appears geared around triangulating defeat and the demobilisation of one's support in every direction. The question isn't whether Keir Starmer can turn it around. It's whether he wants to.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Here's the thing - the whole woke universe: BLM, trans, statues, etc, has its place (and a very particular place at the fringes of discussion because SOCIOLOGICALLY it is essentially an American phenomenon with its own peculiar roots in US racism/power which do not necessarily track across to the UK context - something I would have expected you to pick up on) but more than any time I can recall, it has come to define the British Left.

Workers rights, the class struggle, power - real power - all the things that matter, have been ignored, the ground left for the right, which it has occupied with aplomb.

The Left is like Narcissus so fascinated with its own reflection - the poison of identity politics - it will fall into the pool and drown.

The Left is PRECISELY where the right wants it, while it gets on with the real work of exercising and consolidating power - a taken knee here, a bit of tokenist multiculturism in the workplace? Why, haven't we got an Asian chancellor and Home Secretary?

And you're right, incidentally, it did start with Blair - the move away from class politics, promotion of mass immigration (esp. from the EU) that undermined the economic power of the working class and led directly to Brexit. The crack of the whip - the label of racist or 'bigot' to anyone who questioned this settlement. Perhaps 'you' have more in common with the despised Blairites than you think.

The Left is persuading no one, but it is certainly alienating many it needs to get back into power. The very enthusiasm with which it has latched onto all these endless endless solipsistic, circular arguments is a sign of its utter failure. It is like a patient babbling to itself in the corner of a mental ward.

Phil said...

Clearly you haven't been paying any attention.

1. Identity politics is class politics. Immaterial labour, the production of relationships, the production and regulation of identities are central vectors of capital accumulation.

2. If identity politics are an American import, comrades engaged in anti-racist struggles, feminist struggles, and trans struggles will be pleased to know the things they're struggling against don't exist, have no purchase in this country, and we can all instead spend our time drinking tea and telling others on the internet they're doing politics wrong.

3. Workplace activism and therefore building the labour movement remains strategically important because this is where economic production and the production of identities take place. But you're not going to get anywhere if you ignore or, even worse, denounce the latter.

Anonymous said...

I have been paying perhaps too much attention Phil!

The irony of these discussions is that the reality is as non-binary and multi-factorial as the nature of sexuality itself, yet their very advocates insist upon their own unambiguous rightness!

This intellectual flim-flam is of course as old as The History Man. In any case, I noted that these issues 'have their place' but are not central.

You can slice the cake according to the prevailing intellectual fashion, however, you do end with the absurdity, as reported today, of an Oxfam training document condemning white middle-class feminists for encouraging rape. As it happens, I have for a long time seen white middle-class feminism as a useful means for the bourgeois to maintain its power - a far more obvious, yet unacceptable, argument. So instead we arrive at the absurdity of white women, barely 50 years - if that, if ever - after attaining some equality being accused of supporting the root causes of sexual violence, as if this accusation somehow constituted a Freudian 'shadow' of the real bourgeois threat.

As a white male middle-class university professor, I fear for you - revolutions consume their children, etc.

2) No ifs, no buts, BLM and "woke" - meaning awake - specifically, are US imports grounded in the US's complex history. These are facts. The profile of identity politics per se could be said to be driven by the irresistible wave of discourse from West to East, not least thanks to the digital revolution. This wave is generated from US shores, not UK, and a while on trans issues it may track across, the NATURE of the debate, its winner takes all puritanism, has an undeniably American accent. And it's not just about tea and biscuits. Culturally, that matters. Ask a white middle-class feminist.

WillORNG said...

I think working class real incomes and power were far more significantly undermined by old school/neoliberalism, 80s late 19th century economics, mass unemployment, weakening unions; but the lack of action by neoliberal Labour compounded that.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (1),

How many statues of Cecil Rhodes are there in the US? I'd guess about as many as there are of Robert E Lee in the UK. My point is that racism, imperialism, etc is hardly confined to the US, and therefore neither is the reckoning with it by anti-racists/anti-imperialists.

1729torus said...

If people think Labour has no hope of a majority it'll introduce all kinds of problems IMHO.

What's Keir's plan for when Nicola tries the same stunt she did with Ed Miliband in 2015 and spends the next election telling everyone that she'll keep Labour honest if they get into government? I think everyone in Labour has blanked that out???

It's a naturally a complete coincidence that she'd be helping the Tories by discouraging leftwing voters in England while letting the Conservatives whip up fears of Keir being Nicola's puppet. Our Nicola would never be that cynical!

Any claims on Keir's part that Labour could gain power without the SNP would lack credibility so he'd have to address this issue which Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn both stayed well away from!

Besides the SNP confidence-and-supply question, voters might decide to sit the next election out or vote for parties such as Plaid or the Greens if they are uninspired by Keir and it looks like Labour are going nowhere.

This probably wouldn't have too much of an effect in the 2024 election in terms of votes,though it could cost Labour many marginal seats as the author of this blog has argued before. It would however be laying the ground work for Labour to be displaced SDLP style in the long run as other 'progressive' parties build up local support bases that eventually filtered through to Commons level. Labour should be especially careful in constituencies where the leftwing vote is more than 60%, so it would be difficult for the Tories to take advantage of any vote splitting

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2.

There is an argument for replacing statues as part of a democratic process, not least because nobody remembers who they are. There is no law that says a statue is immovable. Times change, people change.

But - and this is a subtlety that escapes many in their futile fervor - statues, indeed colleges, exist as part of a state's historical and cultural fabric. A statue of Robert E Lee, for example, erected today would be a plain act of racism and defiance, one erected a hundred years ago would mark a stage in that society's development.

Equally, if Rhodes college decides it wants to change its name, etc, then that is a matter for it. But, as with Churchill, history is nuanced. Remove all statues/ symbols is the classic fascist's tactic for erasing the past, erasing identity - even denying the dirty, uncomfortable aspects of it. Proclaiming that 'we are better, we have won'. I see very, very little evidence of that.

It is an effort to shape the past in our present image. Know that Rhodes was an imperialist - and imperialism paid for your education. Know that Robert E Lee led racist forces, and racism was and remains the core inequality in the US. Know that all this is part of who YOU are in the modern day. And remember, too, perhaps, that the computer the angry activist types away upon is powered by minerals mined by African slave labour. Have we really changed so much?

Remove these symbols and you remove their memory, you wash clean your original sin, you forget - which seems like a good way to repeat the same errors.

But God, we live in stupid times. We should erect a statue to the God of Stupidity - we are certainly worshipping at his altar.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, a campaign against a symbol of past oppression like a statue can be used to campaign against contemporary oppression. Again obviously, any campaign against oppression can be used to campaign against other kinds of oppression. In this sense campaigns around real or perceived oppression of self-identified groups can serve the greater good.

Unfortunately, they usually don't. In my country the "Rhodes Must Fall" campaign, which spiralled into a nationwide series of protests demanding reduced university fees, the removal of white academics and administrators and a change in the curricula to ensure more accessability to black people, succeeded in getting the Rhodes statue removed (thus concealing the fact that my alma mater is built on land donated by an imperialist) but in almost nothing else, and eventually fizzled out.

This was partly because the campaigners had no broader goal than their immediate ones, no historical sense, no real ideological coherence and little or no political consciousness. Would it be fair to say that this is also true of most similar movements elsewhere?

BCFG said...

I reject the idea that racism has much to do with mass immigration undermining the economic power of the working class, this is the problem with the analysis of the old style class politics. To be honest it was as fucking cretinous as wokism is today.

I think it is a bit of a leap to say the England fans are booing the players taking the knee because they are racist.

I think there is much more going on here, to be honest any sociologist worth their salt would not be so reductionist, but what can one expect from anyone who indulges in this appalling retrograde wokery.

It should also be noted that wokery is a very different thing to identity politics.

“Identity politics is class politics” – all depends on how the identity politics is conducted. Even class politics might not be class politics. The devil is in the detail and that is precisely where the level of the debate is. So you can’t say identity politics is class politics, it is too abstract to ever make sense.

“the production and regulation of identities are central vectors of capital accumulation.” – Again this is a total abstraction. For example, people who decide to transform their body to fit their perceived gender are completely within the ideology of gender, otherwise they wouldn’t need to transform their body. These issues cannot be discussed at such abstract levels.

“If identity politics are an American import, comrades engaged in anti-racist struggles, feminist struggles, and trans struggles”

This is one of many problems with wokery, they lump things like anti racism and feminism together when they have completely different dynamics, yet to listen to wokists you would think they are identical.

“will be pleased to know the things they're struggling against don't exist,” – if only they were struggling. In reality they are calling out and finger pointing people for having human frailties and weaknesses, based on some absurd narrative that next to no one buys into. The last thing woke ever does is actually fundamentally challenge anything.

“Workplace activism and therefore building the labour movement remains strategically important because this is where economic production and the production of identities take place.” – You cannot build workplace movements by false woke narratives, you can only divide and not rule. Which is exactly what woke does and is intended to do in my opinion.

Wokism is definitely a phenomenon of late stage imperialist centre capitalism and has very little to do with any progressive movements, it is more a symbol of decay than anything else.

Anonymous said...

On this point of the booing English supporters being racist, yes this seems a common claim, but I don't think it's true (although of course there are always exceptions) - they are booing what used to be called 'political correctness' if anything.

It's a 'Brexit boo' not a 'racist boo' and it is precisely that knee-jerk reaction that makes them boo 'you' (ie, the person who lazily labels the booers racist).

It's a boo against reverse-cultural imperialism, a reaction against Gramsci's revolution through the organs. A howl from a working-class (although this is a broad category that basically embraces anyone not part of a narrow band of the sub-ruling class, or 'inner party' - the bourgeois revolutionaries of the chattering classes) proud of its traditional national identity, be that at fault or not. Certainly calling them racists is not going to win them over.

Anonymous said...

Seeing posts like the above, you might think *all* fans were now booing taking the knee. In fact, it is still a small minority.

Still, lets not let inconvenient facts like the above get in the way of grand theses about a "working class" united against the "sub-ruling class" (where does our very right wing actual government fit into this btw) shall we now?

Anonymous said...

For every booing fan, I suspect there are many who share their sentiments. You only have to look at the circulation of the Daily Mail, the Uk's biggest-selling daily.

There is nothing mysterious about the modern class system, it's been as it always has been:

1) Boris, Rees-Mogg on top, ie Eton.
2) The bourgeois revolutionaries who benefit (have comfy jobs in media, academia, law etc) but think they should be on top, even though they actually provide a pillar of support for the ruling class and are a part of it.
3) Everyone else.

There is utterly nothing that Marx would not recognise. Like Jesus on Christianity - it only gets complicated when the self-appointed mediators - ie, the church or intellectual classes who view it as a way of enhancing their own status - get involved.

Anonymous said...

Circulations of *all* newspapers - Daily Mail included - are in long term if not remorseless decline. And when was the DM mostly read by "working class" people (however that seemingly ever more nebulous term may actually be defined) in any case?

You claim that lots of people agree with those booing but are for some reason too embarrassed/ashamed to agree/join in is another totally unevidenced statement, which does not actually accord with polling and other data on this subject.

But again, I'm sure you know best :)

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I don't have academic studies to back this up but my impression (as someone who is working class, white, male, & 37 years old) is that it would be a minority of the working class that are sufficiently invested in racism to go out of their way to make a point of expressing it in the voting booth. Most working class people are probably not super-"woke" but also are not comitted racists (IE: white-supremacists, neo-Nazis, etc). And similarly for all the other 'culture-wars' issues. The key would be to make an offer to the working class (generally) of material improvement of their living standards, working conditions, and a generally more fair society.

Certainly there is a right-wing/reactionary element (which is nurtured and promoted by the media) but for all that they still aren't a majority of us. Most people, even if they're not particularly well-informed, are not inherently arseholes.

BCFG said...

I actually agree that it is a minority of fans in the stadiums who are booing players taking the knee, but those fans who clap players taking the knee are no more wonderful than those who boo are racist.

I think the truth is more grey than this.

I would certainly say a majority of people are sick and tired of the gesture. This, of course, is no reason for these fabulously wealthy players (shout out to all your tax avoidance accountants), to stop doing it, any more than climate activists should stop because the majority are bored with activists.

Keep taking the knee and fighting for your low tax rates boys. After all we don't need resources to solve these problems, we need gestures!

Let the slogan be, more whites and men into the precariat, more blacks and even more women (like there aren't enough!!) into the middle classes!

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

It would be funny if it weren't so frustrating to see the comments section dominated by back and forth opinionating about what is important to the typical voter. Everybody thinks they represent everyman /person and have a clear insight into what most others think. I don't read any original ideas and certainly nothing that will resolve the fundamental problems faced by those who want a society that offers us all opportunity, respect and security. All I read is third-hand views that I hear repeated endlessly on similar blogs. Lots of opinion and no insight. So what if some people want to campaign against statues, or for more equal representation for identity groups, or whatever? They aren't the cause of all the societal issues and injustices. The problems of not having decent jobs, housing, clean air, health and social care, or a long term future for the planet aren't not being solved because of BLM protesters, or trans rights marches. We should focus our ire on those who are taking the vast share of resources and degrading and destroying others and the planet in the process. I don't have the answers, but I would suggest that if you offered a credible, consistent argument about what the cause of people's discontent is, and how it can be addressed, and a vision of a better society, with a road map of how to get there, you might begin to persuade people to support you. Instead all we get is bickering about factions, "isms" and who has the the right to speak for everyone else. Let people speak for themselves through a more truly deliberative democratic process and stop putting your words into their mouths.

Anonymous said...

Dr Zoltan.

"Let people speak for themselves through a more truly deliberative democratic process and stop putting your words into their mouths."

The closest the UK public came to this resulted in Brexit.

It is nonsense to talk about "a more truly deliberative democratic process" because it is not going to happen. Neither the right or the left would want it to happen because each side - lying BBC, lying Daily Mail - would argue what 'truth' was.

You cannot divorce the electoral process from the media landscape. Democracy is therefore highly tentative, at best.

For what it's worth I think only local democracy is meaningful but this needs to exist within a sort of benevolent global political bubble, and of course there's no such thing. The closest we have got is possibly the EU pre-Euro.

BCFG said...

“We should focus our ire on those who are taking the vast share of resources and degrading and destroying others and the planet in the process.”

This perfectly describes the majority of people in the UK actually; I think it was Blissex who described these people as Oligarchs. It is why I use the term the Court of Versailles. It is the very people the left are trying to win over who are taking the vast share of the resources and degrading the planet! Do I have to throw the average energy usage of the average Brit compared to the world average yet again?!

It is this fact, that most people in the UK are the global elite, which explains the miserable politics. The reason people keep voting for Tories, of one variety or another, isn’t because they are pissed off at the ‘establishment’ or pissed off at immigrants or unhappy about something, it actually reflects the fact that people are wonderfully content with the status quo, even if it destroys the planet and is causing mass extinction as we speak.

Communists should be arguing for an end to exchange, thereby rescuing a large proportion of the population from the idiocy of consumerist life.

Instead the left try accommodate to and go after the miserable wretched world view of this global elite, thereby effectively arguing for the status quo, coming up with all sorts of nonsense to justify it, such as the crackpot and risible idea of Accelerationism.

Anonymous said...

"The reason people keep voting for Tories, of one variety or another, isn’t because they are pissed off at the ‘establishment’ or pissed off at immigrants or unhappy about something, it actually reflects the fact that people are wonderfully content with the status quo, even if it destroys the planet and is causing mass extinction as we speak."

Yes. And the left always hated the "aspirational" working classes too.

As people of the left we have to look outside the laboratory of theory, although be informed by its lessons. Instead it all seems to be laboratory these days.

We also have to ask ourselves what we really want to achieve. Are leftists really democrats, do they even know what democracy means - in practice, outside the laboratory?

Of course, it is not only the left-left but the right-left that has created this state of affairs - by playing along with the illusions of the right. It begun in 1945 when they didn't get rid of private schools (and medicine) and continued up to the appeasement and facilitation of media oligarchs.

It is hard to see where to go at this point - uniting ordinary people on an apparently non-political local level I would say. The 5* movement in Italy, for all their idiocies and accommodations, could be an exemplar (Farrage thought so). Italy, which led the world with fascism, Berloscunism (ie Trump) and now populism is, ironically, an instructive political laboratory.

BCFG said...

"Yes. And the left always hated the "aspirational" working classes too."

Which I presume means you given you wanted us to vent our ire at those who are "taking the vast share of resources and degrading and destroying others and the planet in the process".

I mean are we still allowed to hate the aspirational Monarchy, or the aspirational capitalist?

Personally speaking I don't hate the aspirational, I just want to eradicate them from the planet, not because I hate them its just because we cant afford them, and they block real progress and deform real aspiration.

What we have are not aspirational working classes but what I call passive consumers, who are not in any way active in the process, they simply passively consume whatever shit is put in front of them.

Communism will. among other things, not only rescue people from the idiocy of consumerist life but it will also turn passive Zombies (or the aspirational as anon likes to call them) into active agents. My belief is that turning people from passive consumers into active agents will resolve many of the issues we see around us.

of course if you see no issues, then fair enough, carry on carrying on.

Anonymous said...


you are quite welcome to believe in communism, but short of nuclear winter, you might as well believe in Zoraroatstrianism, what good it will do you. Personally, I believe there are fairies at the end of my garden. That makes me happy.