Monday 25 October 2021

Digging Labour's Grave

Commenting about politics, you can only write so much about one thing. 18 months into Keir Starmer's leadership of the Labour Party and we're at this point already. Say what you like about Ed Miliband and what he did in the first third of his time, he at least did things. He announced wonkish wheezes (remember One Nation?). Unlike the Starmerist albatross, he won elections more often than not. Eventually, painfully he got round to announcing policies - some of which were mildly social democratic and Labourist. And he opposed the Tories. The party was mired in soggy centrism and could not break from the triangulating wisdom of recent years, but it wasn't wearying. Leading circles weren't preoccupied with chasing off the party's depleted membership and leaving behind a rump of supplicants competing for recognition from the hallowed parliamentary elite. Starmer invites curses from all corners of the map for inspiring nostalgic feels about this insipid past.

These last two days underline, again, why Labour under Starmer is going nowhere. Asked by Richard Madeley about "fencing off" the "hard left" Corbynites on Good Morning Britain, Starmer bounced around like a blue-panted Action Man with darting eyes. "We changed the rules at Labour conference! We're taking action to bash the party into shape! We're not for chanting slogans but changing lives!" For a moment, he felt the imagined gaze of Peter Mandelson's "millions of voters" who cheered his attacks on party democracy, and a frisson of enthusiasm momentarily flashed through his countenance. Starmer, the man who values his haircut more than his politics has taken one thing from his close cohabitation with the Labour right: a genuine zeal for taking on his party's left wing.

Speaking of slogans, in the time of Starmer we still have them. Except shouting them and writing them on cardboard is so 20th and lefty, man. A professional outfit spends time thinking about message, graphic design, and putting it out where most of the media are - on Twitter. And today's effort? "Labour would tax fairly, spend wisely, and get the economy firing on all cylinders". What even is this trash? Instead of staring starry eyed at the New Labour documentary currently showing on BBC2, the "grown ups" would do better to look at the sorts of sloganeering His Blairness went for back in the day. It might have been vacuous, but they were simple and straightforward. They could fit on a podium, and easily connoted the vibes they wanted to convey. This was a lesson Labour under Corbyn learned, with its "Standing Up, Not Standing By" and "For the Many, Not the Few". Leftist in inspiration, populist in delivery, but sufficiently vague enough not to scare the horses. The only time Starmerism has blundered into pithy statements was last year's cloyingly desperate and unimaginatively blunt "A New Leadership".

And ending where this post began, there are more rumours, yes, more rumours that MPs, drunk with victory and looking to exclude Corbyn permanently from the parliamentary party, want the power to exclude recalcitrant rebels and prevent them from standing for Labour in the future. A measure, it's worth noting, that even Blair did not reach for - despite occasional dark mutterings in this direction. Starmer's stupid enough to cleave to it. But we go down that path and we are in Labour Party split territory. Hundreds of thousands of members with nowhere to go but the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Greens, new left parties, community organising and protest movements. And with cash rich unions not likely to play bank of mum and dad to ungrateful offspring who take the money with one hand and push them away with the other, the PLP's hard right could get to play out their Change UK-adjacent fantasies. With the same end result.

Cynicism and stupidity interpenetrate one another with such intensity in Starmer's leadership it's impossible to even analytically separate the two. Passing up free shots at goal, like the Tory sewage scandal, the unmitigated disaster of Covid management, the food shortages, energy bill rises, and everything else the Tories are and aren't doing, it's almost as if each egregious failure is the government goading Keir Starmer into having a go. But the path to effective opposition means saying nothing. Yes, this complete failure to fulfil Starmer's constitutional duty demoralises and demobilises the Labour left. But simultaneously imperils the seats of many right wing Labour MPs, assuming they'd like to carry on being MPs. Likewise, treating those who stuck with the party in 2019 as the "wrong voters" is only going to benefit one outfit in contention, and that would be the Tories.

The Earth turns, the sun rises and sets, and Keir Starmer and his allies demonstrate their unfitness to lead the party of opposition into government. We've been here before and we'll be here again until the curtain falls on Starmerism, or on the Labour Party itself.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

There’s a message going round from the Party ostensibly aiming to assess the position of CLPs if there’s an election soon. It pretty quickly gets onto finances. Given the mess Starmer and Evans have created in the party finances can it be long before a new levy on CLPs is suggested?

Blissex said...

«the PLP's hard right could get to play out their Change UK-adjacent fantasies. With the same end result.»

But the point of taking over the "Labour" brand is precisely to avoid the fate of ChangeUK, art least for several years: the "Labour" brand is automatically voted by at least 25% of voters who still think it is means "on the side of workers".

New Labour's formula is pretty much "ChangeUK/LibDems plus 25% of voters". That is the precise formula for PASOKification, but it can take more than 10 years before those who automatically vote "Labour" realize they are voting for the "whig" right and not for the social-democratic centre-left.

Shai Masot said...

Didn't the "cash rich unions" effectively ensure at coference that Starmer's union-bashing replacement (aka Wes Streeting) will finessed into position through a PLP- and grandee-led coronation?

Kamo said...

But the big question is who is the shining star of the left who can mobilise the marginalised masses without falling in to the Wolfie Smith shtick that alienates the broader population and immediately ends any hope of electoral success?

Blissex said...

«mobilise the marginalised masses without [..] alienates the broader population [...] ends any hope of electoral success?»

If one starts from the premise that the "broader population" is tory, the consequence is New Labour's strategy of waiting their turn for the "soft tory" voters to be disappointed by the Conservatives and abstain or switch to New Labour.

But the broader population has non-thatcherite interests, and is also mostly "proletarian", and even for those workers who are also property owners there are two categories that would vote for Labour:

* Those who own property in "pushed behind" areas, as their interest is to attract jobs and thus tenants and buyer to those areas, where prices have been falling in real terms. Their interests are not the same as those of property owners in the south-east. That the Conservatives can end up representing the rival interests of property owners in the south-east and in "pushed behind" areas is largely the result of the amazing stupidity of "leftoids".

* Those whose jobs (and secondarily properties) are insecure even if they think they are middle class. Again here the "leftoids" with their moralizing "loser liberalism" mixed with identity politics are very effective at repelling those marginal middle class voters whose main interest is having a "safety net", by making it look like the "safety net" is only for the poor and discriminated.

The "left" must be primarily non-thatcherite rather than anti-Conservative, even before being social-democratic or democratic socialist or anti-capitalist, because whatever the opinion as to the end-game, I reckon a significant majority of voters have non-thatcherite interests. Perhaps aiming for "butskellism" is a sell-out, but it can be a very valuable stepping stone.

But the immediate problem for the "left" is not so much attracting "pushed behind" property owners or insecure middle class voters, it is that there is no major party representing non-thatcherites. That there should be no major non-thatcherite party even if a majority of those who have the vote are non-thatcherites is of course precisely the purpose of the Mandelson Tendency.

«the big question is who is the shining star of the left»

That is a not such a big question: the leader does not matter much electorally as a rule, as Tony Blair said most voters vote on instinct as to their interests; Tony Blair was a rare exception to the rule, as he had a strong negative on the New Labour vote, losing 4-5 million votes from the level he had inherited from John Smith (which were gifted to him by Nigel Lawson's crashing of the property market).

If Andy Burnham recent betrayal of thatcherism (“the 80s”) is sincere, he could be however a useful rallying point:
«Burnham [...] has more clarity on what he is about as a politician and explains to The House that, in essence, that is “rolling back the 80s”. “I feel like [the 80s] was when things changed for the worse in this country, both in terms of the demise of certain industries, the loss of affordable public transport, council housing,” he says.” I believe you trace a lot of our problems back to then and the sadness for me is that New Labour didn’t fix those things. It did some good things, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t fix those things.”»

Even if he is not a figure who can enthuse "proletarians" like this:
But Evans made the mistake of asking the audience why they joined Labour – and received ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ as the overwhelming reply.

Anonymous said...

"But the big question is who is the shining star of the left"

This is not even a small question, it is a stupid one, typical of Kamo.