Thursday, 8 May 2008

(F)Right Night

This post was written last weekend and I've had no internet access since. It may be old hat, but there you go.

Discounting the victory for Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party in Coventry St Michaels, the win for Respect in Birmingham Sparkbrook and a few other creditable results for the left up and down the country, the results that came trickling through last Thursday and Friday were grim reading for leftists of whatever political persuasion. This was particularly so in London where Ken Livingstone was turfed out of office, Barnbrook got a seat on the assembly for the fascists and as a rule the left performed comparatively poorly. Even Respect's association with Galloway was not enough for it to overcome the electoral fall out of its split with the SWP.

It was also the case that May 1st, the day of the workers, was the occasion when the mantle of the preferred political 'A-Team' of British capital passed from an organisation rooted in the organised working class to the organic party of Britain's ruling class. At this point it looks as if David Cameron's Tories will be the government after the next general election.

It's not difficult to see why. New Labour are a busted flush. 10p tax ... perception of dithering ... non-doms ... post office closures ... the list goes on and on. And yet, incredibly, none of Labour's leading figures seem capable of acknowledging where it all went wrong. Brown appeared on practically every politics chat show going to claim he's the "listening" prime minister. And yet you also had ministers such as Yvette Cooper and Ruth Kelly doing the rounds indicating that it will be business as usual. Leading New Labour blogger Luke Akehurst is typical of this tendency. In his world Labour lost because it hadn't been listening to Middle England enough. To win them back from the Tory fold Labour needs to "triangulate" more and tack even further to the right. So expect the government to use the Tory front benches as its personal think tank with greater unseemly regularity. You don't need to sit through a thousand focus groups to tell you this prescription is suicide for Labour. Why would a Tory supporter back a pale pink version of their party when the real thing appears in rather rude health?

Akehurst couldn't be more mistaken. If Labour wants to return to winning ways it needs to inspire its working class and 'progressive' middle class cores to turn out and support it, and they only will if it consigns its neoliberal dogma to the bin where it belongs. But this is unlikely. A cursory look in Akehurst's comment boxes reveal there are clued up members of his party who know the lie of the land, but they are not the one whose hands are on the steering wheel. The party machine is stuffed with clones, hacks, careerists and time-servers. Though I somewhat optimistically wrote of the prospects of the Labour left earlier in the year I can't see them getting very far, let alone affecting a sea change before the next general election. This will probably take being ejected from office, but given the grip the Blairite-Brownite bloc have on the apparatus, it is by no means certain we will see a return to social democratic principles.

And so, the Conservatives are starting to look like a government in waiting. Any opposition would benefit from having to put up with the same bunch of chancers in government for the last 11 years, regardless of their political character. But there might be something deeper going on. For some, Cameron's Toryism can appear superficially attractive to a wide range of voters. It is socially liberal - the acceptance of civil partnerships comfortably sits beside its soft pro-family focus. The 'Cameroons' are environmentally friendly, tough talking on crime, anti-authoritarian and measuredly euro-sceptic. Cameron possesses an inoffensive Etonian charisma which is unashamedly establishment, albeit an establishment (officially) reconciled to meritocracy and the presence of minority communities. It is also an establishment that want to be seen to be taking its responsibility toward those it rules seriously. This is all guff - it just so happens the velvet glove covering the Tory mailed fist is particularly frilly these days. But to those who aren't confirmed politicos this can look many times more attractive than New Labour's grey managerialism.

Already much ink has been spilled on Boris Johnson's victory in the race for London mayor. Some have predicted a four-year long nightmare has settled on the capital and blogging Tories have been urging the new administration to pursue a radical (i.e. reactionary) agenda from the outset. Making predictions in politics is a very risky business, but I cannot see Johnson pursuing a hard right trajectory, at least not for the first couple of years. He may occupy the second most powerful elected office in the land but he is not his own man in the same way his predecessor was. From the moment Johnson walked through the doors at City Hall on Tuesday morning the reign of Tory central office began. BoJo the Clown will be on a very tight leash because nothing can be allowed to jeopardise Conservative election chances. So measures that have been associated with Johnson's campaign, such as the scrapping of the congestion charge and the London minimum wage for city employees, are not likely to be enacted. If they were, it would sit rather uneasily with Cameron's new patricianism. That said they wouldn't be so reticent about taking the RMT and the capital's unions on if it came to the crunch.


Luke Akehurst said...

Sociologist? Socialist? Hairy waste of public funds more like it.

Why don't you get a proper job like me - I consult for global armaments clients and firms privatising public services. Almost a working class job, when compared with what most of my New Labour fellow councillors do for a living.

Anyway, what's a socialist?

Anonymous said...

Lancaster UAF is reporting that the BNP has lost half there welsh councillers, before they even appeared on a council

Jim Denham said...

What leads you to describe Respect's single victory in Sparkbrook, Birmingham, as a "victory for the left"???
...As opposed to a victory for a far-right, communalist, theocratic monstrosity?

Phil BC said...

Not being blinded by sectarian hatred leads me to said conclusion, Jim.

Merseymike said...

I share your view about what Labour needs to do - forget about the mythical Middle England who are natural Tories anyway, and inspire their supporters who have stopped voting or opt for other parties.

I'm afraid getting rid of Brown is also a necessity.

The Fully Clothed Civil Servant said...

What the likes of Akehurst fail to realise is that New Labour is now dead - or will be by the next election. So many of the old party faithful have become so disconnected with Labour - they feel betrayed and rightly so.. Forget trying to win back Tory support - we need to win back the core working class support sooner rather then later. Although, i'm afraid it's too late for Brown -the damage has been done.