Sunday 24 July 2016

You Can't Crowdfund the Centre Ground

I'm old enough to remember when internet utopianism was a real thing. Back in the good old days of dial-up, Netscape, and Geocities, there was a sense the emerging global network of computers would call forth a new sensibility informed by peace, tolerance, and lovely things. Self-styled homesteaders on the electronic frontier knocked off ten-a-penny manifestos declaring the independence of cyberspace (as we cringingly used to refer it), the freedom of the individual, and a new economy modelled on free association and reciprocity. How did that work out? Today, internet traffic is dominated by massive corporations whose profits ponce off user generated content and the big data sets these audiences generate. Unreason has a huge following - for instance, yesterday I encountered a video with tens of thousands of views that, in all seriousness, claimed the Moon was fake because in the daytime "we can see blue sky through it". Ridiculous numbers of people hang on celebrities posting tat. People use the tools we have not to make connections, but to post selfies, cat pictures, and what's on their dinner plates. And there is the never-ending spectre of internet abuse and web-based harassment. Sounds grim.

Trying to grab back a slice of that utopianism, we have the just launched More United. Billing itself as the UK's first crowdfunded political instrument, it aims to harness the power of the internet to channel monies to election candidates. Those set to receive the cash are "moderate, progressive" candidates who sign up to MU's five key principles. If politics did scout badges, this is pretty much what you have here. Respecting and celebrating diversity, protecting the environment, international cooperation and EU loveliness, empowering citizens, and, as they put it, being for "a fair, modern, efficient market based economy that closes the gap between rich and poor and supports strong public services".

The last is a strange principle to hang your creds on. For one, the sentence is entirely incoherent. Markets are engines of innovation and growth, but only because they're chaotic, concentrate wealth in a few pair of hands where a strong, interventionist state is absent, and are founded on exploitation. That isn't a value judgement, it's a simple fact that those employed to produce commodities only receive in their wage or salary a small portion of the wealth their activity generates. By any measure, surely the hallmark of any progressive person would see them deeply uncomfortable about such a state of affairs. So there is that. And then there's the curious mention of markets. It's a bit odd because, surely, it's an unnecessary adjective. A "modern, efficient economy" would have worked just as well. Its inclusion here and its positioning as the first of the five principles is a deliberate choice. It's designed to make sure those frightful Corbynites are kept at arms length so they too can be written off as awful extremists, as something our nice, nice MU people can define themselves against.

Moving on to the initiative's patrons, well strike me down, if it isn't the great and the good. The hip young gunslingers of London's tech city rub shoulders with a couple of London-based liberal heroes, London-based do-gooders, and London-based journos. There's an underlying something uniting them all I can't quite put my finger on ... And so there we have it, nothing at all to dissuade the casual cynic that this is anything other than a nice establishment outfit pushed by nice establishment people to fund nice establishment candidates.

There are two things that interest me about this initiative. First off, MU aims to be a cross-party movement to fund candidates who have broadly the same politics - as if too much similarity between the politicians doesn't help explain the mess we're in. Fine, if you want to throw money at liberalish Tories, liberalish Labourites, and, um, the LibDems that's your business. Except, that is, should you happen to be a member of one of those parties. I cannot speak for our blue and yellow friends, but Labour takes a dim view of its members backing and supporting other candidates. Should MU decide to throw money at a candidate who happens to stand against Labour at an election, by participating in the crowd funding you're out on your ear. And rightly so. Parties aren't for jolly debates, they're about interests. Supporting anything other than a Labour candidate is, to put it bluntly, setting yourself against the interests of the labour movement. Feel free to do so, but you can't do that from inside our tent. I hope Jess Phillips MP, who's reportedly signed up to MU, gives this some thought.

The more interesting point is what MU represents, or thinks it represents. It aligns itself with the folks who went on the polite pro-EU demo after the Brexit result, and those digging deep to buy the The New European. The metro middle class types are its target market. People who think they're above and removed from the tribalism and crudities of party politics. Unfortunately for them they've misread the situation. The referendum has sparked off a mass politicisation that is, despite the bureaucratic heroics of its NEC, finding its expression in the Labour Party. People are pouring in. And all the other parties have seen an uptick in their membership fortunes too. After decades of decline, you might say we're seeing the return of the political party. Hence the people who would ordinarily be most receptive to a campaign of this kind are moving into active engagement. MU's model is premised on a politics that is done by politicians. It treats with people at the level of interested observers, and therefore comes to the scene some 18 months too late.

A less charitable reading might be that this is a liberal, middle class manifestation of the stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off market previously cornered by UKIP. Frightened by an apparently insurgent hard right (but oblivious to its limited shelf life), and bewildered by a left insurgency that would like to see the back end of, they're clinging to a centre ground bending and twisting all over the place. Without an analysis or understanding of what's happening to British politics, their fate is to launch empty initiative after empty initiative in the hope of making things better and nicer, their illusions about what's going on reinforced from within the safety of the metro media bubble. They're the Jehovah's Witnesses of politics - they eschew participating fully in the messes of modern life in the hope they'll ride Armageddon out.

Except it's already upon them. The political world they know has ended and something new is up for grabs, and they've placed themselves in the right position to ensure the influence they exert over what's coming next will be negligible. Good.


Speedy said...

"For example, yesterday I encountered a video with tens of thousands of views that, in all seriousness, claimed the Moon was fake because in the daytime "we can see blue sky through it". "

Yet at the same time you purport to take the apparent surge in online support for Jeremy Corbyn seriously?

I know you've insured yourself by writing off the next election - even if you can't see what an utter admission of failure this is, considering it won't take place for another four years - but it's a bit rich to knock these deluded do-gooders when the JC left consiste sf little else. And do you really think the current, or future party, heading in this direction is going to appeal to the disenfranchised working class?

You take the piss of these people, but at least they're on planet earth aiming at the centre ground, Labour is on another plant.

Metatone said...

Don't see the point of this, seems like it's really very much Lib Dem.

At the same time I would like to see Labour get smarter about tactical voting etc. Post rise of the SNP, Lab should be reconsidering the value of FPTP and should also be thinking harder about which seats it targets when money and resources are limited.

Phil said...

The Labour surge isn't an imaginary internet thing. It's real. Or perhaps those 600+ people who turned up to Brighton and Hove CLP meeting earlier in the month were entirely figments of the mind.

Quaker B said...

This is indeed another flaccid and rancid Lib Dem front. The website appears to be registered to Austin Rathe

Phil said...

Worth noting - campaign for candidates standing against your party is in the LibDem rule book too.

BCFG said...

The establishment, best represented by those darlings of the centre, you know the sort that hand out knighthoods to crooks, have realised they have been, like, not entirely down with the kids and lagged a little behind the in appealing to the yoof.

So this initiative is a few things,

a) an establishment project that uses 'cool' things to convey its staus quo message
b) a directly anti leftist initiative
c) Universal enough in its themes so as to cover everything from Blairism to Thatcherism (not a wide spectrum I admit!)

We live in the age of technocracy and not democracy. So MP's are selected for their technical abilities, the ability to run ministerial offices and run the system of government. MP's are expected to be highly educated because the job demands technical skills. Political parties stop being political parties and instead become incubators of this technical class. Voting for these bastards is a purely ceremonial part of the process, a bit like the Queens state opening of parliament.

The unlikely and unexpected victory of Corbyn, whose candidature itself was intended merely as part of the ceremonial process, brought technocracy into conflict with democracy.

Phil said...

a liberal, middle class manifestation of the stop-the-world-we-want-to-get-off market previously cornered by UKIP

If I can pull age rank for a moment, this is a perfect description of the SDP. Extremists to the right of them, extremists to the left of them, if only there was a party for the sensible well-meaning decent people... And then suddenly there was - and people flocked to it, at least briefly.

I don't know what these people think they're playing at, though. It reads as if they've heard of party politics, but never actually been involved in it at all. (Which might actually be the case of the people they're trying to attract, just as it was of the SDP's early membership. You'd expect a bit more nous from the people organising it, though.) It's all very well to say they support candidates of all parties & none, and that membership is open to members of existing parties, but there's a fairly glaring contradiction between the two statements - and Paddy Ashdown, at least, can't be unaware of it. Either they just haven't thought it through or they're punting on being so influential that they can constitute a whole new pole of attraction and reshape the party system around them. And if it is the latter, they really haven't thought it through.

MikeB said...

Aren't they simply shame-filled LibDem supporters? The experience of the ConDem coalition showed - to their own dismay - that neoliberalism laughs in the face of their "radicalism". And they fear that Brexit is one of the consequences of their collusion with the machine.

Now they are trying to rescue their self-regard by avoidance and denial - because now they have nothing to do with that lot. No, now they are, "a tech driven political startup...using the power of the internet to create a new centre of political gravity".

The sound of psychological defences being mobilised is deafening.

Mark Walmsley said...

Surely they want to make some stand against the trend of privatizing everything? Why couldn't they just have said "mixed economy"?

Anonymous said...

"The referendum has sparked off a mass politicisation that is, despite the bureaucratic heroics of its NEC, finding its expression in the Labour Party."

I was completely with you until this. There may be an influx to Labour but that is motivated less by the referendum than a small sub-section of the population - university-educated, urban, middle-class, late-20s to late-40s, Tweeting about how much they hate capitalism via their iPhones; generally obnoxious in my book - rushing to vote for their bearded God for the leadership, much the same people as the influx of £3 supporters last year.

This may look good for Labour's bank balance and it may make Labour look like a national expression of public will post-referendum; but the last YouGov poll showed the Tories leading Labour 40-29, so there's a long way to go before Corbyn's Labour alone is "the political arm of the British people".

As a hard-headed One Nation Tory I'm not sure if I dislike the herbivore Lib Dems behind More United more than I dislike the tiresome anti-Western infographic-sharing angry petit bourgeois Corbynites.

David Parry said...

'Tweeting about how much they hate capitalism via their iPhones'

I have to say that this hackneyed accusation of hypocrisy levelled against critics of capitalism on the grounds that they avail themselves of things that happened to have been produced under capitalism is little more than a cheap silencing tactic, designed to shut up anybody who has the temerity to challenge the status quo. I invite all who deploy this silencing tactic to take it and kindly shove it where the sun doesn't shine!

'the last YouGov poll showed the Tories leading Labour 40-29'

...because of the antics of the PLP, the legal challenges from both sides of the other's conduct etc etc etc. That's bound to negatively impact Labour's poll ratings; in fact, it would be something if it were not so. After all, in the minds of the public, this sort of farcical shenanigans hardly bodes well in terms of Labour's ability to form the next government.

(Fun fact: in the 3 to 6 months prior to this coup attempt, opinion polls fairly consistently placed Labour level-pegging with the Tories)

Lidl_Janus said...

"(Fun fact: in the 3 to 6 months prior to this coup attempt, opinion polls fairly consistently placed Labour level-pegging with the Tories)"

1. No they didn't (and the margin of error doesn't turn a 2% lead into a tie),

2. For all the talk from Corbyn-supporting circles about how The Polls Are Wrong, they're pretty much never wrong in Labour's favour,

3. The polls which weren't wrong last year were favourability ratings. Corbyn's stands at a net -41.

David Parry said...

'1. No they didn't (and the margin of error doesn't turn a 2% lead into a tie)'

We're probably arguing semantics, but I'd say that a 2% lead means that Labour and the Tories are level-pegging, near as damn it.

David Parry said...

'in the 3 to 6 months prior to this coup attempt, opinion polls fairly consistently placed Labour level-pegging with the Tories)'

Shit. I'm pretty sure I meant 2 to 3 months, not 3 to 6 months!