Tuesday, 15 November 2016

After Trump, Corbyn?

You know that dark cloud shading into fascist brown accumulating above the White House? It's pretty frightening, so it's entirely normal and expected for some to (desperately?) discern a silver tinge its edges. One of them is superstar economist Yanis Varoufakis, who suggests Trump's election signals a new wave of change. Coming from a similar, but decidedly non-Marxist standpoint, Robert Skidlesky reckons there is some progressive potential in 'Trumpism'. A Keynesian kernel in a racist, bigoted shell, one might say. Another variant of comment looking for a hint of sunnier times to come, leap on the discrediting of the opinion polls and the mess our politics and economics are in. And that is the line of argument suggesting the Labour Party could well sweep to power at the next general election.

You should look to the future with optimism, but always temper it with intellect. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work out. Liam Young, writing for the Indy puts forward quite a simple thesis. Economic dislocation gave us Trump (though, as with most things, it's complex), therefore it could help the left too. Because people are fed up with established politics, an insurgency from the left can be just as successful. Stated baldly like that, yes it can. Though, no doubt due to reasons of space, Liam doesn't offer any deeper analysis. Just an exhortation for us to ride the wave or get swamped by it.

There are a few things worth remembering. The rising tide of populism has two legs. The first, which the left are more familiar with seeing as they're increasingly drawn from it, is the growing mass of networked workers. Long atomised and repelled by an establishment politics of technocratic managerialism, Jeremy Corbyn's rise to the summit of Labour is an outcome of them moving into the party in large numbers. Considering membership was stubbornly stuck and the activist base wasn't getting any younger, the surge of new members and support has already saved the party from PASOK-style oblivion. Not that Jeremy will ever get any thanks for it. As argued previously, our hope lies in continually recruiting from and encouraging the many millions of networked workers to get involved in politics, deepening the alliance between the existent labour movement and the emergent layers. Hence the importance of the Corbynist party/social movement conception that's got a few knickers in a twist.

That, however, isn't all there is. The processes that have created this layer of workers and are lifting them to prominence is the same that has cut a swathe of deindustrialisation through the advanced nations. For every newly integrated and networked worker, there are others that have been discarded and left to fend for themselves - the so-called left-behinds of many a hand-wringing op-ed. Meanwhile, the uncertainty this results disproportionately excites and antagonises middling layers who, by virtue of their class locations, feel keenly the cutting wind of status anxiety as it buffets our economies. UKIP, as the party condensing, displacing, sublimating these fears is the opposite expression of the same dynamics underpinning Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. UKIP definitely is not a working class party, but in many Labour-held constituencies it has become the default choice for the anti-Labour sections of our people. Though that could all change thanks to Theresa May's One Nation turn.

The key to making inroads here, and also into Tory-supporting working class and middling voters elsewhere is the sense of self-security. Despite Tory politics having exactly the opposite effect, Dave well knew this was his best bet of pulling off a governing majority. It was embarrassing, but the ad nauseum repetitions of strong leadership, the long-term economic plan, the Conservatives' five-point plan for sorting out your local council, and talking up Labour/SNP coalition chaos, the abolition of Trident, and so on worked. Contrary to the self-serving diagnoses of the time, it had sod all to do with "aspiration". To win, this is the nut Labour has to crack. Perversely, the messier it gets, the more it may favour the Tories. We failed in 2015 because Labour wasn't interested in occupying this ground, and so looked unconvincing as it danced around it with pledges for more housing and controls on immigration. In one sense, our current leadership understands this where economics are concerned and, reluctantly, they are right that Labour cannot be seen to be thwarting the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Yet the emerging economic programme, which takes a tough line of deficit spending but has something to offer the new working class and the old, and the self-employed, and therefore makes a good fist at offering security-in-work is undercut by the leader's well-known views on pacifism and unilateral nuclear disarmament. If anxiety and ontological insecurity is powering the populism that has so far found expression on the right, this is a problem for the forging of an insurgent coalition from the left.

I don't know how this can be overcome short of a hugely damaging exposure of Tory incompetence over Brexit (not beyond the realms of possibility) or May's entanglement in an unpopular war, or something that destroys the perception of their governing credibility a la the 1992 ERM debacle, constant infighting, and the drip, drip of sleaze. Meanwhile we still have our own problems of disunity, albeit more restrained these days, and we have to repair the damage a summer of whingeing and shenanigans inflicted. Let there then be no illusions, if we want to make sure the next big upset after the election of Donald Trump is victory with an overall majority for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, a lot of hard work and hard thinking has to be done. Now is not the time for the comfort blankets.


Anonymous said...

One should never say never in politics as odd things can - and just have - happened.
Its just possible that Labour might be able to take advantage of the Tories hamfisted governance. Its plain May & Co really aren't up to much, so a credible, focused opposition might be in a position to take full advantage of that.
The one big thing that works against Labour is the leadership. I accept we're stuck with Corbyn and the dreadful McDonnell, but that makes the likelihood of us doing well next time around much harder than it might otherwise be.
I saw Corbyn described as the Tories firewall recently. It's an apt description I think. They know that an unpopular leader with so much baggage (that file at Tory Central Office must be bulging by now) is very unlikely to gain the trust of sufficient numbers of the electorate.
I agree that hard work and thinking are required - we desperately need to flesh out a coherent and attractive set of workable policies - and that must include a frank appraisal of whether we have a leader who is an asset or a liability.


David Timoney said...

Re Anon's "I saw Corbyn described as the Tories firewall recently". I saw Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin etc described as the "Blue wall" that would guarantee Hillary Clinton's election.

"They know that an unpopular leader with so much baggage (that file at Tory Central Office must be bulging by now) is very unlikely to gain the trust of sufficient numbers of the electorate". Right, just as the Democrats imagined that Trump's personal unpopularity and "gropegate" made him unelectable.

Beyond offering the prospect of change, Labour's chances will largely be determined by the Tories' relative incompetence, as was the case in the 1920s and 1990s. May & co are clearly not in charge of events today, and while they can rely on a "support in tough times" poll bounce in the short-term, that will dwindle if they continue to act cluelessly.

davidjc said...

The worst news from Labour is the backsliding on immigration and freedom of movement, just at the moment racism and bigotry are out celebrating. The difference between Corbyn's conference speech and Lewis and McDonnell's evasive panderings on immigration is obvious and is a huge change in policy direction taken behind our backs, presumably as a deal with the Labour right.

McDonnell, like Paul Mason, seems to think there's a chance big business will see the Corbyn light. There is zero chance. They might support a 'progressive' alliance, but that would automatically sideline the Labour left, so what was the point in us getting all het up about the leadership election and the new membership?

Better to argue straight out for the lightest possible Brexit, including the option of another referendum, which would neutralise the liberals' attempt to peel off Labour remainers, and go back to Corbyn's line at conference that immigration is mislabelled as a problem. The social movement aspect should then prioritise anti racism, which it's well placed to do. How can you have a ground level left solidarity movement in which some workers are deemed from on high more two-legged (=more white) than others?

asquith said...

Corbyn hasn't grasped that there are cultural as well as economic factors at work in immigration, I'm not bothered about immigration myself but he doesn't appreciate that some people are and always will be anti-immigration because they dislike "foreigners" rather than out of any kind of economic concern.

I find it unlikely that he will ever appeal to the likes of the Trump Democrats due to his lack of appreciation of cultural factors, I don't share the cultural anxiety in this country but Corbyn has never noticed his existence. (I can't imagine Maurice Glasman being on his Christmas card list).

In the question of Drumpf, it's now clear that his promises were all lies, and that as a "pragmatist" without principles he will simply go along with the same old neocons who despite being completely disgraced have slithered back in. The Rethug control of the legislature is a terrible sign because Drumpf will, so long as his vanity is tickled, allow them to do the serious hard work and we know from 2000-2006 what comes of that.


Despite the wishful thinking of David Duke, Patrick Buchanan, partisangirl etc, Drumpf has ridden a wave of "alt-right" to get his ego flattered and for the neocons to get setting the agenda. Ripping up the Paris agreements and the Iran deal, two great achievements by Obama, are the shameful indications of this. I supported Gary Johnson because I never shared the far-left delusion that Drumpf would be a man of peace.

Corbyn will not be able to exploit the same territory as Bernie Sanders because, try as he might, he is "culturally" in the wrong place for those who might have supported him. Piling up votes in Islington North and those parts of Liverpool that are most resistant to UKIP won't help you in Stoke-on-Trent or Lincolnshire, as we know.

The only hope he has lies in UKIP's endless ability to score own goals. A John Bickley-esque force that combined racism with socialism would be a huge vote-winner here, but despite the best efforts of the Paul Nuttall tendency they are failing in this endeavour, so those "bribed tool of reactionary intrigue" who were hoodwinked into voting Leave are likely to leave activism altogether, further hollowing out the political scene in the north and allowing Theresa Mayhem with the help of southern Tories and much of southern UKIP to carry on scraping over the line.

For the above reasons I don't think Corbyn should hold his breath.

johnny conspiranoid said...

Think about Dave Miliband, Yvette Cooper, etc. one at a time and ask yourself which one is likely to bring in more votes than JC.
Here's Michael Rosen's poem about leaders.

The leader must tell lies. We love the leader, then we love the lies
O am I so tired of leader-talk
suddenly we all need a leader
People who get bossed about
by owners of newspapers
tell us we need a leader,
they do leader recipes
what makes a good leader.
What makes a good leader
they say
is someone who we all realise
is our leader.
That's a leader.
Then, after they've been leader
they write books about
the rise and fall of the leader.
They say the leader had a fatal flaw.
The fatal flaw is that they thought
they could be the leader.
Never mind.
We all need a leader.
Sometimes it's important,
(they say) that the leader doesn't tell the whole truth.
We're not ready for the whole truth.
Only the leader and his friends
are ready for the whole truth.
What is 'not the whole truth'?
Not the whole truth is lies.
The leader must tell lies.
We love the leader
then we love the lies.
And we love charisma.
If someone says that they want to take a picture of you,
then tell them that you're going to shut your eyes
and when you open them
that's the exact moment they have to take the photo.
That's charisma. Right there.
That's how important charisma is.
When you're talking
try to say everything is three.
Say things like:
blah blah blah
or I want people to have blah
I want people to have blooh
I want people to have bleeh.
Three is charisma too.
The people being bossed about
by the people who own newspapers and TV channels
will say you were convincing,
if you've got charisma.
The idea here is:
them saying that the leader is convincing
makes them sound convincing.
It's a convincing machine.
We come out the end of the machine
and we will say we need a leader
we need a leader
we need a leader
(see, I did that three times.)