Tuesday 11 December 2018

Malevolence or Ineptitude?

Why do First World War generals carry a reputation for incompetence? Because they would launch offensive after offensive against well-entrenched positions without regard to tactics, uselessly and criminally throwing away the lives of tens of thousands of young men. The stakes aren't as high, but I'm reminded of their example when surveying the strategic geniuses of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Had things gone according to the government's timetable, after Theresa May has lost her vote on the withdrawal agreement today she would have faced a no confidence vote. There was some consideration whether this was going to be a normal vote or one aimed at May personally. It wouldn't have had any constitutional force, but made her position next to impossible. Why did Labour consider this? Because the front bench hold to the peculiar notion that if you're going to put something to the vote, you do what it takes to win it. The DUP are not May's biggest fan after doing the dirty on them on the status of Northern Ireland in the backstop. Nor are the scorned but impotent European Research Group of gurning Brexiteers, who've sat on the sidelines waiting for the number of no confidence letters to tick over the magic 48. Would they accept the opportunity to turf May out of office? Some of them probably would. But at the price of bringing the Tories down and opening the road to Jeremy Corbyn? Not. A. Chance.

Now the Prime Minister has pulled her vote, what game are this bunch of clowns paying at? Almost a who's who of Owen Smith's celebrated leadership campaign (including the great man himself), we have some of the very worst MPs to sit on the Labour benches are calling for a no confidence vote. Are they simply thick? Alas, even they are no strangers to the low skulduggery of our exalted parliamentary democracy.

Their little press conference this afternoon with the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the LibDems, and Caroline Lucas that called upon Labour to table a no confidence vote was stuffed full of ulterior motives. All of these people know it can't hope to win, so there are a couple of things going on. First and foremost is an attempt to shift Labour away from its general election first position. The thinking goes if a no confidence fails, then the hopes of an election are dashed with it - leading Labour to formally adopt a second referendum position. The attendant dangers of doing so have lessened slightly in my view, but the same discredited gang are ready to swoop in and front up the remain case (assuming remain would even be an option). And if they're at the helm, they would lose.

But, of course, it suits the nationalist parties and the Liberal Democrats to posture around a no confidence vote. They can point to Corbz and attack him for not being radical enough, for saving May's bacon when her repeated self-owns have her hanging on the ropes. For LibDems desperate to get back into the game, they think it gives them a lever with leftish remainers - once again demonstrating they don't have a single clue about what they need to do. For the SNP and Plaid, they too think there are electoral rewards from being more remainy - keeping Labour down in Scotland remains Nicola Sturgeon's permanent immediate political priority, and for PC supplanting Labour in Wales remains their strategic task.

What then of Labour's malcontents? How is their position advantaged? Again, it's part of the wedge strategy. Noting the ten-a-penny polls that show how remain/second vote friendly Labour members and Labour supporters are, here Corbyn can be shown up for not opposing the Tories sufficiently and manoeuvring to avoid the so-called People's Vote. Meanwhile they can try and abrogate for themselves the title of "proper" opposition and champions of members' views on the subject. Undoubtedly some of the names on Ian Murray's letter are useful idiots, and others are reduced to the level of putting a minus wherever the party leadership puts a plus, but never underestimate the Labour right's capacity for cynicism. It's how they were able to control the party for so long.


Anonymous said...

That is almost the new centrist party right there, shy of Chuka and Yvette Cooper of course.

Maybe Yvette will convene an emergency meeting to discuss the watergate style (no less) revelations that the foreign office (no less) and army (no less) have been spending millions (of our money no less) in a coordinated campaign against Corbyn (leader of the official opposition no less) and his allies.

Ian Gibson said...

The trouble with your analysis is that we are fast approaching the point of no return - it's no longer OK to do nothing because you can't win your preferred course. If a confidence vote won't run, then you need to find an alternative course of action: but we have 14 weeks, and if the matter isn't settled soon, the damage done will be incalculable. Time to walk the walk: even a failed no confidence vote would be progress, as if they can't win it now they never will - so we need to know that and move to an alternative course of action.

Anonymous said...

You could have mentioned the Greens, who have fully backed this stuff. Maybe just a coincidence that they are desperately searching for any continued relevance post-Corbyn.....

Boffy said...

One main reason that Labour should have called a no-confidence vote in the government is precisely to expose the duplicity of the Anna Soubry's etc. who would vote for May's dysfunctional government! This is not a question of sending batallions continually over the top to die, no Labour politician is going to die by putting up a principled objection to an already collapsing, and chaotic Tory government, for goodness sake. They might, however, die of shame, if they can't even motivate themselves to present even that level of opposition to such a right-wing Tory government.

Far from it leading to the death of Labour politicians, by exposing the unreliable nature of the Soubry's et al, it firms up the actual opposition to May, whilst driving a further wedge between the Soubry's with one less place to hide, and May et al.

As Marx says, in Value, Price and Profit, trades unions and wage struggles can never be an answer to workers problems over and above what is dictated by the demand and supply of labour-power, but unless workers raise themselves at least to the minimum of organising themselves into such unions and undertaking such struggles, they certainly cannot expect to even reach that minimum level, let alone to put themselves in a position to wage a struggle for Socialism.

If Labour cannot even raise itself to the level of pressurising a collapsing Tory government, of mobilising the anti-Tory forces, and driving a wedge into the Tory ranks in the process, then it has no hope of undertaking anything more ambitious. To run away from the fight, simply on the basis of the bourgeois parliamentarist notion that all that counts is whether a vote is won or lost, reflects a total abandonment of any sense of socialist principle, but under current conditions, also of socialist tactics and strategy. It smacks of bourgeois formalism that fails to recognise that the balance of forces is dynamic and changes in the course of battle.

But, for such a dynamic to kick, for it to be possible to raise your forces and draw others in behind you, its first necessary to show a willingness to fight, and an ability to lead. Unfortunately, the Labour leadership has continually shown an absence of both qualities in spades over the last three years.