Sunday 26 May 2019

On the Melt Meltdown

On Twitter earlier, lefty comedian David Schneider wrote "Good to hear Shami Chakrabati clarifying Labour’s position on free movement which is that it will end but only as it was under the EU so it won’t end fully though it might and if it doesn’t end it won’t be totally free. Unless that’s what happens. Simples."

Well then. There's something peculiar, isn't there, about a particular fraction of otherwise progressive types who seem intent on confounding us with these increasingly erratic and incomprehensible takes, in this case about a line in the last Labour manifesto declaring that upon leaving the EU free movement will end. It's peculiar because if you give the situation a few seconds thought, it isn't. If/when we leave, free movement for EU citizens as it exists now, and the rules under which it exists, will end. This is simply because those rules will not exist any more. They will cease to be. That’s what 'ending free movement' in this context means. It says nothing at all about what is going to happen in its place. It’s just a statement of fact, a point that Chakrabarti tried to explain.

It's an unfortunate truism for some that even if we left the EU under the leadership of the “We Love Free Movement And We Aren't Afraid To Say It" party, the same would happen. Sing it with me: free movement as it exists now would end. Because the rules currently governing it wouldn’t apply to us any more. You cannot be any clearer than this, and it seems unnecessary to keep repeating it, yet here we are. New rules will be drawn up when or if we leave, and we know this already because that's what the Tories are meant to have been doing for the past two years. This end-of-existing-rules-oh-heck-what-next? situation would be the case whether it was Labour, the Tories, LibDems, the Brexit Party or ever-plucky CHUKups at the helm. The content of those new rules will naturally vary depending on what the party in control wants and how they go about negotiations with Europe. Since it’s impossible to know how a negotiation of future rules will go before said negotiation has been had (and let us remember, it has been May and her team in the negotiating driving seat so far), the best way to judge what will happen is by looking at the direction of travel and politics of a particular party. A person might look, for instance, to recent comments by the leader of the LibDems explaining how he still believes free movement and immigration can be a 'negative', and judge their commitment to the existing arrangements accordingly.

Referencing our endearing funny man again, it’s interesting that many of the same voices who have bemoaned the polarisation of politics since the EU referendum and the rise of Corbynism are desperate for a black/white, binary, them/us, simplistic narrative and solution. Labour are currently the only party which is consistent in its acknowledgement of nuance, of negotiation, and of there being no quick fix. Labour is the only party recognising the political context of Brexit and seeking a way through the impasse. We are the only party looking at what domestic policies need to go hand-in-hand with any Brexit conclusion. For example, as Shami Chakrabarti said on Andrew Marr, substantially increasing the minimum wage is one. The pointed efforts of Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister's Questions week after week raising other issues, what Sophy Ridge on Sophy Ridge half jokingly refers to as 'any other business', alongside Brexit are another.

There’s an obstinate refusal by self-proclaimed sensible moderates to attempt any kind of joined up thinking. Some of it will be driven by straight-up hatred of Corbyn. Some by genuine political differences. Some of it though is powered by a flailing confusion and fear that the progressive and vaguely lefty pedestal they put themselves on is shown to be nothing more than performance now an actual left wing social democratic leadership and platform has emerged. The fact it is thoughtful, intelligent, and nuanced in its Brexit approach only upsets them more, as they retreat into that binary, knee jerk, and superficial ranting that only further entrenches the polarisation they abhor. This is the kind of behaviour they have constantly and erroneously accused the Labour leadership and it supporters of practising since Jeremy Corbyn first popped up on the leadership ballot paper. You hear a lot about wanting the grown ups to take control. That infantilising language belies the fact that they don’t want that at all, because we already have it in this Labour leadership.

One way you can sum up the ethical basis of Labourism is the tackling of and doing away with the conditions engendering “them” and “us”. You can apply that to all sorts of things, from supporting the NHS to LGBT equality to economic (re)distribution. For the most part I’d expect other Labour people, especially those in the public eye, whether they're politicians or high profile supporters, to believe the same. Which is why it’s curious to see their doubling down on a “them” and “us” narrative, in this case with leavers and remainers. Put another way, opining that “our society is so divided” feels rather hollow if you’re resisting any and all attempts to look at that society in the round and offering a way beyond it, and not as two sharply contrasting camps whose political and social lives are defined solely by a mark in a box in 2016.

There is no switch anyone can flick that will solve the situation. Too many "sensibles" believe there is a magic button that can at least solve the things they personally care about, everything and everyone else be damned. If we were to transport back to the idyllic era of the Olympic opening ceremony, as many of them seem to want to do, life would be peachy for them I'm sure. But that’s all they want. Putting in the hard work for everyone, of working for the many, not the few to coin a phrase, is of little interest. This is the only conclusion you can draw from their behaviour.

Back then, when everything was fields and people smiled to one another in the street, these people could believe themselves progressive and lefty and caring, because it wasn’t being put to the test. They were doing alright, thanks, and their outrages at discrete government policies and nebulous ideas of inequality and injustice were easy to perform because they didn’t really mean anything. Just look at your Eddie Marsdens and JK Rowlings, for instance. They typify this rotten trend. Now it’s coming to a head, and if they had done more than touted their conscience and wrung their hands as the Tory/LibDem coalition cut the country's social fabric to ribbons perhaps things would not be so bad. Perhaps they might have retained more influence and had a hand in the reshaping of society instead of getting buffeted by it, no longer floating serenely above it all.

There’s a contradiction and uncomfortable juxtaposition between where they are actually situated as actors in society, and where they think they are situated as wise observers and sages who Must Be Listened to. And their coming to terms with that contradiction, or rather failure to do so, is leading to some pretty embarrassing stuff, up to and including the abject failure and public humiliation of an entire section of the establishment.

Guest post from @CatherineBuca.


Alan Story said...

TBC - I am not in the Labour Party...but if Corbyn and his Bennite mates such as Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray and co. blow it and fail to knock off the Tories in the next election (and among other things allow the bloody LibDems another kick of the can), they and their followers such as Momentum will have a lot of answer for to the working and oppressed people of this country. Alan Story Sheffield

Anonymous said...

We can’t say for sure that this isn’t just another EU election quirk or if something deeper is going on. A general election would at least sort out that question. In a general election I would expect a Tory party with a diehard Brexiter as leader (who can reach out to Farage) to win with a majority, no matter where Labour stood. So the end result will be Brexit whatever Labour decides to do.

This is a good article but in this tabloid cesspit of a nation nuance is just a poncey French term. Well it sounds French right!

Your belief that demographics sound the death knell for conservatism seems a little optimistic right now, as Prime Minister Johnson looms into view. And who do the liberal left have as the saviours of the ‘working and oppressed people of this country’, Yvette Cooper or Chukka! So it is either neo liberal US style capitalism or EU neo Liberal style capitalism, and with a bit of algebra we can say it is neo liberalism or neo liberalism! This is what Boffy offers us. And given this choice what then for the ‘working and oppressed people of this country’! Corbyn is trying to do something monumental, turn a petty bourgeois nation like Britain into a bastion of social democracy, I admire the optimism and wish him all success. Boffy imagines all this is really easy and simply requires Britain in the EU, which can have no other affect than watering down the EU. It is a strange paradoxical position the left remainers take, they say that the only way socialism can advance is if the EU integrates to such an extent that nationalism is diminished, yet they support the one thing, Britain being in the EU, whioch will for certain stop this happening! This is because people like Boffy and Denham have a thoroughly British nationalist outlook on this subject.

The country is literally split down the middle. Britain has become a one issue nation. The Tories have no choice but to be a Brexit party. The Lib Dems have no other choice but to be a pro remain party and Labour are stuck in the middle trying nuance.

The only course of events that makes sense in my mind is the breakup of the United Kingdom, which would be a beautiful result. Little England finally realised, how can anyone not be filled with joy at that prospect? The problem with the likes of Boffy is that they simply lack imagination and probably over inflate little Englands importance to the progressive future.

Plebjames said...

It is contry is figuratively split, not literally.

Alex Rossiter said...

I feel like you're being a little disingenuous on free movement. There are a variety of "socialism in one country" ideologues at the helm of the labor party from (comparatively) rather innocuous Bennite's to the rather more sinister "straight left" remnants. I think the issue of free movement has generated such passion as it is seen as a marker between the fresher, more forward thinking left and the old guard.
Despite everyone obsessing about brexit - i find most arguments (and I openly admit that this is purely anecdotal evidence!!) with leftist minded friends are far more centered on this division - between a more grown-up, "liberal-compatible" model of socialism and a more atavistic way of thinking....which emphasises loyalty, tradition, treachery etc...And lots of those in the latter camp are or never have been genuinely interested in "free" anything - let alone free movement.

Jim Denham said...

Does the author of this perverse diatribe support free movement or not? yes or no?

Phil said...

Yes. But it's not relevant to the piece.

Anonymous said...

What exactly is free movement?

Freedom to flee those parts of the world suffering underdevelopment, those parts of the world suffering imperialist exploitation, those parts of the world who simply serve the needs of western consumers, those parts of the world being ravaged by climate change primarily caused by Western values? Am I the only one who sees the flaw in that so called idea of freedom?

Is free movement the right of the any person anywhere to go where the hell they like? Isn’t this so called freedom dependent on how wealthy you are etc?

This so called freedom of movement simply seems to be making a virtue out of mass suffering and what Marx called social dumping.

So let’s say we have free movement, what do we say to the world’s poor then? Stop complaining and get on your bike?

Free movement sits firmly within the bourgeois horizon and assumes all the bourgeois prejudices. Let us call up neo liberal phrase mongering! The likes of Denham can't even give us revolutionary phrase mongering, all they can give us are bourgeois slogans!

Anonymous said...

Plebjames, if are you going to be pedantic at least get your spelling correct you fucking dimwit.