Sunday 15 September 2019

Veering to the Right

And so the Liberal Democrats have peeled off another right wing MP. After a day heavily hinting their ranks were due to be swelled by another Labour defector, it turns out former Tory minister, Sam Gyimah, was their surprise addition. You might recall he resigned from Theresa May's front bench, and fell out of the Tory leadership contest with zero support. And following his purge during the worst week ever, he's pitched up in the LibDems. He even has the requisite homophobic creds.

Reading his resignation note, you find the same crud last polished up back in February. The parties are inhabiting the fringes of political life, and there's this huge middle ground there for the taking. For Gyimah, we need to reject "polarised and divisive politics" and rise to the challenge of "bringing the centre together, through Brexit and beyond". Typical of Westminster people, he is utterly ignorant of the fact parties are responding to real divisions that actually exist, and believes they would go away if the right kind of (centrist) politician and (centrist) party was in charge.

To be blunt, we are getting to the point where calling the LibDems a centre party is stretching it. The election of Jo Swinson with her record as Orange Book austerity-enabling former minister reaffirmed the party as the heir to the disastrous economic legacy bequeathed by the Coalition Government and, by extension, taking responsibility for the very material conditions that gave us the leave vote. The party's movement into centre right territory is underlined by the strategy quickly assumed by Swinson; what we might call authoritarian liberalism. On top of retrograde market fundamentalism, we have seen the LibDems pitch to the right to gather up the soft Tory/centre-leaning/pro-EU vote who mostly stuck with May in 2017, but were very positively for Dave in the previous two elections. Having come to the conclusion there were no more pickings from Labour, and totting up the evidence from council by-elections and local elections, it's obvious where they should concentrate their fire. This switch helped win them a by-election, after all.

What's this got to do with authoritarianism? We've seen Swinson over emphasise the old anti-Corbyn markers, arguing the Labour leader couldn't possibly command the confidence of the Commons to stop a no deal Brexit because, um, she won't back him. Thereby overriding the wishes of her own membership, who two-thirds support a caretaker deal if it means stopping Johnson's idiocy and a second referendum. The tolerance of homophobia on the basis of incoming MPs peddling remain-at-any-price is another indicator of her elitist distain of the membership. You'll recall a couple of relatively high profile LGBT activists have resigned because of her throwing gay-friendly principles under the bus. But where we go from authoritative to authoritarian is via the party's new position of the EU.

During the summer, Swinson was caught off guard by Labour's seizing the initiative of what to do about Brexit. In the common approach all opposition parties have adopted over forcing Johnson to request an extension to Article 50, and denying him a general election has given Labour the mantle of leading the charge against no deal. Having found themselves outflanked, the only place left for Swinson to go was hard remain, and she has done so with alacrity. Asked about this on Andrew Marr, she was very clear those who voted for leaving the EU don't matter and besides, the simplicity of her position meant the whole thing can get filed away as a mistake and forgotten about. A bit like the latter half of the LibDems' name, it seems. While Brexit fatigue is a thing, and Labour should bear it in mind when we head into the general election, this lurch into an outright anti-democratic position is with a view to repeating their success earlier this summer. In a Brexit election polarised around leaving or remaining, she thinks her simple message will resonate. However, general elections are never about just one issue and her gamble could backfire. For instance, while there is a plurality who prefer remain to no deal or a customs union Brexit, that doesn't mean anywhere near the same numbers would like to see the referendum simply cancelled. Recent polling suggests those who voted remain have a greater attachment to the niceties of democratic practice than their leave counterparts. With hard remain going up against another vote, the latter certainly has more swing appeal to leave and remain both than the distinctly un-centre ground and extreme positioning of the LibDem leader.

In truth, in recent years our view of the LibDems has been skewed by the turns it took under Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. They emphasised a weak social democratic-inclined liberalism, and one Nick Clegg paid lip service to, despite the horrors he presided over, along with Farron and Cable. Swinson, by taking the LibDems explicitly to the right in the guise of being the remain party returns them to where they have sat historically, a certain yellow shading into blue. And while her strategy does make sense from a party-building point of view, lurching so quickly and violently to the right to chase those disaffected Tories runs the risk of gaining them at the expense of losing its base of the last 30 years. Let us hope this turns out to be the case.


Boffy said...

You are quite right, the Liberals have always been a conservative social-democratic party - at least since the latter part of the 19th century - though like all such parties they veer sometimes more in the progressive social-democratic direction than others, and for the Liberals that has been exacerbated by their attempts to triangulate in different parts of the country between Tories and Labour.

Unfortunately, it is totally irrelevant as far as current politics and the forthcoming General Election is concerned. Its as irrelevant as the fact that Ulster Unionist parties had reactionary politics, when it came to determining how Protestant workers would vote in Northern Ireland!

The fact is that for the last three years, and for the next General Election, the determining factor in how people vote is Brexit. The fact that we have a cretinous, right-moving Liberal Party that should have been buried by Labour long ago, which is instead now resurgent, and likely to take seats away from both Labour and Tories in the election, whilst causing labour to lose seats to the Tories in Labour/Tory marginals, as the anti-Tory vote is split, is horrendous.

But, the fault for it lies entirely with Corbyn and those in the Labour party that for the last three years have pursued a pro-Brexit stance that is not only reactionary but at odds with the views of around 90% of labour members, and 75% of Labour voters. Unless Labour dramatically changes position the result will inevitably be a Tory win in the forthcoming General Election, a win for a reactionary party and for the implementation of a hard Brexit and hard right policies.

The Liberals have moved in the direction of a more right-wing conservative social-democracy but it comes to something when even that is preferable to the outright reaction that the Tories represent. The job of socialists is to ensure that we have a choice other than one for such a lesser evil. That is why we will need to develop a Socialist Campaign for Europe running alongside a Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory as an alternative to the current offering being provided by Corbyn.

Speedy said...

Boffy is correct to make the UU analogy. You are completely off the ball saying this won't be only about Brexit.

"Asked about this on Andrew Marr, she was very clear those who voted for leaving the EU don't matter and besides, the simplicity of her position meant the whole thing can get filed away as a mistake and forgotten about."

Come on, as a would-be political strategist can't you see the polarisation that's going on here? It's NI all over - the civil war analogy couldn't be better.

At this point, having been subjected to the relentless attacks of Leavers, Remainers are unlikley to give a toss about "democratic niceties" any more - they are coming to realise that compromise, as epitomised by Labour (a perfectly reasonable policy in reasonable times), is dead. It seems the only compromise Labour is unwilling to make is electoral with the LibDems...

This election is ONLY Brexit. It is not Corbyn's fault - Coybyn Gump will do what he does. Arguably one could say it is the fault of Labour members for voting for him, and when Labour enter the election with a leader who polls less on the NHS (THE NHS!!!!!) than Johnson, they only have themselves to blame when they receive the outcome they dread.

It has always been thus - social democracy, socialism, whatever, has always been defeated by a ruthless right.

Leslé said...

The LibDem leadership is no longer either liberal nor is it democratic. They embrace homophobic ex Tories on the one hand and by their policy of removing Article 50, they forget the aspirations of half the population by sweeping them aside in their bid for power. Power at any cost suggests to me that Swinson is very willing to walk with the Tories at the next opportunity. Hopefully for reasons given by Phil that won't happen because as he suggests, people who voted to remain are on the whole more willing to listen to a democratic answer to the Brexit conundrum. That means Corbyn and that is my hope. A 2nd ConDem partnership is the last thing this country needs but anything is possible if Swinson or Johnson gets the upper hand.

Boffy said...

"Having found themselves outflanked, the only place left for Swinson to go was hard remain, and she has done so with alacrity."

Except the outflanking was only momentary as Corbyn, as soon as the shift away from his pro-Brexit position resulted in Labour's decline being halted, immediately reinstated his pro-Brexit position, now compounded by the lunacy of the idea that they would negotiate a fantasy deal, and then campaign against what they had negotiated!

The position of Revoking Article 50 is, an has always been the only rational position to take. The idea that Labour could negotiate a "Jobs First Brexit" is a cake and eat it fantasy. So, it will only ever be able to offer either a bad Brexit Deal, and probably will be unable to resist demands for No Deal to be included, as against Remain.

Given that no self-respecting Labour government could commit itself to implementing a Bad Brexit deal, or No Deal, and yet a referendum might commit it to do precisely that, it would mean that a Labour government that put itself in that position would either have to implement a reactionary Brexit for which it would never be forgiven, or else, it would have to resign, and call a General Election on the grounds of its refusal to implement a reactionary Brexit deal.

The idiocy of the Corbynite position is that they think they can negotiate a fantasy Jobs First brexit deal that is not possible, and that having failed to do so, the voters will rescue them in a subsequent referendum by voting Remain. The idiocy of the Blair-right/Watson position is that they want to hold the referendum first, before a Labour government, which means doing so under conditions where a Vote for a No Deal Brexit is more likely, but then to call a General Election, in which they expect a Labour government, but which would then be in the invidious position of having to implement that No Deal Brexit.

Its what comes of not taking a principled position that Brexit is reactionary, and committing to opposing it by all means.

Boffy said...

"While Brexit fatigue is a thing, and Labour should bear it in mind when we head into the general election, this lurch into an outright anti-democratic position is with a view to repeating their success earlier this summer."

What is anti-democratic about the position? If you go into a general Election arguing that you will scrap Brexit, and you get a majority that is democratic on the basis of the UK's parliamentary democracy. It has far better claim to being democratic than a phoney vote in a referendum, which Marxists have always opposed as a democratic form. In fact, its precisely what labour should have been arguing for the last 3 years, rather than saying it would implement a reactionary policy which its members and voters are hostile to, and which is, thereby, the height of hypocrisy.

"However, general elections are never about just one issue and her gamble could backfire."

But, this one, like 2017 is about just one issue, Brexit.

"Swinson, by taking the LibDems explicitly to the right in the guise of being the remain party"

There is a fallacy sneaked into the argument there which is that Remain represents a right position, whereas the opposite is the truth. It is Brexit which is the programme of the Right, whereas Remain is the programme of the Left.

That a rightward moving Liberal party has to adopt the position of the Left in backing Remain, shows the problems that actually face the Right in attempting to build an electoral coalition. Either like the Tories they have to adopt an outright reactionary position that seeks to carry through a political counter-revolution to overturn the social-democratic polity that has ruled for the last century and more, or like the Liberals, they have to adopt a position of defending that social-democratic polity, and its extension, symbolised by the EU.

The tragedy with Labour is that its leadership have failed to clearly align with either of these two class camps, whilst being seen in its policy of constructive ambiguity to be aligned with the reactionary camp.

It illustrates Marx's analysis that reactionary and progressive are not coterminous with left and right, as with the definitions in the Manifesto of Reactionary Socialism, Feudal Socialism, True German Socialism etc.