Sunday, 2 February 2020

On Blairite Obsolescence

Only one group of people can stir the passions among the self-styled hard heads and master strategists of the Labour right. If you said the Tories, the you'll have to try again: it's the left. Over the last four years their wrecking antics and scorched earth sectarianism yielded not one scintilla of policy, or rumour of an alternative to Corbynism. Which helps explain why Jess Phillips, the failed standard bearer of the of the right at this leadership election, had nothing to talk about except herself before her campaign collapsed like a souffle. Now Jess has sailed off to spend more time cultivating her hack mates, and with the remaining field more or less assimilating the Corbynist framework, where does the honest (and I use that term advisedly) apostle of the Labour right stand now?

Handily, our good mate Margaret Hodge has had a stab at articulating such a position. She acknowledges what happened in December was "not down to Corbyn and Corbynism alone", but Hodge is not about to cop for the role she and others played in the party's misfortunes. No, this is not a place for truth-telling. For example, she divulges this gem:
... I felt the manifesto was one of the most reactionary documents I had seen. Its emphasis on a big state and on state ownership, a vilification of success and an obsession with the producers of public services, rather than the citizens for whom those services are for, together served to frighten rather than inspire the public. Recycling the policies of the 1970s proved neither radical nor transformative.
If you can't argue honestly, I wouldn't bother arguing at all. But then again, I'm not a MP who affected opposition to apartheid South Africa while profiting from it. Digression over. After venting, Hodge eventually pierces the fugue of her petty vendettas and get down to brass tacks. Much of our old base has gone and growing life expectancy (she didn't get the memo) spells trouble, support is dropping among the C2DEs (ahem), trade union membership is low and there is little relationship between members and general secretaries (true enough), the number of Labour seats with marginal majorities have grown, the trumping of identity politics over economic self-interest opposes working class voters to Labour's "middle class" support base (wrong), and the party machine is outdated and incompetent (again, true).

So we have a set of problems framed in a superficial and light minded manner, but where do we go? On this, she slips back into the Labour right's comfort zone when it comes to dealing with existential questions: silence. Knowing Hodge's politics and her rubbish about championing service users over producers' interests, she'd be content with a negligible programme with a dribble of green wash, a la Chris Leslie's centrist manifesto. Which is no surprise. If Corbynism is over, we're still waiting for a centrist analysis that moves beyond conspiracy theories and tendentious nonsense. Might I suggest that understanding why Labour failed means coming to terms with how it nearly succeeded in 2017 too, and that raises questions about class and the new political economy that shows up the obsolescence of centrist politics, even as a means of governing the status quo. As Emmanuel Macron is ably demonstrating across the Channel.

There are then two sets of politics most appropriate now. The national populism of Boris Johnson, and a new left politics that takes the best of Corbynism and builds on it. At the moment, Johnson has proven himself more adept at navigating contemporary class politics than the left, though how long for remains to be seen. For Labour's part, making that pitch to older voters and breaking them from the Tories cannot come at the expense of our base among the new working class. How we do this means a critical reckoning with our record and those of other left insurgencies elsewhere, including other centre left parties that haven't fallen into disintegration and disgrace. And of this one thing is certain. There is nothing, nothing positive the likes of Hodge can offer this project. Except a period of welcome silence.

Image Credit


Boffy said...

"Might I suggest that understanding why Labour failed means coming to terms with how it nearly succeeded in 2017 too,"

Quite right, but we know why it nearly succeeded ion 2017, but failed miserably in 2019. In 2017, Corbyn appeared new and honest. Labour had opposed Brexit in 2016, even though the media failed to cover any of Corbyn's rallies, and Corbyn himself failed to link the campaign in 2016 to the struggle of the lefta cross Europe, or to build mass demonstrations uniting European workers to oppose both Brexit/nationalism, and the conservative governments that dominated European national governments. Part of the problem was also Corbyn's appointment of the useless and hostile Alan Johnson to head Labour's referendum campaign, who promply disappeared even further from sight.

However, in 2017, labour could still claim some credit for having opposed brexit. There was a powerful reaction by particularly young workers against the shock of that brexit vote. They rightly feared a hard Tory brexit. Labour's Six tests looked designed as a cover for labour really opposing Brexit, whilst claiming to respect the vote. The trajectory of labour looked clearly set to eventually oppose any Tory Brexit proposals and then to scrap it.

Labour won, because it was thereby able to mobilise millions of particularly young, progressive and angry workers who opposed brexit, and opposed the Tories austerity agenda. It won millions of votes from people who previously had backed the Liberals, Greens and Plaid, and even some in Scotland.

The difference is that in 2019 Corbynb and the Stalinists behind him had squandered all that. Instead of destroying the Liberals, Greens and Plaid, and winning back further ground in Scotland, Corbyn's own insistence in pursuing the reactionary nationalist Brexit agenda we all know he has never disposed of, and the bureaucratic manoeuvring he, his office, and his union backers in UNITE engaged in, not only turned away tens of thousands of newly recruited party members, it turned off those millions of young voters that had been attracted in 2017.

In the meantime, by arguing for a pale pink version of the Tory brexit, it could never do anything to challenge the reactionary ideas of those minority of old Labour voters that had backed Brexit. On the contrary, as with the nationalist turn of the German KPD and SPD in the 1930's, it simply legitimised those reactionary ideas, and rather than winning over any of those workers encouraged them to vote for the genuine reactionary nationalist, which Johnson and Farage were able to present themselves as being.

One thing that Corbyn had in his favour in 2017 was the impression of honesty, but by 2019 all of this manoeuvring and triangulating made him appear even more dishonest than had been Blair. At the same time, he continually failed to confront the right in open political struggle, again preferring typically Stalinoid bureaucratic manoeuvring. he sold out his own supporters over the Anti-Semitism witch hunt. Having thrown away millions of votes by the reactionary brexit position, the Manifesto was dropped on voters at the last minute with no long-term work having been done to educate and inform workers about the policies it contained. As new promises were issued by the day they only added to the impression of incompetence and dishonesty, as they appeared as nothing more than bribes.

Yes, it is necessary to understand all of those factors that really meant Labour nearly won in 2017, and how Corbyn and all those that pursued the reactionary agenda of backing Brexit and "respecting" the reactionary Brexit vote threw it all away, and led us to this disastrous position.

Anonymous said...


theOnlySanePersonOnPlanetEarth said...

Ironically the perception among the Brexiters, at least the ones in the Northern Labour heartlands, is that Labour did not respect the Brexit vote. The Brexiters saw the antics of parliament. led by Labour, as an affront to their universal suffrage.

So if anything we are in this 'disastrous' position because Labours attempts to wreck Brexit.

It wasn't the only reason labour lost, we also had another few years of incessant anti Corbyn propaganda and we must factor in that the bigoted racists that make up the majority of the so called Labour heartlands really couldn't stomach someone as decent and reasonable as Corbyn.

Unfortunately the reason we are in this 'disastrous' position is because a lot of people are nasty twats.

Good luck changing all that anytime soon!