Monday 1 February 2021

Bordering on Cowardice

Labour has spent good money to tout this image around Facebook, especially to users living in the so-called red wall seats lost to the Tories. Just the tonic if you think people living in places like my very own Stoke-on-Trent have stopped supporting Labour because the party isn't racist enough/too liberal/lacks patriotism. It's straightforward pandering, is it not?

Yes, but because this is Labour the party can't openly accommodate reactionary positions without festooning it in progressive garb or swathe it with some other alibi. And this is what has happened in this case.

Readers know frustration with Keir Starmer's leadership is out of the bottle. Lefty grumblers like me are one thing, but disquiet among establishment supporters is quite another. Rumours and promises have abounded for a while that we're going to see the Labour leader do some policy and strike out some political ground for himself. This evening's defeat of the government over fammable cladding could be seen in this light. Though by "defeated", I mean to say the Tories didn't bother turning up.

More broadly, concerning politics or rather the necropolitics of the moment, Keir Starmer's biggest mistake (delete or underline the most appropriate) is his failure to contest the Tory framing of the Coronavirus crisis. Whether it's trying to appear more gung-ho for schools opening (bugger what the teachers thought), or confining criticisms to "incompetence" or process issues, this will come and bite Labour in the backside. And no, if the actual deaths of 100,000 people isn't fatal for the Tories, an independent inquiry a year ot two down the line won't either.

Where the Labour leader has been careful is giving his criticisms plenty of cover. Labour came out for the second lockdown only after SAGE recommended it. Labour only supported the holiday hunger campaign once Marcus Rashford led public opinion against the Tories. And same with the third lockdown too (though, notably, not on schools). Keir is keen to avoid a wedge issue lest he be accused of politicising the crisis or scoring points. Not that this bothers Boris Johnson, who is happy to hurl his usual lies back across the despatch box every Wednesday and pointedly accuse him of doing just that. Nor, it seems, the punters who participate in Labour's focus groups. Any criticisms, according to whispers making their way to Andrew Rawnsley's ears are "not fair." Apparently, according to an unnamed frontbencher "the more we attack the government, the more people don’t like it." If Keir is allowing himself to be cowed because a little bit of politics is deemed too political, we now know why a third of people asked about his performance as opposition leader are unable to answer the question.

This brings us to the borders issue. Criticising the government for a major omission in its Covid strategy is a departure for Labour, and would otherwise be risky. Yet going all in on borders is probably the least wedgey of potential wedge issues Keir Starmer could, theoretically, have the Tories on. For the last fortnight, Keir has harried Johnson on control over the borders. He made hay with Priti Patel's admission she wanted to close them last March, but was overruled. This came a week after denouncing border checks "a mess", and finally forcing a vote in the Commons on this. Once news came down the pipe that Johnson was instructing Tories to abstain, the LOTO Zoom call must have hooted with glee. For here we have a sensible Covid public health demand - border checks and isolation for travellers - that can, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, double up as Blue Labour fortress Britain bollocks. To top it off, the Tories choose to refuse a public opportunity to play to their strengths.

How do we know this is about flag waving opportunism and not a regrettable but serious measure to fight Covid? Precisely because it's the most politically advantageous and low cost critique the party could have mounted. As Lewis Basset rightly notes, if Labour were contesting government strategy in other areas fair enough. But as Keir Starmer isn't ... well, the Facebook ads and who they're aimed at speak for themselves.

Here then is the Labour Party in early 2021. It refuses to back the interests of its coalition of voters, is terrified of its own shadow and now its critique of the Tories is determined not by public health, but scoring socially conservative "values" points that won't do anything to shift the polls. What a distance travelled in so short a space of time.


Alan Story said...

Phil: Very grabby image at the top and brings in the punters. But needs a bit of tweaking: its displays poorly on Facebook:

Phil said...

I know. The only problem is fixing the Facebook image means making its display here look derpy.

Phil said...

Without getting too Whovian about it, I've thought for a while that there are pivotal moments in politics, key incidents that both show us what's at stake and put down a marker that nobody can go back from. Untimely death is often involved - Grenfell, Jo Cox, Menezes - but not always. As far as Labour's current trajectory is concerned, I think the sacking of RLB is that kind of moment: this is what we're opposed to, this is what we're prepared to discard, these are the smears and scare stories we're willing to endorse. And, nine months later, here we are.

Boffy said...

The opportunist politics of Labour as an electoralist party, and particularly of Starmer, means that it is inevitably driven in the direction of chauvinism and nationalism. Its the same process that led the parties of the Second International to line up behind their respective ruling classes in WWI, when rampant nationalism amongst the masses drove them in that direction to try to win votes, and not lose support.

Labour is inevitably being driven into becoming UKIP Mark II, or even a pale version of the BNP. But, those who think the answer is leaving Labour are deluded. In 1914, millions of socialists split from the Second International to form the Third International. There is no such prospect today. Indeed, with hindsight, the creation of the Third International was a mistake too. Many workers didn't understand it, which led the Comintern to have to come up with the United Front strategy to work with the reformists, anyway. It saw the Trotskyists have to make the French Turn, and "enter" the socialist parties, whilst it allowed the Stalinists to take over the Comintern, with all of the dire consequences that has had for the labour movement in the last century.

We have to simply continue patient work inside the LP once again, and work to replacing Starmer before the Right do. We have to learn the lessons of the Corbyn debacle, both in terms of strategy, and in terms of rejecting reactionary economic nationalism.

BCFG said...

It is quite ironic that Boffy mentions BNP and UKIP given his entire discourse on Covid, the primary issue of the day if not the century, pretty much is in entire agreement with those groups and their members.

I am surprised Boffy has not joined Laurence Fox.

And the reason Boffy puts forward his covid idiocy and genocidal policies is for the same reasons UKIP and the BNP do. I.e. they are neo liberal Thatcherites.

Nationalism doesn't come into it, Farage wants to pay lower taxes and not be hampered with consumer and environmental protection. He wants trade relationships with less fussy partners than the EU and all its red tape. He only spouts about the Union Jack to get the idiots on his side, but basically he has the same free trade outlook as Boffy.

Boffy is about as far from communism as it is possible to get.

And what is communism?

The market is now irrational and is wholly inadequate for dealing with the problems of today and tomorrow.

The only option is a planned economy and the end of exchange, i.e. communism. The end of exchange, communism, is now rational and will have the added benefit of rescuing a large section of the population from the idiocy of consumerist life.