Monday 29 March 2021

Militant Political Science: A Study in Gossip

Plots and rumours of plots. It's against the rules to admit this, but yours truly has always liked, nay enjoyed the minutiae of the small p politics as much as the big stuff. The petty rivalries, who hates who, the unlikely connections and alliances, the shafting, the gossip. I should be better than this, but I'm not. It's grubby, but during my 11 years in the Labour Party I've relished rolling in the muck. Now work, the pandemic and, well, other work has got in the way of active participation save last Friday's four-and-a-half hour CLP meeting, Labour Party shenanigans now proceed at a remove. Not that my interests aren't piqued by circulating whispers.

Take Sunday morning's tittle tattle. We learn there's mild concern from inside the shadow cabinet that Keir Starmer is all at sea with little sense of direction. What's needed, according to our anonymous interlocutor, is the inclusion of a big figure in the shadow cabinet to make a splash and add some experience to a team viewed as somewhat underpowered by the parliamentary party. I don't know about your part of the world, but all the community Zoom meetings and Facebook groups here in Stoke are clamouring for Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn to take up senior positions, with promotions for Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips to follow.

Accompanying this was the splash in the Sunday Times that shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds is up for the chop after the local elections. Apparently, she hasn't made enough of the spotlight or effectively communicated "the vision". Not enthusiastically banging the drum for rapist cops and stitch ups are, if anything, worth applause if you ask me. For his part Dear Keir has denied any such thing, telling the hacks on a campaign visit to Milton Keynes that "Anneliese Dodds has my confidence, she has my full confidence, she is doing a fantastic job." She's doomed.

So yes, I love the tittle-tattle and the microaggressions, but mainly because it tells us what's going on under the hood. The desire for a big figure to come and steer things, for example, shows the right of the party haven't learned a single thing since their failure to despose Gordon Brown. A Thames estuary accent, a good suit and nice hair is enough to short circuit the messy business of politics and have the punters queuing up to cast their ballots. In the case of our present shadcab, importing someone who fits this bill, like the aforementioned overrated Cooper and Benn, is a magic bullet. The dreary politics are fine, all it needs is better presentation. The obvious problem with this argument is Keir Starmer is already that man in the suit. He was sold on that basis. And his numbers are trending downwards. Perhaps those amenable to voting Labour want to see more than a brylcreemed quiff? Just a thought.

The other issue with getting a big beast in is, well the logic underpinning Keir's shadcab appointments. There was nothing stopping him from appointing a cadre of experienced has beens. It's not like Cooper would have said no if offered the shadow chancellor brief. Instead, Lisa Nandy was shuffled off to shadow foreign precisely because it's a non-job and she wouldn't upstage the boss. Ed Miliband was welcomed back because he's not about to make a pitch for taking over, and home and chancellry went to Nick Thomas-Symonds and Anneliese respectively because, and with all due respect to noth concerned, they were nobodies. Someone like Cooper has her own ideas, as awful as they are, and unlike Keir's sheeple would frequently show him up in the chamber with her tougher line in questionning.

What about the briefing against Anneliese? Again, without wanting to put her nose out of joint, her appointment was politic because, at the time, Keir was still contriving a Corbynism without Corbyn poise. Calling on the services of Rachel Reeves, who once pledged to be tougher on benefits than the Tories, was a step too far then. Now, following her rediscovery of Labour values? Perhaps. But there's more than just shuffling faces in and out of contention. The soft left, from which Anneliese is drawn, is known neither for its ruthlessness nor its coherence. Yet its constituency in the party is large. Corbynism succeeded in winning because it took the soft left with them. Starmerism won by managing the same trick. Scapegoating Anneliese for the party's structural failures, not to mention his own lacklustre leadership wouldn't do this alliance much good, and diminishes the numbers willing to stand by him when the knives come properly out. Perhaps Keir knows this, but given his self-destructive willingness to dump on the left, perhaps not.

Talking about and reporting on the gossip is bread and butter for bourgeois scribblers, and while a love for the chatter and prattle is my shame there's no reason why a militant political science shoud stand aloof from the soap operatic. Its job, when it decides to go there, is thinking through the fallings out, the arse coverings and the whispers to understand how tactics, strategies, and the alliances and interests underpinning them work themselves out in real time. It's a way of divining the divisions within leadership formations, and what difficulties they may portend. Again, not because they're jolly interesting for people watchers who like Westminster, but because socialist politics has to be alive to disagreements and gaps between our rulers in case we're in a position to take advantage of them. In this case, those muttering the sliver of worry noted here before Keir's current crop of difficulties are, for the moment, happy to cast around for scapegoats. But unless there is improvement, the right's muttering will turn to jitters, then to grumbles, and then outright sabotage and rebellion. And who then is going to stand by this most hapless of Labour leaders?

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Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

Until you mentioned him, I had never heard of Nick Thomas-Symonds and had no idea he was Shadow Home Sec. To be fair to him, I doubt if I could name more than 3 of the shadow cabinet, but that should illustrate just how invisible they are as I suspect the majority of the country are even less interested than me, and probably would struggle to name any other than SKS. Whether this matters or not depends on your perspective, but it suggests that if the plan is to keep a low profile they are executing it brilliantly - probably too well. Presumably the plan was not to have NO profile, unless the strategy is one of extreme surprise - to the extent that we had all forgotten of the existence of the Labour Party. They then leap out on us at election time "SURPRISE"! Different, certainly. Effective, not so sure.

Anonymous said...

The focus is always on the leader so bringing others into the frame wont help in that regard. Of course Keir needs to change the style of his delivery, sound a lot more confident- take a few risks, or risk losing big time. Anyway he has got the job for now hope he can up his game, if he cant the Labour Party should get another leader long before another election loss.

Anonymous said...

Or, as Steve Bell remarked in the days of Kinnock, "If nobody knows who we are, the floating voter may elect us by mistake"

Dipper said...

Starmer ... he's a Barrister. Barristers, Lawyers, Solicitors, all act on behalf of a client. They don't normally pursue their own interest. Who is Starmer's client? Who does he represent?

Dodds? Privately educated, government jobs. Again, who is she representing other than the clique of privately-educated privileged lefties who think they should be allowed to organise everyone's lives.

As I write, we are awaiting the publication of the report that says there is no institutional racism, and Labour are going to go onto the attack to say racism is the primary discrimination in society. They will compare numbers to 'the white population' as if we are a monolithic block. And that's the problem. In one generation, Labour has gone from a party that sees class as the primary discrimination mechanism in society to one that thinks class does not exist and working class white people have poor outcomes in life because they are just really crap at using their white privilege. Every election, every poll, shows the White working class have got that message loud and clear.

Blissex said...

«the inclusion of a big figure in the shadow cabinet to make a splash»
«as Steve Bell remarked in the days of Kinnock, "If nobody knows who we are, the floating voter may elect us by mistake" »

But indeed the strategy of New New Labour is to make no splash so if the Conservatives make some big mistake before 2024 the maximum number of floating voters will punish them by voting New New Labour by default. Taking any position is going to annoy some number of floating voters, while looking vaguely “quasi-Conservative” (P Gould, P Mandelson) is going to be most fruitful. It is a strategy of abstention from any controversial politics, both in Parliament and more widely.

«and add some experience»

If some New New Labour insiders are making a point about "experience" that is code for throwing Keir Starmer out: his DPP role ended with 2013, in 2014 he became active in politics, in 2015 he was elected to Commons in one of the safest seats in the country, in 2016 he became shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, in 2020 he became leader of New New Labour.

His astonishingly rapid ascent of the political ladder has given him very little experience of actual politics, and his role as DPP after all only lasted 5 years, barely enough to get a bit of experience of managerialism.

«the community Zoom meetings and Facebook groups here in Stoke are clamouring for Yvette Cooper and Hillary Benn to take up senior positions, with promotions for Wes Streeting and Jess Phillips to follow.»

That seems to me a set containing only ultra "blairites" (mandelsonians). Why not then adopt my usual suggestion of begging Chuka Umunna himself to come back as shadow Chancellor or to replace even Keir Starmer with the much more popular Rishi Sunak?

BTW Wes Streeting was already distinguishing himself as a mandelsonian a dozen years ago, he must be disappointed that he did not have an astonishingly rapid ascent as Keir Starmer: