Wednesday 21 April 2021

Labour's Right Wing Opportunism

Keir and Labour, sitting in a tree. P-A-S-O-K-I-F-I-C-A-T-I-O-N. Okay, that isn't working for anyone, but neither is the Leader of the Opposition's strategy. YouGov gave the Tories a 14-point lead heading in to last weekend. Savanta grant them a nine point advantage, and Redfield posted a double-digit lead for Boris Johnson. But don't worry, we're told. It's all because of the vaccine bounce. If you say so, guv.

The certitude the leadership on the right track is confirmed by their current positioning. These last couple of weeks, for example, should be spring time for a Labour Party prepared to push a bit of left populism. Instead, the opportunities afforded by galloping Tory corruption is passed up in favour of banging on about "sleaze", as if this would rekindle Sun readers' memories from 30 years ago and look on Labour with a beatific smile. And there was the seen off attempt to form a super league. Labour night have agitated a bit more about this and talked up its plans for fan ownership and control, but why bother when making the case for something positive is too hard? Though one has to be fair to our hapless leadership and acknowledge how they have done some actual opposition. Opposition from the right.

Consider John Healey's response to the sacking/resignation of Tory heart throb, at least to some Labour MPs, Johnny Mercer. The "principled" stand Mercer had taken was the government's refusal to grant legal immunity to armed forces personnel who served in Northern Ireland. Doing so would quash the trial of two ex-servicemen due in the dock next week for the extra judicial killing of an IRA commander in 1972. For his part, Healey praises Mercer's resignation letter and slams Johnson for "abandoning" veterans. Yes, holding agents of the state to account is not the done thing under Keir Starmer's leadership. It would be astonishing if Dear Keir hadn't already prepared the ground for Labour's right wing opportunism by abstaining on the spycops bill, attacking the Tories for being soft on crime, opposing corporation tax rises, and putting as much distance between him and anything smacking of left Labourism. A pathetic spectacle.

And one to doom Labour further. As political science is the client discipline of official politics, LOTO doesn't even have to turn to radical rants to understand what is happening to them. Take the so-called spatial model of voting, for example. As an application of rational choice theory, it makes an assumption voters have policy preferences and are most likely to support the parties in closest proximity to them. Parties react to this information, so the assumption goes, by pitching their tent as near to where most voters are on a range of the most salient issues. Hence Tony Blair and his heirs and epigones pining for the centre ground. In as much the Third Way's envelope of hot air carried theoretical balast, it was this belief carried over from rational choice. And so you can see what Dear Keir is now attempting to do. Seeing as he's fond of quoting the Line of Duty, he's been sucking the diesel of Graun journos' northern safaris, and the anti-working class bollocks peddled by Claire Ainsley. They - erroneously - claim Labour's core support is fundamentally socially conservative, and so the way to win them back is by positioning Labour close to them on cultural issues. Hence the cringe of plastic patriotism is in, with the no-reverse-gear of an authoritarian without authority, and a straightforwardly grim celebration of the police and the military just as they're coming under increasing scrutiny.

Yet, it's not as easy as all that. Spatial models might be simplistic, but unlike insulated party leaderships they do have to genuflect to political realities to retain some explanatory power. Refinements to the model since the 1950s recognise that voters are rarely free-floating bundles of issues but prefer one side of the political fence. You're either for or against more money for the NHS, for or against more coppers, for or against Brexit. The average punter is also more than capable of identifying parties as being relatively coherent. This, at least where political science is concerned, is why parties have values and ideologies. They serve as short cuts to understanding a party's likely position on an issue. If in the recent past the Tories were attacking the welfare state and pushing tax cuts, one can assume they're unlikely to favour funding schools properly. It's also why the Tories and their friends and comrades on the Labour right expended so much energy associating Jeremy Corbyn with terrorists, racism, the forced collectivisation of agriculture, and muesli. One might like his plans for green industry, but less keen on the Hebridean gulags reeducation centres. As some reading this might painfully remember, despite having positions closer to where the mainstream common sense was on a whole load of issues the double whammy of Corbyn and Brexit became an absolute barrier many punters were not prepared to traverse to make their lives better.

How does this play out now? Keir Starmer thinks flag waving and, um, truncheon stroking will grant him permission to be listened to among the millions of self-described life-long Labour voters who haven't voted for the party for years. Yet while canvassers are reporting less hostility on the doors, it seems Keir's media projection has beamed into living rooms and onto mobile phones, and is stirring up apathy everywhere he appears. This is because many of the voters Labour lost are not stupid. They might find him less polarising and a bit boring, but he's already lost them because they know he led the charge against their referendum vote. And so Labour's positioning as more Tory than Tory looks like a gimmick. There's a wall no amount of inauthentic and desperate-looking posturing can bring down, no matter how close Keir is to them on patriotism and genuflecting to the authoritarian state. To them, Keir Starmer and the shadow cabinet are a bunch of well-meaning wets who'll pander to you one moment and disregard your aspirations the next.

As unlikely as it might seem, the position is recoverable and Labour could make up for lost ground. This means dumping the culturalist nonsense and start pivoting towards interests. And yes, this means doing more than defending the NHS and asking for a 2.1% pay rise. If Labour were serious about winning (which, historically, it hasn't been), it might want to reflect on why Labour did unexpectedly well in 2017. And the reason is obvious: because the party spoke explicitly to interests that had hitherto been crowded out of mainstream politics. Naturally, 2021 is different and the build up to the next election will have its own issues, but the pandemic has sharpened the inequalities and tensions present before 2020. The Tories are responding to them with their own take on the big state and "levelling up", but are leaving politics wide open for the left to articulate the interests they're neglecting and conspicuously working against. Which are, of course, the interests our class has in more housing, decent pay, and the means to enjoy a full life. There's a window here for Labour, even for a politics as top down and grey as so-called "Starmerism".

If past performance is anything to go by, the leadership are sure to give it a miss.

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uglyfatbloke said...

Labour may be looking at a breakthrough in Scotland where there is a real opportunity to come a very poor second rather than a really pathetic third.

David Lindsay said...

Count Binface used to be called Lord Buckethead until he lost an intellectual property case. In the polls for Mayor of London, he is statistically tied with Laurence Fox, and he is very slightly ahead of Fox on the raw numbers. Each of them is on one per cent, the same as Reform UK is polling for the Hartlepool by-election. The electoral bloc of anti-lockdown statue fetishists does not exist.

In 2019, when he stood against Boris Johnson, then one of Count Binface's joke policies was simply Jeremy Corbyn's universal free broadband policy. Well, Johnson himself gave a commitment to that in answer to a Conservative MP yesterday. In answer to a Labour MP, a right-wing enforcer of many decades' standing, Johnson also committed the Government to a Buy British policy straight out of the Shadow Chancellorship of Peter Shore. Or the successive General Election manifestos of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party. Or the Twitter feed of George Galloway. Who's laughing now?

David Walsh said...

John Healey’s almost instinctive dive to the dark side in a bid to embrace mindless populism has - thank be - failed. A quick trawl of the press this morning reveals a total lack of interest in his reactions, even going unmentioned in the Express and the Mail. I just wonder also how he saw this as linked to the welfare of veterans ? After all, how arguing for letting the government dodge holding anyone to account possibly guilty of war crimes is good for veterans baffles me. It doesn’t cure housing or employment problems or help cope with PTSD does it ?

Boffy said...

Labour's collapse into reactionary nationalism was quickly followed by its further collapse into reactionary parochialism with its position over the European Super League. The only good thing that might come out of that is that as Labour and the Tories opportunism led them to talk about football companies being controlled by supporters rather than shareholders, the obvious follow up question is "so are you then going to also introduce control of all companies by their workers/consumers rather than shareholders, and if not why not?"

Of course, the opportunist argument was ridiculous in this respect, because big supporter owned clubs in Europe such as Barcelona and Real Madrid were in the forefront of proposing the Super league because they know it is the only way they can get the revenues from the media to offset the control and influence of individual billionaire owners. The delay in moving to a European Football League, will now simply result in those billionaires having greater control - because the proposals for supporter owned and controlled clubs will disappear like steam - and the continued demise of clubs that do not have billionaire backers will accelerate.

But, it is simply symptomatic of the fact that politics has sunk into a reactionary separatist mire of which Brexit, the NIP, Trump et al are simply symptoms. It is the biggest political crisis facing the working class and socialism. The first priority is to stand against it, and all its manifestations. To move forward, we have to first extricate ourselves from that swamp, to avoid drowning in its shit, and be able to breathe clean air once more.

In the elections, it is necessary to back candidates that oppose that reactionary separatist shift. Marxists obviously back Labour as the Workers Party, but not uncritically. It is after all a bourgeois Workers Party, and its descent into this reactionary nationalism and parochialism is an indication of it. Socialists should fight to turn Labour away from its current reactionary nationalist and parochialist positions, and support those candidates that are pro-EU, and ready to commit the party to re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity.

As it is, Labour is likely to be hammered in the coming elections because there is no reason for ordinary progressive Labour voters to vote for Labour candidates standing on opportunist and reactionary platforms. Worse, still most Labour election material being pushed through doors, like Keir Starmer, avoids any mention of politics at all!!! It is all parochial non-political garbage about how the candidate has supported local litter picking campaigns and the like, much of the nature of the Liberals of old. So, to be honest, you can see why many progressive voters will vote Green on the basis of their better position on Europe, however much Marxists might argue for them to vote Labour.