Wednesday 7 April 2021

Whither the Northern Independence Party?

There's a bit of a puzzle with the formation of the newly-minted Northern Independence Party. As the UK state is hopelessly over-centralised and menaced by the SNP in Scotland and, to a lesser extent in Wales by Plaid Cymru, it's curious how NIP-sryle parties haven't formed sooner corresponding to England's stark regional divides. "Ah!" Might exclaim the nerds who follow things like local council by-elections, "don't you know about the North East Party and the Yorkshire Party?" Indeed I do, with three and seven councillors respectively. Regionalist parties are, actually, ten-a-penny. Mebyon Kernow down in Cornwall has been punting for independence for 70 years, and local authorities are littered with independents claiming to put their communities before party politics. My beloved Stoke-on-Trent is no different.

What makes NIP different from these other manifestations of what the pol profs call the centre/periphery cleavage? First off, it's explicitly socially liberal. As NIP's statement of aims makes clear, "We have members from across the LGBTQ+ rainbow and those of many different faiths and none. We will always fight against bigotry of all kinds - including racism, antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia." And second? It's where the party is from. Most regionalist parties and independent groups usually start life as a split from one of the two big parties, and typically as a result of fallings out in a council chamber. In this sense they are elite projects, albeit local government elites. As such, they tend to be older and have some years of experience behind them. Recall what happened with our unlamented friends Change UK, albeit at a municipal level: their characters are fundamentally the same. NIP, however, is not cut from the same cloth. It has come together out of the debris of Corbynism as a self-organised network of activists appalled with Labour's record since Keir Starmer assumed the leadership. Furthermore, while social liberalism is consciously stressed to jar Westminster-centric accounts of the north as a dessicated racist tundrascape, it reflects the basic common sense of the class cohorts who founded NIP: the immaterial workers and generation left, the backbone and natural base of Corbynism. Neither is it different to the cohorts lining up behind the SNP and an independent Scotland, except obviously the magnitudes of numbers involved are qualitative leaps apart.

But new political movements have to start from somewhere, and this is never from a position of strength. What prospects for NIP then under First Past the Post? As founder Philip Proudfoot says in his interview on Novara Media, electoral success is not the be-all and end-all for the new party. As Nigel Farage via UKIP and the Brexit Party was able to show, the mobilisation of a critical enough mass can impinge on and infuence the direction of the mainstream. True, though NIP will never have the same advantages enjoyed by UKIP in terms of media coverage and handy, five-yearly elections fought under proportional representation. But like these two parties and unlike other left-of-Labour outfits, it does have the possibility of building something out of its regionalist orientation. For one, few can pretend the north of England does well out of the current constitutional set up. Even Tory backbenchers know this and organise accordingly. And so while there isn't a generic northern identity outside of the imaginations of London journos as they head north on gammon safaris, there is an inchoate grievance ready to be drawn on.

One advantage NIP does have is the records of its activists. Having gone through the struggle Corbynism was thrust into and having a baptism of political realities at the font of scabbing by "comrades" and "allies", one would think they're not prey to the delusion of winning Westminster seats any time soon and have a grasp of how difficult making a breakthrough is. With this in mind, where it has enough members in a locality is it going to focus efforts on elections, building support in workplaces, the community organising Labour is foolishly abandoning, and/or the politics of the street? I imagine they will try all to build name recognition and recruit, but ultimately it was the electoral threat UKIP brought to bear that allowed Farage to set up his abode in Dave's head. Going for every local authority contest they can, and contesting seats consistently is the tried and tested method of other small parties.

Hence NIP's contesting of the Hartlepool by-election is quite interesting. The Survation poll for the CWU puts them on two per cent. Not a great score, but more than any of the other parties running apart from Labour and the Tories. Here the circumstances of the contest, particularly Labour's arrogant approach to the selection of Paul Williams and their entitled attitude could be grist to the NIP mill. Having selected the former Labour MP Thelma Walker and with campaigning now underway, including targeted Facebook advertising, we'll see if the party can scoop up any anti-Labour protest votes currently heading in the Tories' direction. And, given NIP's social base, whether it can flush out more votes from the corresponding milieu in the constituency.

The limiting factor for NIP is also its strength, and that is the party's regionalism. What it stands for requires little explanation, and undoubtedly a segment of any electorate it attracts will be on that basis - a bit like how the Greens have a record of winning Tory council seats in Tory areas despite being a socially liberal party with roots in the post-war expansion of immaterial labour. But the problem is, despite billing itself a democratic socialist party, is its efforts are always limited by this and if success comes, sooner or later the class interests of the coalition NIP's trying to build are going to come into conflict with the self-imposed geographic extent of its ambitions. Indeed, as Philip said in his Novara interview about this issue is people in other parts of the country should start their own regionalist rebellion against Westminster or move to the free North after independence. As we have seen in the UK, the nationalism of the mass politicisation in Scotland, even though it has a similar base to Corbynism has ensured its radicalism is boxed in and isolated from the rest of the UK body politic.

That said, the responsibility of NIP's emergence lies squarely with the Labour leadership for dumping on its people. And, I'm afraid to say, the Labour left. Little to no work was done to prepare Corbyn supporters in the event of losing, and since then the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs have not assumed the mantle of leadership. Seeing Jon Trickett tweet about policy, Richard Burgon pushing zero Covid, and Claudia Webbe talking about racism, there is no strategy let alone a good argument forthcoming for staying in the Labour Party. Keir Starmer is disaggregating and dispersing Labour's vote. Who knows, it might be enough to make NIP and similar parties viable, but those who would be leaders of the left are practically standing by, seemingly indifferent as our activists are carried to the four winds.


David Lindsay said...

In 2017, the anti-austerity Labour Party had a manifesto commitment to leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. Jeremy Corbyn had beaten Owen Smith out of the park on the issue of a second referendum. And Labour increased its vote at Hartlepool by 16.9 per cent, taking its share to 52.5 per cent. Even in 2019, after Corbyn had disastrously accepted Keir Starmer's Brexit sellout, then Labour still held the seat. But the impending victory of the Conservative Party at the Hartlepool by-election will apparently be the fault of Corbyn, as will the loss of hundreds of council seats that Labour had held or won while he was Leader. Corbyn is not even in receipt of the Labour whip.

Still, at least the Conservatives are going to win Hartlepool by more votes than are going to be cast for the Northern Independence Party, with its whippet, and with its spoof football shirts that pretend to be sponsored by Greggs. The Women's Equality Party exists to promote the media careers of its well-heeled and well-connected stalwarts. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party exists to promote its members on the pub entertainment circuit, especially in the South East. And the Northern Independence Party is in similar vein. Do not be diverted by this distraction. The whole country needs economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty.

Alan Story said...

On the key PR issue, not only is NIP in favour, but overnight Momentum came out in favour.

Good to see more of the Labour left ---- MPs John Macdonnell and Clive Lewis and NEC members Laura Pidcock and UNITE’s Howard Beckett --- coming out for PR.

As did earlier Labour notables, Keir Hardie ( and Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam ( )

Jim Denham said...

Yes, that's what the working class needs: more barriers, more division, more regional separatism, the idea that some mythical "North" is in fact a nation - and an oppressed nation at that! This is a reactionary diversion and an excuse for petty bourgeois dilettantes to give up on the real struggle within the Labour Party.

Unknown said...

Nice to see the use of "immaterial workers" and autonomist Marxism springing up over The North.

The next autonomist term to get an airing will be exodus.

Boffy said...

In 2017, Labour's commitment to "Respect" the referendum was shortsighted and opportunist, leading to confusion and future weakness. In reality, everyone knew the "respect" position was a cover, and that the Six Tests meant Labour would not support any Brexit deal. Its why millions of Liberal, Green, Plaid and other Remain voters lent Labour their vote. In 2019, Corbyn's reactionary nationalist support for Brexit pissed all those votes away, and Starmer has multiplied the error.

Opposing NIP on the grounds that "the North" is not a nation, is similarly shortsighted and opportunist. It lends credibility to the arguments separatists in Scotland and Wales which are nations - and potentially Cornwall, which was also a separate nation. Indeed, if you went back to the Heptarchy all sorts of cases could be made.

Marxists have never supported separation of nations, only the right of nations to do so if they choose, and it is Liberal mysticism that only applies that principle to oppressed "nations, rather than to any other group that considers itself oppressed, or unequal. Indeed, the Bundists proposed the logical extension of that principle in the form of cultural-national autonomy.

As Lenin says, recognising an abstract right is not at all the same thing as recommending that it be pursued.

“Does recognition of the right of nations to self-determination really imply support of any demand of every nation for self-determination? After all, the fact that we recognise the right of all citizens to form free associations does not at all commit us, Social-Democrats, to supporting the formation of any new association; nor does it prevent us from opposing and campaigning against the formation of a given association as an inexpedient and unwise step.”

(The National Question In Our Programme)

“And that is why, undeterred by chauvinist and opportunist heckling, we shall always say to the Polish workers: only the most complete and intimate alliance with the Russian proletariat can meet the requirements of the present political struggle against the autocracy; only such an alliance can guarantee complete political and economic emancipation.”

Kamo said...

There’s a danger of attributing too much to Starmer. Plenty of people in the North of England have experience living in ‘one party’ areas, where Labour controls the council and the parliamentary seats, and the patronages and privileges that go with them. For decades the bogeyman of Thatcher has been used to justify the venal, sclerotic and corrupt governance that goes with this model, but it started to wear thin some time ago. This is partly where the populist appeal of UKIP and BoJo come from in ‘Red Wall’ areas. What makes the NIP different from any other comedy leftist faction like the SWP, or even just a splitter group formed from the headbanger elements of the local CLPs using the ‘culture war’ to express their disgruntlement at never getting their fair share of the trough?There’s a danger of attributing too much to Starmer. Plenty of people in the North of England have experience living in ‘one party’ areas, where Labour controls the council and the parliamentary seats, and the patronages and privileges that go with them. For decades the bogeyman of Thatcher has been used to justify the venal, sclerotic and corrupt governance that goes with this model, but it started to wear thin some time ago. This is partly where the populist appeal of UKIP and BoJo come from in ‘Red Wall’ areas. What makes the NIP different from any other comedy leftist faction like the SWP, or even just a splitter group formed from the headbanger elements of the local CLPs using the ‘culture war’ to express their disgruntlement at never getting their fair share of the trough?

Anonymous said...

The working class have never been recognisably left-wing - they have simply supported what they perceived to be their interests, which were represented by the party named after them - Labour.

In fact, as is well known, in general the working class has a tendency toward small c conservatism and nationalism. This is why the Labour Party has generally been perceived by the left as a right-wing party.

The proof came to pass (if 1982 was not enough) in the recent election when Labour lost the red wall and rejected Corbyn, who couldn't have been less working class if he had tried.

Leftist cosmopolitanism in reality has a small constituency, represented by the readership of the independent and the guardian, and some of the sectoral groups it has sought to foster (although given how many people with an immigrant background mirror the white working-class journey right, this may be a mistake) which is why it has worked hard to pursue its agenda within Labour, and why when it has seized control Labour has failed unequivocally. It would do better accepting an 'underground' role in order to achieve its political ends - and accept there will never be widespread acceptance, let alone 'revolution'.

There is simply no majority for what the left is selling in the UK, and it is unlikely to ever be - correct, the best it can hope for is PR, but given the failure of the referendum and resistance of the main parties, that seems like a pipe dream. In PR, a left party (because of course, they would split widely) might hope to pass the threshold of 5 per cent. My guess a regional interest party like the Northerners might also get that much, but this would not prevent the vast majority of votes going to the centre-left/ right and their influence continuing to be marginal.

Ken said...

This appeared today, but I’m assuming this is the same Survation poll you discussed earlier. Some are not happy that it was published.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said the poll was “helping Boris Johnson and the Conservatives” in an “extremely difficult” byelection. He said: “Those of us who actually are talking to the voters, rather than sitting in our comfortable offices, are finding people are coming back to us, but that recovery is not helped by this kind of damaging sniping.”

Another Labour insider said some MPs were “frothing at the mouth” and that many of the party’s council candidates standing in “red wall” seats on 6 May were worried the Conservatives would “weaponise the polling data [to help] hammer home the message” that Starmer is not doing enough to win working-class voters.

A CWU spokesperson dismissed the anger as a “piss-take from the Labour right” and picked up on criticism levelled by Bradshaw that the poll sample size was 502 people, by saying some MPs were happy to point to national polls supporting Starmer that spoke to only about 1,000 people – one or two per constituency.

In Hartlepool and beyond, Labour must reconnect with working-class voters to win | Jon Trickett

They said critics of the union were in “complete denial”, saying: “Our position is that we are heading over a cliff here.” They also pointed to other findings in the poll, including that a large majority of those surveyed supported investing more in public services, renationalising Royal Mail and providing free broadband, calling it evidence of “support for a progressive agenda”.

Boffy said...

"The proof came to pass (if 1982 was not enough) in the recent election when Labour lost the red wall and rejected Corbyn, who couldn't have been less working class if he had tried."

Except it wasn't the working-class that voted for Brexit, or for the Tories. It was the the petty-bourgeoisie, the owners of 5 million small businesses, and their families, the self-employed and so on that make up around 15 million people in the electorate. They were supplemented by a smaller number of ex-workers, or people who have never been permanent workers, what Marx called the lumpen proletariat.

Its those reactionary elements that voted for Brexit, just as in the past they formed the backbone of support for fascists. Why Labour or any other party that considers itself social-democratic let alone socialist wants to appease and appeal to them rather than confronting them and their ideas is bizarre, given all experience of history.

It continues to be the working-class and its most advanced elements, now concentrated amongst the young, and in cities that continues to be the source of support for Labour, but first Corbyn, and now Starmer are driving them away into apathy or the arms of other petty-bourgeois parties such as the Greens or Liberals, and, thereby, creating the conditions not just for the irrelevance of Labour, and further setbacks for the working-class, but for disaster the next time the ruling class needs to turn to those reactionary forces to beat down any organised labour movement.

Fred Engels said...

If you use the term 'petty bourgeois dilettantes' you're part of the problem.

Clinesteron Beademungen said...

Maybe the north of England should contemplate an alliance with the SNP. Threaten cessation from England. Perhaps even mean it. Scotland would certainly welcome such a move. A comparatively large population re Scotland would guarantee a substantial voice in a Scottish parliament. There are historical precedents too.

Clinesteron Beademungen said...

That should be seccesion - I think - don't have a good dictionary handy only poor internet ones.