Tuesday 4 May 2021

On Entitlement

When I was elected secretary of Stoke Central CLP 10 years ago, one of my first acts was to visit Geoff Bagnall, then general secretary of Unity - the New Labour-era rebrand of the Ceramics and Allied Trade Union. Over a brew in his office, I said I wanted an end to blank cheques from the union to local Labour candidates. In future, local politicians should earn their support instead. Geoff agreed and I'm pleased to say the local party was much more receptive to Unity's priorities afterwards. You see, what disgusted me was the attitude some in Stoke Labour had toward the union: it was there for the privilege of bankrolling their campaigns, no questions asked or strings attached. A microcosm then of the entitled attitude that MPs on the Labour right, including His Blairness, have long held regarding trade unions.

The entitlement doesn't end there. Despite being abused and defamed as antisemites, called cultists, having their say in the party stifled, and their efforts systematically undermined in 2017 and again in 2019, the left are being told to shut up and get on with campaigning. The party doesn't want their views, but will take their money and their time. And their existence as handy scapegoats when things go belly up.

Consider the debacle of the Hartlepool campaign. The latest poll from Survation forecasts the Tories romping home handily with a 17-point lead. We'll find out how on the money this is in the early hours of Friday morning, but consider what has happened. A completely unnecessary stitch up that assumes local voters will happily support anything Labour puts a red rosette on. Mentioning Paul Williams is a Doctor in every leaflet, putting out branded literature of him in his scrubs on the assumption the punters will lap it up. And basically trying to turn the campaign into a referendum on the NHS when the good folks of Hartlepool know Labour aren't going to do anything about it. Again, the assumption health care is a silver bullet that will put the Tory beast down for good, despite evidence to the contrary, is supposed to take up the slack when our new leadership has nothing to say. 127,000 dead, a government up to its neck callousness and corruption, with plenty of material around it beggars belief that the Tories are poised to win. From the outset, the Labour have felt entitled to Hartlepool's votes, just as their predecessors felt entitled to Scotland's, and it's looking like the locals have had enough. But none of this is because of them and the choices made by the strategic geniuses up above, it's all thanks to "long Corbyn" - the folly of activists and Labour supporters who are now expected to go on the stump and turn over their votes.

Labour Party entitlement has a long history. It rests on the safe seats whose rock solid support for the party was built on the sweat and tireless activism of tens of thousands of party members and trade unionists who worked to build Labour in the first place. It was maintained by close associations between work and home, of a link between who you were, your station in life, and the politicians who would (at least rhetorically) look out for your interests. The collapse of the labour movement in the 1980s left a huge amount of Labourist political capital in the bank in seats like Hartlepool, but as the years went by, as these places were taken for granted and how, unforgivably, we had Labour governments actively undermining their own mass base, the capital was expended with nothing accumulated. Except for directorships and nice jobs for former New Labour ministers.

The material basis for Labourist entitlement has gone, and so either the party's leadership acknowledges this and starts doing something different, beginning with learning from the wipeout in Scotland or, horror of horrors, the 2017 general election, or it carries on and dies. Given the tactical and strategic calls made this last year, I'm pretty confident Keir Starmer and friends will make the wrong one.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

I think you are being way too generous to the voters of 'Hang The Monkey' who have been a belligerent lot since they, allegedly, strung up a monkey on a wrecked French vessel not, actually, thinking it was a Frenchman, but because it was the only live French thing they could find.

I think you over-estimate voters, particularly in a by-election. On Sky News I saw a woman who couldn't recognise Keir Starmer let alone the Labour candidate - I don't know who mine is 99 per cent of the time.

They'll vote for Boris not because Labour has failed, but because Boris succeeded in 'getting Brexit done' and getting them vaccines. Labour could do nothing in the face of this ignorance, and I make no apologies for tarring them with that brush because I came from the same class and studied in the NE so have no romantic notions.

Not that there's a great deal of democracy in Britain, but in a crude way a local poll - ie per constituency - is not a bad way to go, and if the burghers of Hartlepool want to vote for a Tory who has served up their prejudices and doesn't give a damn for their dead, then let them - more fool them.

True, it is Labour's role to challenge these prejudices, but they are hard-wired and Labour was only able to keep them on board when it wrapped itself in the flag every bit as much as the Tories.

The British working class is extremely 'patriotic', which the Left dismisses as bigoted or whatever, but that's the reality.

Corbyn opened the door to the Tories in the working-class heartlands (he gave the Labour voters permission to vote Tory) and it can't just be closed overnight. I'm sorry to say so, but Corbyn undid perhaps 40 years of work to reposition Labour as a patriotic party. In this context, from a Tory POV, although a national disaster, Brexit was an act of electoral genius.

And none of this is Starmer's fault - he is just a fall guy. Banging on about any of that other stuff you mention, be it sleaze or the NHS or whatever is small potatoes.

Cathy said...

This describes the situation as it is. We at Labour Affairs have a similar approach:




How the citizen was removed from political discourse

KevM said...

I think that both you and anonymous in the first response have valid points, Phil.

McIntosh said...

I am not sure if Anonymous has read any of your other posts on Starmer and the Labour Party he is trying to shape. If so he has missed the complexity around what is meant by 'patriotism', the tracking of Labour's decline in a number of Northern areas as old industries collapsed and some of the sources of Tory support.
It seems the problem still lies with Corbyn not with the Starmer approach of quietism and anxiousness about saying or doing something that might upset the right wing press. Should Labour not hold Hartlepool and lose some other Councils then the right of the Labour party are likely to go into full panic mode and seek further ways to deny the left any entry to the debate on the way forward. Their lack of strategic direction, ideological and cultural failures can then be hidden behind the view that ' a big boy did it and ran away'. No doubt we will also see the New Labour play list repeated as though it still has novelty and impact.

BCFG said...

"but Corbyn undid perhaps 40 years of work to reposition Labour as a patriotic party"

I guess the national investment bank and the closing of tax loopholes to stop people defrauding the British state is not considered patriotic by these thick as pig shit voters you mention?

I suppose these thick as pig shit voters you mention think evading tax and shoving it in a bank in Panama is actually patriotic?

Anonymous said...


'can then be hidden behind the view that ' a big boy did it and ran away'.'

Surely the same could be applied to a left that guided Labour to the biggest drubbing since records began and now seeks to use the pending failure of Starmer, who frankly has a mountain to climb to regain some credibility, as evidence that 'the right' is failing, completely ignoring the quite possibly fatal damage it did to social democracy during its tenure.

By 'fatal' I mean - Brexit, that '2 per cent' that doubtless could have been swung for Remain by a more enthusiastic leader and the right-wing wasteland it beckons, followed by holing the base beneath the waterline.

Once again, as with Thatcher, a failure of the Left (in that case largely unions followed by Michael Foot) harkens a massive shift rightwards of the centre - Thatch said Tony Blair was her greatest achievement, but it took him to get Labour re-elected. Now the Left under Corbyn enables another massive rightward shift. It may be that the Tories are doomed, as Phil says, but maybe they will simply do themselves out of a job, a bit like the Brexiteers, mission accomplished.

Merseymike said...

Labour should embrace pluralism and electoral reform. We need more parties, not less, and those who hold to right wing views plus free stuff will vote for it. A country so willing to accept authoritarian diktat and which wants Government to provide safety and to look after them udms simply not socialist. Socialism is not about sentiment or mindless spending.

bill j said...

The material basis for Labour Party entitlement hasn't gone, its changed. New Labour rests on the middle managers of the neo-liberal state, the charity directors, NGO employees, MPs researchers, councillors, local government senior managers, MPs, think tank thinkers and all the rest, who administer austerity on behalf of our rulers. There is no further explanation necessary for their stupidity, cupidity, and venality. They will crash today, and their reaction will be to purge the Left harder. The Labour Party is over for good.

BCFG said...

I think socialists want a society where the safety net isn’t needed and resources are directed based on an agreed plan. The very notion of spend is something socialists want to abolish, the fact is the right wing and people like MerseyMike would have a fit if a party ran on a platform of no spend. So clearly MerseyMike is not against mindless spending, just as long as it isn’t 'mindless' spending by the government. Private companies and private individuals can spend as mindlessly as they want as far as people like MerseyMike are concerned.

MerseyMike is the worst of both worlds.

Under this system a safety net is absolutely essential, given the anarchy and vagaries of the market and the fact that the underclass is systematically reproduced as part and parcel of the normal functioning of an exchange system.

Workers are under authoritarian diktat every single day, which is what working in a capitalist enterprise is all about.

But if MerseyMike thinks we live in a country that is so willing to have a safety net then all I can think is he is on something or is mixing Britain up with Finland, or one the other countries high up on the economic well being index.

People like MerseyMike and those who think like him are the bedrock of the hideous and grotesque Tory base.

And he wouldn't recognise pluralism if it smashed him in the face, i am sure.

Arthur Battram said...

Labour fails/failed because it lost its connection to voters. Indeed. Can we all agree on that? (Tories have also, but they have better bullshit, and that's offtopic).

So how in the age of antisocial media blah blah, do we reconnect?