Saturday, 5 June 2021

Is Labour in Decline?

If this blog is known for anything, surely it's got to be the decline of the Tories thesis (Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain is out this September from all good bookshops, plug, plug). But what if this has been the wrong focus? Arguably, it is Labour that have manifested declinist tendencies more starkly than the Tories. A process, you might say, that was confirmed by the 2019 general election and compounded by Keir Starmer's performance as Labour leader.

With a longer post in the pipeline and some serious reading to be done before bed, friend-of-the-blog Alex had a sit down with Jeremy Gilbert about this very issue. In the discussion Jem talks about the size of Labour's core electorate, whether the Greens pose it a threat, the obsolescence of centrist political strategy, and whether the Labour right are interested in winning an election at all? Staples of this place to be sure, but aways good to hear someone else singing from the same hymn sheet.

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Dialectician1 said...

Yeah, I listened to this podast a couple of days ago. Not sure I agree with Jeremy Gilbert about encouraging the left to stay (as sleepers) in the Labour Party - to fight it out with the right, another day. The question is, is the LP worth saving? Some points he makes:
* 25% of the electorate have a socialist/Marxist tendency (they take a class analysis and want redistribution of wealth as a political outcome)
* most of the PLP and the staffers are not very bright. They lack the intellectual resources to do what the Democrats managed in the US.
* Corbyn is not a political animal, rather he is a moralist (anti-imperialist rather than a hard-nosed Gramscian strategist). This was his downfall.
* the Posokification of the LP has begun. It is really a matter of where the 'progressive vote' goes (they make up approx 35% of electorate and rising). At the moment the Greens have not realised their historic destiny.
* the LP hate the left more than they hate the Tories. They see their first priority is to wipe out the left; then to make themselves as credible as possible (a safe pair of hands) to corporate Britain/media - to be seen as 'new management in waiting' - when the Tories run out of steam, or just become too embarrassing. Or, more realistically, there is a house price crash.

Karl Greenall said...

I find much to agree with in what you say, but have questions about the Greens.
We know well, that when they gain some power, they are happy sharing it with the Tories, just as the LibDems can.
Of course, with the exception of places like Preston or Salford, many Labour councils are as bad as the Tories, in the way they have put austerity policies I no to effect without any vociferous protest.
Is it beyond the wit of the left to create a party that could take all of the " progressive" vote?

BCFG said...

Anti Imperialism is the only hard nosed development of Marxism that makes any sense whatsoever. The other road for Marxism is Lord Boffy's and simply capitulate to capitalism, which is the road New labour represent. So Dialectician1 is talking out of his hat.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was part of a general development, which also resulted in the near collapse of ‘Social Democracy’ more generally, if we were to include the bourgeois reformist parties like labour as Social Democratic. Piketty gives some of the technical reasons for this in his epic capital in the 21st century.

I would add technological development, emerging economies, expanding markets, oil and price shocks, financialisation, Keynesian limits, as other contributory factors to the global trend of a sharp decline in the labour movement and a rise of neo liberal economic policies.

Capitalism has clearly reached its limits, is no longer able to deal with the crises we are facing and will change one way or another.

At the moment it is looking like some form of neo Feudal model or Authoritarian State Capitalism is the best bet. I don’t like the term neo Feudalism because it seems like an attempt to distance capitalism from what is coming. That said, it does sum up where we are headed I think. A cashless economy, a more sharpened and acute distribution of goods, with more falling into what could be called Luxury goods, i.e. more and more goods outside the reach of the bottom quartile.

It is different to Feudalism though, as the Kings and Queens and their disgusting, feral, little princes and princesses make up about 40 - 60% of the population, at least in the UK. As I said, the Court of Versailles.

The disgusting princes and princesses of course being that group of feral monsters who Phil believes will deliver Labour majorities in the coming years!

Personally, I can only hope a similar fate awaits this new Aristocracy as befell the old Court.

Blissex said...

«the LP hate the left more than they hate the Tories. They see their first priority is to wipe out the left»

That is just current appearances, the Mandelson Tendency hate all traitors of "whig" globalist thatcherism, whether on the "trot" internationalist left or the "tory" nationalist right. It just happened that un-thatcherite Trump became relevant in the USA, and anti-thatcherite Corbyn in the UK, but of course the New Labour "centrists" would have hated someone like Trump as much as they hate Corbyn, had someone like Trump "infected" New Labour.

Also they don't hate the "dry" thatcherites in the Conservative party (or in the LibDems), they just disagree respectfully with them as to the how to carry out thatcherite policies, and viceversa (Keir Starmer got a column in the "Telegraph"...).

Their fundamental worldview seems to be that betrayal of thatcherism, which has resulted in booming living standards for the southern upper-middle and upper classes, is inhumane and illegitimate, and also "f*cking racist and antisemitic".

«25% of the electorate have a socialist/Marxist tendency (they take a class analysis»

Those the illegitimate "trots" whom the "centrist" think must be denied representation (thus the strategy of deliberate PASOKification).

«and want redistribution of wealth as a political outcome)»

I think that is too ambitious, and I suspect that they would already be content with a better deal than they get now, with better wages, job availability, T&Cs, lower housing costs, ...

«Corbyn is not a political animal, rather he is a moralist (anti-imperialist rather than a hard-nosed Gramscian strategist). This was his downfall.»

To a large extent all the people on the left are "moralists", including Gramsci, and clearly Corbyn is a political animal; what probably should be said is that he is not a hard-nosed "power politician", one that pursues power ruthlessly, at least for their own sake. But that is also part of his appeal. Andy Burnham himself might have also mean that when he said after losing the 2015 leadership election to him:

2015-08-13: «but he also praised Corbyn for having brought the contest to life. “The attacks we’ve seen on Jeremy misread the mood of the party because what people are crying out for is something different. They are fed up with the way Labour has been conducting policies in recent times,” he said.»

Blissex said...

«many Labour councils are as bad as the Tories, in the way they have put austerity policies I no to effect without any vociferous protest.»

Many of them have been complicit, but whether complicit or opposed, the issue is simply money and how to spend it, and both are largely under the control of the central Conservative government, that has been cutting the equalization grants and at the same time mandating specific levels of service to specific categories.

Vociferous protest is not going to work, when an 80 seat Conservative majority largely gained thanks to Keir Starmer's (and John McDonnell's) "2nd ref" policy and the backstabbing by "centrists". Then there is the argument that "revolutionary" councils should defy the classist laws enacted by the national parliament, as many called for at the time of the poll tax, but that is a pretty grave step.

The big problem is that most voters do not know about how the local government system works, and so blame local Labour (and New Labour) councils for trouble caused by the central Conservative government.

As to that there are two approaches: that of Labour, of being a movement that supports and helps voters in being better informed with various initiatives, or that of Conservatives and New Labour, to pander to and exploit the prejudices and lack of information of voters with supposedly "slick" marketing campaigns.

Anonymous said...

A decline in popularity is probably inevitable for any political party (in a multi-party system) when it's taken over (again) by an openly hostile 'fifth column' . In the case of Labour we have a party of the left that is led and controlled by a faction that despises the left above all things.

Naturally, voters "don't know what Labour stands for", because the two wings of the party stand for completely different and irreconcilable things, and the now dominant faction has very little that distinguishes its politics from those of the Lib Dems and Tories.

Who do they expect to vote for such a party once the residual loyalty to it is gone?

Anonymous said...

Honestly, it could well be the 'centrist's' intention (or at least an acceptable plan B) to allow Labour to decline, and then merge it with the Lib Dems, perhaps under a new name. This would allow them to discard all the inconvenient left-wing baggage associated with the name "Labour". In the process, they would have destroyed the mainstream party of the left. That would allow them to retain the mantle of the "progressive" party (without committing themselves to anything remotely social democratic) and the advantages of a first-past-the-post electoral system. They'd thus hope to unite much of Labour's old vote behind what would essentially still be the Lib Dems.

I'm not saying that would work, but it seems to be what some (EG: Tony Blair) are considering.

Blissex said...

«allow Labour to decline, and then merge it with the Lib Dems, perhaps under a new name.»

I think that the desired outcome is not a merger but an electoral coalition, on dependent on the willingness of New Labour to always support the LibDem's thatcherism. Something like the Labour Party-Cooperative Party permanent alliance that makes up the PLP, but looser, so the LibDems would be always in control even if they were smaller, because of always being able to switch to not supporting Labour or even supporting the Conservatives.

«This would allow them to discard all the inconvenient left-wing baggage associated with the name "Labour"»

I think that the "whig" thatcherites know well that "Labour" still attracts a large block of "automatic" votes and they would not want to lose that; after all the whole point of those thatcherite "whigs" being entrysts into Labour (or the Conservatives) is to use the existing mass of votes to have an electorate that is 90% social-democratic and 10% thatcherite, but with 90% thatcherite policies and 10% social-democratic policies.

Anonymous said...


The logical endpoint of such an electoral pact between the Lib Dems and a non-socialist/vaguely-'progessive' Labour Party (as is frequently proposed over at the Guardian) would be a merger of the two parties since there would be no significant ideological barrier. Of course, logical endpoints aren't necessarily realised in practice because there are other factors involved (like personal self-interest/ambition).

And yes, the goal of Blair and his accolytes in the PLP and party bureaucracy seems to be to transfer the Labour vote over to a party that is no longer Labour in any meaningful sense.

Dr Zoltan Jorovic said...

I should ignore the tribalist who made a deliberately provocative comment about the Greens. Labour's record in the 21st century has hardly been one of offering a genuine alternative to neoliberalism. New labour had opportunities to make real changes that would have benefited the majority of the population and created a genuine 21st century democracy - introducing PR, introducing democracy into the boardroom, share allocations to all workers, scrapping PFI, removing charitable status from public schools, de-privatising the NHS, restoring national control and democratic representation to services such as water, power, and transport, replacing the Lords with a proper second chamber, full federalisation of the UK, land value tax, proper tax of technology business, greening the economy and addressing climate change seriously. the list goes on. So no party that sees itself as progressive would take any lectures from a labour party which had the opportunity to make real long term changes but other than devolution failed to implement any major political, economic or societal reforms.

I do agree that both labour and Tory party are in decline - because politics as it exists now is dysfunctional and simply exists to maintain the status quo, no matter how badly that is serving the majority of the population. Tribalism blinds people to how poorly the system works, how it prevents any real structural change which is absolutely necessary to bring about a future worth having. If we a carry on with politics as it is, based on these archaic party lines, we face a long, painful decline - or worse, a catastrophic collapse as a result of environmental degradation. We have to work together to build a viable future and stop pathetic bickering about ideological purity.