Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Keir Starmer's Managed Democracy

The Tories should be having a rough time. Their recent reshuffle compounds the calamities forced on us. They have presided over the worst foreign policy disasters in British political history twice in as many years. The triple lock is ending, National Insurance is going up for employees, and millions of working families are about to lose a £1,000/year. Shops are experiencing food shortages, the idiotic Tory Brexit deal has stoked the fires of a militant Unionism in the throes of decline, and now gas prices are threatening the production of meatstuffs and menacing Christmas into the bargain. We're at the reverse Midas touch stage of this Tory government, and one a competent opposition would have no problem carving up while serving as the repository for disaffection from all quarters. Sadly, we have an opposition that is missing in action.

Never have so many goals been missed or opportunities passed up by a Labour leader. In his person, Keir Starmer condenses all the place-seeking and petty-mindedness of the Labour right - except he's blissfully unaware how he's filleting his position like a kipper. Consider the latest wheeze, now confirmed to the BBC and given in writing in conference documents: the electoral college is returning. A fever dream of the Labour right just two years ago, the prospect of its return is real. It's entirely possible Starmer could end Labour's short experiment with elementary bourgeois democratic norms and retreat to the managed democracy his lackeys ostentatiously find objectionable in Russia, Belarus, Hungary, etc. Returning to the system that last ran in 2010, the proposals award each MP the equivalent of 2,000 member votes and even more affiliated trade unionist votes. Simply put, no defence of this exists on formal grounds, so out come the bullshit arguments.

The first is MPs are more representative of the population as a whole than the membership. This is obviously untrue, whichever way you look at it. Our parliamentarians can look forward to the basic tidy annual sum of £82k, easily putting them in the top 20% of earners. This leaves out perks, corporate comps, directorships and lucrative sidelines that have the fortuitous tendency to stop at their station. There is a widening gulf between them and the consequences of the policies they debate in the Commons. And while there are good sorts who demonstrate empathy because they've been there, or they have good politics, most do not feel an emotional attachment to the suffering governments inflict. Their position insulates them. Social being conditions consciousness and therefore politics, which is why it remains common to still find on the Labour benches fans of scrounger rhetoric, true believers in unemployment being a result of personal failings, and joblessness the consequence of "cultures of worklessness" - not lack of jobs. From here flow other sins, such as mistaking one's mediocrity for profundity, how the public champ at the bit for military intervention overseas, and that nothing has changed in fundamentals since 1997.

Inhabiting this rarefied space breathes life into one popular self-serving argument - at least popular among the Labour right. When they were temporarily out of office and out of sorts in the Corbyn interlude, every tweet or Facebook post mildly critical of the scabby behaviour of right wing Labour MPs was hysterically denounced as abuse, bullying, misogyny, and antisemitism. There was litte concern their mountains from molehills act would affect Labour's chances, because our self-styled election-winning specialists had no interest in winning an election. Quite the opposite. Now they're back in the driving seat purging the left and stitching up party democracy with an enthusiasm that would make the crudest Kremlin fixer blush, bloodletting is not only good when they're wielding the axe; the public love to see it too. At least according to them.

For Starmer, to his mind and those advising him choosing to go into conference promising a showdown with the left and the trade unions is Blairite colour-by-numbers. What better way to show the media and anyone watching that not only is he tuss enough to be a proper leader, but if circumstances demand he'd happily defend the bourgeois interest against the people his party was set up to represent. But this is a gamble, and could easily shade into overreach. With Corbyn sidelined, recent accidentally-on-purpose difficulties kept off the front pages, the right wing tilt to opposition causing Starmer little bother, and a change of leadership at Unite pledged to expend less energy on Labour Party affairs, why not strike while the iron is hot? Risky, yes. But what he's banking on is the plodding conservatism of loyalist union bureaucrats and CLP delegates. This is Starmer's first proper conference as party leader, so the pressure's on not to embarrass the leader by seeing him defeated. Even if he's determined to make an arse of himself. It's this loyalism they're banking on, because as the BBC piece notes, little preparation has been done.

You don't need me to tell you the Labour leader is digging his own grave. He's faithfully followed the Labour right play book since he lied his way into office, but apart from that, and much to the surprise of many who would not describe themselves as leftwingers, Starmer has shown himself up as useless and spineless. Worse, the amateurishness and non-opposition is grating. If Starmer's changes are passed by conference and the member influence is carved out, the grumbles will get louder. The anonymous briefers will command more column inches, and a poor by-election result or an awful showing at next year's locals means curtains, paving the way for someone else.


  1. Starmer may be spineless but he is not stupid.
    It is not the case that he doesn't want to win the next election, he has done the maths and knows Labour has zero chance of winning it.
    So he might as well us his time as leader to ensure Labour is never again mistaken for a socialist party (or even a vaguely left reformist party) by preventing a re-run of the Corbyn years.
    Neither the party MPs or the union leadership have ever trusted the membership; their job is to shut up and knock on doors at election time.
    Business as usual.

  2. With all due respect, this was a brilliant post apart from the last phrase.

    What you should have said was, "paving the way for someone WORSE"

  3. Paul Mason getting an exclusion letter would create top bants energy.

  4. A good opportunity to repeat here for reforming OMOV for the benefit of higher democracy within New Labour:

    * For leadership elections, the "One Man" to be Peter Mandelson, who will cast the "One Vote" to elect the leader.

    * For membership, to have members subject to mandatory re-selection every year by their New Labour MP or official local candidate, who will be the "One Man" who will cast the "One Vote" to approve or reject every member in the constituency.

    The obvious issue for New Labour with the current OMOV arrangement is that membership is undemocratic, because nobody elects members, they select and elect themselves. Which means that many of them are indeed not representative of those (property owning) “aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose” who are the natural constituency of New Labour.

  5. It looks like 'Sir Keir's Little Red-ish Manifesto' is about to be unleashed on the world. Can't say I'm that impressed by what the contents appear to be so far, but it appears to be sufficiently centrist to keep the Guardian happy.

  6. «members subject to mandatory re-selection every year by their New Labour MP or official local candidate»

    Peter Mandelson himself wrote an editorial in "The Guardian" today about the damage caused by the infiltration of hundreds of thousands of Labour entrysts to the electability of New Labour:
    The proposed reforms to the party rulebook announced this week would curtail those who join or attach themselves to Labour in order to pursue their own factional objectives, and are important for Labour’s electability.

    Another key concept:

    Making a better fist of Brexit so as to relieve business and essential suppliers of the costly barriers and obstacles to trade that Johnson’s botched deal has inflicted on the economy must accompany this.

    Didn't Keir Starmer and New Labour (with almost the lone exception of Corbyn) endorse this “botched deal” with a 3-line whipped vote? Anyhow, Peter Mandelson had already said 20 years ago:

    in the urgent need to remove rigidities and incorporate flexibility in capital, product and labour markets, we are all Thatcherites now.

    After 20 years of thatcherism there is still need of more of that?

  7. The whole of New labour are entryists, at odds with the historical traditions of the party.

    This entryist group has been supplemented by Zionist entryists too.

    This was clear for all to see when Corbyn became leader.

    Corbyn's big mistake is that he thought nice played well with the general public, it doesn't!

    We have a Prime Minister and a government of monsters, who care nothing for the lives of their voters. Who openly say, let them die they are only old and weak. And yet the old and weak vote for them!

    Instead of pandering to the voters, Labour need to show them the utter contempt that the Tories show them. Starmer could be that man!

    Though better still, if the Politician transfer window is still open, could they grab Boris for say £100m?

  8. I thought Keef was at his best when he played alongside Mick Taylor.

  9. Who is surprised? Changing the rules for leadership elections was always the obvious next step for the zombie-New-Labour clique once we were collectively stupid enough to hand control of the party back to them (under the thin veneer of Starmer and his transparently dishonest promises).

    It's also emblematic of the ruling class attitude to democracy: completely instrumental; in so far as it serves their purposes; if the electorate votes the 'wrong' way, they'll be punished for it.

  10. As a former member of the SWP, I find it striking how much the Labour-Right (in practice, if not ideology) resemble the SWP-Central-Committee. In both cases, a cynical self-selecting and self-perpetuating clique that are perfectly willing to wreck the party and sacrifice all its ostensible goals in order to maintain their control by any means necessary. Because that's what really matters to them. Thus, both render their respective wider organisations useless and hopeless.

  11. As for Starmer himself: politically, he's a non-entity, he's a grey blur; there is (seemingly) nothing there. Under fascism, he'd probably be a fascist; under Stalinism, he'd probably be a Stalinist; in 21st century Britain he's a 'centrist' because that's the most convenient thing for him to be. Under any regime, he's a careerist and a waste of space.

  12. «It's also emblematic of the ruling class attitude to democracy: completely instrumental; in so far as it serves their purposes; if the electorate votes the 'wrong' way, they'll be punished for it.»

    It is just the regular leninist ideology of the english ruling classes, just as Lenin said "all the power to the soviets" because the bolsheviks were stronger in the soviets than in the duma. OMOV was introduced to take the trade unions out of the election of the leader, because the leninists-centrists thought they were stronger among the membership than among the trade unions. Now that they have figured out that they are weak among the membership, they switch to the PLP.

    Some relevant quotes:>
    If you’re weak on the facts and strong on the law, pound the law. If you’re weak on the law and strong on the facts, pound the facts. If you’re weak on both, pound the table.

    Peter Mandelson:>
    The proposed reforms to the party rulebook announced this week would curtail those who join or attach themselves to Labour in order to pursue their own factional objectives, and are important for Labour’s electability.

    Random commenter on "The Guardian":
    Why should merely paying up the "club" membership fee give a person any rights in determining how a political party is run? Or worse: a government? In a democracy, it is the mandate that flows from the voters to their elected MP that is the source of power. Yet with Labour they are controlled by the entirely undemocratic National Executive Committee.

    Bertolt Brecht: "After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

  13. Blissex,

    Leaving aside arguments about Lenin, the Bolsheviks, the Russian Revolution, etc....

    In the UK, this is a political tradition that is homegrown and which goes back to at least 1867: if I remember correctly, a Tory government extended the franchise, not out of any belief in the principle of democracy, but purely for their own perceived immediate interests.

    But what I was primarily thinking of was imperialist interventions to overthrow democratically elected governments in other parts of the world (Central America, Iran, Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc....) whenever they start talking about taking control of major resources, or (in the case of Haiti) reparations.

    Western governments are (rhetorically) all for democracy until it threatens western/capitalist interests, at which point they mysteriously transform into supporters (in very material terms) of military coups, dictatorships, and death squads.

  14. «Western governments are (rhetorically) all for democracy until it threatens western/capitalist interests, at which point they mysteriously transform into supporters (in very material terms) of military coups, dictatorships, and death squads.»

    That is pretty much what I also meant: that what the upper class care about is outcomes, not principles like "democracy" which is indeed “completely instrumental”, whether in New Labour, home countries, or foreign countries.

    My impression is that upper class interests like *representative* democracy (at home or abroad), because many representatives are readily and cheaply compromised, as they constantly need funding to compete with other representatives. As per this blog post.

    While "strongmen" are more difficult to deal with because they sometimes have delusions of having their own funding sources ad power base and thus "uppity" attitudes to business and land rentiers. In general I guess that the "western" upper classes like "strongmen" only in countries that are both intrinsically weak, and are resource rich, so the "strongmen" depend on "western" protection. For example the emir of Kuwait, or various south American generalissimos, and various other examples of “our bastards”.

    We in Europe are lucky that most of our countries are not resource rich and have some strategic value and our politicians are easily subornable, so we get fairly lightweight suzerain "protection" from the USA, and we are allowed a moderately wide range of options within "managed" representative democracy, unlike central or south America; plus better export access to the USA markets. It is not a bad deal given "realpolitik", but often we don't even make full use of our range of options.


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