Friday, 24 September 2021

Neoliberalising the Shadow Cabinet

The Labour Party is home to many dubious traditions. Stitch ups. Contempt for members. Leadership incompetence on the eve of conference. But another that often sails below the radar are the chummy, if not outright corrupt relationships between wealthy people, corporations, and Labour Party politicians. For the favoured, they can expect donations of tens of thousands each year to contribute toward "office costs". In the majority of cases this money doesn't ingress into the politicians' pockets and bank accounts, but is used to hire in more people, upgrade the office space, or pay for huge drops of very glossy leaflets. Often, this comes with no strings attached. But the understanding is there: lobby for their interests at local level, push against national-level policy moves that might harm their industry, etc.

Then comes the next layer: leading shadow ministers find themselves in receipt of the largesse of certain commercial behemoths. In addition to their one or two Westminster people and spad, outfits like KPMG and Serco have a history of seconding staff to their offices. And this "charity" pays itself back many times over: the genesis of nuts and bolts policy lie not in the political imagination or wonkish inclinations of shadow ministers, but in the schemes favoured and often pushed by their spads. A donation of a corporate employee brings a business's influence to bear directly to the policy formation process. Much of this practice was jacked in under Jeremy Corbyn, but was rife in the Ed Miiband years.

And now, we read, the process is about to go one step further. Last year, Labour received £6.5m in short money to fund its parliamentary business, including £850k for the Leader's office. A tidy sum, to be sure. But with 26 shadow cabinet members, seven more senior positions with attendance rights, and a layer of bag-carrying MPs beneath them, it's very easy to see how staffing costs can spiral. Especially if one is set on paying spad rates. This isn't a problem when Labour is relatively flush with cash as the party can (and did) stump up money to support parliamentary operations, but even without a cash crisis under Ed Miliband the gaps were plugged with generous donations from accountancy firms and public sector outsourcers. And now, there is a financial blackhole thanks to the membership collapse, withdrawal of union donations, and the leadership's money mismanagement, shadow ministers are competing for corporate sponsorship.

According to HuffPo, party cutbacks means less money for specialist staff. Isntead we have the spectacle of Wes Streeting and David Lammy raising large sums for their disposal. This could be spent to enhance their offices, or squirrelled away for a future leadership contest. But either way, it's setting the scene for a thorough neoliberalisation of the shadow cabinet. While this pair are sitting pretty, also swimming in outside cash are Rachel Reeves, Jess Phillips, and, outside the top body, Yvette Cooper and Dan Jarvis. In the game of politics, they now have extra resources to make themselves particularly effective, at least in the eyes of other Labour MPs, while, comparatively speaking, those not flush with support are going to have to get by with reduced teams. To highlight the absurdity of the situation, Streeting had potentially greater resources to meet his schools brief than his former boss, shadow education secretary Kate Green.

This situation is entirely consistent with Keir Starmer's managed democracy. The shadcab are not only disciplined by collective responsibility, political advancement is now tied to attracting "investment" from "philanthropists" like the Sainsbury clan, and entities like PwC. In other words, meltism is actively incentivised (not that it needed to be) and sections of capital have a greater, more direct relationship with with Labour's top team. It also behoves those wanting to move up the parliamentary ranks to pay the same game, effectively working toward what the priorities of wealthy backers as opposed to those the party occasionally affects to represent. This puts further distance between the party's elite and its constituency, insulating them from upwelling pressures, thickening the tin ears with coatings of lead, and more or less guaranteeing a future of further electoral woe.


  1. «Often, this comes with no strings attached.»

    A flow of funds that depends on the satisfaction of one or a few donors with the behaviour of the recipient is difficult to describe as "no strings attached" in a full sense, the recipients are in effect piece workers.

    «This puts further distance between the party's elite and its constituency»

    Quite the opposite: it motivates the recipients to be much nearer to their constituents, the donors who support them, in order to maintain that support. Keir Starmer declared this week:
    the role of government is to be a partner to private enterprise, not stifle it.

  2. As to "neoliberalising" the debate about switching away from OMOV to the electoral college was a clever distraction from the real change:

    * The leadership nomination threshold has been raised from 10% of MPs to 20% of MPs.

    This is the critical detail, but two other measures are about to be taken that will ensure that only thatcherites can become leaders of New Labour.

    * Registered supporters will be abolished.

    * New members will not be allowed to vote in leadership contests for 6 months after joining.

    New Labour is back "forever".

  3. For a minute there, it seemed like Starmer might actually be under some pressure (from several directions) to be noticeably to the left of the Tories, or at the very least not quite so shit at politics.

    But that seems to have passed, so now he can get back to the real business of not opposing the government, losing the next election, and consolidating right-wing control of the Labour Party (priorities!).

  4. I think it is time to take stock of the political blocks and what they represent, as we are clearly at a moment in history where profound change is not only going to happen, but must happen.

    There are 3 current political blocks in the West (all slavish followers of the ruling classes), as follows:

    The centre right/centre left neo liberal alliance. In the UK this would be Labour and the Tories, in Germany, the SPD and CDU, etc etc.
    This group represents the status quo; everything must carry on as normal (well except a woman can have a penis and a man can have a womb). This group are currently the dominant force and clearly the most irrational.

    The Far right, this group represent pulling up the drawbridge, pretending the climate crisis does not exist (some pseudo and not so pseudo Marxists share this view, see ultra ultra rightists like Lord Boffy for example). This group are very similar to the first, in that the centrists pretend they think there is a climate crisis but act in a way that suggests they do not believe their own science for a second. Maybe this is pressure of competition, who knows.

    The third group are represented by Greens, who articulate the policies of neo Feudalism (Or Planned Hierarchy as I call it).
    They are certainly the most rational of the existing political blocks (but the weakest at present), except that if anything, their neo Feudalism does not go anywhere near far enough (Which is probably why they exist as an actually existing political movement). In many respect the Greens are very similar to the centrists.

    And that is it. We could talk about those political blocks which exist only the minds of leftists, or left sects. But why should we talk about phantoms, ghosts and the supernatural?

    I suspect that if events go as science predicts, then all 3 political blocks will more and more have to take up policies that are solidly neo Feudal. Which is really bourgeois rule by decree, which is just normal bourgeois rule but with rigged markets, which is what normal bourgeois rule is, really!

    So profound change really means no real change at all! But it will certainly feel profound to the new winners and losers.


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