Wednesday 27 July 2022

On Sam Tarry's Sacking

Riddle me this. If cabinet (or shadow cabinet) collective responsibility is so sacrosanct, why did Keir Starmer go before Labour Party conference in Autumn 2018 and, against the agreed line, call for a second refendum on Brexit? If it's not the job of a party of government to visit picket lines to offer workers support, then why in December 2019 did the Labour leader-to-be visit striking higher education workers and give them words of encouragement? And if Labour is in favour of nationalising the whole kit and kaboodle of the railways, why is Sam Tarry - sacked by Starmer for visiting a picket line and therefore breaking shadcab discipline - being accused of making policy up on the hoof?

Looking at the farce of the Tory leadership contest, how out of touch both candidates are with the country and the complete absence of a plan to address the cost of living crisis, one might suppose Labour would dispatch either at a general election without much trouble. But remember the Tories' secret weapon! Not the press, not the jerrymandering of constituencies, not even the inevitable pre-election bribes, but the blunderstorm of Keir Starmer's leadership. Like a bolt from the literal blue, Starmer has unequivocally ruled out nationalisation of the utilities, despite it being a popular policy and the most effective means of bringing energy prices - now due to top £4,000 by January - under control. No budging on this, despite the Gallic Blair tribute act across the Channel doing just that to EDF Energy. And as the Tories face a blast of industrial disputes, Starmer fetches out the wind break to help them. By sacking Sam from his shadow brief, calamity Keir has detonated a major row just at the moment of maximum Conservative pain.

Starmer's self-appointed praetorians among the press pack have repeated the lines to take. This isn't about industrial action, they say, it's about discipline. This argument will not and does not wash. While it's true Labour has a long and vexed relationship to strikes, that doesn't alter the fundamental facts that the movement the party depends on for money, activists, and votes was born out of industrial action. History teaches us where labour movements are strong, societies tend to be more equal, democratic, and pleasant to live in. Enough, you might think, for the most milquetoast Labourite to make the link between victorious strikes, stronger trade unions, and a fairer society.

What Starmer has done by sacking Sam is letting everyone know he thinks industrial action is illegitimate. If you are banning shadow ministers and bag carriers from attending picket lines, but not issuing edicts against them joining lobbies, protests, demonstrations, or occasionally taking part in stunts, you're singling out strikes as a special case. This is not about discipline per se but the enforcement of discipline against showing solidarity. It is an expressly anti-working class move.

It's not difficult to discern why Starmer has done this. Ever keen to show wealthy business types who still aren't donating to Labour in anywhere near the amounts needed, he has to show them - the people who matter in Starmer's universe - that he'll protect their interests. Labour as the sensible B team of British capitalism now the Tories are going off the deep end. He has to placate the right wing press who, in the main, have given him an easy ride - the ludicrous incidence of Beergate notwithstanding. There are the voters Starmer is trying to chase (never mind the current ones that have to be kept on board). Lastly, let's not forget the man's utter cowardice. Having ridden the second referendum wedge all the way into office, he's terrified of being seen as for something because that puts him against something. Being for nationalisation places him at odds with shareholders big and small in the utilities. Confronting transphobia on his own front bench gives the Tories a war on woke angle. And saying standing up for working people without standing with working people will, apparently, stop rightwingers from calling the Labour Party a nest of militants.

The damage is done. Leading trade unionists aren't daft enough to fall for the "disciplinary" line, and anyone not compromised morally and intellectually from throwing their lot in with Starmer will buy it. This, more than anything else, demonstrates what to expect from a government led by him. We might get the day one rights at work he's keen to talk about, but apart from that, nothing. It will be a return to the years of Blair and Brown, where unions were recognised as just one pressure group among many and no "special favours" were extended or even entertained. Perhaps the penny is dropping among those union leaders who've got Starmer's back and supported his attacks. There will be nothing for them, because fundamentally his politics are at odds with those of our movement.

What a pathetic state of affairs.

Image Credit


Robert Dyson said...

Expletive deleted.

Robert said...

Deeply depressing. It's New Labour all over again.

Graham W said...

Why are you still in the Labour Party ?

Old Trot said...

Yes indeed Graham, surely things have reached such a pass now that the ancient, generations-long , sole mission, of the Labour Left - to "turn Labour into a socialist Party , win government, and carry out a radical transformation of the UK" is now forever dead, and an entire core strategy disproved for the umpteenth time ? Everything Ralph Miliband said about Labour in his 1968 tome, 'Parliamentary Socialism' is proven yet again , surely definitively. I can understand the (currently pretty invisible) Left careerists who compose most of the Socialist Campaign Group in the PLP will want to continue the Sisyphus task, as their very comfortable lifestyles depend on it - but the rest of us ? No thanks.

Yet I strongly suspect that even now that Phil here pens these ever-more bitter, and accurate, diatribes against Starmer and Nulabour2, he wont ever break from the Labour Party. The Labour Left nowadays, as so often in the past, is ever more like the trapped, abused wife, in a ghastly failed marriage - refusing to leave and save her very soul, because she hopes, against all experience, that some day 'everything will be OK'. It won't . The Labour Party will soon deselect most of its supine PLP Lefties, as it is rapidly doing with so many already across the country, and lose all but the most blind or gormlessly hopeful, Left members . Nulabour2 can only look forward to some sort of cobbled together future coalition with other neoliberal , austerity-implementing, parties like the Lib Dems (or the entirely pseudo Left SNP) , if Starmer and his cronies are to get their snouts in the ministerial trough. Labour is kaput as any sort of Leftish, vaguely social democratic, vehicle for change. If the Left-led trades unions and some widely respected figureheads like Jeremy Corbyn won't bite the bullet and establish a serious, and well-funded, alternative radical reformist Leftish political vehicle to harness the rising tide of desperate discontent - the radical Far Right will.

Blissex said...

«It's New Labour all over again.»

I had understood what would happen as soon as Starmer was elected, from the composition of his shadow cabinet, let's say quite far from a "unity" shadow cabinet. Starmer would not make the mistake of Corbyn to put in his shadow cabinet pieces of work like himself and many front-benchers whose main goal was to get rid of Corbyn (e.g. "chicken coup").

Then I expected that the first priority of Starmer would be to raise the leadership candidate nomination lower limit to over the 15% of the PLP that had allowed Corbyn to sneak in, priority to be obfuscated by a hunt for social-democratic members.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

We have to face up to our democracy being broken. The only choice to run the country is between the corrupt, incompetent, proto-fascism of the Tories or the earnest, risk-averse, don't frighten the horses, vacuum of Labour. Both are wedded to neoliberalism and a fundamentally mistaken view of how the economy works and what forces are driving the cost of living crisis. Both pay lip service to global heating / climate change with no real intention of doing anything effective to mitigate, and no understanding of what this will mean for all of us. Both put the interests of the rentier class above that of the vast majority of the population. Both fail to even register the ecological collapse that is happening. Both have no answers to any of the multiple crises because they have no insight into what is causing them, or in some cases, that they are even happening at all.

The next decade will not be a re-run of the 1970s, nor a repeat of the 1930s, but something new, much more complex, and much, much worse.

Blissex said...

«wedded to neoliberalism and a fundamentally mistaken view of how the economy works and what forces are driving the cost of living crisis»

How can that be “fundamentally mistaken” when "the economy" of their voters has been BOOMING for 40 years, with massive gains in property and finance profits, and there is no cost of living crisis, with earnings like rents and prices surging well ahead of the CPI, and costs like wages remaining well below CPI. A 40-year record of ever greater prosperity for Conservative, New Labour, LibDems voters cannot be dismissed so easily.

Put another way: real political work depends on a realistic assessment of the material interests that drive politics, not on grand and fantastic declamations.

«Both put the interests of the rentier class above that of the vast majority of the population.»

Considering that between them Conservatives and New Labour have over 70% of expressed votes, the vast majority of the population seems to want or at least tolerate that they “put the interests of the rentier class above”, especially as a large proportion of an increasing number of older people are rentiers and most all of the upper-middle classes and even some of the lower-middle classes fancy themselves to be rentiers too. That may be a problem for those 60-80% of the population that don't have rentier interests, but what can they do about it?

"Vae victis" (woe upon the vanquished) is an ancient political principle.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

@Blissex. Having read many of your comments in other posts, I am aware that you are a contrarian who has a pet explanation for everything political based on, essentially, one idea. Namely its all about property prices. This is what you mean by "a realistic assessment..." etc.

While it might be realistic in the very narrow sense of it has allowed them to achieve power and retain it, in the broader sense of reality - based on the laws of physics, the economic system ignores these laws upon which everything is based. In that sense their view is fundamentally mistaken.

Yes, it might work for a while, but we can already see the consequences of living on a temporary easy availability of cheap fossil fuels to provide the surplus energy our civilization requires to operate as it does. As the fuels become scarcer, or more difficult to extract, the surplus dwindles and the affordability decreases. This is the underlying cause of the stagnation and drop in productivity visible across the globe. It will accelerate until the prosperity we have taken for granted, upon which the politics we have is based, crumbles.

Essentially politics is about how the pie gets divided up. You say enough of the pie is shared with enough of the people to keep them happy. Yes, their slices are not growing as much as some, but so long as the grow more than others, its OK. I am saying the pie is about to start shrinking. Then it becomes a less-than-zero-sum game. Slices can ONLY grow at others expense, but even this cannot last, and eventually ALL slices start to shrink. This will change everything.

Blissex said...

«it might be realistic in the very narrow sense of it has allowed them to achieve power and retain it, in the broader sense of reality - based on the laws of physics, the economic system ignores these laws upon which everything is based. In that sense their view is fundamentally mistaken.»

But the question then is: if thatcherism/rentierism is unsustainable, and I am sure that it is too, for how long is it going to last? 1,000 years? 300 years? etc.

Suppose that thatcherism/rentierism is going to be sustainable only for 100 years, and in 60 years, in 2080, it will collapse. Fantastic! It will be a mere blip in history. So just wait until it's toast?

A crazy looking man with a big beard once said that of the world "the point is to change it". So another crazy looking guy with a goatee asked "what to do?".

There may be some people who have similar attitudes to accelerating the end of thatcherism/rentierism, or at least of its electoral success, and that requires:

* A clear idea of why it has electoral success, given that it is based on pushing down wages (and business profits) and pushing up rents, which in first approximation should not be that popular.

* Realizing that there is a large minority of voters who, while receiving wages, are also rentiers, and a smaller but still significant minority, mostly the retired, who are purely rentiers, and they are not the 0.1% or the 1%, but the 20-40%.

* Developing some political strategy to offer an alternative to rentierism to at least a significant part of those two categories.

What I read in many places is instead a determined avoidance of the mass rentierism problem, either because of noddy marxism, or because I suspect so many "progressives" are very fond of their own massive property profits ("There but for the grace of God go I"); my usual quote from a previous commenter, and that is just about BTL owners, not even owner-occupiers:

«I raised the problematic policy on my CLP Facebook group. I was stunned by the support for the policy from the countless landlords who were Party members! "I can't afford to give my tenants a rent holiday" "This is my pension, I'll go bust" etc etc. Absolutely stunning. I had no idea how many private landlords there were in the Party. Kinda explains a lot...»

Blissex said...

«if thatcherism/rentierism is unsustainable, and I am sure that it is too, for how long is it going to last? 1,000 years? 300 years? etc.»

Another longer more historical quote about how long decline can last (centuries in this case):

D. Landes, "The wealth and poverty of nations" (1998)
«That Dutch towns did not shrink more was because rents and food prices fell and some poor relief was available; this was a matter of public order if not of charity. Besides, Dutch wages still topped those in surrounding lands, in large part owing to the resistance of craft guilds, and this gap drew cheap labor from abroad to compete with the newly unemployed. Increasing hostility and conflict found an outlet in strikes, until nothing was left to strike about.
Some of this may remind readers of the conditions in the United States in the last quarter of the twentieth century. As branches of manufacturing have shrunk before foreign competition, enterprises have discharged redundant labor or moved to lower-wage areas. New workers cost less than old, as the airlines know only too well. Poor immigrants have kept coming. Unions have struck, sometimes only hastening plant closings or transfer of orders to cheaper suppliers. (Mutatis mutandis, one finds similar developments today in western Europe.)
So on Holland two centuries ago. The United Provinces pared and trimmed to meet the competition, but the best they could do was run in place. Many businessmen gave up the fight and retired to the country and to a life of passive investment. Incomes polarized between the rich few and the poor many, with a diminishing middle between them. Tax returns show that by the late 1700s, most wealthy Dutch were big landowners, high state officials, or rentiers. Gone were the prosperous enterprises of the "golden age": employers were not confined to the middle and lower ranks. In the process, the United Provinces abdicated as world leader in trade and went into a postindustrial mode. Italy had gone that way before. [...] The annals of competition show entire national branches dragging and withering -- not this and that enterprise, but the whole industry. Sometimes, having learned their lesson, the last members of the branch move away, generally to cheaper labor; that is smart, but also easy, and evidence more of rationality than enterprise. And sometimes, as in Britain and Holland earlier, entrepreneurs retire to a life of interest, dividends, rents, and ease.

Zoltan Jorovic said...


Not 1000, not 300, not even 30.

If you look at the graph for fossil fuel affordability you'll see it started to level out about 1980s and then to decline as we hit the 2000s. The decline is about to start nose diving. Much as I like renewables, as yet there is no sign they can adequately replace the surplus of energy our current way of life requires.

You might have noticed that wages and productivity have stagnated, and that there is a "cost of living" crisis. While these may be temporary in its severity, it is here to stay generally because we simply don't have a source of cheap, surplus energy to make up for the fall off in fossil fuels (based on energy cost of energy increasing).

We have left behind the era of increasing prosperity and are now in the scrabble for who gets the larger slices of the barely growing pie. No matter how well we are manipulated and how selfishly we respond, eventually most slices will begin to shrink. The game then changes, as no civilization in which the vast majority were being impoverished will not react to a small minority hoarding what remains.

When will the proverbial hit the fan? I suspect within the next decade, but it could be longer. Unlikely to be more than 25 years at most. Unless fusion is finally harnessed to provide enough surplus energy to restore prosperity. But then all the other negative externalities kick in - extremes of weather and climate change, acidification of the oceans, changes in currents, rising sea levels, chemical and plastic contamination of all food chains. Also, continual wars for resources and to escape the areas no longer inhabitable.

The next 30 years is going to be eventful, but not in a good way. You will look back on 2022 as a golden age. What can be done? Plan for "degrowth". Focus resources on long term sustainable infrastructure and adaptation to the new climate. Rebuild communities, decentralise government. Involve people in decision making and government at all levels so they understand the issues and can make sensible, priority based , future-proofed decisions. Electoral, Political and Constitutional reform so that government is responsible, responsive, genuinely representative, and reality based.