Wednesday 8 March 2023

Cultivating Labour's Scapegoats

No one wants people to cross the Channel in dinghies and small boats. Except perhaps the Tories, because they think it plays to their strengths. No one should have to resort risking life and limb and brave the busiest shipping lane in the world in the flimsiest of craft. As a minimum, there should be an asylum processing centre in Calais and a multiplication of safe routes to the UK. None of this we'll-give-Lebanon-a-pittance-to-support-Syrian-refugees nonsense, which is just a Tory body swerve to evade our treaty obligations. That people actually want to come to this rainy grey island is something worth celebrating.

Turning to Prime Minister's Questions this Wednesday, given Rishi Sunak's song and dance about his Illegal Migration Bill Keir Starmer used all his five questions to rubbish the Tories' record on asylum. He was in his element. The government had made promises about getting numbers down, applications processed, and people deported. Another symptom of state dilapidation and failure. But these were, as with so much of Starmer's critique, process criticisms. It fell to SNP Commons leader Stephen Flynn to attack the Tories on the Kafkaesque immorality of their proposed laws.

Starmer's attack on Sunak's record was foreshadowed in Labour's social media blitz on Monday. Memeable content like this shared by Stephen Kinnock stresses the record numbers of crossings and the money it's costing to put people up in hotels. Who needs Jonathan Gullis and the co-called "Patriotic Alternative" when the Labour Party is lamenting the expenditure of miniscule sums? None of this is a bolt from the blue. Throughout Covid, throughout the Johnson years, and even now with the Tories on their knees, Keir Starmer-flavoured Labourism fights shy of challenging the political consensus. More authoritarianism, good. Businesses fleecing the public sector, also good. Treating refugees as unpeople that need deterring from coming to Britain, yes, Starmer is on board with that too.

Why? "Racism" as an explanation isn't really satisfying. They can turn it off and on if occasion demands. Neither is chasing the "social conservatives" in the seats Labour lost in 2019. By default, Labour is currently the recipient of a powerful electoral coalition of anti-Tory sentiment it has done little to cohere or win. I suppose the argument that going on cost while refusing to contest the sewer politics of the Tories might be explained as shoring up support among tabloid-reading pensioners worried their place in the Post Office queue will be usurped by Iranians. I can imagine the shadcab away days nodding away at the PowerPoints making these points. Labour has "earned permission" from these voters to "get a hearing", and conceding their "real concerns" means the party is on its way to "sealing the deal". Yes, but entirely unnecessary. The cost of living crisis is doing more for Labour's vote than anything else.

We therefore have to consider the consequences of Starmer's refusal to venture into moral criticisms. Taking on the arguments politically instead of as a manager and a bureaucrat means telling people with unfounded prejudices and racist attitudes that they're wrong. Which is something the Labour right are never willing to do, unless the public are opposed to a war or, as per more recently, want the nationalisation of water and energy. Offering political leadership is hard. It's much easier to surf the wave of reactionary public opinion than challenge it, because the press are on side. And second, bringing morality into politics hamstrings future action. Treating refugees like human beings now hampers Labour's room for manoeuvre later. Especially when the very right wing Yvette Cooper will be responsible for asylum after the next election.

And there's another thing. Right wing politics has to have its scapegoats. This was as true of the New Labour years as any Conservative government before it and since. Young people, Muslims, benefits cheats, and refugees each took their turn in the Blair years to star as monster-of-the-week. We can see from the emerging Starmerist politics that young people are going to again be in Labour's sights with the proposed son-of-ASBOs schemes. And, naturally, keeping refugees in play as a political football might prove just as useful to Starmer's authoritarian politics as it has done for Sunak's authoritarian politics. In other words, any moral or political criticism the Labour leader makes of the Tories, if he should - my word - defend refugees from the calumny heaped on them, Starmer would draw some of the strength from attempts his government makes to peddle these poisonous politics. And so he doesn't. Choosing to play the establishment politics game incentivises against it.

This is how it's going to be between now and the next election. The Tories will grand stand, and all Starmer and Cooper will do is quote back at them the falling number of deportations. What a grim, ghastly spectacle we have to look forward to.

Image Credit

6 comments:

John said...

The problem with Labour's current attack line (Tories are incompetent) is what happens if the figures improve (or more likely the figures are massaged to look like an improvement) added to a budget give-a-way just before the election?

Blissex said...

«The government had made promises about getting numbers down, applications processed, and people deported.»

The most interesting aspect of Conservative immigration policy is that total ad net immigration in the past two years have been booming and both Conservatives and New New Labour, plus the press (and our blogger) focus instead on the story of a few thousand people over the Channel, looks like distraction tactics.

«The cost of living crisis is doing more for Labour's vote than anything else.»

Inflation is mostly afflicting Labour voters, not Conservative, New New Labour, or Libdem voters:

* What is increasing *now* New New Labour's percentage of votes, more than the number of votes they get, is that the "whig" press campaign against the kippers (whioch has moderated a bit since Sunak is a moderate kipper) is depressing the Conservative vote far more than increasing the protest vote that goes to New New Labour.

* What will be increasing New New Labour's percentage of votes and perhaps even their total number of votes in the future is that even if rents are booming at 15% per year, and mortgage rates are minus 5-10% in real terms, property prices are softening.

«keeping refugees in play as a political football might prove just as useful to Starmer's authoritarian politics as it has done for Sunak's authoritarian politics.»

To fix the latter problem my guess is that the Conservative will open the immigration spigot, while at the same time obfuscating it by playing tough on the Channel refugees.

«Taking on the arguments politically instead of as a manager and a bureaucrat [... ] Offering political leadership is hard.»

Starmer and New New Labour have offered strong political leadership on many topics, not just criticism on process, for example fully supporting NIMBYs and NATO, a three line whip for hard Brexit and a definite promise to stay outside the Single Market and Customs Unions, giving the power to ministers to prevent the prosecution of those who carry out crimes ordered by the same ministers, boosting the profits of property owning kippers and being “all about homeownership”, being opposed to strikes.

Despite that our blogger claims that Starmer is “A Bureaucrat First and Foremost” when instead he is very political, a hard-right "whig" thatcherite who pretends to be a "kipper" thatcherite for electoral purposes.

Blissex said...

«what happens if the figures improve»

Well, if things go well, why should kipper thatcherite voters stop voting for kipper thatcherite team A who have delivered to them literally trillions in redistribution from the lower classes since 2010? Given the New New Labour strategy of being kipper thatcherite team B they can only hope or argue that kipper thatcherite team A screws up, so they win by default.

«like TB, he doesn't have the slightest interest in serving the ordinary folk he pretends to care about»

TB's government really cared about their constituency of ordinary “aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose” and delivered massive property profits to them. There is no doubt for me that KR is as committed as TB was to the same constituency:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/mar/05/house-prices-freefall-property-ownership-rent-britain
“The foreground of Labour policy, however, is all about home ownership. [...] There is talk of a new mortgage guarantee scheme”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/dec/22/labour-targets-new-swing-voter-middle-aged-mortgage-man
“archetypical voter as male, 50 years old, without a university degree but with a decent job in the private sector and, crucially, a homeowner with a mortgage. This person almost certainly voted leave”

Anonymous said...

The current Tory party is "incompetent" on a fundamental level, though - because it actually believes its own fantasies which have now almost completely diverged from the real world.

Generous pre-election budgets - and indeed a genuinely improving economy - didn't save them in 1997 either.

Blissex said...

«The current Tory party is "incompetent" on a fundamental level, though - because it actually believes its own fantasies which have now almost completely diverged from the real world.»

For the past 40 years the Conservative (and New Labour and LibDem) "sponsors", MPs, officials, voters have gifted themselves booming incomes and wealth redistributed from the lower classes, while their opponents have been shafted brutally. Cunning and ruthlessness are perhaps more useful than sanity. As to the latter two amusing quotes from "insiders":

https://twitter.com/RichardBridger/status/926052048579301376
“About 7 years ago, I toyed with going into politics. Maybe I could make a difference, I thought (I was young & na├»ve, okay?) So I took some advice, joined a few things, went to a few Tory party events. It was… fucking awful. ...
I cannot stress how many weirdos and oddballs I met in the Tory party. North of 80% (though that might not be representative). Proper rah-rah crews. Totally in their own world, apart from reality and real people across the country. I knew they weren’t like real people because I was a state school kid and had some solid experience of non-elite, real people
And I was doing focus groups for years across the country, so met a good range of other ordinary people These ordinary people were a mix of amazing and god-awful, but at least they were pretty *normal* human beings - unlike many party folk So I pretty soon gave up on politics due to the oddballs.”

https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/09/brexit-talks-stall-making-hard-brexit-even-more-likely.html
“I have the tiniest smidge of sympathy for May because the party her leadership is supposed to corral in to some semblance of coherent, logical thinking (a necessary precursor to a strategy which isn’t a dingbat delusional) is in a world of its own.
I spent the holiday weekend at my mother-in-law’s and went to a garden party hosted by her neighbour who is a bit of a leading light, as so often haughty well-heeled women are, in the local constituency Conservative Party Association. The Constituency itself is hard line swivel-eyed Brexit-land.
I attempted to engage some of the other guests (a lot of party members) in conversation about what compromises they were willing to make for Brexit, what the trade-offs should be, what the electoral implications were and so on. [ ... ] In the end, I got told to stop making conversation awkward as people were beginning to stare. I listened in on their conversations, they were merely talking the Brexit book with self-reinforcing beliefs that we just need to tell the EU to sod off. Little chance, then, of May being able to get anywhere with that lot. Daily Mail land isn’t a handy cheap-laugh metaphor; I just spent the weekend there.”

Blissex said...

“like TB, he doesn't have the slightest interest in serving the ordinary folk he pretends to care about”
«TB's government really cared about their constituency of ordinary “aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose” and delivered massive property profits to them. There is no doubt for me that KR is as committed as TB was to the same constituency»

Blair realistically said that of politicians that “people judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be” and Starmer has successfully reassured voters that his instincts are solidly about more upward redistribution to affluent kippers from the lower income classes,

Given that Starmer does not really need detailed policies, even if the number of specific policies that he has produced all have had the purpose of reassuring affluent kippers that his instincts are on their side.