Tuesday 18 July 2023

Strong on the Weak

Acquiring a nickname like 'Sir Kid Starver' is very smart politics. Joking with Tony Blair about how people accept "tough choices" but not "that one" when it comes to the child benefit cap is super clever too. You don't need to take my word for it. Polly Toynbee has decreed it so. But it's even better than that. On Laura Kuenssberg's Sunday programme, he committed Labour to keeping a policy he'd previously called "inhumane". And since all the shadow cabinet have parroted similar lines about not doing what they want to do, and how unfunded commitments are bad. If only the Labour leadership were in a position to change "unfunded" to "funded", eh?

There is a perversity at the heart of Labourism. Slavish and forelock tugging, in its centrist and right wing manifestations it's almost embarrassed by its existence. As much as Starmer, for instance, fetishises "working people", Labourism as a politics of work is buried beneath denial. In the Starmerist imagination, workers are acknowledged as having some trade union rights but that's as far as it goes. The political interests arising from wage labourers doing wage labour are completely denied. They go to work, and then dissolve into passive, privatised consumers of market and public service-provided goods outside of it. Rendered as such, there are no real interests left to articulate apart from fairly vague gestures at tackling the cost of living, or making sure state-provided services are "responsive".

If this is how right wing Labour sees its constituency this gives them a politics without a working moral compass, because the magnetism of Labourism's class basis is negated by its erasure. Hence the Labour leadership has the conscience-free latitude to lean to the right almost as far as they want. And this 'as they want' is important, because there is a choice. Starmer has decided that he's okay with saying children in poverty is fine because he has chosen to cosy up to the powerful. While he lectures others about comfort zones, his strategy of not rocking the boat, not contesting the terms of even establishment politics, and refusing to commit Labour to anything beyond empty promises of "reform" are what he feels familiar and at home with. Punching down at poor people is easy. Expecting his kind of people to cough up for the crises they've benefited handsomely from, that's the real tough choice for Starmer. Which is why he avoids making them.

The wiseacres who keep the faith will say, and are saying, that Labour have to get into office and if this is the only way it can be done then there we are. But get in government to do what, exactly? The party wasn't formed simply so Labour MPs could swan around as ministers of the crown. When Starmer talks about reform, when Starmer avoids discussing public sector pay, when Starmer is committing to keeping children poor, are we supposed to take it on trust that this is gruel today for jam tomorrow, like his acolytes suggest? No. Starmer will govern as he has performed as opposition leader. Strong on the weak, weak on the strong.

Image Credit


McIntosh said...

Good stuff. as you say, the hard decisions all seem to disadvantage the poor and weak while the 'adult decisions' all favour the powerful and well off. A Starmer government will not be squeezing the rich till the pips squeak.

You may wish to start considering the 2029 or 34 election when disillusionment with Labour governments leads to . . . A Braverman or Badenoch regime in England and an independent Scotland.

Ken said...

Comments often begin with”I’m surprised you didn’t mention..”, or, what you have described as “whataboutery” Usually I won’t start like that, however, I am surprised, what appears to be missing is the clear line of eugenics in the Tory party which brought this about, namely, it was the wrong sort of mothers who were having more than the replacement two per two adults; the black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin mothers, with a dash of fear of a feral, white underclass. Many Labour MPs, not necessarily in the Shadow Cabinet, are perfectly aware of the racist consequences of this cap, so I wonder how far we will hear their discomfort at being known as the eugenics and racist party?
As for Starmer drifting off to the Right, I’d speculate that it was only the effect of a left acting as a fixed anchor in the past, now resigned, which made this less obvious.

Anonymous said...

Reform ,reform , reform .what the hell does that mean ? ,I think we know what it means regarding the NHS,but this labour shower won't tell us what reform means or how reform will come ,I just cannot contemplate voting for labour ,there's only a thickness of a cigarette paper between them and the Tories 😡🤬🤬

JN said...

Polly Toynbee is to journalism what Keir Starmer is to politics: just a parasite, someone who benefits hugely from society while contributing fuck all. An absolute waste of space, the pair of them.

dermot said...

Ah yes, Polly Toynbee, who (according to Aaron Bastani on Novara Media) has a villa in Tuscany. Same Polly who says "painful decisions have to be made". I agree Polly, painful decisions alright. Painful for people like you, with your villas in Tuscany and Guardian sinecures.

Let's start making those painful sacrifices, dear Polly, dear Polly.

Blissex said...

«But get in government to do what, exactly?»

I don't support parties, I support policies that are good for my interests (and my values too). So there are 3 main possible outcomes:

#1 A party represents my interests (as a worker, as someone without independent means) and wins elections and that's good for me.

#2 A party represents my interests and a party opposing them wins elections, and things are not good, but at least I still get representation.

#3 All major parties don't represent my interests but opposing ones and then I don't care who wins elections, whether it is LibDems, New Labour, Conservative thatcherites with slightly different postures; all are bad for me and for the majority.

Our current situation is #3, as in different degrees during 1994 to 2015.

«The party wasn't formed simply so Labour MPs could swan around as ministers of the crown.»

The usual quote:

It's no longer my party
It has been a difficult four years for the Labour Party's unrepentant social democrats. One by one, the policies which define our philosophy have been rejected by the Prime Minister. [...] In fact, success has emboldened the Prime Minister to move further to the Right. [...] Now that the Labour Party - at least according to its leader - bases its whole programme on an alien ideology, I, and thousands of like-minded party members, have to decide if our loyalty is to a name or to an idea. [...] The Labour Party was created to change society in such a way that there is no poverty and deprivation from which to escape.

That's a pretty minimal, centrist (in the proper sense) "butskellite" purpose, not even social-democratic, never mind socialist, yet it is is disappointing how far all major parties are from that.