Monday 9 October 2023

The Labour Right's Inferiority Complex

A card always conveys a message. Happy Birthday, Happy Christmas, Sorry You're Going, Congrats on Your New Arrival. They are affective tokens that says something about the sender. The same is true of membership cards. It's proof that you belong to something bigger, whether it's the local swimming club, the AA, or a political party. In recent times, not much thought has been expended on the Labour Party's membership cards. Just a cheap pop out thing you stick together yourself with your name, CLP, local contact/secretary, and membership number. On the back is printed Labour's Clause IV, the meaningless Blair-era waffle about being a "democratic socialist party" and how cooperating with like-minded people is nice. Not any longer! In an email sent to members by General Secretary David Evans, a new card design has been unveiled. On the one side the red bleeds into the Union Jack. Flip it over and it says "Putting the Country First" over the same blurb. Arresting. I wonder how much they paid the brand consultants to come up with that one.

Painting the membership card in patriotic colours seems like a strange choice. Because it is. No one outside of the party cares, and random punters reading about it aren't going to slap their thigh and thank Britannia herself that Labour has learned to love its country again. It won't be the talk of the red wall. Then what's the point? There are two things. Like the recent fiddles to Labour's rules, the main audience are the various elites Keir Starmer is trying to impress. Sure, by itself it's not about to flip the Daily Mail, but it's part of a package of low cost vibes given off to the establishment and its outlets that as long as Starmer is in charge, the party is as dependable as capital's B team can be. And with all things Labour, every die is cast with an eye on the internal situation. There will be comrades who rightly see this as shoddy virtue signalling to all the wrong people and want no part of it. And that suits the Labour right fine. A few less lefties is never a bad thing as far as they're concerned.

But the card revamp also tells on the Labour leadership and the right of the party. Because of Labour's origins outside of elite politics, deep down there's a feeling among even the most bourgeois of Labour's politicians of imposter syndrome. That the party doesn't belong in the upper echelons. As noted a while ago, because Labour addressed a yawning chasm in British politics - the absence of the worker interest - from the standpoint of establishment politics it represented a particular interest, and one British business had to be forced to recognise. Of course, the main conceit of mainstream politics is that it represents the interests of everyone, which coincidentally happens to align with the general, universalising outlook of capital. The Labour right fully buy in to this understanding of politics, which is why they look with disdain on trade unions and the left who, with varying degrees of militancy and radicalism, articulate the interests of their class. They are living proof that, as far as the mainstream goes, the party will forever be sectional and particular like the movment it emerged from. The consequence is right wing Labour clings to the institutions of state with the enthusiasm of zealots to prove that they really, really belong. Loving the police, loving the army, loving nuclear weapons, it's almost as if they're begging for acceptance by a political game that, in fact, readily accepts Labour - provided it remains within the limits it sets.

The membership card stunt is symptomatic of the Labour right's inferiority complex. Labour is inauthentic and alien to bourgeois politics, and so their adaptation to it is an undignified, century-long story of capitulation and the most cringe worthy obsequiousness. To think these people strive to be masters of the Labour Party so they could spend their political careers crawling on their bellies.


Blissex said...

«the absence of the worker interest - from the standpoint of establishment politics it represented a particular interest, and one British business had to be forced to recognise. Of course, the main conceit of mainstream politics is that it represents the interests of everyone, which coincidentally happens to align with the general, universalising outlook of capital.»

I think that here our blogger misunderstands the «conceit of mainstream politics»: many tories and whigs sincerely believe that they do represent the interests of "everyone", but certainly not any "universal" interests, because there is a big difference:

George Osborne: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up

Theresa May: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. [...] I want us to be the party that represents the whole of Britain and not merely some mythical place called "Middle England", but the truth is that as our country has become more diverse, our party has remained the same.

How do you reconcile these two quotes? Simple: "everyone" for Osborne means "Middle England", it does not include the 60-80% of "losers", "suckers", "scroungers".

That the «main conceit of mainstream politics is that it represents the interests of everyone» also means that all thatcherite parties, Conservatives, New Labour, LibDems, are constantly attacking those who are not "everyone", that is those who are "undeserving" and are not part of "Middle England".

Their policies aim to ensure both that "everyone" wins and that nobodies lose (reading note: I did not write "nobody loses" advisedly, I wrote "nobodies lose"), That means that better (lower) wage and welfare costs are almost as important as better (higher) asset incomes for the interests of "everyone" who is part of "Middle England".

Those «low cost vibes given off to the establishment and its outlets» are actually mostly targeted at "everyone" voters to reassure them that New Labour is on the side of "Middle England", the legendary "conservatory-building classes" (which implies that they are property owners):
"The problem with Gordon," a senior minister said to me recently, "is that he doesn't understand why anyone would ever want to build a conservatory." [...] Although Mr Brown talks a lot about aspiration, he means it in the sense that people at the bottom of the pile should be able to get to the middle, rather than that those in the middle should aspire to get a little bit further towards the top. [...] He is focusing on what he recently called the “squeezed middle” because he knows that the aspirational voters who supported Tony Blair have turned away from him. But the phrase he has chosen is telling: Gordon is interested in the middle classes only if he thinks they are “squeezed” — and therefore joining the ranks of the poor who have concerned him most for all his life.

Ken said...

Yet again, I have to remind you about the make up of the ironically named, “The United Kingdom”. When the independence vote was being counted in Scotland, tattooed thugs with union jacks attacked the pro-independence demonstrators. In July each year, we have marches with union jacks carried prominently, and sectarian flute bands. Only in England and for a section of the Northern Ireland population is the union Jack thought of as the ”national” flag. So hurray for Scottish Labour, now it looks like the main Unionist party in Scotland.

Anonymous said...

formerly of the Labour right myself, you're spot on here Phil, that's exactly how I and others around me felt deep down

Anonymous said...

I wonder whether your post explains Starmer's comments on 'respect' in his speech, particularly the idea of 'you belong here'? Less about representation and/or social mobility and more a (coded) plea to be part of the 'in-crowd' or establishment (as it were).

PS: Has Starmer ever talked about accepting the knighthood and what it meant to him (or his parents)?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ken - here in Wales the Union flag is not our flag and whilst independence is of lower salience than in Scotland, Welsh Labour have talked about a looser union. They have advanced thoughts on federalism, confederalism and there is a section of the party in favour of independence.

I can imagine there is not a lot of enthusiasm in Wales for the new membership card.

Anonymous said...

Wales and Scotland have their own different card designs.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Labour is a perfect demonstration of the Shirk principle in action. This is the adage that “institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution" or “every entity tends to prolong the problem it is solving”.

Unfortunately this effect , and the corresponding tendency for organisations to move from a focus on their initial founding purpose to being all about self-perpetuation, means that no political party can ever genuinely represent anything other than its own interests. These may or may not align to a greater or lesser extent with those of different groups or classes, but ultimately, they tend to align with the interest group that ensures their own continuation. Add to this the individual drive to maintain a career and network for future opportunities, and you have a recipe for self-interest and alignment with the establishment (or power elites, where these are not identical).