Thursday 22 February 2024

A Reliably Loyal Servant

What is the point of political commentary? In my view it should try to explain what's going on in politics, explain the stakes, the tactics and strategies deployed, tear asunder its self-serving illusio, and make plain the interests that work in and through politics. A million miles away from the stenography of establishment-friendly "analysis", but one that might become increasingly redundant. For as the shenanigans in the House of Commons on Wednesday have shown, politics is relaxed about operating in the open. By that I mean its pursuing of vested and minority privileged interests, and being brazen about the arm twisting and unconstitutional tricks pulled to ensure they're served. If there is no mediation, if the truths of politics are immediately visible to anyone who glances at them, we return to the opening question. What's the point of political commentary?

Obviously, there is still a point because even now the naked contempt for democracy is too much to bear for those paid to write and talk about politics. How the SNP's correct and genuine motion calling on Israel to stop bombing civilians cowering in tents became a seemingly arcane dispute about Commons procedure shows how the institution works to blunt the pointedness of politics when it is aimed against the interests of British state power. A useful lesson for anyone working and hoping to bring about radical change in this country.

What happened was a disgrace, but it was what we should expect. Lindsay Hoyle is not an impartial speaker, he's one that has always kowtowed to power. When Boris Johnson was the ruler of all he surveyed, Hoyle worked the Commons to his benefit. Now the Tories are heading for a deep dark hole and Keir Starmer can look forward to a mega majority without much extra effort, his loyalties naturally gravitate toward the centre of coming power. Whether Hoyle was threatened with defenestration after the election if he didn't select Labour's amendment to the SNP's opposition day motion, or if he was moved by pressure exerted by Starmer about dubious but politically convenient terror threats to MPs is, in one sense, significant. Because it was, in full public view, seen to ride roughshod over parliamentary procedure it means the independence of the Speaker was also seen to be fatally compromised. Whereas John Bercow's twists and turns over Brexit were driven by his own concerns, Hoyle has given every impression of caving in to a mix of persuasion and threats. Exactly the carrot and the stick the whip's office forces on the party's would-be rebels.

However, given Hoyle's pedigree it's likely he would have made the same decision even if there were no dirty tricks, and Starmer hadn't dropped by his office for a personal visit. As a loyal servant of establishment politics and beneficiary of Labour nepotism, there was absolutely no chance he would have allowed the next government to be torn apart before it had even taken office. Starmer's project - authoritarian modernisation - requires a concerted if not cross-party effort at restoring trust in state institutions whose popular legitimacy is under question. It's not a totally ridiculous proposition. The death of the Queen showed there is something of a constituency who want to believe and are comforted by the presence of a strong but fair state. Hoyle's job is to see this succeed because his first and only loyalty is to the state in which he sits as an exalted functionary. If this means ignoring parliamentary conventions as well as rubbing the SNP up the wrong way and annoying our pitifully weak government, that's a small price to pay if it secures stability and the politics of business-as-usual in exchange.

Image Credit


Rodney said...

If it is the case Hoyle would've done this even without threats and intimidation, and given his past behaviour it does seem likely, it tells us something that it was, allegedly, Starmer's first resort regardless.

The prospect of someone who'll bring out the brass knuckles at the drop of a hat getting a huge majority is deeply worrying.

Old Trot said...

Good post, Phil. On the same , wider, issue , of the subject matter of the pathetic creature, Speaker Hoyle's, Kow Towing to NuLabour's factional wishes, ie, the Gaza genocide, I do wonder whether the coming next few months of looming utter, genocidal frenzy against the Palestinian civilians in the south of their Gaza prison camp by the Western armed Israelis , has created a huge ideological bear trap for all the Western political elites.

There have been plenty of genocides long before, and indeed after, the WW2 Shoah , but generally well away from the cameras, (the largely unfilmed mass killings in Sudan currently may well be genocidal in scope too), but the sheer daily high visibility of the ongoing Gaza genocide, particularly accessible to all via Al Jazeera every day in particular, must surely make the lying and spin of our mass media and political class ever more difficult to sustain to the mass of our fellow citizens for much longer.

The always laughable claims that we have a 'free press, in the UK , and a 'laudable, globally admired, mother of parliaments' democratic system, must surely now have breached its mass credibility point, as we all can watch ever more children with amputated limbs, deliberate destruction of the infrastructure of an entire society, displayed daily on our TV screens - alongside an ever-greater awareness across our citizenry of the deep historical 1948 onwards roots of the Palestinian tragedy in what was once Palestine.

The ongoing, apparently unstoppable, Israeli campaign , is soon to get much, much, worse, as looming mass from starvation and disease is added to extraordinary new levels of death by explosion and sniper fire . This open mas atrocity with the open support of our political class and mas media has surely now stripped away the entire bogus claims of a 'higher morality' for the western bloc - for huge numbers of our own fellow citizens at last.

TowerBridge said...

I have a fair amount of commentary on this and the consistent thing everyone seems to agree on is how this incident highlights just how appalling and how unfit for purpose the house of commons is. As Ian Dunt says, this episode shows how constitutional reform isn't just the preserve of bourgeois, well-meaning but insignificant philosophy, rather, it shows the need for change. Everyone should be able to see just how piss-poor our system of governance is and that ultimately no good can be achieved without changing that entire system.

The key is in your second paragraph "SNP's correct and genuine motion". How do you know that the SNP were being genuine here and not simply tabling a motion designed to split the labour party up, which the Tories then leapt on?

Anna said...

How do you know the SNP were "tabling a motion designed to split the Labour Party up"? Or is this just your opinion? Your unbiased opinion?
The SNP have been calling for a ceasefire for months now. Labour leaders had plenty of opportunities, had they so wanted, to table a motion calling for a ceasefire. They only did so when they realised that so many of their MPs intended to vote in favour of the SNP motion. Keir Starmer and David Lammy are pure chancers.

Blissex said...

«Starmer's project - authoritarian modernisation - requires a concerted if not cross-party effort at restoring trust in state institutions whose popular legitimacy is under question.»

Another typical difference between the real world in which Starmer's project is not directly political but institutional as in “authoritarian modernisation” and my hallucinatory parallel Earth in which Starmer's project is political as in continuity thatcherism in the best class interests of the property and finance lobbies. In my imaginary universe Starmer may also aim to make the state institutions more modern and authoritarian to better achieve continuity thatcherism, but by far that matters less than his political project.

That in the real world people think of Starmer as "technocrat" rather than "thatcherite" shows that perhaps Mandelson in the real world was so right when he said "we are all thatcherites now" so that it is not longer considered a point that needs mentioning.

Blissex said...

«generally well away from the cameras, (the largely unfilmed mass killings in Sudan currently may well be genocidal in scope too), but the sheer daily high visibility of the ongoing Gaza genocide, particularly accessible to all via Al Jazeera every day»

There are indeed ongoing and rarely mentioned massacres in Sudan and also in Myanmar, in Ethiopia and on a smaller scale in Congo, and I reckon that those who protest them do so not because they want to exploit the sufferings of the victims as an excuse to make anti-sudanitic, anti-burmitic, anti-ethiopitic rants, because they seem to honestly care about those victims regardless of who is doing the massacre.
"Jeremy Corbyn calls on Aung San Suu Kyi to end Burma's violence against Rohingya Muslims"
"Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind): I beg to move, That this House has considered the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, Sudan and Tigray."
"I remain deeply concerned about the widely acknowledged humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Britain’s continued role in providing weapons and military support to Saudi Arabia while they are conducting military action against Yemen, including inflicting massive civilian casualties, is totally unacceptable."

Blissex said...

As to the insignificant details of my imaginary alternate world, here is a graph of UK GDP per person in it:

In my fantasies it is quite strange, with periods of sudden doubling in 1985 and 2001, and slow but significant decline since 2008 into 2022 (and thanks to the anti-Russia sanction I guess 2023 and 2024 will be rather less positive).
While real property prices have increased 60-80% in the south.
I guess that that the press is right in obsessing about Westminster posturing, from the presence of beer and cakes onwards, as in the real world GDP per person is surely going differently.

Compare also with my world's Germany and France:

TowerBridge said...

I don't know if the SNP were playing games or whether they were geniune, so I have asked for how the blogger can be so sure that they were, so that I can make a judgment.
Were they trivialising a major issue just to play games? It's plausible, unfortunately, because our system allows for it.
You have said that they have consistently called for a ceasefire. OK, I mean, doesn't rule out they were playing games. Probably shifts the dial a bit towards being genuine.

Anna said...

The accusation of game-playing by the SNP is coming from some Labour MPs and their pals in the media. Have you heard of the Bain principle which Labour subscribes to? It's to oppose any suggestion / proposal / motion / amendment from the SNP simply because it comes from the SNP.
There are some Labour MPs of integrity who will consider matters on their merit. John MacDonnell for example rose in the House to put on record that he would have voted for the SNP motion on Wednesday had it gone to the vote. More than 50 Labour MPs voted for the SNP's November ceasefire motion and some gave up their posts in order to do so. Double that number were reportedly planning to vote with the SNP this time, including two from the Shadow Cabinet. Keir Starmer knew this and in cahoots with the Speaker took successful steps to avoid this. What do you think Keir Hardie would have had to say about this shenanigans by his namesake?
The game-playing came from the Labour party on this occasion because, in the absence of a constitution, 'our' system allows them to.

Rodney said...

The SNP have consistently called for a ceasefire, a demand that has strong public support. The government opposes a ceasefire thus there is a pressing and compelling need for the SNP to bring an opposition motion on the issue.

Therefore Occam's Razor would suggest that the SNP brought the motion because they, their supporters and the public at large care about the issue. Evidence much stronger than "Starmer doesn't like it" needs to be produced to justify claims the SNP's aim in bringing this motion was to cause problems for Labour. Especially when this accusation is a way for Labour to distract from their support for genocide.

Jim Denham said...

The Labour leadership has moved to support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. That is good, although very, very late: local Labour Parties have been passing ceasefire motions since October, and Labour councils have come out in favour too.

The procedural chaos surrounding the UK Parliament vote on 21 February does not reflect well on any party involved. And that includes the SNP.

The Labour text that passed is, on the Labour leaders’ own account, worded so as to chime in with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand government policy. Why? To appear “statesmanlike” and coax some Tory MPs to vote for it. In other words, the Labour leaders were willing only to follow on when such governments backed a ceasefire, not to be a positive force pushing and pioneering. They tailored their wording to petty parliamentary manoeuvring, not to the substantive issue.

Labour had had plenty of “opposition days” to set its own terms. The procedural rows came only because it waited for the SNP to set the terms on its “opposition” day.

Some activists have made much of the Labour text saying that “Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence”. In fact all discussion and agitation about ceasefires to date has assumed bilateral ceasefires. Unilateral ceasefires almost always happen either very briefly or when each side thinks that the other will reciprocate but can’t or don’t want to be seen to negotiate a deal.

Also, Israel *does* have a right to self-defence. No valid principle would oblige not to respond at all to new Hamas attacks.

The Labour text opposed Netanyahu’s Rafah plan. But Labour’s poor wording left open the option of supporting a slightly-smaller offensive, still with huge civilian casualties, if some Hamas units broke a ceasefire with a few rockets.

Israel’s right to defend its civilian population does not give it licence to raze Gaza. The Iron Dome system is able to repel most rockets.

Starmer’s initial response to the war, to refuse to be even moderately critical of Israel’s actions and seemingly endorsing the collective punishment of the population of Gaza, was shameful.

Some MPs now apparently particularly agitated that Labour strengthens its pro-ceasefire stance have little public record of interest in Israel-Palestine or activity on the issue, suggesting they are at least partially motivated by concern at the possible electoral consequences in their own constituencies of Labour’s dithering.

Many MPs on the left of Labour have been sharp and clear in their criticism of Israel’s actions. But, good as parliamentary speeches can be, labour movement internationalists will do most to contribute to the cause of freedom in Israel-Palestine by directly amplifying the struggles of those fighting for it on the ground.

Labour MPs Nadia Whittome and Alex Sobel have used their platforms to promote the work of Standing Together; others in the Labour Party should follow their lead.