Sunday 4 February 2024

The Labour Right's Political Strategy

Labour wants a "bomb proof" manifesto. In practice, that means junking anything a Sun editorial might find irksome. Today, Keir Starmer's earnest promise to abolish the House of Lords is filed under the never never. Though to be fair to Starmer, I think this is about the third occasion he's announced his abandonment of the pledge. Then at the end of last week, the £28bn/year green transition fund has been scaled back following manoeuvrings and whispering campaigns. Rachel Reeves's arbitrary fiscal rules come first. And coincidentally, they repose in conformity with Bank of England/Treasury/City orthodoxy. The very nexus of class forces that have brought nothing but plenty to the people of this country.

Apart from a few nice-sounding policies around the edges, the only logical argument for supporting Labour is voting against the Tories. And millions undoubtedly will do so, despite Starmer offering much less than what Tony Blair promised. What a pitiful state of affairs. But what, if anything, do his latest slew of retreats signal? The analyses and comments doing the rounds about Labour's cowardice, the institutional capture of the party by the City tendency, and not wanting to scare the right wing press all have something to recommend them. But added to this is the internalised logic of the party's right wing establishment. Their capitulation is so craven because their strategy swims with the stream of bourgeois politics.

There are three "pragmatic" arguments to this, neither of which are separable from Labourism itself. Scaring the City, the bond markets, the international "investors", and upsetting "business confidence" are absolute avoidables in the Labour right's operations manual. Apart from inviting attacks from the right wing media when Labour is seen out of step with these interests (NB the Tory press will do it anyway - the clue is in the name), the reasoning goes that if the markets are becalmed Labour will have an easier time in office. It doesn't matter that the price paid is burying the chance of fundamental reforms, because the thought of implementing any never crosses the Labour right's imaginary.

This foregrounds the Starmerist "don't offer anything" strategy. If you don't offer anything, you can't be held to account for not following through. The proof of this "wisdom" was demonstrated when the Australian Labor Party won its election a few years ago. Their manifesto said precious little, which gave the Coalition nothing to attack. Instead they jumped off the anti-immigration, anti-woke deep end. And they sank with nary a trace. It looks like history is going to repeat itself with the Tories, convinced as they are that their right wing fetishes will be a bit of what the electorate fancies. Why interrupt your opponent while they're tanking themselves?

But the other element of offering nothing is summed up by a mantra Ed Miliband was fond of during his leadership. At a party event in Birmingham early in his tenure, he said Labour were going to "under promise" but "over deliver". This is super clever politics for LOTO's galaxy brains. Your government isn't on the hook for anything but when it does something it can be trumpeted from the rooftops for its mould-breaking brilliance. The passive electorate will be suitably wowed by the policy largesse dispensed, accustomed as they are to nothing but Labour's very super serious pragmatist managerialism. Carry on like this and the second term is in the bag.

And there we have the contours of the Labour right's governing philosophy. Do nothing for most of the time, and bury themselves in laurels when some minor improvement rattles off the legislative conveyor belt. And, here's the best thing for those steering HMS Great Britain. Not only do they get to enjoy a decade's worth of dinners at the captain's table, there will be handsome launches waiting for them as thank yous for services rendered when the voyage pulls into harbour. Climate emergency? Demographic ageing? Care crisis? Crumbling public services? Falling living standards? Productivity lag? Decaying political legitimacy? With any luck they can get brushed under the carpet as our plucky Labour ministers strive with determination toward the gilded life awaiting them at career's end. Labour is the party of aspiration, after all. Theirs.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Phil; well said. Labour has big chance next election. Getting rid of zero hours contracts; means fair pay for a fair days work. Your next book is coming. Thank you for your thoughts

Carolyn Ruane said...

Well said Phil. Right wing papers print rubbish that needs Labour to advise the right details.
Labour has a huge chance to win the next election with a large majority. This means getting rid of zero hours contracts can happen. People needs fair pay.

Rodney said...

When it comes to the Labour Right ending zero hours contracts you can't help but remember Owen Smith's grand plan to replace them with 1 hour contracts.

Though the more likely outcome is that ending zero hours contracts and anything else even vaguely positive that makes it into the manifesto will be tough decisioned away once Labour see the nation's finances and they're "even worse than we thought".

McIntosh said...

Don't you fear you are being over optimistic about what Labour will do or achieve if it wins. Wont Steering just open the door for more reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS; Cooper bring in mote infringements of freedom and rights; Healey get further up ther arse of the US military complex and increase the danger of war; Kendell make DWP more about punishing the poor and giving services to private companies; Murray alienate the Scots, and Lammy provide cover for genocidal regimes throughout the world. And that is before you even consider Reeves natural insticts and McFadden's approach to internal party matters.
It will be a relief to get rid of the Tories but there will be little reason to celebrate, and not much to hope for.

Anonymous said...

Labour's donors is Israel isn't that dangerous for the UK.

Blissex said...

As usual I have two differences from our blogger, one because of a different theory of voting choice, and the other because I hallucinate living in a parallel universe which is very different from the real universe where I am sure that this statement by our blogger is right:

«This foregrounds the Starmerist "don't offer anything" strategy. If you don't offer anything, you can't be held to account for not following through.»

In my imaginary parallel universe New Labour have made several big and loud commitments as offers to the the electorate:

* Property:
«The foreground of Labour policy, however, is all about home ownership. Not unreasonably, Keir Starmer sees buying a house as “the bedrock of security and aspiration”, and often makes glowing references to the pebble-dashed semi in which he grew up. Given the chance, he will apparently lead a government set on pursuing a 70% target for home ownership, up from England’s current figure of 64%. There is talk of a new mortgage guarantee scheme; the party’s first actions in government will include “helping first-time buyers on to the housing ladder and building more affordable homes by reforming planning rules”. Labour, we are told, “is the party of home ownership in Britain today”.»

* NIMBYsm:
«Labour will attempt to heap pressure on Boris Johnson over his planning reforms after the Tories’ byelection defeat by calling on backbench rebels to support the opposition in a Commons vote. Sir Keir Starmer’s party has tabled a debate calling for the prime minister to change one of the most controversial proposals by giving communities greater oversight of planning applications.»

* Make Brexit work:
«Keir Starmer has abandoned the commitment to free movement of people in the European Union he made to Labour members during the party’s leadership contest. The Labour leader said his party had to be honest with the public, and that if it won the next general election a major renegotiation of the Brexit treaty would not be possible.»

* Police immunity:
“Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had called on the party to abstain over the bill, arguing that statutory regulation of undercover operatives would have been necessary if the party had been in power, after the government only narrowly won a court case over the issue.”

* Limited right of protest:
«KEIR Starmer has also said he is not preparing to rip up the new police powers that have come under fresh criticism after the arrests of protesters ahead of the King’s coronation.»

* Solid, principled support any war endorsed by the USA or Israeli governments (no need to provide quotes here).

* Solid, principled purging of the entrysm into the party of those "trots" who don't support the interests of "Middle England", have social-democratic or socialist opinions, or criticize the wars endorsed by the USA and israeli governments (no need to provide quotes here).

* Solid, principled fight against anything that Russia, China or Iran say or do (no need to provide quotes here).

These are just examples; Keir Starmer has never missed an opportunity to make clear that he is committed to offer anything that would be popular with affluent "Middle England" tory voters.

Blissex said...

As to voting, I am still of the impression that voting is mostly on the basis of a single core "vote-moving" issue, which for most people is their wallet, and for a large block of voters (those same property-obsessed affluent "Middle England" tory voters) is therefore property profits.

Our blogger seems instead to me to imply that he believes in the "spatial" theory of voting, where voters evaluate most offers by the parties and vote for the offer that is nearest to all their preferences, not just the most important, and that values and culture are quite important among those preferences.

Blissex said...

Anyhow as to the overall political strategy of New, New Labour I still claim that it is PASOKification in the longer term, and thatcherism in the short and medium term.

Anonymous said...

Nothing about Rachel Reeves loudly hoisting her flag on the hill of uncapped banker's bonuses?

Or did I imagine that?

Admittedly, I think it happened separately to their press about untargetable manifestos.

You could maybe look at it as a dare. "Want to attack something? Here's an open goal. Oh, don't you like this one...?"

Anonymous said...

Spot on analysis alas very true.

Anonymous said...

Yes the Labour Party will win but what for... ?

Kamo said...

Why would Starmer jeopardize an election win by pushing policies that are popular with left-wing virtue signallers, but are of questionable efficacy, rest on dubious grounds or carry obvious negative (unintended) consequences? Spending £28b on vague 'Green' programmes appeals to the luxury beliefs class and those who see a rent-seeking opportunity from providing Greenwashed products and services, but it's not actually same as delivering real world benefits like energy security or making energy affordable to the poorest. Bankers bonuses is a trivial issue for simple reason that industry reward packages have moved away from the model this cap was designed to restrict, it's now purely a politics of envy issue rather than something designed to deter reckless behaviour. Banning zero hours contracts won't magically increase the market value of people in this labour category, it won't help those who actually desire them due to circumstances, and it won't stop some other formulation emerging that delivers the same end. I could go on, but one of the Tories biggest problems is the constant failure to deliver the grand, eye catching claims they always knew couldn't really be delivered. Why indulge magical thinking when you don't have to?

Anonymous said...

But what are the Labour Party saying and what do they represent. What will they follow through? They want to win but what and who for.

Blissex said...

«what are the Labour Party saying and what do they represent»

They represent the interests of middle class brexiter property owners (plus those of owners and executives of finance and real estate businesses who depend on the generosity of Treasury and Bank of England for their wealth):
"Party sees identifying 50-year-old male home-owners as key to electoral success this 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, Ford added, explaining Labour’s insistence that it will not take the UK back into the single market."

That's people who are doing well and aspire to do better thanks to higher house rents and prices and lower labour costs. Same as the Conservatives, while the LibDem represent the interests of the same group but europhile, even if in 2019 the vast majority of europhile affluent middle class property owners voted for "get brexit done".

Sean Dearg said...

Property. Property. Property.

That's all you need to know. Everything in politics can be explained by this. There are no other topics of significance. There is no need to have a manifesto which covers anything else.

Keep house prices high, and watch the votes roll in.

That's all it takes. Everything else is just filling.


Blissex said...

"Property. Property. Property. That's all you need to know."

Property is the truth and the way, and Thatcher and Blair are the alpha and the omega :-). From the "The good news", "Middle England" edition.

"There is no need to have a manifesto which covers anything else."

Actually as Corbyn in 2017 demonstrated it is possible to appeal to those who are not benefiting hugely from property and finance rentierism, and that is a large voter block, but we all know how that ended.

"That's all it takes. Everything else is just filling."

That's the "Middle England" view and I understand it well, for example:

* Since 2008 the average wage has fallen by 8% in real terms, and the average property price in southern England has boomed by 80% in real terms.

* Suppose someone who was earning 25k per year in 2008 and bought a 150k property in southern England in 2008.

* Over the past 16 years she has earned 20k (gross of tax) less than if her real wages had been constant, but she also earned 200k (tax-free usually) in property, entirely redistributed from someone else.

* So her employer saved 20k of labour costs, and she got 180k net, over 11k net free money per year on top of a 25k gross salary. It's a win-win! :-)

* Which party her employer is going to "sponsor", and which party is she going to vote for? :-)

Blissex said...

"bought a 150k property in southern England in 2008."

Oops, typo there, I meant a 250k property, on a mere 10 times earnings. This ratio however was only available before the crash.

On reflection a more realistic assumption is that after the crash on 6 times earnings she bought a 150k property (in southern England? :->), in which case it boomed to 270k in 16 years, or 7.5k of extra wealth per year on average, for 16 years, government guaranteed.

Now consider the last year: her real wage would have fallen from 25k of 16 year ago to 23k, losing 2k, but at around 3.8% real compound growth per year her property gain was around 10k last year, the balance is a fantastic deal. That means massive prosperity for "Middle [southern] England" paid for entirely by the hard work (of someone else).

Blissex said...

"Consider the last year: her real wage would have fallen from 25k of 16 year ago to 23k, losing 2k, but at around 3.8% real compound growth per year her property gain was around 10k

To be sure I have written a tiny spreadsheet, screenshot here:

To properly compare with a renter I have added average rent of 1.28k per month or around 15k per year.

Over 16 years the renter lost 16k in lower real wages and 30k in higher real rents, the proprietor/"investor" also lost 16k in real wages but did not pay any rents and got 120k of gain. Put another way, over 16 years:

* The renter got in total 384k wages, paid in total 205k rent.
* The proprietor got in total 384k wages, paid in total 190k in mortgage (150k principal, 40k in interest) at around 3% over 16 years, and gained an asset of 270k.

The difference is 285k in favour of the proprietor, around 18k *net* per year, on an after-tax wage of around 21k, pretty much doubling it. Plus the employer made 20k in savings and the banks 40k in interest; all of them redistributed from the lower classes. "The Economy" has been booming for 16 years! No "austerity" for the middle class and the finance and property sectors.

I am astonished by those who seem completely out of touch with "Middle England" and seem (pretend?) not to know all of the above and how strongly it drives voting. I guess they never care to read the "Daily Mail" and similar property-obsessed media for the property-obsessed southern english (and chinese "investor") middle class.