On Meaning and Labour

21 Jul

Blair is not ‘centrist’ or ‘moderate’.  He’s a right wing war criminal with a pathological and craven desperation for the approval of the rich and powerful.  He’s a George Bush fanboy.

Owen Smith abstained on a vote that cut benefits, and supported the Iraq War before he was even an MP.  For most sane people, that would prevent him being called a ‘left-winger’.  He also worked as a lobbyist for Pfizer International.  For most sane people, that would be incompatible with the behaviour of a sincere ‘left-winger’, and the very epitome of the political establishment.  The only way you could be more of the political establishment is to have a dad who led the Labour Party to defeat twice and then to attend the College of Europe, marry a future Danish Prime Minister, be parachuted into Ramsay MacDonald’s old constituency, and then claim the commute doesn’t get in the way of your work.

But, since the English and Welsh left have kept Corbyn in place in the Labour Party against the wishes of the party’s right-wing, being perceived to be of the Left is suddenly a useful political quality.  Since Brexit, and the way it has brought ‘ordinary people’ to the forefront of politics, appearing ordinary is suddenly desirable.

For the next few weeks and months, then, expect an epidemic of deliberate left-right confusion from Owen Smith’s supporters.  And a vast pile of – unprovable – stories about how wonderfully ordinary the Pfizer lobbyist warmonger always was; alongside allegorical and unreferenced recollections of how “ordinary people” on “the doorstep” don’t think of Corbyn as a natural leader.

I will, of course, remind you later that I told you so.

 

 

Does Jeremy Corbyn Have A Strategy?

20 Jul

In my last post I pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn does have leadership qualities, contrary to what most of the right within the Labour Party has claimed since the coup attempt started to roll out.  And I then said that what his detractors mean by accusations of a lack of leadership qualities is actually that he doesn’t ‘play tactics’.

To put it another way, he doesn’t ‘play the game’.

He doesn’t hide what he believes out of fear of what the mainstream media will say about it.  He doesn’t abstain on benefit cuts and then justify himself by quoting arcane and misleading subtleties of parliamentary procedure, for instance.  He doesn’t attempt to ‘take the centre ground’ by competing with the Tories to blame immigrants, the unemployed, the working-class and the poor for their situation.  He doesn’t dig dirt on his opponents, even when they are mired in dirt.  He doesn’t act like it’s tactically sound to jeopardise the future of humanity with nuclear missiles, and then claim that it’s all about jobs.  He doesn’t shrink from addressing guilt over the wars and devastation that have resulted from other politicians within the Labour Party playing tactics.

For the Right in the Labour Party – and for those who have swallowed their arguments – these qualities translates into a lack of capacity to ‘win’.  That’s what they call ‘electability’, which to them is interchangeable with ‘leadership’.  Because these qualities are also ones that most people would find morally admirable (even if they disagree with them) the sole criticism that appears to realistically unite them is that this makes Jeremy Corbyn ‘nice’.

Apparently, for those working to change leader, it’s just not nice to be nice.  Or, to put it in the way that you’d put it if you were a venal Evening Standard journalist who doesn’t think Tony Blair was a war criminal and thinks her own daughter’s common decency deserves to be ridiculed in a London-wide newspaper, principles are no good without power.

But here’s the strategic irony.  Power is only the capacity to act.  If you have already sacrificed what you wanted to act for then you have not actually achieved power – you have only achieved position.  

You might get the job – but you’ll never be the boss.

This is an inconvenient point for the Right within the Labour Party, especially those who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of position under the false impression that they were pursuing power.

That would be, for instance, most MPs who were willing to follow the New Labour line over the Iraq War.  That would be those who spent the 1980s hammering the left at every opportunity instead of doing effective opposition – and then taught their kids to do the same.  That would be those who built, and bought, the astonishing lie that it was an advertising-led political makeover that won the 1997 election.

So, what is Corbyn’s strategy for power?

It’s so simple it’s incredible – and so simple the Right cannot understand it.  The strategy is you and me, the common people, and our moral outrage that mere parliamentarians, elected to be our servants, have sought to exclude us from deciding who represents us. When Neil Kinnock spoke to the Parliamentary Labour Party to urge kicking Corbyn out, he talked about the Labour Party constitution of 1906 as a great thing – but didn’t mention that it was Labour MPs who decided in 1906 to stop being a Committee to represent the people, and to start being a political party just like the others.  After a century, the tide has turned, and Corbyn is enough of a strategist to ride it.

 

 

 

 

Leadership, Logic and Labour

10 Jul

Jeremy Corbyn has regularly been accused of lacking leadership qualities.

It’s an odd – and stupidly illogical – thing to say about a man who has refused to stand down in the face of a concerted, treacherous and overwhelming attempt by his own MPs to unseat him.

In fact, he has led a popular movement that has massively boosted his party’s membership in response to the threats against him.  He has led by repeatedly condemning those on his own side who would like to reduce his campaign to personal abuse of his opponents. And he has led, most of all, by taking the opportunity the challenge has presented to restate his principles in clear and stark terms.

Like at the Durham Miners’ Gala, when he recounted being asked how he was coping with the pressure on him.  His answer, delivered with an actor’s relaxed pause, a slow build, and the immaculate timing of a angry comedian, cuts like a sword through the illusions of the political and media classes:

Real pressure, real pressure, is when you don’t have money to feed your kids.

But when the challengers and the mainstream media talk about ‘leadership’, what they are really claiming is that he doesn’t play ‘tactics’.  They are wrong there too, as I’ll show in my next post.

 

Rebutting False Claims About Corbyn

28 Jun

The Blairites did get one thing right during their ascendency.  That was the need to tackle head-on media spin against the Labour Party.  Until a membership vote on the Labour leadership happens, the left both outside and inside the Labour Party can be very useful in confronting bad media representation of stories relating to Corbyn.

I suggest, unless you have direct links to such media organisations, using routes such as pointing out typographical errors and errors of fact.

On that note, here’s the text of my message via the ‘typos and corrections’ area of upi.com, in reply to this story:

Your picture caption on the story “British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn loses non-confidence vote” states that the Labour Party had voted against Corbyn. This is inaccurate – the membership have not yet voted, as is made clear later in the article.

The article also states that 1000 people attended a pro-Corbyn rally. There is a zero missing from this number.

I trust, in the pursuit of journalistic excellence, that these errors will be corrected.

Some Options for Corbyn

26 Jun

The BBC – and probably most of the rest of the British media – are now doing their best to push the Labour Party into crisis. But, as I just pointed out, the apparent crisis is an opportunity for the Left within Labour, as well as the Left more broadly – and the correct response is to use it to give Blairism the boot. To that end, here’s some initial thoughts on things that are now possible which were not possible two days ago.

Giving the Scottish Labour Party Independence

Labour in Scotland lost its hegemony because it was willing to campaign against the independence vote alongside the Tories and the Liberals.  Since then having a Scottish Labour Party formally tied to the ‘British’ Labour Party has become an embarrassment.

Corbyn was savvy enough not to repeat that mistake over the Brexit vote.  It’s probably thanks to his decision to campaign independently over exit that the vote to Leave was as narrow as it actually was.  It certainly avoided the Labour Party going into meltdown prior to the vote.

With the resignation of Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, it is now possible to neuter Scottish Blairism.  Corbyn should not replace Murrary quickly or permanently.  Instead – as quickly as possible – he should announce a Labour membership consultation on Scottish Labour gaining formal independence from (or perhaps ‘fraternal status with’) the Labour Party as currently constituted.  And he should suggest a permanent joint working committee drawn from the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments to take over the responsibilities of the Scottish Secretary.

The Labour right in Scotland could respond by either leaving in protest (as the right is already threatening) or desperately argue for its rightful place in a working-class party (meaning reversing the attitudes and complacency of the entire Blairite era).  Or they could try to stay in and cause trouble, whilst being relentlessly mocked, undermined and ignored by all sides north of the border.

Forestalling New Trade Deals & Big Business Privilege

The big problem with the EU for those on the Left has been the way that it has embedded privatisation and neoliberal economic policies.  That no longer applies.  Labour – or those elements of it with the courage – can now promise to nationalise failing and unaccountable industries.

The most immediate candidates for that are the incredibly unpopular rail companies. Others include steel plants at risk of closure – including the TATA plant in Stephen Kinnock’s constituency.

It also has the potential to undercut the US-centred trade deals Boris & Co will seek by simply saying it will refer membership of contentious international Treaties such as TTIP to referenda.

A New Tax Settlement

With Britain opting out of the EU, we are seeing the sad demise of free movement of people.  This is going to lead to brutal and nasty outcomes, with the graffiti attack on a Polish cultural centre only an early taste.  Much of the defence that can be given to refugees and foreign nationals in the near future will need to come from outside the established parties – from ordinary people.

But the flipside of this negative is that it will not be possible for the international rich to simply leave – or even realistically threaten to do so.  As the borders go back up, so taxes on the richest can rise.  Especially as there is no requirement for the free movement of capital to be maintained either.

Corbyn, and the left more generally, can take advantage of the superficial appearance of unelectability furnished by the attempted Blairite coup to rush out announcements that Labour will react to Brexit by raising taxes on the highest earners and – especially – on unearned income.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Opportunity to Destroy Blairism

26 Jun

So the Blairites have decided to use the Brexit vote to attempt to oust Corbyn and return the Labour Party to a position slightly to the right of Thatcher.

There’s a slim chance it’ll work for them.

But with a 38 degrees petition against the coup having already gained around two hundred thousand signatures at the time of writing, it’s pretty unlikely.

More likely is that the Blairites will achieve their secondary aim of making the Labour Party unelectable with a left-wing leader – and thus buttressing the lie that has sustained neoliberalism in Britain for the last twenty years.

Should left-wingers react with panic? Despair?

Not at all.

On the contrary, there is now every chance – and justification – for the left in Labour to purge the Blairites from every significant position within their party. And for the left outside the Labour Party to lend a hand. This time, unquestionably, it is the Right that has chosen to damage Labour at its moment of greatest opportunity. The Left’s counterattack against the coup must be merciless.

Brexit and My Crystal Ball

24 Jun
Instant reaction to political events is a dangerous thing.  And when those political events are all-encompassing then nobody has the expertise necessary to call even short-run outcomes accurately.  Personally, I don’t even have the expertise to be sure of all my presuppositions, and I welcome corrections.  So please don’t start a political movement, invest your life savings, despair or move country on the basis of my improvised predictions.  And please don’t presume that I approve or disapprove of the futures I’m predicting, unless I say so.

Caveat over.

My crystal ball is showing me:

Indyref 2

An early proposal in the Scottish parliament for a second indyref.  Scotland voted around 62% to remain in the EU.  If an indyref proposal is approved in Holyrood, the Tories (and Labour Unionists) in Westminster will (mostly) attempt to strike it down.  If they succeed (at the price of alienating many of their own politicians and supporters) there will be a citizen-led attempt to organise a referendum outside the machinery of the state.  If that in turn is hampered too much by British parties, it could feasibly trigger a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.  Intelligent Scots will want all this to happen within two years of the British PM invoking Article 50, meaning they’d be – in one interpretation of the current situation – able to remain as European citizens without actually having to negotiate entry.

Polarisation

A surge in popularity for the far right – mirrored by a corresponding increase in popularity for the far left and for anti-racist groups and parties.  The political fence between left and right will become increasingly barbed and uncomfortable to sit on.

Marginal Short-Run Gains for the Poor

An entirely unpredicted (except by isolated lefties like me, and the far right) marginal and short-term rise in living standards for the poorest.  As long as they’re ‘White British’, ‘Black British’ or ‘British Asian’.  Why?

First, because it’s other EU citizens (and people coming to Britain via the EU) who have primarily been demonised in the Leave campaign.  We’re likely to see more of this, and it will be increasingly violent.

Secondly, because in the finance market falls so far it’s building companies that have fallen fastest, on the assumption that ‘buy-to-let’ is going to implode as borders tighten. The knock-on for property prices will mean less loans on property and more empty properties without the money to pay for security – hence rents will actually decline or remain at current levels – and there’ll be more places to squat when they don’t.

Third, a slight increase in manufacturing and primary material exports due to the weakening of the pound – because this is very short term, people will be getting taken on from amongst the local unemployed rather than from working people who have to give notice and relocate.

Fourth, governmental spending on firefighting financial instability will mean university cuts, falling student numbers, students staying at home to study, and therefore empty accommodation in University towns.  This will be exacerbated by EU students choosing not to come to Britain, and by the running down of European exchange programs such as Erasmus.

Fifth, as ‘liberals’, left-wingers and working-class communities recognise the coming bonfire of workers and minority rights, unions and collective bargaining – formal and informal – will gain a new swathe of members and activists.  This will, however, probably be more than balanced by a new assault on working conditions and increasingly insecure employment.

None of these gains are likely to be lasting ones (except possibly the last), as over recent decades the EU has become a prime  – if inefficient – redistributive mechanism within ‘British’ politics.

Ireland and Northern Ireland

Shifts in Northern Irish politics.  Voters there supported a remain vote, knowing perfectly well that a great deal of investment there is EU-managed and contingent on the ‘peace dividend’.  Sinn Fein has, naturally, already demanded a referendum on uniting Ireland. That won’t happen (and they couldn’t yet win it if it did), but the rebuilding of border controls between South and North – or even the process of negotiation over them in tandem with the tailing off of EU support -has the potential to gradually destroy both the peace and the dividend.

The End of Free-Market Economics

UK

At least in practice, if not in rhetoric.  The smaller the area you have to work with, the harder it is to sell the illusion that it’s ‘markets’ rather than naked power that decide economic outcomes.  And with the Bank of England having already announced spending and acquisition plans in response to the post-vote crash, it now has no choice but to continue that interventionist route.

With the flight of financial institutions from the City of London (they hate uncertainty, except when they’re creating it in other people’s lives) the role of government in economic management will become clearer.  Right-wingers will start looking for active promotion of trade and manufacturing, and will be desperately conscious that their short-run success has been dependent on poorer people voting for Brexit.  And, unlike the mainstream left, they’ll be happy to throw around slogans like “British Jobs for British Workers”, as well as breaking with current economic orthodoxy in order to keep power. The left will eventually follow, despite being hampered at every turn by old-fashioned and out-of-touch Blairites – as we already see with two Blairite MPs seeking to topple Corbyn over the EU vote.

EU

The early reaction from highly-placed EU politicians has been to insist on unity in the face of the crisis.  That won’t last longer than a few days.  And there’s a fair chance it’ll have broken down by the time I’ve finished typing this.

One result will be Eurosceptic parties campaigning for referenda of their own.  

Some will succeed.  Their most powerful tool will be the recent cavalier treatment of Greece by Europe’s finance ministers, who were operating with the presumption that the EU was unbreakable and that the power conferred by a strong position within it enabled them to dictate brutal terms to a nation in crisis.

I’d like to say that can’t be repeated – but it can.

And given that mainstream economics has something like the force of a religion amongst those to whom it’s most convenient, we’re likely to see another episode like it sooner rather than later as the crises unleashed by the UK vote starts to impact.  As each such episode unfolds, however, the economic orthodoxies will collapse in practice, with massive ad hoc spending disguised behind ‘restructuring loans’ and ‘stability packages’ that will superficially adhere to dogmas about balanced budgets and free markets; as well as superficially not breaching EU competition guidelines.  Financiers (and pro-market media) will be aware of the fudge, and will speculate heavily on making gains from destroying each settlement, whilst the populations of each State affected will be prevented from realising that help is actually being offered to them.

The net outcome will be a race between the movement to democratise the EU, and movements aiming to destroy it.

Party Politics

The next prime minister of the UK will, it appears, be unelected and be chosen from within the Conservative Party in Westminster.  That’s not going to look very democratic, which is a bit unfortunate in the age of referenda.  With EU institutions actively working on pulling out of their work in Britain in preparation for exit, the new Tory leadership will be desperately reacting to bad economic news on a daily basis – and that news will be reaching working-class people directly rather than via newspapers.

This will be good for the Labour Party – although not good enough for them to form an effective opposition without entering into cooperation with parties to their left, and admitting frankly that they have lost Scotland.  As for other consequences in party politics, I’ll leave that to a future post.

Refugees

Will continue to be vilified.  And press and politicians will continue to call them ‘migrants’ even as they drown whilst desperately escaping the wars that Britain helped to launch.

 

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