Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back from the dead blog (because I feel the need to say this even if to myself)

The Labour Party of the U.K. is in disarray.

This is not a good thing. Last year there was a lot of heated discussion between and towards Labour moderates (as they defined themselves) who were furious, outraged and despairing at the thought of letting Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot for leader. They felt this was A Bad Thing. They felt he shouldn't get on the ballot because it would be the route back to 1980s oblivion. (Why? Because they knew - ah, democracy version 5.3 - that given the structure of voting in place there was a likely chance that desperate people would/could vote in large number for something that felt less obviously like the status quo of New Labour). I - naively perhaps - believed that if the party was structurally capable and worthy of moving forward, then other candidates could make a convincing enough case to win through and maybe even accommodate some of the ideals deemed 'old left' into a newly invigorated party position. I'd always held openly that my left politics had never been accommodated well by the old boy beer and sandwiches of 1970s/80s Labour and its twenty factional Marxists and yet were equally ill at ease amidst Blair's seductive pro-business, new economy, righteous New Labour Puritans. Could this be a new centre? A New NEW Labour that reconnected with its roots and principles whilst maintaining a way of connecting to practical power?

What convinced me that it was worth making Labour open to being more radical and accommodate that alternative voice in the debate was that we'd surely proven that things had moved on in the wake of the 2008 crash and there was too much damage under the waterline caused by the aftermath of the Iraq war to pretend that we just needed a return to a new form of what was perceived as Blair Labour politics. Rightly or wrongly, candidates against Corbyn looked like so much 'haven't we had this before and didn't it go wrong on their watch?' - or worse still looked like something a quick glance could mistake for a replicant Tory policy. That those accused could do so little to defy the Red Tory label says a lot about both the failure of the policies they promoted and the toxic despair that had built up around politics generally.... The "cost of doing business" looked to have been far too high to a lot of people and they wanted, felt able now, to have a say. Democracy 5.3 had already enabled that with the £3 supporters. For the PLP to block another voice even being an option didn't look great democracy wise however much it was the party mechanism, there for a reason, and so it was sufficient MPs offered Corbyn the nominations to make the ballot. However much I liked and admired Yvette Cooper, neither she nor any of the other candidates looked especially convincing even at party level....

Then everything went crazy. Corbyn became leader. It's pointless trying to turn the clock back. That particular democratic cat of £3 supporters got out the bag. Democracy Jemima but not as some wanted to know it. Like the 2010 and 2015 elections before it, the case for the policies, for the democracy we were actually working within, wasn't made strong enough. This wasn't about being left enough, right enough, centrist enough. It was about looking inept and unconvincing. £3 people wanted a change.

We're now in a position where 'half the party' are ecstatic Corbyn supporters, delighted to find versions of their belief in the state, unions, peace, activist rights (the disabled, minorities) seemingly at the forefront of a party from which they had felt alienated in favour of business, the corporate, the higher educated, the new globalised post industry workforce. The other 'half of the party' are in despair that the chance to do good for people across society has been blown by a perceived absence of pragmatism. The 'left' has sections that look and sound deluded, nasty and violent. And some behave that way. Like divisive forces and divided peoples in a broken Yugoslavia, resentments and compromises have bubbled to the surface of Labour that had been masked by its broad church way of managing things. Anti-semitism, footholds for all manner of sectarian groupings, revellers of chaos eager for a ruck: these are present however much some may want to ignore them. Yet. The 'right' looks anti-democratic to the 'left', against the majority of the party but convinced of its democracy because 'the right' (centre, whatever, labels are near meaningless now) feels it has the high ground of being for democracy at the larger elected representative scales. Both sides are name calling, throwing words like hypocrite, destroyer, idiot around like so much confetti. There is something deeply unpleasant and rather horrifying at seeing screeds of dismissive attack on the mere concept of having a minister for peace, as if words are meaningless and that the alternative means inherently a minister of war whilst also abandoning the possibility that maybe peace is a laudable concept we should have a lot more time for pursuing. It is NOT edifying. It is disastrous to watch the party spasm and flail in this way whilst Tories destroy the country at a personal, national and global level. Some people I admire and respect are prepared to leave the Labour Party if Corbyn is re-elected leader. They hate him. I don't think that will help. Some want to stay quiet and wait out the chaos, looking to rebuild at a local level. I still don't quite in all practical senses know what that would look like in terms of action. And some are enthused about party politics for the first time in a couple of decades/ever and are being roundly lambasted as deluded cultists which I'm sure is not at all feeding a siege mentality about the worthiness of their cause.

Like the good Libran / balancer I am, I'm not great at getting off the fence. I've put a lot of stuff here in quote marks because I'm not convinced we have the right language for this. Unfortunately as much of this is about perception and feelings as it is about actuality. I am not denying broken windows, words as weapons, violence and intimidation. I'm also not denying  there is a lot of 'quick to condemn' parallel actions that would be riled against in opponents. I am by nature co-operative rather than revolutionary. Keen to see the good in all, I nevertheless lean left.

What happened? How the hell did it come to this?

"The Labour Party could only win if it moved to the centre".

"New Labour was a pro-business force - friendly with lobbyists" (and increasingly supported by corporate backers)

"New Labour discovered the great Cause on whose behalf it would henceforth make its demands: not the forgotten worker but the future - the 'postindustrial, global economy'. It was in order to 'do business' in this new realm... that they needed to reform 'entitlements' (benefits), privatise government operations, open academy schools, get tough on crime...." [see note at end on these quotes]

Who got left behind in this? Who felt left behind in this?

Unionised labour. Old industries. Those who saw the fight being abandoned regarding the role of the state in common goods - mail services, schools, health, transport, utilities - in favour of the private sector (in partnership no less, so that's worked fine) being the leading light for social change. Those on benefits or nothing. Those who remained unconvinced that the silver bullet of education (high education) was the transformation to prosperity. Those who felt war was not the answer, that armaments fed the global war machine. Those who felt the priorities of the richest were skewing everything. (Keeping in mind we have a weird sense of 'richest' almost as misaligned as our sense of class). We still don't understand averages: mean, medians and modes...

Pragmatists will claim that LOTS was done for good people at the bottom of the tree during Labours years of governmental power. But sadly, rightly, wrongly, it didn't feel that way to a lot of them and it sure as hell didn't feel that way when austerity politics kicked in under the Con-Dem coalition.  Talk of appealing to squeezed middles and aspiration felt very hollow to those left behind by much of the transformations Labour had brought and which were mocked destructively by the carelessness of Con-Dem politics.

Were these people voting anyway? Did they, had they, ever voted Labour? Had they been lost pre-Blair or post-crash? What was the EU ever doing for them anyway?

I don't know what happens next or how, if, Labour can get out of this mess. I don't know if, what, any semblance of a Labour Party will survive. I want to believe. Those against Corbyn believe *HE* is to blame. I think he's going to be a scapegoat for things that went badly wrong long before some wag suggested there be an alternative to what appeared to be identikit options on the Labour Leadership ballot. All that people can hope is that there is something of an alternative left after the dust settles.

[note on quotes. These are adapted from Thomas Franks "Listen, Liberal" on the problems of the Democratic Party in these Trumpian days.... All I've done is change DLC/Democratic Party to New Labour.]