Left of the line

This is my truth. Now tell me yours.

Trident is weird

Jeremy Corbyn had a good night in this evening’s debate, but had a really tough time over Trident, where he refused to commit to retaliatory use. Tough gig.

Cards on the table, I am against Trident and Britain keeping nukes, an indefensible use of public money in my opinion. I’m coming at this from the point of view of being disappointed that they even exist so long after the cold war, which doesn’t seem very modern, and doubting the honesty of many self-declared multilateralists about changing that. I know my union won’t be happy.

This hasn’t always been my view, and from a Labour point of view I also think if the public rate them or want Labour to keep them (not the same thing), we are right to concede to renewing. My views aren’t always popular, and besides, this is party policy. If we go down this line though, what would be the point in having them but not putting a serious retaliatory threat behind it, or stepping away from NATO’s involvement in this?

I’m pleasing no-one here, am I. At least my union will be happy.

But Trident is weird, in its emotiveness. It’s fully understandable that something so awful gets an emotional reaction. But the fact that the emotive side of the Trident argument is all about some quite distant hypothetical scenarios which in reality would generally result in nothing nuclear happening, even if we were stupid enough to get into them.

Mutually assured destruction works as a deterrent and prevents nuclear war. The whole point is that the ability to use them means you don’t get into that situation without first strike, so people who argue for saying we should be prepared to use trident in retaliation should actually be seen as arguing we would never to have to. An acceptable reason to have nukes.

Not having nuclear weapons has been shown to be pretty much comparable in terms of results and also gets you ‘not nuclear bombed’. There’s no strategic incentive. You can’t get much out of occupying or exploiting a destroyed or irradiated country, so the real danger is becoming a third party to someone else’s nuclear conflict. People who favour nuclear disarmament should also be seen as arguing we should never really need to use nukes. An acceptable reason to go without nukes.

Despite opposing Trident I can admit that both logics work and that both are motivated by achieving safety.

More broadly I think there are good enough arguments from many angles of Trident for me to be convinced that our country can manage defence and avoid any kind of nuclear annihilation with it or without it. I think therefore that the real and usually ignored issue is actually mostly an argument about public spending and employment, or wider foreign policy issues such as power projection and the role it plays in modern strategy.

Given this, I’m not very susceptible to the emotional arguments which suggest that millions of humans here or elsewhere will shortly all be vaporised because Britain has nuclear weapons/no longer has nuclear weapons. In reality, we are not going to get drawn into using them either way, are we?

Despite the power of these things and the polarity of the debate, it doesn’t really matter all that much unless we are talking about public spending, skilled jobs, or much wider geopolitical strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be the shibboleth it gets made out to be, and in any event, if you’re going to get angry about something, it might as well be something more immediate and relevant to your life, closer to home. Call me parochial but I’m more worried about whether kids are going hungry.

Thoughts on Labour’s manifesto

1. Not bad at all – quite forward looking with minimal hard leftism.

2. Beautifully designed. Really fantastic.

3. Should have had detail on costing each policy.

4. Disappointed not to see tougher lines on crime and ASB, and a plan for tackling violent extremism.

5. Could have done with more on local government and a bolder line on Federalism and England.

6. Best line available on Europe.

7. If we are keeping the benefit cap, that’s very weird, and in my opinion pretty right-wing.

8. Needs more slogans and catchphrases, especially re. 6 above. More generally, framing and targeting around the manifesto is completely lacking because there is no political strategy, so it’s not based on who we want to win. That’s a big flaw.

http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/manifesto2017

Politics does not equal policy

Some Corbyn backers on the left of the Labour Party are losing optimism fast. Hope is of course necessary, but I’d argue that a bit of intellectual pessimism is always healthy anyway, myself.

Some of those I’ve witnessed on social media are manning the defences, making the perhaps valid argument that “it’s not the policies” which are costing Labour support. I’ve found that a predictable but still ‘difficult to understand’ reaction, because most people outside party politics wouldn’t even think that’s an argument worth considering either way. I’m not saying policies don’t matter, but people don’t literally sit down and read manifestos, do they?

Politics is about all sorts of emotional stuff. Whether people feel you are on their side. Whether they feel that you could stick up for them competently. Whether they feel you could make deal, and then whether you could negotiate well. Whether they feel you can get others behind you, or manage well. That’s just the personal stuff, before you even get onto what people think of political parties.

Example: if you mess up how you pay for a policy, to many people that says a lot more about you and whether you deserve support than the actual policy itself.

Then you have how these things come through our own personal histories, ways of explaining things, media and leisure choices, our local areas, and experience of the world – what we might politically call ‘culture’. In addition to our emotions, which are important and powerful, there is plenty of intellectual stuff which isn’t conscious or examined – a normal part of life. Like, for example, which assumptions affect our judgement of the facts we are given when we think about something political. “It says here someone was claiming benefits – what do I already think of that?”.

The fact that anyone would ever simply assumes that the debate about Labour and its leadership is a debate solely or mostly about policy only shows how unusual – well, weird – people active in politics tend to be.

Policies matter, but they don’t stand alone, and are only part of the picture.

Tony Benn famously said that politics is about policies, not personalities. It would be a lot more fair to say that it should be. But of course, really it’s about both, and plenty more.

Update: what could really say it better?

Understanding the ‘ethical split’

I am increasingly captivated by accessible bits of writing about social psychology, perhaps because I think it is key to rebooting the political strategy Labour has really lacked since 2010. It can be the bridge between pretentious articles such as this one, and the pub-type situation that I always end up on relying on to symbolise non-metropolitan England. It’s about what people care about and how we talk to them. Forget about policies for a minute – I think these are actually the big things that Labour is missing.

At present the left arrives in ever more consensus based positions on areas of economic policy and the like, but I think that we are living with the legacy of a very big gap where political strategy is supposed to go. Successive Labour leaders since Tony Blair have engaged with the concept of political strategy less and less, despite knowing that most of the people in the country are actually quite different to us and don’t support us. It seems moves to the left for some reason come with more emphasis on policy rights and wrongs and less on politically getting there. I’m increasingly persuaded by the view that this is to do with what people from the top to the bottom of the Labour Party, ‘pioneers’, value.

valueshere

I have some sympathy with Charlie Mansell’s argument that this is basically where the new split in politics resides – between people who value ethical certainty and people who value ethical complexity. I certainly think this is true within the organised left, which is dominated by ‘pioneer’ personality types – people who are concerned with change and ethics.

There seem to be two types of ethically driven people:

The ethically certain tend to be looking for ways that they can express themselves and act in accordance with ethical values that they are sure of. This ‘sureness’ is something they actively seek, defining against threats and risks they also see as clear, and since they have often achieved the sureness, what is left is to express. Certainty and expression are valued as part of defining the self and one’s place in the world, and as a clear defence against the ethical challenges it presents. This is perceived by some as a pessimistic emotional approach. People with this disposition are often at a loss as to why others don’t take positions which are clear, stand up for themselves, or ‘say what they mean’. They can seem overly sure of themselves, dismissive, or overbearing.

The ethically complex tend to lean more towards how ethics are used, what they are applied to, what results. They are invested in the power of ethics to change and improve situations. They feel that to be used to full effect, ethical frameworks must be designed with the full complexity of their environment to mind, firstly because this makes best use of opportunities, secondly because if ethics are well designed then they cope better with risks. It’s optimistic and about getting the most out of one’s ethics. Complexity and producing better results are valued, and being able to admit that you don’t know everything or are unsure is simply seen as more honest and useful – optimism is found amidst relative chaos. People with this disposition are often at a loss to understand why complexity, nuance or qualification in ideas often meets such strong rejection from many others. They can seem detached, aloof, and sometimes indecisive.

This is not to say that:
1) one of these positions is more ‘right’ than the other
2) the two cannot be allies of each other or complementary.

However it is a clear divergence of outlook – and in my view one which increasingly characterises the rift in the left. And in the internet age, both types seem to have decreasing tolerance for one another.

The basis for all of this is in Maslow’s categorisation of social-psychological needs, by the way, potentially with some borrowing from Carl Jung I think.

 

2016: Labour, culture and class

Though my own politics are within the tradition of democratic socialism, those who know me well will know that I am heavily inspired by thought around the tradition of Eurocommunism. This tradition was a lot more recognisable in the mid 1980s to early 1990s, but I think parts of it have insights of value today.

It’s Marxist, but sounds more Marxist than it is, if that makes sense.

It emphasises the importance of a complex politics of culture and hegemony. Building on Antonio Gramsci, the tradition emphasises the role of everyday cultural outlooks and political opinions as something which shapes attitudes in politically advanced democracies.  It gives rise to a socialist politics of pluralism and alliances.

It starts from the rather obvious standpoint that sets of ideas come to dominate  and create an overpowering (hegemonic) consensus in wider culture, sometimes to the extent not even clear to less politicised (‘normal’) people that these ideas and systems of ideas even exist or have any defining features. They are simply ‘common sense’.

This would always be important, but Eurocommunists identify these things as becoming of ever greater significance as the Fordist industrialised world fragments in the economies and cultures of the global West. 

The manned production line becomes a rarity. With it go institutions of common organisation and independent class identity. This might mean directly ‘political’ institutions like local political parties, economic ones like the local branch of the NUM, or purely cultural institutions like working men’s clubs or Sunday schools. With these things going, sources of education and common identity become more about what we consume and have offered to us, as opposed to what we make. And when we organise our politics, there are always fewer of us. TUPE’d and outsourced workplaces, privatised mail companies competing against each other, call centres replacing steelworks. You name it.

Successful past alliances in the left around racism or gender also give birth to an ever more diverse and plural economic base, whose experiences are more diverse – where solidarity is gained, cultural identities (and politics) become less cohesive.

For me these processes characterised the 1980s, but are fully realised now – and are predominating facts of our economy and politics.

TV and newspapers become massively important. Things like sitcoms and soaps start to dictate our view of what justice, decent behaviour or professional dignity might look like, where before working people would have more chances and direct reasons to organise among themselves for a shared community sense of safety, identity, and political morality.

This is all very good, but does it mean that class doesn’t matter? This is where the big split among those inspired by these ideas happens. 

Some Eurocommunists essentially ended up powering a ‘modernised’ social democracy or event the third way, class completely abandoned as the key concept. The crucial importance of mainstream culture became a reverence for its very mainstreamness, a cruel irony bearing in mind that this then means conceding to the views you accuse of dominating and pushing out others. 

The reasons people with such politics ended up this way sometimes has to do with a fetishisation of the for the prevailing common sense, but beneath it lies a rejection of two kinds of class politics – that is the politics of class interests, and the organised politics of class representation.

Smarter thinkers manage to preserve the insight without this kind of liberal idealism (‘wouldn’t it be great if everything was nice!’) coming to dominate. There’s an acceptance that a smaller and far less independent culturally powerful working class reflects itself in culture and political behaviour. It reproduces itself in existing working class politics, not least those of the largest and most representative parities – in our country, Labour. If this is so, and the economic trend continues, the natural conclusion becomes the reducing power of traditional working class politics and the need to build and hold alliances outside it.

1983 is a great example of where this imperative was not successful. Some on the left blame Bennism, others the defection of the SDP. It’s amazing how many people still think this debate is a fight worth having, thus missing the point. Either way, it is clear that Labour could not hold together a sufficient class alliance and get a wide enough spectrum to buy into it. Is this surprising, when it employed a politics which was not premised on it?

Labour left: getting hegemony wrong

I think at the moment it’s fairly clear that Labour is a party led by people who can’t handle the idea of alliances unless they are with people who have a very high level of agreement with them (such as the Green Party). The idea of a tactical alliance with any voters who are not as left wing as them is anathema, even if these are previous Labour voters, and even if it is clear that Labour’s support bloc is too small, shrinking, and increasingly divided. All of which is of course to some extent a secular trend which simply reproduces a real world economic phenomenon: post-Fordism.

It’s not just that the intellectual leadership of Corbynism is far too conservative to handle ‘political’ alliances based on building Labour electoral support. It has also completely avoided any though of class alliances. It’s not prepared to reach it to socially conservative manual workers (rightly in my view, to an extent). It also really couldn’t give a shit about middle class consumer types on middle pay, and our need for them at elections.

This second type of useful political alliance is (in my view) not the Compass/Counterfire type based around political lines, parties and elites. 

This is talking about a cultural-political alliance of real people – voters. In order to create a big enough bloc of supporters of Labour and of left politics. It’s not getting thought about, and it won’t be happening, despite what the economy and our opponents’ policies are doing to our bloc of support.

If you suggest a pro-home ownership line as a consequence of mass council house builds, targetting you middle earners, you’ll probably get a dogmatic policy response which demands 100% adherence as well as missing the point. That’s because strategies like alliance building and growing the bloc are not important to most rank and file Cornynites, whose priority is hegemonising a party in which they already hold ultimate power. Hegemony in terms of creating a left alliance in mass culture is ignored; electoral hegemony is ignored; political hegemony is ignored, subsumed to the Corbyn project and an orientation towards party-cleansing.

Well, if that’s how a ambitious people remain on behalf of their leader, then the real world will make their leader a failure.

Labour’s internal class position

Labour’s class base is often said traditionally to be working class people, and particularly manual workers. But is is not actually true. Labour’s initial successes relied on removing votes from the liberal party, and it’s post war successes, not least 1945, have always relied on a mass appeal to centrist ‘middle class workers’ as well as those in manual-heavy and industrial areas and neighbourhood – people particularly affected by the prevailing ‘common sense’. There are also middle class radicals of course, and then the big bloc of people in mining areas etc.

In calling Labour a ‘bourgeoise workers’ party’, Lenin was essentially correct – it is a manual worker/middle class formation and is only successful on this basis, especially in present times. The party is of course also deeply bound into representative democracy and the universal franchise. This was of course a chartist, working class demand, but it hasn’t created a worker-dominated political system. It’s created liberal democracy and the beginnings of a plural party system, albeit under crappy first past the post.

This matters because Labour’s internal base includes organised and manual heavy workers through unions, middle class radicals, but not the swing voting middle earner section. The class base of the party internally does not reflect its voting class base.

Which is Labour’s core? I’d argue both actually. And I’d argue given the background, we need a heavy alliance focus to what politics we choose to put forward. It should be reflected in how we configure policies, but even more through how we present ourselves and frame how we argue.

It’s not hard to see how that conflicts with a politics framed around absolute integrity, unyielding and inflexible principle, disdain for power etc. Very commendable populism.

And yet, without forming alliances and recognising that Labour’s base actually yields a set of them, there can be no winning on policy, public opinion, cultural influence and popularity, and at he summit of these things, electability. From the populist position to this is the journey that must be taken, which requires intellectual honesty and some very very fundamental strategic rethinking. Top put this in academic terms, we’re fucked, please do sort it out.

Ten internal challenges for critics of Corbyn

Having critically supported Corbyn in 2015 I count myself among the critics but not the supporters in 2016. 

This is not to say that I thought the mass resignations were a good idea (though they did make a challenge necessary). I think there is a duty to serve as much as a right to step down, and they were a very sensationalist weapon to use when a challenge would have done.

Why object to Corbynism? I want a movement party, and a democratic one – though the looming personality focus weirds me out. I don’t think the movement party is presently doing the right stuff, because there’s no strategy at work here, sadly. I am a socialist so it’s not policy which causes me issues, bar some exceptions especially on foreign policy. I support much of Corbyn’s platform.

But I think his political strategy, management of MPs, and his presentation are all unambitious and terrible. I support a Bevanite kind of leftism which takes these things seriously as part of its socialism; and knows when to give ground or keep its mouth shut. I hate a socialism which fails to give its challenge any teeth, or does not prioritise how we get actual power for working people.

I’ll write more about what I think should happen next when the leadership election is over (I’m sure you’re really excited).

In the meantime it struck me that I’ve been complaining loads about Corbyn and the hard/neo-Bennite left, but haven’t really said much about what I think the problems have been for his critics, who themselves are a very politically diverse bunch and will have different insights among themselves as to how things have gone for them. Critics of Corbyn, diverse as they are, have problems of their own.

The problems they face:

1) Strongarm tactics against our leaders and especially one we have recently voted in are despised by members, and in this case are widely perceived as a coup against a recent vote, rather than proceeding from a fair debate and challenge in good time. You may disagree, but it’s true that most members see it this way.

2) The timing of this has been terrible and shows a disconnect from the grassroots. Resignations and a challenge happened before a critique had bedded on, and even more crucially before any viable political alternative had been built – not least one which parts of the left can legitimately trust and hold accountable. Broadly this timing was never going to work because only MPs and long time activists can see the size of the problems, or know how old and fundamental they are.

3) Smith’s policy has been good but it doesn’t sit alongside a strategy for gaining power or getting close to it – not unlike Jeremy himself. So his campaign has been defined in negative terms, and even on its key differentiator has not won the argument itself.

4) Key Labour women have played massive parts in this campaign but Smith himself needs to get woke, and should be a lot more respectful in his rhetoric. Especially given that he’s done some great work on behalf of women workers whilst at DWP, and he’s against an opponent who goes on Iranian TV. How do you not win on that?

5) the right of the party still functions as a massive albatross around the neck of the centre and the soft left. Even if Smith runs on a left platform, Corbyn’s campaign has successfully smeared him as a Blairite in some quarters, or successfully argued to more sophisticated people that he’s the first step towards it because they have had to support him. And yeah, people are still angry about the New Labour years. Sure it was a while back, but maybe that’s because they weren’t listened to by the people concerned.

6) Despite all this, the social democratic and centrist Labour right still haven’t intellectually or organisationally adapted to a post 2008 politics. And the soft left are recovering from a period of organisational retreat, without money and the necessary support in unions.

7) Even the soft left now have no reach within Unite, whose most right-wing internal personnel are now Bennite, contrary to the history and backgrounds of many unions who merged in. In addition to becoming that bit more distant from the political mainstream among voters, Unite also no longer sees itself as a key actor on the left but as the sole leader. Where Unite goes, other unions follow, and money and staff for campaigns spring up. It is essential that non-Corbynites re-engage with the union and the workers it represents.

8) there is a general feeling of a lack of democracy and participation in all parts of the party which aren’t Corbynite. This has not changed during the leadership elections. Labour right, you’re supposed to be a key part of our movement and our national life. Why are small charities better than you at involving people and making them feel empowered?

9) Due to many of the factors above, there is a crisis of trust in established Labour politicians which reaches far further than people who have a vote in this election. People aren’t listening, and even worse, they’ve got Twitter.

10) Young people coming into the party have not experienced what government or being in a position of power feel like. They also don’t fear not having power like the Young Labour leftists of my own generation do. I’m not sure how either of those things can be overcome. In addition, political centrism is far too unambiguous to deal with student debt or the housing crisis. Again, this is post-2008. Jeremy Corbyn has many faults, but he gets that. Do you?

After all these there’s also the problem of what comes next. It’s doubtful that such a diverse group of dissenters will reach a united approach. But perhaps part of their problem thus far as been to insist on a single challenger to Corbyn as leader, when actually there’s little political consensus among them.

Owen Smith is not Alan Milburn. Corbynites should stop pretending he is.

Some misguided ranting from Paul Mason this morning. It is a shame really as I respect Mason’s politics. I rather thought him above this kind of attack, which takes a very similar format to revolutionary left sectarian hit jobs. These include an attempt to discredit someone else’s politics by association, a refusal to examine any of the points they make against one’s own, and of course the most important part – making the case that anyone whose leftism is not as ‘pure’ as yours must mean that not only are they left wing at all, but actively an aide to the right. How convenient, the neatness of this ‘my politics or theirs’ line.

His target is not just Owen Smith, but the wider ‘soft left’ tradition within the Labour Party – the real enemy. Presumably he feels that this Robin Cook descended tradition within the Labour left represents ‘big war’ and the 1%. So I am not sure what’s got into him, really.

He also seems to think that people on the soft left within the party are unable to act in our own right or make our own decisions, and that there is no way that ‘guilt by association’ cannot apply. 

Smith’s platform is a good one. 


The soft left is perfectly comfortable with policies like this, and there is little reasons for it not to stick with them if Smith wins. The left still has major unions and enough members to control the party apparatus after all, but on principle these are all policies that a more flexible democratic socialism can easily stick to. Even the great bulk of Corbyn’s are within the Labour tradition. That’s the point, and the one Corbynites seem prepared to die in a ditch to set aside or ignore – from the perspective of Corbyn’s soft left critics, policies are 95% not the problem.

If there are ‘opportunistic’ reasons for it being like Corbyn’s, ‘tactical’ might therefore be a better description. 

The similarity is about stressing the point that management of the PLP, pluralism and the breadth of the party, openness to criticism, and our electoral strategy are all key motivations for the parts of the left which are more open spirited than Corbyn’s. These are concerns that are shared by many previous Corbyn backers, not least Owen Jones, Danny Blanchflower, and many of those around Open Labour of whom I am myself an example.

This is what Smith wants the election to be about, because it should persuade some Corbyn supporters, and because even if he loses, the result is at least an improved Jeremy Corbyn that the PLP and a range of critical traditions can be more at ease with supporting.

But back to policy, there’s also as little evidence to suggest that Smith doesn’t believe in his own platform as there is for Corbyn. The Corbyn framing objective is basically to make sure that Smith is not treated as fairly by members as JC is and that he has harsher tests to run against.

Hence Mason’s outrider piece but also a range of others which repeat some pretty unsavoury tactics.

Mason deliberately does not pause to think about how well Smith would likely be doing if someone for the right of the party had stood. 

Imagine how Smith’s policy programme would look now if there was a modern ‘Blairite’ platform and candidate at this election. How would the policies above look then? Corbyn has been very lucky that MPs thought only a single candidate challenge was viable.

This whole election I have seen Corbyn backers unwilling to engage with either the policy platform Smith stands on, not to be treated in good faith, or the criticisms he makes, likewise. So perfect is JC that his journalistic backers have complete moral license to smear and disengage from any actual debate. Instead they are attacking their opponent on the basis of his jobs before becoming an MP, smearing him as a right wing shill, and attacking him for the actions of another part of Labour he has no stake in. 

The whole excercise is not aimed at debating him, but  toxifying not Smith and the soft left. This aims instead at stopping people from listening to his arguments, or making them afraid that finding them persuasive undermines their own ‘left’ credibility. Some element of cultural leadership takes place. All accross the country there are debates going on in which ‘Blairite’ is casually applied to all and sunder, as if this were the issue. Or even particularly comradely.

This is bullshit – deeply unprincipled and baselessly sectarian. Intellectuals and social media influencers take top responsibility for it. Why should any of it make an undecided person vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

Last and only semi-related point: the fact that Mason raises Corbyn and McDonnell’s deeply unwise ‘anti-imperialist’ utterances being dragged up by opponents. Does this make them wise interventions now? Are they beyond criticism because critics raise them? What strange logic.

If Jeremy was into working out who he wanted to vote for him I could point this out more easily, but let’s imagine it’s someone slightly suburban and middle class in perhaps Harlow, with a kid on the way. Decent wage, waged nonetheless. 

Take 50 people of the same profile and ask them whether they agree with Jeremy that the UK should not respond if Russia invades a NATO ally. What would they think? Or perhaps the ludicrous suggestion from both candidates (later corrected by both candidates) that there is any point in negotiating with ISIS?

The problem is not the people making criticisms of this kind of politics or this record in politics. The problem is the politics. It is bankrupt hippy nonsense, and it can’t be defended practically in a workers movement interested in gaining authority or power.

But Mason’s slight of hand is quite fantastic. Give Smith a bigger part of the blame, and dismiss valid criticism because it is ‘anti-Jeremy’ or has been said in the capitalist press. 

The sad thing about this kind of rhetorical dishonesty is that it actually works. It should be called out.

A facebook critique of the Corbyn project

Corbyn

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”.

It’s been a big week.¬†As with many posts, I’m adapting this from a facebook comment, and hoping to preserve it so I can remember what the hell I was thinking. If you’re reading it, know that you are secondary, puny audience.

I wanted to put up a quick critique of the Corbyn political project which maps some of the arguments typically employed by supporters – I have lost track of what the professional part of the project itself is trying to get across, to be honest. At least this smokescreen/fog of war type approach has some kind of communicative value!

Just to explain the contest, a friend who is a Corbynite posted a link to this video, and criticised it for bowing to the frame of electability, where Corbyn should, according to said friend as I understand him, not have to justify himself, but instead confront the value of the argument used by Corbyn’s critics. It’s worth a watch.

I think whether people value the frame of ‘electability’ is a key conceptual divide and contradiction among Corbynites (for there are many of those). It is also the key ‘weapon’ of his critics on the right of the party who suspect he is vulnerable, and an important ‘concern’ for critics who comre from a soft left or Gramscian perspective.

From this angle (one I share), Corbynism represents a ‘primitive historic bloc’ – or to put it simply, something that represents a ‘good start’ for the left in terms of establishing its ideas and leadership, but only that. The real problem of the current juncture is that for some, this ‘good start’ has stalled, or started rolling down a hill with the handbrake on – a proper bloc can only be formed by building towards a social majority, but the project seems more concerned with holding support that it already has, to the extent that its ability to build seems crippled.

For those critics Corbyn has who are of the left rather than the centre, a failure of electability overlaps heavily with this concept, and is also conveniently wielded as a weapon by those who are fundamentally hostile to Corbyn’s ideology. If his backers were in a listening position over the last few months, this would have been taken on board and responded to. Instead however the response has been ultra defensive and has largely walled off the leader himself, behind a cotery of like-minded advisers and thousands of activists who don’t really do nuance.

For a sensible person, his actual electability can be gauged to an extent, via polls and the like. But whether he is electable is neither here nor there – it’s the fact that having banged on about non-voters during the leadership election, he now doesn’t seem to understand or discuss how. And this applies to ‘persuading the populace’ as much as getting them to vote for you – in other words finding outsiders a place in the ‘bloc’. And this is deemed acceptable, nay, noble by the project as a whole. Why, I cannot understand.

What’s the theory of change?

Miracle

So there are two types of challenge that more thinky-type Corbynites identify within the ‘electability’ frame – the inside challenge (Corbyn actually is electable and you aren’t giving him a chance) and the outside challenge (elections aren’t very important / elections are not important at all). Read the rest of this entry »

SNP – a party that attacks from the left

There are countless examples of right-wing policies which emerge from the SNP, some intentional (such as cutting corporation tax), some not (such as destroying their own revenue-raising capacity with full fiscal autonomy – a sure precursor of massive cuts).

Whilst this is the fact of how they administrate and would plan to govern, it is certainly not true of their form. There is a big difference between how they look and what they are, which is in itself a big part of how they have achieved political success, adding enough former Labour voters, particularly in working class areas, to their own bloc to win. It is also how they have built their support base of activists so heavily. Their attacks are always rooted in a logic of the left. Read the rest of this entry »

Labour’s problems: some structural aspects

A million people have written a million things about the problems Labour faces, with some quite simplistic responses from several knackered looking leadership contests. The main surface aspects are simple. In polling, we lost certain groups of voters, notably at the older end.

In terms of political geography, we desperately need to win back a lot of Tory voters who used to vote Labour. But we’re also faced with the challenge of winning back a serious number of seats from a party which anyone serious can see has attacked us in the base, and from the left, in order to gain majorities by adding these voters to its previous vote – the SNP. This seems to have warranted far left discussion, in part because our media is right wing and attached to Labour’s own hard right, in in part because the media and what remains of the Labour Party are pretty anglocentric.

But the point is made repeatedly that this malaise is affecting us around Europe and goes deeper than individual elections. Which reminds us immediately of a second coming of Hobsbawm and Hall (as per this and this).

Ludicrously, Liz Kendall warns us against trying to become a Syriza or a Podemos because of the need for electoral success. But in these countries it is social democrats who face eradication for being weak, and too closely aligned to both national and international elites. Hilariously, both of the parties mentioned are great examples of snatching prominence, relevance, and mass support from the jaws of pointless left cultism.

This is not to say that Kendall is wrong in her conclusion – we have very different economies and politics to these countries, which have sharply diverged. But her conclusion is in ignorance of her premise, not based upon it. Read the rest of this entry »