Friday, 17 July 2015

Blairites Throw Out Their Dummies

The Tories and Blairites are starting to panic. The Tories may originally have thought that Jeremy Corbyn standing for Labour Leader was a gift to them, but they sound a bit hollow now, when they try to push that line. The fact is that its not just amongst Labour Party members that Corbyn's message is resounding. From the very first Leader's Debate, open to a cross section of the public, and so not really favourable, you would think, to Corbyn, he has received a better reception than all the other contenders. Not surprising, because there was always truth in the public's oft stated complaint that all politicians are the same. The Blairites have simply been an infection of conservative ideas into a social-democratic party. But, across the globe, conservatives are starting a period of long retreat.

The conservative leaders, in Europe, may have bludgeoned, Syriza, and the people in Greece, into a temporary defeat, but only at great cost to themselves. Tiny Greece, with the Syriza government, with all of the bargaining weakness it had, took those leaders to the brink. It has opened up the contradictions that reside at the heart of an EU, established, like all modern states, as a bourgeois social democracy, but currently with a conservative political regime. It has exposed all of the hypocrisy and bureaucratic fudge that has papered over the cracks of that contradiction for years, and with it the divisions between the conservative regimes in the north, and the social democratic regimes in France and Italy, as well as opening up divisions between the EU and the US.

If the conservative leaders of Europe thought that their attack on Greece would deter others, they are wrong. It has simply sent the message that parties, like Podemos in Spain, have a much better chance of winning, simply because Spain is a much larger economy than Greece. It has sent the message that social-democrats, across Europe, have to be far more integrated and coordinated, in their actions, to defeat the conservatives. But the tide is turning against conservatism, and towards social democracy, and the support for Corbyn, as with the support shown for the SNP, Sinn Fein, Syriza, Podemos and others is merely a reflection of that and the material changes in the global economy that are brining it about.

For the Blairites, this simply leads to cognitive dissonance, because there is nothing in their world view that can explain this. They believe that the way they see the world is the way it is, for everyone, but the way they see the world is only through their own narrowing lens. That narrowing lens is why the way they see the world is not that different to the way the Tories see the world. From that perspective there is a sort of bell curve distribution of views, so that the majority of people's views naturally fall within a central position. Its towards that centre ground that parties have to tailor their message, in order to garner the electoral coalition required to win elections, and winning elections, so that these career politicians have a lucrative future, is all they concerned with. The idea that politicians and political parties should actually believe in a set of principles, and a desire to create a better society, is not one that enters the heads of the Blairites. Nor does the idea that the centre ground of politics, never is and never has been a constant, but is itself a function of people's own experiences, including the way political parties interact with them.

The point is that, across Europe, the centre is collapsing. In Greece it has already collapsed. For now, to my own surprise, despite Syriza being forced into a compromise, it continues to enjoy large support. If anything, it would get a bigger majority, in an election now, than it did in January. The reason for that seems to be, as Lenin said, that workers, as opposed to sectarians, recognise when their leaders have tried to defend a principled position, but have been forced, by conditions, into a compromise or even defeat. But, that could quickly change. If the measures the EU's conservative leaders have imposed are implemented – and that is not at all assured, as Syriza is likely, in practice to be only lukewarm about implementing them, and in any case, Greek workers will resist them, as they have for the last five years – then any loss of support for Syriza, will not benefit any of the centre parties, who have lost all credibility, but will instead cause a whipsaw reaction, and a surge in support for Golden Dawn. In a sense, that is just a more extreme version of the way Labour's failure to offer a radical alternative to Tory austerity led not to support for parties to the left of Labour, or back to the Liberals or Tories, but rather to UKIP, just as, in the past, it went to the BNP.

In fact, the complete destruction of the Liberals is emblematic of that collapse of the centre. You might have thought that the Blairites would have learned from that collapse of the Liberals, alongside the whitewash, in Scotland, of Labour by the SNP, that their view that Labour could only win by seeking a now fast collapsing centre, was a non-starter. But, no, rather than face reality, they prefer to lash out, and bark at the moon.

The fact is, as I have set out before, the idea that Labour can only win from the centre has always been false. In 1981, when Michael Foot took over the labour leadership, Labour's opinion poll ratings rose! You would never know that from all of the mythology that has been created around that period of history. Foot took over in November 1980, and by December 1980, Labour was standing at 56% in the polls; a figure the Blairites today could only dream of. It coincided with the fact that, at the time, Labour had recruited large numbers of activists, who were embedded in local communities, and campaigns, and Foot himself was spearheading marches around the country opposing the rapidly rising unemployment that Thatcher's policies were causing. Its not the advocacy of wishy washy policies that wins votes, but politicians who sound to the voters like they believe in what they are saying.

Labour's fortunes declined not because it was too left-wing, or because Michael Foot was not photogenic in his donkey jacket, but because Labour's vote was split by the betrayal of the Gang of Four, who set up the SDP and then merged with the Liberals. Now, the Blairites might believe that if Corbyn becomes Labour leader they could do something similar today. They would be very wrong.

Firstly, whatever we might think of them, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen (Bill Rogers not so much) were political big hitters. They had been central figures in the Labour Party for more than two decades. For such people to leave the Labour Party, amidst a media storm against Labour and the unions after the Winter of Discontent, was bound to have a serious impact on Labour's standing. But, as I've set out elsewhere, where Labour was prepared to remain solid and principled that could be overcome, as I showed in my own election in 1983, and as left wing Labour councillors showed in Lambeth, the GLC, Liverpool and elsewhere. Labour shot itself in the foot, by allowing the right-wingers in the party to launch a witchhunt against the left, epitomised by Kinnock's speech at the 1985 Conference.

But, today is not 1981, and today's Blairites are not the Gang of Four. If Liz Kendall or any of the other Blairites left today, would anyone even notice? To be honest, many party members would say good riddance, and why did you join this party in the first place? Moreover, the material conditions in 1981 were moving in the opposite direction to the way they are moving today. The conditions which favour workers, and workers organisation were in decline in 1981, today they are moving the other way. In 1981, that meant that ideas about competition, individualism and so on were gaining traction, and those were the ideas, which not only the conservatives, but the Liberals espouse.

But, today, the Liberals have effectively died whilst their corpse continues to walk the earth. If the Blairites today left the Labour Party to link up with the Liberals, as an anchor, that anchor would simply pull them down into Davy Jones' locker with it.

Some weeks ago, I wrote that the left should not just hitch its wagon to Corbyn's leadership bid, as though simply getting him elected would resolve all our problems. That is the mistake the left in the unions makes, with the various Broad Left's and rank and file groupings, which have been turned into mere electoral vehicles. Just as in the trades unions we need to build real rank and file organisation – across unions – in each workplace, that can respond directly to management attacks, and thereby circumvent Tory anti union laws, in the same way we did in the 1960's, by just taking spontaneous action that wins before anyone can think of bothering with an injunction or other legal sanction, so the left in the Labour Party needs to turn every Branch outwards to the struggles in our communities, to build Tenants and Residents Committees, to encourage the development of co-operative housing, and co-operative management of our estates, and so on.

That again is a lesson from Greece, where such organisations are required to deal with the limitations of a capitalist economy – especially one, which, because of the size of the black economy, based on tax evasion, is a heavily cash dependent economy – and the ability of capitalist institutions to throttle it. It is a lesson that has already been learned in Spain.  A renovation of the labour movement from the ground up, and rediscovery of the need for workers self-government, and self activity, combined with a Corbyn leadership can win the next election, as well as putting in place the mechanism we require to change society.

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