Monday, 3 April 2017

What Is Real Political Opposition?

The meme now being employed by right-wing opponents of Corbyn is that there is no real opposition to the Tories being provided by Labour. At every opportunity, this idea is presented, so that we are told, for instance, that the actual opposition to the Tories is coming from the SNP, or the Liberals, or from Tory backbenchers. Another approach is to talk about the only opposition coming from the media, and so on.

As with every effective lie, it is, of course, based on a kernel of truth. The Labour leadership have collapsed over opposing Brexit, for example, and they are making the same mistake as Miliband made in 2014, in being seen as lining up with the Tories over Scotland. Its also true that Labour's opposition in Parliament, to the Tories, would have been strengthened were it not the case that many Labour former Ministers and Shadow Ministers, resigned from the front bench, so as to focus their attention on attacking Corbyn, rather than attacking the Tories. But, that is hardly Corbyn's fault. It is the fault of those right-wing Labour MP's, who have helped create the current meme.

The right-wing Labour MP's, and former Ministers, having been burned twice now, by the membership, for having tried to organise against Corbyn, have largely gone quiet, apart from a few mavericks such as John Spellar. Instead they have transferred their attack to other channels. For example, Spellar and other right-wing labour MP's have put their efforts into trying to dislodge len McCluskey as UNITE General Secretary, in the hope that, as in the past, a right-wing union leader will come to their assistance against the mass membership of the party. As Phil writes currently, they look like being as unsuccessful in that venture as they have been in openly attacking Corbyn.

But, the fact that the right-wing Labour MP's have gone quiet does not stop a series of former Blair-right spin doctors, and SPAD's from regularly appearing on weekend TV political programmes, on the nightly Press preview slots, or writing for numerous newspapers ranging from the reactionary right, to the liberal left. In fact, despite the fact that these former advisors to people like Gordon Brown, Blair, or Ed Miliband have never been elected to anything inside or outside the Labour Party, and so represent absolutely nothing and nobody, you are still far likely to see them on the TV, or hear from them on the radio, or read what they have to say in the newspapers than you are from a Corbyn supporting MP, or Minister. So, it is not difficult for the Labour Right, for the Tories, and for the Tory media to incubate this meme, about a lack of effective opposition from Labour.

The purpose of the meme is obvious, to undermine support for Labour, by undermining the leadership. But, what is the truth? What the proponents of the meme actually mean is that Labour is not providing the kind of opposition to the Tories that people like Blair, or Brown, or Miliband provided in Parliament. In other words, Corbyn, McDonnell et al, are not skilled in the parliamentary game of these other politicians. That may be true, but do we really just want real political opposition to be only about career politicians playing parliamentary games. After all, Nigel Farage, and UKIP for more than a decade could not get any MP's elected, and yet they were able to achieve one of the biggest political upsets in fifty years, by first getting an EU Referendum, and then getting a majority for Brexit! And, the downfall of Thatcher, arose from massive street demonstrations, and civil disobedience over the Poll Tax, not from the Kinnockite, political posturing in Parliament.

Its true that after 18 years of Tories destroying the economy, undermining the NHS, and allowing the countries infrastructure to rot, as well as descending into the kind of decadence and corruption associated with declining empires, Labour under Blair won a landslide victory. But, the fact is that in every election after 1997, those same professional, Blair-right, political game players saw Labour's vote decline, and particularly saw it decline in all those parts of the country where the workers felt that they were being abandoned by a party that was more interested in looking after the interests of those with financial assets, and high incomes, and were content to allow a large part of the country to simply be compensated by a life of increasing dependency on the welfare state, and a multiplicity of benefits, as opposed to the security of having a well-paid, permanent job.

In a number of speeches at the County Council, when I was first elected in 1997, I spoke about the fact that it would take some time for Labour to reverse all the damage to the economy, and to the country's infrastructure that the Tories had inflicted over the previous 18 years. And, indeed Labour did reverse some of that damage. In 1997, support for the NHS amongst the public had reached an all-time low, but Labour's trebling of spending on the NHS, reversed that after a few years. I saw year on year cuts in local government services, as a council employee, during the 1990's under the Tories, and that too was halted, after 1997.

When I stood down as a County Councillor in 2005, in my final speech, I spoke about all the changes I had seen over the previous eight years, about the friends and comrades that had died during that period, and so on. I referred back to that previous eighteen years of Tory rule, and my first speech at the Council, talking about how I had waited eighteen years for a Labour government, and now, I concluded, eight years later, I was still waiting for a Labour government! Four years later, at the 2009 elections Labour lost my County Council seat, that I had won with around 60% of the vote, along with many more and control of the County Council.

And, of course, after 1983, under Kinnock, and after all left-wing opposition within the party had been expelled, the same parliamentary posturing, resulted in sequential failures for Labour in 1987, and 1992. Moreover, that same political opposition that amounts to nothing more than playing these parliamentary games, whilst the actual policies pursued amount to only marginal differences with the Tories, failed to win the General Election in 2010, and saw Labour's support collapse, and that continued in 2015, where Labour's support collapsed massively in Scotland, not because of being perceived as too right-wing, but collapsed to the SNP, who had been able to posture as some kind of left-wing alternative!

What kind of real political opposition to the Tories is it, when it amounts only to verbal sparring in Parliament, and an attempt to win meaningless arguments, whilst the policies that Labour then pursues in government, are no different to those that the Tories had been enacting? Real political opposition involves providing a real political alternative, not simply dressing up the same policies in different verbiage, to try to make them seem different.

The Blair-rights and their supporters are like advertisers, or estate agents. They dress up the same old crap in flowery words, to try to create brand identity for products that are in fact identical, in order to get a sale. The problem with that is that if an estate agent has encouraged you to view a house, and when you turn up, it fails to meet the description, and the pictures were all Photoshopped, your disappointment will be all the greater, and your anger at, and lack of trust in estate agents will simply have been increased. And that is appropriate, because that kind of economy, based on the illusion of rising wealth from property and asset price inflation, is precisely what underpinned the conservative ideology of Blairism.

The right-wing opponents of Corbyn refer to the fact that, in the opinion polls, Labour is standing at only around 28%. Even if the opinion polls are to be believed, which there is no reason to do given how wrong they have been in recent years, how should that be interpreted. Well according to the Blair-rights, and other right-wing opponents of Corbyn, he is a dangerous left-winger, and his leadership is proposing policies that have previously been the province of the Trotskyists they claim have infiltrated the party to get him elected as Leader. Well, if that is true, then 28% is a remarkably good achievement. In the past, the various Trotskist groups, even when they banded together for a microsecond to fight an election rarely got more than 1% of the vote. If Trotskyist policies now being advocated by Labour, according to the right, are winning 28% support, that is a fantastic base from which to build a real socialist political opposition not only to the Tories, but to capitalism itself, the kind of support that the right have previously claimed would be impossible for socialist politics!

The real criticism of Corbyn and the Labour leadership, however, is that they have failed to provide real political opposition to the Tories, by NOT, sticking to principled politics, for example over Brexit. Despite claiming that they intended to build Labour as a social movement, there has been no sign of it. The large demonstrations opposing Brexit, involving thousands of people were not organised by Labour, and largely the Labour leadership was nowhere to be seen on them. The real criticism is not that they have failed to play the kinds of parliamentary games that previous Labour front benches have done, but that they have failed to build a real political opposition to the Tories outside Parliament, around principled socialist politics.

Already, Labour is haemorrhaging thousands of those new members it recruited, who were enthusiastic that Labour under Corbyn would be different. Labour is likely to fall even further behind in Scotland, as it makes itself increasingly indistinguishable from the Tories. Labour has even allowed the Liberals to be resurrected like zombies, as a result of its atrocious position over Brexit. Labour needs to forget about the parliamentary games, and start to build a real political opposition, around principled policies not just in parliament but in every community and workplace in the country.

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