Friday, 20 December 2019

Clive Lewis For Leader

Of all the possible candidates for Labour Leader, at the moment, I'm backing Clive Lewis, MP for Norwich South.  If elected, it would make Lewis the first black Leader of any main political party in Britain, and thereby potentially the first black Prime Minister.  However, we should not select a Leader simply on the basis of their colour or their gender.  My main reason for supporting Lewis is that his politics offers the best hope for Labour in the period ahead.

On the main issues, Lewis has been on the right side.  Lewis had a progressive internationalist position on Brexit, even being prepared to resign from the Shadow Cabinet in order to pursue it.  Lewis is also right that Corbyn failed to distance Labour from its New Labour past.  Time and again when the Tories, in parliament, responded to Corbyn's questions with whataboutery, relating back to the Blair and Brown years, Corbyn failed to take advantage of his main characteristic, in that respect, of pointing out that, on many occasions, he voted against those governments.  More importantly, Corbyn has failed to change the nature of the party as a parliamentarist party that continues to be organised on a hierarchical basis.

Corbyn has failed to even begin the process of turning the party into a social movement, let alone to democratise the party.  That has meant that the parliamentary party continues to hold disproportionate influence, and also that it continues to be dominated by the old Blair-right and soft left MP's.  Lewis is absolutely correct that a fundamental requirement, for any new Leader, is to ensure that the process of democratisation is fully implemented.  In fact, that process also needs to be extended into the trades unions, and the cooperative movement too.

In the period ahead, Labour needs to ensure that it cannot be tarnished by Brexit.  In the weeks and months ahead, the Tories will almost certainly quickly begin to lose popular support as voters realise that Brexit has not been "done", that it will drag on for at least another year, and will only end then if Britain effectively capitulates into some form of Brexit In Name Only.  Johnson will not implement a disastrous crash out no deal Brexit, whatever bravado he presents now - remember his promise to die in a ditch? - and so, the choice will either be BRINO or else an extension of the Transitional Period for an additional two years.  Nor will anyone see any improvement in their day to day conditions from the Tories.  Already Johnson has scrapped any idea of a Brexit deal protecting workers rights, repaying those backward workers that voted for him appropriately.

The Tories must now be made to bear all of the blame for the Brexit they have inflicted on the country.  Labour must stand well clear of it, and argue consistently against it, pointing out, at every opportunity, that we warned people what the consequences of Brexit would be.  As every day passes, more young people, opposed to Brexit, join the electorate, and more old people that voted for it, die out.  In addition, as the reality of Brexit dawns on people, there will be increasing numbers of people who voted for Brexit who will come forward with the usual refrain of "Why did no one warn us this would happen?"

Labour must be in a position of taking advantage of that golden opportunity.  We cannot do that if Labour is in any way able to be associated with Brexit, and its consequences.  Labour must not only be the means of continued opposition to Brexit, but must also be the vanguard for all those that seek to reverse its effects, and find a way back into the EU, a possibility that is likely to continue for several years into the future, if Johnson is forced into having to agree an extension of the Transition Period.  Labour cannot do that if it is tarnished by a leader that can be linked back to the disastrous Brexit strategy adopted by Corbyn and those around him.  Even those like Thornberry and Starmer fall into that category, because, they persisted in trying to sell the idea of a Labour Brexit for a whole period during which it was clearly an impossible and reactionary objective.

As a former soldier, Lewis also immediately undermines that whole narrative that the Tory media framed around Corbyn, and thereby Labour as a whole about lack of patriotism.  Its hard to describe someone as unpatriotic who has worn uniform themselves.  Yet Lewis has also been clear about his opposition to Trident, for example.  In reality the patriotism of the Tories and Tory media is a fake patriotism.  A country is its people, but the patriotism of the Tories is not about the security of the British people, or the well-being of the British people, it is only concerned with the security and well being of British capital, and of the owners of that capital.  Trident provides no security for the British people, nor does engaging in foreign wars, or assassinating terrorists in foreign lands.  On the contrary those acts only encourage others to attack Britain.  If you doubt that look at Switzerland, which does not engage in such foreign wars, and which has had not one single terrorist act against it, by foreigners.

A true patriotism would ensure that British soldiers lives are not put at risk in wars in other people's countries, but would be used to actually defend Britain.  The money wasted on Trident would be  better spent on tackling the real threats to people's lives such as ill-health, and the need to improve the NHS.  These are ideas that are not accepted overnight, but have to be fought for over a long period.  That requires, as Lewis says, that we must empower Labour's membership to make those arguments, to go out into the communities, to build mass social movements to win support for these transformative ideas.  It requires that we fully democratise the party in order for that to happen.

The last thing that Labour should do now, is to heed the siren calls of the right and centre demanding that we tail the reactionary views of sections of the working-class that voted for the Tories.  Only a small minority of workers voted for the Tories.  The large majority voted Labour.  Our task is not further Blair-right triangulation, which lost us this election, but to set out a clear and principled course, and to work consistently to win support for it.  As Macron showed in France, and indeed, Obama showed in the US, responding to a victory of the Right by tacking to the centre is a recipe for disaster.  The politics of the centre are dead, and those that seek to implement them will soon come up against reality.  The consequence of that is that they simply open the door for an even more reactionary alternative to step into the vacuum.  

I place no faith in any individual, as I made clear in relation to Corbyn's nomination for Leader in 2015.  But, in putting the need for democracy front and centre in his campaign, in rejecting any backsliding towards Blairism, and given his progressive position on the most important issue of the day - Brexit - Lewis offers the best hope for Labour's rank and file to build the kind of movement we require to move forward.


davidjc said...

On the EU and party democracy, Lewis will likely get my vote anyway, but not sure he’s an opponent of Tridenr?

Boffy said...


Lewis objected to Milne changing his conference speech as Shadow Defence Secretary, because it was done in typical Stalinist bureaucratic fashion of not consulting with him. As Shadow Defence Secretary, Lewis adopted the same position that Nia Griffiths and Corbyn himself have adopted, which is to say that he would not be seeking to change policy given that Conference policy is currently to back Trident renewal.

That seems fair enough to me, if you believe that Conference should be sovereign. Actually, I would have had more respect for Corbyn, and his position would have been more tenable if on Brexit he had said, I disagree with 90% of my party on this issue, I continue to believe in leaving the EU, but as Leader of the Labour Party I will act in accordance with its policy.

Similarly, Lewis does not personally support Trident renewal as set out in this 2013 New Statesmen Article Why Labour Should Make the Case Against Trident Renewal.