Corbyn Isn’t Seizing the Moment – Because His Labour Party Simply Isn’t Radical Enough

Yves here. It’s been puzzling to see Labour fail to take advantage of Theresa May’s inept leadership, particularly the wide-spread loathing for her Brexit deal. This piece argues that Labour’s passivity reflects deeper-seated shortcomings.

By Gerry Hassan, a writer, commentator and academic on Scottish and UK politics, power, democracy and social change. He has written or edited over two dozen books including Scotland the Bold and the newly published A Nation Changed? The SNP and Scotland Ten Years On (edited with Simon Barrow). His writing can be found at: www.gerryhassan.com. Originally published at openDemocracy

This should be the moment for Corbyn’s Labour. They face a divided, incompetent Tory Government. A party that has lost nine Cabinet ministers in the last year, which has no domestic agenda to speak of, and is not even bothering with the pretence of a Queen’s Speech.

The Government has no direction or purpose, no credo beyond continuing limpet-like in existence, clinging onto office and pursuing the project of Brexit. And yet at this moment of decision, when Labour should be harrying this government and holding them to account on Brexit and more, despite everything it is the Tories who consistently lead Labour in the opinion polls, rather than the other way round.

As profoundly, the intellectual climate has turned against mainstream Conservatism, as well as moderate social democracy, opening up the terrain for Corbyn’s Labour.

The zeitgeist of the age has finally turned against the assumptions that have dominated British politics for so long. The assertions that markets should be left unfettered, that deregulation is a good thing, that government and the state should just get out of the way of private initiative and believe in the super-rich, that making things doesn’t matter, and that ownership is ultimately just an irrelevance, have all been shown to be bogus.

Such dogmas were taken to breaking point, with no area of British public life left unchallenged by it. It resulted in such ridiculous ideas becoming government policy as the belief that it does not matter who owns the key strategic assets of your country – whether nuclear power, nuclear weapon research establishments (Aldermaston), the electricity grid, water in England and Wales, and much more.

It took a long while for such a grotesque set of ideas to finally fall apart. It did so on results. After decades of pursuing this dogma modern Britain has been made in its image: the fawning of the super-rich, huge inequalities socially and regionally, average living standards stalling over the last decade, and the trashing of public sector values and ethos. To give an example on the last point the expansion of the university sector on the back of student tuition fees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has dramatically changed higher education. It has made life good for a new class of super-remunerated Vice-Chancellors, but in England less than half the extra monies have been reinvested in student resources, while UK university borrowing has risen to £12 billion since the financial crash, not withstanding the £105 billion student debt which the state will end up writing off.

The evolving Corbyn project has captured some of the anger, rage and discontent which has flowed from this. The party is the largest in Western Europe in membership; it has energy, dynamism and sense of possibility in its younger activists.

The party has also disrupted the complacent cosy elite order which emerged post-Thatcherism: the Blair, Brown, Cameron (BBC) consensus which explicitly said this is the way things have to be: that little people outside of the elites have no choice but to knuckle down and show deference at the altar of the market and finance capitalism. It has numerous advocates and proselytisers in the public eye and media, and an emerging infrastructure of initiatives and platforms within and outwith Labour, from Momentum to Novara Media, the Canary, and in old-style media, the re-emergence of the left-wing paper, ‘Tribune’.

Yet for all the advantages that Labour has going for it: Tory troubles, the political climate of ideas changing, the bankruptcy of the economic orthodoxies of recent decades, and a mass membership party, something critical is clearly missing in Labour.

With the wind blowing in Labour’s sails, what is the nascent Corbyn programme for revitalising Britain – economically, socially and democratically? On the economy, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell talks a radical talk, and occasionally the odd revolutionary soundbite, dreaming of overthrowing capitalism. Reality is somewhat different. McDonnell has supported Tory tax cuts and welfare cuts for the poor. And there is at the core of this – Labour’s economic prospectus – there sits a vacuum.

This contrasts unfavourably with the previous period of left dominance in the party: the Bennite insurrection of the 1970s and early 1980s. This saw a mass of policy detail and on the economic front, whether one agreed with it or not, a comprehensive Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) with fleshed out policies and academic and intellectual buy-in from prominent figures. No such detail or comparable coalition building is evident today.

The same is true on social policy with instead Corbyn’s Labour offering reassurance and monies to the middle classes and redistributing up the income scale and further away from the poorest. The party has at least made bold statements on environmental policy and climate change, but too much of the Corbyn Labour stance on the wider economy still has a hankering after traditional left economics that believes in growth as the solution.

A similar picture can be found in constitutional affairs and the state of democracy in Britain. The UK political system is creeking and falling apart, and yet where is the Corbyn agenda to take that on, knock it down, and build something better? A key issue in the future of democracy is what happens to England – the only nation in the UK which lacks a democratic voice and institution. When I asked in the summer a senior member of Corbyn’s leadership what they were thinking about England, they replied bluntly: ‘We are not doing any thinking on England.’

There is a strange air of conservatism running through Corbynista Labour that undercuts its self-belief in its radicalism and unprecedented scale of its ambition and mission. A more nuanced assessment of Corbyn’s Labour would gauge that its supposed radicalism is not anywhere near as great as its chief advocates like to think. Indeed the Corbyn project in many respects sits within the tradition of Labour insularity and smugness, believing it is the only radical political force of any worth in the UK – hence its patronising attitude towards the SNP, Plaid, Greens and others.

The Corbyn project has had little to say about the multiple crises of government, state and public agencies that make up the unhappy state of Britain, and which is also a crisis of the actually existing capitalism, economic and business assumptions, and even, society. The party has it seems no convincing remedy for the hyper-fragmentation of the UK in its nations and regions – or a recognition that the age of the all-powerful, enlightened centralist state are long over.

Then there has been the party’s abdication of responsibility leading up to the Brexit referendum and subsequently. Corbyn and McDonnell have managed a policy of constructive ambiguity on Brexit – which seems to amount to saying and standing for as little as possible – building a bridge between Labour’s pro-European sentiments and Corbyn and McDonnell’s Euroscepticism which has ended up offering sustenance to Theresa May and the Tories. This despite Labour members, voters and parliamentarians, all being emphatically pro-EU, pro-single market and customs union, and open to a People’s Vote.

On top of this there is a Corbynista complacency and even in places, worse an arrogance. The belief that the party can somehow repeat 2017 is used to excuse Labour’s current poor poll ratings. This states that once the party gets into a future election campaign it can repeat its performance and achievement of the 2017 election, and win significant new support. There is no guarantee of such an outcome and it is unlikely Labour will ever again face a campaign as inept as Theresa May’s last year.

Then there are the sweeping assumptions of some of the new Corbynista adherents. Aaron Bastani of Novara Media recently savaged the British Legion and in the run-up to Remembrance Day called the Poppy ‘racist’ and ‘white supremacist’, which is to put it mildly, over the top and counter-productive, and at best, just plain attention-seeking. Owen Jones, ‘Guardian’ columnist, in the last week has railed against what he called the ‘rigged’ electoral system. His basis for this was that on current predictions if Labour won the share of vote it did in 1997 it would win an overall majority of 32, rather than 179. In this he forgot that present day Labour has ‘lost’ Scotland, and taking that into account could produce an overall majority of 102; plus there is the effect of what is a distortive electoral system and how it works in favour of the big parties.

There is a wider problem of believing your own hype and soundbites. Too many Corbynistas believe it as self-evident that the existing order is rotten and will just collapse like a house of cards if pushed. One small example in many was provided on the BBC ‘This Week’ last Thursday where the former IPPR economist Grace Blakeley talked of the broken British economic order. She was surprised when challenged by anchor Andrew Neil who asked her to provide details and costings for her policies, and who only offered as a guide the example of the Chinese Communist Party post-crash recovery programme. This is part of a bigger picture: of believing that saying socialism is possible will bring it about: an example of a sort of reverse neo-liberalism of the individual.

Add to this the deliberate tribalism which now exists in Labour and on the left. Thus, John McDonnell can say: ‘I could not be friends with a Conservative’. There is a moral superiority in this, creating barriers between a left and those who are not on the left (which is after all most of humanity), and deliberately caricaturing your enemies: the Tories.

The Corbynisation of Labour looks more than a transient phenomenon. It looks like a permanent revolution in Labour; a fundamental and irreversible shift in power and influence in the party. There are many positives to this change. It has acted as a disrupter of the way that Britain has been governed and who it is governed for, and our broken economic and political system.

We are now over three years into the Corbyn project, and in a comparison Corbynistas would dislike, at this point the Blair New Labour project had won an election, were entering office and about to govern for over a decade. Despite this the Corbyn revolution is a curiously incomplete entity with little fully developed policies, a lot of attitude and self-belief, while being heavy on the rhetoric.

On the major issues of the day: the economic and social malaise facing millions in Britain and the reality that the social compact between citizens, government and businesses is bust, Corbyn’s Labour has not much substance to offer. On Brexit, the greatest challenge to British statecraft since the 1930s, the Corbyn leadership has no strategy at all. The Corbyn project is a very English-centric project which is paradoxically silent and saying little on the state of England: that isn’t a feasible proposition for reforming 21st century Britain.

No one said radical change in a country like Britain was going to be easy. It isn’t just an establishment stitch-up that there has never been a radical Labour Government: the 1945 Attlee one going with the grain of the Wartime coalition and public opinion. Corbynistas had better wake up to what the Blairites eventually did: that winning the party is one thing, but changing the country is something entirely different.

 

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92 comments

  1. The Rev Kev

    Not sure that this is relevant in trying to understand what is happening with Labour in the UK but one scenario did occur to me. Suppose that Bernie Sanders managed to get himself selected as Chairperson of the Democrats and gave Tom Perez the boot (No, no, no – this is just a scenario!). Now, like Corbyn in the UK, he would have tremendous support on the part of millions of ordinary people. However (you could see this coming), consider the fact that a major part of the Democrats are Clintonites and saw this as a threat to their rice bowls – both present and future. They would be constantly trying to trip up Sanders and Sanders would have to be wary about anything that he did and any policy that he announced. The media would be solidly on the side of the Clintonites and be doing their part to wreck him and put the Clintonites back in charge. I do not know how good an analogue this would be to what the situation is with Corbyn and his lack of initiative but I reckon that it would not be too far off the mark. UK commentators, however, may disagree.

    Reply
    1. larry

      Rev, you are right but possibly for the wrong reason. The Blairites object to Corbyn, not because he would interfere with their rice bowl access, but because they think he would take the party back to ’70s socialism, which Blairism utterly rejects. Blairism as seemingly practiced by some of its members appears to have neoliberalism lite in its DNA. They are wedded to it. Corbyn seems to be almost, but not quite, as inflexible as May when it comes to changing his mind. Principles he has held for 50 or more years do not seem to be adaptable to changing circumstances. And by this, I do not mean jettisoning them.

      Reply
      1. Mattski

        Neoliberalism lite? Blair and Brother Bill Clinton were the chief architects, much better exponents of neoliberalism than their C/conservative predecessors. (Continentals may want to add the likes of Felipe Gonzalez to this equation.) Savage Thatcher and Reagan conservatism only prepared the ground.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Came across a foto this week that had Tony Blair and Bill Clinton sitting on some chairs and they were both holding hands. It was creepy as hell.

          Reply
  2. Ataraxite

    A couple of thoughts.

    1. The intellectual vacuum at the centre of the Labour party is much like the one at the center of most contemporary left wing thought since the various strands of Marxism as actually practised turned out to be rather less than optimistic. And since then, there have been no major philosophical alternatives to capitalism, and in particularly the neo-liberal variants of it that dominate the world. A few people, like Labour, are toying with a revival of social democracy as practised in post-war Europe – while this is probably an improvement for many people, there are questions about how possible it is in a world of finance, markets and cross-border capital flows. Beyond that, other people have made intellectual attempts – Michael Albert’s Parecon comes to mind – but there is nothing yet that seems convincing, or has attracted widespread support.

    2. It is entirely possible, that outside the London bubble, parts of the UK are now so decrepit and awful that the people who live there simply no longer believe improvement is even possible, having heard promises for decades now about how things will improve, and seeing how they only got worse. What happens when a country no longer believes the future is possible?

    3. There is still something deeply weird about the whole Corbynism phenomenon. The Little England socialism, the bizarre support for Brexit, the xenophobia. A left that isn’t internationalist, doesn’t speak for Freedom of Movement, and is inward-looking. It strikes me as a dead end.

    Reply
    1. citizen plain

      This is a really interesting analysis, no doubt way beyond most Corbynistas, but it deserves serious thought and discussion.
      The fundamental problem in converting disaffected potential voters (of other parties) to turn out for labour is showing Corbynite policies that have actually worked in practice or can stand up to some rigorous examination.
      While labour still voices unequivocal support for the likes of Chavez/Maduro in Venezuela it’s always going to be tough.
      Labour should do what works economically not try and implement untried doctrinaire policies.

      Reply
    2. Bob_Dole

      Wasn’t the Labour (Bennite) Left always against the EU in principal? Citing the competition for jobs that would increase employment and lower worker wages?

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    3. johnnygl

      “A left that isn’t internationalist, doesn’t speak for Freedom of Movement”

      Freedom of movement is an inherently neo-liberal project. I want a left that fights for my freedom to stay in place and for me to have some democratic control over my community. I don’t want to be told that the solution to unemployment is to move to where the jobs are. I want the jobs to come to me with a job guarantee.

      Reply
      1. BillC

        Agree with johnnygl 100%! Ataraxite’s point 1 is key: “how possible [change] is in a world of finance, markets and cross-border capital flows.” It’s not. Nothing will change until a real left emerges clearly enunciates why real freedom (i.e. a life enabled by secure and stable shelter, nutrition, health, work, and social connection) is utterly incompatible with border-free movement of capital, goods, and people. That’s why “freedom” in both the US and the EU are doomed unless and until these principles are reestablished at least as well as they were 50 years ago.

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      2. Carey

        I have been interested in the Diem25 movement until I read this recent Yanis Vaoufakis quote (I think it was in a New Statesman interview, linked here):

        He [Varoufakis] added: “It’s important to keep freedom of movement, we’re internationalists and we do not want to see borders. The idea that foreigners are a problem is a toxic idea and it’s completely wrong. I reject wholeheartedly the argument that no borders serves the interest of capital because migrants compete with the local working class. This is a pathetic argument, it’s wrong, that never happens. Migrants create jobs – in aggregate – they do not take jobs away.”

        Too bad; they seem to have a lot of good ideas otherwise, but this is a deal-breaker
        to me. I think he is in this case both disingenuous and wrong, given what I see in
        my state, California, where the trades, in particular, have been overrun and wages have gone through the floor because of illegal immigration.
        Call me a xenophobe, I don’t care.

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          The same depression of wages in the trades has happened in the Deep South. I suspect that it will be found in all areas of America now. Mexican migrant workers in the timberlands of New England is already a thing.
          I haven’t read anywhere that Marx and Engels wrote; “Financiers of the world, unite!” Yet that is what is happening under neo-liberalism.
          Humans are not a hive mind species.

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        2. Mattski

          It’s not necessarily xenophobia; with the oncoming breakdown 100s of thousands of immigrants at the world’s borders will mean large-scale bloodshed, murder, and starvation. We already KNOW how immigrants are treated–very, very poorly. To welcome them into a planned economy in a world where you are already taking care of your own poor and middle classes would be one thing; to just blindly invite them as (purportedly) progressive policy matter is irresponsible and naive. Given that the U.S. already has 100s of thousands of people in permanent detention in for-profit immigration prisons that are rife with the worst kinds of abuse, pretending that opening the doors amounts to enlightened policy is a joke.

          Reply
          1. Ray Vinmad

            What is your principled reason for rejecting asylum seekers?

            What is your justification for the hoarding of wealth in former imperialist societies?

            Reply
            1. Yves Smith Post author

              He already gave them. I suggest you read our site Policies before commenting again. Your tone is out of line.

              The US was a rich country at its inception. We didn’t get rich by looting. We rebuilt Europe after WWII, which worked to our disadvantage in trade as the Germans had better infrastructure and new factories. It’s part of the reason for our initial decline in manufacturing. Our military adventuring has dissipated our general wealth to the benefit of a few And imperialism didn’t work out well for the UK. It’s now the poorest country in Northern Europe, with the worst housing stock.

              Reply
            2. Mattski

              Thanks, Yves. My answers to your two questions, Ray:

              1. I would not reject them. I want to bring in immigrants as part of comprehensive policy, not into an unplanned economy where we are already failing to take care of our own. Health care (for ALL, including immigrants), a real living wage, affordable housing must be concomitants of any long-term policy, as I think Sanders sees. Welcoming immigrants in vague kumbaya fashion and then forgetting about them, as we have done (as Obama jailed them in record numbers), as we continue to profit from their labors and their misery, is hypocritical and worse. In a series of articles I just completed for the Jamaica Gleaner’s North American edition I argue that any large-scale program by the wealthy countries should involve agriculture and a remaking of the rural sector so that we don’t all starve to death.

              2. Why in God’s name do you think I’m justifying that? :)

              All best

              Reply
  3. makedoanmend

    I agree with the conclusion of the article, but the premises and arguments are often fallacious, spurious and shallow.

    As PK has been wont to point out on occasion, Corbyn has been less than stellar in performance and often is wrong footed on the only issue that matters in UK politics, i.e. the UK’s exit from the European Union. As pointed out in another article on NC, Corbyn’s instincts are against the EU project as currently constituted, but I will surmise he is also opposed to any sort of integrationist policy, full stop. Such an attitude was probably informed by socialist thought and reactions dating back to the 1970s – such thought that was native to some in Western Europe and only faintly informed by any communist regimes at the time.

    I don’t have the time to parse the whole thing but “tells”, such as using the term Corbynistas (as if Corbyn and his party adherents are some badly formed tinpot South American plot); the overly simplistic and constant use of Marxist reference with the inference that all such though is inherently wrong; and the bald faced statements that the Labour Party doesn’t have an economic policy or goals. They do. Visit their site for a plethora of fleshed-out party policies:

    https://labour.org.uk/issue/economy/

    The desire to suggest that the members of the Labour Party are practising a deplorable analysis of society is risible. This is a common tactic with which the Liberal Guardian newspaper uses to beat the UK Labour Party – that is when they are not claiming Corbyn and the UK Labour party are anti-semitic.

    I get the distinct impression that the writer leans towards a “centrist”, i,e. Blairist, solution for the UK. What we have is an ode to the good old days of New Labour combined with an attempt to shift the cluster shock that is Brexit from its proper authors and propronents. For so many of the soft-Tories that constituted the New Labour project, hurting Corbyn is more important than the actual fall-out from the course the UK is currently pursuing (right or wrong). It seems to me to be nothing more than another form of cakeism – albeit from a different angle and faction of the UK political landscape.

    Reply
    1. worldblee

      Like you, I thought the term “Corbynista” was an attempt to belittle Corbyn supporters rather than simply analyze the situation. It’s as if he’s questioning, how dare one man inside a very corrupt Labour party be unable to accomplish miracles?

      Reply
      1. Mattski

        All for it, but please point me to the signs that Corbyn is going beyond party confines to articulate a vision or way out for GB, or–heaven forbid–creating the movement that would need to adopt that vision and go to bat, en masse, for it? It’s as if our politics, both sides of the great water, has become so impoverished and deracinated that it omits the necessary critical steps to actual social change: shoe leather, consensus, a shared understanding and vision. “No saviors from on high.”

        Reply
      2. Spring Texan

        Yeah, this disappointed me in its tone. Corbyn does have defects but he’s trying and some column on that could be enlightening but I didn’t think this one was fair overall. He’s pretty resilient and he’s attacked at every turn. “Corbynistas” is kinda like “Bernie-Bros”.

        Would like some references on John McDonnell supporting tax cuts etc. That may be right but I want chapter and verse.

        I liked the comment that said “start with capital controls.”

        Reply
  4. Clive

    It’s broadly accepted that we need more maturity in politics and public debate on the issues of the day.

    And when you initially skim through articles like this one, their depth and coverages seem to provide it.

    But underlying the author’s statements is a single — rather crude and reductionist — thread. Which is: I don’t like Leave. Labour didn’t oppose Leave (or if it did, it didn’t do it enough). So now I don’t like Labour.

    Now, that is certainly an argument. And I can never say it isn’t a coherent one or even one which some sections of the electorate might agree with. But adding to or helping to improve the maturity of UK politics? No. It pretends that the referendum — which received overwhelming parliamentary approval https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Union_Referendum_Act_2015 — never happened and the result for Leave didn’t happen either. The author now wants a pony (to Remain) and expects Labour to give it to him and then berates Labour for not being able to find one when it says, truthfully, “we ain’t got no ponies”.

    Reply
    1. dla

      Exactly. The article is itself an example of the lack of depth it apparently criticizes: the only “arguments” the article advances are anecdotal. As if a couple of bad media performances by Corbyn-supporters supports the conclusion that the whole Corbyn movement is intellectually dead and politically ineffective (never mind that we might as well have singled out any number of more effective media interventions by Grace Blakely and others). This kind of argument is disingenuous and damaging to the left.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The problem is, from what I read on openDemocracy, a lot of people there share similar views, as in they are pretty ideological Marxists and put Corbyn up to that measure. Not that they make this specific critique, but this article is consistent with that general line of thinking. I have taken openDemocracy to represent somewhat to hard core academic leftists in the UK. Am I giving it too much credit?

        Reply
        1. Clive

          Hopefully others will pipe up too, because in the current circumstances, all (and I say that with pretty firm conviction) our political instincts here in the UK are subject to distortion and inaccuracy. It’s like we’ve still got our compasses, but there’s been a flip in the earth’s magnetic field and now they’re just hopelessly swinging around wildly, looking for something to give a true sense of direction, but there’s none to be had.

          But here goes my take:

          Until Brexit and its fallout recedes — if it ever does — any and all historic assumptions have been invalidated. I’ve just been watching a televised debate on BBC (it was in NI). Almost overnight, about a hundred years of political bedfellow’ing and previously rock-solid allegiances were torn up. It’s as if the political Rosetta stone was smashed into pieces and now we’re having to interpret the meaning of the entire political language with nothing to go on. For example, nationalists were siding with the Conservative party and backing May’s Deal. Unionists were joining forces (the moderate UUP and the batshit crazy DUP) — which was remarkable in itself — but then just for comedy value they both decided to side with Labour. “Business” backed the Conservatives, but only the sort-a left leaning Conservative element, not the “pro-business” slash ‘n burn types who espouse “cutting red tape and slashing business taxes” because these are the Ultras and a Ultra-style No Deal Brexit is “bad for business”. To try to put this into a US context, this is like Hillary running for the GOP in 2020, but with Saunders as a running mate. Opposed by Betsy DeVos running as the Democratic candidate with Ivanka Trump as candidate for the VP slot. Seriously, I’m not kidding.

          One last analogy (there’s no more after this, I promise). Did you ever do one of those experiments at school science fair with polarising lenses? Brexit has had the same effect on the entire UK political spectrum. So when you read material from anyone in the UK commenting on politics, you have to try to strip out the effects of them wearing their Brexit polarising lens (because they’ll inevitably be Remain or Leave — there’s no-one neutral about this subject).

          Most academic lefties in the UK will be Remain. So when the light from the current political scene in the UK gets reflected off of Brexit, their Brexit polarising lenses block any illumination which might have come from Leave-inspired sources. It just gets stopped in its tracks — they can’t allow it through their Brexit (Remain) perception filtering apparatus. This is what Gerry Hassan was a victim of in his writing — he thinks Leave is a huge mistake, he thinks Labour should have Done Something About It but hasn’t and now everything to do with Labour is tinted in a (to him) damaging shade of being “an agency which didn’t deliver Remain”.

          No-one in the UK is now considerable as a safe source of political (or even economic) comment. The rest of the world should quarantine anything that is written here by people who had a vote in the Brexit referendum. We’re all too infected with our trenchant little opinions. It colours everything we think and everything we say. I’d posit that, for those of us in the UK, we’ve now got sufficient exposure and are sufficiently attuned to it so as to be able to say — fairly automatically and quickly — “ahh, that’s written by a Remain’er (or a Leave’er), so I’ve got to process this as (insert as appropriate: either a fellow Remain’er or opposing-view Leave’er).

          I’m not entirely sure what those outside the UK are really to do in the face of this phenomena. I suppose it’s necessary to have a quick mental checklist to put into your minds when reading any UK-sourced material:

          1) A Reamin’er-written piece with a good fact-set and logical arguments — which can be read and broadly accepted but still making allowances for the Remain bias

          2) A Leaver’er-written piece with a good fact-set and logical arguments — which can be read and broadly accepted but still making allowances for the Leave bias

          3) A Reamin’er-written piece that is talking bollocks — which can be safely ignored because the author is stupid, be they Remain-minded or Leave-minded

          4) A Leave’er-written piece that is talking bollocks — which can be safely ignored because the author is stupid, be they Leave-minded or Remain-minded

          I’d say our friend Gerry was a 3), but, if I’m in a charitable mood, he might have been a 2) (although perhaps still having a bit of a bad day).

          Reply
          1. Christopher Dale Rogers

            Clive,

            I trust Brexit has not blurred my own ability to read the tea leaves or undertaken a clear analysis of what’s occurring politically in the UK – I’m Lexit and remain Lexit, I don’t support a ‘People’s Vote’ based on the fact we’ve had two already, 2016 & 2017, many of my peer Group are Remain and of this group the majority support upholding the 2016 result, i.e., we believe in upholding democracy however flawed its outcomes, we do so because we are also trying to democratise the Labour Movement, this being a bigger task than just democratising the Labour Party itself.

            Most of us support Corbyn and, and this despite what ever vote we cast in 2016, if JC and McDonnell say we remain, we Remain, if they say we Brexit, then we Brexit – the membership being onboard the project whilst the PLP and much of the party machinery are certainly not onboard the project.

            In a nutshell, in my eyes its neoliberalism that’s being challenged, be this the rise of Corbyn or the Brexit vote. Further, the Brexit vote also means our Elites must finally come to terms with the End-of-Empire and notions of the UK as a global Great Power – we are a medium-sized European nation that needs to pay attention inwards for a while and stops following the US in ill thought out overseas adventures.

            As such, I welcome this state of flux we are in and the new realities that will result once the dust settles – I’m hoping for a nation that exhibits decency and cares for everyone, which are not hallmarks of neoliberalism and neoconservative foreign policies.

            Reply
            1. shtove

              I’m hoping for a nation that exhibits decency and cares for everyone

              For all the earnest online discussions and the polls, this is where I think attention should be paid. It’s so difficult to engage English people in Brexit chat, no matter how free you suspect they may be when at the keyboard or over the breakfast table when they snap their copy of the Daily Mail to attention.

              Face to face, they are decent and loving. I live in a true-blue naval town on the south coast, with plaques all over the place about continental wars going back centuries. Women with expensive tatoos wave at me in the street: “Allo, babe!”

              A couple of weeks ago I met an ordinary bloke, asked if he was a guitarist – big cocaine-scooping fingernails – and he said, Yeah – classical guitar, love flamenco. But in the same conversation, he said, “Bloody foreigners!” with an expectation I wouldn’t disagree.

              Did I disagree? Dunno. I am the Brexit secret weapon – Irish accent, born in Britain (not Ireland), spent my life divided between both islands, laughing at the monarchy yet resentful of Cromwell’s brilliance, and hoping the mixed economy of Irish rugby is the future of England.

              I’m sure English people will guide this home safely. But I’m not sure they’ll get their say.

              Reply
          2. Tim Smyth

            As a non Brit one question of mine is whether left leavers tend to have a position on freedom of movement WITHIN the UK(including Northern Ireland and Scotland) and second does the left leave have a general position on freedom of movement between the UK(including NI) and the Republic of Ireland.

            Just from my own observations it appears that those within Labour that oppose FoM tend to be from the Blair/Brown wing who represent leave voting seats in the North of England not Corbyn supporters or those who oppose FoM on more left leaning ideological grounds. The reason I ask is unlike the US or Canada who have Constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of movement between states and provinces it appears to me that their is nothing preventing the UK parliament from imposing internal movement controls or residence permits ala Russia or China to control labour mobility within the UK.

            Reply
            1. Christopher Dale Rogers

              Tim,

              I think we have evidence in certain regions of the UK where EU migration from former Eastern Block nations had an impact on wages, and certainly any increase in a population, without adequate increases in services, has a negative impact.

              As for my own opinion, South Wales is basically composed of immigrants, be they from the UK or further afield, we are all Welsh and proud of this fact, so, I’m not opposed to FOM as long as stringent employment controls are in place stopping employers exploiting the workforce wherever they be from – that said, I’m fully opposed to neoliberalism, which actually has depressed wages and services, so, I’d rather overturn neoliberalism than blame immigrants for the socioeconomic mess of much of the UK, a mess that can give rise to a not very nice nationalism, which I oppose period.

              Reply
              1. Tim Smyth

                I guess I was thinking along the lines is their anyone in the UK that supports preventing people in Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland from moving to London or the Southeast.

                My impression is the whole system of FoM in regards to the UK is very unregulated and loosy goosy compared to just about every other EEA country. No national ID cards in the UK for example unlike even the Republic of Ireland.

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                1. Christopher Dale Rogers

                  Tim,

                  The UK is both rather small as far as land masses go and somewhat congested with a population of nearly 67 million, most living in urban areas – so suggesting any form of restriction on FOM would results in riots, if not civil war.

                  I suggest you look at the demographics of Wales, where under 70% of the population is actually born in Wales, the largest immigrant group is the English, followed by Irish & Scots, as such, I’m afraid such an idea would not fly, although some extreme nationalists may be keen on the idea, the early Welsh Nationalists certainly were as they detested South Wales and the valley communities, hence Welsh nationalism is all about inclusiveness regardless where you were born or where your parents were born.

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                2. shtove

                  One parliament can’t bind the next. That’s the essential constitutional limit, and so freedom of movement between Britain and Ireland could be eliminated at the stroke of a pen.

                  In practice, a lot of people who have benefited by that freedom are Irish immigrants who worship Thatcher and co-ordinated their votes by going UKIP in local elections and Conservative in the nationals – those parties would vanish in a puff of brimstone if they even contemplated the idea. (Actually, UKIP has already managed that trick by welcoming criminals to its ranks.)

                  Reply
          3. H. Alexander Ivey

            Clive, I, as an American from the Deep South of the 1950s, would give the analogy that Brexit is like the run-up to the American Civil War (aka The War Between The States). The South, in the 1840s and ’50s held most of the political power and much monetary (currency) power, yet the South elites insisted on yet more of both. The North compromised until it felt that its existence as a economic and political entity was at stake, then it said, “Lets talk.” The South said “No.” instead of negotiating and went to war.

            My point is that your point about Brexit discussions from the UK being from either the Remain or the Leave camp sounds to me like the pre-Civil War discussions between the North and the South.

            Reply
          4. Dave

            This is a new example of an ancient problem: There are certain subjects about which Brits are incapable of talking sense. Ireland, for example. No one should be surprised that the Brexiteers did not think about Ireland for one second.

            Don’t get me wrong: This is a near-universal problem. Over here in the colonies, there are a great many things about which no one can talk sensibly.

            I recommend that you just accept the fact that an awful lot of rubbish will be written in the next few months.

            Reply
  5. o993923

    It may be just me, but the whole article strikes me as a loose conjunction of ad hominems and anecdotal evidence. Even if there may be some truth to the author’s conclusion, the article provides no resources for a serious evaluation of the issues. I expect better from naked capitalism.

    Reply
    1. Mattski

      All for it, but please point me to the signs that Corbyn is going beyond party confines to articulate a vision or way out for GB, or–heaven forbid–creating the movement that would need to adopt that vision and go to bat, en masse, for it? It’s as if our politics, both sides of the great water, omits the necessary critical steps to actual social change: shoe leather, consensus, a shared understanding and vision. “No saviors from on high.”

      The piece does not amount to much, but in arguing that Labour has not seized the moment I find it hard to argue with.

      Reply
  6. Alex Cox

    The initial problem Corbyn faces is that, although he is hugely popular with the party membership, the majority of Labour MPs are Blairites, who constantly undercut him and await the return of a neoliberal leader along Blair/Brown/Mandelson lines.

    I’m from Merseyside and all the local Labour MPs are Blair fans, while the electorate itself is far to the left of them. Blair famously parachuted a Tory turncoat, Shaun Woodward, into the “safe” seat of Huyton, to the distress of the local party. The only way for Corbyn to address this serious problem is to have each local constituency vote to reselect or deselect their member of parliament. A local constituency vote would swiftly get rid of some dreadful anti-Corbyn politicians – Louise Ellman, the Eagles, et al – and replace them with genuine Socialists.

    This would enrage the media – the BBC, the Guardian, and all the Tory press – who would redouble their efforts to brand Labour as anti-semitic, Putin-Nazi spies, etc. But unless the party does this, it will remain a crippled entity, working against the aspirations of the membership.

    Regarding Brexit, it isn’t true that all Labour supporters love the EU. Most of the support for Brexit came from the poorer northern constituencies, which (unlike London) have not done well from the European project. Labour needs these voters; Corbyn’s ambiguity about Brexit reflects this difficult reality.

    A more serious problem, long term, is that Corbyn, like Bernie Sanders, is afraid to confront the military-industrial complex. Hence more ambiguity: he is both a former deputy head of CND – the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – and a supporter of Trident and nuclear power.

    Any voter who worries about imminent nuclear war with Russia and China should abandon Labour and the Democrats, and vote Green. Their candidate probably won’t win, but one can’t avoid Armagideon Time by electing those who seek to bring it on.

    Reply
    1. cyclist

      As an American who lived in Liverpool for a few years I appreciate your comment. Not knowing precisely the details UK parliamentary selection process prior to my arrival, I was shocked to see how people with no true connection to the region or electorate were parachuted into ‘safe’ seats. But I think Liverpool (and other places like Manchester…) is a fairly cosmopolitan city and did better from the EU project than some other places in the north, so did not support Leave.

      Reply
  7. lupemax

    I’m not optimistic. I recommend watching A Very British Coup – the one with Ray McAnally in the late 1980s. It starts with such hope and then pfft. the deep state or the military get you in the end. Seems a likely scenario for what’s coming. I haven’t seen the 2012 version.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Very_British_Coup_(miniseries)

    The Book upon which it is based is even more downbeat. Seems labour in the UK is like the dems here in the US – they don’t mind being on the outside with all the comforts, and in the US with the massive bribes, and ignore that they are supposed to represent the people.

    Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. —John F. Kennedy

    Reply
  8. Bob_Dole

    “Add to this the deliberate tribalism which now exists in Labour and on the left. Thus, John McDonnell can say: ‘I could not be friends with a Conservative’. There is a moral superiority in this, creating barriers between a left and those who are not on the left (which is after all most of humanity), and deliberately caricaturing your enemies: the Tories.”

    Hmm, again his statement was overblown. He said he would be perfectly civil and would talk to those in the Conservative party but he wouldn’t want to go to dinner party with them. I understand that it’s not that helpful but those on the right who demonise this Corbyn-led project would ‘never’ vote for Labour under them anyway. The amount of racist vitriol spewed at Diane Abbot, the remarks about Corbyn being a terrorist sympathiser are plain to see. Would anyone here be ‘friends’ with a neo-nazi?

    Reply
  9. Newton Finn

    Perhaps the tepid stance of much of the left, both in the UK and in the US, can be explained by the inability or unwillingness of liberals to fully embrace the incredible scope of governmental agency revealed by MMT. When will leftwing politicians start talking about what this professor is talking about, but with simple and direct words that the average citizen can understand?

    https://arcade.stanford.edu/content/unheard-center-critique-after-modern-monetary-theory

    Reply
    1. Ataraxite

      I would like to think that I am not dumb, but I struggled to understand a lot of what was written in the article you posted. It reads like a lot of Marxist theorists – baroque language tending towards the obscurantist(“Thus critique after MMT assumes a singular aim, which is to make money’s answerability perceptible”), the use of new words (“paracentric”, “futurity”), and a lot of flat-out non-sequiturs, viz:

      “If such a program [A Job Guarantee] were implemented by a global hegemon such as the United States, moreover, threats of mass emigration and economic collapse elsewhere would impel other governments to follow suit.”

      I don’t see how this is true, unless by creating a Job Guarantee as envisaged by the author, the United States also simply opens its borders to all comers. I need also not point out that even in areas where there is free movement – such as the much discussed European Union – the number of people who actually do move is still a small percentage of the population.

      I would like to learn more about MMT, but articles such as that don’t help. It’s as though the author is far more concerned with demonstrating his own cleverness than actually communicating something.

      Reply
      1. James Cole

        I agree that is a horrible introduction to MMT. I think it was Newton Finn’s point to hold that up as an example of terrrible writing on the subject.
        Try this and the additional resources listed:

        https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2018/10/143850.html

        There is also a textbook-scale primer at
        http://neweconomicperspectives.org/modern-monetary-theory-primer.html

        Based on my anecdotal experience in explaining MMT to my economically ignorant but politically active Clintonite-ish friends, the main obstacle is overcoming the kneejerk “oh so you want to print and spend dollars? that leads to inflation, doesn’t it?” My response is, to put it another way, yes, inflation is a constraint, but it is the *only* constraint on what a sovereign can do with fiat currency, and managing the MMT project within this constraint is not in principle any more difficult than what the Fed and economists in general try to do now, with *cough* mixed results at best. (I could use some help developing snappier talking points).

        Reply
        1. Ataraxite

          Since writing my above comment, I’ve done a little bit of reading, and the same obstacle occurred to me – if there is no limit on the state creating money, then how do you avoid (hyper-)inflation?

          And I think that leads to a very practical line of argument: asking people to consider how money is, in fact, created. When you receive your salary from your employer, they didn’t create that money, and when you spend your money at the shop, you didn’t create that money either. Yet the money is there, so it must have been created. Where did it come from?

          A lot of people haven’t considered this, but when you look into it, money is created today by fractional reserve banks giving out loans, and also central banks creating money through things like QE and TARP. The second part is controversial (particularly in these days of negative bond rates and real estate bubbles), but for the first, banks have been literally creating money for years, without any ill effect in most major economies.

          And this then leads pretty rapidly to the next conclusion: if banks can safely create money, then why not governments?

          I’m happy to have the errors in my thoughts pointed out to me, but it seems like a line of argument for MMT that makes sense to me.

          Reply
          1. Synoia

            if there is no limit on the state creating money, then how do you avoid (hyper-)inflation?

            This theory was hatched in the US, which is the ONLY empires currently on the planet which can settle trade deficits with its own money.

            MMT does NOT address non sovereign denominated trade deficits.

            Reply
            1. Yves Smith Post author

              This is a misrepresentation. MMT describes how any fiat currency works. Small open economies face more constraints in using MMT than the US does, but the validity of MMT has nothing to do with the currency of choice for invoicing trade. MMT practitioners and former foreign currency trader Warren Mosler similarly points out that the fact that oil is priced in dollars does not require counterparties to settle it in dollars.

              Reply
              1. RMO

                Ataraxite: Inflation (and the limits of the real productive resources of a nation) IS the constraint to spending of sovereign fiat currency by a government as I understand MMT. It exists but the salient point is that in the U.S., Canada and Europe we are nowhere close to coming up against that limit. The carefree way the government produced funding in the trillions for terribly destructive wars and the rich rewards given to Wall Street for imploding the global economy demonstrates that quite well. It also demonstrates my contention that no matter a pundit, policymaker or politicians avowed economic ideology they all act in a manner in accordance with MMT when it comes to spending on something they want.

                Reply
                1. flora

                  … but the salient point is that in the U.S., Canada, and Europe we are nowhere close to coming up against that limit.

                  Ah, but the U.S. bond markets insist that we are near passing that limit (true or not), and therefore govt spending into the real economy to address real harms must be curtailed lest interest rates on Treasury bills – the benchmark for private bond borrowings – rise and cause losses in the bond market. Meanwhile, it’s fine to spend on useless wars , as long as spending on domestic needs is cut to prevent what the bond market and bond traders regard as unsupportable govt deficits, which might drive up interest rates on Treasury bill and bonds causing the bond markets to suffer losses.

                  Reply
                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    No, the Fed is saying that.

                    Interest rates are still super low by historical standards and the 10-year Treasury yield is still below the inflation rate.

                    Labor force participation among prime-aged males is also low by historical standards. The fact that some workers are finally getting wage increases isn’t even remotely offset against how the other job conditions have deteriorated: worsening medical insurance (for those in jobs that offer it)/higher co-pays; more employee monitoring and performance demands; more part-time workers expected to be on-call; and of course, gig employment. You’d see very little of the latter in an economy with strong employment.

                    The Fed is concerned about asset prices. It’s just making up what Erin Brockovich would call lame-assed excuses re the real economy.

                    Reply
              2. Synoia

                No misrepresentation at all. MMT does not speak to the practical realities of not using the “sovereigns” money to settle trade imbalances.

                Once that die is cast, the US, and those with trade surpluses, emerge as ones who can exercise MMT.

                The ones with trade deficits must settle in dollars, and are thus become controlled by the ratio of their currency to dollars, and the mechanisms, IMF, World Bank, of passing dollars, and economic commands, to those trade debtor nations.

                The works lacks the mechanism to balance surpluses and deficits as the EU, and the trade deficit countries become the vassels of the dollar hegemony.

                It may be in other thinking around MMT, but there is no discussion I’ve read, about trade imbalances and their effect on sovereignty and the ability of a country to implement MMT.

                Reply
          2. James Cole

            But there is no limit on the state creating money–that’s why no one asks how we’re going to pay for the next war or bank bailout. They (who is “they”) only ask how to pay when it comes to social programs–this phenomenon is a political issue about economics, but it is not an economic issue, because descriptive MMT is correct and no serious school of economics disputes the facts that MMT highlights (not sure about this –prove me wrong!). So the question “how do you avoid [hyper-]inflation” is not specific to MMT, it is part of what Treasury and the Fed are doing right now.
            Money is created by the Fed and by banks. I would not say that the fact that banks can create money is “safe” or without ill effect. The concept of “financialization” refers to bank lending into an asset class, with the connotation that financialization is bad being that the money creation power as deployed by bank lending activities tends to drive up prices in an asset class with debt, creating price bubbles that collapse when there is a downtick (perhaps caused by a change of heart by credit officers at banks themselves) and asset owners default on debt payments, banks foreclose, asset prices collapse and you have a recession or depression. In other words, bank money creation leads to bubbles and crashes.
            I think your last point is spot-on: governments might do a better job (in terms of helping actual people with actual problems) with money creation than banks have done.

            Reply
          3. Grebo

            The government avoids inflation by reducing spending and/or raising taxes as productive capacity is approached.

            MMT does not advocate a drunken sailor approach to government spending.

            For hyperinflation you need large foreign debts and a collapse of productive capacity, not just too much money creation.

            Fractional reserve is a misnomer. Banks individually create credit (money) unfettered by reserve requirements as the central bank will always make good any reserve shortfall so as to preserve the payments system.

            As James says, the banks’ credit creation is the source of the booms and busts because, unlike government money, bank money must be repaid.

            Reply
          4. Adam Eran

            The inflation possibilities are overblown. They are a red herring.

            For the complete picture, I’ve found this.

            Excerpt: The final objection: “B..but if you just print money, you’ll get [gasp!] hyper-]inflation!” Theoretically, that’s possible, but in reality, it’s just hypothetical. Theoretically, government, with its unlimited access to dollars, could bid up prices, competing with the private sector for finite goods and services, and it could always win the bid. That’s one reason plutocrats fear effective government. Their money can’t protect them from government action.

            Could the Treasury issue a few trillion-dollar coins and deposit them in the Federal Reserve to balance that National “debt”? Answer: Yes, and legally, too. Where’s the bidding war, though? No inflation would result from trillion-dollar coin deposits.

            Could the government offer a Job Guarantee, employing all the unemployed. Government buys surplus cheese, why not surplus labor? Would that cause inflation? Who else is bidding for the unemployed? Answer: no one. So no bidding or inflation for a Job Guarantee, either.

            Historically, the inflation-producing bidding war never happens. The Koch-funded Cato institute’s study of 56 hyperinflations throughout history discovered that none of them originated with the central bank printing too much money. The hyperinflationary episodes typically began with a shortage–like the oil shortage that produced 1970’s U.S. inflation–and a balance of payments problem magnifies the problem.

            Wiemar Germany first lost their industrial heartland (the Ruhr) to French occupation, and then experienced a shortage of goods. World War I reparations added to their international balance of payments problems, and these led to hyperinflation. Zimbabwe witnessed the exodus of their colonial, Rhodesian farmers, and was unable to continue producing enough food to feed itself. The shortage of food, and the need to import it was what started the hyperinflation, not the Zimbabwe central bank’s printing press.

            As a counter-example, according to its own audit, the Federal Reserve extended $16 – $29 trillion in credit to the financial sector to cure the frauds brought to light in 2007-8. If just issuing money caused inflation there would be an enormous surge in that time frame, but no such surge appears in the Consumer Price Index (government), or MIT’s Billion Price Index (semi-private), or even in Shadowstats (private) inflation index. These trillions retired financial obligations rather than bidding for goods or services.

            Reply
        2. eg

          The inflation canard is deeply disingenuous. Unfortunately a shibboleth this deeply ingrained is incredibly difficult to dispel.

          But you might start with the immense sums that were piled onto state balance sheets in response to the Great Financial Crisis — why wasn’t all that “money printing” inflationary?

          Reply
          1. Watt4Bob

            — why wasn’t all that “money printing” inflationary?

            To a certain extent, it was.

            Between QE, and ZIRP, stock buy-backs and gaming commodities, there has been significant inflation, though it’s been bouncing from place to place.

            Housing and food prices are rising, but no one is complaining about inflation because they still think their house being worth more ‘on the market‘ is a good thing.

            As for our problems digesting the ‘meaning‘ or more properly the implications of Trump, and Brexit, I’d say that they are the sort of problems that will prompt the masses to put in the sort of effort to understand our economic system that they previously couldn’t be bothered to exert because “Who cares, we’re doing ok, and it doesn’t matter anyway…”

            NC’s commentariat may have come to understand MMT by way of analysis of the 2008 collapse, but the masses are being driven this way by the misery.

            Here’s hoping that on some great day in the not too distant future, we all end up on the same page.

            Reply
              1. Watt4Bob

                I’m sorry, but I don’t understand how home prices recently nearing 2007 prices isn’t inflation?

                It seems I’m always hearing about rent moving ever upward?

                Stock prices are inflated aren’t they?

                In the last year the price of a McDonald’s Sausage Biscuit with e.g. went from $3.42 to $3.85 that’s almost 10%?

                Of course all this could just be the push and shove of living check to check?

                I’m not pushing an inflation panic, I’m just saying that here and there, the pressure is made visible.

                Reply
                1. flora

                  As a banker friend explained: People don’t buy a house, they buy a loan.

                  When interest rates go up the mortgage loan (borrowed) amount costs more in monthly payments. When interest rates go down the mortgage loan (for same amount) goes down in monthly payment.

                  If people are buying a loan they are really buying a monthly payment price. As interest rates go up, the price of the same house must come down to equal the same mortgage monthly payment rate .

                  Reply
                  1. Watt4Bob

                    Yes, I understand that part of the equation.

                    But in the past ten years, our house has appraised for as little as $140k, and today it would appraise at $240K.

                    It’s hard not to think that spread is too ‘wild’.

                    And renters are swimming in that same broth, is rent not inflating?

                    I’m not pushing here, I really don’t get it, where is the point that these changes are inflationary?

                    Reply
              2. Lynne

                I don’t understand. The link reports that food prices have risen every month for the last 18 months. How does that not support the claim that food prices are rising?

                Reply
              3. chris

                I would say that the way inflation is calculated, using hedonics, chain weighting, etc., makes it hard to compare inflation. I see my grocery bill rising significantly for the same items, yet am told there is no inflation. Similar things occur with calculations of unemployment. Are these calculation changes significant?

                Reply
  10. David

    I don’t know whether the author has any personal recollection of the short period for which the Bennite Left was dominant in the Labour Party, but for the record that was the worst period of crisis in the party’s history, and led to a split which nearly destroyed it. Benn didn’t perhaps deserve all the opprobrium he had to suffer, but at a minimum he was living in a dream-world of his own devising.
    There are several questionable assumptions here. First, the “zeitgeist” (help me) of the age. Contrary to subsequent propaganda, there was no major change in the opinions of the British electorate in 1979 and after. Indeed, public opinion moved slightly to the Left in the 1980s. The 1979 election result was not foreordained, and could have produced a much smaller majority of even another Labour victory. Many flagship Tory policies (notably privatisation) were dreamt up on the hoof as a way of quickly raising money in an economic crisis. The Tory vote fell at every election after 1979: it was only the decision of Jenkins, Williams and co to leave the Labour Party and form the SDP that saved them, by producing a hopelessly split Left opposition. Finally, the author’s comparison with Labour taking power in 1997 is superficial: that was a normal political realignment, brought about largely by the work that Kinnock had done seeing off the SDP, as well as the Militant Tendency in his own party. The real issue is whether a post-May, post-Brexit political situation would be normal in the historic sense. The author appears to think so – in effect just a changing of the guard. But I’m not so sure. As a number of us have suggested, the view attributed to Corbyn – that the whole system is rotten and will fall – may very well be right. Winning the next election may be the smallest of Corbyn’s challenges. If that analysis is right, then the sensible policy is watching, waiting, and sticking the knife in at the right time. I suspect history will judge Corbyn as much as anything by his sense of timing.

    Reply
    1. eg

      Indeed. Perhaps Corbyn’s wisdom is of the Napoleonic variety:
      “when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him …”

      Reply
    2. Christopher Dale Rogers

      David,

      Although its considered by many that Corbyn is a Bennite, unlike Benn, Corbyn has tried to reach consensus in all policy decisions he’s made within the Party since being elected Leader – we saw this from day one when his first Shadow cabinet was announced – i don’t think benn was for consensus politics, which by 1978 had clearly broken down in the UK, rather he was a proponent of People’s Democracy, equipped with this fact, and as I’m happy to say anywhere, Corbyn is no radical, indeed I find him a wishes, washy middle class liberal if I’m honest and he’s far less to the left or indeed radical when compared to the actual membership of the Party, most of whom have little time for a majority of our own MPs – we want a minimum 30 gone.

      Corbyn will make a fine Prime Minister, if only for a change we have an honest man at the helm of a Party who did not seek as his number one priority to be either Party Leader, or Prime Minister – his humbleness is his main selling point for the likes of me at least.

      Reply
      1. David

        No, I agree. Corbyn will make a good PM, and my reference to the Benn era came from the article itself. Corbyn is actually relatively, I don’t know, moderate? by current standards, which says something about current standards.

        Reply
  11. generic

    There is a lot to criticise in Corbyn’s Labour, especially from a Remain position, but I find little of value in this article. I certainly agree with Clive above that this reads like the core complaint is that Corbyn doesn’t try to magic away Brexit, with a lot of preipheral complaints tacked on.
    Like bringing up one time where they had a plan without detailed costing. Hardly the problem. They have a very reasonable, costed, and moderate programfor socialist improvements to the country. It is also utterly irrelevant since, going with Richard Murphy, they will not get to run a country where you could implement anything but an emergency program.
    There is also no great surprise that Labour couldn’t profit from the mess May made. Up to the emergence of this paper there really was no Brexit to oppose. And May is still sowing confusion what Brexit will mean in praxis.

    Reply
  12. Synoia

    Corbyn has both a divided party, Neo liberals and Socialists, and a Brexitly divided country.

    Good time not to become a target, and have the Tory party stew in their Brexit delusions.

    In addition any Socialist programs Corbyn wanted to introduce could run afoul of EU mandates.

    “Everything comes to he who waits”

    Reply
  13. Norb

    Internationally, labor appears weak because they are not articulating a solution to the rise of corporate power. Most labor movements are trapped in the old way of thinking that State power can reign in corporate excess. However, due to government capture by corporate interests, it seems a threshold has been passed where this is no longer possible.

    A bold vision for the future is not possible because this shift in power is so widely misunderstood or ignored. The real relationship of the citizen to their government becomes one of nostalgia- not a functioning partnership.

    Socialism or Communism falls apart when the local is sacrificed or weakened in the name of some utopian international movement. Maybe the criticism of Corbyn reflects this frustration and is given credance when labor is hesitant to take power during a crisis- labor lacks the means to institute any policies contrary to corporate interests because no groundwork has been laid to do so. It is shocking, and reveals political weakness, that no strategic local vision can be expressed. Once compromise is made with corporate power, gaining back the momentum will require a major crisis. The scope of crisis everyone is trying to avoid.

    It seems humanity has reached the worst of all possible worlds. Nation States controlled by competing corporate interests. A Corporate utopia will never be achievable because, as always, local pressures will eventually overwhelm or outlast such efforts.

    Maybe we are witnessing the beginnings of a new Revolutionary period in human social development.

    As Clive mentions above, a more mature public debate is long overdue- for everyones sake.

    Reply
  14. Christopher Dale Rogers

    I trust I can offer some insight and critique of this article based on some realities, namely, since Corbyn emerged as a serious contender for the Leadership of the Labour Party back in early July 2015, numerous left-of-centre types, many also concerned about our ecology, flocked to Corbyn – this fact is witnessed by the collapse of the Green party membership, numbers actually signing up to vote for Corbyn during the Election process itself, many of whom were then ‘banned’ and the actual growth in both membership and move to the Left of that membership – all of this is detailed and all is thus factual. And I’m one of those persons who flocked to Corbyn and have stuck the course.

    Now, the author makes some valid points, makes some valid critiques but seems to overlook several elephants in the room, basically he states labour lost Scotland but does not make mention of Indyref or the fact that Scotland was run as a Rightwing bastion of the Labour Party, much as Wales has been a Rightwing bastion – we members and ejected members hate these facts and change has been really slow. Its been slow because many of the actual Full-time positions within the Party were held by those on its Right , which mean’t much of the internal machinery has been against both Corbyn and the will of the increased membership – this struggle continues and is changing slowly.

    Further, the author makes no mention of the fact that the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party has actually been opposed to Corbyn and his democratisation project from the onset and done everything in its power to undermine progress or dispatch Corbyn period.

    No need for me to bore you, but on two issues, the IHRA definition of Antisemitism and Automatic Re-selection process the membership has been outfoxed by the Right in combination with the Unions. Moral of this tale, you need leftwing Unions, a leftwing Labour Leadership and a leftwing membership to have a fully radical Party, which in itself would equate to more Leftwing MPs, rather than the Oxbridge careerists we presently have – given just these facts Corbyn has done a pretty good job.

    Now, what of that other Elephant, namely the Rightwing bias of all our media from The Guardian through to the BBC’s flagship evening news broadcast Newsnight? The author seems to discount this and talks about new Leftwing media and names a few names and issues a few barbs. Some facts, Owen Jones is not exactly that Leftwing and had abandoned Corbyn not long before the 2017 election, whilst comments made by those in leftwing alternative media are neither here or there. I say this because on the whole the majority of the UK public gets its news and opinion from mainstream media outlets, whilst activists like myself and leftist usually hang out on Twitter, Facebook and act as commentators on the alternative Left outlets – by the way, many of these new media resources are also highly London-focused, which annoys many of us outside of the M25.

    In a nutshell, the author can say what he likes, but when he totally ignores on the ground realities all he’s really doing is point scoring, rather than offering a valid critique.

    Further, it must be recognised the Labour party is split on Brexit from top to bottom, and this includes the membership, in my circles 40% of us are Brexit and 60% Remain. However, given this fact, a clear majority believe its essential to uphold the Brexit vote of 2016 regardless of whichaway we voted and a majority of my peer group has no issues with the way the Leadership has handled Brexit and is handling Brexit – 98% of us being opposed to ms may’s Brexit deal, which ain’t bad for a divided Party.

    A few more comments, many of those who flocked to the Party from July 2015 onwards are actually quite radical, we desire large constitutional change via a move to full proportional representation, the abolition of the HoL replaced by a chamber actually representative of each GE vote, alliances with other left-of-centre parties, among them The Greens and SNP and an end to the UK following along on the coat tails of US foreign policy, i.e., we oppose wanton warmongering. Don’t mention the Bomb as that’s another divisive issue within the party.

    Given much of what i’ve just detailed above Corbyn is opposed too makes one wonder why i’d support him, the answer to which is simple. He believes in root and branch democratic reform and building a political movement from the ground upwards – given all that’s against this project we’ve made remarkable gains, but it was never a one year project, a three year project of five year project, rather, its always been a 10 year project, 10 years given the fact that labour remains quite a conservative body with an outdated bureaucracy and outdated Rule Book – its changing slowly and this change offers hope to the UK if the electorate embraces it, and the figures for the longterm are in our favour with a clear majority of all those under 40 supporting Labour and those who oppose us are actually dying off!!!!!

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  15. Tom Bradford

    Per Christopher Dale Rogers above:

    “I welcome this state of flux we are in and the new realities that will result once the dust settles – I’m hoping for a nation that exhibits decency and cares for everyone, which are not hallmarks of neoliberalism and neoconservative foreign policies.”

    To me this is ‘it’ in a nutshell. Many of those who voted for Brexit were not ‘Little Englanders” dreaming of a return to the England of Empire and the vicarage tea-parties of Agatha Christie. They were simply rejecting the status quo and a future of more of the same and hoping that when the dust settled they would have something better even if they weren’t sure what that was to be.

    This is where Corbyn and Labour have failed – in failing to point a way through the dust to a ‘promised land’ beyond. Their failure (in my opinion) is in having absolutely no idea themselves as to how this promised land, this New Jerusalem, could actually be built and thus no proposals for any coherent road-map to get there.

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    1. Christopher Dale Rogers

      Tom,

      As I stated, the reality is that the Labour Party as presently constituted is quite a conservative organisation, as are most of our Trades Unions – Brexit aside, the greatest challenges facing an incoming Labour Administration are salvaging the NHS and the Housing crisis, with the latter fuelling much of the poverty and inequality we are suffering. Further, and as Prof. Steve keen and many other heterodox economists have pointed out, the UK needs to revitalise its manufacturing sector. Indeed, just challenging 40 years of neoliberalism is a massive task, never mind overturning 40 years of economic recklessness, so, lets just say managing the nation for the many, rather than the few does seem good starting point, as does putting the first breach in the neoliberal dam in the Western economies for more than a generation. And with these facts I think a slowly as you go policy is best given the political make-up of the UK presently, which is hardly revolutionary, but angry nonetheless – once in power lets just hope Corbyn is far more radical, the same applies to McDonnell and his treasury team.

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  16. Martin

    First of all, as some commentators have mentioned, Corbyn is hobbled by an antagonistic parliamentary party. He has to operate as both the chosen leader of the constituency members and the party in parliament; in order to avoid a damaging split by MPs similar to the SDP in the 1980s (which gave Thatcher her second term), he is trying to develop a consensus that will unite the two branches of Labour.
    Secondly, Brexit is by far not the main issue facing Britain. Whether it stays in or out, whole areas of the country are deep in the despair engendered by unemployment and lack of hope, the vulnerability of relying on state benefits, while resources have over the last thirty years migrated to London and its environs. What would a Labour government do to rescue these areas? Corbyn is proposing solutions not too far from a MMT perspective of injecting capital into the social economy.
    The regions that voted most heavily for Brexit were dominated by Labour — but like Tyneside and the Northeast, a thoroughly corrupt Labour that did very little for its supporters while advancing municipal careers. That is a primary issue for the party membership that is being addressed slowly but surely as rightwing cabals get overturned in constituency parties. But there is a long way to go on this.
    Corbyn is navigating a political minefield that is not of Labour’s creation: the Brexit referendum was extremely divisive and he is trying to maintain the unity of the party’s support and the unity of the country. He should be given credit for that, not judged by the author’s conception of radicalism.

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  17. Martin

    To Tom Bradford: I think you may have missed the 2017 manifesto and some of the writings of John McDonnell on these topics since then. You can be forgiven for this because the media have not reported anything much of what is really going on in the party, since they are trying to focus everybody on Theresa May and Brexit. That is as much a distraction from the real problems as Trump is in the US.

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  18. Tom Bradford

    PER Martin above;

    ‘To Tom Bradford: I think you may have missed the 2017 manifesto and some of the writings of John McDonnell on these topics since then.’

    Well yes. I quit the UK for good in 1990, in Thatcher’s last year on the throne unable to bear my despair at the destruction of the society I grew up in, Thatcher having declared it didn’t exist. I now have the great good fortune to live in a wealthy, well-run, moderate society far from anywhere else so my only contact with what’s going on in the UK comes from contacts with friends and family still there and from commentary in sites like this.

    But if I missed the 2017 manifesto and the writings of John McDonnell so have all my correspondents in the UK and yes this might be partly because the media is hostile to it, but it must also be because Corbyn and his colleagues in the Labour Party, back-stabbing or not, have failed to make an impact at a time – as the article above points out – that was never more open to listening to alternatives.

    From what I know of the ‘zeitgeist’ of the present UK there is a desperate need for a clear vision, a Churchillian commitment to a coherent alternative, that Corbyn has failed to capitalise on – and I fear this is because, as the article suggests, Corbyn himself is hopelessly ambivalent as to what that vision is.

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  19. flora

    Thanks for this post. The writer has given a long list of complaints about Labour that seem represented by this line:

    And there is at the core of this – Labour’s economic prospectus – there sits a vacuum.

    I don’t read any ideas or suggestions from the writer that would fill the “vaccum” he sees, only a list of complaints about what he thinks is not being addressed properly. He offers nothing beyond, “Labour should be doing things quicker, better, and more to my liking.”

    However, as a US reader, maybe I missed something in the post.

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  20. digi_owl

    He simply can’t, because Labour is equally divided. Damn it, they recently had what may amount to a civil war trying oust Corbyn.

    If Corbyn tries to push too hard right now, he may face another coup d’etat.

    There are too many monied interests, both in Tory and in Labour, that has been built up by being a financial bridgehead in EU for US interests.

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    1. flora

      Thanks for this. Your last para makes me wonder if UK parties are waiting to see which way the wind blows in the US wrt finance and markets. I know I’m out of my depth here.

      I will say that US voters are heartily tired of US govt politicians of both D and R parties being captive to the US bond markets’ and bond traders’ demands. This explains, I think, the success of both Sanders and Trump, though these two men could not be more different in most respects.

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  21. VietnamVet

    I agree with the basic proposition that corporations control the American government; the British government, too, in my view, looking across the pond. Throwing of workers under the bus starting in the 1980s and restoration of the “ancien” aristocracy have left only one game in down; taking donors money and using identity politics and propaganda to try to keep control and the lid on. Freedom of movement of capital, people, services and goods is incompatible with democracy. Unless the regulation of capitalism is restored, to save itself, a Western middle class revolution is inevitable as in 1789; that is if another World War doesn’t start first, like a little over a century ago.

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  22. Northern Umbrella

    The comments here (unless I have missed it myself) have missed the fact that Gerry Hassan is a Scottish commentator.
    Clive’s lengthy musings that Hassan cannot accept that Leave won the 2016 referendum because he’s wearing his Brexit polarising lenses simply do not apply if you’re a Scots Nat: in Scotland remain won comfortably and England feels like the corpse you are shackled to, not the EU.
    The way to understand Hassan’s criticism of Corbyn’s Labour party is to realise the importance to radical supporters of Scottish independence that progressive voters in Scotland are not tempted back into the arms of the (still unionist and Westminster-orientated) Labour party. This is done by pointing out that the Labour party still remains in many ways a small ‘c’ conservative institution, not least on constitutional reform.
    Finally. Understanding ‘Open Democracy’. It’s a site that attracts articles by academics, who are often lefty types, but I think wrong to interpret the site as hardcore left. Its founder Anthony Barnett is most famous for demanding democratic reform of the UK and a formal written constitution. He may or may not be a Marxist but he is above all a democrat and a pluralist supporter of free speech.

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  23. RBHoughton

    Completely agree with the heading of this article. The Blairite infection that corrupted the party is still active amongst members. Those MPs want to be rich socialists. They have to go if the concept of two-party factional politics is to continue.

    The merchants can go play with themselves. The duty of representation and protection belongs to the people not them.

    For my penny’s worth I’d throw all the MPs away, create Primary Assemblies at the grass roots, each for a few hundred voters – school friends and neighbors who know each other – and build a real democracy that can and will address the frightful problems facing mankind while there is still time.

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  24. Jake

    McDonnell has clarified few of the points in this interview – https://youtu.be/GumILQ7wMs0

    As for numbers, labour has already presented an economic plan that is so called costed and all that. Grace Blakely is another half baked Marxist economist. The author is better off going consulting other economists who have actually written the economic plan.

    As for not working with conservatives, McDonnell is right to say that he can’t forgive them for what they did to the uk. Rightly so. Nothing too controversial about that. He didn’t Say that he’ll never work with them.

    Tax breaks – yea, they have to be careful if they want to get into power. The most important bit, like he mentioned in the interview, is that corporate tax and top 5% tax is increased.

    So all in all, a very poorly written article.

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  25. Iguanabowtie

    I think Corbyn’s failure to capitalize on Tory weakness is just classic left division. (eg, ‘People’s liberation front of Judea’)
    The modern left broadly agrees that global warming, neoliberalism & bigotry are bad, but there’s no consensus about the solutions. Is freedom of movement a human right or a wage suppression plot? Basic income or jobs guarantee? MMT? Race reductionism or class reductionism?
    Thatcherite ‘There is no alternative’ will probably persist until a coherent vision arises to challenge it.

    Reply

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