Yves here. Not surprisingly, given the stunning Labour losses in formerly loyalist districts in the UK election just passed, the recriminations and post mortems are full on.
Hopefully this article will stimulate reader discussion. There are bits that strike me as sour notes despite having quite a few useful observations. First is putting Brexit in the same category as the vastly lower stakes Falklands War. This is a watershed event that will fundamentally redefine the UK’s future, including the reasonable odds of a breakup of the Union. For Labour not to have a coherent position on the elephant in the room was irresponsible as well as self-destructive.
Second is the failure to reconcile the appalling performance of Labour last week with its unexpected success in May’s 2016 snap election. May was initially seen as about to deliver Labour a fatal blow, only to see the Tories lose their majority and be forced into a coalition with the disreputable DUP. What changed between then and now? It seems hard to attribute the reversal of fortune to Boris Johnson.
Third, and a minor point, is that the article depicts Sanders as charismatic. Huh? As much as Sanders has done an impressive job in getting heretofore unthinkable policy positions treated as ones to be reckoned with, it’s quite a stretch to call him charismatic. As one reader put it, “He has all the charm of your cranky Jewish uncle telling you to take your feet off the coffee table.” The reason Sanders’ finger-wagging nevertheless works is that it soon becomes clear that he is angry on the behalf of ordinary Americans, that he actually cares about injustice and he’s spent his entire political career trying to Do Something about that, often effectively despite representing a small state.
Here is a not-totally-inconsistent take from PlutoniumKun:
I don’t think there are any easy options for Labour, almost all thanks to FPTP.
First of all, I don’t think a ‘they have nowhere else to go’ policy will work for Labour, whatever ‘element’ they decide to jettison. Centrists can go to the Lib Dems or whatever reforms in the middle and act as spoilers in the suburbs and big cities. Blair was right that the left wing had to follow him, but wrong in that he thought only in terms of activists, he didn’t realise how much he could damage Labour among its base in the long term. Still, it lasted for three elections and could have lasted for more if he hadn’t lost his mind over Iraq. And before anyone starts spewing about Blair – I loathe him as much as any good leftie, but he still delivered improved public services, a booming economy, and had a major role in peace in Northern Ireland, something the Tories would never do.
Labour can’t – and never could – jettison Remainers, because that means jettisoning everyone in the party under 40. See how that works. And not just under 40’s – in my anecdotal experience the most fierce remainers are young parents. They see the EU as the future for their kids. I have three friends who have fallen out with their mothers over their Brexit vote. All three are solid left wingers, long time Labour supporter/activists, working class roots but middle class jobs. They are utterly furious at what they see as ‘the old ones’ selling out their kids futures. This is not just a political divide, its a generational one. Labour can’t win by fighting with the conservative over elderly working class and lower middle class voters and abandoning those left wingers who see themselves as Europeans.
I still maintain that its a fundamental error to see the Brexit vote as one about fighting neoliberalism or austerity. This is to confuse cause and effect. Nobody votes against neoliberalism and austerity by following the advice of Nigel Farage or Rees Mogg. This was primarily an English nationalist vote, a vote not against the ‘real’ elites (i.e. the people who own and who run the country), but the perceived elites (i.e. the people you see every day on BBC). Every careful analysis of the voting patterns shows this. And yes, many Brexiteers really are stupid, its not bigoted to say so, its a simple observation. They are idiots who bought Brooklyn Bridge for $20 and then doubled down when challenged to show the title deeds.
The only available successful model for Labour is the SNP. A broad based populist ‘soft’ left coalition with strong national values (but noticeably non-racist). There are not enough votes for a hard left party (which doesn’t mean you don’t rule as a hard left party once elected, remember that neither Thatcher nor Cameron ran as hard right candidates). Corbyn couldn’t carry this off because it wasn’t his personality or his inclination to do so – his attempts to play the politician were bad because he was not a good leader and a pretty poor politician. A skilled leader could have done it. The SNP have been blessed with excellent leaders. Notably, the LibDems also did well when they were lucky enough to have charismatic leaders like Paddy Ashdown, but fade away without that. So yes, Labour, and the left in general, need a Sanders, but I don’t see one in the ranks.
I posted a few days ago about hoping to see a split in the left, but I think people missed my point. A split can only work if its done on the basis of the ‘splitters’ co-operating and focusing on the Tories as the enemy. In other words, split on a notional basis, but always with the intention of forming a government together. In Northern Ireland, nearly everyone I know talks about ‘holding my nose and voting’, because they vote against the enemy (whether that be the DUP or SF). SF and the SDLP and Alliance loath each other, but they co-operated to take seats from the DUP. British voters (and their representatives) are not yet sophisticated enough for that, but they can be educated. But the current Labour party is incapable of building up that type of relationship, so my hope is that post split, you would see leaders who see that his is the only way a government that reflects the broadly centre-left focus of the UK population lies.
And its not about policies either. Labour had a zillion excellent policies, as do the Greens and even the LibDems. Fat lot of good it did them. Hardly anyone reads the manifestos (even fewer believe them). Its about a clear, consistent vision and message. The Tories (and the right in general) have always understood this. I don’t believe that Labour as its currently constituted can deliver this.
By Adam Ramsay, the co-editor of openDemocracyUK and also works with Bright Green. Before, he was a full-time campaigner with People & Planet. You can follow him at @adamramsay. Originally published at openDemocracy
The war in the Labour Party has begun. For one side, Jeremy Corbyn is to blame. For the other, “If it wasn’t for Brexit…”. Fortunately for them, both sides can agree that more tactical voting could have saved the day.
All of these responses to last night’s devastating result fail to interrogate the thing they criticise. All treat their preferred scapegoat as an ephemeral phenomenon, as though it can just be herded away, dismissed.
The idea that Corbyn’s personal popularity was the problem, just like the idea that Ed Miliband’s personal popularity was the problem, or that Gordon Brown’s was, fails to take account of how public opinion is formed.
Any Labour leader running against the powerful institutions of the country would be pilloried by the media. The outlets that mocked the Jewish Ed Milliband for looking weird (read ‘foreign’) when eating a bacon sandwich, and smeared his refugee father as hating the country, didn’t skip a beat when they smelt a whiff of an anti-Semitism scandal around his succesor.
This idea that the solutions to Labour’s problems lie in a new leader has been prevalent in Scotland for twenty years. Scottish Labour has been through nine in that time, but is yet to stumble upon its Moses.
Of course Corbyn has to resign. Of course, there are things wrong with him: he ended up as leader because he was the last person standing on the only wing of the party that had serious solutions to the problems of the world. Blairism had actively discouraged a younger generation of thinkers and leaders on the left from joining the parliamentary Labour Party, and so Corbyn – with his well-rehearsed flaws – stepped up when the moment emerged.
A Bernie Sanders would have been better: someone with more charisma and the ability to communicate a core message at every opportunity. But anyone who thinks Blairism would have allowed such a leader to emerge hasn’t paid attention to two decades of British politics.
Yes, many people raised Corbyn as the reason they wouldn’t vote Labour, just as many raised Miliband and Brown before him. But citing these objections is meaningless if we don’t think about the structures of power and culture which shaped them. After all, anyone who has seen David Miliband give a speech knows it is laughable to suggest that he would have been any better than his brother.
Sometimes, ‘if it wasn’t for Corbyn’ really means ‘if Labour wasn’t so left wing’. This ignores the facts that polls show most Labour policies are outrageously popular and that the 2017 manifesto was widely seen as a hit. The success rate of the much-promoted centrist parties of the era – ChangeUK, the Lib Dems, Hillary Clinton’s Democrats – does nothing to back up that argument either.
A more serious way of putting the point would be: “If Labour hadn’t run against the institutions of power in the country, they might have allowed the party into government”. If Labour hadn’t pledged to go after the oligarchs who own our media, perhaps they wouldn’t have been so harried by them.
Perhaps. But at a time of climate emergency, drastic inequality and soaring poverty, failing to take on big oil, big money and billionaire power means failing. And in any case, this strategy has only worked in moments – like 1997 – when the Tories were no longer a viable vehicle for the aspirations of the mega-rich.
A Demand for Empowerment
Corbynism was the English expression of a phenomenon which swept the Western world after the financial crisis. His victory in Labour’s leadership election was a response to the blatant failures of the free market, post-imperial wars and the staid ideology that had infected the whole ruling class. It was a response to deep feelings of alienation and immiseration.
Brexit was also an English response to this multi-headed crisis. Specifically, it was a rage against the alienation produced by the Blair and Cameron years, by the ‘leave it to us’ politics of technocracy.
It was a demand for empowerment and it came from the region of Europe with the most centralised government and most privatised economies: that is, as Anthony Barnett has argued, England without London.
When my friends on the left of the Labour Party argue today that they would have won if it wasn’t for Brexit, they imply that Brexit is a one-off event, a unique set of circumstances that can be set aside and discounted for the future. That’s a bit like the comforting notions that Labour would have won in 1983 if it wasn’t for the Falklands war, or in 2015 if Cameron hadn’t whipped up fear of the Scottish National Party. These arguments may even be true, but what they amount to is “Labour would have won if it wasn’t for Anglo-British nationalism.” Which is essentially saying: “Labour would have won if it wasn’t for the main reason the Tories normally win.”
At the root of this nationalism is a deep yearning for collective agency. It is in part a toxic backlash of a nation bitter about losing its empire, in part the legitimate demands of people to have control over their lives.
This alienation was mobilised by the right, who drew firm borders around the national collective and promised Brexit would allow ‘us’ to ‘take back control’. The response from the left should have been to offer genuine collective agency, through a political revolution.
“I Don’t Trust Any of Them!”
I argued yesterday that Labour struggled because people didn’t believe that our political system would deliver the party’s manifesto. As I travelled around the north of England interviewing people about the election, I discovered something new had happened. Where people used to often say, “They’re all the same,” in a resigned way, the most common reply now is, “I don’t trust any of them!” usually snapped with fury.
In 2014 in Scotland and 2016 across the UK, the Yes campaign and the Leave campaign were able to mobilise sentiment against the political system behind them. In this election campaign, it became clear as I travelled the country that Labour had failed to do this – looking to too many like technocrats offering nice things in order to trick you into voting for them.
It’s no coincidence that, by my sums, 88% of Tory gains were in seats where turnout was down.
At the core of all of this is the debate about Labour’s Brexit position, which appears in hindsight to have been the worst of both worlds. By remaining essentially neutral on Brexit over the past three years, Labour allowed Lib Dems and Blairites and other technocrats from the previous era to shape what Remain meant, presenting it as the status-quo option, opposed to the change people are desperate for.
Had Labour consistently argued that a Tory Brexit would be part of ‘the system’, highlighting again and again the oligarchs who funded the campaign, the desire to drag the UK towards the US and the race to the bottom this implies; had they used the opportunity to fight for radical change to the British state, the debate now would be very different.
At core, the problem was not Corbyn. Without him and his ideas, Labour would be squabbling with the Lib Dems over a minuscule pool of voters trapped in 2005. Nor was the problem Brexit, because Brexit is just the latest expression of English alienation.
The problem was that Labour ran a campaign with a ‘retail’ offer when voters wanted empowerment. They asked people to trust the political system to transform their lives after the Tories had been waging war on trust in the political system. They failed to drive a debate about radical change to the British state, to rage against a system designed to ensure elite rule. And so huge numbers didn’t believe they’d deliver their otherwise popular policies. Because they have no faith in politics.
Rather than fighting to rip up the rules of our broken politics and hand power to the people, pro-Labour groups spent a huge amount of money reminding people of one broken part of our system, and then telling them to suck it up. I spent much of the election monitoring the various non-party campaign pages.
Leave pages – and Leave.EU in particular – focussed on political messages, designed to convince, persuade, troll and infame: to drive debate. Leave.EU has spent just £2,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads since October, and has had 822,000 interactions on posts from its page in the past seven days.
Remain pages focussed on tactical voting. The pro-EU campaign Best for Britain has spent nearly £900,000 on Facebook and Instagram ads since October, mostly promoting tactical voting. But it had only 290,000 interactions with posts from its page in the past seven days (not counting ‘dark’ ads). And it’s not clear its adverts helped: the main message was that the voting system is broken, but voters just have to accept it. It changed politics from a deep debate about our futures together to an infomercial about arithmetic.
Labour’s proposals could be summarised as a core argument: we will use politics to make your life better. But if people don’t believe in the political system, they won’t trust you. Corbyn should have raged against elite rule, and promised a new democracy, by the people, for the people. He should have tapped into the anti-systemic energy. It should have been ‘by the many‘. He could have won.
Explains Trump’s resilience as well: the angry white guy who fights against the perceived elite, “for you”.
The “perceived elite” are carefully engineered to be those pesky liberals who in reality genuinely try to help the working class, and whose only true tactical fault is that many of them are a social elite who don’t often mix with the working class, and do little to break with that perception.
Republicans have only done one main thing to maintain the illusion: hold angry rallies in working class and rural settings with American flags flying.
I dread the day Republicans gain a smart populist, but until then a smart liberal populist with palpable anger and working class street cred and messaging would do the trick.
I also wish Democratic candidates stayed vague about policy details. Few voters care, and the details are unilateral disarmament against Republicans who will use them against you.
Sounds like Walter Lippmann, who is frankly obsolete and whose sickeningly aristocratic neoliberalism is no longer necessary nor desired.
Who, exactly, are these “liberals who in reality genuinely try to help the working class, and whose only true tactical fault is that many of them are a social elite who don’t often mix with the working class”?
And how would they – people that don’t “mix” with, let alone belong to, the working class – know how to help?
On your points:
– Sanders is charismatic compared to Corbyn IMO. One thing (it may be a US one) – on most photos Sanders is smiling. Corbyn is usually grim. Believe it or not, that matters.
– Falklands defined relationship with Argentina. Not entirely a nobody, but not a global player. Brexit defines relationship with the EU.
IMO, (and the numbers, including the detail numbers seem to bear it out), the main difference between 2017 and 2019 election is that in 2017 Labour was believed by both leavers and remainers. In 2019, neither believed it. In a situation where it could not afford to lose either (and, I suspect, it knew it couldn’t), it managed to lose both.
If the part of the Labour that believes that the problem was neither Brexit nor Corbyn (not policy-wise, but lack-of-leadership wise) wins the power struggle in Labour, they will hand the next elections to Tories again, because they would have learned nothing.
A small note – May 2017 elections.
Re: Sanders’s affect: it is clearly distinct from the slick feel-your-pain Clinton and Obama, and the unhinged current president, a kind of personal calling card.
Also, he’s deeply likable. Can you imagine people hand-making Jezza dolls or Instagramming their Jezza babies?
I can well imagine that. The difficult part is to get some hair and nail clippings for the dolls :)
I went to a Sanders rally at a San Francisco park early this year.
He had not arrived but the Democratic speakers were warming up the crowd.
From my vantage point I could see that Bernie’s van had arrived, but was still obscured from most of the crowd.
Sanders got out with some grandkids.
He respectfully waited on the pathway until the not very prominent speaker was done.
Then he walked down the path toward the crowds and stage.
I suspect other politicians would do a “stop now, I have arrived” but that was not Sanders’ style.
I don’t remember much about his speech, that I found vague on specifics.
But do remember how he treated a fellow speaker.
I’ve watched Sanders give his stump speech. Intelligent and well reasoned? Yes. Charismatic? Not so much.
And I think politics is all about personalities. If you look at American presidential elections over the last one hundred years the more charismatic candidate almost always wins.
So yes blame it on Corbyn but above all blame it on Labour’s failure to provide a more suitable politician to represent the domestic policies that Corbyn advocated.
I think that it is now more than just personality. People don’t want to hear “intelligent and well reasoned”, either. Around here they call Bernie’s message that “Hopey-Changey” hooey. Obama really did a number on the voting public and I don’t think many people are going to believe any politician that tries to feed them that any more.
Rather, what they want is like what lbacc said in his first line: ” the angry white guy who fights against the perceived elite, “for you”. As my nephew told me: “Nothing much is going to change for me and my family no matter who wins, but at least Trump gets in some body blows for me.”
Politics has gotten visceral – it is all about addressing the anger.
Sanders has long experience getting additions added to bills passed that make a real difference for people. Not big, flashy changes. They mostly go unnoticed until they kick in when needed.
Interesting the GOP pols seem so much better at law and bill tweaking to change them just enough to create the economic or security environment they want, and all without raising eyebrows because the tweaks almost never make the nightly news. Then, when the various changed parts become active, presto, things are changed and not usually for the better. Take the so called Patriot Act as an example: it was mostly a collection of small or not so small changes to existing law and bills. The changes had been considered and drafted in rough form long before the event that triggered its passage. The same thing happened after Oklahoma City. A new raft of legislation came out of nowhere, it seemed, it was so fast. My question is, why are the Dems so bad at understanding this and the GOP so good at understanding how to shape even existing law to one’s desired outcome?
Sanders knows how bill and law tweaking works, but he might be the only Dem who understands long term, strategic, quiet, down-in-the-weeds lawmaking. Too many Dems don’t dig into the weeds, imo. For example, Sen. Kennedy supported No Child Left Behind and assumed – assumed! – the money would be there for the program because he assumed W was acting in good faith. He trusted W words and didn’t dig down into the details. Big Mistake. One that modern Dems for the most part make over and over again, imo.
Amen. But the GOP secret to law manipulation and subversion (that’s what their policies really are) is the massive number of minds mobilized in staffing jobs and think-tanks. Doing the “detail” is long and labor intensive; massive funding and tight organization are ABSOLUTELY required to work a modern society/government. Just like the military. And the Right-wing works like (and worships) the war machine; 24/7, 365 days a year.
The “left/liberals/grass roots” or whatever, just do NOT get it! Politics is warfare by other means (the corollary to Von Clausewitz’s theory). It is ALWAYS about power. Policy is just means to an end. Politics is about Personality, not policy. John Adams and his son Quincy saw this clearly in the 1790’s.
However, Personalities are there to IMPLEMENT the policies created by the permanent political “mind army” that actually runs things. The politician may change each election, but the strategic goals and policy “game plan” is permanent.
Bernie Sanders (and others, like “all of us”) have done NOTHING in the past 50 years to create a political power structure; from precinct captains-to county party-to State Central Committee-to National party. No policy-making groups, no private think-tanks, no barracuda law firms, no mega-billion dollar fundraising.
The “Left” TALKS about collective action by the group, but ACTS as individuals.
The Right-wing screams “INDIVIDUAL IS EVERYTHING!” but ACTS (and thinks) as a Communist/Fascist/Collectivist group. Irony of Ironies!
Like that bald-headed psychiatrist on TV, Dr. Phil (or is it Dr. Phool ) is fond of saying: “You got to get yourself strait. You either GET IT or you DON’T!”
The “Left/Liberals/Labour Party/grass roots” (or whatever) DON’T GET IT.
And here we are.
Oh, and the Democratic Party? They were the target of a VERY aggressive infiltration/subversion campaign by the Right wing. Sun Tzu, “Art of War” says to “use spies to infiltrate the enemy’s camp and create chaos”. Closet Republicans and Right wing phony Democrats were being pushed into the party ranks 40 years ago. Sponsored by private right wing groups and Republican activists. Why can’t the “Left” or real Democrats do that? Oh yeah….because their disorganized, uncreative, and unthinking.
Congressional Democrats understand perfectly well what they are doing; they’re cooperating with Republicans on policy. What you miss is that Democrats don’t want their own policy, and they don’t want to govern because that’s hard. It’s much easier to let Republicans govern, especially when elected Democrats share the same policy outcomes anyway.
Here in Australia the recent “shock” election saw the “Tories” get in, combination of a hard core of people not liking the Labor leader and some own goals by Labor on coal and jobs. But like everywhere the “lesson” Labor is “learning” is that they need to be more like the right. No. Running as “Republican lite” is a losing strategy everywhere and always. Not quite an apt analogy for Corbyn since Brexit is naturally so divisive, but had Labor stated categorically they were “for” wouldn’t Remainers have been tempted to Nigel and denied the Tories a landslide?
I suspect a major part of Corbyn’s problem derives from the dodgy state of the financial economy. All those power centers that are dependent on banks, insurers, and markets for their wealth and pensions are utterly hostile to a socialist program of nationalised industries and reduced opportunity for capital to be employed in the cushy parts of the economy.
They want the Labour Party to be dominated by Tories of the New Labour persuasion.
i don’t think kennedy was assuming that; i don’t think he was that much of a fool–any more than the democrats who voted to give w discretion to invade iraq thought he was going to do anything other than invade iraq.
There was that matter of the Democratic sponsored Levin amendment that was to pursue diplomacy FIRST in Iraq BEFORE using military force.
HRC voted against this amendment, while prominent MIC supporter Dianne Feinstein actually supported it.
Clinton clearly wanted to NOT put any obstacles in GWB’s way if he decided to go into Iraq.
>Big Mistake. One that modern Dems for the most part make over and over again, imo.
Our Dems make mistakes like that so often that one has to wonder if they’re
“mistakes” at all.
Corbyn was cornered from the start on Brexit, especially with airwaves dominated by remainers, and how polls suggested that people had changed their minds and wanted to remain. The young voters he attracted were intrinsically remain, as were half the PLP. Plus most of the PLP were stridently against Corbyn from the outset. If he supported Remain, he would have lost the heartlands on Brexit (given the timescales and a hostile media, he wouldn’t have convinced them otherwise), and wouldn’t have gained many LibDem or SNP seats to compensate. And if he supported May or Bojo’s Brexit plans, he would have faced rebellion from the PLP and disillusionment from his support base.
So he was in an unenviable situation: I’m not sure any politician would have done better, in the context of a PLP and media establishment out to sink him at every turn. Corbyn and McDonnell did rage against the system, and did propose fundamental change. In the Corbyn vs Johnson debates he was always seen as more trustworthy. And yet the post-election polls suggest that he was disliked by working class votes. So the intense media vilification of Corbyn over the two years since the 2017 election worked; as it always seems to, unless you are a Blair and do a deal with Murdoch.
The calls for Labour to move back into the centre ground, just reflect careerist politicians desire to maintain / gain power, rather than really stand for something. It will allow the plutocracy to rest easy, knowing that they can count on there lackeys in both parties not to threaten their wealth. This of course is a sham democracy.
The lesson for the left is that the whole establishment, including vested interests in your own party (Democrat / Labour) will fight tooth and nail to not allow a real left agenda to be promulgated. It accidentally emerged with Corbyn; and it has been stamped out.
The polls are still 50-50, and pretty much always were. What mattered was the distribution of the voters.
Most of Tory voters are leavers, 70+% IIRC. Tory remainers would never vote for Corbyn, and while some voted for LD, most of them were afraid of putting Corbyn into government (and this has nothing to do with being demonised. Nationalisation for example is a big offputting thing to most of those voters – and that WAS a Labour policy).
Most of the Labour voters are remainers, but the split is smaller – 60/40. Moreover, with the Labour’s vaccilation on Brexit, BOTH sides lost trust that the party can represent them. It really can be seen in the numbers, if you look at them. Labour losses in seats that voted less than 60% leave are mostly to LD (yes, even in somewhat-leave-seats, although it’s really almost the same as to Tories), and some stay-at-home. Labour losses in seats >60% leave are half to Tories, and half stay-at-home.
Labour lost both sides when it had to keep both of them.
And, FFS, “establishment”? Wasn’t establishment, the MAN fighting tooth and nail to remain, only to be beaten by Johnson, whose main advisor Cummings hates the original Tories as much as Labour? Johnson is NOT establishment. He’s in it for himself, and no-one else.
Lastly, again you (and a lot of Corbyn fanboys) are ignoring the fact that in 2017, Corbyn did get 40% of the vote. With a manifest only slightly less radical than the one now. With media running a smear campaign (IRA + Palestinian terrorists, remember those?) then.
Again. If left keeps failing to learn the lessons, it will keep failing. For some reason, left turns out to be either totally ruthless, or totally incompetent. Right tends to learn its lessons in a much more efficient ways.
I agree Labour lost both sides of the argument. But even if it had chosen one side, my point is it would have ended up losing. I heard someone comment that Corbyn should not have blocked May or Johnson’s Brexit deal; and let it go through. But he couldn’t carry the PLP with him in allowing Brexit to go through; nor the activists who had joined labour in their hundreds of thousands. The fact is he had minority support in the PLP; his support was from the activists who had joined Labour, and were mostly young and Remainers.
As far as establishment is concerned – you know as well as I that is shorthand. But most people I talked to in the City were deeply unhappy about the prospect of Corbyn, taxes, nationalisation, etc. Yes Boris is in it for himself; just as Trump is. But as long as they are committed to reducing taxes (or at least not increasing them) and maintaining the status quo, they are happy.
Yes, there was a smear campaign back in 2017. But it was the same old tired themes. Subsequently, the machine went into over-drive. I think the anti-Semitism attacks inevitably had their effect on the young. And the continued negative messaging also had its effect.
By contrast, Boris over-rode the remainers in his party, and went for a simple slogan; which worked because, as you point out, the Conservatives (both MPs and votes) were less divided than Labour.
What other lesson do you believe the left needs to learn? What should have Corbyn done given the constraints he actually faced?
See, this is where I believe the problem is with Corbyn. He, very visibly, wasn’t INTERESTED in Brexit. So it was very hard for anyone to believe him when he said anything on it.
IMO, Labour should have picked a side – way back in 2016 even.
It most likely would have a leave side, BUT if it followed with a strong coversation – and things like “we will not vote for A50 w/o some direction of post-leave shape”, I believe it could have built a trust with both leavers and remainers. And yes, it would have meant compromises from the remain and leave groups in Labour – but that’s the role of the leader, to beat those groups into shape, or, failing that, getting rid of them. Corbyn failed. Worse, he didn’t even really try, and that’s IMO what a lot of voters can’t forgive.
Failing that, if he wanted to keep distinterest, he could have said “Any and all Brexit votes are free votes. Consult your constituencies, and vote accordingly. We do not believe in Tory Brexit, but you’d represent your constituencies [in the absence of a clear Labour policy]”.
I believe that even that would have seen by the voters as an honest attempt.
Which leads me to the other bit. Corbyn was being sold as an honest, straighforward person. But on Brexit, he was seen as anything but. How can he expet for people to trust him, when he seems to be two faced on the main political issue facing the country?
Corbyn could have been good enough to run in 2010, against Cameron. He’d likely do very well in 1997, if he run instead of Blair (as someone else wrote, a strawman in a red tie would do well as a Labour leader in 1997). But the total misunderstanding of Brexit killed his political career in 2019.
Vlade – I can concur that in all the speaking engagements I was at with him (at least monthly), he really didn’t like to talk about Brexit. And it was that vacillation that killed us.
PK also noted above about the voters who didn’t come out who normally vote Labour. That actually is the biggest story of the election. We never should have had people staying at home in an election we were calling “generational”. It’s those people we will have to work with about making Labour a non-racist national party for British people (i.e. the SNP). None of the people whose names are being bandied about strike me as capable of doing that. Certainly the lefties I know aren’t.
The real problem for Corbyn was that no-one believes Labour can win without its former Scottish bastion. He should have attacked the SNP as being illogical: “you are asking for “Indyref2″ but you accept neither the result of Indyref1 nor Brexit”. And actually the arguments pro Independence are not so different from the arguments pro Brexit. Labour should offer “Indyref 2034” to dangle the hope of independence while insisting that in the meanwhile, sending SNP MPs to Westminster is an abdication of contributing to government.
Re Brexit he should have banished ‘remainer’ from his vocabulary and appealed to ‘rejoiners’ by offering an aligned Brexit plus a ‘rejoin’ referendum say in 2029.
Finally, it is a yuuge mistake for the left to think that workers want hand-outs financed by high taxes: they want promising careers for themselves and their children.
“For some reason, left turns out to be either totally ruthless, or totally incompetent.”
We don’t really have a left in the US, at least among the political class. There is Bernie and a handful of others like him. The “leftism” in the US is largely based on non-economic issues. The right also owns the media, pays most of the ad revenue for the media, has a large share of the wealth, controls think tanks and increasingly universities. The right is horribly incompetent in everything other than manipulating people and using the state to enrich themselves and their donors. I have no doubt that the Conservatives will be disastrous, but what will be there to push back? If it is a Blair type, if that is what represents the “left”, then effectively nothing. They will, at most, slow down things getting progressively worse for most, and the environment.
I think of the coming environmental crisis, and if someone like Johnson or Trump, or for that matter Blair, Macron, Clinton, Obama or Trudeau is in power when it hits, it is going to be utterly brutal. The left has lots of great ideas, it has institutions that work better than what the right offers, it offers systematic alternatives that at least have some small chance to work. But, I don’t think that the public knows much about any of it, and the left is always outspent and always has massive institutional power differentials that aren’t in its favor. In places like Bolivia, social movements are strong enough to push back, they get people to band together and to have a strong collective power. Here in the US, those social movements don’t exist at this point, and many people in the US seem to have totally checked out on the political system, seeing it as a waste of time. The left’s ideas are popular. What is hard is getting people to have faith enough in the system to even partake in the system and vote. Bernie wants to change things, those changes are popular and possible, but only if people believe they are possible and make it happen. Since most politicians are horrible and self serving and since the system is so utterly corrupt and broken, that isn’t easy.
Bernie is calling for actual solutions that can possibly deal with the environmental crisis and is pushing for things long overdue that the conservatives have been dismantling for decades now in the UK, and elsewhere. I don’t know tons about the politics of the UK, but I think Bernie is potentially a sign of what is to come, as young people here overwhelming agree with his platform. The question is going to be what they and the left does when those in power, in the media, totally shut the system off to needed structural changes. I think that the left will have to be ruthless if it wants to actually take power and to implement its program. Cause, even if Bernie wins, those in power would treat him as they treated Mitterrand when he was first elected. So, part of his platform and plan will have to included anticipating and being ready, if he does win, to respond to what powerful capitalist interests will do to him. They have a lot in him failing, and a lot of lose if he wins. They also own the dominant media, and most of society.
Straight from my Brit friends….Labour lost because the working class, whose adherence to Labour goes back to their grandfathers, had voted FOR Brexit, and were fed up with the endless shenanigans that Corbyn and Co put up to stop it. 3 years worth. Labour did not heed the plurality of the workers who voted to Leave and who also rejected a second referendum. Had a minimal about to do with all the other factors cited, “left and right” as many Americans apparently tend towards viewing the political landscape. Labour was blind to the people’s preference, who were also dismayed over the endless haggling about Brexit. If Labour had won, the haggling would probably continue, ad infinitum….
Taking back control from elites sounds like a good slogan for any progressive party, easy to understand, easy to explain, and it is in fact a populist take that might compete with populist xenophobe or populist nationalist narratives. Contrarian views could be easily dismissed as elitist garbage that has brougth us were we are. Interestingly, Johnson won big alienating the more traditional tories suggesting that these days, being centrist is not appealing and for good reason. That is why I agree with PK that blairites should split or at least have been silenced in Labour. One of the advantages of conservative parties is that these are not democratic internally and their changing leaderships generally show more internal cohesion than progressive parties. If you are not in the leadership just shut your [family blog] mouth and let them fail or succeed. Showing a divide undermines a party and progressive parties usually show deep drifts that are not seen as a sign of plurality but weakness. That is why showing too dogmatic is also seen with distrust and also suggests inability to negotiate and risk of overdoing it. As an example, after may elections in Spain, the inability of progressive parties to negotiate a coalition resulted in losses in the election repeat in autumn and a sense of despair among progressive voters who easily tend to not show up when feeling annoyed.
It is time to ignore the calls of many mainstream media (NYT, Guardian, El Pais…) for centrism as a way to avoid extremism or populism. Populism (at least some) is needed to fight populism.
The SNP for one has shown how its possible to undermine the elites (both the business and left wing establishments were always very anti-nationalist) by appealing to what I’d term a ‘soft populism’. Not enough to scare people, but enough to make them enjoy seeing people in power squirm. I think that’s a very important part of their appeal. Of course, you could argue that they are the establishment now, but that’s the price of success.
Two points. There’s a subtle but important distinction between things that influence elections and things that elections are “about”. Ted Heath’s 1974 decision to call an election he didn’t need to was about “who runs Britain” at a time of strikes and unrest. The voters told him he didn’t. The Falklands, mentioned in passing, was not what the 1983 election was “about,” nor was it why Labour lost. The Tory vote actually went down between 1979 and 1983, but a bunch of proto-Third Way anticipatory Blairites left Labour to form the SDP, taking a good part of Labour’s middle class base with them. The result was an almost 50/50 split in the anti-Tory vote and a crushing majority for the Tories. It had nothing to do with the Falklands, except that possibly that episode helped the Tories retain votes they would otherwise have lost.
This was an election about Brexit. There were two options available: get it all over now, or yes, but it’s more complicated than that, and there are lots of other issues. Politics being what it is, the simple, if not simplistic, argument won out. And that’s it.
Secondly, I see the tired old “toxic backlash of a nation bitter about losing its empire” meme is being wheeled out again. This is silly. To even remember the empire, before it started to be disassembled in the mid-50s, you’d need to be well into your 70s now. I’ve never heard people spontaneously express this view, and I can’t remember how many decades it is since the last politician tried to appeal to it. The Empire was an elite cause that lasted barely fifty years at its height, and I can’t think of any election since WW2 where it was even mentioned.
I don’t know where the author has been, but he doesn’t seem to have been actually watching Corbyn. Readers can YouTube any number of Corbyn tub thumping speeches — and he was a very effective on the soapbox campaigner — where he did just that. It was also a consistent messaging refrain in media appearances.
U.K. Labour is now, showing it never misses and opportunity to do its opponents work for it, splitting itself in to two apparently unreconcilable factions. On the one side, we have spectacles like Ian Dunt’s Twitter account where he leads his merry band of largely metropolitan followers hoping to tweet the Conservatives into submission (if only it was that easy) trying to convince themselves — no-one else in the country is listening to them — that if only the pesky Labour Leave campaign could, by some mysterious mechanism, have been defeated, all would be well in Labour.
On the other, we have pieces like this author wrote, which I’ll try to be nice, because we’ve all been through a rough time, and characterise as political Deus ex machina. What, then does the author think that Devine intervention might be. Brace yourselves folks, here it comes:
Where do we even start? “[…] a nation bitter about losing its empire“. No, no one in the U.K. ever cries into their beer about losing its empire. Maybe I heard someone saying this in about 1985. That, no kidding, was the last occasion. Certainly it has not been any part of popular thinking in the last twenty years or more. This is such a tired old trope, the very sight of it is sufficient to discredit the repeater beyond any redemption.
Then we get to “[…] to offer genuine collective agency, through a political revolution“. The revolution will definitely be televised. But it will not, alas, extend any further than a few overpriced coffee shops in Islington. Joking aside, this paragraph is the denouement of the entire muddled thinking which the author is captive to. There was a political revolution. There was a seizing of collective agency. It was in the vote to leave the EU. And this goes to the heart of why the author, unsurprisingly given where they post, simply fails to understand they are making the same miscalculation they’ve been making for the last three and a half years.
Remain progressives are undoubtedly passionate about progressive policies being brought about. But only if the political revolution concludes in the U.K. remaining in the EU. If, for whatever reason, Leave ends up getting the upper hand in the U.K. political environment, then unfortunately the progressive revolution will have to be postponed.
Because poverty, inequality, healthcare and so on will all have to be shunted down into secondary priorities. Continuing to refight the 2016 EU membership referendum is apparently more important. Either that, or it can apparently be blotted out from any electoral strategising in favour of exposing some bland offer of collective agency.
With opponents like this muppet, Johnson has nothing at all to worry about.
Finally, I can’t leave today’s edition of U.K. Progressives’ Drag It Out Indefinitely Race without turning to First Past the Post (FPTP). What FPTP taketh away (denying the Conservatives a stonking majority on a minority share of the vote) it giveth (the SNP in Scotland getting 80% of the parliamentary seats on a 45% vote share). And, just to entice proportional representation fans further, in Northern Ireland the DUP would be a clear unambiguous winner, with Sinn Féin getting 4 seats rather than 7 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results/northern_ireland
I’ll leave that thought with y’all. I’m going to have to hide behind the sofa for the next five years, if this is how U.K. progressives are going to respond to Johnson’s electoral victory.
We’ve both coincidentally picked up on the loss of Empire nonsense, but it makes me wonder whether there is something deeper than just ignorance here. I suspect it’s the classic human need to create and identify forces different from and opposite from you, without worrying too much about whether that picture is accurate.
Consider: back in the 70s, if you were a Labour Party supporter, you knew what you stood for, and you knew that Tory supporters had very different ideas. In those days there were real and substantial differences in economic policy and between the vision of society of the two main parties. You would be for nationalisation, higher rates of income tax, quite possibly a trades unionist …. Now, you’re a bloke (or blokess) living in Islington. Politics has become essentially a series of ethical and lifestyle choices; So you see yourself as tolerant (except for things that obviously can’t be tolerated, of course), internationalist, multicultural , European, you support “free movement” and the “rights” of various parts of the Gender Alphabet. It follows that your opponents are necessarily the opposite of all of these things, because they are your opponents. You don’t actually have to ask them, or even pay attention to what they say. You just know.
Yes (responding to both this and your earlier comment), you’re correct across all the points you raise.
The progressive left must seriously, seriously up its game as a response to the election result. Every time I see this kind lazy shopworn hand-me-down reasoning (the Age of Empire nonsense) I cry a little more because it only drives someone else, or a lot of someone else’s, straight into the welcoming arms of the regressive right. Ditto “it was all down to austerity!”, “it was the old people”, “racists, racists!” — on and on and on. Of course, some of these were somewhat of a factor. But none of these was the only, definitive factor. So picking this- or that- topic and harping on about it is simply a waste of time.
As you so correctly point out, turning support for the EU in to some awful, giant identity politics meme didn’t help Remain a jot.
The voters are time-poor and are not, typically, like a lot of us here, politics nerds. They’ll see a few lines or a paragraph or two of some patently simplistic nonsense — or worse, an out-and-out insult — and click on to something that seems more sensible. When will progressives stop wasting bandwidth?
And only slightly less bad is “if Labour hadn’t been pro-Remain, we’d have lost Bristol and Portsmouth”, countered, again, by Labour supporters “but if we’d been pro-Leave we’d not have lost Bassetlaw, Bolsover and Crewe & Nantwich!”. As if this, like Hitler manoeuvring non-existent divisions on the table map in his bunker with his generals, will turn the clock back to last Thursday.
I had hoped that, following the chastening defeat in the election, Labour might, collectively, start making moves in a direction that would start it on the path of getting back on the voter’s agendas, recognising that this is politics, sometimes you have to bury the ideological dead and move on. There’s a FTA to be negotiated. Where does Labour stand on how this should look? Does it want to champion autoworkers, but then accept that fisheries will need to be open to EU competition? Does it think that agriculture should be opened up to the fierce blast of competition at world prices (but then acknowledge that higher food prices are inherently regressive)? Or if it wants to make a case to support UK farmers, that’s a better compromise than letting, say, US agriculture have a free reign? But when we say farmers, would Labour mean this farmer or that farmer? Or both?
This is not some abstract, distant theoretical concept and academic debate. It is a real, live set of complex questions facing the country in general and facing the left right now. And what, exactly, is Labour doing? Distracting itself with nonsense like in this article, that’s what.
You can almost convince yourself it is doing that, because it is easier than facing the real, tough, pressing questions.
So the UK has come to terms with the fact that it lost WWII?
Yes, most definitely. It makes a fair few Leave voters chuckle to themselves when this kind of “see, you’re just hankering after lost glories of global domination” get bandied about. The UK has been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. It turned out to be nothing but an illusion and a destructive one at that.
Which is what makes a segment of Leave so very, very wary of an EU seemingly intent on strutting its stuff on the world stage, “helping” “developing countries” with “democracy” and “economic development” (like Ukraine), picking squabbles with the US and generally throwing its newly put-on weight around. We don’t like what we see. It reminds us of ourselves, the way we used to be.
Beavering away, quietly and unobtrusively in the background seems to have comparative advantages.
Perhaps most of the British imperialists moved to America and now work at our think tanks.
Thanks you (England). There’s a strong suspicion in many quarters that the British have a hand in much going on here such as Russiagate–just as they had a hand in that earlier Cold War. It was after all Churchill who kicked the thing off with his Iron Curtain speech.
And what was the Iraq War about if not “we’re an empire now”? Niall Ferguson was in the air and the longing to get back in the “great game” seemed to preoccupy the elites on both sides of the pond—i.e. the “Atlanticists.”
So the voters may not be obsessed with bygone power but perhaps the Brit deep state is.
Iraq was the final nail in the coffin for support for foreign adventurism in the U.K.
That Blair thought his espousal of Remain was ever going to be in any way a plus shows how delusional he’s become. If anything, his interventions produced reactions of “if he’s for it, it makes sense to be against it”.
Thank you, Carolinian.
You are spot on with regard to British imperialist interference and the deep state.
The Atlanticist deep state’s Sir Richard Dearlove, formerly of MI6 and former master of a Cambridge college, was one of the leading lights behind Brexit, but works in the shadows and lets the UKIP, Brexit Party and ERG loudmouths monopolise the airwaves. He’s also involved with RUSSIAgate and the regular and ritual smears against Corbyn in the Daily Mail and Murdoch press.
The UK is isolated, so by stirring things up in the US, UK, Syria, Baltic States and Ukraine, the British neo-cons make themselves useful and wanted. Watch out, Bernie.
I have spoken to diplomats from the smaller EU member states who feel that the EU27 should come to an accommodation with the UK due to the threat from RUSSIA and increasingly CHINA. They don’t realise the extent of the UK deep state playing them.
Clive I beg to differ.
My anecdotal evidence comes from having worked with British lower middle and working class people for the last 30 years (plus having an English wife). I have been in plenty of conversations (post 1985) about the preceived greatness of the UK and have found that the vast majority of those who would now be late forties and older take great pride in the Empire or British military greatness, I’m honestly struggling to remember one who didn’t. This includes supporters of Scottish independence. For those younger I struggle to remember any you either didn’t care or had negative views. So I would contend the assertion is possibly true for a particular subset of Northern English people in particular. I’m not able to make any claims about how significant they were in the election.
I’m a seafarer so it could well be that my sample group is particularly reactionary.
Even assuming for the sake of argument you are entirely correct and the denizens of Labour’s (former) heartlands were predominantly hopeless dyed-in-the-wool imperialists, your inevitable conclusion is a “because deplorables” defeat. “We don’t want to govern”, so your thinking goes, “if we have to rely on the votes of those sorts of people“. Johnson and Trump have, I assure you, no such qualms.
Now, you can certainly then lay claim to occupying the moral high ground. Suffice to say, this is a long way from Downing Street or Pennsylvania Avenue.
The choice is, obviously, yours to make. For the progressive left, it has always been so.
Not at all, I didn’t argue that they should be ignored, or that they are all the “Denizens of the former Labour heartlands” just that people with these views exist.
The Tories seem to me to be taking a leaf out of the Republican playbook and are generating an English culture war. And it’s working.
If we don’t try and understand the electorate in total how do we craft a working strategy? Perhaps these voters are lost and greater effort has to be made in persuading others, or maybe a message that could persuade is possible. But how much should we compromise our principles? What’s the point of a Leftwing goverment that governs from the right, see how that’s worked out in Pennsylvania avenue. If you are suggesting that we need politicians to lie like Johnson in order to obtain power why do you think they’d be progressive?
I’ve had no success personally in persuading any change of heart but that’s probably down to my ineptitude.
I’m not pretending I know the answers. It’s “What’s the matter with Kansas?” in the rain.
I think there are very few people who rejoice in the fact the Britain has declined over the last forty years because its industry has been sold off, its political system has been corrupted, its public services run into the ground and, for that matter, its diplomatic and military capability reduced to a shadow of what it once was. This means that national interests – yours, mine, our families, our friends – aren’t looked after in the way they used to be. As an exporter, an expatriate, a tourist an NGO worker abroad, you inevitable suffer.
The problem is that there’s a current on the masochistic modern Left, taking its inspiration it must be said from the colourless and antiseptic transnationalism of the EU, which confounds the pursuit of public good with vulgar patriotism, patriotism with aggressive nationalism and nationalism with prejudice and conflict. The only cures for this are seen to be a foreign policy which is a policy made by foreigners (thus the EU) or a foreign policy based on masochistic self-abasement. Needless to say, this in not only wildly removed from what most people want, it’s also completely foreign to left-wing traditions of thinking, which had no difficulty reconciling patriotism and internationalism.
From the point of view that says that the UK is in terminal decline, that’s a jolly good thing and we should all welcome it, any expression of regret for the days when we had a functioning government and political system is thus automatically unacceptable, and to be dismissed as “nostalgia for empire”,of which, I have to repeat, I have seen no sign. .
Thank you. Great comment.
British people of every stripe take patriotic pride in the achievements of the past. But there is no angst over ‘losing’ the Empire, we gave it away freely (mostly) because it was the right thing to do.
Correct. We made hideous, awful mistakes in that process (India/Pakistan partition is one example, a lot of the border creation in sub Saharan Africa is another, I won’t even start on Palestine, to name but a few) but nowhere during that was there serious political pushback — even in the 1950’s — trying to hold out against the inevitable.
Churchill’s defeat in the 1945 election was a confirmation that British society was no longer willing to accept his brand of the Conservative default geopolitical settlement, including colonialism. Times had, to be cliched, changed.
America, to its credit (although it’s motives were of course mixed) also gave Britain a good hearty shove in the right direction.
Proof of this was exemplified domestically, when the Suez debacle was rightfully reviled politically at the time — the U.K. government behind it was turfed out pronto.
Hmm, the British media represents a different reality — so if so, I’m surprised that there’s such a disjunction between what normal people think and what the propaganda is.
I read the British media assiduously and cannot recall a single piece of “we shouldn’t have given up ruling half the world” type of article — even in places like the Daily Mail or Express in my living memory. If you can find some, please don’t hesitate to post a link.
Niall Ferguson is the only person I can think of who says anything like that, which is one reason why I don’t bother with him. I understand he has some popularity in the US though.
Didn’t Johnson write something to the effect that Africa’s problems are because the British no longer govern?
Nope. PR does not mean proportional to their first preferences. In the Republic FF usually gets fewer seats than its first preference, simply because it gets fewer lower transfers, whereas independants and the Greens get more. The DUP and SF would get fewer seats with a Republic type system, the likes of Alliance and SDLP would get more, as they would be more transfer friendly. PR systems favour the ‘least hated’ party, not the ‘most popular’.
Which highlights why this is a rabbit hole for progressives to go down. There’s multiple variations on alternatives to FPTP. Some systems attempt to map vote share directly into seat counts (which was my example result). Some are single transferable vote. Some are hybrids, attempting to give a local representation which is in line with that constituency’s voter preference along with a more national weighted averaging. Everyone can pick their particular version of perfection.
More, then, to wrangle over. The SNP would bitterly resist, given how much they, like the Conservatives, can game FPTP.
Something which splits the left is the last thing the left needs, compared to a now united right. Always with the progressive left, it seems to be expending political capital on things that might pay off for the proletariat at some future point in time, assuming they can obtain power, rather than spending the same (finite) supply on trying to get into power right now.
John Major had a significant role in the Good Friday agreement before Blair, judging by my families experience over the last couple of decades I disagree that especially in the NHS that Blair improved things as he introduced privatisation & all sorts of easily gamed management consultant BS, of which Adam Curtis gives a thorough rundown. He also introduced with his pals PPP’s & basically perhaps at a slower pace left the door open for the more Tory hardcore version, all of which resulted recently in the near death of my Mother due to a private bunch of spivs taking 3 months to decorate a small flat / apartment.
He oversaw outsourcing while not providing anything concrete to fill in the gap, except branding which basically equaled nothingness based on the failed Bilbao effect. I agree that some Brexiteers are stupid but by no means not all, but i would also state that some Remainers have also been stupid in their reaction to this.
I think we are well & truly family blogged & if i was Boris I would at least chip away at Identity politics / PC as one thing i know is that many people from the apparently stupid end of things are heartily sick to death of it, which could include those once Labour supporters who helped to get him where he is now.
I would like to offer a different perspective on the loss of empire issue. As a Canadian who followed Brexit quite closely I had multiple online encouters with Brexit supporters who asserted, apparently in all sincerity, that the risks of Brexit were being exaggerated in part because Britain could still rely on the Commonwealth, or at least the Dominions, to succor it in its time of need (they might have phrased it somewhat differently but that was the gist). More than once I was forced to remark that there is clearly a section of the British (or at least English) electorate that thinks the year is 1900 and when push comes to shove the colonies will rally to the mother country as they did in two world wars.
Come to that the compulsion of some Brexiters to constantly draw analogies between leaving the EU and the country’s experience in World War II is also telling. That conflict has almost completely passed from living memory yet still has a significant hold on the popular imagination.
“The monarchy of Canada is at the core of Canada’s constitutional federal structure and Westminster-style parliamentary democracy. The monarchy is the foundation of the executive (Queen-in-Council), legislative (Queen-in-Parliament), and judicial (Queen-on-the-Bench) branches of both federal and provincial jurisdictions. The sovereign is the personification of the Canadian state and is Queen of Canada as a matter of constitutional law. The current Canadian monarch and head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned since 6 February 1952. Elizabeth’s eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales, is heir apparent.”
I have no idea what the duties for subjects of the queen are. So it is still an interesting question.
The Telegraph yesterday (I think) ran one of its usual stuff to give the troops pieces on how, post Brexit, the U.K. can lever “the Anglosphere” and the Commonwealth for trade ties. This is not an attempt to recreate the British Empire. It is, rather, a not-especially convincing attempt to widen the Gravity Model of trade. It’s not completely delusional because language, culture, legal systems and so on can facilitate trade links. But it is way overstated by Brexit’eers.
The same subtlety applies to wartime phrasing. “Blitz spirit” is still commonly heard as is “Dunkirk”, “the Maginot Line”and other kinds of stiff-upper-lipping. Need I also mention too the endless over use of “Keep Calm and Carry On” japery? Again, these do not denote some eternal nostalgia for the 1940’s. They are merely popular culture. I think in then US “Pearl Harbour” serves a similar ready-to-use verbal crutch. Just because someone refers to it, it doesn’t mean they hate the Japanese.
New Zealand will be more than happy to help, as long as the UK agrees to all the trade terms it wants (and isn’t averse to blocking a WTO agreement if they don’t).
You neatly encapsulating why the Rules Based International Order is toast. It is no longer a mechanism for genuine cooperation.
It’s become a Vegas for WTO paperwork. Everyone walks in, agrees to how the game is played, makes a tacit commitment to playing fair. Then starts counting cards.
Everyone wants to win, not merely be content with taking part. But in doing so, everyone loses. Well, it was nice while it lasted, I suppose.
I was offering a flippant and perhaps unflattering characterization of the NZ position – which is, of course, that it has existing agreements with the EU on export quotas, the proposed EU/UK split amounts to changing them without consultation or negotiation, and therefore New Zealand are the ones defending the rules-based international order against the barbarian hordes. They do have a point even if it’s overstated – NZ would lose the ability to dynamically shift export balances to respond to changes in demand, and it’s not unreasonable for them to expect something in exchange if that happens, or at least be a party to negotiations.
The rules-based international order was always conditional on the willingness of the largest and most powerful countries in the world to play ball, and the fact that they’ve been less and less willing to do so is the biggest factor in its decline in my opinion. I pin it as starting when the UN delivered a political setback to Bush by not supporting his Iraq war (remember when the US had to at least pretend to care what the UN thought about their military adventures?) but it might go even further back.
Yes, and the U.K. Ultra Brexit’eers were similarly inclined to conclude, wrongly, that large importers (like the U.K.) didn’t necessarily have to play ball, as you correctly metaphor it, but could join, say, the US in stomping all over it.
Of course, the US’ position is that the EU is a protectionist block, evidenced by how many WTO dispute troll points it is wracking up.
And NZ has a point in saying hey, wait a minute, I thought we’d reached an agreement with the EU, now with Brexit suddenly we find you’re not such a large market as you said you were going to be, but we’re supposed to keep to the same terms?
To which the U.K. and the EU will rightly respond, didn’t you read the TFEU Article 50 where it says quite clearly a Member State can leave the Union?
That’s just scratching the surface of it all. As you allude, once some actors stop playing the game, or want to tilt the playing field, it’s hard then even for honest brokers (NZ was probably one of these, a small lonely group) to stick with it.
I wish I had a better tale to tell and better answers…
I think the NZ complaint boils down to what to do with a quota to send (say) 1000 widgets a year to the EU on favorable trade terms, if there is a divorce settlement and it needs to be converted into two separate quotas.
The EU/UK interpretation is that one quota of up to 1000 widgets per year to the EU (with the UK) equals one quota of up to 500 units per year to the EU (without the UK) plus one quota of up to 500 units per year to the UK. The NZ interpretation is that since the quota gave them the right to send up to 1000 widgets a year all to the UK (or none to the UK and all to the rest of the EU) depending on market conditions, then the EU quota terms should remain the same at 1000/year, and the UK quota terms should be a copy of the EU ones.
Ian Welsh has what I think is a good take on things. See: https://www.ianwelsh.net/why-labour-lost-in-britain/.
The post goes into details and includes a few charts that show how overwhelming that media was against Corbyn.
Yes”ish”. He doesn’t note that we literally lost quite a lot of votes up North because people just didn’t vote. What we need to see is why did they stay at home and can we get them back. It will make those constituencies into proper marginals.
I agree he didn’t address the poor turnout amount Northern Labour voters and this is an important question.
Speculating: I suspect the influence of the traditional and social media played a large roll in depressing turnout in a similar manner to the 2016 election in the US.
Exactly. So the two questions are:
1) How does the Left prevent the Blairites re-taking control over Labour. If they succeed, then that will be the end of a real alternative to Neo-liberalism for another decade
2) How does the Left side-step the institutionalised media bias.
Pretty much the same dilemma that Sanders faces – a hostile Democratic Party and media.
LBACC: ‘The “perceived elite” are carefully engineered to be those pesky liberals who in reality genuinely try to help the working class, and whose only true tactical fault is that many of them are a social elite who don’t often mix with the working class, and do little to break with that perception.’
As clearly demonstrated by Blair and the Clintons and Obama, those pesky liberals are not all genuinely trying to help the working class. Even when they are trying to help, they often try from a technocratic perspective which may or may not help the working class (or the lower middle class for that matter), but which definitely helps the professional managerial class (PMC), which is the true base of the liberals.
There are plenty of liberals out there who truly do try to help and, for example, within their institutions truly do help. But the liberals as a whole are dependent on and strongly identified with the very system that is harming the working class.
The notion that they are trying to help the working class is part of the ideology that they depend on to justify their larger share of wealth and power. That is one reason why they react with such anger against anyone who shows them up by really trying to help, by really in part being of the working class.
Granted, for the working class to vote for Trump or Brexit does not seem to me to be the wisest or most socially mature reaction to what has been done to them, but when I remember Clinton fight so hard for NAFTA and gutting New Deal protections against the finance sector and Obama working so hard to protect the finance sector and prevent any significant reform, I can’t blame the working class in the US or in the UK for refusing to trust anyone who hasn’t proven that they really stand with the working class.
I hope that one of the lessons the Sanders folks draw from all this is that electoral politics alone are not enough. Organization. Visible, concrete benefits (as Lambert often says)
We have stopped listening. We have no reason to care. An election is just a handoff to the next looter. Watching a campaign is like watching a room-full of drunks.
Perhaps a wholesale reading of Orwell’s ” The Road to Wigan Pier ” is in order, although Labour did hold onto that seat. From what I recall of it much of it is still true at least in the older generation who are the ones who for the most part waffle on & on about WW2 & Empire. I caught the tail end of this propaganda during my itinerant education & things like Ladybird books, which had me convinced of much in the way of mythology like Richard the Lionheart being a great English King.
Orwell stated that the Northern working classes were OK with the idea of Socialism, but did not like Socialists, especially their leaders who alongside their London brethren had not the slightest idea of the reality of the lives of those they were supposed to support. It was also thought by Orwell that many of these Lefties did not really gave a damn, but only truly sought to make use of the votes to takeover from the Capitalist elite. I think through my experience coming from a working class background that these opinions still persist particularly in the old & were not helped by the abandonment of the UK rust belt by New Labour. There were also Polish immigrants in those days who mainly became coal miners & the xenophobia with worries about the lowering of wages were much the same back then. I suppose that when times are tough & people are fighting for crumbs, it is hardly surprising, but perhaps one has to experience it in it’s full reality.
Dropping off outsiders into Northern constituencies likely didn’t help much either & I remember my late wife who as part of her job dealt with Labour councillers in a large safe seat during the 90’s, was of the opinion that those characters had nothing whatsoever in common with their constituents.
The Fabian Society set up in London slums & actually got to know the people who they presumably were really trying to help, which resulted in the coster mongers strike & a long slow battle to get rid of the Rookeries, establish unions etc. Class is also a factor & I have noticed younger family members within my extended family who do not see themselves as working class. Funnily enough during my short time at a 70’s Secondary Modern, a history teacher gave the class 3 choices as to what class the individual pupils fitted into. Everybody but myself & a lad whose family picked coal & wheeled it home in an old pram, chose Middle Class – the teacher laughed till she was fit to burst.
I really do resent the insults aimed at the one group who it is still OK to insult, which is partly due to the many excellent people I met while working in industry up until 1990. My Father who was management & ex Army referred to them as the NCO’s who he believed were the backbone of the Army & also industry. Sure, many were conservative & old fashioned in their beliefs but they as the overseer class kept the show on the road until it was flogged off abroad & they certainly were not stupid.
“Sure, many were conservative & old fashioned in their beliefs but they as the overseer class kept the show on the road until it was flogged off abroad & they certainly were not stupid.”
This should be repeated again and again. In one conversation I had one working class canvasser said to the working class bloke that it was “his duty” to vote Labour. Really? That’s not quite a vote getter – and doesn’t get people out to the voting booth.
One just can’t get good help these days – I don’t suppose that the fella touched his forelock & agreed. I am guessing that the bottom of the heap will grow in size as social mobility decreases & they are no longer much use as cannon, servant or factory fodder. I don’t know what the state of play is with student loans in the UK but I imagine that it won’t help with making that leap to the first rung on the ladder & unless something is done about zero hour contracts etc, I kinda think that there will be a lot more pissed off people out there, especially if the casino goes bust again against a backdrop of Brexit consequences & a firesale of the NHS.
I think it would help if people at least tried to apply some empathy & try to understand how things are in places that they really have no true concept of, where those who were not so fortunate in the birth lottery eke a living. I do also believe that eventually it will blowback in the faces of those who look down their noses from a supposedly safe distance.
If there was such a thing as the Chinese curse gauge, it must be very close to it’s top setting.
Responding to the last para of PK’s long quote in Yves’ intro:
Active valour may often be the present of nature; but such patient diligence can be the fruit only of habit and discipline. -Gibbon, Rise and Fall, vol.1
2 cents from someone who is not in the UK.
There is a good study from Piketty about the evolution of political electorates, that shows the same trends in the UK. USA and France:
This study shows that conservative vote is U-shaped relative to income:
– the bottom 10% or so of income distribution skews largely conservative;
– the middle 80% skews slightly progressive;
– the top 10% skews largely conservative.
This is the sum of two different trends:
– high wealth (asset owners) voters skews totally conservative;
– high education skew totally progressive.
Since both assets and high education generate income, we have a situation where:
– bottom 10% income, low education wins on low assets, vote conservative;
– middle 80%, higish education wins on some assets, vode slightly left;
– top 10%, they get most of their income from assets, so they vote conservative regardless of their high education.
In this sense the right is the party of the asset owners (good old capitalists), whereas the left became the party of the technocrats.
The right uses this big time and depict the left as elitists and out of touch, not really part of “us”, using a definition of “us” that harks back to traditional cultural values.
This is the reason the right skews toward authoritarianism (there is a relationship between respect for traditional authority and hence conservative cultural value and what Altemeyer calls “high RWA”, but this is for another discussion).
The problem for the left is that 10% of low income voters who:
– in economic terms, “should” be leftish;
– but are culturally very conservative (linked to the low education).
The left cannot ignore them because, in principle, the left is supposed to work for them, but in pratice the conservative cultural values of these people will allways shift them to the right, also conservative cultural value make most leftish policies, that by nature are quite technocratic, impossible.
But still if the left calls them “deplorables” it betrays its own logical principles.
So this really is a problem, and I don’t think it is a problem that is easy to solve. However there are only two options:
1) either these guys wake up and realize that they are shooting themselves in the feet, and start voting left again (unlikely)
2) OR the left will have to do without their votes, accept that the right will use this kind of rethoric where the lefties are all out of touch with Teh-real-people(TM), and find another way to define itself (like: yeah they are deplorables, they are also mostly morons, we’ll do their interest against their will).
Neither or the options sounds great, but I would bet more on (2).
Or 3) the left starts represent the bottom 10% economic interests, instead of trying to make a deal to cut SS, or cutting welfare and unemployment insurance, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest, for example.
I don’t dispute Piketty’s U-shaped voting pattern as exists today. It did not always exist. It is not a law of nature that this vote distribution is inevitable.
My opinion (not Piketty’s) is that there is a certain group of voters who vote right against their economic interests because of shared cultural values, and that the right year by year invested more and more in these cultural values because this is where the votes are. Sure, the left should represent these voter’s economic interests, but they won’t vote left for this.
Seriously, one of the accusations against Corbyn was that he was an evil Marxist. But if the bottom 10% voted for their economic interest they should vote the unrepentant Marxist all the time, how is it that they didn’t? It’s because of conservative cultural values not because of a lack of leftism.
One important missing piece there is that it’s the ‘bottom 10%’ (probably more like 20) who are competing directly with the immigrants the soi disant ‘progressives’ have brought in, and deeply resent them being given a further leg up with equal access to social welfare etc. (e.g. ‘freeloaders’, ‘didn’t pay in’, ‘take and take but don’t give back’, ‘bite the hand that feeds them’, ‘self-segregate’, ‘only hire each other once they do start to make it’, etc.) These beliefs may be wrong (or overgeneralized) but they are sincerely held.
When it comes to the right to reside (commonly referred to as freedom of movement) then I am a little surprised that so many see it as a good thing when there are so few who uses it. If it was good then why are not more using it?
How large a percentage of the people in the UK have moved abroad to work? Doubtful if the percentage is higher than Poland so it might be worthwhile to look at Poland:
-the people who moved abroad did it for better opportunities. Is the remain vote due to fear that UK was going downhill and they wanted their children to have the chance to escape?
-some/many of the ones who moved abroad settled abroad. After living abroad long enough then moving back is like moving to another country not like moving home.
-some found love, started a family and suddenly the grandparents aren’t even in the same country as their own grand-children….
-stopping incoming immigration would reduce the competition for jobs for the younger generation so is it really worse for the children if they have less competition for jobs?
Yet we are somehow to believe that the ones who voted leave sold out the future generation when many indications are that the ones who voted remain sold out the future generation in exchange for higher property prices…
Silly me … I thought it was just the right’s complete lack of honestly and well honed skill in proselytizing, wonder where they got that from …
There is a war going on …. you know … endless …
This reads exactly like a post mortem will for the US general election if Warren ends up the nominee.
I think we’re over analysing the election result.
All the parties had barnacles, but the Conservatives just managed at a point in time to distract voters by addressing Brexit as the critical issue on voter’s minds which harnessed the general mood over the shenanigans in Parliament over deal, no deal and the bull dust being thrown in the eyes by the “negotiators” in the EU. Their entire campaign ruthlessly ignored the peripheral issues and hammered the public with the get Brexit done message.
This happens all the time in political elections. The “drain the swamp” worked for Trump and the “retiree tax” worked for the current Australian Government. Looking back on most elections over time reflect this fact. These single issues become rallying points for voters who later will probably regret being caught up in the hubris, but are swept along like the lemmings we can all be in the heat of the moment. I have mental visions of the storming of the bastille when thinking about how single minded humans can be at times.
It’s clever politicking y’all. Don’t crush your nuts over it.
From the US…. it seems that Remain was the fundamentally weaker position all along (geographic distribution of the Leave votes…). Once Conservatives got a PM who wholeheartedly embraced Leave, there were no winning options for Lab short of complete ideological capitulation to the center (and for that, no guarantee at all of stopping Brexit).
What I’m saying is it was Brexit. There’s no need to second guess your own principles. There will be more elections, and there won’t be another situation like this.
I was reading the Quillette take on the Labour defeat and was struck by the visceral hatred of Corbyn expressed by many of the — formerly Labour — people canvassed by the author, in one of England’s poorest voting districts, no less. Forget the stupid title of the piece for a moment, as Corbyn is not “woke” (you won’t find him rabbiting on about the plight of the transgender lesbian, for instance, or advocating sex change for toddlers). What is going on here is a kind of vengeful racism. To these people, it seems, politics is a zero-sum game and by daring to express sympathy for other causes than the english worker and nothing but the english worker, e.g., palestinians, Corbyn has betrayed them. In the same line of affect (you can’t call it thought) he is seen as unpatriotic because of his unabashed criticism of british foreign policy and the shibboleth of its nuclear deterrent (a shibboleth since US-owned and -controlled). Never mind that Britain has stomped on these people and mashed their faces into the mud: if you criticize Britain you are against them.
No wonder then that they respond so well to the Tories’ little-englandism and racist dog whistles. The lesson here seems to be that in order to win, a party of the left in England will have to be a little racist, very nationalist and strictly focused on domestic issues: no international solidarity or any such “woke” distractions. Something like the french Rassemblement National (ex-FN). Can the English left deliver? Does it even want to?
Interesting article mentioned on Tucker Carlson’s show tonight. I live in the U.S. so I don’t know if it’s accurate.
Looks like the Conservatives are wasting no time in repaying their debts for all those that supported them in the campaign, including the Chief Rabbi-
> The only available successful model for Labour is the SNP. A broad based populist ‘soft’ left coalition with strong national values (but noticeably non-racist).
I don’t see how this can work. As Lincoln did not quite say:
As an American, I don’t see how a “soft” labor-adjacent party competes successfully with a Tory “One Nation” strategy. Here, people tend to vote for real Republicans instead of soft Republicans (i.e., centrist Democrats). From the BBC (sigh, but):
Sure, BoJo is lying, but at least he cares enough to fake it. Whatever message Labour’s internecine warfare is conveying, it’s not “thanks” for generations of working class support, now come to nothing. That doesn’t speak well of the party, or its capacity to display adaptability. Or else it does, which means they will have written off the working class and confined themselves to rump status, becoming “all one thing.”
I didn’t take the SNP comment that way. But then again, I figure we’ll keep most of the policies (including nationalisation). To concentrate on the post-Brexit world of “being British” is quite honestly what we should have done anyway. So there could be a proper significant choice: a British popular left versus a British right. I haven’t spoken to one person (I work in the City) who is happy with Boris. They want a Labour party that can actually fight this. We need someone ruthless with the right politics (i.e. Blair ruthlessness with Corbyn policies).
But as you note and about internecine warfare – the Blairites can’t help themselves. And the left is being overly defensive (partly because the Blairites are incapable of having any graciousness, but also because they don’t want to think that working class people might be, uh, a bit socially conservative). So yeah, I’m staying out of the fray from both sides till after the New Year.
I’d also like to note to my British comrades, that the best book to read right now is Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. Rolling Stone has a wonderful excerpt from it: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-news/fear-and-loathing-on-the-campaign-trail-in-72-204428/ Reading some of it is like reading exactly about what happened last Thursday:
“McGovern: Yeah, the spinning head commercial, knocking over the soldiers. The welfare thing. They concentrated on those themes. I suppose maybe I should have gone on television earlier with thoughtful question and answer sessions, the kind of speeches I was doing there the last few weeks. I think maybe that might have helped to offset some of the negatives we got on the Eagleton thing [dumping the VP nominee after it came out that he had been treated in mental hospitals]… Another problem: There was a feeling on the part of a lot of the staff that after Miami [Democratic Convention] there wasn’t the central staff direction that should have been. Whose fault that is I don’t know … I found in the field a lot of confusion about who was really in charge, pushing and pulling as to where you got things cleared, who had the final authority. That could have been handled more smoothly than it was.”
“Hunter Thompson: It has to do with two words: Eagleton and competence. The Eagleton Affair was so damaging to McGovern’s image – not as a humane, decent, kind, conservative man who wanted to end the war – but as a person who couldn’t get those things done even though he wanted to.”
Lots of interesting stuff and a warning from history – moving to the right would be catastrophic, but doing nothing at all would be as well.
Sorry, one last quote from the great Dr. Thompson:
One of the big questions: Who stayed home…and why.
My argument is based on the simple calculation that the majority of British people are somewhere centre and left. Consistently, around 40-45% of the electorate vote for the Tories or other right wing groups. Consistently more than 50% vote for Labour/LibDem/SNP/Green or other.
So you have two choices under FPTP- either try to create a political party that covers that spectrum. In other words, Labour should merge with the progressive elements of the Lib Dems. This is appealing, but I think frankly impossible. The other option is that Labour allows itself to split, but on the understanding that ‘we are all on the same side against the Tories’, and run on the basis of forming a broad centre left coalition, dominated by whoever the people choose as the dominant party (i.e., like in NI politics, where even hated rivals have mutual understandings based on the knowledge of who their real enemy is). This is impossible right now primarily due to the idiotic tribalism of some in the Labour Party.
My point about Blair is not that I like his politics. What I like is that he was successful in taking power and using it. And I’m not interested in any progressive politics that doesn’t have taking power as a focus. Its unfortunate for the Labour Party that the person they found to lead a successful political movement was, at heart, a neoliberal and neocon. But it didn’t have to be that way, as someone like Alex Salmond proved – he did something similar for the SNP, but didn’t betray their basic principles (whatever you think of what he got up to behind closed doors, now the subject of court proceedings).
So I don’t think its impossible that a charismatic, tactically astute leader could create a Labour party capable of winning over both their core working class vote, plus sufficient middle class urban votes to create an unstoppable block. Its just that I don’t see anyone right now capable of it. Otherwise, the only option are various alignments at local level and policy reformulations, which may work in the very long term, but frankly will never survive the ruthlessness of the Tory machine.
But this has always been the case, hasn’t it? All my life, at least. Even in the disastrous year of 1983, the combined Labour/Lib/SDP vote was around 53%. the problem isn’t that, the problem is the distribution of votes between the anti-Tory forces. Blair benefited from one of the periodic slumps in support for the Tories, which caused a lot of defections by Tory voters to the LDs, thus handing him a victory. But it was the Tories that lost that election, rather than Blair winning it. Blair’s ruthlessness was largely at the expense of his own party.
I’m beginning to think we are about to see a completely unexpected realignment in western politics generally: the rise of socially conservative but economically enlightened political parties. Such parties, whatever their label, would find it easy to take power in most European countries, because the dominant forces, irrespective of labels, are essentially the opposite: socially liberal and economically conservative, and the market for that kind of approach is, and always has been, very limited. They are only in power because of the lack of an organised alternative.
Maybe progressives should fund a faux right wing party, and make sure it competes with the Tories at the next election, to split the right wing, neoliberal vote… just like what the lib dems did to labour
I think that he has read Machiavelli which isn’t rocket science & i believe he will try to cultivate those type of people through rhetoric appealing to their patriotism etc. He does not have to bother with those who would never vote for him, kinda like Trump.
Ultimately all politicians do that to some extent. But I think the Tories are a little more subtle than Trump. I think we’ll see a wave of spending in poor northern areas (like Trump, they know austerity is a nonsense) to allow them to portray themselves as the ‘real’ defenders of poor communities. They will buy off business through deregulation and selling off what remains of the public realm. They will pump money into those public services used by their supporters/potential supporters – i.e into health and education, but not into social services for the poorest.
For all the facile criticism of Corbyn’s lack of political acumen and poor choice of strategy, I think that’s a gross misreading.
However unpalateable to remainers, Corbyn’s tactical ambiguity was a coup de maitre, as it broke down both the May government, and then her treacherous successors. Before the fated call to election, Johnson’s cabinet had lost commons vote after vote, had succumbed to interneccine schism, and had seen itself crushed to a laughable minority.
It was actually Jo Swinson and the lib-dems
who pushed through the election. Given her subsequent shameless sellout of the NHS and her mad iconoclastic anti-tactical demogagy, I’m not even sure it can be called hubris. It’s starting to look like 5th column stuff to me.
Corbyn was not the messiah, but he was as it said on the tin box. He had integrity.
Swinson was as genuine as Johnson is.
Reading the Guardian Observer articles I believe that Corbyn’s and Labour party’s credibility gap need to be addressed. People don’t want big promises without a demonstration of competence and capability. Assessing the problem accurately is not enough. Perhaps Corbynn should have showed how the UK still has the internal resources and ability to execute his version of more just and compassionate UK, inside or outside of the EU… that way people do not have to rely on blind trust.
Conversely, Sanders, who is promising much more social spending, should also build up credibility, that he is trustworthy and the USA can do what he wants to do without unleashing inflation or destroying the environment while delivering greater security to its people. He will also need to demonstrate that the USA is not budget constrained… decades of propaganda about inflation and how government should run itself like a household is a major meme he must address.