Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fixing Labour

Mark Mardell wrote an intelligent piece on the BBC website, pointing out that the conventional wisdom as to why Labour lost the election has congealed out as follows:
"Step back from the angst of supporters, and it may not be that hard to see why Labour failed. An economic recovery, hailed by independent organisations as the result of government policy, undid a party that had loudly proclaimed for five years that the coalition's policies would lead to economic disaster. Combine that with an uncharismatic and uninspirational leader, then you might argue no further debate is necessary. Fat chance of that.

Defeat breeds resentment, and this one has opened up old divisions. A chorus of Blairites, led by the man himself, has declared that Ed's problem was ignoring those with aspiration and ambition, failing to appeal to those running business."
This is an incredibly superficial diagnosis, which fails to capture the diversity of trends which undercut Labour's simplistic message during the election. Mardell continues,
"The Scottish wipeout is Labour's biggest problem. Fail to solve it, and Labour can forget ever having a comfortable majority again. It is hard to argue Labour were wiped out in Scotland because the SNP outflanked them to the right with their appeal to the business community and the ambitious and aspirational. But it is true the SNP drew in to people from left, right and centre, just as the modernisers say Labour should. It was the politics of economic self-interest, but cast in a very different light. Tribally sneering at "the reactionary ideology of nationalism" as Mr Blair does, will not reach the central belt of Scotland, the middle ground of Midlothian."
Lenin and Trotsky were quite aware of the anti-imperialist power of nationalism, and certainly didn't reduce it to economic class interest. Nor, by the way, did they consider it reactionary. Below Marxism's radar lies the indisputable dynamic of ethnic social solidarity, perhaps the most powerful emotional motivator in the mass.

Then we come to the second, and quite different fissure - UKIP:
"The increase in votes for Nigel Farage's party wasn't translated into parliamentary seats, but, although it is early days in terms of research, it probably hurt Labour a lot. If we believe - and I do - Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford, authors of Revolt on the Right, these voters are often former Labour supporters - older, less educated, those left behind on the tides of globalisation, stranded on the shores of post-industrialisation. They may have had too many disappointments to feel much ambition or aspiration. They are a challenge for Labour, and any new leader will spend a good deal of time thinking how to deal with the concerns of Europe and immigration.

Whether to share their fears, or confront them will be a big decision."
The third driver of Labour's defeat is paradoxically the very element which informs so much of Labour's own leadership, the trendy-leftism of petit-bourgeois radicalism and the aristo-liberal wing of the party:
"Those members who still proudly call themselves socialist. This is not about Old Labour - they are more likely to be baristas or barristers than boilermakers. It is easy as an outsider, as a journalist, to treat politics as an intellectual game about how best to win power - but many people, particularly the foot soldiers, particularly after the death of purely tribal loyalties, are in it because they passionately believe in winning power to do something specific. Many of them are suspicious of the later incarnations of New Labour, not because it reached an accommodation with wealth and business, but because it seemed to worship at the same altar, to regard the party's core beliefs in redistribution and equality as childish fantasies from a past age.

Perhaps to Mr Blair, they are the problem, people who may equate "ambition" with greed. They might point out that a man who claims to be worth "only" £20m may find it harder than most to squeeze through the eye of a needle to understand their point of view. Most successful Labour leaders will confront the left at some point, but the concerns of this group go to the existential question "What is the party for?"
Mark Mardell is as baffled as the rest of us as to the putative 'new direction for Labour'. I agree with his concluding thought, that these centrifugal dynamics are:
" a reflection on the complex conundrums that will face any new Labour leader, the tearing apart of the old alliance that made up a Labour majority, and so the political need to satisfy groups with very different, indeed, contradictory demands. But looking for a Social Democratic universal theory of everything may be missing the point. What the party desperately wants is a leader who can pull the disparate threads together and articulate them as common purpose.

Whether she or he exists is another matter."
Good luck with that then.

"Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is to resign next month, he has announced. It comes despite Mr Murphy narrowly surviving a vote of no confidence at a meeting of the party's national executive in Glasgow. Mr Murphy said he would tender his resignation alongside a plan to reform the party. He lost his seat in last week's general election as the SNP won 56 of the 59 Scottish seats, leaving Labour with a single MP in Scotland. Mr Murphy said he wanted to have a successor as leader in place by the summer, and confirmed he would not be standing for a seat at the Scottish Parliament in next year's election."
Apparently Jim Murphy was far and away the most competent senior leader in the Scottish Labour Party. His departure at the hands of the left further weakens the 'come back' strategy, not just in Scotland but in the whole of the UK.

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