Tony Blair has lost his touch, blundering around the Brexit stage making an unholy mess of a potentially strong argument. He was right that the Tories cannot secure a better deal from Europe than what we have now and that the question of EU membership can be raised again at some point. To do it during the debate about Article 50 was to invite a bloody nose, and he duly got one.
But Corbyn is floundering – and so are the people around him. There is talk, at last, of developing new policies and a new programme but it is too slow, too many opportunities are being missed. And the emphasis is still on ‘policies’ not purpose and it is purpose – what Labour’s new-found socialism means – that is lacking.
What about the rest of us? Have we got anything to say? Not the public intellectuals. Among my favourites Kenan Malik bemoans Corbyn/Labour failure and the lack of a good opposition but has nothing to say about what a good opposition would look like or where it will come from. Pankaj Mishra who fetched up for the Bristol Festival Ideas to comment on the disappointments that underpin the Age of Anger could only recommend the thoughts of Pope Francis and urge that we rediscover our humanity. Wolfgang Streek says the end of capitalism is nigh but can’t see anything but a new dark age to succeed it.
No surprise then, that the journalism of the progressive left in ‘quality’ newspapers and journals is mostly stuck in the endless search for a new leader to rescue the good society from the barbarians that voted for Brexit and Trump.
The real worry is neither the public intellectuals nor the liberal intelligentsia but the people that Blair lost and Corbyn mobilised, the people appearing in the explosion of political energy that the Labour leadership contest so unexpectedly created. They blew away the more-dead-than-alive politics of the Blair remnants in the Labour Party. Corbyn, consistent champion of long-familiar left-wing generalisations, was only ever important as a catalyst. Everything turned on the possibilities his victory would open up.
Sadly, there is, as yet, little of substance to it. Where are all the young people that turned out at rallies, what do they want? There is submerged anger and occasional drama but it doesn’t appear to be given expression anywhere. Certainly not in Momentum which has been repossessed by Jon Lansman, and has taken a vow of political silence, confining itself to ‘supporting Jeremy’ and embracing a mindless Labour Party routinism en route.
Politics on the left has to be remade just the same unless we want to wallow in Streeck’s pessimism. In Britain, for reasons it would be interesting to explore, that remaking, if it happens at all, will proceed in the Labour Party. That is where Labour Party members not just leaders have to redefine social democratic purpose. Some of the elements will be familiar, a democratically managed mixed economy in which the public interest has pride of place, but one that abandons obsessions with growth and gross material measures of progress for environmental sustainability, full employment, social integration and social solidarity.
Well, at least I didn’t finish by just calling for a rethink.