Labour possessed by demons

I don’t mean evil spirits – although there are a number to choose from –  I mean the almost inexplicable seizures of emotion followed by uncontrollable spasms indicating severe psychological trauma. How else explain the bizarre pursuit of Ken Livingstone. If it was only the Labour Party we might be more relaxed about it but the same demons seem to have gripped society and its servile media too.

Livingstone made some very stupid statements about Hitler’s supposed support for Zionism on the basis of some stray historical facts he twisted out of recognition. He was doing so in a good cause: supporting Naz Shah, the victim of an earlier anti-Semitism witch hunt. Now he is being subjected to the same bullying, the same demands for confession, contrition and apology to which she already submitted. And despite the judgement of Labour’s own disciplinary committee the pack is in full cry for his expulsion with Corbyn adding his authority to the demands for apology.

If stupid remarks that lots of people found offensive were all punished in this way free speech would be a thing of the past. Why was it not sufficient for people to properly ridicule Livingstone’s historical notions without resorting to anathema and excommunication? Because Livingstone, despite his protestations to the contrary, is a closet anti-Semite? I don’t think so. It is because a cultural virus has taken hold that twists respect for different opinions into a demand that no offence is taken and that ‘safe spaces’ are created where offensive opinions do not have to be confronted. It is not just about anti-Semitism. We have heard the same dispiriting chorus about religious sensibilities, racism, sexism and sexual politics. But just now, anti-Semitism seems to have corned the market in ‘offence’, exploiting liberal cultural confusion to denounce anything that smacks of criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.

The guardians of anti-Semitism have their own political agenda and they have been joined by all sorts of others with an axe to grind that they would like to bury in Corbyn’s head. Corbyn himself has so little understanding of all this that he is an accomplice in his own isolation. Sadly, yet another example of the lack of political leadership in a party paralysed by  the substitution of factionalism for politics.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Question for Ebbw Vale

Nick Clegg went to Ebbw Vale for Newsnight and came away with the comforting conclusion that the vote against Brexit was driven by a nostalgia for the full-employment steel-and-coal past among the old, and found comfort from interviewing the young who were not obsessed by immigration.  No wonder vote remain lost.

Here is a question for Ebbw Vale, and maybe even Clegg. Leave voters wanted ‘to take back control’: what did they want to take back control of, and from whom?

On the face of it, control of borders, and control from Brussels. But is control really about borders and Brussels? Take the water that comes out of your tap. In Ebbw Vale it is supplied by Glas Cymru, a not-for-profit company that paid £1 for a failed privatised water business but in much of the UK water is in the hands of financial consortia, many of them foreign owned. A Canadian pension fund is lead owner of water in Anglia, a Hong Kong based consortium in the North East, JP Morgan and the Americans lead in Southern Water, and Australian money dominates on the Thames. What happened to borders and control?

Before you conclude that the dimwits from Ebbw Vale to the Thames can’t see their hands in front of their faces consider this. Public opinion almost certainly thinks utilities like water should be in public hands, but in the end these are decisions to do with the ‘economy’, with ‘business’, with economic efficiency and not democracy, the control that people should have over their lives.

Until democracy encompasses economy/business a gulf will remain between the arguments of remainers fretting about access to the single market and leavers celebrating their new found sovereignty.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Blair blunders, Corbyn flounders … and the rest of us?

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.

Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Labouring the Article 50 point

Some Labour MPs say they will vote against Article 50 because their constituents voted remain but this makes no sense. It leaves Labour looking shambolic and incoherent since twice as many Labour constituencies voted leave than remain. 74% of all MPs are remainers but if they all voted like their constituencies Brexit would be guaranteed (63% supported Brexit – UEA). I wish Corbyn had a three line whip calling for abstention: no support for Brexit but a principled refusal to support it. Voting for Article 50 is the next best option. Voting against is self-indulgent posturing or a form of political self-harm.

The more interesting question is what do people hope to win by playing parliamentary games? Some, like Clive Lewis, seem to believe they can make a stand on membership of the single market; unless ‘membership’ (not access, but membership) is the aim of the negotiation they won’t support exit at all. You can hear the cry ‘people might have voted for Brexit but not for leaving the single market’. Think about it. Remainers made the best case against leaving the EU and staying in the single market; it entails all the obligations of EU membership and none of the rights. The economic case for membership of the single market is overwhelming; the political case is non-existent. We need to paraphrase Bill Clinton: ‘it is not the economy, stupid’.

Labour strategy should be pretty obvious. We are the European party and will champion re-entry to a reformed EU if and when a majority are ready to support it, after an election or a second referendum, some way down the line. But that time is not now. Right now Labour should expose every move that the Tories make as a betrayal of the British people: no trade deal can possibly give Britain the economic and political benefits of EU membership and we should relentlessly ram home that message, refusing all compromises on better-rather-than-worse deals, and confidently voting against anything they bring forward. In the meantime let’s talk to European socialists about the changes we want to see in Europe.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Shame about Momentum

The under-reported ‘political coup’ by Jon Lansman and his supporters to impose a new constitution on Momentum  was designed to ward of supposed threats from ‘hard-left’ groups. The threat was actually quite small. Lansman probably had enough support among the members and supporters to see off any take-over but chose instead to use his control over membership data to abolish the National Committee and impose arrangements to ensure his own control. So much for democracy.

The interesting thing about Momentum was always whether the political energy that Corbyn released would find its way into a new kind politics. Corbyn himself, and the woolly socialist principles he has been repeating for 40 years, was never going to be enough. Sadly, the youth that rallied to Corbyn seems to have melted into the social media atmosphere. What remains seems to be a few remnants of an unimaginative Marxist left and many more older one-time Labour Party people driven out by Blairism. The former are largely irrelevant, the latter have no more idea what to do than the people who stuck with Labour.

Absurdly, Momentum is now committed to a refusal to engage with politics in the sense of political ideas and policies at all,  beyond support for the Corbyn leadership, for fear of being dragged off into fruitless ideological tussles with what Paul Mason has called ‘zombie ideologies’. Mason himself seems to think that the 10 pledges made as part of Corbyn’s re-election campaign is all that is needed. Anyone observing the political and ideological shambles of the current Labour ‘opposition’, or looking across the channel at the crisis of social democratic ideas, purpose and identity, will wonder where on earth this complacency comes from.

And since it has confined itself to a Corbyn cheer-leader role, dedicated to securing support in the Labour Party for whatever it is that Corbyn is saying, Momentum can hardly develop as a ‘new politics’ of community engagement as envisioned by Michael Chessum in the Guardian.

It is a crying shame. A way could have been found to escape a dreary debate with worn out ideologies while still pushing the boundaries of political thinking in a constructive dialogue with the Corbyn leadership. What began as a political insurgency has been buried alive somewhere in the Labour Party.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Paul Mason clinging on by his fingernails

Paul Mason is still fighting the last war, his vision of the politics obscured by economics. Theresa May is right: there is no feasible political stopping off point short of exiting the single market and the customs union. Membership of the European Free Trade Area and the European and the European Economic Area will bring most of the obligations of EU membership without the rights and would satisfy neither those who voted remain nor those who voted leave. I am sure there is a strong economic argument for it; politically it is dead in the water. It is not saved by trying to wriggle off the free movement hook. Free movement is not a ‘principle’ for us but I don’t know why the EU would agree to suspend one of its principles for ten years. And anyway, why are we making the same old introspective argument for British exceptionalism? Propose a reform of free movement in Europe not a get-out for Britain. The Tories are pitching for a customised deal with the EU, and they are unlikely to get it. Failing that, they want a free trade agreement which will take a long time and give them a lot less than we have now. Labour’s job as an opposition is not to cling to membership of one or other of the EU structures but simply to expose and denounce the consequences of what the Tories have done. Labour’s long term policy should be membership of a reformed EU. The hope for that is probably dead for a generation but the campaign for it can begin now.

Posted in Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Will Hutton joins the chorus of Corbyn critics

Will Hutton attacks Jeremy Corbyn in the Guardian because he is against pay caps although he thinks ‘pay should have a just, proportional and deserved link to the contribution that has been made’. Well, OK but pay caps (or ratios) reflect a view that there are no circumstances that justify allowing directors to enrich themselves to the extent that they do. Why is that not a reasonable political proposition?

But let us take Hutton’s argument at face value. Who should decide whether pay is deserved and how much is deserved? Hutton proposes a ‘justification process … along with the best-designed incentives’. Companies must engage in ‘a fair pay process in which directors engage with unions and staff over whether pay is proportional, deserved and driving the right behaviour’. Well, OK but when things are ‘deeply contentious’ who decides? How to resolve disagreements? Is Hutton saying that Directors’ pay must be negotiated with employees, and agreed by them? Just as employees (if they are lucky) negotiate and agree their pay with Directors? If that is what Hutton is saying, fine! I prefer that to a pay cap. But if that is what he meant he would have had to say how the rules have to change before a ‘fair process’ engages those with power and those without, otherwise he is building castles in the sky.

Finally Hutton thinks there is a political prize on offer for those who can build a coalition with convincing language to put things right but announces that it isn’t going to be Labour. Who will do it? There is no one else remotely interested. If Hutton is really interested in building that coalition why doesn’t he re-write this article to say. ‘Look Jeremy, pay caps are too blunt an instrument. Why not rely on a real extension of democracy at work by requiring companies to negotiate Directors’ pay with their staff’. And if that is too radical, say what could work instead to attack inequality driven in part by pay and bonuses that Directors and their network of interests award themselves. Instead he chooses to rubbish what Jeremy Corbyn has said, joining the chorus of critics who spend the rest of their time widening inequality.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment