Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Labour - what are they for?

Labour, it seems, needs a new leader. The current one, apparently, is "not electable". But what difference will a new one make? What is the problem with the policies of the current leader that has driven rebellions and resignations in the parliamentary party since the day he was elected? Surely nobody can seriously suggest the day-one wave of resignations and subsequent chorus of complaints were about his leadership style.

Even the current rebellion, incubating since the start, is not about any particular leadership failing. It was going to happen after his first by-election, but Labour did well. It would have happened after the council elections, but again, the results were not bad enough. Now, after Corbyn campaigned for remain while Hilary Benn stalked the Shadow Cabinet for people to join the revolt, the excuse is the very division the dissidents fomented.

This is quite clearly not about leadership, or unity. It is about Corbyn, and what he stands for. But what alternative is being offered? What will Angela Eagle offer instead, apart from platitudes about Leadership, Unity and perhaps Apple Pie?

The Labour party's problems between Corbyn, the Parliamentary party, the Unions and the Constituency parties are just a symptom of a wider failure to understand and articulate what is the point of Labour. A failure that has lost them two general elections, and caused the massive alienation that lost the referendum  campaign in their previous "heartlands".

I suspect that before they can agree on a leader who can take them into the next election, however soon that may be, there are some fundamental questions they need to answer.
  1. What caused the current Great Recession? The Tories argued that it was Labour overspending or incompetence or some such. During the election there was no clear counternarrative.
  2. Why did Labour lose the last general election? Were they really too left wing? Was it Ed's face or bacon sandwiches? Or did Labour voters fail to turn out for a programme that was economically and philosophically indistinguishable from Tory neo-liberalism, with slightly less austerity? Were voters afraid Labour would crash the economy again? (See question one)
  3. How will Labour address the very real grievances of the north of England who voted in such numbers for Brexit, against the (however muted) advice of the party elite? Because I'm not sure privatising a few more public bodies and mortgaging infrastructure in additional public private "partnerships" is going to cut it.
  4. What alternative, if any, will Labour offer in Parliament and in their public advocacy to the current Conservative economic philosophy of austerity and what seems like free market fundamentalism?
The instincts of the PLP members who nominated Corbyn in order to have a wide-ranging debate were sound. It is tragic that during the campaign and following his election to the leadership this debate did not happen. If Labour is to survive as a political force in the UK (or at least in Britain) it must move the debate beyond platitudes about electability and leadership, and onto why anyone should elect them!

What is Labour for?

Monday, July 11, 2016

On anger and what to do with it

When the Referendum result gradually became clear, I was very disappointed. Not by the result so much as by what it said about us as a country. But as I thought about how it had come about, I felt anger. This is what I wrote on FriendFace shortly afterwards:

I am not angry with the voters, but with the establishment that deregulated the financial sector that caused the crash.
I am angry with the government that chose austerity and made the poorest among us pay for the greed of the bankers.
I am angry with the cynical exit campaign which blamed migrants for the austerity we are suffering.  
I am angry with the politicians who have failed for years to challenge that narrative.  
I am angry with the media which covered the campaign as if it were just a Tory party squabble, and failed to properly examine the unjustified claims - from both sides.  
I am angry with BBC NI and Nolan for trivialising the debate.  
I am angry with the DUP for putting petty dislike of Europe before the very existence of the United Kingdom.  
I am angry about a political discourse in which evidence is treated as optional, and everyone feels entitled to their own facts.  
I am angry that we are losing the best chance we had to tackle multinational tax avoidance, pollution, and climate change. 
I am angry.
This is not the end of the world, but we will all be the poorer for this foolish and muddled decision.

I am still angry. We allowed grievances to build up. We failed to challenge those who blamed immigration for the problems. And we allowed a false and unprincipled campaign to prevail. When the result was announced, second thoughts were voiced. Facts began to intrude. Minds changed. There is a case to be made that the referendum does NOT express the settled will of the British people as a whole. It may yet be that our constitutional system will allow a chance for further reflection.

But, in the meantime, we must as a country decide what sort of exit we want, if that is what we're going to have. What kind of relationship do we want with the EU, and with the rest of Europe? Where we will continue to cooperate with our European friends and allies, and where we want to step back?

The election - if that's the right word - of the politically astute (if somewhat opportunistic) Theresa May as leader of the Tories means that the party of government has lurched to the Right. It's not clear that the former industrial heartlands of England who voted (to varying degrees) for Exit wanted that.  But that's what we got.

If we are to avoid a right-wing elite setting the agenda for country's future for the next few parliaments, we need to hold the government to account. The press need to do a better job than they did during the referendum campaign. And the opposition need to do a better job than they did under the Coalition.

Over to you, Eagle, Corbyn, Farron (and possibly even Murdoch) - your country needs you!

Or in Murdoch's case, our country needs you (to do your job, not pursue your self-interest).