Mayday! Mayday! After Labour
The Australian politician John Howard said, of political campaigns: “You can’t fatten the pig on market day”. This week we see Ed Balls and Tom Watson desperately trying to do that.
Apparently the EU will need to restrict free movement of Labour after we vote to remain next week. It appears we are lurching towards a Brexit — and Labour will not survive that.
Labour’s, ahem, problems in Scotland have been dissociated from the rest of the party by the citing ‘special circumstances’. The collapse in Scotland has been driven by a resurgent SNP — a professional party with a skilled membership and a sophisticated political strategy.
But Labour’s weakness in its, once, heartlands of West Central Scotland is replicated all across it’s (so-called) heartlands in Northern England.
The Labour Party systematically underestimated the SNP — and has transfered that disdain to UKIP — a party which, like the SNP, has improved its organisation and capabilities. UKIP has a Northern Strategy — a strategy of Le Pen-ing the Pennines — and David Cameron’s referendum has given them the platform for it.
It must have seemed a delicious wheeze to import the tactic of voter supression from the US. The Individual Registration for the electoral register, a classic non-problem that didn’t need fixing, has duly crashed the number of registered young voters — typically ones who leaned towards Labour, and the EU.
Well Remain is fair wheezin noo!
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Labour’s crisis is a mixture of things: the decline that all Europe’s socialist parties have experienced since the collapse of communism, the failure of the American-party model that New Labour brought in and the vicious internal fighting and fallout of the post-Blair, post-Iraq era.
The near-total collapse of the party was clearly revealed by the victory of Corbyn, a man who struggles to reach the heights of student politics.
The crisis of Labour is related to the crisis of state that is driving Brexit — the fantasy that the UK is a world power and not just another European nation.
As Henry Tizard famously said in 1949 (1949!):
We are not a Great Power and never will be again. We are a great nation, but if we continue to behave like a Great Power we shall soon cease to be a great nation.
So there are two questions: what will become of politics south of the border — and of north.
If Labour is gone, or reduced to a regional party entrenched in some English cities then there needs to be a new party south of the border.
The age of socialism — the idea that the state should run industry — is dead and gone. But the state — as the provider of social goods — education, roads, health care, parks, culture and civilisation — is going nowhere.
The clock is not being turned back.
But the age of ‘capital’ is also changed beyond all recognition: we have new giants that own no capital goods: Uber has no cars, AirB’n’B has no properties, Amazon has no shops and little stock — and that advanced on tick by its suppliers.
Technology is fantastic — and offers the promise of liberation and transformation — but it won’t happen magically.
In the Scottish Tech Scene we aggressively train engineers and product people to build billion dollar companies — and that means creating aggressively networked products that capture rents and drive profitability.
The old-fashioned term for this is monopolies — monopolies with new features, network-protection and Metcalfe points — but monopolism none the less.
Distributing the benefits of technology to society requires social and political power. As Rupert Murdoch famously said:
A monopoly is a terrible thing: until you get one.
They call it the sharing economy — that don’t mean they are going to share it with you.
I am on the left, aligning with the weak over the strong — but this party will no more be a socialist party than it will be a jacobin one, or a Hussite one, or the party of Spartacus — it will be a party of the new age.
If Labour didn’t exist — you wouldn’t invent it now.
The situtation north of the border is, of course, totally different. The SNP is a boringly normal European centre-left party — it doesn’t really know how to deal with the networked multi-national economy — who does? — but it is willing to have a go in collaboration with other European countries.
The SNP is obviously so not in love with British great power pretentions. But the nationalist imperative has long not been driven by Scotland — the rise of the SNP has been powered by the dysfunctional Westminster system with its mad wars, and mad House of Lords and ad-hoc arbitrary changes to the constitution.
A Labour collapse will shift the gear of English nationalism several notches higher. There is no intrinsic reason that should make the UK collapse — if the UK constitution had any sort of conflict or dispute resolution mechanism — the basis of federal states everywhere.
But there are none. There is one nation with 85% of the population — and that is in itself highly skewed to the south-east.
What will happen? Who knows? When will it happen? Who knows? The timetable will be driven by the next election — which will depend on how the Tory civil war plays out. Fixed term elections be damned.
The sooner the next election the worse for Labour would be my guess — but who knows?
When will IndyRef2 be? Who knows?
God willing, it won’t happen, Remain could still win. The best result for Scotland is still a Scottish majority for Remain: and a UK one and an English one.
If you read this far you should: