A Leftwing Utopian Fantasy
It’s easily forgotten that it was Ed Balls standing up and agreeing with Osborne ‘s catastrophic ‘austerity’ budget that was the final straw for thousands of Labour voters. As Owen Smith tours the country with his Pfizr Socialism it’s worth continuing to try and make sense of the twin-meltdowns of Labour north and south. Whilst the splenetic media foams at the mouth at the ‘far-left’ Corbyn movement, and Ed Balls reckons these 10 Jeremy Corbyn pledges are “Leftist Utopian Fantasy”, you can’t help but be struck by the idea that much of it is fairly bland and unremarkable.
Take his ten point pledges (above). ‘A decent job for all, in a decent economy’ could be a commitment to full-employment, or a rejection of Philip Green-style capitalism in the week the last BHS closes, but it’s hardly akin to the Bolskevik Manifesto. ‘A properly-funded NHS and social care’ is probably a statement 89% of the general public would agree to. On the day that Apple are told to cough-up €13bn (£11bn) in unpaid taxes to Ireland ‘Everyone paying their fair share’ might seem radical, but it’s really a mainstream truism. ‘Clean green energy we can afford’ is just a Nice Thing to Say, but in the light of the madness of Hinkley it might hit home. Fair enough ‘dignity and rights at work’ is a bold statement with Priti Patel in the Cabinet, and if you want to live in a society that tolerates Sports Direct writ-large then that is indeed a terrifying prospect. Or take the farce of the issue of trains and public transport, where there is widespread (and long-standing) support for public ownership of the railways was turned into a witch-hunt coordinated by billionaire subsidy-junkie Richard Branson.
If people can’t understand why Scottish Labour appointing Alan Roden is making waves, then consider why Corbyn’s mild social justice rhetoric is being treated by the media like he is the reincarnation of Bakunin.
Not for the first time, the Labour rebels are swimming agains the tide. Ian Fraser, author of ‘Shredded’ notes how Ed Balls fuelled the banking crisis and indeed how “Brown positively genuflected to the bankers”. The Labour right have all the support of a nodding-dog media, but they have little of anything to bring to the table other than repeat the same tired old phrases and try and ridicule Corbyn.
As Martin Jacques writes (‘The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics’) :
“After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.
The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis.
But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital. The depression-era system of bank regulation was dismantled, in the US in the 1990s and in Britain in 1986, thereby creating the conditions for the 2008 crisis. Equality was scorned, the idea of trickle-down economics lauded, government condemned as a fetter on the market and duly downsized, immigration encouraged, regulation cut to a minimum, taxes reduced and a blind eye turned to corporate evasion.”
It’s the failure of the Labour right to confront any of this”real world test” that will lead inevitably to sure defeat for Owen Smith in the leadership candidacy. Which brings us to Scotland.
As Gordon Brown chunters on and on ceaselessly about some mythical Home Rule, shuffling from parody to ridicule, there are some real changes afoot in Scottish Labour.
Gordon’s Vow 2.0 (“this time with feeling”, I really mean it this time, Real Home Rule, not that old stuff I mentioned before Real Home Rule …”) is in itself a form of an admission.
The lugubrious journalist and Better Together stalwart Simon Pia shuffled across the constitutional divide only last week ‘Labour at Holyrood must embrace radical change on independence’) as did the former First Minister Henry McLeish, who argued:
“The Labour Party has got to recognise that independence should not just be the flag of the Scottish National Party. They have no right to a monopoly, because independence could come from any party. Independence isn’t necessarily about their kind of nationalism. It’s about wanting to be maybe like Finland, or Sweden or Denmark – the Nordic countries generally. We would have a different way of life, different social investment policies, be a genuinely social democratic country.”
Two years ago he would have been hunted down for this, but two things have changed minds. One is of course political obliteration, the other is political success. Mary Lockhart secured victory for the beleaguered party in The Lochs by-election last week. She did so as a candidate running on a pro-independence ticket. Now Fife council elections might seem like small-beer but Lockhart’s election hasn’t gone unoticed.
As the comrades chortled at Owen Smith’s description of Kezia doing a good job in Glasgow, both Corbyn and Smith ruled out any deals with the SNP. There will be no progressive alliance at Holyrood. But as Iain Macwhirter writes:
“The former Labour special adviser, Paul Sinclair, says that it is the Scottish Labour Party that will split first. He forecast on BBC Scotland that the deputy leader of Scottish Labour, Alex Rowley – “a man whose ambition is in inverse proportion to his abilities” – would challenge Kezia Dugdale on the morning after a Corbyn victory…Hitherto, few have considered a Scottish split a serious possibility, but it actually does make some kind of sense. The fundamental divide in the Scottish Labour Party right now is between those who want a wholly autonomous organisation, like Mr Rowley, and those, like Kezia Dugdale, who want the party to remain essentially a “branch office” (copyright Johann Lamont 2014), albeit a thoroughly devolved one.”
The indy movement is often accused (sometimes with some merit) of being stuck in its own echo-chamber talking to itself. The same is true of the media commentariat chuckling away about ‘Comrade Corbyn’ while delivering nothing in its place. They are about to find this out. As Jacques put it: “They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense.” The gap between their allegiance to yesterdays Blairite orthodoxy, and their inability to see past it is being revealed, and this has real consequences for Scotland.