The Magnificent Seven
Isn’t history underwhelming these days? Billed as a “seismic shift” and with journalists gorging on SDP-cliche, the Independence Group launched yesterday in a blaze of incoherence with a wonderful hot mic moment and some ad hoc racism.
Given that one of their key accusations against Corbyn’s Labour Party is racism (in the form of anti-semitism) – and a critique of Labour presentation – this was a very bad start.
Described by one as having: “No policies, no ideas, no substance: Chuka Umunna’s Independent Group is a tantrum thrown by careerists who found their avenues of progression closed off”, it was an event high on comedy and low on gravitas.
The rebels (loosely defined) had been dithering for weeks, or even months (actually about three years) and now appeared as an unconvincing cabal of re-tread politicians looking for an excuse to leave. This was – essentially – Chuka Umunna trying to regurgitate the discredited New Labour brand with some hidden lolly and a lot of media attention.
Early signs aren’t good. As the disembodied voice said prophetically: “We are actually fucked.”
This might be a popular if premature assessment, but it does have some merit.
While it’s easy to laugh at the unconvincing characters, the botched launch, the talk of a “new politics” and the media mismanagement, it’s actually far worse than that.
This group are launching a new “centrist” party just after almost everyone in the universe has realised that centrism is dead. Only a political splinter nurtured in the petri-dish of liberal media political illiteracy could do such a thing.
The Blairite consensus that “elections are won from the centre ground” is long past.
As Richard Seymour pointed out last year:
“Since approximately 2014, the centre has been in freefall in Europe and North America. In Spain, the PSOE leadership went into crisis. In France, Hollande was reduced to 6 per cent of the vote. In the UK, the Liberals collapsed, and the left took the leadership of the Labour Party. In the US, Trump won. The one exception, Macron, styled himself as an outsider, but is less popular than Trump now…The problem for today’s centrists is that the consensus which made them the centre disappeared, and it isn’t coming back. Until they come up with a new agenda, they’re claiming territory that no longer exists. So what are they in the centre of?”
Last summer this analysis was everywhere.
Giles Fraser wrote:
“A year after plotters tried to oust Jeremy Corbyn for being unelectably leftwing, those on the right of Labour have finally fallen silent. The Liberal Democrats made no electoral breakthrough, despite being the only go-to party for Brexit dissenters. And the left of the Tory party looks embittered and lost. I, for one, am delighted that centrism is ailing, because there has long been a fantasy at the heart of it that rots our brains and makes us servile – a very British kind of fantasy that there exists such a thing as non-ideological politics, some calm and sensible mid-point set between the howling gales of ideological extremes. Centrists think this is where the grown-ups do their politics. Indeed, the very metaphor of the “centre” uses language to position others out on to the suspicious “extremes”.
Good Tories and Good Labour
This idea of a mythical centre ground that transcends all and emerges in the “national interest” is actually very prevalent in Scottish indy circles, frequently trotted out by people who don’t want political debate or can’t manage political analysis.
But it’s really embraced by politicians and journalists who can’t stomach the changing political landscape they are presented with. Alex Massie writes (“In Praise of the Labour Splitters”):
“The Labour leader surrounds himself with people who believe the party took a wrong turning decades ago. They, not the gang of seven, are the extremists and the real splitters here.”
In this analysis – the Labour Party are just to remain in aspic forever located on a static political point – around which Alex and others can locate them. To alter from this position is upsetting and alarming.
He writes: “Labour has been seized by a far-left faction” (by “seized” I think he means “elected”).
Finally he concludes: “the independent group is really a plea for normality” and “A normal Labour party led by a normal leader could easily welcome the seven back into the family.”
You get the gist, things have changed and this isn’t good.
It’s as if all of the collapsing politics of the past five years never happened at all: the financial crash, a charade; the populist surges of Brexit and Trump, ignored; the rise of English nationalism, unseen. What have you to learn from the failure of Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Absolutely nothing.
The plaintive cry of Centrist Dad scribes everywhere is: “Can’t things just go back to the way they used to be?”
In this world Britain exists as a stable state, with efficient counter-balances, checks and patrician power:
“One thing above all, however, is clear. When the country is ill-served by its government it requires to be well-served by the opposition. That is the necessary check, the required balance, the system depends upon. At present no such check, no such balance, exists and that, as much as anything else, helps explain the predicament, the mess, in which we find ourselves. Good Tories need a good Labour party and vice versa.”
In the words of John Patrick Leary: “Centrists look at a burning planet, a racist in the White House — and plead for moderation.”
Nor do the group’s own politics bear up to examination.
As A Revolting Migrant (@KojoRTE) put it:
“In January 2014, when Cameron was calling for curbs on EU migrants access for benefits. Umunna went further on BBC Question time and called the EU to ban Freedom of Movement for “low skilled” migrants.
In 2015, Umunna made a speech at Labour Conference fringe meeting stating as a mixed-race MP it was his duty to condemn immigrants in his constituency for failing to learn English as his dad (an anglophone Nigerian businessman) was able to.
At Labour Conference 2016, Umunna repeated the same “good” vs “bad” immigrant trope by alleging that Streatham Somali shops were not serving “non-Somalis”. Umunna echoed David Cameron’s Munich speech, stating a needed “muscular” approach to immigration.”
Yes politics is broken. One of the reasons politics is broken is the combination of slick spin and illegal war brought by the New Labour government. The idea that that model can be revived long after it’s deceased by Mike Japes in the midst of the Brexit clusterbourach is being given a lot more credence than it deserves.