Between the Terror and the Tinsel
The post-Election, pre-Christmas phase is an odd one. “It’s a Wonderful Life’ and the “Waitresses” jostle with a feeling of impending doom and soaring levels of avoidable personal debt. Climate talks fail again in Madrid as the neighbours crank up a huge illuminated Santa-as-Homer Simpson. The inevitable slew of “controversial” Tory MPs take their seats including delightful people like the lovely: Brendan Clarke-Smith the new MP for Bassetlaw who said food banks were a “political weapon” and it was “simply not true” that “people can’t afford to buy food on a regular basis”; Anthony Browne a former aide to Boris Johnson, who has previously blamed immigrants for bringing germs and HIV to the UK; and the delightful Sally-Ann Hart (the new MP for Hastings) who came to prominence when it was revealed at a hustings that she had claimed some people with learning disabilities should be paid less than the minimum wage because they “don’t understand money”.
It’s all a bit more Golden Dawn than New Dawn.
Double-speak is swirling around us like snowflakes in a snow-globe.
Johnson has apparently “united the country”. Which one we’re not told.
He has formed something called “the People’s Government”. The Tories and their media outlets are getting over-excited because they’ve never met anyone north of Shrewsbury before.
It all echoes the words of Steve Bannon who has hailed the British election as a ‘victory for populism’ and claimed that “We’ve turned the Republican party into a working-class party.”
The Conservative Party we’re told has been ‘re-made’ now and somehow, after ten years in power, the same party offering more extreme versions of their economic violence are a new start and a “breath of fresh air”.
The media seems to be run by and for people that are extras from Made In Chelsea.
Witness Olivia and Sienna telling us, “it’s not that the Conservatives massively lost Scotland … its just that Ruth Davidson massively won it.”:
— Kevin Rinchey (@broomhilldons) December 15, 2019
Even the dire Simon Schama gets it saying: “Brexit England to anti-Brexit Scotland: we are proud nationalists but you are scurrilous separatists”.
It’s all quite confusing.
Meawhile, the Labour Party autopsy is quickly descending into civil war. Anas Sarwar is NOT happy about the idea of young Labour activists questioning the eternal party line to oppose democracy at all costs.
He throws some shade writing:
“I see some “key figures” in Scottish Labour” are jumping to join the false choice of Boris’ Britain vs Sturgeon’s Scotland. This does nothing to reject the divisive visions of both & hold together those that believe in the principles of unity, solidarity, equality & redistribution.”
I don’t think that’s what they’re doing at all.
Confusingly he adds:
“I think we need a genuine period of reflection and some humility from those who led us to our worst EU election result and worst General Election result in living memory.”
The humility dear reader, is not his, nor is the reflection.
Adam Ramsay in Open Democracy (‘Don’t blame Corbyn or Brexit: Labour failed to rage against the hated political system’) writes:
“The idea that Corbyn’s personal popularity was the problem, just like the idea that Ed Miliband’s personal popularity was the problem, or that Gordon Brown’s was, fails to take account of how public opinion is formed. Any Labour leader running against the powerful institutions of the country would be pilloried by the media. The outlets that mocked the Jewish Ed Milliband for looking weird (read ‘foreign’) when eating a bacon sandwich, and smeared his refugee father as hating the country, didn’t skip a beat when they smelt a whiff of an anti-Semitism scandal around his successor.”
Well yes, but we knew that.
The historical record is clear. The UK media’s slating and smearing Labour leaders goes back decades:
Michael Foot – Commie, too old
Neil Kinnock – Welsh Windbag, too ginger
Gordon Brown – One-Eyed Scottish Git
Jeremy Corbyn – Commie, anti-semitic commie
Tony Blair was acceptably poltically anodyne and crucially his Scottishness was acceptably imperceptible.
But Labour knew this. Given this ubiquitous hostility, a naive plea in the backwash doesn’t really work.
James Butler’s piece (in the free for a month LRB) ‘Labour’s Defeat’ is insightful. He writes:
“There wasn’t an obvious way for Labour to have won this election. The usual bromides will be offered up: it was Corbyn, no, it was Brexit, no, it was the manifesto, no, it was the press, no, it was credibility. All of them are in various ways true, but in all ways only partial: attitudes to Corbyn have hardened considerably since 2017; Brexit blew open a long persistent crack in Labour’s voter base; the press is execrable and even harder to deal with in the digital era. The manifesto was a bold attempt to grapple with the problems of the 21st century, and many of its policies are extraordinarily popular, but it was a document presented as if to allies, rather than to a sceptical electorate uneasy with its trust.”
This seems right. It was tactical naivety and lack of nous, rather than policy that scuppered Labour.
But equally the idea that it beckons a return to Centrist Normalcy for Labour’s future seems equally misplaced.
“Anyone who claims that Labour’s leftward shift was the product of a cultish devotion to one man, and will disappear on his departure, doesn’t understand its origins or its implications. The party now has a campaigning left-wing membership that’s serious about climate change, public ownership and defending migration; no successor to Corbyn will be able to abstain on welfare bills, or promise to cut ‘harder and deeper than Thatcher’. Many who have always opposed such politics will declare it toxic, and inimical to victory ‘from the centre’. But the electoral wasteland confronting the avowed centrist parties in this election suggests that wasn’t where Labour’s lost vote went.”
Whatever happens as Labour realigns and reflects at both a UK and Scottish level it is likely to be along left-right lines and commitment to self-determination. Beyond the endless vague re-treads of ‘Federalism’ and ‘reforming the House of Lords’ ad nauseam there are very healthy signs of genuine dissent and discussion within the grassroots of the party.
People like this former No voter, Ali Craig, who explains “It is not for Scottish Labour to decide what is and what isn’t a mandate in favour of a second referendum that lies with the Scottish Parliament …”
“If we’re seen to stand alongside Boris Johnson in rejecting a s30 request, not only is that undemocratic – but it's the final nail in the coffin for Scottish Labour.”
This Labour activist gets it. He opposed independence, but wants the party to support Scotland’s right to choose pic.twitter.com/ae9TfLOwum
— Michael Gray (@GrayInGlasgow) December 17, 2019
The look on Frank McAveety and Pamela Nash’s faces is priceless.
The shifts taking place in Scotland in the wake of the Tory victory are hugely significant and to be welcomed. They may be a process rather than an event but the significance of Labour party members calling for changes shouldn’t be under-valued. As Michael Gray writes: “If we can’t show empathy with Labour activists who feel devastated by Labour’s defeat we will find it hard to build the Scotland we all need.”
As we face the reality of people like Brendan Clarke-Smith, Anthony Browne, Sally-Ann Hart – and their many colleagues – it’s worth reflecting on how to act collectively and individually.
Now is the time for a new open movement to broaden the thinking and appeal of the arguments for self-determination, ditching toxic tribalism and opening the door-way to a huge rally and march in Glasgow on the 11th January. The potential for a cross-party consensus on the right to a referendum, and a re-envisioning of the common ground to stand against the agenda being set by Johnson’s incoming government is huge. In dark times there is hope.
Unity, solidarity and openness should be on our Christmas Lists this year, along with the ability to listen.
If we are faced with an Anglo-British ‘One Nation Conservatism’ we should think of ourselves as ‘Four Nation Socialists’.