I’m still recovering from the shock of the exit polls on Thursday night. The only good news from my end was that Labour hung on to Bedford, where I was canvassing over the previous two weeks, and retained both Luton seats with comfortable majorities.
|Jeremy Corbyn speaking at a rally in Bedford on the night before the election|
What caused the slump in Labour votes?
First: in my view, Labour was totally unprepared for the kind of election this was going to be. The journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote that, instead of looking backwards to Thatcher, British politics should be understood in the context of the international rise of right-wing authoritarian governments elected on the basis of nationalism: Modi in India, Orban in Hungary, Trump in the US.
The Tories learned from 2017, and not only carried out a vast undercover social media campaign but also didn’t allow the broadcast media to be as impartial. They carefully framed their message about the referendum: “Brexit means Brexit” became “Get Brexit done”, conveying an implicit appeal to English nationalism.
Their playing of the media convinced many voters that all politicians were the same, with the result of further suppressing the Labour vote among the undecided.
Labour did not learn from 2017, and I think they don’t really understand why their vote rose so sharply in that year. They assumed that they would benefit from a spontaneous increase in support during the campaign, as before, but the establishment took great steps to prevent that from happening this time. Complaining about the BBC coverage after the fact is beside the point.
What is more important is the intervention of a global right wing in supporting Johnson – Trump himself, and also Modi who campaigned among British Indians on the ground that Corbyn was anti-Hindu because of the Labour position on Kashmir.
This is not hindsight from the election result: I remarked to friends in September that local Constituency Labour Parties were still focused on internal procedures and not on how to prepare for an election by turning out to the community.
Besides, why did it take so long to select candidates in areas where the MP had defected – like Gavin Shuker in Luton South? This problem derived, I understand, from bureaucratic conflicts at the level of the National Executive Committee. But the culture at local level is also bureaucratic, draining the enthusiasm of new members if they ever attend meetings.
Second: the party leadership has been systematically reviled for the past four years. Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-racist, anti-imperialist politician in a country that still celebrates its colonial past. The accusations of lack of patriotism and anti-semitism, whatever their source, are code for hostility to this anti-imperialist record.
But some of the mud stuck, and it appealed to the nationalism of Labour supporters who told me they were uncomfortable with his leadership.
Third: Brexit. And again, Brexit. The party’s position in 2017 was infinitely superior to the confused muddle of a second referendum which was interpreted by voters as a push by the political establishment to overturn the original result.
On the doorstep, lifelong Labour voters who voted remain made clear that they do care about the referendum vote being worth something, about respecting those who demanded to be heard.
Fourth: the manifesto had great policies, but they were a ton of fixes for the systemic problems created by years of neoliberal governments. It was virtually impossible to generate a clear class answer from it to Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done.”
Whatever Corbyn’s faults, he has succeeded in unparalleled fashion in rebuilding the Labour party’s membership founded on a transformative agenda. The manifesto will stand as an achievement for the future.
All those with whom I campaigned last week – many, but not all, mobilised by Momentum, who went out in the cold and dark and rain to get out the vote – created a camaraderie that will not be forgotten. Right now, across social media, the election experience is being discussed and dissected. That achievement will not go away.
As Cambridge professor Priya Gopal remarked:
[Corbyn] and others in the Labour Party did put forward a viable oppositional program, a viable imaginative alternative, a viable progressive vision. And Jeremy Corbyn, the man, mistakes and warts and failures notwithstanding, I think, is owed a debt of gratitude for having put an alternative out there.
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This is a pretty sharp commentary on the various events which have affected the prospects of all left parties around the World.ReplyDelete
I still think that this surge to the Right only partly explains Labour's result last year. There was never really going to be a chance after the near miss in 2017, and many of those northerners who didn't vote Labour in 2019 had not suddenly become fascists, they were sick of their communities being neglected by the Westminster political class. They voted for Brexit for many different reasons but Labour's Right Wing completely ignored them, with Starmer jumping in at the last minute with his 2nd referendum proposal, just to rub salt into the wound.
There is also an argument that those Labour refuseniks in the North and Midlands had become alienated from the metropolitan biases of Labour nationally. In that respect, Jeremy Corbyn was as toxic (and he was) in the doorstep as Tony Blair as both would would have been to represent metropolitan cultural agendas.
As regards Brexit, well I am an unreconstructed Remainer and still hope that this suicidally nationalist project is stopped in its tracks. But I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this, Mike.
Actually Barry, I didn't vote in the referendum and afterwards leaned more towards remain.ReplyDelete
' Suicidally nationalist' describes it very well, but remember it wasn't the northern voters who came up with the idea, they just mistakenly fell for it.
Mike - I never favoured Brexit. I always viewed it as something that would strengthen the Right. And the Left were so weak and fragmented that they would be most unlikely to halt stem the flow of the Right.Delete
Yes, I couldn't argue with that Anthony. That fact wasn't entirely clear to me at the time, hence my sitting on the fence.ReplyDelete
There were some reasonable arguments for leaving Europe from the Left at the time, Greece especially was an eye opener, but on balance the Left needed to be united on issues like freedom of movement. If we want a better World we need to stop creating more borders.
there is always a good reason for leaving the EU but it seems to me to be a transnational reason rather than a national one. Freedom of movement is contested by some on the left not for opportunist reasons but on ideological grounds - seeing it a strategy by capital to move labour it needs from one location to one where it will produce more profit. See for example Angela NagleDelete
Thanks for that link Anthony.ReplyDelete
Yes, This is very good. I'm surprised I missed it the first time round ( I may not always comment on articles here, but I have read most of them over the past few years).
It's a long piece and being a slow reader it will take me a while to really get into it. I will have to go over it again before I make any substantial comment.
In the meantime, I would say that it's well researched, and thought out and well worth the effort.
I can however already see a couple of contradictions in the piece, but more on that later.
You say if the world's to be a better place we need to stop creating more borders. What do you mean by that? If Scotland becomes independent is the world a poorer place? Should there be any borders?
" Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too".ReplyDelete
One of the contradictions of global capitalism is that it needs to have free movement of capital and commodities, and the easiest way to make this work would be to have no tariffs and unified tax laws and currency throughout the globe. But it also needs to divide workers in order to keep labour costs down, (wages and the social wage) and the best way to do this is to retain separate nation states.
Even before capital became truly global it was recognised by worker's organisations that our class could only succeed if we could transform material relations throughout the world - socialism in one country couldn't work while capitalism called the shots everywhere else. The USSR and Cuba are good examples of this. The best you could hope for was so- called social democracy with a mixed economy. We've had that and capitalism has clawed back any of the gains we had in that period.
We've had an opportunity to gauge what Scotland would be like under independence because many powers have already been given to the devolved parliament. Except for a few minor differences, the Nationalist Party has operated in exactly the same way as their counterparts at Westminster. Never mind a workers' paradise, Independent Scotland would not even extend social democracy. Meanwhile, the potential of workers' organisations to fight for a better society would be hampered by being divided by Hadrian's wall.
Mike - humans are social and cultural. Because they are social they pull together in groups and because they are cultural that leads them to define their groups as in or out. Nationalism while not ahistorical is a powerful factor in the lives of many. Stalin mobilised it during WW2 to successfully ward off the Nazis, realising that appeals to worker solidarity were going to be insufficient. I am not a nationalist and unlike most others I am friendly with I believe in global government rather than national government. I just don't see it coming any time soon. I have read too many Marxist debates on social class to hold to the view of "our class".Delete
I just don't think humans are built like that. We're territorial, pack animals who encountered consciousness. We basically beasts hiding behind the veneer of social contract. Kept in line by the fear of state punishment.
The Scottish thing was an example. If you could transform material relations throughout the world somebody would still be in charge and they'd be cunts
You could be right, but I don't believe humans are instinctively territorial, and that nurture or more accurately coercion is what makes some humans act in this way.
The last sentence made me laugh out loud :)
Humans are perhaps the pinnacle of instinctive territorality. We tend to jealously guard our food sources, clan together for security, and even in these groups instigate a hierarchy were one individual usually gets solo access to mates. David is wrong in saying we are pack animals however, our widespread footprint over the globe is testament to our nomadic origins, following game and a desire for investigation.
A good example of our curiosity, ability to collaborate for an abstract goal, and as a way to stick two fingers up to the enemy is the race to put a man on the moon.
Edison founded his company in 1882. By 1925 only half the US was using electricity for lighting. By 1969 Armstrong was broadcasting from the surface of the moon. That's an unbelievably extraordinary achievement and one that seperates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, but it's down to our innate sense of territorality ie 'The ownership of Space over the Commies'.
On the issue of class, I don't have all the answers, who does? But my thinking on any issue starts from a question, 'will any proposal for a way of organising human existence involve unproductive people exploiting the productive power of others? 'Class' may well be an outdated word, but I haven't found another which fits that key question.
the exploitation of the masses by small elites has been the history of so-called civilisation, it is thoroughly uncivilised and brutal, and I will support any and all ideas which end this.
Mike - I see it as too amorphous a term to be of great analytical value although that doesn't stop me using it myself. I remember reading Erik Olin Wright addressing the manner in which Poulantzas had worked on class and while it was of great value in understanding the magnitude of the complexities I never mastered the complexity. I later concluded that it is much like theological debates and used for the same purposes.Delete
I still subscribe to Marxism (although I take McLellan's position of Marxisms rather than Marxism) but only in a descriptive sense. It is from Marxism in general that the best insights into society are to be gleaned. Its prescriptions I have long given up on. I think the Trots have the idealism but not much else and I find the CP types easier to work with on particularities as they can get things done and have a sense of both the potential and limitations. In Belfast we used to get a CP guy to chair Palestine Solidarity Campaign meetings because with the nature of the make up of the group there was no way to get anything done or a meeting to conclude. He was brilliant and every single thing we talked about outside of that if he did not have a solution he had an eminently practical view of the problem. A Trot asked me to go to a meeting with him once and I did as a favour and he asked me at the end what I felt. I told him I felt inspired. He was delighted until I told him "inspired to kill myself." It was so useless.
Then again I have long admired people like Eamon McCann for insight and activism. I campaigned for him during one of the elections in Derry.
When nomads broke away did they not do so in packs? Very few people live a solitary life and when they do, people assume they're touched. Investigation in my opinion is a byproduct of evolutionary survivalist instinct.
How do you marry a global government and human nature? Is it not better that A band of egotistical,self serving parasites preside over i.e ten million than 8 billion or whatever we're at? How do you counterbalance such power?
David - how do you marry any government and human nature? If government is a good thing then we are merely talking about the levels it functions at. Nation states did not always exist and since they have the people they have ruled over internally have not always been protected - Rwanda for example. The current global international system doesn't deliver. Human beings as you point out are social beings so what is being proposed is a different model of social governance.Delete
The problem you worry about exists at present.
That said, I am not a campaigner for it and just have it as a preferential idea with virtually nothing to support the practicality or sustainability of it. I suppose it is shaped by a view of people as humans not nationals first. A national first position (not in any racist sense) produces a national regime whereas humans first produces a human regime. And I see no ethical reason for those humans to be divided by national borders.
When discussing these things I am drawn to Orwell and it probably chimes with your view: no matter what system we create there will be three type of people in it: those at the top, the middle the bottom.
Fear I suppose to answer your question. Ethically I am with you. How can we get access to measles vaccines and Africans can't it's not right. The thing that scares me about global government is the lack of accountability. We haven't got accountability just now but there's a charade that gives the illusion of control. I've got to be honest I've got cognitive dissonance on this subject. I don't really know what the fuck I'm talking about.
David - accountability is a serious problem but then as you say there is a deficit today. I think our biggest fear is that it seems global government is the cul de sac in which if we are trapped there will be no escaping. Yet global problems require a global response. I try to imagine each individual county in Ireland trying its own response to a country wide problem. If Pinker is right, then what major advances have occurred have been as a result of better government. We will always have government but what makes for good governance is a robust opposition capable of making accountability effective.Delete
Global problems require global response, I agree with that. Scientists tell us we are ignoring a massive problem right now. Robust opposition again sounds logical but what happens when the strongest in the International community tell you to fuck off. How do you be robust in the face of such strength? For a fair global government you would need the strongest player to abide by the rules, is that feasible?
Is global government bound to be tyrannical? Got to be for some, when you think about it. When would totalitarianism be justified, when our survival was in jeopardy? I'm jumping all over the place here, you get a migraine thinking about this stuff.
David - when you are told to fuck off it is a repetition of being told to fuck off now under the current global arrangement. There is a world order: it is not anarchic. If a global government is an echo of that where the dominant nations assert their power there is not much in the way of improvement. A cost/benefit analysis would be required where we consider if it is worth the risk and by what measures we make that assessment. For a fair global order as well as a fair global government the strongest player has to play by the rules. Are we better off without a global government given all the problems you flag up under such a government exist in the current global order? Any government has the capacity to be tyrannical but the popularity of government as a concept suggests people think it much less dangerous than the tyranny of no government.Delete
My ideas on it all are very superficial and I guess we are both practicing ideas on each other, which is fine as it commits us to nothing other than exploring possibilities.
Part of my approach is a result of having very little nationalist sentiment either intellectually or emotionally. I am as fearful of obligatory nationalism as I am of obligatory religion.
If you don't really know what you are talking about yet trying to find ways to talk about that's encouraging. Remember this: every intellectual journey of discovery starts with confusion. Why else would we make it if we already - like the totalitarians - have the answers which require no further investigation, just suffocation of ideas that challenge that certainty?
I didn't really get a chance to sit in front of the PC today, and when I did I thought 'oh sh~t It would take a book to attempt to answer these comments.ReplyDelete
Turns out Anthony has really answered anyway.:)
Yes, when I was in The Militant in the early 80s I felt the same inspiration, so since I decided I wanted to live a bit longer I packed it in.
Many stayed and paid the price, nervous breakdowns were rife in that organisation.
I don't consider myself to be a 'Trot' More an Engelsist/ Luxemburgist.
I think I told you before that I too helped Eamonn McCann with his first PBPA election campaign, in 2010 then harry and I fought under than ticket here the following year. Was it S.E.A. that you campaigned with?
The Trotskyists did have a bit more about them at times than just idealism. They built thousands of council houses in Liverpool and led the successful campaign against Thatcher's poll tax. But their repetitive dogmatic way of working was never conducive to winning people over, and most of those they did win didn't stay. Those who remained either went mad or split off to form other groups.
Left Horizons has many life-long anti Stalin socialists who have been through all of this and have learned from their experiences, the formation has a very different internal life to any of the groups who went before. Mistakes have been admitted - that anti-Stalinist organisations had ended up acting in the same way as those they spent their lives criticising.
It was SEA in 2003ReplyDelete
Thanks for your reply. I've read it about four times and I still haven't got anything constructive to add. Got me thinking though that's the main thing
thinking will do neither of us harmDelete