Sunday, 26 July 2015

Corbyn's legacy could be the death of Blairism

The steady progress of the Labour Party into farce reached its logical conclusion this week with the decision to abstain on the Tory Welfare Bill.  The contortions implicit in the interim leadership's approach, where the analytical framework is that Labour lost by not being Tory enough, and that they need to be seen to be statesmanlike in not opposing the ill-framed, malevolent ordure being served up, made it quite clear that the party machinery has not moved beyond the Blair-inspired myth that there is a populist centre ground that they occupy through divine right.

The final self-realisation of Margaret Beckett, that she is a "moron", albeit only in the context of allowing Jeremy Corbyn's name to appear on the leadership ballot, is mildly amusing, but about the only crumb of comfort to emerge from the ludicrous debacle.  Blair's intervention that anyone voting for Corbyn requires a "heart transplant"demonstrates the extent to which a challenger threatens the establishment appropriation of the social democratic party for its own ends.  Labour is fighting for its existence, but this may no longer be the automatic assumption of its right to govern and the discarding of any principle that offends the new right.

Competing leadership candidates have wisely distanced themselves from the phoney-Tony drivelling, preferring instead to concentrate on Corbyn's unelectability.  It is difficult, without being named, to differentiate between Liz Kendall and a centre-right Tory, so her protestations that electing Corbyn would put Labour in the wilderness for a generation are amusing - given that her main cheerleader appears to be Tristram Hunt whose credentials as either radical or compassionate have been fatally undermined of late.  She has clearly not noticed that the vagaries of our current constitutional settlement have done that, irrespective of whoever leads Labour.  Cooper and Burnham are being mildly more circumspect, but they still represent a continuity of the entitlement culture that Blair engendered and are cheered on by the dinosaurs of Westminster centralism and their commentator friends.

Many of Jeremy Corbyn's policy positions may not stand up to scrutiny, but his principles and his approach are much more oppositional and hopeful than anything that Labour has peddled of late.  The electorate saw through the simulacrum that Ed Miliband was forced to adopt - a prisoner of an outdated narrative whose priestly denizens are popular with the right-wing media so long as they are denouncing their own party.  For those of us old enough to remember the 1980s, Miliband increasingly resembled a hybrid between Kinnock and Foot, being both well-meaning and vilified in equal measure.  A move beyond the centrist compromise may be all that Labour can hope for at the moment.

There is a need for Labour to step up to challenge and oppose, which is, after all, the primary function of opposition.  As with the Tories its vote has been in steady decline for decades, and the diversity of political expression is wrong-footing those who base calculations on, at best, a General Election five years off, rather than on a vision of what a modern state could be capable of delivering for its citizens.  In such a situation, denial of the reality of a spectrum of parties on the progressive side of politics is of such stupidity that only a Blairite true believer could be sufficiently deluded.  The left of Labour are not generally addressing this, but the swell of alternative positions and relatively-untainted new supporters may turn this into a reality.

For a change of government, there needs to be progressive alignment, recognising the electoral realities.  In the three elections Blair won, he was greatly assisted by a strong Liberal presence as a two-pronged challenge to the Tories - distorting the overall result if not representing Charles Kennedy's party fairly - this cannot be assumed to exist going forward, and the nationalists, for all the strange and contorted cross between authoritarianism and libertarianism in their core ideology, are occupying space that Labour used to rely on.  A leader who cannot recognise this and speaks as though Labour are the sole articulator of the grievances of the poor huddled masses is doomed to both political failure and being denounced, correctly, as a particularly idiotic ostrich.

These are confusing times for those whose visceral hatred of the Tories is being reinforced by every action of this coterie of poltroonery.  Corbyn's role has been to upset the consensus that the only way to challenge them is to fight on territory that they define.  After two decades of trimming and responding to the Murdoch dog-whistle, his insurgency has at least raised the possibility of an alternative future where the left sets an agenda - it may not be enough to propel Labour back into the vanguard but it does create a space where engagement on the left will not simply be a matter of pragmatism but an opportunity for regenerating the discourse.

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