Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The outsider paradox and the prize for the left

Most traditional members of political parties have mindsets akin to those of acolytes of particularly virulent religious sects.  The process of identification with one cause or another results in a myopia that does not just result in partisanship but a denial of not merely the logic but the right to exist of any group that challenges them.  The Tories have always been like this, with a nasty strain of virulent but gormless fools whose aim is to bludgeon the remainder of the country into submission.

For anyone who grew up in the binary world of Cold War paranoia, this was one of the phenomena that might have disappeared alongside the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the need for demonisation and the focusing of hate disappeared.  The nuancing and the moral relativism that was the real backdrop for the period, and which inspired many of us who continue to oppose the politics of military blocs, did not really translate into mainstream discourse.

The toxic politics of the Thatcher period in Britain were emphasised by a number of recurrent motifs, including "not one of us" and the slightly-paraphrased "no such thing as society".  In building a binary discourse, and one which enthrals the shallow drivelling inadequates that dominate the Tory front bench today, this has in effect cheapened politics into being a position of relativism to a dominant position.  Thus the chorus of the Blairite zombies excoriating Jeremy Corbyn as he won't tack to a place defined by being one step left of the Tories, rather defining his socialism as based around views, prejudices and principles that are familiar to those of us who remember the Labour party before it became a diluted mouthpiece for the London coterie.

Ironically, it is an MP whose very existence in the centre of the New Labour world must have caused sleepless nights to the image-centred marketeers who is leading the charge.  The response from the semi-dead has been to warn that with Corbyn as leader, Labour will not win the General Election in 2020.  The problem is that even with Tory-lite policies and a set of focus groups determined to play back ignorance and prejudiced views as mainstream, this is a fanciful concept.  Corbyn as leader might be prepared to accept that the fragmentation of anti-Tory forces may need a slightly different tack to the Polly Toynbee "either shut up or join Labour" sectarian screeching.

Tim Farron, in taking over the Liberal cause at a time when the previous leadership clique had demonstrated that positioning yourself in the Tory shadow makes it much easier to then desert to the full-fat version, may be better placed to articulate the realities of opposition where there is no geographical distribution able to provide a springboard for a change of power.  Labour's inability to progress outside English cities and its Welsh and English heartlands should act as a wake-up call - Blair's victories were achieved with Liberals and National parties harrying at Tory flanks, and there is now a wider Green and disaffected Labour/Liberal community looking for leadership.

2020 needs to be fought by the opposition parties as outsiders - with a recognition that there may well be a messy result which will require co-operation if not coalition.  Before then there is the chance to work cross-party on European referenda and resisting the evidently-deranged elements of the Tory programme, breaking down the boundaries.  There is no point in ideological or partisan purity if there is no achievement of political progress and constitutional modernisation - nor is there any worth in engagement if the damage done by the current administration is now identified, shouted down and an alternative put forward.

Corbyn, by his intransigence and throwback to a pre-Blair era, may be better placed than most to take this opportunity.  In putting forward policies and values rather than tactics, he provides something that realistic progressives could use as the basis for dialogue and potential co-operation.  There is a large group of disaffected idealists looking for a vision - and, to return to the religious motif briefly - there may even be evangelism waiting in the wings.  Being outside the disasters of neo-liberal economics and collusion of the last two decades might even turn out to be an advantage and a shrewd electoral move.

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