Monday, 14 September 2015

Delivering effective opposition - not party squabbling

Tristram Hunt's expression of wounded rejection was almost sufficient justification for Corbyn's election on its own.  The sight of sulking apparatchiks taking their balls home, without usually justifying their actions beyond a cursory "unelectable" comment that demonstrates a total lack of self-awareness, added to the glee of the right-wing press is paradoxically an indiction that the political pendulum is swinging once more.

Ironically, as the Tories move off into the right-wing hinterlands, to sound left-wing in relation to them becomes much easier.  Yet the challenge now is to define a future that is rooted in principles rather than oppositionalism, and which embraces party, community and individuals in a much less structured way.  The Blairite period was an aberration, electorally successful on its own terms, but which was in retrospect a Trojan Horse for the assimilation of a right-wing hegemony.

For the last fifty years, the fragmentation of political allegiances and the decline in mass-party support has been a dominant trend in British history - alongside a tendency for disengagement from the process.  Partly this is due to the complexity and unaccountability of government - rule by technocrat, economic regulator and contract manager does not encourage citizen involvement, especially where the design of administration and public service delivery appears to have been deliberately skewed to reduce any incentive or mechanism to hold politicians to account.

Where Corbyn was clever in his leadership campaign was to start articulating this - in the sense that austerity, the privatisation of the public space and the disconnect between generations and geography are all causes of grievance and alienation.  Bringing people into the process requires some expectation that their voices count - the Blairites and the Tories regard the electorate and the citizen as at best a necessary evil and at worst with utter contempt.  Corbyn's agenda is not new - it has been the mantra of the Liberal, Green and non-Labour left for the last fifty years - but in bringing it into the Labour leadership it is probably a first.

Labour's self-appointed pragmatists and rebels should have been silenced by the scale of change - but instead they are queuing up to do the bidding of the Tories and the media in stirring up trouble for their own side.  The irony of their condemnation of the new leader's rebellious tendencies over thirty years in politics, compared to their destructiveness in thirty hours, should not be lost or forgiven.  They have learned the lessons that Clegg and his acolytes did - that if you offer more of the same and a cosy relationship with the Tories you will not convince.  Far better to be starting redefining the terms of debate.

What is clear is that the Tories will find the new paradigm harder to cope with - whereas the Blair response to attack would have been to curl up and surrender to the parental authority figures there is not much for Labour to lose at the moment.  The liberating effect may be to open up debate in ways that create opportunities for genuine questions about the nature and aims of society and community, and which are not cloaked in a toxic fug of economic efficiency and capitalist determinism.

Whatever happens within the Labour Party, there is space to engage and to make common cause where there is genuine convergence.  For those of us who come from a left libertarian view, with a suspicion of the state, this does not imply full endorsement of any philosophical position, but a practical desire to deliver policies that effect change - ensuring that there is provision for the citizen not merely to benefit but to dissent and challenge.

Most people do not see the point of politics - nor do they see the point of theological debate around points of principle.  The challenge for the opposition is now to articulate that differences may exist, but that there is  common enemy that requires addressing.  Shifting the terms of debate back to the citizen and society will be a start.  Given that the Labour right will be spending most if its time plotting to upend the result, the constructive response has to be to support and engage - even to disagree - with the new direction, as it is the only potential focus (at least in England) for achieving meaningful broader change in the medium-term.  Idealism needs to be pragmatic - the lesson of Blairite pragmatism without idealism has been a cul-de-sac.  Now at least there is a possibility of a new discourse.

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