Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Conservative enemy remains

Less than a tenth of the way through their term, the Tories have reverted to type.  While some of the grander claims being made for the moderating influence of the Liberal element to the previous coalition may have the whiff of casuistic apologetics, the reality is that the unfettered Cameron administration is a throwback to the worst era of Thatcherism.  The moral compass has spun into its grave, and we are blessed with a government which is rushing through its agenda of arrogance and vileness with unseemly haste.

Little wonder that they have been rejoicing in the immediate aftermath of Labour's leadership election, having calculatedly destroyed their erstwhile partners.  The inadequacy of an electoral system that has not delivered a majority endorsement for any governmental combination (save, arguably, in 2010) since 1906 and the ability of the anti-Tory forces to squander their moral and policy advantages in the context of sectarian bickering, are all godsends to a party driven purely by authoritarian cynicism and self-interest.

In the early days of Cameron's pomp, the risible claim of communal suffering was heard, occasionally, amongst the canards that Brown and Darling had, rather than steering a sensible path through the global financial crash, been personally responsible for every incidence of capitalist cupidity since the neolithic period.  Now the mantras are aimed at client groups, many of whom have been suckered into Tory narratives against their own interests.

There are very few prepared to declare the Tory emperor to be naked - or to expose it to the kind of "rigorous" deconstruction that their mouthpieces dole out to those who question the wisdom of deflation and squandering economic capital.  Yet the cant and hypocrisy around the "hard-working families" dog-whistle is breathtaking.  Many others work hard, including single people, economic and political migrants and other less worthy groups - yet the former are cast, subliminally, as at best potential outcasts and at worst predatory perverts, and the latter groups as destabilising the basis of society.

It is perfectly possible to construct an argument that the impact of population movements has been to depress wages, and that the impact of the well-intentioned tax credit system has been to shift responsibility further away from employers.  However, this is an intelligent debate that will never be permitted by a bunch of charlatans determined to reduce the state as an ideological lodestar, which will benefit them directly as the replacement of communal provision results in lucrative outsourcing where they, or their friends, will secure the opportunity to extract profit and maximum gain from the misery of the majority.

Ironically, given the smearing and innuendo flying around demonising Jeremy Corbyn as a Trotskyite, Communist or at best a naive fellow traveller (not to mention the slur that he might have been sexually active), the Tory world-view is closest to Marxism than any of the myriad of drivers of opposition to them.  Whereas Marx predicted that the inherent tensions in capitalism would result in its downfall, the Tories are devoted both to exploiting them and to consolidate their hegemony.

Opposing this tendency requires both focus and generosity.  Labour's reformulation is a potential catalyst for change - articulating the case for reform, civil society and the values of a decent community needs to be carried out with moral authority rather than relativism to a barbaric right.  The aim of politics has to be secure a citizen-driven society where freedom and opportunity are preserved and promoted, and the core values of politicians are better aligned to those they are seeking to serve.  Labour is not, and will not be, the sole conduit for progressive values - but it is not the obstacle to their achievement that the Tories represent.

It is now a quarter-century since David Marquand's The Progressive Dilemma, which continues to resonate as a narrative of the failure to challenge Tory hegemony in the 20th century.  Ignoring this will continue to ensure a diminished, feudalist Conservatism remains in power far longer than the electorate desires, and to continue a politics where the narrative is both crude and reductionist.  Working within the British electoral system will require creativity.

For a start, it is naive to assume that partisan divisions can be overcome, or should be.  Philosophically, liberals, socialists, greens and civic nationalists come from different traditions.  This cannot mean that the practical business of policy-making should be beyond them - nor that co-operation and common campaigning should not take place.  Recognition that there is a need for dialogue and compromise before the next UK General Election could support the hypothesis that a more radical pact would be constructive and just, rather than the fear of the Scots and the "other" that feeds contemporary Tory media manipulation.

What the 2020 endgame looks like is impossible to define - particularly as there will have been the European referendum and its incalculable impact on the right.  However, defining a space for debate and development of the counter-narrative to the inevitability of Tory supremacy is needed now.  This cannot be a tribal arena.  A coherent programme for government, including economic and constitutional change, that can be signed up to by people in all parties and none, is a prize worth swallowing the partisan ego for - and to avoid mud-slinging.

To watch and listen to some of the Liberal Democrats, you would have thought that Corbyn's election creates the opportunity to destabilise Labour, even to the extent of a new SDP formation being seen as desirable.  These voices tend to come from the pro-Tory wing of the party, demonising him in terms that the projectile vomiters of the Murdoch press would applaud, continuing the tradition of lickspittle adherence to their role models, even after the hypothesis of Tory malevolence was proved incontrovertibly back in May.  Labels are less important than a programme for government, clearly mapped out in advance to minimise the chances of the hypocritical challenge that scared people into voting Tory to keep out the SNP.

The opposition needs to provide the conditions where, if the electorate want it, there can be a change of government.  This may need pragmatism - even if only to avoid direct competition where there is the potential to dislodge Tory MPs and to be realistic about the ability of one of the opposition groups to form a single electoral force.  One of the reasons for the failure of coalition was the inability to demonstrate willingness to co-operate and engage before the event, and this should be recognised by all those who oppose this pernicious and undemocratic regime.  Destroying the Tory lie that there would be no agreed set of policies and priorities, based around the overlap between the practical implementation across a range of political philosophies, is a challenge.

Fighting amongst the opposition, especially when no party can claim supremacy across the whole electoral battleground, lets down the people who political activists are seeking to serve.  Building common platforms over the next four years will not be enough, but it does provide a start and the basis on which any post-electoral pragmatism could function.  Labour are not there yet, but other parties need to be sensitive to the requirements of giving confidence that a more diffuse yet unified approach is the only way to end the unquestioned dominance of a minority party.

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