Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Labour's pains - why they still matter

Another party, another leadership contest.  The coup that aimed to dispose of Jeremy Corbyn may yet succeed. although the sight of the legal system deposing the current leader for failing to secure sufficient nominations is unlikely to calm the stormy morass that has been created by a party over-sensitive to accusations from outside, and which has now turned in on itself at a time where even the slightest twitch of opposition would have met with relief from all sides save the Tories.

The ridiculous focus on Labour's internal splits cost the debate on Trident dear, if not the outcome.  There is a very strong strategic and economic case to review whether spending a huge amount of future defence budgets on a Cold War system, whose first use would demonstrate madness and whose use in retaliation the entire failure of the arguments upon which its procurement had rested, is in the country's interests, but instead it became a guessing game as to which factions in Labour would either oppose their own policy, abstain or provide uncritical cheerleading for Theresa May at a time when it was most unnecessary and unwelcome.

Even four weeks on, the impacts of the European referendum are still only beginning to be felt - both in the world which impacts upon most of us, and in the political alignments that reflect the London-centric narrative of the media and the machine politicians.  There is talk that, should Corbyn triumph over Smith, of a similar exodus to that which led to the formation of the SDP in 1981, but probably supported by a significant fraction, if not a majority, of those elected on a Labour ticket last year.

All very well, but in an electoral system that delivers landslides to parties which do not secure a majority of votes (looking at the Tories, Labour and the SNP) discussions of realignment fall foul of a mixture of the anti-pluralism that has enthroned the Tories as hegemonic dictators, and that ensures minority opinions are excluded, thinking along party lines is both dangerous and lets down the majority of the electorate who may well be anti-Tory, but who are not convinced by the argument that a vanguard party is the best way of expressing their views.

This also militates against the kind of quick fix that has been beloved of commentators and those impatient for power.  One of the many lessons that should be learned from the SDP's short life is that the politics of electoral pressure need to come after there has been a broad consensus on the do-minimum policy requirements.  There is no presumption that any new party has the right to claim leadership, nor that it will succeed purely by sheer force of self-defined "reasonableness" or "moderateness".

What will be needed to secure future success is a much more inclusive approach that permits degrees of convergence and pragmatism, as well as recognising that one's allies in delivery may have reached their positions from a different starting point, and will continue to do so.  Diversity and pluralism are the marks of a mature political system, and there is no reason why we should not be promoting this in advance of any electoral requirement.  The poor reputation of the Liberal Democrats partly derives from the naive and hurried coalition discussions by which they were shafted into the role of human shields by Cameron, but also from an immature set of beliefs on the self-proclaimed left of the immutability of one party, and one ideology.

A crystal ball has been proved useless in recent months.  What is clear is that for there to be the possibility of a non-Tory government in England and the UK is for a much looser convergence and consensus to emerge before the election - the sight of politicians who have things in common discussing and agreeing a key programme for a reforming government, one of whose key priorities would be the delivery of a constitutional reform programme that both modernised the process of government and ensured more representative democracy, might remove suspicion and increase the prospect of change.

Labour's internal machinations are important.  The climate that has been created, where there is abuse and threats, is reminiscent of a cult rather than a party that claims to have the right to be a broad church.  It is difficult to disagree with many of Corbyn's policy positions, but the approach being set out is a personal crusade and attended by a retinue who are clearly focused on internal machinations rather than facing out and addressing the questions as to what is needed to oppose this government, let alone surf the waves of disappointment, attrition and right-wing paranoia that will emerge when the Cabinet idiots fail to deliver a negotiation with the EU that meets the basic expectations of any shade of opinion.

In the UK's electoral malfeasance, Labour will be key to determining whether there is enough space to remove the Tories.  Its denial of its atrophying support base in traditional areas - Scotland, the North and Midlands, Wales - and its arrogance in assuming that those of us who yearn for change are its automatic adherents are manifestations of a malaise.  Untreated, it could doom the country to further irrelevance against the break-up of the Union and the decline in prestige and real power that follows from an act of insanity.  Some of Labour's behaviours are irrational - it should be fighting to escape the asylum rather than change the amount of padding on the walls.

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