I’ve remained quite detached from the Labour leadership debates. I’ve seen an awful lot of infighting that saddens me, much of it has been fueled by what is now standardised, mainstreamed mediacratic misinformation, misquotes and generally fiendish right-wing mischief-making. I’ve purposefully avoided getting caught in the crossfire.
Most of you already know my position on the matter – that whilst I think Jeremy Corbyn reflects my own values and principles most closely and has my support, I will continue to campaign from within the Labour Party for progressive change, regardless of who is leading. I will also continue to campaign to raise public awareness as best I can at a broader level, regarding key social issues.
I’ve said elsewhere that I have never regarded a Labour government as the end of our fight for progressive and positive change, but rather, as the only viable starting point.
The Labour Party is a broad church. I can respect other people’s various preferences for a party leader. Not least because I recognise that the Labour Party is on the horns of a dilemma. However, much of that dilemma has been created by the shifting Overton Window, nudged ever rightwards by the radical Conservative neoliberal paternalists in office.
It’s worth considering that even the least esteemed party leader has given us social policies that have meant most of society are much better off than they are under ANY Tory government. Yet here we are with a second term of Conservative austerity: welfare is being dismantled, the NHS is being steadily privatised, public services are stripped of funding, there is growing inequality, grinding poverty and increasingly, human rights abuses.
It’s a point that many people seem to miss. The so-called High Priest of neoliberalism – Tony Blair – presented us with some outstanding social policies nonetheless, such as the Human Rights Act, the Equality Act, the Climate Change Act, the Anti-Bribery Act, Every Child Matters, the Fox Hunting Ban and animal welfare policies, Good Friday Agreement, and many more, which the Tories are currently very busy trying to repeal. These policies certainly defy the widespread, retrospectively applied “Thatcherist” label and do not fully warrant the sheer extent of knee-jerk hatred that people pour out at any mention of Blair nowadays. This said, Blair was certainly a neoliberal, and his social safety nets were designed entirely in that context: to protect people from the very worst ravages of the economic neoliberalism that he endorsed.
Without the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act, we would not have won any of the legal cases brought against the Tories, regarding the welfare reforms.
Just for the record, I am not a Blairite. I didn’t like the Third Way – left-wing social policies with a neoliberal economics compromise. I protested against Iraq. However, if the Party is to learn, develop and move on, we must have an open mind, a balanced view and not dismiss the lessons from merits and success because there were also failures. And Blair’s synthesis of a reduced, ethical socialism was at least founded on an idea that we can remove some of the unjust elements of capitalism by providing state safeguards, including social welfare, public services and via protective policies. Now we are desperately fighting to preserve that basic layer of traditional and institutionalised social justice. The persistent Conservative narrative, comprising of tales of “welfare dependency” and “scroungers” have de-normalised collectivism and shifted the balance between citizen rights and responsibilities, unfavourably.
As a result, the Labour Party is caught between a rock and a hard place. Many supporters don’t seem to know which way to turn.
Some people think we should take a sharp left turn, re-embracing our post-war principles, others feel we would be better moving right towards a Blairist central destination, more in line with the perception of where the ever-narrowing Overton Window has placed shifting public opinion. Do people want a principled-responsive or populist-responsive party? The latter option, it is held, will make the party seem more electable. The difficulty is that the apparent public shift to the right make achieving both options difficullt. And neither direction is without risk.
Perhaps one way to define the dilemma clearly is by seeing it as that of “the real” and “the ideal” – the “real” is that we have to appeal to the broadest base of the population that we can, yet without compromising our inclusive, internationalist principles, we will continue to lose supporters to UKIP and the right. The “ideal” is that we very much need to build bridges with other progressive, anti-austerity parties, appealing to and uniting the left. But that is also risky because there has been a public shift to the right, here in England, at least.
Nationalism in England seems to have pulled many to the right, nationalism in Scotland (allegedly) pulled people left.
I don’t hide the fact that I am skeptical about the claims made by the Scottish National Party, and have pointed out more than once that Sturgeon’s skillful rhetoric, which is peppered with Glittering Generalities, does not connect up with concomitant policies.
The latter direction – the ideal – is the most appealing to me, and probably the easiest one to take, since it means compromising few if any of our traditional core values and principles. And of course, it presents a very clear, much needed alternative to social conservatism and neoliberalism. If we aim at uniting the left it would obviously make an election win much more likely in the future.
It is down to us to continue to raise public awareness about the devasting socio-economic consequences of Conservatism and unfettered neoliberalsm, and to present a clear, bold, coherent and cogent alternative.
We need to be shouting loudly that austerity has nothing to do with economic competence, it’s an ideologically-driven, crude experiment in human despair, for a start. We need to smash the illusion of cosy consensus, reflected in the Conservative and mediacratic smoke and mirror rhetoric.
The fact that the right-wing Sun feels at liberty to publicly endorse Kendall, who is widely perceived as the tame Blairite candidate for the leadership, indicates the extent to which the establishment want to thwart even a gesture of democratic socialism. Within OUR party.
And then there are the vile Conservative party supporters who never fail to descend to the blatantly despicable, launching a campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as the next Labour leader, strictly as a manipulative and opportunist event to discredit what they fear and loathe the most.
See, for example: For just a £3 membership fee you can help consign the party to electoral oblivion in 2020 – and silence its loony Left forever. They really wish. The arrogant authoritarians think they can decide the 2020 general election in advance and on behalf of the voting public.
It’s not as if the ridiculous Right’s dominant social Conservative/neoliberal narrative has any coherence, it’s a just a flimsy justifcation of crass inequality, cruelty and primitive tyranny.
There’s a lot of bad faith and reduced trust amongst many of us on the somewhat factionalised left, which makes working together a far from easy task. Nonetheless, it seems to be the only viable option, to me.
Perhaps we simply need a timely reminder that the real enemy is and always was the Tories – they are relentlessly and systematically uncivilising and desolating the country, dismantling our post-war settlement – our finest achievement – and they are coldly and remorsely destroying many people’s lives. And then blaming their victims, punishing those that they have impoverished for being poor.
We must make sure that the unremitingly savage social Darwinist dystopia that the Tories have designed is not normalised by the malicious political and media establishment, the swivel-eyed, ever-scornful twittering Conservative commentariat. Tyranny and cruelty must not become so casualised and entrenched in the public’s psyche that we forget what it is to be civilised, forget how to be humane, forget basic human kindness. If we lose hope, lose faith in each other, we really are lost.
We must present our alternative narrative, remembering that once our society evolved and progressed, now it is diminishing and regressing. It’s time to push back at the enclosing, stifling boundaries, crushing human potential as it drags us inwards, reducing us from human subjects to objects of increasingly depopulated, dehumanising socio-economic policies founded on ideology, not human need.
There is a great need for the ever-fragmented left to work together to achieve common aims, and placed less emphasis on the minutiae of party politics and divisive electioneering tactics, prioritising crucial social issues and needs instead.
Many people are suffering terribly because of brutal Tory policies, and we would be shabby, barren socialists indeed if we didn’t give our full attention and effort to doing our best in working cooperatively to organise and fight collectively to oppose the authoritarians and push back hard for positive change.
What’s the point in sterile debating and fighting amongst ourselves about what “real” socialism is when we don’t do the necessary joined-up thinking that brings about its practice?
I say let’s do it. Let’s be the change we want to see.
The alternative is to continue to witness the terrible consequences of a pathological world-view, now creeping forward to catastrophically affect more and more ordinary people, as Tory authoritarian ideology is translated from Darwinist rhetoric into public policies that manifest harsh, bleak social realities.
Many Green Party supporters have rejoined the Labour Party to support Jeremy Corbyn. There is still a clear unifying momentum going on at grassroots level, and it’s overwhelmingly behind a clear, socialist alternative. Let’s go with the flow.
Upwards and onwards.
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32 thoughts on “Labour faces a dilemma: which way do we turn?”
I agree with you totally – even when it come to the bit about Blair. Yes, bridge building is essential ! Your blog today reads as if it had been written by a Green about ten years ago, the infighting and general stupidity. I am saddened to see this. We need a strong opposition, JC could well provide it. If he does, he may well take support from the Green party – but, I don’t mind. It’s more important to me – and many Greens – that green stuff is done -we don’t care who does it ! Even the Pope will do ! – and he does…. very odd.
All the best Simon
I can’t post this as a comment on the blog as it’s not live yet.
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I accidently hit “publish” instead of “update”, then had to chase around and delete all the automatic shares as it was unfinished and untitled! I found a way of making it a draft again, but your comment did show up.
Thanks for your response, Simon, it’s very welcome.
I agree that Mr Corbyn would be best placed to inspire and unite the left, because he is clear, direct and provides a very strongly oppositional narrative. Some in the party seem afraid to do so, possibly because of the dilemma I’ve outlined here. And the Tory narrative about “economic incompetence” which has stuck.
Rhetoric, I have learned, matters to the public, generally. But one problem that won’t go away is the MSM distortions and plain, right wing bias, and we must find ways of tackling that. Miliband would have implemented Leveson’s recommendations. But I think the media will become even less reliable now.
It’s a good point – that matters most of all is that we achieve our (common) progressive aims.
All the best, Simon.
PS. Oh yes, what about the Pope!?
The Pope question… I am not put out by his statement ( as reported – I’ve not read the original ) that over population is not an environmental problem – but I am depressed that he’s still banning contraception. It’s not the quantity of people but the quality – we can have billions more if they/we live within the planet’s means. Technology is totally capable of allowing that, society should be of it too.
I heard it said that he used the term ‘technology’ where I would use ‘consumerism’ as being the driving agency of our environmental destruction. I’m a Green not a Luddite, hair shirts are for people who have not learned how to make better clothing, I hope the Pope’s comments are not read as a call to go back to ‘simpler times’ – it was hell back then.
Yes, you are right Sue, bridges need to be built between Labour and the Green Party in particular. They took a lot of radical votes, which of course was why Cameron was so keen to include the Greens in the national debates – the usual Tory divide and rule tactics. Labour need to be more radical. Personally, although I agree with him wholeheartedly, I have slight nagging doubts about Jeremy Corbyn, but these are solely based on his age – at the next election, presuming the Tories last five years, he will be 70 or 71 years which, although he is extremely fit, isn’t a good age to be running a punishing general election campaign.
Yes, the Tories really did manipulate the divisions on the left, and I deeply suspect that there are some right-wing infiltrators and shills around that have served to stir things up at grassroots level too. I was recently attacked by the EDL and other far-right groups, such as the National Front, Britain First and so on. Two or three so-called Green supporters, that have directed a very personal and malicious campaign at me for two years or so, have used the material circulated by the far-right to discredit me and shared it on FB too. It was a serious matter because I had death threats from Combat 18 which the police have taken very seriously. The malicious story circulated about me originated from Tommy Robinson, the ex-leader of the EDL. He mithered me on twitter, and I had told him to do one, and said to “go peddle far-right myths elsewhere”. That was pretty much my only comment to him on my twitter page. And the only conversaton I had with him, if you can call it that…
He then claimed that my comment was related to child abuse in Rotherham, and of course I hadn’t even mentioned Rotherham or child abuse. My comment was general one, and meant “get lost and leave me be”. Robinson used my personal details and photo which he lifted from my account and circlated a malicious meme claiming that I said events of child abuse in Rotherham were a far-right myth, which of course I did not.
It was not the only story used, however, and at least 3 green party supporters have made some outrageous claims, also, equally in breach of the malicious communications act, protection from harassment act, and people’s representation act. On reflection, I doubt these people are really green party supporters. Nor do the police believe that they are.
I’ve said elsewhere that this sort of thing happens under Tory governments a lot, and though in my early teens during the Thatcher era, I was attacked by the far-right back then, too – because I was involved in the anti-nazi league and rock against racism movement.
I guess my point is that we need to be mindful that this goes on – intentionally manufactured divisions. I’ve seen other people targeted and attacked like this too. And whilst some are undoubtedly shills, others are gullible party members that go along with the bullying campaigns, for a variety of reasons. But the end result is the same.
I guess the fact that Corbyn has been included now means that the debates will be extended to include a traditional left wing value base, and that is a massive positive for many of us. I don’t think Andy Burnham is as bad as some have painted and his recent comments on welfare clarified his position, he was misquoted in the Guardian, as I had read his speech, and contrary to the media claims, he never mentioned welfare then. He recognises the demonisation of benefit claimants and the problem, now, of public attitudes due to right wing populism and wants to see that addressed. No matter who we have as leader, the media will continue to lie, distort and generally sabotage the Labour Party as best it can.
Great article Sue echoing my thought exactly, thank you…
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Reblogged this on sdbast.
Reblogged this on Braindroppings and commented:
Its a thought that the Left always struggles with ; do you push for the most progressive change all the time and take ages to get there (whilst many others suffer), or do you accept an easier path because it is viable and may lead to better things in the future?
That clash at the heart of the current Labour leadership contest, but I haven’t seen it articulated as well as it is in this blog post.
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EER,MMM, What about principles and policies they believe in.
Stifle the mostly Tory owned media with principles.
Pandering to southern bigotry will not work.
I’m not proposing we pander to any bigotry Connor. I’m proposing we organise and fight with a clear, powerful and coherent alternative to the status quo
Southern bigotry? Do you imagine that everyone in the North support socialism? Are there no opponents? I know plenty of people who live in South, South East and South West who admire Jeremy Corbyn and are socialists. I am one of them. Meaningless comments such as “southern bigotry” are unhelpful. Good post, Sue.
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Thanks, Pam. I agree with your comment about the claim of a partisan north/ south divide. I live in the north east, and sure, it’s a labour stronghold, but up here, the right wing UKIP did very well, too, coming quite a close second in some places … and London certainly isn’t a tory stronghold! We did very well there 🙂 I have friends all over the country spread from Glasgow to Cornwall who support socialism.
I’ve been reading your work for a while and find it very incisive. I agree particularly with this statement as I don’t think that people always realise that there are 2 forms of conservatism, the political , and the deep seated desire for thing to stay the same or even go back to a state they think of as a golden age. You see it in all sorts of things. If I said to someone in labour that they were expressing a conservative view of socialism by wanting it all to be just like it was in the 30’s or 60s , or whatever their pet period was they would, and have been, offended. I agree that we must move forward taking people with us and being open to change . Bickering never solves anything it just allows you to be dismissed as unfocused and lacking clarity. thank you
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Thank you Carol, someone told me recently that I lack subtlety and style, and I spent a little time wondering if I am too blunt or something, but I like “incisive.” I prefer to be informative and clear to “stylish” anyday.
I love that phrase – “we must move forward and take people with us” – sometimes, its struck me that some “socialists” can be pretty elitist, exclusive and actually, pretty fascistic. It’s about time we moved past the divisions and bickering, as you say, because we cannot achieve anything without organisation, purpose and unity. Thank you.
Modern Labour talks about responsible compromise, but when you compromise, you need a clear understanding of what principles you are not prepared to compromise. What is your bottom line? When Labour presided over NHS outsourcing, and supported (failed to denounce) austerity, many saw that as evidence that principles of social justice and public service were no longer fundamental to Labour. The bottom fell out of the bottom line and suddenly everything is potentially negotiable if Labour thinks it will make them electable.
Meanwhile the conservatives are doing very nicely for themselves in spite of economic mismanagement that nobody seems overly concerned about, and a clear vision that’s pretty tough on the most disadvantaged chunk of the population. But there can be no mistaking what they believe in and stand for.
The dilemma for Labour is that nobody is quite sure what they stand for anymore, having (it seems) sold out on issues that were once fundamental. The prospective leaders talk about compromise, but without being clear on the underlying values that won’t be compromised. They might as well be saying ‘anything goes’. How can a party expect to win government when it no longer knows what it stands for?
I didn’t know who Jeremy Corbyn was until this week, but his values and vision strike a chord with me, and many others. I already have a sense of what his bottom line might be, and what issues he won’t compromise on — and I like what I hear. Best of all, he has never wavered. But if his position doesn’t strike a chord within the Labour Party, others will need to redraw the boundaries so the electorate knows where the a Labour government would be prepared to draw the line. And if anyone can do that with greater credibility than Corbyn right now, I’ll eat my hat!
“But that is also risky because there has been a public shift to the right, here in England, at least.” Not quite sure of your evidence here. Surely you mean within the Labour Party? OooH risky, let’s not do risky. Leave the party now. You are wasting your time. leftstanding.uk
I would think the Tory government and increased UKIP votes answers your question about evidence. That and research carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation amongst others. The public generally supported the Tory welfare cuts for a start …
Talking of evidence, your comment about the Labour Party isn’t based on their manifesto policies. Which are, at the end of the day, what matters. As for leaving the party, or whether or not I am “wasting my time”, well those are things for ME to decide, not you. You can suit yourself.
Great writing, you eloquently sum up where the party is at the moment. I’ve put some thoughts about where we are in Scotland in the following blog:-
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Thank you, Bernard. Your article is excellent, very clearly written, and at a time when many of us struggled to make sense of events because we expected another hung parliament. I agree with your commentary, and you made an especially good point about our link with trade unions, too, and how we campaign on issues identified by unions.
Recently, I have focussed on your idea of Brand politics, and it struck me too how Americanised our election campaigning seems to have become, and as you point out, slogans and rhetoric style seem to matter. Propaganda is designed to resonate. I’m just writing a series on propaganda techniques and feel that the style that the SNP used well was “Glittering Generalities.” I felt that Strugeon is an excellent rhetoritician. We relied on policies based on consultations and material social conditions, and expected that the public would accept that we had no friendly mainsteam media platform and would inform their decision on content, not style. That did not happen. Part of my own bitter disappointment at the time was that it seemed so many failed to recognise Ed Miliband’s integrity and honesty, he is such a decent man. And failed to link our policies with what we “stand for.” I hate spin and PR, and hate to say it, but the public do respond to it. I don’t imagine the Tories will be encouraging critical thinking and rational discourse over the next 5 years. I guess that leaves us to try and do so.
Best wishes, Bernard
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Thank you, really appreciate this feedback and I look forward to reading your series on propaganda techniques. I also really agree with your comments about Ed Miliband I think we have lost an excellent leader who wasn’t afraid to stand up to vested interest when it mattered. All the best – Bernard
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Please can you use darker text on the page, as I have glaucoma and it is difficult to read against the white background.
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Okay, will try that Fiona. I’ve got retinopathy because my ex-consultant prescribed an overdose of hydroxychloroquine/plaquinil (medicine for my lupus) so it may help me, too, hopefully 🙂
Thanks it will be very useful.
I have tried the black font option but can’t make it the default setting, so have to manually change the text colour as I go … unfortunately WordPress isn’t so great for consistency on this front, so when I make alterations, especially with shifting paragraphs, whole sections of articles revert back to the grey font! It’s a fiddling, time-consuming nightmare!