Tag: Partisanship

Labour faces a dilemma: which way do we turn?


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 foreverThey 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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Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are “raising more money for the rich”

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here