Saturday, 20 August 2016

Labour has condemned itself to the political wilderness

I keep feeling a compulsion to write about the Labour leadership contest but then I realise no-one cares and I don't either. If you want compelling commentary on the subject then you should read Sam Hooper's blog. If I were to add anything at all it would be that the present Labour delusion is perplexing.

There seems to be a view that keeping Corbyn means perpetual opposition. That might well be a valid concern as there is no way that a radical leftist party can win power, but if that is your view then surely you would want to replace Mr Corbyn with someone compelling, clever and presentable. Not so for Labour who have instead presented us with Owen Smith, a man who is equally incoherent but with all the charm and charisma of B&Q flat pack furniture (and equally disposable).

And there's something to read into that. Either Labour is saying it has no heavyweights or that it has completely written off any hope of winning the next election. I do not believe it to be the former. Labour has some formidable people. I happen to detest Labour big beasts but I don't deny they pose a threat. And were I to name a prominent one I would name Rachel Reeves. She is shrewd, ambitious, clever to a point and somewhat attractive. Labour would come back fighting under her leadership.

So why haven;t they come forward? Simply put, nobody wants the job. It's a poisoned chalice. If you stand for the job and win, you lose the next election and then you're compelled to resign and your career is over. And that might well be an intelligent career choice but the subtext of this is that all of the Labour big beasts value their long term career prospects over and above presenting a credible oppisition at a time when you might think an opposition might be a useful things.

While I am appalled by members of the house on both sides in their determination to derail Brexit the Tory right ideologues worry me just as much and if Britain wants an amicable settlement then these people must be marginalised. Labour seems too caught up in its own internal affairs to present any real opposition.

What we are witnessing is a Labour party in hibernation willing to let the Corbyn virus run its course in the knowledge that they cannot defeat it. But Corbyn presents a real problem for them. Corbyn does actually hold true to a belief system. He does not believe that one should sell out for the sake of electability. He believes in old fashioned politics where one sets up a movement, sets out the stall and sells the ideas. That in itself is commendable even if voters will not go for it.

This principled approach is the very opposite of Blairism which is why those who do not support Corbyn are labelled as Blairites regardless of their beliefs. The fact is that Blairism is a byword for substance free managerialism chasing power for its own sake. There are those like former Labour treasurer, Tony Robinson (of Blackadder fame) who find this sufficient, but the zeitgeist has changed.

If we want a middle of the road government that believes in maintaining the social democratic consensus then there is simply no need to vote Labour. Theresa May's government speaks to middle England and is proving quite popular. A generic Blairite Labour has nothing to offer that can compete. And it's easy to see why.

Lefties have never been especially credible on defence and security and the left tend to be the peaceniks historically speaking. That is what Corbyn represents and that is why Labour under Corbyn is unelectable. But when you look at the substance of the left who oppose Corbyn you find the likes of James Bloodworth who seems to be suffering from nominative determinism. The Blairite wing is a particularly bloodthirsty bunch who just can't wait to bomb Syria and find new wars of righteousness.

The aim is to prove that Labourists are credible on foreign policy and defence in a field normally reserved for the Tories. But this is really the politics of the last decade. Now we are in the politics of Brexit. In this, Owen Smiths bold bid to reconnect with the working class is to tell the people of Sheffield that they must think again on their vote to leave the EU. And he's not alone. The right of the Labour party still believes there is a chance to overturn the referendum and bizarrely think this approach is where their fortunes lie. So in that regard most impartial outsiders are wondering why Labour is even bothering to unseat Mr Corbyn. His lack of enthusiasm of the EU is more in tune with Labour's core vote than any of them.

But this is really why Owen Smith is going to lose. The Labour leadership is a job that none of the big beasts want because none of them have the courage of their convictions enough to risk career oblivion and they have no ideas to challenge Mrs May. They are a spent force in politics without any ideas. They have to sit this one out until they work out what they are for.

Corbyn, however, does have the right idea. He believes that power is not the immediate objective. He believes that Labour needs to retrench as a movement and build upon it in order to restore legitimacy and confidence. That means playing the long game. If the objective is power for its own sake to continue with the status quo then there is no point in taking power.

And that should worry the right. After all, a rag bag of closet racists, loonies and fruitcakes managed to force a referendum bringing about a realignment of politics for the entire continent without winning a single seat in their own right. Movements have real power in a way that caretaker leaderships don't.

So when we see the grandees of the left like Neil Kinnock telling activists to ditch what they believe in order to install a cardboard cut out caretaker, you can see why the response is hostile. As some have remarked, what is the point of being an activist if you serve as a mere functionary for an out of touch Labour elite fighting for office rather than for principle?

As it happens, I think the Corbyn virus will run its course and it will be defeated thanks to its outdated ideas and obsolete agenda but that will not entitle Labour to anything. If they want to take power and use it for the common good they will have to come up with a fresh agenda for a post-Brexit world.

The tired old mantras of borrow and spend, enslaving the poor on welfare are the policies of the booming naughties. With Brexit, Britain has voted for something entirely new. That is why Corbyn will fail, but it is also why the rest of the party has nothing of value to contribute. They can't even admit there has been a sea change in politics. Until they do they will languish on the sidelines. That is no bad thing for the time being.

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