Saturday, 24 September 2016

We're back to democracy, warts and all

So Jeremy Corbyn is going to win it seems. David Wearing has some worthwhile observations on the choice now facing the Labour party.
The political and cultural theorist Jeremy Gilbert identifies two competing approaches as to how Labour should address the question of electability: marketing and movement-building. The marketing approach treats the electorate as consumers with fixed preferences, where the ideal politician is a polished salesperson armed with a perfectly calibrated retail policy offer. The movement-building approach treats public opinion as a changeable landscape, where elections are won not only by competent politicians but by social forces mobilised in support of a transformative agenda.

As Gilbert notes, the problem with the marketing approach is that it cannot explain how socio-political change happens. Imagine if Sylvia Pankhurst or Rosa Parks had said that “we have to accept where people are” on women’s rights, or “we understand the public’s legitimate concerns” on desegregation. The legacy of those figures, and thousands of activists like them, is a standing rebuke to the oft-repeated, ahistorical nonsense that Labour can achieve nothing with protest, but only by first winning power. In reality, the power to enact serious change can only be won by first preparing the ground through patient and committed grassroots action.
And that is why Corbyn is actually more electable than Owen Smith. He is building a movement. There's a certain fanaticism to it that means it could, in theory, succeed. All of us are utterly sick to death of presentation politics. We're bored of it and we've had two decades of it. There is an appetite for change and an appetite for choice. That in part explains the Brexit vote. Having the same old centrist consensus politicians telling us that their way is the only way is what drove the roar of defiance on the 23rd of June.

And that's why the "Tories for Corbyn" bunch had better shelve their complacency. After all we are headed for some interesting times. There's something about a movement that has a certain appeal. Politics with energy and a coherent agenda is tempting to the dispossessed. Ukip almost tapped into it but a monomania about immigration was never going to break out of the electoral cul de sac. And this is why Ukip doesn't have future.

Now that we are leaving the EU there are few reasons for anybody to stick around. Corbyn offers momentum in the real sense of the word which may tempt some of the old left back while Mrs May will be keen to demolish right wing Ukip by giving them almost everything they want. In fact, it's going to be a tough old time for people with pedestrian centrist views. They are now best represented by the wet lettuce Lib Dems who have nothing at all to say for themselves.

I think though that Mr Corbyn will end up on the rocks. Britain is a small-c conservative country and won't be taken for fools. In basic terms Mr Corbyn is playing Father Christmas promising a while load of free stuff. Moreover, his movement is built on tried, tested and failed ideas. If anyone is trying to take us back to the 1950's it is Corbyn.

One thing I have noticed about Corbyn's younger activists is that they are all about five years or so younger than me. Limp-wristed London types who have a lot in common with the more vocal remain campaigners. They're not actually old enough to remember that socialism really did suck and that government housing leads to violent slums. I am not in a rush to repeat that experiment nor am I keen on experiencing the horrors of British Rail again either. Thankfully, it's still the elders who tend to vote and they won't be as taken in by Corbyn's populism.

In response to Corbyn we will likely see a lot more red meat Toryism in the months to come. That ought to finish Ukip off. Ukip does not have a coherent platform, it cannot build a movement, it lacks the right kind of fanaticism beyond a strong dislike of Muslims and is just as stumped for ideas. Not to mention their new leader has all the charisma of a damp dishcloth while also being thicker than a tractor tyre.

It seems, though, that the biggest crisis in politics is a poverty of ideas. This week Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are pushing to recommission the Royal Yacht, which should be self-evidently moronic. It's such a crass idea that I'm genuinely surprised Ukip didn't beat them to it. Along with such an ideas drought we also have a class of politicians peculiarly unencumbered by an obligation to know what they are talking about. Listening to any prominent MPs talking about Article 50 and you can instantly tell they haven't even read it let alone thought about the implications of their respective proposals.

Just this week we've seen a reverse ferret on the single market from a number of remainer MPs. There's no way this is a genuine position. They just want to signal to their party followers that they have accepted the commonly assumed view that freedom of movement must end. Given that there are mechanisms in the EEA to control freedom of movement this is a deeply irresponsible position to take.

Moreover, it is utterly gutless. Ending freedom of movement will not make a significant impact on immigration and they know it. They need to stand firm and say so. But they won't. They go whichever way the wind blows. It is that basic lack of integrity that gives Mr Corbyn his mandate in the first place.

And this should be deeply worrying. I have never seen anything like it. Loathsome though Tony Blair was, he had an answer for every question. You may well have disagreed with what he said, but everything he said was a considered position. This is an entirely new age of fact free, ideas free, integrity free politics - right about the time when we needed intelligence and integrity above all other concerns. Some months ago I was wondering if politics could become any more crass and banal. I have come to learn that this a question one should never ask.

I made the case during the referendum that this probably would happen. That we would break away from the centrist politics that has plagued us for twenty years. It seems that has come sooner than I expected. It does seem, however, that the political choices will not be palatable ones for a time. Having put politics into deep stasis for twenty years we are going to have to let this virus run its course. It won't be pretty. It will take a new movement with new ideas to get Britain back on track.

No comments:

Post a Comment