Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Corbyn is an irrelevant decoy divorced from politics

Of all the things I presently consider important in British politics right now, Corbynmania is not high on my list. In fact, I might go as far as calling it tedious. If anything, it illustrates the degree to which the media has degraded when it comes to prioritising and reporting news of consequence. But that's nothing we didn't know already.

The media reaction has been pretty abysmal with the usual saturation coverage of every piece of trivial flotsam associated with the matter. It is often said that our politicians are out of touch but in reality, it is the media with their myopic fixations who are deeply out of touch. They have no idea of just how little those outside of their bubble actually care about it.

To ruminate on the ramifications of this event on British politics, at best I can say that it may spark some lively debate. It may well steer the political discourse in a direction not anticipated, but since a Corbyn-led Labour party will never be voted into power, there is little to get worked up about. In any event, it is more than four years before there is another general election.

As we discussed in last month's issue, if there was any danger of a real sea change in British politics, the public would mobilise faster than the establishment to thwart any such surge. And as dull as it is, it's nothing new either. History repeats and we have seen this before. Labour's history is replete with divisive leaders. Even in my lifetime I recall the woes of Neil Kinnock. There were the most stupendous rows and bitter fights, not to mention hugely expensive court cases. I can imagine we will see more of the same as the parliamentary party deserts Corbyn.

But even so, this is the politics of the Westminster bubble - far removed from the real business of government, adjacent to politics rather than the essence of it. It is an adjunct of the entertainment industry masquerading as news. The media now frames all politics in terms of tribal alliances with the next general election as their point of reference. But for Britain, the next major political contest is not a general election. It is a referendum on future membership of the EU.

In that respect politicians are entirely irrelevant. In a representative democracy politicians vote on our behalf, thus it is we who must persuade and influence politicians. In a referendum, we have our own votes and it is they who must persuade us. Roles are reversed and they become the supplicants.

In this particular fight, it is not a traditional battle of party agendas. Both Labour and the Conservatives are deeply split on the issue and it's not as simple as staying in or leaving. In both camps there are those who mistakenly believe the EU can be reformed and are waiting to see what reforms David Cameron will present to us. In this the EU itself is not a disinterested observer. It is an actor in its own right and will seek to heavily influence the vote by way of selective statements of intent.

In the final stage of the referendum campaign, the result will not be a feud over the respective merits of EU membership. It will depend on whether the public believe that Cameron has achieved any real reforms and whether his promise is worth the paper it is written on. The EU will be watching very closely and carefully doing all it can to bolster the Prime Minister's image and his credibility. 

EU watchers will be well aware that the reform process is but a piece of political theatre and the EU is less interested in tinkering with treaties of old as designing the new one. It is unlikely that the EU will be in any mood to revisit aspects of employment law or human rights and thus there is every likelihood that Corbyn will fall into line and back Cameron.

At this point it's anybody's guess which way the vote will go, but the we know that the EU would prefer to deal with a Conservative government post-referendum and will invest heavily to make sure the more visible symptoms of the refugee crisis are swept under the carpet. This will allow Cameron to claim he has influenced the EU in solving an acute problem which is seldom off our screens.

This is real politics at play here. The result of this referendum defines the shape of European affairs for the next generation and there are many vested interests devoted to ensuring Britain stays in the EU. This is happening with barely a mention in the media while the Corbyn decoy keeps them busy.

If I were to tune into either the BBC or Sky News this evening, whatever constitutes politics in their book is going to be far removed from those who follow actual politics. The biff-bam confrontational party politics of Westminster are divorced from much larger, more critical games which are beyond our media's capacity to report, much less understand.

As to the sideshow of British party politics, the Corbynmania may see a disintegration of the Green party and may thwart Nigel Farage's ambitions for eating into Labour strongholds in the north of England. The refugees from Corbyn's Labour may even revive the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats, spelling the death of fringe parties. But rather than being a sea change in British politics, it is a reversion to type.

But supposing there were no EU referendum on the table, this would still be a non-event. Corbyn's off-the-cuff "radicalism" is no better thought out than the fag-packet policies of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and more amusingly, the EU would be a frustrating factor in Corbyn's ambitions for putting the state back at the heart of British life.

Certainly EU state aid rules and environmental regulations would put Mr Corbyn's reindustrialisation policies in the dustbin, and as for Corbynomics, no chance, Lance. No way, Jose! Between the EU's impositions and the public's own allergy to radicalism, the likelihood of a Corbyn government achieving anything are slim.

All we can really expect from the next few years is some entertaining exchanges at Prime Minister's Questions. There will be much extruded verbal material excreted by our issue-illiterate media but little in the way of enlightened thinking. Corbynmania is just white noise and space filler.

In terms of gripping leadership contests go, the one that has real ramifications is the contest for the Electoral Commission nomination to lead the campaign to leave the EU. We see Tory splinter groups versus eccentric millionaires and grubby spivs who can see there's a buck to be made from a big publicly funded campaign. Those who get paid whichever way it goes. The outcome of this contest decides the effectiveness of the campaign to leave and thus whether Britain stays in the EU. In terms of significance, such an event outweighs a general election in importance by an order of magnitude.

Given that Labour's position on the EU has never been one of principle, but a political device to reflect unity in Labour and splits in the Tories, any firm stance now is going to look cynical and opportunistic and not at all trustworthy. The Corbyn "wait and see" stance we see now is merely party political manoeuvrings. In that regard, Labour is utterly irrelevant to the whole process and have nothing of value to add in the coming parliamentary term.

What we really see is a spent Labour party, ill at ease with modernity. It has retreated to its comfort zone in the absence of any fresh ideas. Corbyn's socialism does not speak to this century and has nothing new to say. There are bold ideas a modern Labour party could embrace but the dinosauric Corbyn is actually no radical. He's a museum piece.

Certainly there is a debate to be had about the model of ownership of utilities and how they are managed, but a reversion to state monopoly merely takes to us back to the bad idea before the current bad idea.

The centralisation and nationalisation of utilities was in effect the theft of local municipally owned corporations and thus Mrs Thatcher was in effect pedalling stolen goods. A relevant Labour party would be talking about real localism, real sovereignty, constitutional reform and using the market mechanisms that presently exist to embark upon remunicipalisation.

It would then be an opportunity for the market to decide if public ownership really did prove better value. I can certainly imagine some circumstances where communities could control their own local power generation with micro nuclear plants and CHP. But Labour isn't going to talk about anything like that. It's just going to spend the next few years navel gazing until it finds the correct procedural moment to oust Corbyn and install someone anodyne enough to win an election.

Rather than being relevant or radical, Labour's new found socialism is a timid retreat into old habits. The Party would no longer recognise radicalism or originality, and from where I'm standing, it looks like a slow countdown to extinction. If it is any consolation, the other parties are not far behind them.

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