Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Labour Strife is Here to Stay

Whatever the hopes to the contrary, strife inside the Labour Party is here to stay, for at least as long as Corbyn remains leader. It took the various factions of the Labour right twenty years, from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, to transform the Party from its postwar, reformist orientation to a much more right wing position. It will clearly take the Left longer than a few months to execute the same move in the opposite direction.

It is not necessarily Corbyn's leftism that deters voters. After all, on concrete positions, there is ample support. Rather it is the tangible air of chaos around him that is offputting. Some of this is no doubt down to Corbyn. No excuses, he and his circle have made shoddy PR moves with too much regularity. They've also struggled to get heard above the noise of constant attacks. They could remedy this with better and more frequent TV appearances, snappier sound bites, and a less conventional, constrained approach to opposition. More importantly, they need to get out of Westminster as much as possible if they're going to challenge the feeling that they are no different to the rest.

Corbyn's enemies within Labour are doing him no favours either. But those enemies are too numerous to placate conventionally and their loathing of him too strong to be bought off. Corbyn cannot win if he gets bound up in the fighting inside the Party structures, tweaking personnel and selection procedures here and there. Rather, Corbyn can win the wider ideological war by going to members, supporters, union affiliates and voters publicly, circumventing the tedium of conventional opposition and the constraints of the party structures. 

The Labour Right should be called out for what it is: a faction hellbent on dragging Labour back to the depressing failures of the Kinnock years and the military disasters of Blairism. The Labour leadership cannot beat them on their own turf. Instead they need to call - explicitly - on the movement that got them elected, the movement beyond parliament. They also need to address themselves directly to the public and not to Labour MPs. Dissent will happen no matter what; at least if Corbyn is engaged in a direct dialogue with the public, the impact can be minimised. 

If Labour is to be rebuilt as something different and more radical, it will take time and perseverance. The alternative - the path of the Labour Right - is the same collapse or decay of social democracy seen in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Germany, much of Scandanavia, and undoubtedly soon France. There is no question: the path of the Right - to the extent they have one - will lead to defeat. 

Building a coalition of working-class and mid-income voters is a tall order. It takes more than a different face at the top. There is widespread scepticism not only of Labour but of politics itself. This is not down to politicians' inherent dishonesty, but the repeated failure of government - indeed capitalist democracy - to meet public expectations for rising incomes, decent jobs, and functioning welfare. Political scepticism is a symptom of the slow erosion of democracy by global capital. Convincing people that there can be an alternative to ever diminishing returns - to an increasingly bleak struggle for scant welfare, shit jobs and overpriced houses - is harder than ever after forty years of neoliberalism. Only a commitment to changing people's experience of politics - as something that is participatory, local, and engaging - will do the job. Wonkish policy announcements from Westminster - or indeed from a shiny factory with a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat - won't make people believe you. As both markets and the state have become more distant and impersonal, there is a serious need for politics to be personal for it to work. 

Corbyn's Red Wedding may have been a bit of a damp squib. But there will be blood - and sweat and tears. Labour may lose in 2020 no matter what. Our job as either Corbynites or Labour supporters is to commit ourselves to a better politics and party that might lie the other side of all this.

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