Posts Tagged ‘Swing Marginals’

Richard Seymour on the Dubious Electability of the Blairites

April 20, 2017

I’ve put up a few pieces about Richard Seymour’s criticisms of the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and his refutation of them in his book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics. While I don’t agree with the book’s overall view – that Labour has never been a Socialist party, and has always compromised and taken over establishment economic policies – he does make some excellent points refuting some of the smears directed at the Labour leader – that he and his supporters are misogynists and anti-Semitic. In discussing the ‘Project Fear’ campaign against Corbyn, he also attacks the oft-repeated claim of the Blairite ‘moderates’ that they are far more likely to win an election than Corbyn. Seymour writes

The problem for the ‘moderates’ is this: they aren’t actually anywhere near as good at winning elections as they like to think.

Even in their reputed ‘golden age’, beginning in the bright summer of 1997, New labour was the beneficiary of timing and fortune far more than of the strategic genius of Mandelson and company. The Tories had already decisively lost the support of a stratum of ‘secular’ voters who tend to vote with their wallets. Any general election held after the 1992 ERM crisis would have been Labour’s to lose. (admittedly, that is no surety that they would not have lost it; Mandelson’s savvy did not prevent the loss of the 1992 election.) New Labour’s first term in office, between 1997 and 2001, saw their electoral coalition shrink by 3 million voters, largely from the poorest parts of the country. Were it not for the ongoing crisis wracking the Conservative Party, and the oddities of Britain’s electoral system – two factors over which electoral gurus and spinners have little control – such a haemorrhaging of support could have been fatal; leaving Blair another one-term Labour Prime Minister.

Blair’s third general election victory in 2005 was obtained with just over a third of the popular vote, and a total number of votes (9.5 million) similar to the achieved by Ed Miliband (9.35 million) in the disastrous 2015 election, in which Labour finally lost the majority of Scotland. What was the bid difference between a record third election victory and crushing defeat? The revival of the Conservative vote. The Tories had undergone a detox operation, with a youthful, glabrous-cheeked leader doing his best Blair interpretation. The deranged Right had largely decamped to UKIP. A period in coalition government with the Liberals had persuaded middle-ground voters that the Tories were no longer dominated by rancorous flag-wavers and pound-savers. (one might add, since it has become a psephological commonplace, that the credit crunch was ‘Labour’s ERM crisis’, but this is only partially true: Labour decisively lost this argument in retrospect, and it was by no means inevitable that they should have done so.

What about today? Whatever they think of Corbyn’s electoral chances, the Blairites’ own electoral prospects are not necessarily better. Polls taken of the prospective Labour candidates before the leadership election found that of all the candidates, Corbyn was the favourite. The ‘moderates’, lacking an appealing message, were also about as charismatic as lavatory soap dispensers. Labour’s poll ratings under Corbyn are poor, but hardly worse than before despite the ongoing media feeding frenzy. There is no reason to believe that any of his lacklustre rivals would be doing any better than Corbyn presently is.

Why might this be, and why have the pundits been so easily impressed by the claims of Labour’s right-wing? Thinking through the electoral arithmetic on the Blairites’ own terms, it was never obvious that the electoral bloc comprising people who think the same way they do is even close to 25 per cent. The reason this hasn’t been a problem in the past is that elections in Britain’s first-past-the-post system are usually decided by a few hundred thousand ‘median’ voters based in marginal constituencies. As long as Labour could take the votes of the Left for granted, they could focus on serenading the ‘aspirational’ voters of Nueaton. Even the erosion of ‘heartland’ votes didn’t register, so long as this erosion was happening to mountainous, seemingly unassailable majorities.

What happens, however, when left-leaning electors defect in sufficient numbers and sufficient geographic concentration to pose serious questions about Labour’s medium-term survival? What happens when it is no longer just the odd Labour seat going to George Galloway or Caroline Lucas in sudden unpredictable surges, but the whole of Scotland being lost in a single bloodbath? What happens when votes for left-of-centre rivals surge (the SNP vote trebling, the Green vote quadrupling), millions of potential voters still stay at home, and all of this takes place while the Conservatives reconstitute themselves as a viable centre-right governing party? This is one of the reasons why Corbynism has emerged in the first place: in that circumstance, Blairite triangulation turn out to be as useful as a paper umbrella, only any good until it starts raining.
(Pp. 51-3).

This is a good analysis, and it’s what Mike over at Vox Political, Guy Debord’s cat and others have been saying for a long time: the Blairites actually lost voters by chasing the Tory vote in marginal constituencies. Corbyn has actually won them back to the party. And the electoral success of the Greens and the SNP was based on them presenting themselves as a genuinely left-wing alternative to a Labour party that was determined to turn itself into Conservatives Mark 2. There is one thing which I differ with this article on: the metaphor with lavatory soap dispensers. I think the soap dispensers are actually more charismatic than the Blairites. They perform a useful service for personal hygiene, helping to prevent the spread of disease. This is very different from Blair and his coterie, who have succeeded in doing the precise opposite in Britain and the rest of the world. Thanks to Blair’s pursuit of Thatcherite policies, the way was open for the return of malnutrition and the diseases linked to poverty under the Tories. And by joining Bush in his wars in the Middle East, they have murdered millions, from the violence of the war itself and vicious sectarian and ethnic conflicts that came afterwards, the destruction of these nations’ economies, and malnutrition and disease as sanitation and health services collapsed.

The Blairites’ claim that they are more electable than Corbyn are self-promoting lies. They aren’t, and the policies they pursue are, like the Tories they took them from, actively dangerous.

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Are the Blairites Trying to Discredit Parliamentary Democracy?

July 12, 2016

To the revolutionary far left, parliamentary politics are a corrupt sham. The parliamentary system, and the parties represented in it, always represent the interests of the capitalists, the industrials and aristocrats, against the peasants and the working class. Despite major disagreements in doctrine and tactics, this is the attitude that unites Anarchists, Anarcho-Syndicalists and Communists. Although not an advocate of the revolutionary overthrow of existing society, P.J. Proudhon, one of the founders of Anarchism, described democracy as the process by which the people elect their jailers.

The same hostility also extends to moderate, reformist Socialist parties and their leaders. Moderate socialist parties, like the Labour party in Britain, the Social Democrats in Germany and Austria, and their reformist and gradualist counterparts in France, Italy and elsewhere were despised by the revolutionary Left for betraying the working class, as they saw it, to capitalism and the bosses. Revolutionary Anarchists, Syndicalists and Communists bitterly denounced mainstream Socialists for calling an end to strikes and clamping down on working class militancy in order to preserve, as they saw it, their position of leadership in the working class movement. The great Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci, bitterly reproached the Italian Socialist party for ending the occupation of the factory, and thus ending a period working class militancy that could have resulted in a revolution similar to that of the Soviet Union.

In most cases, the analysis is wrong. By and large, there has been little support for the ultra-left and revolutionary organisations and parties in western Europe, and they have always been a minority. However, I’m starting to wonder if the Blairites in the Labour party are trying to prove the hard-left critique of parliamentary democracy true. Jeremy Corbyn is immensely popular with the Labour rank-and-file. He is certainly not a Communist, despite the ranting of the right-wing press and media. Standing for the renationalisation of the railways, free, state education and healthcare, does not make anyone even remotely like Lenin. But to the Blairites, this is all too much. They are trying to destroy Corbyn’s leadership and smear both him and his supporters. And they do represent the interests of the bosses.

Blair was impressed by Margaret Thatcher, neo-liberal economics, and the rich. One of the first things he did in Downing Street was invited Margaret Thatcher round for tea. She reciprocated by proclaiming ‘New Labour’ her greatest achievement. He went even further in privatising Britain’s industries, including the NHS, than the Tories. He also reduced the welfare state even further. It was Blair that introduced the infamous work capability tests, which has seen severely disabled people unfairly thrown off benefits after they’ve been judged ‘fit to work’. He also introduced workfare, which effectively operates as a form of cheap, subsidised labour for big business. He appointed some of the most grasping, exploitative, and sheer murderous businessmen to government departments, and declared that ‘this government is extremely relaxed about getting rich’. But if there’s one thing he disliked and distrusted, it was the unions. Despite having got into politics through being sponsored by one of them, he also threatened to cut the Labour party’s ties with them. As they were founding, constituent elements of the Labour party, which was established partly to defend their interests, this was a major attack on the party itself.

And Blair and his coteries have been amply rewarded. Private industry donated vast sums to the party, sponsoring conferences and all manner of other events. And when he retired, Blair went off on very lucrative speaking tours, and got himself a job as ‘peace envoy’ to the Middle East. Which sounds like a very, very sick joke.

The result of this for ordinary people has been the removal of workers’ rights, wages cut to a minimum, and the threat of poverty and unemployment through zero hours contracts and welfare cuts. And all so that the party could win the votes of middle class voters in swing marginals.

Meanwhile, the working class became increasingly alienated and disenfranchised. New Labour took them for granted, and expected to continue having their support, regardless of what they did. But they didn’t. Between 1997 and 2008 or so, Labour lost five million votes. Many people have said repeatedly that they don’t vote, because there’s no difference between the parties. A few years ago the press reported on how there was a mood in this country of angry disenfranchisement.

This appears to be what Angela Eagle, Tristram Hunt and co all want to bring back. A Labour party that is just a pale imitation of the Tories, that has no interest in doing anything for the working poor beyond a few, minimal policies. A party that sees itself as pursuing the policies of rich industrialists. And in doing so, a party that appears to corroborate everything the revolutionary Left has ever said about the failure and corruption of parliamentary politics.

In my view, only Jeremy Corbyn stands for genuinely creating a real alternative to the Tories, and reinvigorating not just the Labour party, but the moribund, cynical state of parliamentary politics itself.