Strange death of Labour – and the SNP?

If the past two years has taught us anything, it is that tin-foil hats are far more in vogue than one might imagine.

Those who partake are easily identifiable. Almost always, they have multiple twibbons. The number of twibbons is often inversely proportional to their grasp on reality. They also use phrases like MSM, Westmonster, red tory, Blairite, and traitor, and frequently ask why you hate Scotland, or don’t believe in Britain.

But, above all else, they are on a moral crusade.

This self-righteous moral certitude is cultivated by the political mainstream. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party denounced the Conservative cuts to welfare, and rightly so. They were a disgrace, you see, because the Tories hate the poor and would like to see them in cages to be poked with sticks. They’re all millionaires who want to privatise the NHS so companies can profit from people being sick. And obviously they hate women too, because they have fewer female MPs than us. Heartless, sexist, evil sods, the lot of them, and they must be stopped.

If this was Batman, our side would clearly be Bruce Wayne, and they would be the Joker. Or something.

That’s not much of an exaggeration. If your supporters take what you say at face value, is it so surprising that political discourse has become so debased and angry? By voting for you, they are protecting the sick and vulnerable from being maliciously attacked – a moral cause, if ever there was one. And so, you have their votes. That was easy. Well done us. Congratulations all round. Champagne for everybody.

But now, without a radical policy agenda from the centre-left, the rabble-rousing potency of confected moral outrage lies not in the hands of Gordon Brown or Tony Blair, but Jeremy Corbyn. Not only has he failed to produce a policy agenda, his whole political ideology is articulated in meaningless platitudes, a vacuous stream of consciousness that speaks only to the downtrodden, extremist sympathisers and affluent graduates. That is not an election-winning coalition. And so, having ridden the tiger of moral outrage, the centre-left is being consumed by it.

As a supporter of Scottish independence and SNP voter, not only should I rejoice in this phenomenon (Hooray! Labour are finally destroyed! etc.), I should also be acutely familiar with confected moral outrage. For, as we know, No voters were selfish and bullied pensioners and so on. The right-wing BBC (laugh along with me, watchers of Fox News) blocked us from winning our freedom. Scotland, poor old Scotland, you see, has been betrayed, once again, and isn’t it all shameful. When-oh-when will the humiliation by MI5 end?

But for someone who cares about centre-left politics in this country, I’ve been surprised to find that Labour’s collapse has actually driven me to despair, a little.

‘Ah-ha!’, I can hear Scottish Labour folks say, ‘but the SNP aren’t even left-wing!’. Well, good. I vote for the SNP because I vote for centrist parties. Most people do. You did too, Labour members, in the thirteen years in which you actually made a difference. With its charismatic leader, its slick branding, its message discipline; the SNP is New Labour. Nicola Sturgeon is the heir to Blair (without the warmongering, obviously). And that’s a good thing. So, put the pitchfork down, re-sheath the battle-axe and step away from the keyboard, left-wing warriors. You were the future once.

To English Labour, who sought to emulate the electoral success of the SNP’s shiny brand of hard-leftism in a Corbynite revival: sorry to break it to you guys. Close, but no Cuban cigar.

What is different, though, is that the SNP lacks the reforming zeal of New Labour. Yes, the Iraq war was an historic catastrophe. ID cards and 90 day detention were pretty monstrous, too. But establishing the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, the Equalities Act, Sure Start centres, devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, reducing child poverty and on and on it goes, is a more extensive list of achievements than the current SNP administration can boast. Even the oft-touted free tuition policy is a triumph of virtue-signalling over actual social progress. And yet, if you were to ask most Scots who had a better record, it would be an SNP landslide.

In that context, much of Labour’s current plight is rooted in a failure to defend thirteen years of government. Even if you accept the inevitability that Blair was to be synonymous with war, that tinge of betrayal need not have polluted a decade in power. The result? A selectorate who do not see electoral success as a route to radical change.

The Blair government was certainly not a hard-left one (awards for insight, address on request), but it was a radical one. For too long, the conflation between radicalism and the hard left has been allowed to fester in the bowels of left-wing rhetoric. Those in need of radical solutions have found solace in their vacuous moral outrage, turning to the very obstructionists who opposed the election-winning centrist reforms of 1997.

Raising taxes is not radical. Nationalisation of industry is not radical. Appeasement of terrorists is not radical. These are the same platitudinous tropes that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have been shouting through loud-hailers for the past 30 years. Just imagine, for a moment, the seismic events that have transformed society in that time. De-industrialisation, the advent of globalisation, increases in immigration, advancements in technology and the internet age have all reshaped British society in profound ways.

Days of future past

If your solutions to the problems of the working class in 2016 are the same as in 1980, that isn’t being principled, it’s being blind. And I suspect you’re just not thinking hard enough. It’s self delusion on such a scale that it makes David Icke look grounded. Extremist? Maybe. But certainly not radical.

Trust me, Corbynites, communism isn’t the Utopian idyll it’s cracked up to be – and I live in China, so I know. As much as an analysis of the dying Labour Party, this is a warning to the SNP. Continue to encourage the perpetually outraged brigade without providing radical solutions, and it will consume you too, one day.

Many people vote SNP because, like Corbyn supporters, they hear Nicola Sturgeon eloquently articulate the inequality in this country and thus believe voting SNP is the ‘moral’ choice. She’ll correct that injustice, you see. Don’t wait until you hear ‘I didn’t leave the SNP, the SNP left me’, to embrace the kind of radicalism that tackles these injustices. Because then, it’ll be too late. And the party that replaces you may be markedly less cuddly.

One thing is clear: when Corbyn wins in September, the Labour Party is dead as political force. And Scottish

Labour members are right; a more equal Scotland will be not won by the waving of flags. But it isn’t won by the waving of placards, either. If that is what UK Labour is to become, then there must be a home for the genuinely radical politics that was the beating heart of New Labour.

The thirst for radical solutions is being briefly satiated by the idea of Scottish independence, but that won’t last forever. It is essential that centrist reformers must have a new home after being cast adrift by Corbyn’s capture of the Red Rose. If the SNP can have the courage of its convictions, it could provide it, empowered by a new reforming zeal. If not, I might be looking for a new party, too.

This post first appeared at Labour Hame and is reproduced with permission

Comments

  1. Joseph MELLON says

    New Labour are both the past and the future according to Mark McLaughlin. Corbyn has no program apparently.
    But he has, if Mark had only done just a wee bit of research. Some highlights…
    1) Economics: reflate the economy by (among other things) ending austerity and a program of public investment. This is supported by a panel of 40 leading economists. It is classic Keynes, and has been proven to work over and over. The SNP support this too. The New Labour PLP/NEC? They support neo-liberal economics: intellectually discredited for about 20 years, practically discredited since 2008.
    2) Defense: no Trident, no wars. ’nuff said. (SNP? Check – same policy) New Labour PLP/NEC? They support Trident and supported the wars. Didn’t support investigating those responsible (i.e. themselves)
    3) Europe, immigrants: in favour of the EU in principle, but not in favour of the corrupt corporate lobby influence, cautious of the onward march of the extreme right (that the Tories have joined forces with). Against demonising immigrants. Again much the same policy as the SNP.
    4) Health: Corbyn is for a completely free, full service NHS. New Labours Owen Smith – big pharma lobbyist – is for selling off (parts of? all of?) the NHS to companies like Pfizer. Who he happened to have work for. Honi suit qui mal y pense…
    > the genuinely radical politics that was the beating heart of New Labour.
    Ah well, a wee bit of humour is always good.

    • Mark M says

      Hi Joseph,

      I think there is something in what you say here, and we might not be as far apart as you think. The comparison between New Labour and the SNP was one of style and positioning rather than substance. They are a centrist party, and are extremely electorally successful because they are centrist on taxes etc, but also have the ‘radical’ label, because of Scottish independence and opposition to Trident.

      On the economic case, I just don’t think being ‘anti-austerity’ is a sufficiently detailed economic policy. Corbyn is inspiring to so many because he articulates the genuine despair that most people feel for a system that doesn’t work for them. But that’s not enough. I don’t think he’s presented anything close to a policy agenda. But, I’m genuinely open to persuasion.

      As it happens, I do actually believe the Keynesian approach is the right one after Brexit. But he talks about nationalisation of railways and utilities. How would he pay for it? It would cost billions and billions of pounds to do that. I think that money is far better spent on schools, hospitals and nurses than on pet-projects. I would make a small point, though. Grouping together the PLP into one homogenous rump is a little unfair. There’s a big gap between, say, Tristam Hunt and Lisa Nandy.

      On your second point, I think defense policy is more than Trident. Corbyn’s views on the U.S., Russia, Iran, Israel and the West generally is just way out of step with the political mainstream. I accept this is part of his appeal for some, but it’s no way to win elections.

      On immigration, I actually rather admire Jeremy Corbyn position, in theory. The positive case for immigration has gone un-made – outside of Scotland, that is, for too long. But, electorally, it’s just terrible. You have a UKIP flank opening up in the North. I’m all for principled politics, but if you don’t listen to the concerns of your voters, you’ll be principled from the opposition benches, forever.

      On the NHS, almost everyone is in the position that Jeremy Corbyn is in. No politician anywhere near power would seek to dismantle the free, full-service NHS, not even Theresa May. Areas of privatisation make me uncomfortable, but if there is a gap in NHS care, I’m happy to put those services out to tender, while the NHS finds a way to increase capacity. I don’t think its acceptable to keep cancer patients waiting for treatment, for the sake of political ideology.

      On Owen Smith, I think the Corbyn supporters have a point in one sense. I don’t think he would win a general election either. So, on the basis of “if we’re going down, we might as well go down in flames”, I get it.

      On New Labour, I genuinely believe that the minimum wage, tax credits, sure start centres and lifting hundreds of thousands of kids out of poverty was radical. I assume you’re on the left, surely you think these things were achievements? I know they totally lost it towards the end with the creeping authoritarianism and so on, and the Iraq war was illegal, but they did do some good things.

      Hope I’ve addressed some of your points.

      • Joseph MELLON says

        Thanks for the reply Mark, no I don’t think we are that far apart….

        I think however that the days of winning an election by fighting for the centre are over. TB did it three times on a declining, increasingly cynical electorate.
        The ‘socialists’ delivered maybe 70% of the vote, and had nowhere else to go. The tail wagged the dog in that the centrist ‘liberal’ Labour /convincable Tories who delivered the 30% that delivered the vital difference in a first past the post system.
        All over Europe the PS (France) the SPD (Germany) New Labour /UK) are getting trounced in elections and for the same reasons: they have zero credibility as the party of the comfortable middle classes never mind the ordinary person.

        I honestly think the way to win elections now is “SNP/Sanders/Corbyn/Syriza.”
        Once people realise you are really listening to them and going in to bat for their interests and aren’t a bought off careerist then suddenly membership and interest booms, and landslide wins follow.
        I think the Democrats have made a big mistake selecting Clinton: I fear she will lose for precisely those reasons: she has no credibility, she has been bought off, she used tricks like the NEC’s to get the nomination. I think Sanders would have kicked Trumps ass.

        And really: if New Labour really are progressive, really stand for the ordinary persons interests, then they should have got behind Corbyn: because the socialist have been gritting their teeth to keep them in office – it is payback time.
        That they mount an incompetent coup, bound to fail at the moment of the Toriys weakness shows two things:
        – they are more interested in themselves than getting the Torys out
        – they are not super professional / electable like the SNP, they are clueless muppets.

        • Mark M says

          Hi Joseph,

          If the central idea is that centrist politicians have failed, then I agree with you. His success is a result of a collapse of the centre. I really liked Sanders. But I’m not sure U.S. politics has many lessons for U.K. politics. They have always won by firing up their bases, like Obama did. Whereas U.K. politics is won by being closest to the centre. I hope selecting Clinton doesn’t turn out to be a historic mistake though!

          I don’t think the MPs expected the coup to get this far. In other parties, if you lose a n/c vote, you’re out. And I think he should have gone. But, whoever drafted the rules had no idea what they were doing. Since then, with the faffing around trying to find a unity candidate, the PLP has been hopeless.

          I actually think the interview with Paul Mason from Novara Media was revealing. I think him and Seumus Milne believe it’s better to have a huge social movement around the hard-left than to win power. I don’t think those thinks go together in U.K. politics, and I dont think Labour was supposed to be a protest movement. But I guess, once Corbyn wins the leadership election, we’re about to find out!

          Mark

          • Joseph MELLON says

            > In other parties, if you lose a n/c vote, you’re out. And I think he should have gone.

            The problem is the PLP does not reflect the members, the CLP’sm the Unions, … it reflects 20 years of manipulation of selection committees by ‘Blairites’.
            Take the case of Angela Eagle: She was a parachuted into Wallesley after the ‘socialists’ and demographic change had, over 15 years, reduced a Tory majority from 16,000 to 600. The seat became winnable, and the local candidate and local activists who had achieved this were pushed aside to make way for a Blairite networked Oxbridge SPAD.
            So the PLP is completely out of sync with the party at all levels and the with the Labour movement.
            If you have on the one camp:
            – the members, the CLP, the Unions
            and on the other
            – the 172 members of the PLP
            then who has to go to, or to compromise, if you want unity?
            Who can forget the low farce of Angela Eagle calling for Corbyn to repect ‘democracy’ on Marr.
            When Marr then asked her if she would respect democracy if her CLP asked her to resign she replied “That wont happen: the NEC have suspended CLP meetings”
            You could understand why Armando Iannucci said it was no longer possible to parody politics in the UK.

  2. Hamish McScottish says

    “Trust me, Corbynites, communism isn’t the Utopian idyll it’s cracked up to be – and I live in China, so I know.”

    bwahahahahaha

    this would be fantastic as a comment. all it needs is for china to be widely regarded as communistic in structure and for jeremy corbyn to be a communist and you’re there.

    • Mark M says

      In fairness, this was more tongue in cheek than proper analysis… but I take your point. Still, China does have a socialist market economy, so that would’ve been better.

  3. Gordon McQueen says

    All yabba yabba yabba, only one nation conservatism will work in this country for the forseeable future. As for the SNP, what a rabble, what a shower, if they have their way Scotland would have no money, no friends, no jobs, just beautiful lochs and mountains and maybe some grazing sheep left. They don’t want nuclear submarines on the clyde , but want American umbrella nuclear defence support, you couldn’t make this up. As for the E.U. and independence within it ,is another SNP joke, if Scotland had voted ‘yes’ in the 2014 referendum, membership of the E.U. would have been void. Truly the SNP is the ‘Stupid’ Party.

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