Monday, July 27, 2015

Forgetting the lessons of History

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the "polls" for the leadership of the Labour Party is, well, absurd. He is practically the textbook example of the unreconstructed Marxist hard left. A product of the sixties North London Poly, and a long time columnist for the Morning Star, which for younger readers is a comic inspired by Leninism. For goodness sake, even his parents met as peace campaigners during the romantic Socialist defeat of the Spanish Civil War! Yet the fact is that this totally unreconstructed dinosaur, a stalwart of mistaken and lost causes throughout his entire political career still looks better than the three overachieving Oxbridge high-flyers that he is pitted against.

The Labour Party, despite the Social Democrat interlude of Tony Blair, was founded and in important aspects remains a Socialist Party. The battle over Clause IV- which committed Labour to Communist style state ownership of the means of production- may have been won by Blair and his cohorts, but particularly amongst the Unions, the ultimate goal of state control has never truly been abandoned. The New Labour modernisers, whether "Blairite" or "Brownite" were only ever one stream- albeit the dominant one- in the Labour river. As the surge to Corbyn shows, there remains an Old Labour stream, and one that, in the face of disillusionment with the fruits of New Labour, has acquired a new impetus.

So what? All it surely means is that after flirting with disaster Labour will elect Burnham, but very probably the Tories will clean up again in 2020. Certainly that is the conventional wisdom being peddled across the Op-Ed pages of the UK press.

Except I think that is to miss the point of what actually happened in the 2015- and even the 2010 election. The electorate is more fickle and less ideologically committed that ever. Fewer than ever are voting for the old choice of Left versus Right. Although the Leftist groups rally to the Corbyn banner speak in terms of ideology, in fact it is the brand authenticity of Corbyn that has most appealed- I think temporarily- particularly to those who have no memory of the dismal failure of the Hard Left of the 1980s. For those of New Labour, steeped in the language of advertising, it must be both galling and astonishing that Corbyn has advanced on territory that they might have legitimately claimed as their own. For there is certainly enough truth in the accusation that in focusing simply on selling the message, the heart -for want of a better word- of Labour has been lost. Even if, as we may still expect, Burnham is ultimately elected, the Labour Party has exposed a point of weakness that will be mercilessly exposed by the terrifyingly well funded Conservatives.

Labour can not rebuild on the basis of the old "New Labour". Yet the fundamental truth is that Socialist ideology, as offered by Jeremy Corbyn, is a total failure: you might as well advocate Imperial Preference or go back to the Corn Laws for all the value the stale thinking that Socialist State Control offers us.   

So the surge to Corbyn truly is serious. It implies that the Socialist puritans would prefer to retreat into the failure of the past, rather than actually tackle the serious problems of the future. In the 1980s, the electoral system saved a backward looking Socialist Labour Party from oblivion, but thirty years later, it seems to me that the electorate may now simply choose not to vote Labour at all- and with FPTP, we can not exclude a Scottish style wipe-out across the country. So the rise of the Hard Left may yet do to Labour what it threatened to do in 1983: send them crashing to defeat they can never recover from.

Of course that may prove to be the seed of a massive political come back for the Liberal Democrats, and the abortive political realignment - the breaking of the mold- that was promised, and which seemed to be a possibility if Blair had led a minority government in 1997, may finally take place. One thing is clear: the Constitutional crisis of FPTP, the position of the different nations in the Union, the scandal of the unelected House of Lords- thanks for reminding us John Sewel- and all the rest of it, cannot long be ignored.

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