Tag Archives: jeremy corbyn

The root cause of Labour’s defeat was 40 years of neoliberalism


corbyn2

The left is currently engaged in postmortems on Labour’s loss in the 2019 general election. Many of them focus on policy or leadership: but other factors need to be taken into account for an all-sided view of what the defeat represents. The most salient political difference between 2017 and 2019, it seems to me, was that the shock of Labour’s increased electoral vote galvanised the Tory right and its supporters in the international right to intensively prepare for a new election to overcome the hung parliament and give Johnson a clear path to “get Brexit done.” The avenues that enabled Labour to increase its vote in 2017 were ruthlessly closed off. The constant drumbeat of Brexit, from both the Tories and the centrist “People’s Vote” campaign, overshadowed Labour’s social message, and its compromise between Remain and Leave was unpersuasive.

How was this able to happen? I want to draw attention to cultural theorist Jeremy Gilbert’s epic six-part analysis in openDemocracy, “Labour’s defeat and the triumph of Johnsonism,” which attempts to make a comprehensive analysis of the various factors in the election defeat. He argues that exit polls show the most significant numerical voting shift from 2017 to 2019 was not the loss of leave-supporters, as many think, but was the desertion of “centrist Dads” for the Lib Dems, the Greens or abstention. At the same time, in the north and midlands, “a section of the ageing ‘traditional working-class’ population saw Corbyn’s commitment to implementing Brexit [in 2017] as sufficient indicator that he was ‘on their side’. There is no doubt that many of those voters becoming disillusioned with Corbyn’s leadership, and convinced that Brexit must be done at all costs, had a devastating effect on the 2019 electoral outcome.”

In those heartland seats, he says, older voters had been moving away from Labour for “hard economic” reasons since 1997: the erosion of the welfare state meant that the over-60s are concerned with “protecting their property wealth” against possible penury in their 80s. Corbyn’s support, by contrast, was based in the “emergent culture shared by young urban workers and older professionals, characterised by social liberalism, cosmopolitanism and an extremely-online lifestyle.”

Gilbert’s argument seems to infer the existence of discrete social groups from their political behaviour, then explain their political behaviour from the cultural attributes of these groups rather than making an effort to identify their ideology. “Protecting their property wealth” is not simply a rational economic response to the erosion of the welfare state but is an aspect of neoliberal thought that makes building “personal capital” the moral alternative to collective welfare. Likewise, the “emergent culture” of young urban workers is in fact created by neoliberal society, but it contains within itself an ideological opposition to the specific attributes of inequality and austerity that characterise the globalised economy, forming a large part of Corbyn’s support.

Message
Gilbert makes the very valid point that Labour should have argued against the last 40 years of neoliberal governments, not the last ten years of austerity. Focusing on austerity did not resonate with those whose communities had never recovered from the industrial devastation beginning in the 1980s. Canvassers in “heartland” constituencies reported that “voters showed no clear awareness of the profound difference between Corbyn’s Labour party and Blair’s, and gave their disillusionment with the New Labour years as a reason not to vote Labour again.” However, he says, “a large section of the Parliamentary Labour Party simply won’t tolerate any significant criticism of the New Labour policy regime.” This is certainly plausible, and indicates that Corbyn’s efforts to keep the PLP together hamstrung him from advocating policies that might have retained the support of heartland voters.

But it indicates more than this. What was the reason a large section of the PLP will not tolerate criticism of New Labour? There is an ideological reason, as well as the inability of the membership to effectively replace MPs. And that is they fiercely defend New Labour’s “third way” version of the neoliberal consensus against Corbyn’s challenge to the economic elites. They consider themselves guardians of Labour as a “responsible” party that accepts the economy should continue to be dominated by international markets sustaining financial speculation and real estate inflation.

Leadership
According to Gilbert, it was Corbyn’s “unique decency, his sheer humanity, that enabled him to usher a movement into existence.” Yet this did not enable him to mobilise the working class electorate in 2019: his “intensely moral condemnations of the social consequences of austerity” did not voice working class anger at what they were subjected to – and that lost him support. There may be some truth in that explanation, but what Gilbert leaves out of it is that in 2017 Corbyn was perceived as a refreshing break from the professional political class that had been running the country for years. By 2019, after two years of parliamentary stalemate over Brexit, it was possible to portray him as yet another conventional politician. The anti-establishment aura that initially boosted his support had worn off, and voters were susceptible to the argument that “they’re all the same.”

Strategy
The party needed to hold “centrist-leaning voters”, says Gilbert, who he describes as those who spent their 20s-30s “in the halcyon days of New Labour, who were the very last cohort to benefit from the long property bubble.” They voted Labour in 2017, but by 2019 many of them were driven back into the arms of parties who they felt represented their Remain views more unambiguously. Labour’s 2017 coalition “had fractured and shrunk” by 2019, while the right had regrouped behind “Johnson’s new type of anti-political nationalism.” For Gilbert, then, the key factor in the fracturing of Labour’s coalition was pro-Remain centrism.

“Labour’s electoral base was split, and the section of that base that was numerically much smaller than the other happened to be in a strategically crucial position because of the iniquities of the electoral system. … a large constituency of middle-class cosmopolitans in their 40s and 50s deserted Labour precisely because we seemed too concerned with pandering to this ageing, conservative section of their traditional base.” Labour, Gilbert says, must bring middle-class liberals into its voting bloc. “It was losing their support that cost Labour perhaps more dearly between 2017 and 2019 than anything else.”

There is a good case to be made for proportional representation – and Gilbert makes it at the end of his series of essays – but no need to exaggerate the significance of the Liberal Democrats and Greens. Indeed, the Brexit party had a greater impact on the election result, without gaining a single MP. More important was the fact that Labour had allowed the right-wing press to dominate the narrative on immigration and Brexit. “We inhabit a political system that is not only designed to prevent the socialist left of the Labour party from taking power. It is now clearly biased against every force other than nativist ‘platform nationalism’ … it makes no sense not to try to build as broad a coalition of anti-Tory forces as possible – from anarcho-communists to liberals – to try to challenge its and change it.”

While there may well be a good justification for purely pragmatic, tactical alliances with anti-Tory forces, Gilbert confuses this with recruiting them into an ideological campaign against right-wing nationalism. Labour, he says, “must start campaigning in communities … explicitly against the ideology of conservative nationalism that has cost it so dearly in this election. … But if we’re going to launch an ideological campaign against right-wing nationalism, why on Earth wouldn’t we try to enlist the liberals into it, given that favouring a liberal immigration policy would be one of the few positions that almost all Labour radicals would share with almost all Liberal Democrats?”

This is the key to his argument. Although references to ideology run through Gilbert’s account, he doesn’t attempt to define it. Instead, he bases his strategy on winning support from specific constituent blocs, based on their programmatic positions. But the ideology that needs to be confronted is the way that the rationality of the market has been internalised by many in the electorate and by politicians after 40 years of neoliberal governments: the ideology of conservative nationalism builds on this ground, which is why it is so hard to overcome. Since ideology has had such a powerful effect in history, Gilbert’s neglect of it is a significant omission.

Ideology
In short, I think the 2019 loss marked an ideological defeat for Labour at the hands of an extreme right current in the Tory ruling elite (assisted by generous financial support from billionaire oligarchs). But this would not have been possible if there was not already a nationalist strain in the electorate, amplified by neoliberal messaging, that resonated with Johnson’s propaganda. Acceptance of neoliberal rationality, what Thatcher called “winning the soul” of the nation, has morphed into a strain of nativism.

How did the Tories establish an electoral coalition that aligned both “highly affluent and ‘left behind’ areas”? Luke Cooper, co-author of a report from the London School of Economics on the election, commented: “Brexit has created a really tough situation for Labour. By making values and identity the central questions of the day it has broken the party’s traditional electoral coalition.” He adds: “If the economy becomes the most important issue then Labour can break up this potentially fragile Tory coalition.” In other words, the new Tory alliance is held together by a nativist redefinition of values and identity through Brexit rhetoric.

To break up this alliance, Labour needs a renewed socialist ideology underpinning a new common sense that rejects neoliberal values and redefines patriotic identity as pride in taking care of people’s basic needs and giving communities opportunities for control of their future. It requires a change in political practice – putting down roots in communities and participating in existing struggles to regenerate them – and building from the bottom up rather than relying on alliances with the tops of other parties. This would not be just an intellectual endeavour, but must rest on the sharing of an accumulation of experiences of alternatives to neoliberal society, such as cooperatives and community-owned assets, or building collective economic power through trade unions or groups of consumers. This would be the foundation of a movement to overturn the legacy of neoliberal governments.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2019 general election, British elections, British Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, labour mp's, Labour Party, marxism, political analysis, Uncategorized

Book Review: “Corbynism, A Critical Approach” Part Two


Jeremy Corbyn has become the symbol for everything the British establishment loves to hate. The media mounts sustained attacks on him, the army uses his image for target practice, and Labour centrists smear his record with accusations of antisemitism. On the ideological front, academics Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts have recently produced a highly critical account of Corbyn and the Corbyn movement, in which their interpretation is sustained by an apparently “Marxist” logic.

Part Two: Socialists must “hold the centre”

The authors accuse Corbyn of ignoring the “messiness” of real politics, “the calculated compromises necessary to achieve something concrete in a contradictory world,” in favour of an abstract morality manifested in a history of protests. However, as party leader, Corbyn has had to engage in many calculated compromises, such as holding a free vote on military intervention in Syria to appease shadow cabinet ministers, for example, and has had to navigate a difficult political terrain when aiming to unify Brexit-supporting and remaining constituencies. He has succeeded in holding together different wings of the party with moderate but practical policies that aim to reverse some of the most egregious aspects of privatization and welfare austerity. When he advocates more radical political alternatives aimed at encouraging popular democracy and involvement, he prefers practical examples like Preston and the “people’s Uber” pioneered in Barcelona over ideological purity.

Corbyn’s strength lies in his ability to communicate his ethical socialist beliefs to the public in a way that connects them with the political fight against austerity. The inclusivity of his message enables him to make a human connection with crowds at rallies and events. He does not perform well in parliament, on the other hand, since its procedures rely on making facile debating points rather than engaging with substance, a form of discourse modelled on institutions of ruling class privilege like Oxford, Cambridge, and the independent public schools. His political room for manoeuvre in parliament is limited by the hostility of many centrist Labour MPs, and even if a Labour government were to be elected in the near future, many of them would probably keep their seats. But this does not make him a prisoner of the parliamentary party. For him, the cabinet’s collective responsibility means fighting for policies decided by party conference, although his opponents had no compunction about resigning from the shadow cabinet.

As party leader, he can leverage his support from the membership in a way that previous left leaders like Bevan and Benn could not. At the same time, Labour MPs all believe in a certain amount of redistribution of wealth to alleviate social problems, and that creates a political space for Corbyn to keep the PLP together, since British capitalism now subsists on extraction of rents (in the broad sense) from the population through privatised industries and the financial sector. So, while the reforms proposed in Labour’s 2017 manifesto may be modest, the threat of halting or even reversing this flow of wealth to the rich alarms the establishment, even more than Corbyn’s foreign policy which would end the enrichment of the arms industry from dictatorships throughout the world, especially Saudi Arabia.

Bolton and Pitts’ pessimistic prognosis is that socialists must “hold the centre” to resist the advance of fascism and national populism. Only through the “structures of formal democracy” can the labour movement carry out its traditional activities. What is missing from their entire analysis is any sense of labour as a combative force in struggle with capital and its representatives, a movement that fought and fights for democratic rights even when outlawed by the state. In the 2017 election campaign Corbyn was able to shift the centre ground of politics to the left, something the authors perversely attribute to the Brexit vote, and his radical democratic instincts impel him to turn the party away from the arcane procedures of parliament towards local communities from which, he says, all progress originates. The authors concede none of this: for them, the “abstract, intangible forms of capital” remove all agency from socialists, since fighting to make the super-rich pay their taxes would illegitimately persecute those who are only the personalizations of money, capital and commodities. Demands for accountability for those who made the decision to cut costs on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment so drastically that they made it a death trap would not be acceptable to them. Socialists can only be spectators of “the fateful objectification of human activity in a reality that increasingly enslaves us.” This is their “Marxist” justification for accepting the neoliberal argument that there is no alternative to accepting the domination of the financial markets.

Labour’s immediate challenge is to establish itself as a clear alternative to both a Tory Brexit and the disenfranchising of neglected communities, navigating divisive political pressures exerted on the leadership by the media and sections of the parliamentary party. This depends on the politically empowered and knowledgeable party membership being able to develop policy through their connections to social movements. As Corbyn told a rallyin 2019, “What’s different now about Labour is that the members are much more involved in their communities, and it’s those members that will write the manifesto for the future.” This prospect is deeply disturbing to most of the PLP, who want to preserve the division between the political arena and extra-parliamentary struggle that facilitates their domination of the party. It also frightens the ruling establishment, for whom any tactic is justified to prevent the election of a government that might reverse the transfer of wealth and power to the rich.

How could Corbyn achieve his platform in the face of such opposition from the establishment? The plain fact is that the dominant class has little inherent strength and depends on its control of the state and the grip of ideology to sustain its rule. Corbyn challenges this ideology by asserting the imperative of community solidarity, of inclusion rather than the division of Brexit and racism. Above all, he is able to channel popular dissent in a way that enables it to express itself in a creative struggle for policies of social change. This undermines the ruling elite’s historical strategy of using the elective legitimacy of parliament to contain and manage pressure from below, while strictly limiting popular influence on the actual conduct of government. Whatever limitations Corbyn may have as a politician, what is important is the fact that he has broken through the exclusion of the party membership from decision-making and released their energies in order to transform the relation of the party to the public and to the state.

Under a Tory government British society faces deepening austerity and a sharp growth in absolute poverty with its imposition of Universal Credit on benefit recipients, which can only be made worse by Brexit. The crisis it has induced threatens to break up the imperial British state, which has always depended on external advantage for its internal stability. However, social radicalisation has found an outlet and focus in a social democratic party that, for historical reasons, has provided the only practical conduit of organised political opposition to an austerity state. Rather than Bolton and Pitts’ faith in the institutions of “internationalist liberalism” to resolve the contradictions of a globalized economy, a Corbyn-led Labour government would be an inspiration for anti-austerity movements across Europe and the US, acting as an antidote to the rise of rightwing populist parties. Corbyn’s outreach to socialist tendencies battling the existing conservative leaderships of left parties and conservative Democrats in the US lays the foundation for democratizing international institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU itself.

The strengthening of a mass social movement in close connection with a Labour party transformed by its roots in the localities offers the possibility of undoing the effects of years of neoliberal governments. The party at the constituency level is becoming increasingly open to the concept of empowering ordinary citizens so they can restore the social values of equality, public service, and cooperative effort for the common good. This is the socialism Corbyn aspires towards.

Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts, Corbynism: A Critical Approach, Emerald Publishing, Bingley, 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, marxism, Neoliberalism, political analysis, political economy, populism, Uncategorized, We are the 99 percent

No “People’s Vote” – fight for a general election now!


The British viewing public on Wednesday evening was treated to the sight of Tory prime minister Theresa May calling on other politicians to find a solution to the problems of her disastrous Brexit plan for the sake of the national interest. What she really meant was for the sake of the irretrievably fragmented Tory party. She appeared oblivious to the devastating parliamentary rejection of her plan the day before, which has further deepened the crisis of the British political class. Among this class are centrist Labour MPs calling for another referendum, or “People’s Vote,” which they hope would reverse the decision of the first one.

These Labour MPs ignore the fact that a new referendum could only be called by the Tory government, which would control the questions to be asked and would not include Labour’s position of a customs union and the preservation of workers’ and consumers’ rights. In addition, such a referendum would take at least seven months to organize, while European parliament elections are to be held in May. Since it would have no representation in the parliament, Britain is effectively out of the European Union already.

Gary Younge commented: “May has spent her premiership not trying to unite the country but her party. She has failed, but her party appreciates the effort. It wasn’t Westminster who backed her [in the no-confidence vote] on Wednesday but the Tories and the Democratic Unionist party, who were paid £1bn for their trouble. Last month a third of Tory MPs said they would rather have another party leader. But having failed in that bid, they would rather have May than Corbyn as leader of their country. So more than 100 Tories voted first to get rid of her, and then to keep her.”

The government is caught in a constitutional conundrum. While a majority of MPs would prefer to remain in the European Union, parliamentary sovereignty was superseded by the electorate’s participation in the referendum. As Chris Bickerton of Cambridge University pointed out, MPs have repeatedly voted to implement its result. “For the House of Commons to endorse a second referendum, it would have to repeal past Brexit legislation in a manner that flouts the position adopted by the main parties in the last general election. Were this to happen, it would tear up established relations between executive and legislature, pitting popular and parliamentary sovereignty against one another. Parliament would in effect be seeking, in a Brechtian fashion, to dissolve ‘the people’ and put another in place that will vote differently in a second referendum.”

May’s negotiations with Brussels have been protracted because of her “red lines” – her insistence on ending freedom of movement, leaving the customs union and single market to pursue an independent trade policy, and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  Her dogged insistence on these conditions stem from her need to balance between the Tory party’s ultra-right leavers and centrist remainers. Her fixed strategy is to run out the clock in order to force acceptance of her deal as the only alternative to the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. Moreover, the inflexibility and arrogance of her negotiating stance has alienated any possible allies within Europe. Tom Kibasi, the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, remarked after it emerged she had misled business groups about her withdrawal agreement: “It was as if May sincerely believes that she alone is the arbiter of the national interest and that it should be self-evident that she is right.”

Only a change of government would be a sufficient cause for the EU to renegotiate a deal, which would make it possible to ditch Theresa May’s red lines. According to the Independent, the EU would reopen talks if the red lines were dropped. “Speaking the morning after MPs rejected the prime minister’s deal, Michel Barnier said that the European Council ‘unanimously’ agreed and had ‘always said that if the UK chooses to shift its red lines in the future, and if it makes that choice to be more ambitious and to go beyond a simple free trade agreement, then the EU will be immediately ready to go hand in hand with that development and give a favourable response’.” But there could be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, including the “backstop” hated by the DUP and the Tory ultra-right.

In a supreme historical irony, the Northern Ireland border has become a major stumbling block to any agreement. Partition was enforced in 1921 by the British imperial state to enable the protestant Unionists to stay dominant in the north, where they are a majority. Now the prospect of a hard border in Ireland is being vetoed by the independent Irish state, backed by the EU, while the DUP are implacably opposed to a border in the Irish Sea since it would mean Northern Ireland being treated differently from the UK.

The referendum itself exposed the erosion of parliamentary legitimacy in Britain. Many voters wanted to return to the more stable social-democratic society of the 1950s. For example, Burnley leisure worker Hazel Allen, explained to the Guardian that she voted Leave to protect the NHS, after the town’s A&E unit was closed with no plans to reopen it.  “I have not changed my mind and I don’t want another vote,” she said. “I am deeply disappointed with the government. They could have worked together to achieve what the people wanted, could have been stronger. What we have seen is just weakness and fighting. We voted for something but it doesn’t feel like we’re going to get it. What is the point?” In Glasgow, Lorne Bourhill said that she is against a second vote. “I didn’t want to leave the EU, but people have made their choice. The government should get on with it and find a deal that has enough support. How can I tell my children to vote in a general election if they see decisions being overturned like that?”

The Guardian’s deputy opinion editor, Joseph Harker, wrote a comment piece that was in marked contrast to the paper’s editorial line: “There’s been little attempt to acknowledge the widespread poverty, deprivation, insecurity and marginalisation of so many towns and cities that led them to seek such a drastic solution [as Brexit] to their problems. … I was born and raised in Hull, a medium-sized, solidly working-class city in east Yorkshire. I remember the Thatcher recession of the 1980s, and the hit the city took, along with the collapse of its fishing industry. I also remember feeling incredulous when the media, over the following years, reported the economic boom: the yuppies, the ‘big bang’ in the City of London, the ‘share-owning democracy’. None of that was felt anywhere near us.

“And little has changed. The only two regions of the UK that have recovered after the 2008 crash are London and the south-east. So, during the referendum campaign, to raise the economy as a reason for staying in Europe was always likely to fall on deaf ears – and it did. Yet since 2016, remarkably, most remainers seem to feel that if they keep repeating this message, somehow people will change their minds. It won’t work. … Certainly, few of them are likely to be persuaded by the leading voices in the people’s vote campaign – almost all wealthy and middle class, and most of them southerners. … ‘Why won’t Labour’s leader help us and make all this nightmare end?’ they say. It is of little importance to them that Labour, as a national political party, has to listen to the voices of its northern voters; nor that Corbyn has, so far, played a tactically astute game.

“They forget that in the general election of 2017, less than two years after becoming leader, he gained 3.5 million extra Labour votes (and 1.5 million more than David Cameron had for his majority government in 2015). Corbyn did this backing a soft Brexit. And he did this when there was a clear remain option on the ballot paper – in the form of the Lib Dems, whose vote bombed. Much as the Labour membership is clearly pro-EU, Corbyn’s stance helped Labour in large parts of the country beyond the south-east – it held on to all three seats in Hull, a city that voted 68% leave. He correctly judged that, above all, people wanted to be listened to, and for the misery of austerity to end.”

For Labour to win a general election, it needs the support of voters in swing northern constituencies like Hull as well as its voters in the cities. Corbyn’s strategy is to unite leavers and remainers by focusing on the social problems facing all of them. He told an audience today in Hastings: “While Brexit consumes all the government’s energy, the vital issues that affect people most directly – cash-starved schools, the NHS at breaking point, rising bills, unaffordable housing – have all gone to the back of the queue. Two and a half years of Brexit bungling and failure have left parliament in deadlock. Nothing can be decided. Nothing can get done. We believe that the best outcome for the country remains a general election to break the deadlock and find a solution that works for the whole country.”

The centrist Labour MPs’ call for a second vote should be ignored in favour of Corbyn’s strategy of fighting for a general election to elect a Labour government. There is no point in remaining in the EU if it means keeping a Tory government in power.

Leave a comment

Filed under Brexit, Britain, British elections, British Labour party, british parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, theresa may, Uncategorized

The labour movement must carry out its own inquiry into the Grenfell fire disaster


The decision of the Metropolitan police to pursue charges of “corporate manslaughter” in the Grenfell tower fire is a victory for the survivors and their supporters. The Scotland Yard investigation has said there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect Kensington council and its tenants management organization (TMO) of guilt. This is a direct consequence of the survivors’ continuous struggle for answers and justice for the victims, but it is only a first step in achieving accountability.

The council has lost all credibility, and what the police and government fear is that the state as a whole will permanently lose legitimacy. All its agencies are therefore striving to restore some kind of confidence in the ruling elite. But even prosecutions for corporate manslaughter will not satisfy the demand for justice – only fines are allowable under the law – and while residents are calling for individuals to be jailed, the problem is much wider than the council’s responsibilities to its tenants.

According to the Guardian, “Anger among residents of North Kensington over the causes and consequences of the fire has been mounting in the past six weeks. Public meetings at which officials and politicians have attempted to respond to complaints and questions from members of the community have been conducted in an atmosphere of volatile fury and distress. Police representatives have been heckled and shouted down. Residents have demanded charges be laid against the council, the TMO and the suppliers of the cladding believed to be the cause of the fire’s rapid spread. They have repeatedly complained that the police are being too cautious in their investigation.”

Around 70 survivors were able to force their way into the first full meeting of the council on July 19 by entering through a fire escape, and constantly heckled its new Tory leader, Elizabeth Campbell, with calls for her to stand down, while Labour councillors called for the authority to be taken over by independent commissioners.  The Independent reported: “Eve Wedderburn, who presented a petition with more than 1,500 signatures calling on the council to resign, said the new leader ‘is discredited before she even begins’ and said she had a record of ‘dismantling children’s services’ in her previous role. ‘This village no longer recognises the legitimacy of your estate’, Ms Wedderburn said, turning on its head a comment that councillor Rock Feilding Mellen allegedly made in the aftermath of the fire that: ‘The village cannot dictate to the estate’.” Feilding Mellen is the council’s former deputy leader, who resigned under intense public hostility to the council leadership.

Residents at an earlier consultation meeting attacked local and national officials, politicians, and the council’s “damage limitation” exercise. “We don’t sleep, we don’t eat, we want change, and we want you to engage with us,” said one woman. Another resident said: “Everyone in this room has probably attended 50 meetings in the past four weeks. Every time people say they’re listening to us. But what we want is for you to do your job, and do it properly.”

Successive governments in Britain systematically scaled back building safety regulations, letting cost concerns outweigh the risks and allowing builders to wrap residential apartment towers in highly flammable materials, a practice forbidden in the US and in Europe. The New York Times reported: “Business-friendly governments in Britain — first under Labor and then under the Conservatives — campaigned to pare back regulations. A 2005 law known as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order ended a requirement for government inspectors to certify that buildings had met fire codes, and shifted instead to a system of self-policing. Governments adopted slogans calling for the elimination of at least one regulation for each new one that was imposed … ‘If you think more fire protection would be good for U.K. business, then you should be making the case to the business community, not the government,’ Brian Martin, the top civil servant in charge of drafting building-safety guidelines, told an industry conference in 2011, quoting the fire minister then, Bob Neill. (‘Should we be looking to regulate further? ‘No’ would be my answer,’ Mr. Neill added.)”

Even these pared-back regulations seem to have been ignored. A certificate issued by the building inspectors’ organization stating that on tall buildings the insulation used in the tower should only be used with fiber cement panels, which do not burn, was seen by The Guardian. Grenfell was fitted with cheaper combustible polyethylene-filled aluminium panels instead as part of a political drive to cut costs. “In June 2014, KCTMO [the tenants’ management organization] and Rydon [the contractor] reported: ‘We have been busy working with the council’s planning department on the type of cladding which will be used.’ The next month, samples of the cladding were erected ‘for the council’s planners to look at and approve’. But also in July, according to separate leaked internal emails, the council was looking for ‘good costs’ and cheaper cladding panels were substituted, saving almost £300,000.”

Council documents have revealed the contrast between the council’s wealth and its efforts to cut costs on the tower refurbishment. “The Conservative-controlled council raised £4.5m from the sale of two three-bedroom houses in affluent Chelsea. It spent just £3.5m on the whole of the cut-price cladding system for 120 homes, which burned with such ferocity last month … The two council houses on St Luke’s Street were close to the luxury shops of King’s Road in Chelsea and were originally priced at a combined £3.25m, but sold for £1.25m above that. One was bought by a multimillionaire property investor who has been granted permission to dig out a basement extension.”

The Kensington council is acting exclusively on behalf of its extremely affluent residents, which as well as billionaires include many government members and officials, and not on behalf of its poorer council tenants, who are treated as “subhuman”, in the words of one survivor. What was of more concern to the council officials was the aesthetic appearance of the cladding to the richer residents, not its fire-resistant properties.

The chair of the official government inquiry has not won any support from survivors and residents: he has made clear that his inquiry will be limited to the causes of the fire and why it spread so quickly, and will not investigate the wider issues. After an initial hearing, Jacqui Haynes, a resident, felt he was not responsive to the needs of the tenants. She said: “What a load of crap. We don’t want the [judge] who was handpicked by Theresa May.”

Jeremy Corbyn has called for a second inquiry into the national policy issues relating to the treatment of social housing residents. “It is vital that the voice of Grenfell residents and victims’ families are heard throughout the process and that they have full confidence,” he said. The survivors’ insistence on representation on the inquiry and exerting democratic pressure on its scope raises the issue of the state’s responsibility to all its citizens. But a wider inquiry means investigating not only the government’s successive cuts in social housing budgets, and its imperatives for privatization, but also the domination of all levels of the state by the interests of a narrow social elite.

This the government cannot do – it cannot investigate itself. The labour movement should therefore instigate its own inquiry, calling on tenants’ organizations, public sector unions, social activists, and all relevant experts on social policy and housing, to give a clear mandate for the next Labour government to tackle the housing problem on behalf of the many, not the few.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, British Labour party, british parliament, Grenfell Tower fire, Labour Party, Neoliberalism, Uncategorized

The “Many” Shake Off Their Chains to Defy Britain’s Parliamentary Elites


The stunning result of the British elections last week heralds a sea-change in the country’s politics. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn energized a new layer of younger voters to enter into the political process, pushing up Labour’s vote to 40 percent of a greatly increased participation rate and winning 30 seats away from the Tories. He was visibly transformed in the course of his 90 election rallies, becoming more and more assured in his delivery as the response to his message snowballed.

Conventional political wisdom, expounded by the Labour rightwing and the media, had expected May to win with a 100-seat majority. The result showed that this narrative was completely disconnected from the social changes that had propelled youth and students into the election – the damning impact of the Brexit referendum and 10 years of tightening austerity policies that particularly impacted youth.

May is now limping into Brexit negotiations in an unholy alliance with the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland. For American readers, this is like injecting a dose of fundamentalist Southern crazy into the staid corridors of Westminster: anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, evolution-denying and global warming-denying. The DUP will demand more money to spend on schools and hospitals in Northern Ireland – something the Tories have denied to England and Wales – and the neoimperialist Tory hardliners will no doubt balk at that.

But the endemic corruption of the DUP and their past association with Protestant terror groups make them an untrustworthy partner. Their leader, Arlene Foster, is closely connected with the “cash for ash” scandal, a scheme to pay applicants for using renewable energy like wood pellets. The rate paid was more than the cost of heating, meaning that users made profits simply by heating their properties – one farmer is in line to receive £1m of public money over the next 20 years for heating an empty shed. Foster’s refusal to take responsibility for the lack of cost controls led to the collapse of power-sharing in Northern Ireland (there is no government at all in the devolved Stormont parliament at the moment).

Corbyn is right to declare victory. He has consolidated his leadership of the Labour party and shattered the remnants of Blairite neoliberal philosophy with a dynamic campaign for an anti-austerity manifesto. Understandably, rightwing Labour MPs are angry. They had hoped for a massive Labour defeat they could have blamed on Corbyn and had plans to launch a new centrist party, now of course abandoned. While begrudgingly acknowledging his electoral success, they immediately began to badmouth his leadership, accusing him of missing an “open goal” by not winning an overall majority – even though the loss of Scottish seats to the SNP in 2015 made an outright Labour victory nearly impossible.

The result has also strengthened the hand of Momentum activists within the Labour party. While the Labour establishment channeled resources into defending the safe majorities of centrist MPs, Momentum mobilized its supporters for the hard work of campaigning in marginal constituencies, contributing to Labour wins in places like Bedford and Croydon. According to Skwawkbox, “Up in Bolton West, the Tories won the seat in 2015 by 801 votes. Labour’s Julie Hilling had an excellent chance of ousting Tory Chris Green. Ms Hilling received so little support that she had no funding even for Labour garden stakes. She did not even receive a campaign manager from Labour central – her campaign had to be run by volunteers with no experience. Ms Hilling fought a brave campaign but, on a night where Labour was making even astonishing gains like Canterbury, she lost by the narrow margin of 936 votes.”

Corbyn and Momentum have been vindicated, giving Momentum an advantage over Labour MPs who confined their election material to local issues and refused to even mention Corbyn or national Labour policies. However, the election was decided by the support generated around Labour’s manifesto, contrasting with Tory missteps over May’s “dementia tax” and her awkward U-turn. Even two terror attacks did not distract voters from the way austerity cuts had made citizens more vulnerable – Boris Johnson, former London mayor and bookies’ choice to replace May as Tory leader, famously removed barriers from London and Westminster bridges seven years ago because he didn’t like their aesthetic, which is why the terrorists were able to drive unhindered on the pavement to kill pedestrians.

Guardian columnist Owen Jones honourably made an admission that his assessment of Corbyn was wrong: “Labour is now permanently transformed. Its policy programme is unchallengeable. It is now the party’s consensus. It cannot and will not be taken away. Those who claimed it could not win the support of millions were simply wrong. No, Labour didn’t win, but from where it started, that was never going to happen. That policy programme enabled the party to achieve one of the biggest shifts in support in British history – yes, eclipsing Tony Blair’s swing in 1997. Social democracy is in crisis across the western world. British Labour is now one of the most successful centre-left parties, many of which have been reduced to pitiful rumps under rightwing leaderships. And indeed, other parties in Europe and the United States should learn lessons from this experience.”

The French Socialist party is a prime example. Once the ruling party, its turn to austerity policies under former leader Francois Hollande cut its vote share down to just 9.5% in Sunday’s elections, setting it on course to lose 200 seats. The Labour party would have followed it into oblivion if the Blairites had succeeded in ousting Corbyn and running the party their way. However, under Corbyn it gained 150,000 new members after the election, raising party membership to around 800,000.

As well as calling for free tuition for university students, building thousands of new homes, and a stronger National Health Service, Labour’s manifesto revives the idea of the democratization of the economy: “In government, Labour would give more people a stake – and a say – in our economy by doubling the size of the co-operative sector and introducing a ‘right to own,’ making employees the buyer of first refusal when the company they work for is up for sale. We will act to ‘insource’ our public and local council services as preferred providers,” the manifesto says.

The most significant part of the manifesto is its plan to finance these measures by increased taxes on the top five percent and corporations. This highlights the inequality created by the Tories through the entire period of austerity by tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poorest. It showed that there was a “magic money tree” but only for the extremely wealthy; Labour called for this wealth to be used for the benefit of the rest of society.

Corbyn’s message of hope – “For the Many, Not the Few” – inspired popular comedian Steve Coogan at an election rally in Birmingham to support him with the words of  Romantic poet Percy Shelley, written after the Peterloo massacre in 1819:

“Rise, like lions from the slumber
“In unvanquishable number!
“Shake loose your chains like morning dew
“Which in sleep were placed on you:
“Ye are many – they are few!”

Like Bernie Sanders in the US, politics have been impacted by the rise of a social movement opposed to neoliberal austerity and fighting for jobs, healthcare and education. The lions are rising to challenge the plutocratic few.

Leave a comment

Filed under austerity measures, Brexit, Britain, British elections, British Labour party, british parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, labour mp's, Labour Party, Uncategorized

Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?


Recently there have been recurring accusations of anti-semitism within the British Labour party. These accusations are spurious; that’s not to say that anti-semitism does not exist on the left at all, but the real source of racism and anti-semitism in Britain today is from the right, enhanced by the scurrilous anti-immigrant Brexit campaign.

In the US, there has been a spike in the number of anti-semitic messages on Twitter, directed especially against Jewish journalists, encouraged by Trump’s racist campaign. The Anti-Defamation League found that more than 800 journalists had been the subject of anti-semitic attacks, mainly from Trump supporters; Trump’s final election ad was grossly anti-semitic.

There is no question that the Jewish community is right to be concerned about the growth of rightwing movements in Europe who spout racism in more or less veiled forms.

Jewish communities have an emotional connection with Israel as part of their sense of identity, which has strengthened as identity politics became more pronounced in the postmodern era. However, the rightwing Israeli Likud government has taken advantage of this sentiment to exert political pressure on governments in its own interests. Most Jewish communities in the US are liberal politically, but the rightwing AIPAC has established an outsized influence on foreign policy.

This is facilitated by an ideological positioning of Jewish experience as exceptional, privileging their persecution in Europe – which has the effect of divorcing Jewish struggles from other oppressed groups with which they have often identified historically.

It is also cynically exploited by the British political establishment to attack the credibility of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. But where were they when Ed Miliband faced the dog-whistle anti-semitism of the Daily Mail and the Sun in 2015? Instead of defending him, the Jewish leadership in Britain attacked him for his principled defence of Palestinian rights.

Today the accusations of anti-semitism have been seized on by the Tories and PLP Blairites to attack the Labour party left and Momentum. Jim Cook contributes a guest editorial analyzing the conflation of anti-semitism with criticisms of the Israeli state.

During the middle ages the Ottoman Empire was seen as, and became, a place of refuge for Jews from Europe. I read many years ago of an English aristocrat who went, as tourist or diplomat, to the ‘Sublime Porte,’ the seat of government of the Empire and found, to his horror, that he, like all Christians, was rated as being at the same level as Jews. Jews lived quite comfortably, albeit like Christians as second class citizens, all over north Africa and through the Middle East including in Palestine and with even a few thousand in Jerusalem.

What changed all this was of course the betrayal of the Arabs by the British and French at the end of WWI. The British, Lawrence of Arabia for one, promised Arabs their freedom from the Ottoman Empire while the Turks tried to enlist Muslim solidarity. At the end of the war the British and the French reneged on any promises made to Arabs and, treating them with their accustomed imperial disdain, proceeded to carve up the Middle East in their own interests – albeit with the need to allow for some local interests to avoid continuous all-out war.

Concurrent with that was the 1917 Balfour Declaration that, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” meant about as much then as the rights of indigenous people in America, Australia, Asia and Africa, that is not very much. Jews bought up land in Palestine from absentee landlords and set about populating it with Jews and driving peasant families from their ancient homes. This, not surprisingly, led to increasing opposition from Palestinians who for some reason did not see their homeland as “A land without a people for a people without a land” – originally a Christian phrase for a way of getting rid of Jews – from Europe.

The Palestinian people have fought the invasion of European settlers for at least a century with loss of life on both sides, though increasingly more Arab lives lost than Jewish. In the course of this struggle Muslims worldwide have, not surprisingly, tended to support the Palestinian side. They too have experienced European, including via the USA, disdain, exploitation, humiliation, occupation and murder: things they can clearly see in Palestine/Israel. Many Muslims have continued to experience at least some of those injuries even after moving to Europe, or the USA.

It is a pity that some Muslims have picked up on European anti-Semitic tropes, perhaps on the basis of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. This is counter-productive to the Palestinian cause as it gives the Israeli government yet another stick to beat them with. It can also tend to alienate the many Jews worldwide who support the Palestinians in their struggle and also maintain a long tradition of liberal and socialist principle, not least during the height of the Civil Rights movement of the US.

But the bar is set exceptionally low for someone to be charged with anti-Semitism. When Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was accused of such anti-Semitism there were letters to the Guardian that said that opposition to Zionism was not anti-Semitism, Zionism is a political position not an attribute of Jewish identity. I fully agreed, and agree, with that. But I also started looking at the Jewish Chronicle (JC) to see what attitudes there were. I was a bit surprised to find that, yes, some Jews think that Zionism and support for the state of Israel are part of being a Jew.

For instance: Yehuda Bauer, professor of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University, is quoted in JC September 7 2016 as saying: “Anti-Zionism is a slogan, there’s nothing real behind it. It’s anti-Jewish, it’s antisemitic.”

Melanie Phillips, JC September 29 2016 says in “My letter to the Prime Minister,” “The animus against Israel cannot be separated from hostility to Jews. Antisemitism singles out Jews for treatment applied to no other people: double standards, imputation of conspiratorial powers and false claims they are committing crimes of which they are in fact the victims. This is precisely the treatment applied to Israel.”

Josh Jackman in JC October 10 2016: “The Board of Deputies has condemned a planned event by a pro-Palestinian student group which aims to separate anti-Zionism from antisemitism.” And further, he quotes Marie van der Zyl, Board vice-president who claims: “For the vast majority of British Jews, political, cultural and religious affiliation with the state of Israel is a fundamental part of their Jewish identity.”

So Zionism is just another name for Judaism? And so anti-Zionism is just another name for anti-Semitism? This is nonsense. Zionism is, now at least, the assertion that Jews are entitled to take and live in the lands previously known as Palestine. It is a political assertion and as such these is no reason whatsoever why it should not be opposed without the opposition being labelled as effectively ‘immoral’, not wrong but morally wrong and basically disgusting. Anti-Semitism in itself is a form of racism and so, yes, immoral, disgusting, stupid and ignorant.

And now we have the report of the Home Affairs Committee “Antisemitism inquiry” which, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (October 16 2016): “Important is the committee’s valiant attempt to define what can be constituted as anti-Semitism in modern Britain, and by extension, in Western political discourse. “The report states what should be obvious but sadly is not – that the starting point for any discussion on anti-Semitism should be what the Jewish community and Jews themselves feel is anti-Semitic.”

Zionism was never a part of being a Jew. By some accounts it originated in European ‘Christian’ circles when all sorts of nationalisms were springing up. Jews could be “subjects” just like Protestants, Catholics and even Muslims but “citizens”? So some 19th century Protestants thought it would be a good idea to encourage Jews to go to “the Holy Land”, this would not only get rid of the Jews but also accomplish the divine plan of gathering Jews together in anticipation of Armageddon and the return of the messiah – a belief still held by hordes of American Christians to this day.

There can be lots of reasons why such a call for a ‘homeland’ might be opposed politically but that opposition cannot be defined in itself as ‘racist’ and neither can political opposition to Zionism be called anti-Semitic. Anti-Zionism is not part of the “racist” family but more like part of the ideological or political family that would include “Un-American”.

The main claim to Israel’s moral authority is of course the Holocaust: nothing else could even come close to excusing the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. But even the Holocaust grants no special privilege to Jews, Zionists or the state of Israel: how could massive hurt grant the right to hurt others?  It could perhaps justify a Jewish state in Germany but whatever the Mufti of Jerusalem may or may not have done in WWII the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust. Even some of the survivors, not that there are many left now, were opposed to the use of the suffering of themselves and their fellows for narrow political ends.

There are Jews who are anti-Zionist: some of the most orthodox see the return by force of arms, rather than with the messiah, as blasphemy. But the most eloquent opponents of the Israeli state and of Zionism, in the English language anyway, are Israeli and American Jews. They are clearly not anti-Semitic so they have earned the even more ridiculous label of “self-hating Jews” – itself an anti-Semitic jibe. I must admit that in my reading about the Holocaust, Israel, Palestine and American politics, in books by respected Jewish and non-Jewish, Zionist and non-Zionist, historians and other commentators, I’ve come across several “self-hating Jews” and I can only admire their courage.

So what’s this ‘anti-Semitism in the Labour Party all about? Ken Livingstone is quoted by Lianne Kolirin, JC 5 September 2016, as saying on a radio breakfast show, “The simple fact is that until they started to undermine Jeremy, no Labour MP in my lifetime had ever said there was any issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

Despite being the only nuclear power in the region, having the most effective armed forces in the region and having the world’s ‘super-power’ covering their back – and giving them lots of money to buy arms – it seems that Israel is facing an existential threat due to BDS. A Republican Congressman, Doug Lamborn, claimed in a phone call to the Jerusalem post that BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is “the re-emergence of the scourge of anti-Semitism. It is the same hatred just put into new clothing”.

The Israeli political elite is afraid of what they call “delegitimation;” the main thrust of that internationally is the BDS movement and they are afraid that the Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, might move from under the US foreign policy umbrella into support for the rights of Palestinians. Hence all this “anti-Semitism in the Labour Party” nonsense. The real movement of socialists, and many liberals, worldwide is for the state of Israel and its Zionist supporters to treat Palestinians as fellow human beings.

But the rulers, and the bulk of the inhabitants, of Israel are not Holocaust survivors. Many of them come from the United States and Europe and share the imperialist disdain for “the natives” that so many from the United States and Europe have held for centuries. They need, for their own long term safety and for the sake of common decency to work for a resolution of their differences with Palestinians – but there is little ground for optimism in this regard at the moment.

The Zionists feel that Israel is the natural “home” of the Jewish people everywhere, but the question must be asked, “What about the Palestinians?” And the answer of the state of Israel, the Zionists and the right wing Christian nutters in the US is, “What about the Palestinians?” And these racists have the nerve to call us anti-Semites.

2 Comments

Filed under anti-semitism, British Labour party, Israel, Jeremy Corbyn, labour mp's, Labour Party, Uncategorized

Fighting for Their Lives vs. Parliamentary Fictions: Members Reclaim the Labour Party for the People


Rank and file Labour party members in Britain, whether or not they support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, are acutely aware of the implications of major Tory cuts in benefits that affect thousands of people. This awareness has spurred sections of the membership into a new democratic activism that sets them against the parliamentary wing of the party.

Much of the Tory legislation was smuggled in by stealth, with some Labour MPs voting in favour, and is only now being put into effect. As a result, many families don’t realize the extent of the assault on their living standards about to take place – not even counting the Brexit effect on food prices due to hit them in the new year.

Liverpool city councillor Jane Corbett writes in the Guardian that 840 households in her city alone could soon face eviction. “They will all be affected by the new, lower benefit cap of £20,000 being introduced from 7 November. This follows a tsunami of regressive changes to the benefits system since 2010, including the bedroom tax, the freezing of benefit rates and cuts to equivalent working tax credits for those on universal credit. … Aside from the devastating social consequences and stress, in financial terms all this policy is doing is shifting the cost from the government over to the council, housing associations and our other local partners. This at the same time as we’re facing huge cuts to our budgets: £90m alone in the case of Liverpool city council over the next three years.”

These issues are literally life and death for many people: after losing their homes or being refused benefits, there has been a rise in incidents of suicide. Even Conservative councils have protested the loss of £600 millions of educational services grants despite being given a new legal requirement to run support services for local schools.

Ex-front bencher Angela Eagle recently showed just how out of touch the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is from the issues confronting poorer communities. She called on fellow MPs to develop Labour policy by answering “the questions that face people in their everyday lives” such as the abstractions of “growing automation and the loss of jobs,” rather than the immediate attacks on housing benefits or the withdrawal of support for the disabled. Her assumption that only MPs can determine policy is countered by party members’ beginning to assert their right to democracy within the party.

Likewise, at a time when the government plans to rapidly decimate social entitlements, Labour’s  soft left is obsessed with the electoral implications of Brexit and has decided to recover a lost political centre by restoring a native English collectivism. Jonathan Rutherford of “Labour Together” writes that Brexit “was a vote against globalisation and a reassertion of an English and British common national inheritance over the progressive cosmopolitan culture of the elites.” Jeremy Corbyn, he says, represents this elite, but the party needs instead “a new Labour political philosophy and political economy which draws on values that are widely shared amongst voters: family, work, decency, fairness and responsibility.”

Apart from the Tory assault on the social safety net, what Rutherford also omits to mention is the role of the Blairite years in fostering cynicism among working class communities about Labour politicians and the massive increase in inequality the Blair government helped to sustain. His celebration of “patriotic socialism” and traditional English values is essentially an ideological framing of the Brexit vote. Britain’s national inheritance, heavily fashioned by imperial privilege, also includes a mean-spirited and vindictive ruling elite that built its wealth on slavery and colonial exploitation, and is skilled in manipulating voters with propaganda masquerading as news.

It’s hard to disagree with Sam Tarry, Corbyn’s campaign director, when he told the Huffington Post: “there are a huge amount of people in the PLP who … have no skills in terms of community organising. No skills in terms of building a movement. No strategy for winning a general election and are kind of quite intellectually bankrupt.” “I think really this sort of new left that has been born in the Labour Party, that really is the only sort of strategy we’ve got at the moment, we’ve got to make it work,” he added. “That’s actually building a far bigger project than just Corbyn himself. He is a lightning rod, he’s a conductor, he’s that person who symbolises a more just, a more equal and more sustainable society.”

Corbyn’s supporters are determined to campaign against Tory cuts, and at the recent Labour Assembly Against Austerity in London made clear that they viewed it as their responsibility to decide Labour’s policies for the next election. That brings them into conflict with party’s MPs and right wing, which is mounting a rearguard action by suspending leading members of Momentum from the party.

Momentum’s next step is to fight for positions in the Labour party apparatus, not the issue of deselection of MPs. In London, the party’s regional board elections will take place in November, and Momentum’s candidates will face competition from the soft left as well as the right. The board is important not only because it will play an important role in councillor selections and dealing with the constituency boundary review, but also because it will hear appeals from people unfairly barred from voting in the leadership election.

Outside of London, Momentum activists have already won some victories in changing the leadership of some constituency parties. They have done so because of their readiness to fight on issues of inequality and social justice. Within Momentum itself there are frustrating issues of democratic structure, but it has enabled like-minded activists to find a network for political expression for the first time.

As Hilary Wainwright explains about her local Momentum group in Hackney, “we try to ensure that our meetings always include a discussion with local campaigns – like the occupation of empty council houses by Sisters Uncut, seeking to create and get council support for a centre for women facing domestic violence. We discuss with them how Momentum can support them, build their social base, their alliances and their political impact. We focus on this promotion of grassroots solutions alongside political education aimed at the young people enthused by the new politics and canvassing for the Labour Party and opening up local party structures to the creative initiatives around them. Our own institutions are being built to facilitate this dual strategy of reaching outside the Labour Party as well as working inside it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under austerity measures, Britain, British Labour party, british parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, labour mp's, Labour Party, Momentum, privatization, tony blair, Uncategorized

Parliament vs. the People: Corbyn and a New Kind of Politics in Britain


Jeremy Corbyn has been able to win an increased majority for his leadership of the British Labour party after a bruising second election, which occupied much of the headlines over the past few months. Many Labour MPs had a difficult time disguising their hostility as he reorganized his shadow cabinet, but they have had to acknowledge that the party’s base remains solidly behind him. While new party members are enthused by Corbyn’s socialist stand against the super-rich, discredited ex-Labour premier Tony Blair found himself “baffled” by the turn politics has taken.

He is confused because Corbyn did not so much win re-election as Labour’s membership, assumed by Blair to be a passive group of subscribers, asserted its right to control the direction of the party. Corbyn and his supporters in Momentum represent a new kind of politics, one that combines electoral campaigning and locally-based activism. Critics who call him unelectable or not prime-minister-material miss the fact that he wants to build a different sort of party to the monolithic Labourism of the past, one that does not depend on silver-tongued orators like Keir Hardie or Neil Kinnock.

The legitimacy of parliamentary representation, in any case, has been undermined by the legacy of Blair’s New Labour and the Cameron coalition governments – most Labour MPs embraced the premise that austerity policies were inevitable, taking their lead from Westminster insiders and not from their constituents. Corbyn’s insistence on democracy within the Labour party is an assertion of popular sovereignty, which on principle is antagonistic to the British tradition of rule from above.

Parliament has not been the real seat of power since the Callaghan government capitulated to the IMF in the 1970s, but a parliamentary majority still remains the ultimate goal for the Labour establishment. Leftwing sociologist Hilary Wainwright explains why: “Underlying Labour’s devotion to the parliamentary system as a fixed point of reference and conditioning factor of their political mentality is deference to the moral authority of the British state … associated with the potent symbolism of the monarch as the entity to which MPs swear their allegiance – as distinct from the republican European convention of an oath to the people. … To suggest authority lies anywhere else is in effect a challenge to the authority of the state.”

The Labour party’s membership have long dreamed of making MPs and the party leader accountable to them, and are now raising again the demands for mandatory reselection of MPs and party control over policy that were aired by the Bennite movement of the 1980s. Like Benn, Corbyn seeks to legitimize forms of political democracy outside parliament, relocating sovereignty in the people. “Only with Corbyn’s first leadership campaign did the new politics come into the mainstream,” Asher, a Momentum volunteer, told Wainwright. “I get infuriated when people talk of the new politics as a Jeremy fan club. This isn’t and was never about just one man.” Another volunteer, Adam, adds that “Corbyn is ‘a figurehead of the new politics’ but ‘not in control of it’.”

Wainwright commented that Corbyn has demonstrated “he would open up spaces in politics for the disenfranchised and ensure they had a voice. … Gemma Jamieson Malik, for example, a London PhD student driven by housing costs to live out of London, explains: ‘It’s not that I’m a Jeremy Corbyn fan. It’s that he’s opened a space for a new politics I and my friends can feel part of. He’s generated a new energy around Labour’.” Emily, a Momentum volunteer, said: “It’s not good enough for a leader to speak for people, it’s about empowering those people to speak for themselves. In essence, it’s about creating a vehicle for the untapped potential of communities to collectively organise and lead the fightback.”

Corbyn, Wainwright argues, “supports an impressive range of struggles but he weaves a web of networks so they connect with each other, rather than going through him. At present, he can see that something new is going on, transcending traditional political allegiances.”

Paul Mason thinks that Corbyn doesn’t go far enough in that direction. “He is a symptom of the wider recapture of Labour by networked individuals and grassroots campaigners, but he doesn’t come from that tradition,” he maintains. “I think he could have been stronger in building Labour as a network and a movement, learning from the benefits this milieu can bring.”

Mason points out that in the first nine months of Corbyn’s leadership much effort was expended on changing Labour’s economic policy so that the party could present a realistic plan for improving people’s lives. “They brought forward a new fiscal charter and a proposal for state investment, there was a successful opposition to the government’s welfare reforms, they forced the resignation of Iain Duncan-Smith over disability benefit cuts. None of this would have happened if there had been a different kind of leader,” he said, even though Corbyn was hampered by lack of support (if not outright betrayal) from the parliamentary party and party headquarters staff.

However, parliament is not the place where real, rather than rhetorical, opposition to the Tory establishment is most effectively expressed. That’s why Momentum’s plan to turn outwards and campaign directly with the electorate is better than one of infighting in party meetings. Devolution of powers to English cities and regions offers opportunities to challenge government-led austerity, and a chance to change the terms of electability, “overcoming negative media onslaughts through sheer volume and quality of peer-to-peer political interaction,” the organization says. It plans to campaign in local elections over the next two years, building a base of activists who can mobilize party members and win power for left candidates locally, which it hopes will prepare Labour to fight the 2020 general election.

Momentum has a dual strategy, explains national organizer James Schneider: “We want to make the Labour Party more open, participatory, and democratic. We want it to be an activist party, organizing to win in every community, standing for Corbyn’s platform. … But we also want to provide a point of connection between the movements and the party, to use this moment to build popular power and increase capacity at the grassroots level.”

Momentum itself developed spontaneously at the grassroots level after Corbyn’s initial election victory in 2015. Groups emerged over the country, setting up Facebook pages and organizing meetings, before there was any kind of national organization. It was a form of horizontal democracy, like the Occupy movement, and only later was a form of governance structure created to coordinate the local groups’ activities. This distinguishes it from “Our Revolution” in the US, which seems to have failed to connect Sanders’ organizational apparatus with local activists’ energy.

But what is problematic about Momentum is that its leadership appears to have capitulated to the rightwing witchhunt alleging anti-semitism in the Labour party, removing the organization’s vice-chair, Jackie Walker. What distinguishes this ideological assault is the re-definition of anti-semitism as any criticism of Israel or of Zionism, coded as the “distinct nature of post-second-world-war antisemitism” by hostile MPs. In the US a well-funded assault of the same kind is taking place on college campuses against the campaign for divestment from corporations profiting from the occupation of the West Bank (BDS), where university chancellors have been pressured to define any defense of Palestinian rights as hate speech.

While British society accepts many of the premises of social democracy, its class history has produced an aversion to owning the consequences of democratic participation. The radicals in Momentum will have to find ways to overcome the strong social tendency to bureaucracy and sectarianism if they are to build a truly democratic movement; however, they can draw on the enthusiasm and determination of newly politicized millennial youth as well as the experience of older members who have recently rejoined the Labour party.

Leave a comment

Filed under anti-semitism, British Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, labour mp's, Labour Party, Momentum, Uncategorized

Trump, Farage, and the Transnational Right-Wing Axis: Containing the Tide of Reactionary Nativism in Britain and the U.S.


British UKIP politician Nigel Farage’s defense of Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments caught on video, dismissing them as “alpha male boasting,” underlines the existence of a transnational right-wing political axis that relies on aggressive rhetoric to mobilize specific constituencies against liberal elites and immigrants.

The crisis of globalization has created a pronounced trend to economic nationalism, politically allied with implicit and explicit racism. The achievement of Brexit by Farage’s party therefore is not a purely British phenomenon, but a consequence of the failure of the political establishment throughout Europe to acknowledge the interests of deindustrialized working class communities or suburban communities fearing loss of their steady middle-class existence. The Tory right, backed by the major media outlets, was able to deflect these communities’ anger away from the billionaires accumulating wealth from the system and onto immigrants and minorities.

Former economic advisor to the Obama administration Lawrence Summers notes that the biggest concern of the world’s finance ministers and central-bank governors today is that “traditional ideas and leaders are losing their grip and the global economy is entering unexplored and dangerous territory … with Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the strength of right-wing nationalists in Europe, Vladimir Putin’s strength in Russia, and the return of Mao worship in China — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the world is seeing a renaissance of populist authoritarianism. … Publics have lost confidence both in the competence of economic leaders and in their commitment to serving broad national interests, rather than the interests of a global elite.”

A globalized economy does not supplant national states, but relies on them to enforce trade and labor discipline; if traditional forms of consensus are losing their grip, that is a serious problem for international trade agreements. The European Union is taking a very hard line with the UK because it faces internal centripetal forces threatening to break it up. European governments are concerned to shore up their own eroding domestic positions: Angela Merkel, for example, is losing support from the German electorate and has insisted on the acceptance of free movement of people as a condition for access to the single market.

In Britain, prime minister Theresa May has called for restrictions on immigration in order to appease the hardline Tory grassroots and keep her party intact. Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith comments: “May has succeeded in uniting a large swathe of the country, both Leave and Remain backers against her, including many with her own party, with her hardline anti-immigrant posture. It’s a confusing wild lurch in Tory politics, throwing big business, London, social liberalism, elites, liberal Brexiteers under the bus and courting UKIP voters.” More importantly, she has triggered a collapse in the pound and the likelihood that the financial industry will lose its lucrative passporting rights that enable it to work in the eurozone.

According to the Guardian, “The French finance minister, Michel Sapin, said on Friday that eurozone governments would not accept the City of London remaining the main euro clearing centre once Britain left the EU. … The leaders’ statements reflect an increasing feeling in European capitals that the hard line the prime minister and others adopted during the Conservative conference – including the home secretary, Amber Rudd’s plans to prevent migrants ‘taking jobs British people could do’ – may reveal a far deeper hostility to the EU than they had imagined.”

As the Washington Post commented: “Ironically, the European referendum — a poll that was intended, in the words of its proponent, to make Britain’s Parliament sovereign again — has made British legislators almost irrelevant. May has declared she will not allow a parliamentary vote on the timing or nature of the British break with the European Union. She will not allow the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where voters opposed the changes, to have any voice in the process.”

This absolutely vindicates Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for negotiating a “new relationship with the EU: one that protects jobs, living standards and workers’ rights.”

Across the pond in the US, Trump will likely lose the presidential election, but his disgruntled supporters will remain a political force on the right. Particularly worrying is his support from the security forces and police, together with his threats to lock up political opponents if he wins the election. Despite the release of the damning video of his remarks, Josh Marshall points out, “he has a massive amount of support among the most engaged Republican voters. The last 24 hours has probably lost him significant support in the race against Hillary Clinton. … But in the context of intra-Republican politics that leaves him with massive levels of support intact.”

This is confirmed by the New York Times: “Trump’s perceived character — a strong leader with a simple message, never flinching from a fight, cutting through political correctness with a bracing bluntness — resonates in places like Appalachia where courage, country and cussedness are core values. … It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished. Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos.”

The ideology of the Democratic establishment does not enable it to effectively counter this force. It tends to write off these workers as homogeneously deplorable, without attempting to address the real causes of their alienation. It stems from the meritocratic outlook of the professional class, which sees education as the magic cure for poverty, and has benefited from the demographic changes that white workers perceive as threatening their status and wages. To his credit, Bernie Sanders has consistently refused to write off this layer of the working class and advocates fighting for the ending of the export of well-paid industrial jobs.

Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect that white millennials who are thinking of voting for the Green or Libertarian party candidates in the upcoming presidential election, rather than Hillary Clinton, are expressing their white privilege. “On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’s. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, ‘They’re all white’.”

He adds: “The gap that’s opened between white and minority millennials should come as no surprise; it tracks their different life experiences.” A recent survey found that “48 percent of young blacks had experienced racial discrimination in looking for a job, compared to 30 percent of Latinos and just 10 percent of whites. It found that 57 percent of both black and Latino millennials were concerned about someone in their household being laid off, while just 41 percent of young whites voiced that fear. But surely, the gap also reflects the greater and more direct danger that a Trump presidency poses to minority communities, immigrants, and Muslims than it does to whites.”

But while Sanders’ millennial supporters are opposed to a Trump presidency, they need to overcome the political confusion that inhibits them from voting for Clinton in the upcoming election alongside citizens in the African and Latino American communities, which would be the basis of vital alliances in the fight against racism in the US. Brexit has already led to a marked increase of racist attacks on immigrants in Britain; Corbyn and his supporters have made public their opposition to the government’s demonization of immigrants, despite pressure from within his own party.

Right-wing nativism threatens to erode the social contract of democracy and rights for all peoples in Britain and the United States, for which giants like Martin Luther King gave their lives. In Abraham Lincoln’s words: “A house divided cannot stand.” Voters in the US have a political duty to stop Trump lest they condemn themselves to a repetition of the worst of American and European history.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, racism, Uncategorized

Against the Party Machines: Momentum Boldly Asserts People Power in Britain, while US Progressives Fight for their Democratic Moment


Throughout Europe and the US today, the dominant political theme is how the public are shut out of meaningful decision-making at a time when globalization is having a devastating effect on people’s lives. This has led to protest voting that has unsettled the ruling elites: Brexit in Britain; in the US, support for the demagogic Trump.

The British political class, whether Labour or Conservative, believes that it is qualified to rule by virtue of family upbringing and attending Oxford or Cambridge, despite all historical experience to the contrary. What matters most is not its record of achievement – deindustrializing the economy, squeezing living standards with austerity policies, embroiling the country in a constitutional nosedive – but to be able to give the impression of administrative competence while presiding over one disaster after another.

In the US, on the other hand, the essential qualifications are money and support for the security state. That is why Trump continually talks up his mythical billions while never missing a chance to push his authoritarian vision for society. While Clinton “won” her first debate with him, the key question of the presidential election remained unacknowledged: the profound disenchantment of the public with the political system. Her message was directed at those who think the system is fundamentally sound and only needs modifying, while Trump appeals to those who think the whole thing should be blown up.

The left’s role is specific to the conditions in each particular country. In the UK, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Momentum are taking political struggle outside of the party machine and into the communities. While the official Labour party conference last week resulted in the right keeping control of the party’s inner workings through overturning Corbyn’s majority on the National Executive Committee, Momentum held a vibrant alternate event, The World Transformed, at a nearby venue. It was able to maintain and expand its organization after Corbyn’s election as party leader, thanks to the master tacticians in the Parliamentary party who gifted Momentum a popular issue to mobilize around by renewing their challenge to Corbyn’s leadership.

Many of his supporters are from a new generation of “networked, horizontal, democratic, globalist and liberal young professionals,” writes Paul Mason, “who regard [the far left], largely, as oddities. When the man in charge of crowdfunding the Momentum fringe event approached me for help, I asked what had brought him into this. He’d studied social movements at university, he said, and spent five years in banking.”

The Independent’s Ashley Cowburn contrasted official Labour with Momentum’s activists: “One evening, back at the gloomy official conference, I am asked by a Labour MP: ‘How is it over there in cloud cuckoo land with the rainbows and unicorns?’ However, 28-year-old Emma Rees, a former primary school teacher and one of Momentum’s national organisers, dismisses the comment … ‘It discredits the very real experiences that lots of people are living through and I don’t think it’s rainbows and unicorns to actually want to discuss how we can do things better – how we can structure society so that it benefits more than just the privileged few. And I actually think that’s the founding principles of the Labour Party and movement, is to empower ordinary people and the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives’.”

It’s a straightforward message of empowerment and commitment to work towards a better society – no wonder Labour MPs think it a fantasy. Another Momentum supporter, Michael Segalov, explains: “Labour conference may have been consumed by party infighting, factional posturing, and endless debate of internal rules,” but at The World Transformed, “Sessions on phone banking, crowdfunding, community organising and planning were peppered throughout the long weekend, a clear sign that this new, invigorated membership is interested in more than rhetoric and backslapping.”

The situation is not so clear for Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the US. The presidential nomination process allowed a brief democratic moment around his campaign; now that Clinton has won the nomination and Sanders’ backing, the Democratic party establishment has shut down public participation in policy-making.

The dilemma of how to sustain the campaign organizationally has led to a conflict between Sanders’ professional political staff and his volunteers, who were responsible for the success of his fundraising.

Sanders introduced the promised independent organization designed to continue the fight for left policies, “Our Revolution,” through a national webcast. It sought to harness the campaign’s energy into support for candidates with a progressive platform in down-ballot elections. However, Our Revolution is to be structured as a 501(c)(4), in other words a legal entity geared to fundraising, not one able to interface directly with local political campaigns. This decision was taken apparently without consulting the volunteers who were the backbone of Sanders’ campaign.

According to the volunteer-run site Berniecrats.net, 210 downballot primary election candidates—a figure that includes local, state and congressional bids—were “Berniecrats,” meaning they endorsed Bernie Sanders and a similar progressive platform. Roughly half claimed victory. Since the primary season began on March 1, Berniecrats have won 238 of 379 races. Sanders told The Nation that “Our Revolution candidates have already won a lot of primaries. In Massachusetts, with the support of Our Revolution, a young attorney, a very progressive guy, beat a long-term incumbent. In Rhode Island, the majority leader in the House got knocked off.”

But Our Revolution is uncomfortably like MoveOn, a top-down organization sending out emails asking for donations. The difference is that potential donors are asked to contribute directly to the local candidates. While Our Revolution may develop other forms of political organization, the techniques that were successful in an electoral campaign are not the same as those needed to work with grassroots movements around the country that can change the political climate. Internet technology alone doesn’t build a movement – human interaction is the key to long-term change.

In fact, a number of leading Sanders’ volunteers resigned because of the decision to form a (c)(4) entity. Claire Sandberg, the former digital organizing director for the primary campaign, explained that this legal structure had already prevented them from doing effective organizing for candidates like Tim Canova, who stood in the primary against Debbie Wasserman Schulz; they were unable to coordinate phone campaigning with his campaign or mobilize Bernie supporters to participate in his field operation.

John Atcheson comments in Common Dreams, “Under its current framework, Our Revolution denies people that direct sense of agency, and is less transparent than it could be.  There is an explicit ‘trust me, we’ll do the right thing’ that is exercised by an intermediary. The appeal is based on the promise to support ‘progressives’ – an abstraction – rather than the specific list of policies Bernie offered.”

The challenge for the left in both countries is how to connect with the mass movement. In the US, millions of Latino and African Americans will be voting against Trump; in the UK, the left needs to reconnect with disaffected Brexit voters without compromising with racism. The ideological confusion on the left means that Sanders’ supporters are splintered, most probably voting for Clinton but some for third parties like the Greens.

November’s elections will show how the public responds to “Berniecrat” candidates at local and state level. The danger is that without a national caucus within the Democratic party they will be absorbed into the system without making headway on more progressive policies. For now, it looks like opportunities are greater for the left in the UK.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2016 Election, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, Britain, British elections, British Labour party, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, latino americans, political analysis, Uncategorized