The gnashing of Blairite teeth

June 16, 2015 at 10:38 am (democracy, elections, labour party, left, posted by JD, reblogged, Tony Blair)

by Phil Burton-Cartledge (reblogged from All That Is Solid)

kim blair ilIf since midday you’ve been plagued by that irritating background noise is, here’s what it is: the gnashing of Blairist teeth to the news that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign saw him lifted onto the Labour leadership shortlist. Those MPs who nominated him but are quite clear they do not support his pitch deserve a congratulatory pint. They understand much better than our “friendly” media commentators the nature of the party. Allow me to take this moment to explain why.

As you might expect, our chum Dan Hodges forecasts woe and plagues of crickets. Apparently Jeremy is “to the left of Karl Marx“, because opposing the bedroom tax and rallying against cuts is obviously more radical than smashing the capitalist state machinery and expropriating the expropriators. The left “don’t get it” – the general election result proves that the British electorate are not in the mood for their policy provision. They are a spent force the parliamentary party has to indulge, and only a thorough drubbing on a policy platform they like will ram the message though their dogmatic skulls.

Dan’s starting position, as it has always been, is that Tony Blair found the shiny baton of electoral success. Gordon Brown fumbled the hand over in the relay, and when it came to Ed Miliband’s lap he didn’t think to pick it up. For Dan, Labour’s route back to power is dull, grey, technocratic politics because what the electorate expects are boring, risk-averse, but basically competent managers. Any whiff of left-wingery frightens the horses. In my view the self-evident truths Dan and his co-thinkers subscribe to are simulated nostrums specific to the Westminster matrix, repeated and transmitted ad nauseum by sympathetic media figures to the point where it’s the received political commonsense. The problem is, it’s wrong.

Let’s be sure about this. Labour didn’t lose the election because it was “too left“. No one gave Labour the body swerve because of the mansion tax, the energy price cap, an increased minimum wage, the pledge to build more houses, and the abolition of the bedroom tax – not least when these policies were popular with the voting public.

Labour lost for two main reasons. First, on economic competence. The Tory argument that you can’t secure the NHS without securing the economy absolutely cut through. And the second was insecurity – how Labour will cave to a SNP set on milking the (English) taxpayer, rendering these islands defenceless, and imperil the union. It’s a political vein you can expect the Tories to tap again and again. Therefore the situation Labour finds itself in is a very difficult one. How can it simultaneously appeal to enough Scottish voters, enough English swing voters, and enough “traditional” voters flirting with UKIP. That difficult discussion demands all minds and all wings of the movement to be involved. This is why I’m glad Jeremy is on board, it means the left will have its say throughout the summer of leadership debates.

I’m sure Dan and his co-thinkers think the left have nothing to contribute and should have had their entry barred to the contest. Allow me then to talk the language they understand. At the general election, the Green Party won 1.1m votes. As James O’Malley points out, if just 2,984 of them had voted Labour instead in the relevant key marginals, there would be no Conservative majority government now. Let us suppose that the narrow contest they coveted had taken place. Thousands of left recruits, many of them recent, would have departed from the party. A larger cohort of some left-leaning voters hoping to see their values and hopes reflected in the leaders’ debates would also have been put off. Where would they have gone? Perhaps to the Greens, perhaps to a lefter-looking Liberal Democrats. The Blairites may be happy to see the back of these “wrong sort” of members and voters, but in so doing they would also say goodbye to a clutch of seats. It’s not 1997. Left Labour-leaning people do have somewhere else to go which, incidentally, is why Labour under their favoured Miliband was unlikely to have fared any better.

Another point that Dan and friends might also wish to mull over. While beginning under Kinnock, since Blair took over the party there has been a centralisation of organisation and a diminution of policy input from constituency parties. Gone are the days where policy was determined by the floor of conference, and now it’s mostly a managed affair for keynote speeches and the like. If there was more in the way of member-led democracy, then perhaps – just perhaps – the left would have found an outlet in policy debates. Instead they created a logjam which meant the only way the left could get its voice heard is by running a leadership candidate. If the Blairists don’t like it, tough. This is a situation two decades in the making, and their finger smudges are all over its blueprints.

So the debate we’re going to have, the proper soul-searching debate so many from across the party paid lip service to in the days following the general election is happening. Good. Let’s get on with it.


  1. Steven Johnston said,

    This is what happens when you let the left run the Labour party.

    • dagmar said,

      Hm? That is what happens when the Labour right, who like to go on about the ‘broad church’ do a runner with the full support with their friends in the media and split the vote against the most unpopular Prime Minister in living history the moment they lose control of the Labour Party.

      Other than that, there are other reasons not to be very keen on Corbyn. Alan ex-Trot Johnson puts it well

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Not that UKIP took any votes from the tories mind in the last election…

  2. Jim Denham said,

    From the latest issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity:

    Left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn’s success in getting the MPs’ nominations necessary to stand for party leader is very good news. Corbyn’s campaign represents a clear left-wing alternative to the various shades of Blairism on issues like cuts, the NHS, taxing the rich, the banks, anti-union laws, and migrants’ rights. It gives socialists the opportunity to build up, mobilise, and politically educate the labour movement and left as energetically as we can. The historic project of Blairism is to drive the organised working class out of official politics; a leftwing, class-struggle challenge for the Labour Party leadership provides a sharp counterpoint to their aims. For any serious attempt to re-assert the principle of labour representation — a working-class voice in politics — the trade unions, and in the first place the Labouraffiliated unions, are key.

    Socialists in the affiliated unions can use Corbyn’s candidacy to put their leaders on the spot and demand that the unions use their weight inside the party to support his campaign. Unlike all the other candidates, including Andy Burnham (the candidate who has most explicitly sought to position himself as “the union candidate”), Corbyn stands for union-backed policies; unlike the others, he is a champion of trade unionism and workers’ struggles. To their credit, the Bakers’ union backed Corbyn early on, and transport union TSSA publicly called for him to be on the ballot. Activists in Unite should demand to know why their left-talking leaders are still not backing Corbyn — and organise to put pressure on them to do so. Activists in Unison have already initiated a “Unison for Corbyn” network, and are having him to speak at

    Unison national delegate conference in Glasgow this week. There are moves among Young Labour and student free education activists to set up a youth wing of the campaign. A “Rail and transport workers for Corbyn” page, and a general “Trade unionists for Corbyn” page have been set up on Facebook.

    But the leadership election is not an end in itself. Whoever wins, the contradictions in the Labour Party — between its largely proneo-liberal central machinery and its working-class base — will remain unresolved. Corbyn’s campaign can do much to sharpen them, and could be the launchpad for wider campaign of grassroots and union self-assertion against a resurgent New Labour narrative. Those supporting Corbyn’s campaign, either in the Labour Party or by registering to vote as a “supporter”, should get involved in a wider fight in
    Labour and in trade unions.

    The momentum Corbyn’s campaign has already generated is impressive, and indication of what might be possible. Whatever the Labour right’s calculations in not putting the pressure on to block his nomination, the pressure MPs were visibly placed under to nominate him undoubtedly reflects the outpouring of grassroots enthusiasm for his candidacy across the labour movement. We do not agree with Corbyn on everything. While we share some of his basic opposition to imperialism and militarism (including nuclear weaponry),
    his wider stance on many international issues is part of the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” politics widespread in many parts of the left. His stance on Europe is equivocal.

    So we will continue to openly criticise Corbyn during the campaign and seek debate on the issues where we disagree. It should be noted that none of the other leadership candidates have a good record on international issues. None have given any indication, for example, that they would end the British state’s alliance with the Saudi monarchy.

    • ZINR said,

      Ah, well, that’s okay then.

      Unless you’re Jewish of course, in which case you might see Corbyn’s candidacy as final proof that appeasing Islamic Fascism is more important to the British Left than guaranteeing the safety and equal rights of all British citizens including Jews…

      …still, who gives a fuck about Jews, eh, as long as there’s a posturing, infantile fucknut like Corbyn prepared to lead the Labour Party back to the 1920s…

      • Steven Johnston said,

        As Gilbert and Sullivan never sang…”on foreign/domestic/economic matters he’s as mad as any hatter but he’ll never get elected to it really doesn’t matter, matter, matter…”

    • dagmar said,

      “We do not agree with Corbyn on everything. While we share some of his basic opposition to imperialism and militarism (including nuclear weaponry), his wider stance on many international issues is part of the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” politics widespread in many parts of the left. His stance on Europe is equivocal. ”

      In the past I would have expected the AWL to – quite rightly – mention Israel-Palestine here. Many would have accused the AWL of somehow being ‘obsessed’ with Israel and it’s right to existence and using it as a litmus test on so many issues. Regardless of the accuracy of such accusations how come this seems to be no longer relevant, not even relevant for a “but he isn’t all great” sub-clause in a “support Corbyn” article? (I note recent references to “Palestine-Israel” in ‘Solidarity’ as well).

  3. John R said,

    The “Gnashing of Blairist Teeth” seemed more like a “Chortling of Tories For Corbyn” article.

    So, who’s backing Jeremy, then?

    Tories, Communists, Thatcherites, Trotskyists, Reaganites, neo-Trotskyists, Ukippers, cryto-Trotskyites, Islamists, ultra-left union leaders, anti-Zionists, Right-Wing weirdos, Guardianistas, Torygraph readers, Left-Wing weirdos, Guido Fawkes, Left Unity, Guido Fawkes’s cat, Bennites, Louise Mensch, Seamus Milne, Frank Field, Stop the War, George Galloway….

    and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

    And who’s opposing Jeremy?

    Anyone who wants Labour to have a chance to win the next election.

  4. Glesga Keeping Scotland Free From Loonies said,

    Sinn Fein IRA. The Vatican. SNP. Putin. China and an array of the usual suspects. The usual failures.

    • Political tourist said,

      Vanguard Bears says hello or is that hello hello to the trots.
      Are the Chinese CP on the hate list of Scottish unionism?
      Anyway how are you getting on with that new Rangers manager.
      Is he a “proper” manager as they say down south.

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