Wednesday 17th of April 2024

looking for real Labor ...

looking for real Labor ...

The result of the British election should produce seismic change in Australian politics. But it almost certainly won’t.

The pundits are now shaking their heads and dolefully agreeing that Theresa May ran a terrible campaign. But, until recently, those same pundits were awed by May's strategic nous, agreeing that, by going to the polls early, the Conservatives had cunningly exploited Labor's disarray.

The National Review's Michael Brendan Dougherty declared the Tory party 'an electoral juggernaut with revolutionary potential', marvelling at how its leader was 'outfoxing her opponents on all sides and gaining in popularity', while the Guardian's Matthew D'Ancona lauded May's manifesto as reflecting 'an intelligence, ambition and opposition to populist simplicity'.

May's campaign wasn't terrible. It became terrible because of Corbyn. By canvassing at the grassroots, where he attracted bigger crowds than any prime minister since Churchill, Corbyn made May's deliberate presidential aloofness look arrogant and then cowardly and, eventually (when she sent home secretary Amber Rudd to debate in her place), downright bizarre.

More importantly, Labour's old-fashioned social democratic manifesto wrongfooted both the Tories and the media. Suddenly, the paucity of May's program became evident. What did the Conservatives stand for? They were for fox hunting, they were for defeating the IRA, they were for pre-emptive nuclear strikes - and that was about it.

According to the conventional wisdom, the terrorist attacks in the final weeks of the campaign should have derailed Corbyn as comprehensively as 9/11 and the Tampa crisis shattered Kim Beazley in 2001. Again, though, Corbyn flipped the script.

By raising the hitherto unthinkable suggestion that the War on Terror might be failing, he reframed the national security debate until the Conservatives were on the defensive about their unswerving support for the Saudi autocrats. Corbyn managed all of this despite an unrelentingly hostile media.

"Corbyn appealed to the young and the disengaged not by being sincere or frugal but through his program: breaking with the austerity consensus, targeting the rich, and promising to transform the lives of ordinary people. Politics, in other words, not values."

A study by academics at the London School of Economics showed that an astonishing 75 per cent of news articles in the first months after Corbyn became leader misrepresented him. On election eve, the Daily Mail devoted no less than 13 pages to denouncing Corbyn as an apologist for terror, the culmination of a relentless smear campaign that saw him almost perennially in the redtops as a communist, an Islamist and a Fenian.

Meanwhile, the 'quality press', and most of the left pundits, savaged Corbyn as an embarrassing throwback, a scruffy ideologue who'd keep Labour from office for a generation. Guardian columnist Nick Cohen's advice to Corbyn supporters conveys the general tenor of liberal commentary. 'In my respectful opinion,' he wrote, 'your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind.'

The hostility from so-called progressives reflected the unremitting opposition emanating from within Corbyn's own party. 'If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader,' explained Tony Blair in a 2015 column, 'it won't be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.'

The Labour rank-and-file voted for Corbyn anyway - and Blair's acolytes redoubled their efforts to destroy him through public resignations, leadership challenges and constant sledging. Chanel Four News compiled a supercut of party leaders explaining to journalists their disdain for Corbyn, a relentless stream of men in suits repeating the same Blairite talking points about chaos, electability and a return to the chaos of the 70s.

Insofar as Laborites in Australia took notice of Corbyn, they drew similar conclusions. In the 2015 piece in Fairfax from Nicholas Reece, the one-time secretary of the Victorian ALP and policy adviser to Julia Gillard, Steve Bracks and John Brumby expressed the conventional wisdom. 'Make no mistake,' Reece opined, 'Corbyn's win is a disaster for Labour in Britain. Former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have declared him unelectable. The unanimous view of political professionals and everyday Britons I spoke to this week is that Labour will now spend a very long time in opposition.' Longtime Labor powerbroker Stephen Loosley offered a similar progrnosis, decreeing Corbyn 'as close to unelectable as it is possible to be' and endorsing Blair's suggestion that Labour might be finished as a party.

Long before the Blairite era, the Hawke/Keating years had pushed Labor in a very New Labour direction. Shorten's strategy against Turnbull rests on the wisdom now etched in Labor's DNA: make yourself a small target, repeat simple, centrist messages honed in focus groups, court the conservative press, don't let yourself get wedged on national security and immigration, and you'll slide into office as a more palatable, more efficient version of the Liberals.

So what happens now that Corbyn's offered a different approach? Will it change everything?

In a piece for the Monthly, Sam Dastyari - who campaigned for Labour in Britain - suggests that Corbyn proves that values matter. 'You can't be about "nothing",' he concludes. 'Theresa stood for nothing. Jeremy stood by his values. In the battle between nothing and something, something will always do well.'

No doubt values played some part. In the wake of the 2009 revelations about the huge expenses claims from MPs used to pay second mortgages and renovate homes, voters discovered that Corbyn had claimed only nine pounds: reimbursement for an ink cartridge.

But, at the end of the day, Corbyn appealed to the young and the disengaged not by being sincere or frugal but through his program: breaking with the austerity consensus, targeting the rich, and promising to transform the lives of ordinary people. Politics, in other words, not values.

Dastyari claims that Corbyn embodied a rejection of the status quo and the establishment. Again, that's true. But what does it mean? Corbyn's been an activist all his life. He campaigned against the British occupation of Northern Ireland; he marched against apartheid; he sat on the steering committee of the Stop the War Coalition and organised demonstrations against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. His much-vaunted 'authenticity' wasn't a matter of making a funny video about halal snack packs or playing some bangers during a DJ gig.

If Corbyn seemed like an outsider, it was because he was one, a man who nearly went to jail for his activism against the Poll Tax and was placed under surveillance for decades by both MI5 and the Special Demonstration Squad. There's simply no-one within the ALP with a comparable record. On the contrary, the conflict with the Greens means that the leaders of the Labor Left distinguish themselves as much by attacking radicalism as espousing it, as per of Anthony Albanese winning the Daily Telegraph's endorsement after warning that a vote for his Green rival Jim Casey constituted 'a vote to abolish capitalism'.

"Labor's long been protected from a rank-and-file revolt by a very sturdy Corbyn-proof fence."

Could a Corbyn emerge from the Labor rank and file instead? As it happens, Nicholas Reece already addressed that question, declaring that Corbyn's elevation to the Labour leadership illustrated the dangers of embracing participatory structures. '[T]he efforts to democratise Australian parties in the direction of British Labour are likely to hit a new roadblock,' he explained. '[N]obody who is interested in electoral success will agree to reform that could elect a Corbyn.' To put it another way, Labor's long been protected from a rank-and-file revolt by a very sturdy Corbyn-proof fence.

In the coming weeks, we might expect to hear much musing about that mysterious quality known as 'authenticity' from the Labor hierarcy as well as, perhaps, faint echoes of Corbynite rhetoric. Already, Bill Shorten cited the phrase 'for the many, not the few' in a press conference, warning Turnbull about the unpopularity of tax cuts to millionaires. But that example in itself highlights the limits of the election's influence on Australian Labor. For, while Corbyn embraced 'the many, not the few' slogan, the catchcry actually originated with Tony Blair, with the words still adorning the webpage of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

The fight for the soul of the British party might have seemed like an argument about tactics, about the best way to achieve shared goals. In reality, though, the clash between the Blairites and the Corbynistas related to ends as much as means, with Blair striving for a neoliberal politics predicated on the destruction of the Labourite socialism that Corbyn espoused.

When Corbyn invoked the many against the few, he did so while advocating free education, the renationalisation of utilities and a break from the US alliance. By contrast, Blair coined the phrase in a speech where he urged listeners to put behind them 'the bitter political struggles of left and right that have torn our country apart for too many decades. Many of these conflicts have no relevance whatsoever to the modern world - public versus private, bosses versus workers, middle class versus working class.' We all know which version sits closer to Shorten's heart.

That's why, in Australia, Corbynism won't change anything much in mainstream politics. Rather, Labour's electoral fightback will resonate most outside the Labor Party, inspiring those activists seeking something more than the replacement of one career politician with another. Writing for Vice, Sam Kriss captures the sentiment nicely:

'The bloodless, hopeless, senseless centrists tried to perform a kind of magic of their own — for two long years, they insisted that Corbyn was unelectable, and they thought that saying it as frequently and bitterly as possible would turn it into fact. But they missed something. What they repeated were just nostrums, the weary recitation of how things are. What we've all learned from the election last night is that how things are is not the same as how they will always be. People can overturn every certainty imposed on us. The world is ours to change.'

Lessons for ALP in UK Labour fightback


the left and the right fall in the middle...


By now it has become quite clear that conservative parties in Europe and the United States have been gaining strength from white voters who have been mobilized around issues related to nationalism — resistance to open borders and to third-world immigration. In the United States, this development has been exacerbated by ongoing conservative recruitment on issues of race that has reinforced opposition to immigration. On the liberal side, the Democratic Party and the center-left European parties have been allied in favor of globalization, if we define globalization as receptivity to open borders, the expansion of local and nationalistic perspectives and support for a less rigid social order and for liberal cultural, immigration and trade policies. In recent decades, these parties, both in Europe and in the United States have begun to include and reflect the views of large numbers of well-educated elites — relatively affluent knowledge or creative class workers – in alliance with predominantly nonwhite minority constituencies of the less well-off.

Ewald Engelen, a social scientist at the University of Amsterdamargues that the old paradigm of a left arguing for strong government intervention and a right preferring market solutions to social problems has been replaced. “Today,” he told Al Jazeera,“we see that the dominant dichotomy has become globalism versus nationalism.”

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So. What has created this shift of political "idealism" in which socialists become "liberal" (US sense) globalists and rich right-wingers become nationalists?

There has been many steps in this pseudo-evolution. Many of those steps were on the spot, going nowhere. I say pseudo because "workers of the world unite" is the under-layer of the "liberals" (globalists) -- while the rich (in America) favour the "exceptionalism" which a direct underwriter of "nationalism". So in fact, not much has changed -- except the numbers of bosses on top versus workers able to claim an underdog status. Many workers "have become their own boss" while working "under contracts". The political and economic processes of the last 50 years has been to turn most people, including workers, into little bourgeois. 

This has been the neat trick of "comfort" through credit. As most of the population becomes entangled in the credit web of deceit, it can only become polarised on some issues of fear with varied solutions: stop being fearful of immigrants, they won't take your job and they will contribute to the well-being of the country OR be fearful of immigrants -- they will change the nation for the worse.

And the media does it's things betting on both sides to froth the issue rather than solve it sensibly.