Hangover cure

By Jake Wilde

Professional commentators and columnists are obliged to take a broad, holistic view of the political landscape, to consider their audience and to write in such a way that connects with the thousands, maybe millions, who read their views. They can’t afford to be too narrow in their focus because there’s only so many politics trainspotters like me (and, if you’re reading this, you) out there.

I, by contrast, can be as niche as I please. I’ve​ written about subjects other than the Labour Party, but I don’t write about the Tories, the Liberals or the nationalists because I am not particularly interested in them and I wouldn’t consider voting for them. On the one hand that frees me to focus on the space usually and generally occupied by the broad church Labour Party. On the other there’s the risk that I view everything through this prism and I’m conscious of this flaw.

So when I look at this snap election I see it as only being about one thing – the state of the Labour Party. I know that it’s billed as being about strengthening May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, and about giving her, and her government, a mandate they arguably don’t possess, but I simply don’t think that’s true. However, and hence my preamble, I am aware that I might just be blinded by my perspective. That my focus on my niche has made me think that the only reason we’re having this election now is that 21 point lead in the polls. That May looks at those polls and thinks, “this is when politicians call elections and I have these plausible (Brexit & mandate) ‘reasons’ for doing so.” As John Rentoul wrote today “everyone knows that the purpose of this election is not to decide who will win, but how much she [May] will win by”.

I’ll explain why I think I’m right, and you can decide if I’m just confirming my own bias. For this election to be predominantly about Brexit two things would need to be true. Firstly there would have to be two different options on offer from the two potential governments. Are there? At this stage I’m not even sure there’s one option on offer. If the argument is about strengthening the PM’s hand, and not about collectively agreeing our aims and objectives, then we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. The only reason for such a request is the absence of any coherent alternative being offered by an alternative government. Thus the election is actually about the competency of the Labour Party and not about Brexit.

Secondly it would need to be the case that Parliament is the best place to articulate opposition to ‘bad Brexit’. Oliver Kamm wrote that it is acceptable to vote for individual Labour candidates who oppose Brexit (or possibly Brexit at any cost). This is based upon the theory that we need, after the election, the House of Commons to contain enough MPs prepared to challenge May’s desired hegemony. (And to break party discipline if necessary.) However it’s surely not sufficient just to challenge, that challenge also has to be effective. Yet only 114 of the current crop of parliamentarians voted against triggering Article 50, to precisely zero effect. I would suggest that greater challenge, to greater effect, has come from outside Parliament and this will become more, not less, important after a general election purporting to give an individual a mandate to pursue as yet unspecified outcomes. The battle against a bad Brexit won’t be won in Parliament – Corbyn has seen to that already.

Alternatively, if I’m right and this election is a referendum on the Labour Party above all else, it’s the chance for the moderates to call in the cavalry. The contention from the moderates has always been that the selectorate (those voting in the Labour leadership election) is different from the electorate. That people who normally vote Labour will simply not vote for this incarnation of the party. That nobody in the middle, those crucial swing voters, will swing as far left as Corbyn wants or needs them to. That Britons will burst the Corbynista bubble, decisively and clearly.

So this is why I argue that the scale of the defeat is the most important thing. It needs to be so overwhelming that the Corbynistas can rescue nothing from the ashes.

John Rentoul’s article today was about the next Labour leadership election, who might be candidates from the Corbynista faction and the numbers they’d need to stand. If the rejection of Corbynism is sufficiently​ great then that whole debate will return to being the sideshow is used to be, when it really didn’t matter who the far left chose. And frankly if the hopes of the moderates are based on preventing the far left from taking part in the competition then we ought to be planning for a split instead.

You know when you get so drunk that you have a hangover so bad that it makes you cry with pain, and you swear that you’ll never get that drunk again? But then, as time goes by, you forget the pain until one day there you are again, drinking like there’s no tomorrow, having forgotten the agony of the inevitable outcome. Labour have forgotten 1983 and are drinking hard right now. The electorate are guaranteed to give them a hangover but it needs to be one that the party never forgets.

Theresa May is only interested in capitalising on Labour’s drunkenness for her, and her party’s, benefit. And in the short term she’s right and she will indeed benefit. But there’s a way, an opportunity, to find some measure of victory for the opposition to May as well, beyond the Kammite rescue of individuals. As surely as Foot led to Blair, without that defeat in 1983 there wouldn’t have been 13 years of a Labour government. This election is about a Labour defeat in 2017, but it can also be the first step to a Labour victory.

Are some votes for Labour OK, but others not?

By Jake Wilde

I normally agree with Oliver Kamm’s views on pretty much everything and I have every sympathy with the argument he outlines in his article for CapX: “Corbyn leaves Labour voters with no good options”. It goes something like this – Corbyn is doing, and will continue to do, a terrible job of holding the Conservatives to account over Brexit; It’s important that the House of Commons contains some MPs capable of doing this and we should support these individuals; It’s a shame that some of them are Labour MPs but Brexit is more important than anything else. This is, as Oliver points out, the argument put forward by Tony Blair, “that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit.”

The problem I have with this approach insofar as it relates to the Labour Party of 2017 is the same problem that I have with selective industrial action in the trade union movement. Selective action is the theory that bringing certain key sectors of workers out on strike will have a sufficient impact upon the dispute to render unnecessary the need for all workers to take strike action. So instead of everyone losing pay only those taking selective action do, possibly supported by contributions from those not taking strike action. The thinking is that those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for strike action would support this, as they are not the ones going on strike.

This theory is a crock.

For one the entire purpose of being in a union is to demonstrate that you are resolved to act as one. As soon as you start to give individuals an opt-out then it’s over. Once you have one group of workers doing everyone else’s dirty work for them you’re no longer presenting a united front. You’ve also handily identified to the employer which group of workers to either victimise or buy off, depending on their whim.

I contend that the same is true for the relationship between those of us on the centre left and the Labour Party. However much we may wish it there are not two Labour Parties. There is one, and it is led and controlled by the Corbynista faction. A vote for any Labour Party candidate on June 8 is a vote for that particular and peculiar incarnation of the Labour Party.

If you try to argue that a vote for individuals such as Oliver Kamm’s MP Meg Hillier, or other equally worthy people, should not count in the same way as a vote for Corbyn himself then you are deluding yourself. Indeed, as Oliver himself concedes, it’s only acceptable to vote for Labour under these circumstances if you are certain that Corbyn will “suffer crushing humiliation”. Yet of course every vote for Labour, whatever the circumstances behind its casting, is one vote further away from that crushing humiliation.

There is no opt-out in a party system. If you do not support the party for which a candidate is standing – and Oliver outlines eloquently as always why Labour should not be supported at this election – then you should not vote for them. For all the admirable personal qualities of individual candidates the vote you cast will be counted as a vote in favour of Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Oliver Kamm’s article was an attempt to give advice to people on the “moderate Left”, regular Labour voters who find themselves in a dilemma, and he acknowledges that none of the options are good ones. But by endorsing the principle of the opt-out it will leave an unclear but certainly overstated picture of the true level of support for Corbyn. How will we know how big the “moderate Left”, and thus the opposition to Corbyn, is if some vote Labour, some vote for other parties and some don’t vote at all?

This election is an opportunity to seize back control of the momentum on the left. It is an unexpectedly early chance to demonstrate to the far left the paucity of their popular support. That people do not “like Jeremy Corbyn but…”. That people will not vote for TUSC just because it has changed its name to something more familiar. That support for terrorism, despotism and illiberalism cannot just be shouted down with a megaphone. That nobody else beyond their end of the horseshoe wants what they offer, this blend of hate, envy and empty rhetoric. That we can see they have more in common with the far right than with the vast majority of those of us committed to liberal democracy, free speech and regulated markets.

This is the time to push back, united. To bring to an end the last two years where the voice of the centre left has been drowned out by the banshee screams of the far left. This can’t be achieved by taking selective action. It can only be achieved by being united in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party at the ballot box and then, on 9 June, to rebuild from the ground up.

It is difficult. I know that. There are a considerable number of Labour MPs who deserve support. But my argument is that the time when they need that support is not now, but when they, as leaders of the centre left, start the rebuilding process. They do not need to be MPs to do that. We are already in the post-Corbyn era. This election, just as 2020 would have been, is lost to the Conservatives. But there can be a victory from it, and it can now come sooner than we originally thought. The people we admire, those currently in Parliament and those not, they can help to create the genuine opposition, grounded in the true principles of the Labour movement that Oliver Kamm rightly identifies that this country needs.

 

2001 again

By Jake Wilde

I’ve never been much of a joiner. At university the assorted political parties of the far left, or their front organisations posing as single issue groups, revolted me and none of the major political parties offered anything that interested me. In hindsight I think that’s because I was following a path that had more resonance in the United States than in the United Kingdom, where the anti-Stalinist left had embraced the principles of democracy, personal freedom and liberty more commonly associated with American conservatism. I hold a general view that the state has key role to play in delivering essential services to its citizens and can and should do things the market can’t and won’t, but that individuals need to have the freedom to operate economically outside of state control, and to have complete freedom of political thought. The problem I always had with Marxism was that the cobbler could never make a pair of shoes for his daughter, and the problem I always had with Leninism and Stalinism was the mass murder. In short, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was more of a neoconservative than anything else and in the late nineties there really wasn’t much interest in attracting the neocon vote.

When Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister of my adulthood I was pleased but no more so than any other Labour voter. It never occurred to me to join the Labour Party as it still tolerated the kind of people we now call Corbynistas. When I started work and became a trade union representative I encountered these people every day, and they moved in the same sphere and held broadly the same views as those in the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party. There was no obvious distinction between those of them who were members of the Labour Party or those who were in the fringe parties. Any differences between them seemed to be more about which personality cult they favoured.

The single event that prompted me to join the Labour Party was the 2003 military intervention in Iraq. Finally here was a political party actually prepared to fight fascism, rather than to pretend to do so in order to promote its own agenda. It’s often said that the far left have been at the forefront of the fight against fascism, sexism, racism and homophobia. This is nonsense. The far left have always hijacked those campaigns to use them for self-promotion, to swell the numbers seemingly prepared to foment revolution or simply to use those causes to rail against capitalism and The West. This is not an essay about Iraq, but I remain firmly of the view that the liberation of the Iraqi people ranks alongside the creation of the NHS and the introduction of the minimum wage in the pantheon of achievements by the Labour Party.

It strikes me that, in the same way that “Iraq” has become the standard retort to any defence of Blairism, “Syria” will be the single word used to define the Labour Party’s post-Iraq cowardice. Unlike Iraq, where military action would have taken place even without UK involvement, the military action against Assad did not occur solely because the UK did not participate, and precisely because of the attitude of the Labour Party, as directed by the then Corbyn–led Stop The War Coalition.

Thus where the liberation of Iraq led to democratic elections and a multicultural society (as reflected in today’s Iraqi army), the non-liberation of Syria has led to a fascist, torturing, murdering, sectarian dictator remaining in power. The Labour Party should take credit for the former and must take the blame for the latter. Jeremy Corbyn has far more blood on his hands than Tony Blair.

So with the reason for my joining Labour now treated with disgust, and the party under the far left’s control, I am back where I started. I was only ever what I’ll call a CBeebies Blairite – of a generation with young kids when Blair was at his height, and only needing a elementary understanding of what Blairism was in order to support it. I doubt that there will ever be a political party that fully represents my views but in that sense I am no different from those who share my viewpoint on the other side of the Atlantic, who must have found themselves looking at Trump and Clinton in the same way as I look at May and Corbyn. Nevertheless I regard myself as lucky to have been, for a short time in the mid 2000s, in the right place at the right time.

Why is any of this relevant in 2017, you may very well ask. I may be being overly self-centred, even by my standards, but I don’t think I was the only person who felt politically seasick during 2016. I’ve read countless articles about how everything has changed, how populations across the world are rejecting elites, about a revolt against liberalism. It’s seductive stuff because everyone, especially those who write political articles for a living, likes to think that they live in historic times. I just don’t think it’s true. No grand realignment has occurred, there has been no massive change in the way people think and Trump, Corbyn and Brexit are not reflections of a populist uprising.

Leo Strauss, one of the founders of neoconservative thought, was writing in the 1960s when he said “the crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose” but his view equally applies today. In America liberals call Trump a sexist but then defend the burqa, while conservatives laud the importance of freedom to the human spirit but then forcefully deny it to those from different continents. The notion that what we call liberalism and conservatism are vastly different becomes a nonsense when contrasted to the world view held by Islamists, for example. Yet Obama can’t bring himself to confront Islamism and Trump is happy to consign moderate Muslims to their deaths. As a consequence no political leader in the US is entering 2017 with any credit or a clear vision about how to lead the world’s response to the threats to the unifying Western principles of democracy, freedom and liberty.

I’ve written before about my astonishment that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seems to be the only senior Western politician prepared to recognise Islamism for what it is and challenge it but, crucially, attempt to preserve Western values while doing so. He knows that tolerating the apparently softer edges of Islamism, such as dress codes and segregation, fuels extremism, rather than assuages it and by normalising Islamist ideology and practice we accept it when we should be rejecting it. He also knows that the first victims of toleration of Islamism are Muslims, Muslims who would and should be at the forefront of opposition to Islamism. But politicians such as Trump make the critical mistake of lumping all Muslims in with Islamists, rather than acknowledging that Muslims are the Islamists’ first and most frequent targets. They then compound their error with precisely those Muslims who are looking to the West for help, by suppressing them, failing to give them safe refuge or ignoring their pleas for help in fighting back against Islamist (or other forms of) oppression. Western leaders need to learn that secular democrats who happen to be Muslim are vital in the war against Islamism. There’s no difference between Obama and Trump on this, albeit for different reasons.

That’s one of the reasons why I see the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations as little different to the handover from Bill Clinton to George W Bush. During the 2000 election campaign Bush had criticised Clinton, and by connection Al Gore, for being too interventionist: “If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.” This is precisely the objection Trump raised against Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plans. And while Bill Clinton did intervene on occasion his failure to effectively deal with Islamism would prove to have devastating consequences. After an equally controversial election, demonstrations accompanied the 2001 inauguration, as there will be for Trump’s, and Bush also started his presidency by pushing through tax cuts and controversial environmental initiatives that some saw as being driven by his links to big business. If you set aside Donald Trump’s talent for courting publicity through manipulating media controversy, then there is little to separate him from the 2001 pre-9/11 version of George W Bush.

The Labour Party, in the manner of someone who hasn’t had a hangover for a while and is sat in the pub drinking like there’s no tomorrow, has forgotten just how electorally damaging left wing ideology is in this country. The British far left always turn to the comfort of religious scripture, interpreted for today’s world by the next round of Marxist prophets, and cast judgement upon those made impure by having to make real decisions that matter. That’s why their greenest bile is reserved for Labour governments. We should be thankful of the greatest check against extremism that this country possesses – the British electorate. The current leadership of the Labour Party are there simply because not many people are members of a political party and all of the far left wing ones have joined Labour. It’s no more complicated than that, and it has no meaning to anybody who is not a member of the Labour Party. It is only once the electorate start to hear what Labour now offers that the true horror of what has happened to the party dawns upon the general population. Lost deposits in by elections are not freak results, they are what happens when Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party meets the real world.

Voting in the EU referendum saw people across the UK discard their party political home and vote according to their instinctive sense of what the EU represented to them. None of the major political parties, not even the SNP, were able to deliver “their” voters to support their preferred outcome so it is understandable but incorrect to regard the outcome as a rejection of traditional politics. That the country should be split on their view, and most didn’t even have a view, of an organisation that none of the major political parties particularly liked to talk about surely shouldn’t be a surprise. The EU has been variously painted as a bogeyman or a sugar daddy, punishing small businesses with red tape that Whitehall would never impose, or protecting workers with legislation that Westminster would never have allowed. Neither is true but both are believed with equal religiosity by their proponents. In the end the electorate were forced to rely upon a personal interpretation of a binary question about what an unknown future held and yet people have the nerve to tell those who voted the other way that they were wrong to do so.

That’s why I think 2016 was no different to any other year. There was no populist revolt, no death of liberalism, and no rejection of elites. Trump is no more a fascist than Obama is a communist. Corbyn is less a threat to the establishment than he is a part of the establishment. Brexit was a consequence of slightly more people guessing that Leave was a better option than Remain. 2017 is more like 2001, with a two-term Democrat handing over to a Republican widely ridiculed by the left, a UK government untroubled by an incompetent and ideologically unpopular opposition, and our relationship with Europe still a mystery to pretty much everyone. So perhaps in a couple of years someone will come along who will make me a joiner again. They need not rush.