Is It Time The Labour Party Got A Divorce?

It seems one thing British political parties need to do right now is act and act quick. The Tories are already rallying around Margaret Thatcher Mark 2 who is prepping to eject the UK from the EU and send us into outer space. Meanwhile, John McDonnell of the Labour Party is calling many in his party “fucking useless” whilst Angela Eagle isn’t offering much in the way of new policies and Jeremy Corbyn keeps missing opportunities to stick it to the Tories. It’s also becoming violent as Eagle recently had a brick thrown through her window. This is highly distressing and the question I’m asking is if Labour, under Corbyn or Eagle, can keep it together?

At the moment it seems like it can’t. I don’t buy all of the hype around the conspiratorial nature of the ‘coup’ and think Corbyn is somewhat deluded to think everyone is out to get him but you don’t have to be a Blairite to be disappointed with some of his actions – I mean, the man took a holiday during the referendum, the single biggest thing to happen in politics since Cameron was accused of putting his willy in a pig’s head. And watching the short VICE documentary on Corbyn’s team ‘doing’ politics is like watching a slow episode of The Thick of It – I thought that programme was supposed to be fictional. But at the same time Corbyn’s is the loudest anti-austerity voice in mainstream politics and it’s clear he’s riled the establishment somewhat given that the media is going all out to render him ‘unelectable’. And the Party putting the membership fee up from £3 to £25 is a nasty joke that reaffirms how out of touch they are with their support base. But it seems many in the Party are falling out irrevocably and don’t want to try and form a unified front, especially if Corbyn is re-elected.

So, maybe that split needs to happen pronto. For those who oppose Corbyn but still advocate neoliberal, capitalist economics maybe they could join the Lib Dems or make a new party with some vague euphemism for a title and continue presenting themselves as the lighter shade of blue option, which Blair began many years ago. I’m not trying to be glib in my analysis of their economics and, boy, do we need a functioning alternative to the Tories, but whilst I think the ‘centre’ ground of politics has just torn itself apart there are plenty of people who still wish to inhabit it (not that neoliberal capitalism can ever really be the ‘centre’ because money will always promote inequality unless suitably contained). Let them have their ‘soft left’ cakes and eat ’em whilst they carry on failing to beat the Tories at their own game. Anyway, Tariq Ali said all this before me in his book The Extreme Centre: A Warning. Meanwhile, the Corbynistas can either keep the Labour Party title or just call themselves Momentum or something. Although I do hope they stop being so violent and hostile toward alternative views because they’ll need to make a lot of new political allies. In fact, the reports of bullying in the Labour Party, stalking, and Corbyn’s refusal to support a secret ballot (so as to protect the identities of those who voted against him) suggest there are still many emotionally immature and unstable people in the Party.

One hundred and thirty-two years ago the Fabian Society was established as a precursor to the Labour Party. At its heart was representing the ‘working man’ and challenging the establishment but this was when there were flourishing working class communities centred around key industries like mining. Those industries no longer exist and work isn’t what it used to be (especially with the rise of automisation), so whilst the ideals of Corbyn’s Labour are still vital (we do need a welfare state and an end to austerity), yesterday’s solutions cannot answer all of today’s problems. We need a lot of big new ideas. But there aren’t any, I hear you cry. Wrong. I know someone’s whose got ’em and her name is Caroline Lucas – y’know, the woman who is always spot on in the things she says but gets basically 0 seconds of media time. Gotta love ’em Greens.

 

The Establishment’s Deckchairs

The Establishment is Owen Jones’ latest book. It is a brilliant critique of the UK’s elite and how they rig politics, economics, business, law and media in their favour. He highlights the hypocrisy of the neoliberals who decry state intervention but then rely on the state for the  implementation of their wishes. His critique is brutally well researched and his findings are damning, yet I do not think his examination of the establishment is sufficiently rigorous. In this brief post I shall add one further criticism to Jones’ multitude.

The Establishment

In essence, The Establishment charts the rise of neoliberalism in the UK. After the second world war and with the rise of the welfare state it was looking as if neoclassical capitalism was here to stay – an active and paternalistic state working with strong unions to foster economic growth. A few lone voices bemoaned these turns of event and think tanks were established to promote neoliberalism – the rolling back of and privatisation of the state with an emphasis on supporting those at the top of the ladder rather than the bottom. Margaret Thatcher and Richard Nixon are familiar figureheads for this movement and between them they ensured neoliberalism became the status quo. The bailing out of the banks after the late noughties recession and the current government’s commitment to austerity all form part of the neoliberal narrative. It explains why inequality is growing, the rich are getting richer and more people are being pushed below the poverty line.

At the end of the book Jones offers some “pretty timid” solutions to the current problem that sees a greedy fraction of the population twist the system to fill their coffers. He calls for the state to once again play a more active role in society with regards wealth distribution, taxation and public service provision. He wants a clamp down on the banking system and tax avoidance. He calls for a “democratic revolution” without offering much of a guide as to how the public could actually play a greater role in a highly corporatised and economically beleaguered country.

A distinct lack of viable solutions aside my main concern with The Establishment is its failure to articulate the deeper political and economic impetus that has guided our country for decades and served the establishment very well. It is called capitalism – “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Capitalism takes capital and adds an -ism to it, in other words, it turns money making into a religion. Capitalism measures everything with money. For something to make sense in a capitalist system it must be price tagged. At a national scale a country’s overall material throughput – namely how much stuff and how many services are bought and sold – is measured in GDP, gross domestic product. Jessie J got it wrong, it turns out it is all about the money, money, money.

With this backdrop in mind it becomes clear that whether or not capitalism is guided by a neoclassical or neoliberal inclination it is still capitalism. Increasing profits and GDP will always be the priority, whatever the cost. We are relentlessly having to churn up finite resources, abuse human labour and innovate more soon-to-be-obsolete products so our economies can ‘grow’. So, whether the state is guided by an establishment willing to make concessions to the working class or by one that is cut throat in its pursuit of the bottom line we are still just rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as we remain committed to a political and economic (il)logic that prioritises profit over people and planet.

The lack of a coherent analysis of capitalism may explain why The Establishment is so heavy on criticism, around 300 pages of it, but so very light on solutions, we only get 20 pages of “pretty timid” suggestions. The irony is that Jones has lain waste to the crooks that rig the system in their favour yet fails to hammer home a criticism of the very system that assures their power – capitalist economics. Until we understand the perils of a commitment to contemporary capitalism we remain seated on the deck of a swiftly sinking ship frantically rearranging the deckchairs. Tbc…