It’s the Conservative Party conference and what should any leader of the opposition be doing? Absolutely destroying it with zinging one liners and put downs then explaining how their progressive and innovative alternative is what this country needs to transcend the woeful contradictions of capitalism, deal with climate change, end inequality and ensure people can get back to the important task of being happy and watching Bake Off. So, what’s Jeremy Corbyn doing? Tweeting about the Labour film festival. Facepalm.
Fortunately, someone whose a fan of Labour lives in the 21st century and understands how social media works and that’s everyone’s favourite cherubic Guardian (or is it guardian?) journalist, Owen Jones. “Labour need clear, crisp, repeated messages on everything from the Government’s retreat on economic policy to Brexit chaos – and fast” he said yesterday, whilst actually at the conference. He was going around with his cheeky-chappy grin and interviewing Tories, helping the rest of us see that these people are human even if many of their policies are inhumane. “The Tories’ harsh Brexit puts your job at risk – only a Labour Brexit will protect your job. Labour’s line should be something like that.” Say it like you see it Jones and thank god someone is. As for Corybyn, “.@LabourFilmFest is coming to the North West for the 1st time. Find out about the great films they’re showing here → http://northwestlabourfilmfest.com.” Ok, so the current Chancellor is basically backtracking on a load of Tory economic policies and resigning this country to another ‘lost decade’ and you have nothing to say about it? The Tories are practically handing you their own heads on silver platters and you’re too busy tweeting about a film festival!? You can tweet about more than one thing!
If, like me, you find yourself frustrated with some of Corbyn’s behaviour but realise he has just been re-elected as head of the opposition then I reckon now is the time to call on him to step up. Yes, he has many great principles and ideals but that’s not enough. They must be used as beacons to guide a very practical and pragmatic politics for right now. The situation is dire and we aren’t going to get any form of socialist utopia anytime soon. Behavioural and value change across a nation will take at least a generation, this is barely the start. So, Jeremy, get tweeting, get zinging and call out the many failures of the Tories. Please make good on your re-election and prove to us you really can be the next Prime Minister because Britain is scared of change and we need to have confidence in the one who professes to be the harbinger of said change. And, Owen, marry me?
“The worst mass shooting in modern American history was also a hate crime against the gay community. It’s not the first time LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people have been the targets of violence.” BBC News.
For more information on the recent hate crime in Orlando that claimed 50 lives please read this article and then search for more. For this blog, however, I want to focus on the guardian journalist Owen Jones’ appearance on Sky News to discuss the atrocity.
It does not take long for an argument to arise between Jones and Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer. Jones works hard to ensure that all present acknowledge that this is a homophobic hate crime and act of terror. He describes it as “one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the western world for generations.” This is a statement of fact yet Longhurst and Hartley-Brewer don’t get it. Longhurst tries to ignore the LGBT angle by saying it was a crime carried out against “human beings” and whilst this is, of course, true, the point is that Jones is trying to focus on the homophobia inherent in the crime. Jones repeats his statement but Longhurst nullifies it again by refusing to recognise the anti-LGBT nature of the crime and talks instead of “the freedom of all people to enjoy themselves.” At which point Jones comes out with the zinger, “You don’t understand this because you’re not gay.” Longhurst disagrees vehemently and Hartley-Brewer tells Jones that he does not have “ownership of horror of this crime because [he’s] gay.” These minutes of ignorance and miscommunication are vital in derailing the rest of the press preview as the three continue to argue before Jones becomes largely silent and the conversation moves away from the LGBT community to gun control and the perpetrator, even after Jones said there has been a distinct lack of press coverage on the homophobic nature of the violence.
I hope you, whatever your sexual orientation, can see the problem here. Jones offers the scenario that this attack might have taken place at a Synagogue and if it had done then it would be clear that anti-Semitism was one of the overriding motives for the attack. If then, a Jewish person was discussing how distraught they felt at the attack it would not be for anyone else to tell them that the attack isn’t about Jewish people, it’s about people. This would totally devalue what the other person is saying and, crucially, what they are feeling – that a community they are part of has suffered a dreadful attack. We are all very different people and members of very different communities and the simple point is that whilst we can speak for ourselves and our own experiences of the world we cannot speak for others. It is not for me as someone who is not Jewish to speak on behalf of Jewish people, nor as someone white to speak on behalf of black people, nor as a man to speak for women. Instead, I can try to understand the different trials facing other groups and offer my support.
That is what I attempt to do with some of my posts and whilst I try hard not to speak on behalf of others I realise I might fail but I am always happy to learn how to do it better. Neither Longhurst nor Hartley-Brewer appear to show much sympathy for the LGBT community, they spend more time talking about the perpetrator and gun control, it is only Jones who talks about it. And even though the others both identify as ‘not-gay’ during the preview neither sympathise with what Jones is saying and instead attack and criticise him. They both had an opportunity as presumably straight people to speak and act in solidarity with the LGBT community and they both missed it. And this is a shame for so many reasons not least because the LGBT community needs a lot of solidarity right now.
So yes, it does make a difference if you’re not gay – it means you might never have a same-sex relationship, it means you might never be discriminated against for your sexual preferences, it means the attack in Orlando was not an attack aimed at a community you are part of. But it doesn’t mean you can’t support us. The full acronym I use is LGBTQIA – Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual. However, I think there needs to be another A, an A for Ally.
Following the election many are saying it is time Labour went back to the drawing board and engaged in some serious soul-searching. Two such pundits include Pat McFadden, shadow Europe minister, and Owen Jones, Guardian columnist. Below I analyse their views and argue that both do not go nearly far enough because they don’t address the underlying issue – an issue much bigger than a Labour party rebrand and petty party politics. In truth, it is an issue as big as capitalism itself.
McFadden was quoted in a Guardian article saying: “…if there was one thing Ed Miliband was clear about, he was turning the page on New Labour even more emphatically than Gordon Brown was, and we see the results even more emphatically last night. We don’t just need a new person at the top of the Labour party, we need a new argument, too. We will always be the people of the lower paid, but we need to be more than that and be the party of the aspirational family that wants to do well. We need to speak about wealth creation and not just wealth distribution.”
In his article Jones recounts the Conservatives’ masterful victory over their left-wing rivals: their successful scapegoating of the Labour Party for the 2008 recession, their forcing of Labour to turn their backs on immigrants and the right-wing media’s stirring of Scottish nationalism to ensure a mass shift to the SNP and their stirring/scaring of English nationalism to ensure more blue votes. The Tories severely weakened their opponent and are enjoying a majority for it. He concludes with his aspirations for a new Labour politics as so: “There will be a big debate now over the future of the Labour party, and what the left does next. This country desperately needs a politics of hope that answers people’s everyday problems on living standards, job security, housing, public services and the future of their children. That is needed more than ever, no matter what happens with the Labour leadership. What is needed is a movement rooted in the lives of working-class people and their communities. The future of millions of people depends on it.”
I do not think either of these views are good enough. McFadden argues that Miliband’s leftwards shift from New Labour policies was a mistake. Now, Margaret Thatcher herself said that her greatest legacy was Tony Blair – he adopted right-wing neoliberal policies that she had initiated. He turned his back on the working classes and encouraged a capitalist rhetoric of ‘get rich and get middle class’. But the constant surge of boom and bust in capitalist economics, increasing levels of inequality and the squeezing of the middle prove that when push comes to shove the middle classes will be ignored by the establishment. We know trickle down economics are a sham as we witness the elite 1% drain wealth from wider society (e.g. in the public bailout of the banks and in the privatisation of the public sector). Yet McFadden still suggests that a traditionally working class party try to out compete a party that represents the wealthy establishment on the grounds of ‘wealth creation’ – good luck to them.
Meanwhile, Jones calls for a politics of hope rooted in working-class communities. Yet his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes demonstrates how severely the working-class has been undermined since the class wars of Thatcher – working class industries obliterated, trade unions weakened and workers’ rights eroded. The working-class reality today is 0 hour contracts, abysmal working conditions (e.g. as in call centres), food banks and increasing poverty. Thatcher said there was no such thing as society and it seems her prophecy has proved self-fulfilling. So, whilst Jones’ critique is insightful his proposal is lacking. We need much more than a vague politics of hope: we need a pragmatic plan of action informed by an inspirational vision of what our society could be. We need a plan and vision that transcends petty party politics and, above all, transcends capitalism.
The recession of 2008 was not the fault of Labour it was the inevitable result of a deregulated and globalised banking sector that was ‘too big to fail’ and working under the ‘maximise profit’ mantra of capitalism. This trend of deregulation dates back to Thatcher and was not stalled by Blair, Brown, or Cameron. The rise (and rise) of the banking sector was a cross party achievement. Of course, the 2008 recession was just one of many – recessions are endemic to capitalist economics as bubbles are continually over-speculated upon and then burst. So Gordon Brown promising a departure from boom and bust economics during New Labour’s years, the Tories blaming Labour for the 2008 recession and George Osborne taking credit for the apparent economic recovery, are all just examples of a severely limited understanding of economics.
Neither McFadden nor Jones attempt to analyse the system of capitalism itself ensuring their proposals are either ill-informed or too flimsy. Booms and busts occur in capitalist economies because they have to – we are locked into a system that demands continual growth so we innovate new products and industries to ensure more money can circulate, and as the innovations increase so people speculate on them to make a profit. When one well of profit dries up the infrastructure built around it collapses and the speculators start mining elsewhere. Profit maximisation is even inscribed in law as companies are obligated to maximise shareholder return on investment. We are literally locked into a system that demands us to make money before anything else. Unfortunately, Jessie J got it very wrong, it is about the money.
Until we can effectively challenge the all-pervasive power of capital we will never be able to articulate a sustainable and humane alternative to the status quo. Labour will constantly find itself losing as it tries to play the Tory game and the Tories will easily be able to scaremonger and scapegoat to ensure the establishment stays put. But the Tories and Labour are engaged in the neoliberal game, a game of wealth accumulation, greed and class warfare. Fortunately, there are other much bigger games to play. A politics of more than just hope is possible. Indeed, a politics of pragmatism twinned with idealism founded on a sustainable and stable economic basis is already in the making. Our task must be to understand how it works, to champion it where it is working and, above all, to make it. We have at least to be able to imagine the blueprint so we can start building. All this in another blog post soon, in the meantime here’s a bit of Jessie J…
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.
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…