Monday, 1 May 2017

When The Facts Change ... the British Election Plays Out

I am not sure I have been so detached from a General Election in my life. Others seem to feel the same - excepting committed left wing activists who are clearly highly energised, far more than conservatives who seem to be asleep and complacent, at least on social media.

Just under two weeks ago, it seemed simple. The issue was Brexit and that meant a simple decision - to go with a Government that promised to see it through against an Opposition that could not be trusted on the issue, perhaps despite itself. Two events have shifted opinion slightly though not yet decisively.

The first is the sheer energy of the beleagured Labour Party. While everyone else is complacent or whining about things already done, Corbyn's campaign team has come out slugging in all directions on matters that are quite separate from Brexit and which should be matters of public debate regardless of our entrapment in the European political project.

This is still, frankly, mostly talking to the support base, reminding wobblers that the faith is strong but it does seem to have pushed Labour up to 30% and halted the Party's decline even if the total package is not in place and still seems incoherent. Above all, Corbyn has raised issues of austerity, public services, poverty and peace and war that a complacent Conservative Party has thought to bury under the carpet.

The second was the intervention in The Sun of the pseudo-patrician Boris Johnson who managed, in one rather ridiculous attempt at populism, to alienate in a few hundred words many natural Labour voters who were prepared to give the Tories the benefit of the doubt on the basis of May's promise of good governance in a time of crisis.

He reminded us that the Parliamentary Tory Right operated in a sub-Churchillian rhetorical world that talked down to the voter and still behaved in foreign policy matters as if the Crimean problem was no more than a re-run of Palmerston's. May's barely suppressed irritation at the intervention was no comfort because it reminded us that these fools on the Parliamentary Right would have a say on Brexit when the right message to get across was one of national unity in the face of a potential foreign threat - and I don't mean Russia!

In fact, Johnson showed to his Leader a cynical disregard of the national interest in his own interest, not even the Party's. A big majority for May allows her to dispose of him, a rather second rate politician who managed to ride the tide of history last year but who is really surplus to requirements. By making a bid for leadership of the populist Tory Right as last of the Etonians, Johnson was really trying to ensure that he remained a Big Beast in a post-Election reshuffle and was quite prepared to knock off 1-3% of May's national unity vote to do so. I hope she sends him to the back benches for that act of occult disloyalty alone.
But why be so detached? This is certainly the most critical election in a very long time in terms of the national interest. Perhaps because it all appears to be absurd. Perhaps because the combatants seem not to be able to rise to the occasion for all their energy (Labour) or promise of stability (Tory). The Prime Minister mounted a sort of coup against a divided and useless Opposition which has not come to terms with the events of last year but seems incapable of ensuring that the Conservative Party conveys a national interest rather than a party interest argument for office.

The Labour Party itself is just not ready for office. It is deeply unstable and may end up being the lynch pin for a coalition that would include parties I really do not like. These parties will divert the people's resources and the State into issues (green, petty nationalist and liberal) that are irrelevant to our primary concerns which are economic survival and some degree of cultural cohesion. Their presence in Government would be disastrous.

On the other hand, the Tories are about as trustworthy as the Blairites, which is tantamount to saying no more trustworthy than a rattlesnake, on a number of issues. As we have seen with Johnson and his circle of buffoons, they seem to have rapidly degenerated into the worst sort of tub-thumping militaristic foreign policy and to be utterly blind to the necessity for necessary sacrifices to be necessarily made in a fair way.

Labour does not seem to get our serious economic situation (which actually has nothing to do with Brexit and everything to do with the previous Labour Government and the last lack-lustre Coalition Government). Its policies to date are a mish-mash of crowd pleasers without coherence. The Tories certainly do not get that their policies are set to create social problems that will cost more to rectify than the savings they hope to make from austerity.

Both sides are out of touch still with the country and its needs. Corbyn and Starmer have trimmed once too often. May and Hammond have no finger on the national pulse but are hoping merely to ride the general fear of instability in difficult times. The tribal loyalists on all sides may be getting very excited but what we really want is competence and, of course, stability so I am sticking to three principles for the moment:-

1. What we need as a country is not partisan stupidity, whether it comes from excitable activists or Boris Johnson, but strong Government to see us through Brexit and out the other side. Anyone seeking to limit strong Government in the hope of reversing the vote on June 23rd is giving comfort to the enemy in a tough negotiation on which all our futures depend. When Article 50 was invoked, from that day on, the EU became 'the other', our opponent. Not being able to trust a possible progressive coalition to understand this - which is actually one of choosing treachery over patriotism (there is nothing shameful in patriotism in a crisis) - is a serious barrier to voting Labour on June 8th.

2. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Tories really will need to be removed but not by a ramshackle, squabbling bunch of competing and rather dim-witted egoists. The Blairites and Hard Remainers need to be isolated and contained, the Liberals, Greens and Petty Nationalists thrust into the dustbin of history and a serious hard-edged alternative to class-based Toryism needs to develop that can seize power by democratic means in 2022. This can either be a transformed Labour Party or a New Party of the Left (since UKIP is now an obscene and destructive joke) but it has to happen or the Tories will complacently be in power for over a decade, only to be replaced by some depressing abortion of the Centre-Left carrying on the Tories' policies in muted form.

3. Theresa May and David Davis are tolerable as the caretakers in these difficult times but not so second raters like Johnson, Gove, Hammond and Fox. Moreover, even May should be tolerated only because of the need to see through Brexit. She should be challenged on her class-based politics, her Deep State militarism, her insistence on still being a poodle to Washington and the essential unfairness of her Government's approach to what should be fairly shared burdens as we adjust to new conditions. She is no more to be trusted than the Labour Party apparat that would knife Jeremy Corbyn at the drop of a hat.

So what would be the best result, knowing that such a result is not in our power and that each of us is making fine judgements on local constituency politics? In my case, Johnson has obliged me to withdraw, as a matter of honour, my planned loaned vote to our very nice and competent liberal Remainer Tory who will loyally serve his Prime Minister. It does not yet have a home to go to.

Nationally, out of my control, the best result would be a sufficient majority for the Government to be able to stand up to both Tory Remainers and Hard Brexiters alike during the process of negotiation, so long as there are no compromises on national democratic self determination, but also a relative strengthening of the Labour Party against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Petty Nationalists (not necessarily in terms of numbers of seats but in terms of an increase in the share of the vote from the low opinion polling levels of recent weeks).

It would be good to see the Liberals wiped out, the Greens and UKIP positioned as extra-parliamentary forces and nothing else and the Petty Nationalists reduced to minority status in their own territories. It would also be good to see the balance in the PLP shift towards the Left and Corbyn secured as Leader in order to undertake the two to three year programme required to democratise the Labour Party and change its culture, with new candidates systematically in place before 2022.

By all means, given its base, the Labour Party should challenge the Tory Government throughout the Brexit process in the interests of the vulnerable and workers but it should not be so foolish as to seek to overturn the result on June 23rd or give comfort to the enemy during the negotiations. Once Brexit is out of the way, the Labour Party can surely, by then, have earned our trust as a unified national democratic socialist alternative to the decadent posturing of the current Party of the State.