Saturday, 23 September 2017

Theresa May's Transitional Demand





















After a terrible week for the Prime Minister, her jaunt to Florence to make the much-trailed Brexit speech everyone's been waiting fir has shored her creaking premiership up a little. This is despite Boris Johnson's 4,000 word declaration of intent and rumour he was to resign the foreign secretaryship if May committed to a transitional deal post Brexit. Well, she is committed to this approach and Johnson remains impotent on the sidelines, muttering and no doubt plotting his next hapless move.

What of the content of May's speech? The Graun have dubbed it a rare genuflection to the real world, of political realities asserting themselves over the idiotic rhetoric May has indulged since making Brexit hers. And it's hard to disagree both from the standpoint of the perceived requirements of British business and the way the Parliamentary arithmetic stacks up for a soft Brexit.

First off, pledging to carry on trading on current terms the day after Brexit officially happens will ease the jitters seizing boardrooms up and down the country. There is going to be no cliff edge. Also, the stumping up of cash will assuage EU bean counters a mite concerned about the looming black hole in the budgets, and the setting of a figure at least allows the negotiations to have some focus, with the EU perhaps being prepared to offer more concessions in return for greater future contributions. The politics of that for May are iffy and could give UKIP the populist fix it desperately craves, but seeing as she'll be out the door after Brexit (delusions not withstanding) it's something that shouldn't worry her too much. She also said that neither the Canada nor the Norway model for future relations with the EU are suitable for Britain. Again, this is a rare acknowledgement of political realities - too loose an arrangement with the gargantuan and strengthening trading bloc bordering Northern Ireland and residing 21 miles off the south coast is economically stupid, but too close and the Tories start paying a heavy political price, especially when it dawns that it no longer has a say over the single market it participates in and has to expend sums lobbying.

On EU residents, she has now pledged to protect their status in the law. But the question stubbornly hovers over what this is going to be. Will all be offered dual citizenship as a matter of course? Are they going to have to apply for leave to remain, which was suggested in an earlier speech? What about rights of travel and passports? Nevertheless it is welcome that present comings and goings are set to be unaffected after Brexit under the terms of the transitional period May has proposed. Hopefully free movement will be preserved afterwards as well.

While May's speech has had its moment in the wringer, it is probably the smartest she has so far given. Though, admittedly, the bar is pretty low. And as the Jupiterian God-king has noted, the government annoyingly refuses to offer clarity on persistent key issues - crucially the thorny issue of the Irish border. Yet from the standpoint of politics, by nicking Labour's position on the exit transition she has parcelled off the Brexit headbangers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and the treacherous, opportunistic Johnson from the more pragmatic Brexiteers in the Tories. She will also ensure the feeble rump of Cameroons are with her and reasonably expect the bulk of the Labour Party, the LibDems, DUP and perhaps, at the outside edge, the SNP to back the principle. Given the choice between business-as-usual and Brexitgeddon, only knaves and fools would jump for the latter.

The smart politics, of course, are around the transition deal. May's gambit could bind the unrepentant remainers to her. While she has offered a two-year period this will be subject to some flexibility, depending on the state of the economy, the progress of trade negotiations to replace the EU trade deals the UK is going to cease being party to, and, most importantly, the politics. Periodically a poll comes out suggesting opinion is tilting back to remain. Come 2021 the appetite might have shifted enough for another referendum and for Britain to head back into the EU. Assuming it would want back this petulant, entitled, and troublesome whinger of a member. It's a long shot, but any straw in the wind will do, and it could be enough for Theresa May to find herself in the company of some very unlikely allies.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Eternal Corbynism



















Long to reign over us? The decision of Labour's National Executive Committee yesterday to lower the Labour leadership ballot threshold to 10% and set up a review into party democracy headed by Katy Clark is a welcome advance for Corbynism. Not only does Corbynism now stand a better chance of continuing after Jeremy, the extra seat for an affiliated trade union (USDAW) and three more for the members' section of the NEC opens the party to more pressure from and accountability to the members. While I'd like to have seen more it's a good start (who knows, conference might decide it should go further) but it shows the distance travelled in two years. Not only was the leadership question definitely settled by the general election, but the deal done on lowering the threshold and the concession of the review shows the Corbyn-sceptic and hostile forces are firmly on the retreat.

For our friends in Progress it's like the sky's come falling in (as we know, that's a real possibility as far as they're concerned). Director Richard Angell said "we are now in a permanent campaign to undermine the role of MPs, marginalise their voice and get them to acquiesce." Likewise on Newsnight, Matt Pound for Labour First bemoaned the diminution of influence for the Parliamentary Labour Party and raised the prospect of nine or more MPs standing for election in future contests.

I disagree with these arguments, but I do understand them. The sacrosanct status and power of the party's MPs is embedded in Labourism's DNA. They're the ones who work full-time in politics, whose minds range over legislation, hold the government to account, deal with constituents, formulate policies and provide leadership to the anonymous mass of subs payers in the party - as well as faces to vote for. This is a privileged position for all kinds of reasons, not least because being a Labour MP puts one close to decision making. As we've seen before, the PLP's strength resides in its relationship to public opinion. MPs feel the pressure of the polls bearing down on them because a) constituents can vote them out, and b) Westminster is bounded on all sides by a cacophony of media chatter, which is taken as synonymous with public opinion. They have a unique position in British politics shared by few and this can lead to an entitled view, that their opinions and strategies should carry greater weight than ordinary members, regardless of their commitment and political experience.

Privilege can be blinding, and this is the case here. They deal with politics, engage with constituents, get their heads wrapped around arcane Commons procedure but, ultimately, Labour MPs are largely shielded from the consequences of the legislation they pass. When a cut to social security is made, they don't feel the cut. If schools and NHS budgets are frozen, or market principles extended in public services, or the thousand and one other foolish things Labour did when it was last in power, this doesn't make an immediate difference to their lives in the way it does for people who work in or depend on these services. Yet time and again Labour MPs have voted for legislation that makes life tough because it's "what the electorate wanted". Instead of leading opinion, it's easier to capitulate to it. Hence public opinion as constructed by the media is pernicious - often framed in right wing terms, it nevertheless gains currency in MPs' everyday life because it can easily be related to the racist rant from last week's postbag, the blitz of organised kippery emails, or the constituent moaning about their dole wallah neighbours during Saturday's door knocking.

Members provide ballast to these Westminster flights. While it is true they can be odd and out of touch (Stoke Central backed David Miliband in 2010), this is much more likely when the party is adrift from the forces it is supposed to represent. This was the case when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ran the joint, and to a slightly lesser extent under Ed Miliband. Then the party was largely in the grip of unrepresentative and unaccountable cliques, Progress and Labour First among them. The Corbyn surge has changed all this. While the Labour right were in long-term decline anyway, a party of almost 600,000 members cannot be anything but representative of a vast actually-existing constituency. The wisdom of the crowd decreed that Jeremy Corbyn was the best man for the job, and a significant (and growing) proportion of the electorate agrees. It turned out, against the grain of Labourism, that the lowly members were right and the exalted Parliamentarians were wrong. And it's not difficult to see why. Members are normal people dealing with the normal pressures of life. They live with the consequences of boss friendly austerity policies MPs only saw second hand. The initial Corbyn surge may have been an inchoate mass but it is better attuned to what is going on in the real world. Furthermore, as this membership is networking and connecting, it is becoming increasingly clued up and aware not just as Labour members but as part of a wider class with a shared outlook and shared interests. Its collective intelligence and experience reaches out in all directions and is condensing a more rounded, accurate picture of politics than that available to our MPs.

That doesn't mean we should be indifferent to our honourable members, but their exalted position is unsustainable. As conservatives bewildered by the world, Progress and Labour First are clinging to Labourism past because even now, after politics has been rewritten and rewired and matters are assuming a polarising aspect, they perform a studied refusal to come to terms with the new and pine for the return of the old. It's their loss, because it makes the project of remaking the Labour Party easier. In short, Labour has to embrace the members, the class that have turned it inside out and upside down if it ever wants to continue existing, let alone winning an election. The NEC decision is definitely a step in the necessary direction.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Can Vince Cable Become Prime Minister?






















Not a chance.

With Liberal Democrats rolling into Bournemouth for their annual gathering, Uncle Vince had to grab the headlines. As we live in an age of outrageous claims and lies I suppose they needed something - their electoral endeavours and polling aren't redolent of that magic term, 'LibDem revival'. With 12 MPs and their rapid advances on the local council by-election scene a distant memory, when pressed on his ludicrous ambition all Vince can offer is the observation that politics is in flux and therefore anything can happen. Le sigh.

His favourite soundbite at the moment is how the Tories are engulfed by civil war and that Labour is in the midst of now simmering, now suppressed internal strife. Yes, just as a broken clock is right twice a day so a Liberal Democrat leader occasionally tells the truth. However, understanding why this is the case explains why Vince's hopes are among the most forlorn ever harboured by a leading politician.

The Tories are having a hard time ostensibly because of that general election, but their result only brought long-term problems to a head. For the last five years this blog has banged on about the declining fortunes of the Conservative Party. This is expressed in an overall tendency for their membership to shrink and their vote consolidating around declining demographics. Theresa May's achievement, and in normal times she would have been lauded, was to firm up that support. UKIP were destroyed, inroads made in "old" working class, Labour-loyal areas, and mobilising unionist voters gave the SNP a bloody nose. These constituencies, however, are not getting any larger and hitherto the Tories have relied on their greater propensity to turn out. Tory divisions, which have always mapped on to different configurations of business interests and their allies in the classes beneath them, are exacerbated by a sense of creeping doom, of having zero handle on what's coming next. As declinism set in its leading politicians have grown ever more preoccupied with short-term party interests, of any old wheeze and gimmick to turn around its fortunes. It's why we are where we are.

As the pace of political change has quickened, we know we're normal times. A combination of fear of the Tories and the programme Jeremy Corbyn's Labour offered unexpectedly powered it to the party's highest vote for 20 years. It rode the wave of a new, reconfigured class politics and cemented an alliance between increasingly dominant immaterial labourers. Labour's difficulties arise from being the de facto party of the new working class, of responding to them, mobilising them, and encouraging them to move into politics in large numbers. Labour is ascending because the forces powering the party are on the rise. And likewise, the conflict in the party is a direct consequence of the new colliding with the bureaucracy, habits, and politics of the old.

This is the story of British politics. After years of fraying loyalties and mass abstention, the direction of travel is in the opposite direction. It also looks like this situation is going to persist, and not just because fear of the other has stiffened support for the two main parties. Not only do they map on to two class coalitions with opposed existences, but seven years of Tory austerity - aided at every turn by Uncle Vince - have sharpened the contradictions. May's government doesn't offer anything apart from more of the same, Britain's political economy is going to stay largely the same, and so politics looks as though it's going to retain its polarising aspect.

What room for the Liberal Democrats? Well, there isn't much of one. They can carry on eking out an existence on the margins, but the famous liberal allergy to anything resembling a structural analysis of how societies work not only makes the LibDem leader sound deluded, but it marks him and his party out as singularly and willfully stupid.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

How Not to Write about Corbynism



















Nick Cohen's latest article for The Observer is idiotic. In fact, it is triply so.

There are the demonstrable untruths, the nonsense about Stalinism and personality cults, that Corbynism is not just about the "left behind" middle class but is now, apparently, the expression of "a significant slice of the British bourgeoisie". Ridiculous.

Then there is the undermining of his own argument. On the left, even among the husks for whom the spark of social conscience was extinguished long ago, there is a long tradition of using 'the middle class' as an insult. By labelling something middle class, you are inviting the reader to dismiss whatever is under discussion. This classic ploy is initially so fielded by Cohen to question the legitimacy of Corbynism. Then he does a 180 and starts exploring the grievances and concerns powering the movement. He even comes close to acknowledging that Corbynism may have a point. But then he remembers he's supposed to be attacking and witters "less understandable or forgivable is the nature of today’s middle-class backlash against a status quo that is rigged against them." Eh? Is voting against an anti-austerity party somehow an "unforgivable" activity?

Last of all is the bewilderment that has marked his "journalism" since Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted from backbench obscurity to the top of the Labour Party. If you want to understand how the well remunerated professional and the precarious care worker, along with a large majority of the under-40s populate the activist and voter vase of Corbynism you've got to get a handle on the changes to Britain's political economy, on how it is shifting from material to immaterial production. I can understand why some people don't want to understand, because it calls into question everything they know about politics as well as their assumptions about the social world (and, indeed, their position as privileged interpreters of it). But as I'm fond of saying, understanding and explaining isn't the same as excusing. Studiously avoiding thinking about change, the likes of Cohen and his mates in the dead centre embrace their bewilderment and cling to the illusions hanging over from the recent past. That's why we see a cavalier disregard for the facts, zombie arguments from the last couple of years and, of course ritual abuse.

When your name in journalism is made and, presumably, have dinner partied with the great and the good of Fleet Street, we see "stars" getting paid handsomely for turning out of the most egregious rubbish. Cohen is by no means the worst offender, though he's increasingly in competition with Dan Hodges for being the wrongest about everything. Yet where is the quality control? Where are the editors? Don't they care about the reputation of their own rags any more? Whatever the case, Cohen has given us yet another example of how not to write about Corbynism. Though, to be truthful, I hope he and his ilk keep on keeping on. Every sentence and paragraph advertises their estrangement from the world, which is guaranteed to ensure those growing numbers trying to make sense of it are going to give them a pass.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Boris Johnson and Brexit




















Timing is always an issue in politics. Boris Johnson's periodic reminder that he's tussling for the Tory crown raised an eyebrow or two, coming as it did on the evening of a terror attack on the tube. Still, such trifles are nothing when we're dealing with a historic personality of world importance. The latest phase in the BoJo vanity project is a return to the scene of his vainglorious disaster - Brexit - to double down on the pledge repeated ad nauseum throughout the campaign, that the money Britain saves from its European Union membership dues are going to be spent on the NHS.

The Telegraph's precis gives us a tour of his magisterial intervention. By magisterial, I do of course mean vapid and empty. As per the Johnson way it's all piss and wind with few insubstantial points and a heavy dollop of dishonesty, as Jon Worth's fisking establishes. Still, at least there is some consistency here. His pro-Brexit affiliations were entirely mercenary and obviously self-serving, and last night's Brexit intervention carries on in the same vein.

For example, a lot of words are expended slapping down hard remainers (which, to be honest, are irritating, if well-meaning), massaging the brittle egos and fissiparous arguments of bottler Boris's batshit Brexit base and, well, avoiding the politics. The dishonesty piles in with the attacks on the non-existent GDP drag of common regulations. He likewise dismisses talk of a transition period that eases, rather than throws Britain out of the single market and the customs union. The deceit barrels on as he pretends trade deals can be negotiated and be immediately ready to forestall the economic shock a sharp divorce from the EU would entail. He also reckons the EU would be "protectionist" when it comes to the introduction of new technologies such as driverless vehicles while Britain would have a regulatory environment open to experimentation and implementation, entirely forgetting the German car industry is vying for the title of world leader in the field. The whole thing drips with complacency, as well as the idiocy of the EU needing Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

When it comes to the thin film of substance, Johnson lounges in the warm bath of deregulation - the go to for lazy and clueless Tory politicians. And the restating of the £350m/week. And that is it. No attempt to locate the source of a funding boost, but certainly strong on implication that the EU is preventing the government from prioritising the health service. Johnson's essay was a proper exercise of writing 4,000 words when a paragraph would have done, a skein of delusion and lies wrapped around empty ambition. Nevertheless, some people are easily impressed; The Telegraph refers to Johnson's screed as a post-Brexit "grand vision".

With little to show on Brexit, why has Johnson advertised his vacuity? As noted at the beginning, his essay is less a leadership pitch and more a reminder to the party and the country that he's still a power in Westminsterland. With Theresa May saying she's in it for the long haul, this is Johnson jogging her memory that she remains on borrowed time. Furthermore, for such a towering ego it must have hurt to see the media treat Jacob Rees-Mogg as their favourite, both as a leader-in-waiting and, well, the new Boris Johnson. Ouch.

The £350m wheeze sees Johnson relaunch himself by associating with the most memorable and popular promise of the Leave campaign. In his mind's eye, he's cottoned on to making him synonymous with the pledge can surely mean nothing but electoral good for his prospects. Yet he's forgotten the taint hanging about his person. The British public are used to seeing the bumbling and the fooling and, well, those voters ain't what they used to be. Johnson as Have I Got News For You-sponsored rock star is an awkward memory, and for millions of younger people he's as repellent and awful as the rest of them. While polar opposites vis a vis May in people skills and pretending to humanity, there are further millions utterly alienated by him because of his Brexit opportunism. Factor in all the other problems the Tories enjoy and he's yesterday's man for yesterday's party. That certainly makes for a nice fit, especially as, assuming trends continue, his party walks out the exit after the next election.

Boris Johnson is haunted by the phantom of missed opportunity. Stabbed in the back by Gove and blocked from what he regards as his destiny by a Prime Minister too deluded to quit, he can sense his moment passing. Too cautious by far to launch a coup, it's only a matter of time before despair and despondency come knocking.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Happy Birthday Marx's Capital

























Today marks the 150th anniversary of Marx's Capital, for my money the most significant and monumental work of social science ever published. Something would be amiss if a few words couldn't be summoned up to mark this occasion.

While not one of Marx's better read works, it's level pegging with the Communist Manifesto for the mantle of most influential. Indeed, such is the power of the analysis explored in this breeze block of a book that it jumped its pages and, over the last century-and-a-half, set up residence in the heads of hundreds of millions of people. It would be fair to say Capital is the most influential book that hasn't been read.

Marx's project was simple in inspiration and exhaustive in its scope: to unmask the dynamics and tendencies of capitalism (which, curiously, is not a term he himself used) and in the process critique and damn the economics of apologia used to justify, and thereby mystify, the system. Capital is truly an execution of Marx's dictum of "the ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be." Marx dissected and deconstructed the arguments of his contemporaries and forebears, chiefly Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and with wit, sarcasm, and the marshalling of voluminous data destroyed their muddled, convoluted schemes. Marx's great achievement is that Capital peeled back the liberal and conservative bullshit and showed the system for what it was: a turbo-charged, expansive (and expanding) dynamo that owes its revolutionising qualities to the class antagonism at its heart. He showed definitively that profit was not rooted in buying cheap and selling dear as per the fairy tales of mainstream economics, but was in fact the consequence of the exploitation of one class by another.

Volume One was to be the first in a series of volumes. It was concerned with the process of production of capital, the second its circulation, the third on profit and forms of surplus value (or "the process of capitalist production as a whole"), and the never finished volumes four, five and six were to deal with wage labour, the state, and the world market. Arguably the work of Marxists since has been the filling out of the planned-for volumes. Certainly the work of Toni Negri, who's featured here quite a bit of late, straddles these phantom works and particularly the unwritten book on wage labour.

Unfortunately, the status of Capital in economics and the other social sciences demonstrates the efficacy of the materialist assumptions underpinning the methodology of Marx's work. Despite eviscerating capitalism, revealing its class bound character and its inexorable tendency to crisis, economics particularly and social science generally carry on as if the book never existed. The half-truths, errors, and ideological fallacies Marx critiqued and lampooned from his desk in the British Library continue to crop up in the 21st century iteration of the dismal science. Capitalism is exploitative and, more to the point, mortal, but these findings are overridden and overwritten by the class truths that dominate all capitalist societies. Mainstream economics is always partial and frequently nonsensical because it is bound to the class power of the owners of capital. Yet just as capital without a working class is impossible, no matter how Capital is critiqued and dismissed, the class truths it speaks, of a propertyless class who have to rent out their labour power in order to live, are never going away either.

Capital today remains relevant because the social and economic system it describes and critiques is still with us. Should capitalism last another 500 years the analysis Marx made will retain its explanatory force. The three published volumes are to social science what Darwin's The Origin of the Species is to natural sciences, a tremendous achievement that gives us the tools to diagnose the condition of the present and think about what we need to do about it. This book may be 150 years old, but the theory and polemic it contains are still among the most modern there is.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

George Osborne's Feeble Revenge




















Hell hath no fury for a Tory scorned. At least George Osborne is acting as if that is the case, given his reported remarks. Yes, saying you won't rest until bits of Theresa May are quivering in multiple bags shut away in the freezer is such a hoot that my sides have hardly stopped aching since lunch time. As chancellor Osborne would have been all over them had something similarly crass been uttered by a leading Labour politician. Still, the only consistency the right has is the pursuit of power and the protection of privilege. Principles are momentary conveniences for momentary circumstances, nothing more.

What then is Osborne playing at? In the TL;DR pen portrait in Esquire, it observes how the passage for an Osborne comeback appears closed. With but a gaggle of Cameroons to rely on, his support base is, ooooh, approximately the same size as May's band of true believers. There's also the small matter of him being widely despised in the parliamentary party, as well as the yellowing (greying?) grassroots. Like Dave he was tolerated for as long as they comprised a winning team. Their Notting Hill liberalism rankled, and their half-arsed approach to winging everything - the Scottish referendum, gambling Britain's EU membership (and losing) - annoyed and antagonised plenty of old school Tories. History will record the removal of Osborne from Number 11 and dumping him on the backbenches as among the meagre few actions of May's premiership to merit universal approval.

Osborne's not coming back, at least via the Tory party. He was supposedly interested in the centre party wheeze, but as Sam Coates notes for Esquire "George Osborne likes power. And power is executed in a number of forms." His editorship of the Evening Standard is right up his street: a circulation of a million copies in the seat of government and a boss who's a billionaire mate, he's happy. At the Standard's helm Osborne can imagine himself as a real power in the land. As editorial after editorial marks his position against Corbynism (obvs) and unreconstructed rightwingery, the opportunity to define centre politics anew as, well, the politics of George Osborne is there for the taking. This is the centre not as a reheated third way, but warmed over class war Toryism plus EU membership. Inspiring stuff.

As the most petty-minded of Tories to have held high office for some years, Osborne obviously enjoys needling the hapless May. But what must annoy is despite her staggering from disaster to disaster, pausing to take in a few crises along the way, is how she ignores him. Following Tory leaders past, the only papers that matter are the Murdoch titles, The Telegraphy and the Daily Mail. They are taken to express the authentic voice of Tory Britain, and so must be pandered to, fed exclusives and receive carefully calibrated leaks. The Standard however is amorphous. As a free sheet it enjoys a huge circulation, but to determine its influence is another matter. Yes, it is a more interesting paper thanks to Osborne's vendetta - at least for sad political people who follow such things - but its celebrity pages have more of a sway over its readers than the cranky, obsessed editorials. To get noticed and to force his antagonist to respond, Osborne has no recourse other than to play with the misogynistic imagery of serial murderers. For as long as May stays in Number 10 and pays Osborne no mind, the more outrageous and unhinged his behaviour as a "journalist" is set to become. Embarrassing for the Tories, ultimately ruinous for Osborne, it's pop corn fodder for the rest of us.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

No More Heroes





















As promised, an unprincipled shower gave the government succour last night by sitting on their hands. Though the withdrawal bill handed unaccountable and arbitrary powers to ministers (pending amendments), not even newly-anointed liberal hero Ken Clarke counted among those defending Parliament's limited powers. However, one honourable member, a man synonymous with political principle was found traipsing through the aye lobby with Theresa May and her "team". You know I'm talking about Dennis Skinner.

To be honest, I was not in the least bit surprised. Though it might have come as a shock for some Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Dennis makes clear via Skwawkbox that he's always been anti-EU and is being entirely consistent with his voting record. Fair enough, he has principles. He also voted for Labour's amendments to the bill and had they passed, we wouldn't be having a ding dong on this matter. But they didn't pass and we are having this conversation.

Let us remind ourselves what the withdrawal bill was about. The question of whether Britain is leaving the European Union or not is, for the time being, settled. If the bill hadn't passed Brexit wasn't going away. Article 50's tock follows every tick and come March 2019 we'll either be out or temporarily suspended in a transitional arrangement. The main political question now is the manner of that exit and Britain's future relationship with the EU. Yet last night's vote wasn't even about that. It referred exclusively and solely to the government's relationship to Parliamentary accountability. Because of May's failed election and problems getting legislation through the House for the foreseeable future, empowering ministers avoids the possibility of defeat and destabilising the government further.

Now, cast your mind back for a moment. When Harriet Harman instructed Labour MPs to abstain on the government's attack on working tax credits "in solidarity" with Labour voters wanting to see the thumbscrews tighten, it still meant refusing to take a stand on an attack on our people. Dennis protested that "I’m not voting for any power-grab", but that doesn't alter the fact that he did. He broke the Labour whip and voted to hand more power to Tory ministers.

Of course, Skwawkbox have rallied the defence, singling out the abstainers for criticism (at least they didn't vote for it, guys) and crediting the Tories with a sub-conspiratorial Machiavellianism we have never seen these clowns evidence before. Apparently, they set a trap devised to get us fighting among ourselves. Please. There are plenty of Tories who find the bill objectionable but voted for it because losing could have brought the government down. Yet that unity wasn't foregone. Usually, if you want use Parliament to spring traps you never risk opening divisions on your own side. Second, Skwawkbox's alleged source is saying the party's leadership possess the collective wit of two short planks for not spotting it, that if Dennis was right, so was Kate Hoey and Frank Field. The onus wasn't on the majority of the PLP to follow their lead, but on them to accept party discipline and protect the democratic interests of working class people.

Yes, Dennis has fought for our working people all his political life. But not on this occasion. He voted with the enemies of our party to imperil the basic democratic functions of Parliament. He acted against the interests of our class, and his silence over the central issue of the bill while waxing about the ephemera of democratic wills and Brexit voters suggests he knows it too. A sorry blemish on an otherwise upstanding record.

All this serves to remind us that socialism is not a spectator sport or a grittier version of X-Factor. It is the collective struggle for the interests of our people to make a society fit for human beings. When one of our representatives works against those interests, our duty is to explain, criticise and hold them to account, regardless of who they are. It is not for us to make excuses and sweep the matter under the carpet. Our movement doesn't need heroes, it needs politicians who work for it and express those interests. And on this occasion, Dennis Skinner has fallen well short.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Labour's Bankrupt Brexit Rebels


















From time to time politics presents us with an acid test. Examples might be opposing wars based on dodgy dossiers, not taking more money off poor people, refusing to cheerlead the scapegoating of powerless populations, standing up against the marketisation of the NHS. You know the sort, a vitally important issue that comes down to very clear right and wrong sides. The Withdrawal Bill now going through the Commons are one of those issues. Not because it facilitates or stymies Brexit, but because it's an egregious power grab. It is a self-evident attempt by an authoritarian Prime Minister without authority to rule by fiat, to bypass Parliament and empower the government without check or scrutiny. We all know British democracy is flawed and frequently flaky, but this bill - if passed - makes matters substantially worse.

What a disgrace then to see the grotesque chaos of Labour MPs - Labour MPs - scuttling around the TV studios handing out feeble excuses for their refusal to oppose the government. Failing to defend the most basic democratic functions of Parliament finds them on the wrong side. And when you look at the list of names who plan on either abstaining or voting with the government a sorrier collection of entitled has beens is seldom seen. Caroline Flint is the most prominent because, after all, advertising one's moral and political bankruptcy should become a chance for publicity at all times. But you also have John Spellar, Frank Field, Graham Stringer, and Kate Hoey, names that are never going to be synonymous with 'principled' and names, shock horror, that have found themselves consistently on the wrong side.

For Caroline it's, you guessed it, all about the constituents. They voted to Leave and therefore she feels Labour should be looking to improve May's appeal bill instead of opposing it. Let's treat this argument with the due seriousness it deserves and classify it as a pile of disingenuous bobbins. Despite getting a deserved mugging by the electorate in June, May is hell bent on inflicting untold damage to the British economy and the livelihoods of its citizens. This, she reasons, will keep her career afloat and retain those voters who've abandoned UKIP to the yawning cynicism of racists and professional Islamophobes. As David Allen Green points out, contrary to the drivel of Caroline and co. the bill isn't really about Brexit. It makes no difference to seeing through of Article 50. It's a matter of how Brexit proceeds.

They know this, so why are they prepared to throw Parliamentary democracy under a bus? Throughout her career, Caroline has shown a mercenary streak. Any progressive or Labourish-sounding policies she's championed are window dressing to a rotten core of anti-working class politics. She is entirely comfortable screwing poor single mums, migrant workers, and did float the idea of throwing unemployed council tenants out of their homes. In short, an appalling human being not fit to sit in Parliament for the Tories let alone the Labour Party. Frank Field is little better with his one man crusade to abolish social security as we know it. Kate Hoey and John Spellar go without saying. What unites them all are not the "wrong ideas" that would melt in the light of reason, they're motivated by a desire to cling onto their seats. As stupid empiricists who fell for the fool argument that because Labour constituencies disproportionately voted for Brexit we were looking at a wipe out during the general election, it appears the actual result passed them by. They're doubling down on the right wing sub-UKIP idiocies because it's easier, and less risky, to pander and stir up backward politics. Their dismal opportunism is as simple and as venal as that.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tony Blair's Immigration Nonsense




















Almost seems I write more about Tony Blair than any other public figure these days. If only he'd make like a whack-a-mole and stay down after each polemical hammering. Anyway, his Blairness was all over the news today and found himself sharing time on Andrew Marr because he has Opinions, this time about immigration.

According to Blair, there is no need for Britain to leave the European Union. If we can come to an arrangement with the EU27 about the introduction of limits on movement across borders then the conversation about Brexit would change. Folks who voted to leave because they wanted more control on immigration, and there were a lot of them, might think again if such a deal could be hammered out. Britain would stay in the EU, the economy won't fall off a cliff and all those businesses who invest here can still look forward to unfettered access to the single market.

You can see why, for some, Tony Blair is a political genius. If only someone else had hatched such a scheme? Well, they did. Hard to believe, but it was only just over 18 months ago that Dave returned from Brussels having set out to "renegotiate" Britain's EU membership. What he came back with was the thinnest gruel. He knew getting exemptions from EU migration was never on the cards and, crucially, so did the voters who care about such things. Hence why Dave's stunt was a waste of time. It could never placate the xenophobic beast he and his mates had prodded time after time since taking over the Tory helm.

Back to the present, in a report published by the modestly-titled Tony Blair Institute, they argue for the introduction of higher tuition fees for EU migrants as well as proof new arrivals have a job waiting for them. There would also be conditions attached to social security claims. In short, the usual nonsense intent on stirring up antipathy against people from overseas who choose to work and live here. And again, entirely wishful thinking. Time after time Angela Merkel has reconfirmed the EU's commitment to its four freedoms, and that of movement is one of them. Blair might try the lawyer's trick of shilly-shallying - he claims these restrictions preserve free movement(!) - but it cannot fly as doing so imperils the EU's continued existence. If Britain got an immigration opt out, who next? The pantomime Voltaire resident in the Élysée Palace? The Belgians? The Dutch? The Danes?

Blair may be blinkered and out of sorts with the age we're living through, but he is not a stupid man. He does possess enough wit that surely this question occurred when he touched base with his Institute satraps to produce his immigration report. Yet he doesn't address it. Not in the coverage, not in his interview with Marr. It's as if the media are supposed to tiptoe around the gaping void in his argument in order to indulge him. And they do.

Still, even I find it difficult to disagree with his view that "Brexit is a distraction, not a solution, to the problems this country faces." Blair's intervention doesn't help, however. Nor does it assist Labour in trying to salvage something from the mess. Alas, in the same interview he declared a "renewed sense of mission", so this morning won't be the last time our Tony posts us a card from cloud cuckoo land. I regret to inform you there are more to come.