SINCE FRIDAY MORNING

June 28, 2016 § 4 Comments

On Friday morning I felt sick at heart with the Brexit result and I’ve had numerous conversations with others similarly stricken, most of them Corbyn supporters until now. Even before the first shadow cabinet resignations some blamed him, citing his half-hearted campaigning and marginal presence in the media. I countered that much of what he did was denied media coverage because of Tory splits and pro-Brexit bias, as well as pervasive press hostility to Corbyn himself. I observed that Alan Johnson, who was meant to be running Labour Remain, didn’t exactly distinguish himself, and no one seemed to be attacking him. Of course there was a coup in waiting.
Now that Corbyn has lost a no-confidence vote by the Parliamentary Labour Party (only 40 MPs on his side, 172 against) what future does he have as leader? A leadership contest might still place him on top with support, albeit diminished, from the membership. Would that be viable?
None of the candidates being mooted to replace him stands for what Corbyn stands for: a refusal of neoliberal economics, an anti-austerity agenda that prioritises investment in education, training and apprenticeships, workers’ rights and a decent living wage, protection of the NHS, of everything that will be further undermined by a Tory government to the right of Cameron’s regime.
Would a more enthusiastic Corbyn have saved us from the Brexit vote? I don’t think so. Honesty required an admission that the EU needed reform. Brexiteers were offering a loud cut-and-dried choice: leave and everything will change for the better. They fostered diehard notions of British superiority among ready-made malcontents, in the North-East of England, in the Welsh valleys and in East Anglia. These were former Labour heartlands now economically ruined by the legacy of Thatcher and Blair, and, if not already lost to Labour, have been inclined by despair to listen to the nationalistic urgings of UKIP.
We have a lot to fear, not just from the Tories, not just from Brexit’s economic consequences, but from the growth of UKIP-fuelled hatreds scapegoating immigrants and others, especially as Brexit’s failures to deliver become apparent. Last night I watched a Channel 4 News interview with Farage, on his chosen territory, the battlefield of the Somme, which he claims to visit at least once a year. Already he was articulating his sense that his principles are being betrayed by compromise. Despite the sombre, quiet tones appropriate to the location, this struck me as a warning statement. How is a Labour Party split in two going to fight off the threats it implies? Since Friday morning we’ve already witnessed revolting eruptions of racism that seem to be licensed by Brexit’s victory.
We face multiple crises, for which Corbyn’s resignation would not provide any answer. If there were another candidate who stood for what he represents and could prove to be a better orator, a more forceful questioner at PMQ’s, a skilful operator in a Parliamentary Labour Party where his principles remain largely unshared, then I might well opt for her or him. But there isn’t.
Should Corbyn hold on and face a general election as part of a coalition along the lines already suggested by Paul Mason and others? Is there an alternative?
I write this blog to find out what I think and know, a process of clarification. For now I’m still asking questions.

 

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§ 4 Responses to SINCE FRIDAY MORNING

  • Pauline Henderson says:

    Thanks, Liz.

    Useful reflections!

    P xx

    >

  • Erica Carter says:

    Liz, like you, I am trying to write my way out of this catastrophe. I have never written so many emails and – most unusually for me – facebook posts to colleagues and friends across the world as I have in the past few days. So this may end up being a longish reply.

    You know that I joined the Labour Party after the last election because the situation felt (was) desperate and I wanted to be part of the solution. You also know that I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. I had a sense of Corbyn as a source of hope in a bleak political landscape. But I was dismayed by what happened next. I found myself in a group of ‘Corbynistas’ who – it seemed from the Labour Party meetings I started attending – were ready to take up arms against the ‘Blairites’ whom they saw approaching at every new turn in the road. I remembered the factionalism that had made party politics unpalatable to me in previous decades, and was distressed to see it still at work in my local branch and in what I saw of the broader party. I wanted a context where I could work out my thoughts in open debate with friends and comrades. The narrow orthodoxies and (paradoxically, in a party that had just voted for socialist transformation) the fear of change that I encountered were epitomized in small things: the debate in my local branch about appointing a membership secretary who would reach out to new voters (the appointment was blocked in the meeting I went to – I don’t know if that decision still stands, but the foot-dragging sounded early alarm bells); the bullying tactics that closed down debate on issues including the all-important one of party strategy on the EU; and the rebuttals that met any proposal for larger conversations with any non-Labour group (excepting Momentum) on the key questions that surely need a broad alliance for them to be properly addressed: housing, the NHS, poverty, homelessness, community solidarity in a period of rising racism and Islamophobia.

    There is a link between this, and the questions you raise in your blog. I have been shocked to encounter a Labour Party that seems incapable of the politics of alliance against greater evils that, as you say, is the only way out of the crisis we’re now in. Chantal Mouffe, in a characteristically nuanced response to last Thursday’s vote (http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2732-a-salutary-shock-chantal-mouffe-on-brexit-and-the-spanish-elections) , confirms my impression of a Labour Party that ‘took little interest in Europe’. But – although I do hold Corbyn responsible for a campaign that happened on his watch, and that he was unable to, or refused, to steer – I see Labour’s torpidity as the index of a wider party malaise. Defending the EU needed to be done on the grounds that this is a complex and contradictory institution, dominated at present by the neo-liberal right, but also providing the framework for networks that enable challenges to neo-liberal dominance, through the arts and Culture (Creative Europe), through education (how I will mourn Erasmus+), regions and city states (the Committee of the Regions), or though redistributive economic initiatives that seek to ameliorate the worst excesses of globalization, even while the European Central Bank and finance ministers work to advance the opposite cause.

    Labour seemed unable to grasp those contradictions, but also, crucially, to develop a politics of strategic alliances around them. Once the decision had been made to back Remain, on the grounds that this was the best way forward for the country’s vulnerable and dispossessed, the party leadership needed to bury old hostilities, drop its ‘I’ll never-share-a-platform-with-X’ inflexibility, and join forces with groups across the political spectrum (the SNP, the Greens, and, yes, the Blairites) to secure an outcome that would serve the interests not only of the Labour membership, but of the economically and socially marginalized populations who will be hit hardest by the vote to leave. But Labour has always been hostile to the politics of the popular front – as was demonstrated by its (in my view shameful) ditching of the Plant report on proportional representation on grounds of short-term political expediency in 1997.

    Mouffe sees the Brexit vote as, paradoxically, a chance to crystallize a pan-European Left populism, centred on ‘radical social democratic’ values including all the ones you list in your blog: investment in education and training, infrastructure, housing; support for those most vulnerable to the depredations wrought by global capital; anti-racist policies shored up by deep engagement in the communities where rage against social exclusion took the ugliest of xenophobic forms in last Thursday’s vote.

    It is a tragedy that the British Labour Party must take a back seat, after Thursday’s vote, in building the European alliances that Mouffe calls for (‘must’, because there is no foreseeable policy framework in which European left politics can take effect in Britain – though we must fight for this in the coming months). I have no confidence either that, even at home, Labour under Corbyn or any other leader currently in the frame will abandon its long commitment to party tribalism, and embrace the nimble, and extraordinarily difficult politics of radical alliance-building that has long been advocated by such as Mouffe. Such a politics is certainly practised by UK figures who may emerge in time to mount effective challenges to the long-term effects of Brexit, though our electoral system will make it hard for them to prevail. Sadiq Khan is adept at the kind of capturing of a socialist hegemony that Mouffe, with Ernesto Laclau, has long advocated, as is possibly Andy Burnham and, from other parties (perish the thought, I hear from the wings….), Caroline Lucas and, albeit within a nationalist framework, Nicola Sturgeon. But for now, there is, as you say, no obvious contender to lead the Labour party down this radical democratic path. Shame.

  • Alan Stanton says:

    Thanks for this blog. A helpful framework for further discussion and reflection.

    I’m posting a link to it on a private Labour Facebook page for Tottenham Constituency Labour Party members. Hopefully some of them will click through to read both your comment and Erica Carter’s.

    I was saddened to read Erica’s disappointment about what she found at her Labour branch meetings.

    My wife Zena Brabazon is responsible – as a volunteer – for political education for Tottenham Constituency and has organised meetings for members in a local pub. These have tried to reach out beyond the usual Party rigidities. “Narrow orthodoxies” was Erica Carter’s term. So for example, we had Loretta Lees talking about gentrification; and Dot Gibson (National Pensioners Convention) at a showing of Ken Loach’s Spirit of ’45.

    But picking up on Erica’s phrase, there is certainly a serious problem with the lack of mutual comprehension between many new members and the ruling Right-wing Labour Group in Haringey.

    I write that as someone who was always viewed as on the Right wing of our local Party. But over the years have seen the people in control moving so far further Right that – in my personal view – I could no longer clearly distinguish some of them from many Tories.

    This is linked to their scary lack of curiosity. Narrow orthodoxy is only part of it. The problem also seems to be a closed-minded rigidity. They appear – to me anyway – unwilling if not unable to consider that a left-wing or indeed any alternative view may have some merit and be worth exploring.
    They’ve come to believe that the shadows on the wall of their cave are the world. And are smugly, fiercely resistant to rumours that there’s a bigger and different place outside.

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