It’s absurd to compare Jeremy Corbyn with Michael Foot

Source: Shropshire Star

Of all the parodies of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, the most ridiculous is the attempt to scare it away with the corpse of Michael Foot. It begins with the infamous ‘suicide manifesto’ of 1983; moving left as the country moved right, Labour’s crushing defeat in that year is invariably cited as hard proof of the British electorate’s instinctive hatred of socialism. However moral and correct a Labour under Corbyn would be, so the argument from ‘pragmatism’ follows, its achievements would amount to nothing more than an indefinite party of protest. If you wish to understand the future, take a glance at the past.

To put it politely – this is not how history works. Even discounting the nationalist euphoria surrounding the Falklands – a miraculous war which Foot himself had supported – as well as the SDP’s brutal and essentially narcissistic hacking of the Labour Party into two, the anti-socialism that motored working class Toryism in the 1980s has long been spent; it only really exists now as a ghost to beat down those for whom the reality of accelerating inequality and deprivation has thoroughly discredited any economic orthodoxies that once promised the opposite.

Foot’s ‘suicide note’ landed in the midst of counter-revolution. Following a decade of economic stagnation, Margaret Thatcher’s answer to administrative incompetence was not to reconstruct and democratise the state’s services, but to slash and privatise. Trade unions were bullied into submission; industrial warfare was not to be pacified, but defeated. Only with collective bargaining rights under siege and the market freed from the shackles of the public interest, so Thatcher promised, could people seize upon profit and advance their lot in life.

The ultimate goal of Thatcherism was, however, to break apart the collective working class by exploiting momentary panic; betrayal was inevitable. The middle-class have monopolised access to housing and higher education, depressing the opportunities of the very individuals whose vulnerability Thatcher had pledged to secure. As a result, the hopes invested in her politics of aspiration have decayed into cynicism and despair; UKIP’s myopic campaign against immigration rides largely on the residual anger of an old working class Toryism, aged, demoralised and disenchanted. If the antidote is to have any chance of success, it will have to be socialist and class-based.

But it’s so much bigger than UKIP. The vast majority of people today either chose not to vote for Thatcher or were not alive to do so; and with a smaller turnout at the 2001 election than for the better part of a century, it’s not a coincidence that so much of the white working class stopped voting once Labour decided that ‘we are all middle class’, as John Prescott loftily had his party’s rapprochement with neoliberal Britain. While having few of the policies to show for it, Ed Miliband’s leadership was, it’s true, something of a reach to the left; but with his entire campaign still underwritten by the propriety of austerity, Miliband’s Labour amounted to nothing more than some slightly naïve paternalism. Aspiring to govern for everyone, he inspired no one.

Believing that the right is guaranteed to endure will only ensure that it does. For Liz Kendall – the Blairite extreme with whose politics Cooper and Burnham incoherently flirt – the electorate, ‘the British public’, is just that classless and mentally impenetrable mass with whom debate is futile; its politics immutable, the pinnacle of democratic decency is not to argue and discuss but to accept uncritically the political centre as a diluted and arbitrarily nuanced vision of economic orthodoxy as it stands. In practice, this sends Labour into a futile chase after the Tory vote, inexorably retreating rightwards and cocooned away from the millions of people, especially young, either in desperate search of an escape from austerity or, in its absence, embracing whatever hollow comforts are offered by the nationalists of the day.

The British working class isn’t ‘instinctively’ anything – the right has been successful because it has waged determined and efficient campaigns for decades while the left has sat lost in a state of dismay. The working class has continued to fragment, but the entrenchment of social inequality and poverty has, in other ways, made it more physically tangible than in decades. Whether or not a Labour under Corbyn can recollect the shards of the labour movement won’t be known until it’s tried; but to throw aside the batten before the race has even begun is as disabling as it is dangerous, for both Labour and the country at large.

Why no young person should ever vote for the Liberal Democrats

To vote for the Liberal Democrats is to throw away all of the sins that youth excuses: reckless ambition, its dreams that shame the real world and the imagination to realise them. They are phoneys, ideologically and politically. Not only have they never been an alternative to establishment politics but they represent its ideal, its bourgeois narcissism that reveres above all and allegiance to a quietly benevolent state. Anyone who would dare to cry ‘betrayal’ over Clegg’s alliance with the Conservative’s systematic assault on those who have already long suffered from inequality poor clearly never bothered to interrogate the principles that bind his party together.

Let me put it like this. The Liberal Democrats are the only political party about whom it is worth speaking in existential terms. Quite simply, what on earth is their purpose in the world?

They thrive, as we all know, upon the ‘alienated’ electorate – I am endlessly lectured about the special place they occupy in our politics. The Tories are (obviously) odious, and Labour treacherous. This step really doesn’t need much interrogation. What does is the next, which typically proceeds: ‘I am so disgusted by the complicity of the established politicians that I am going to vote for the most ideologically vacuous and administratively impotent party that this nation has ever produced.’

Is this at all accurate? The Windsor branch of the Liberal Democrats summarises their party’s constitution thusly:

  • We champion the freedom, dignity and wellbeing of individuals.
  • We aim to disperse power, foster diversity and nurture creativity.
  • We support each citizen contributing to their community and to decisions which affect them.
  • We respect the basic rights of all people, and hope to see all cultures develop freely in peace.
  • We accept that we are all responsible for the future of our planet and of all life.
  • We reject prejudice and discrimination, and oppose entrenched privilege and inequality.

There is nothing at all controversial about the above values. They all, differing only in degree, underlie the assumptions of Britain’s entire political establishment and its main parties: the state must value the rights of its citizens, all of whom must seek fulfilment as individuals, and it must wrestle with an inequality without which it cannot imagine ruling. These ideals crown an age governed by the neoliberal bogeyman, when 70% of Britain fancies itself middle-class despite being more labour-dependent than ever, when its society only looks up rather than around, when abstract ideals above cloud the fires of collective action from below. And who better to champion them than the only major political party whose electoral record has long left their stated values so utterly unblemished by office?

Political centrism is described in two principal ways. On the one hand, it sculpts the humanism of the left with the respect for stability of the right – but these are evocative terms. Claims of ‘pragmatism’ win out – realism. With their acute sense of pride, these proponents pour snobbery over those who try to work out courses to navigate over rough political terrains and stupidly state that great dilemmas can be resolved with delicate shifts. The result? Care and empathy without the strength of the convictions demanded by political ideology are precisely how the Lib Dems phrase their policies. So let’s consider a few of them.

What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done?’ suggests, one suspects accidentally, that the answer is ‘not very much.’ Amongst Clegg’s achievements are listed:

 End the routine detention of children for immigration purposes

Clegg never promised to end child detention. By June 2012 – two years after child detention was supposed to have ended – there were still 222 children locked up.

A couple of weeks ago I attended a series of events hosted in protest against Campsfield House, the detention centre just outside Oxford. In these places, asylum seekers must wait deportation, often in isolation and never with a specified duration. So irrational and ridiculous is the xenophobia built into the system that even though the number of asylum detainees is rising – to about 29,000 by 2012 – the number of deportations are in fact going down. Not because they are being allowed back into their communities, understand. Instead of allowing asylum seekers – the ‘bad migrants’ – to work in their local communities, they are arrested and held to the cost of £500-£1600 per person per week. The Liberal Democrats will never dare to offer their support to these people.

Improved our libel laws, including making it harder for companies to silence their critics and improving freedom for academics to publish their research (England & Wales)

An odd matter to celebrate. Vince took on News International and lost a battle for which his party never really cared to fight. When faced with the power of a corrupt media class, which has long exploited the high cost of libel law suits to write questionable material about the vulnerable, the government chose, instead of opening legal aid for victims of defamation, to cut it. To grab a brief moment of the sensationalist triumph that newspaper barons do so love – to be able to shout ‘courage’ in the face of terrible foes – more than three centuries of press independence was cast to the winds for a new royal charter system under the hands of a small group of derelict and unelected Privy Councillors. A little ironic, to put it kindly, for a party so thrilled by the prospect of reforming the political system.

And then there’s the excellently-named Gagging Law, which it isn’t even worth the effort to disguise. By 2015 limits will be placed on the finances ‘for election purposes’ of such deeply sinister organisations as trade unions, charities, and any other voluntary groups whose moral reputation should threaten the current governing parties. Not even Lib Dem MPs like Andrew George – who claimed to have been opposed to bill – would move beyond an abstention. And herein lies the utopianism of a political party vocally committed to ‘the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely’ but with nothing to say on the social issues that threaten it.

Announced tougher action on homophobic bullying in schools and given teachers stronger powers and guidance to tackle cyber-bullying (England)

Meanwhile the Gove regime builds child training grounds for religious proselytisers, praises Catholic schools, hikes up teachers’ workload and suppresses their wages. And gay marriage is allowed to be born in the triumph of the conservative project.

Increased funding for dementia research by 150%, reaching £66.3 million by 2014-15 (England & Wales)

I have no doubt that a truly admirable stand was required to overcome Cameron’s renowned hostility to dementia sufferers.

 Ensured the Government maintained the commitment to end child poverty by 2020

If the Lib Dems are happy to claim the ‘ensuring’ role then I should like to change it to ‘enabling’ and add the following trivial qualifier: that the number of children in poverty, despite having fallen dramatically in the decade to 2010, is set to rise by at least half a million by 2015/6. By 2020, the figure will be 4.7 million (or more than a quarter of all children).

Will this, however, be at all negated by their crowning achievement?

Delivered on the key Lib Dem pledge of a £2.5bn Pupil Premium to bring extra funding to disadvantaged students. Its rate has now been increased further and is £1,300 per eligible pupil in primary schools and £935 per eligible pupil in secondary schools in 2014-15 (England)

Of course not. This is merely another instance of the disguised contempt that the Westminster-educated hold for the poor whose excuses for underachievement, it seems, are running thin. Forget the poverty into which the worst schools are entrenched, that pupils who receive Free School Meals are five times more likely to be suspended or excluded than others; forget the ghettoization of universities according to class and ethnic group. Throwing money at under-performing schools in order to fabricate social mobility is like dropping a KFC bucket in a field and calling it free range. Such is how the Lib Dems appeal to the soft spot of the guilt on the heart of the middle-class moralist.

This is not about party politics. Everyone knows the old story of the Conservatives, who every generation have to parody their traditions in order to survive the electorate of the next, and Labour, who no longer have any real concept of either what the working class wants or needs.

All the same, politics is not some theatre designed to entertain narcissistic anarchists. I will campaign for the Labour Party at the next general election for the simple reason that millions of people’s welfares depend enough upon its outcome, however meagerly. The problem with Ed Miliband, as many Lib Dem voters don’t at all care to notice, is that he is developing precisely the same model of politics as Clegg. If the union link is ripped, they will become so immeasurably distinct that it would hardly matter. If the only prospect of a parliamentary voice for the movement of the working class is suffocated, then the goodwill of Labour’s MPs will have no choice but to retreat to the bland ideals of politicians untroubled by the power of grassroots discontent. Pre-empting this with a vote for the Liberal Democrats is senseless.

This is a deeply worrying matter. Any party which justifies its alliance with the Conservatives according to the ‘national interest’ admits the true focus of its eyes: the Britain of the banks, not the Britain of the working people. The nineteenth-century Benjamin Disraeli’s oft-quoted (albeit with invariable ineptitude) remark about ‘the divide of the Two Nations’, one working class and the other a propertied elite, was grafted to the dream of an all-British alliance; it would not trouble him to abandon the social question as the nationalistic matter of Empire promptly offered his days in office a far simpler manner of uniting his country. It had always been to rival this betrayal that the Liberal Party, under Gladstone and later the Welsh schoolmaster’s son Lloyd George, would anchor its moral authority. They never abandoned old Tory ideas of order and the inevitability of social inequality, but they were at the very least conditioned by an attempt to regulate the coming capitalist system to work on behalf of the nation’s broader welfare, considering nationalising the railway and intervening in the market as crises demanded it. It is as if the Liberal Democrats have at last heaved their heritage away from the one noble moment in their history and conceded it to Queen Victoria’s darling Tory jester.

It is not enough, in other words, to protect the Liberal Democrats by invoking the shadowy nightmare of the two alternatives. Their purpose is not to hold one, to masquerade mediocrity as modest constancy; to challenge its rivals with abstract principles which they themselves offer no plan for achieving. In 2010, it would have been preferable for us not to have a government for a few months than one rushing to hasten the exploitation of the poor. And perhaps one day those who enabled it will look back with a sense of guilt and embarrassment.

The Liberal Democrats are not the party of civil progress, nor even a party of the left. They are the party of bourgeois discontent, of the economically-secure crying for calm in a tempest. ‘Fairness’ before equality, ‘Europe’ before solidarity, ‘participation’ before power. And finally the storm has returned for them – and not for the first time. A century ago this year, their forebears launched a war in which the better part of a million of Britain’s most vulnerable were slaughtered in the defence of Empire, and within a few years it looked as if the Liberals had become one of the few casualties of the First World War whose fate was both deserved and a delight. Yet here we are, in 2014, as history revisits itself and casts the cockroaches back into government. Once more, they join forces with a Conservative cattle-raid against the poor man and the foreigner onto whom they beat sin upon sin like the rabbinical goat in the desert.

The government for which they are apparently so loathe has let them back in. But everyone should have known that when the Puritan gains power, ‘new presbyter is but old priest writ large’. If this nation wishes to stand strong against its corrupt and elitist politics, one hopes that it can do a little better than to mark a cross on a ballot paper next to the establishment-chasing sycophancy of a Liberal Democrat.


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