30th December 2019
“All over people changing their votes
Along with their overcoats
If Adolf Hitler flew in today
They’d send a limousine anyway.”
(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais – The Clash (1978)
Rebecca Long Bailey – already the focus for right wing fury
There is no reason why Prime Ministers, politicians or pundits should take notice of the observations of a rock n roll band but the words of The Clash from 1978 ring true over 40 years later. Back then the Thatcher government was imminent, with the rolling back of the progressive post war gains of council housing, comprehensive education, an NHS free at the point of use and the privatisation of key strategic industries all within the Tories’ sights.
Those goals have largely been achieved, and more besides, as successive governments have either pushed further down the road mapped out by Thatcher, or done nothing to reverse the setbacks initiated by her administration. For an entire generation of young people the struggle to find decent work, affordable housing and consistent healthcare has become the norm. The burden of university tuition fees can be added to that list.
The massive protests against nuclear arms, which immobilised cities across the UK in the 1980’s, have been replaced with an almost unquestioning acceptance of the need for Trident nuclear submarines and, through successive anniversary commemorations of the two World Wars, an almost craven acceptance of the virtues of the UK’s armed forces.
It has become accepted wisdom for many that the City of London is integral to the UK economy and that any challenge to its role would simply bring sterling crashing down with a recession to follow. While the evidence for this is scant successive governments, including Labour administrations under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have formed a ring of fire around the City, making it untouchable in any economic discussion.
Stringent controls on the operation and function of trade unions have been absorbed into the new ‘consensus’ with the Blair/Brown period of Labour government making no difference to the restrictions placed upon trade union activity. Local government has been consistently under funded and its role undermined, once again, long before the Tories introduced ‘austerity’ into the political lexicon.
Across Europe there is a rise of the right wing, with governments in Poland, Hungary and Italy being the most extreme, while political parties such as Vox in Spain, National Rally in France and Alternativ fur Deutschland in Germany are all gaining ground.
The effective disappearance of the Brexit Party in the UK does not buck this trend. On the contrary, the newly branded ‘One Nation’ Conservative Party, that nation being England, is providing a home to former Brexit Party members as well as succour for members of the far right Britain First faction. Even Tommy Robinson has reportedly become a member.
Against this background the selection of a new leader for the Labour Party becomes even more important. No one will expect them to stem the rising tide of right wing activism across Europe. However, they may acknowledge that there is also opposition to this and may even support a rejection of the economics of exclusivity that go with it. The Labour manifestos of 2017 and 2019 provide the framework for such an approach and their essence must be maintained if Labour is to move forward.
The mobilisation against this position has been high profile and fast, with interventions from Yvette Cooper, David Miliband, Tony Blair, Tom Watson and Roy Hattersley to name a few, stressing the need to break with so-called Corbynism quickly and decisively. Hattersley, a former Labour Deputy Leader, has taken a particularly hysterical position, calling upon MPs not to support Rebecca Long Bailey if she is elected in the forthcoming leadership contest.
Hattersley imagines that the majority of the 500,000 plus membership of the Labour Party, many of whom supported Corbyn, are made up of ex- Communists, Trotskyists and members of the Militant Tendency, all of whom have been waiting in the political wings to seize their moment and gain control of Labour.
Quite where Hattersley thinks so many disaffected left wingers have been hiding in the whole of the UK, never mind the Labour Party, is hard to credit but such is the paranoia of the political establishment. What Hattersley and his ilk refuse to acknowledge is that the policies which ensured that Jeremy Corbyn won two leadership elections, may actually be popular, if fought for and argued for on the doorstep.
The fright which the 2017 election result gave the political establishment in the UK was a recognition that the Thatcher based consensus had broken down and people wanted a Labour Party that could oppose such policies. The systematic demonisation of Labour and its leader in the intervening two years undoubtedly played a part in the disastrous 2019 result. The consistent sharpening of knives from his own backbenches did Corbyn no favours.
The new Labour leader will face the opposition of the Tory press, the BBC and even large sections of social media. If Labour is to roar back in the 2020’s the new leader should not face the opposition of their own MPs, their own party, or the trade union movement in trying to argue the case for progressive social change in the UK.
Labour needs to build trust from the grass roots and persuade voters that social change is in their interest. Simply being an electoral machine, which appeals to a notion of consensus on terms dictated by the political establishment, will change nothing. Boris Johnson already has an 80 strong majority in the House of Commons, we do not need the disaffected Labour leaders of the past, or the opportunists of the present to help do his job for him.