Monday, 27 June 2016

It is madness to get rid of Corbyn now

Jeremy Corbyn

The Blairites have made no secret of the fact that they have wanted Jeremy Corbyn removed as Labour leader since he was elected last September with a huge mandate from party members. Now they are in open rebellion against Corbyn, trying to force him to resign. The timing is perfect for the Blairites. The mainstream media is distracted by the fallout from EU referendum vote, the Prime Minister has resigned and the pound is tumbling in value – it’s the perfect opportunity to move against Corbyn. His enemies are hoping for a quick palace coup before anyone notices and have chosen now as their moment to strike.

However the so called "moderates’" plan is remarkably short sighted. They can force a vote of no confidence in the party leader (which is likely to pass) but then they will face a leadership election. The party membership is firmly behind Corbyn and there is nothing to stop him standing again for leader and winning. Eventually the Labour moderates will have to come to terms with the fact that they are deeply unpopular with the grass roots of the party. Their plan is not that well thought through.

Even if they were able to take control of the party and install Chuka Umunna or Tristram Hunt as leader, then what? Under Corbyn the party had a clear direction. What will the new direction be? Have the moderates considered what they would do with power? Remember, a general election is probably going to be called soon, so whoever leads the party needs a plan to face the electorate.

Just so that we are clear. Here are some things that are not plans:

  • Anyone but Corbyn for leader
  • Step 1: Make Tristram Hunt the leader
  • Step 2: Er...
  • Step 3: Win general election
  • Surf into power on the back of the huge popular recognition of and support for Dan Jarvis based purely on the fact that he used to be in the army. People like soldiers, right?
  • A commitment to austerity and controls on immigration. Just like Ed Miliband, proposed.
  • Whatever the Sun says the plan is, that’s the plan.

Labour Party is facing a lot of external challenges right now. Challenges that predate Corbyn’s selection as leader. UKIP is gaining support in the former industrial North. The Tories are eating into its middle class support. Scotland is firmly off the table as a source of Labour MPs to form a majority government. Disillusionment with professional, media trained politicians is turning voters away from the large parties. The country is divided, between those gaining and losing out from globalisation, while politicians lack a narrative to bring it together unity. All of these will be important factors for Labour in a future election. So, what‘s the platform the moderates will offer to tackle these issues and win an election? What is the plan for solving the nation's problems?

Under Corbyn's leadership the party has grown in members. People now know what Labour stands for, whereas under Ed Miliband it was unclear. The public are responding well to Corbyn's authenticity, the fact that he is clearly different from inauthentic media trained politicians, and that he has clear principles. Policy is being developed from a range international economists including Thomas Piketty and Yanis Varoufakis. It is better to stick with the current platform and leader than to face the country with nothing expect a new leader who no one outside the Westminster bubble has heard of.

This sudden change in leadership being pressed for by the Blairites is a bad idea, especially if the new Tory Prime Minister calls an early election. It is a really bad idea to get rid of Corbyn now and replace him with uncertainty and lack of policy. The actions we have seen from Labour's moderates over the last few days do not indicate that they have a well thought through plan. This is just a reckless attempt to divide the party.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

What does a Brexit vote mean for the left?

Boris Johnson

We were told it would never happen. We were told the public was too sensible for this. We were told no-one ever lost an election running on the platform of a stronger economy. We were told wrong. This is not the Britain we thought it was.

Brexit, and the fall of a moderate pro-European Prime Minister, is the result of this massive assumption. To the outward observer, this looks very much like a right wing palace coup. The higher offices of government will soon be held by Boris Johnson (a man who would support King Herod if it would get him one inch closer to Downing Street), Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith. Nigel Farage has been on TV, looking like the cat that got the cream. You could be forgiven for thinking that the country lurched to the right on Thursday.

You would be wrong. Not everyone who voted for Brexit voted for the above – although it was very likely to happen. The EU referendum campaign showed how divided Britain is, but this is not a country divided by left and right. The division in this election was between those doing well and those losing out from globalisation. Those who voted for Brexit were drawn from the ranks of Labour, Tory, UKIP and non-voters. This election redrew the political map. This is the only election that I have found myself arguing alongside Tories and against members of my own party. Brexit was not caused by a surge in support for the right.

Many people who voted for Brexit wanted to shake up the political system that is working against them. They had voted Labour or Tory and nothing changed in their lives, their communities, or their towns. So they voted against the thing that the leaders of all the main parties were telling them support. Brexit may have been a moment of anti-establishment hatred, crystallised into action, but it is a false one. This result will not hurt the establishment. The recession and right wing Tory government that is likely to follow will hurt the poorest most. We have kicked out an Etonian Oxford graduate from Number 10 to be replaced by an Etonian Oxford graduate.

The anger at the political and economic establishment that led to Brexit should be fueling the left, however the left has failed to win support from those who lose out from globalisation. The Labour Party is currently sleep walking into a major election defeat – one that moved much closer now that the Prime Minister has resigned.

There is no plan to take back the country, from either the Jeremy Corbyn leadership or his critics. There is no plan to appeal to anyone outside the narrow band of middle class, metropolitan liberals who already support the Labour Party. Their lacklustre EU referendum campaign shows this. Labour should have found a way to reach out to disaffected Brexit supporters, but Labour could not get its message out to those who are losing out from globalisation.

This problem is not unique to Labour. Cameron was a much better communicator than anyone on the Labour front bench. He had a much more disciplined communication team and a much better grasp of strategy, but still failed to effectively communicate the benefits of staying in the EU to those who were opposed to it. Even the heavy-handed doom mongering of leaving did not work.

Politicians of all stripes have lost the ability to talk or listen to large sections of society. Before her death, Jo Cox told the Guardian that she was concerned that voting for Brexit had given large groups of Labour supporters the confidence to switch to voting for UKIP in future elections. The consequences for Labour from this inability to talk to their natural supporters could be dire.

Labour need to change its approach to stand a chance of winning an election in the future. This does not mean that Labour should shift to the right. The assumption that Brexit is an indication that the country is drifting further to political right is a false one. The new senior members of government will be more right wing, but the country is not rushing to embrace the Tory right. Labour have an opportunity to present a passionate, policy driven and genuine opposition to the government.

Scotland is making moves towards independence again (which is bad news if Labour want to be back in government). There are renewed calls for a united Ireland and a letter of no confidence against Corbyn has been submitted by MPs. Brexit has shaken up the political establishment and the political landscape could be very different by the end of year. Everything is up in the air right now.

Labour (and the left in general) need to think about how we are going to change our approach after this vote. Corbyn’s authentic nature and outsider status has endeared him to some voters alienated by Blair’s smooth, heavily media trained politicians, but the increasing transformation of Labour into a party of middle class, metropolitan liberals has alienated others. The lack of a clear strategy to win back popular support (again this criticism applies to all factions of the party) is troubling.

The left could not convince people of the merits of staying in the EU. Now the poorest members of society will suffer the most under a new recession, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the new austerity plus that is likely to follow.

We are not living in the Britain that UKIP and the Tory right want us to live in, but it is quickly becoming it. The lesson the left need to learn today is that we need to get better at listening to and talking to the people who are losing out from globalisation, the people who are outside our usual communication comfort zone. If we the left can unite divided Britain, then we can achieve real progress. If we continue the way we are - then the future is bleak indeed.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why We’re Voting to Remain in the EU

Why we should remain in the EU

It will cause the worst recession in recorded history. Every single firm in the country (apart from Wetherspoons) will fail and everyone in the country will be unemployed. The very cliffs of Dover themselves will split and fall into the sea. Also Great Cthulhu will rise out of the English Channel to spread madness and death across the land.

At least that is what will happen if you believe David Cameron’s warnings about the risks of Brexit. The Prime Minister has made so many doom-laden predictions about the post-EU future that you wonder why he allowed this vote to go ahead at all. If the risk of leaving the EU is so massive then surely this referendum should have been avoided at any cost?

Cameron’s rhetoric aside, it is very likely that the UK will be economically worse off outside the EU than in. In the past, we’ve complained about the economic doom-mongering from the Remain campaign. Not because their projections are inaccurate, but because it’s a scare tactic designed to bully us into staying in the EU. This, of course, does not make the argument a lie. Without wanting to get too philosophical, the truth can be scary.

Britain needs a positive argument for staying in the EU. Not one that boils down to the City of London exacting economic revenge on us if we dare to disobey them. Without it, nothing will be resolved by this referendum. EU disenfranchisement will be worse if we’re be bullied into staying. If we vote Brexit then it will be without a clear understanding of what we are leaving. Our thinking on Europe will not have advanced.

So here goes our attempt at outlining the positive pro-EU case that the Remain campaign should have made. They should focused on the mixing of cultures that has been allowed by the free movement of people; Britain’s diversity has always been its strength. They should have mentioned that the EU is a venue where nations can work together to face the threats of the future, economic instability, international terrorism, rampant nationalism and climate change.

Remain should have reminded us that the EU is a shared collective endeavor; that we can achieve more together than apart. This all sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?

If that argument seems a bit abstract, then here are some more concrete positive things the EU can do. Firstly, it can regulate trans-national capital. In an age of globalisation, questions around national sovereignty are academic at best. Only large trans-national organization can stand up to the power of big business, and make them pay their taxes.

The EU guarantees workers’ rights, in part by maintaining a level playing field, preventing countries competing to provide the most ‘business friendly’ regulatory framework. The threat to workers’ rights from Brexit is stark.

A "bonfire of British workers' rights” is likely to follow a Brexit vote. The last thing we want to see is Boris Johnson and Michael Gove given the freedom to do whatever they want to low-paid British workers. It isn’t the Johnson and Gove set that stand to lose out in the recession that will follow Brexit. In fact it’s their set that stand to gain from the extreme neo-liberal Britain that they will build outside the EU, without pesky things like human rights and environmental controls to get in their way. With Johnson in Number 10 and Gove at Number 11 we’ll see just how nasty the Tory right’s vision of Britain’s future gets.

The referendum campaigns have both been insultingly awful, but Gove and Johnson have outdone themselves in this race to the bottom. After their economic argument failed to gain any sort of traction, the Tory Brexiters and the right wing press have turned their full attention to whipping up fear of migrants, especially Turks. As a last resort they’ve appealed to Britain’s xenophobic tendencies to get their result. We cannot let them win with this nasty campaign that has demeaned us all.

If we vote for Brexit, this xenophobic sentiment will only get worse. In several years time Prime Minister Boris Johnson will still be negotiating our withdrawal from the EU and migration levels will have remained the same. Brexit will not be the quick fix to the nations problems that leave promises. Then where will the hatred that the Leave campaign has awoken be directed? At immigrants with the right to remain? At British citizens who people think resemble migrants? It’s frightening to consider where this may lead.

Being pro-Remain and left wing means recognizing the benefits of immigration, but also being honest about the pressure it can put on wages and conditions. These are Labour issues, but all too often, Labour and the left have dismissed any concerns as racist, failing to grasp that a sense of abandonment that has led to immigration becoming a lightning rod issue for a myriad of grievances.

This attitude needs to change. We need progressive, compassionate policies to manage the effects of immigration and public perception of it. Only then can we begin to address the toxic division and scapegoating whipped up by Farage and the Tory right.

This is not say that everyone who votes to leave the EU is motivated solely by fear of migration. There are plenty of understandable left wing reasons - the EU is certainly a very flawed organization. It has treated Greece appallingly, it has forced austerity on countries where the youth unemployment rate is over 40% and it could do a lot more to stand up to trans-national companies that disregard their social obligations.

We understand the temptation to light the blue touch-paper and run, but this is a time for putting out fires, not igniting them. The alternative is to give more power to a callous Tory government.

Our view is that we must remain part of the EU - and then reform it from within. By working with our neighbours we can create something larger than ourselves, something greater than the sum of our parts. Another Europe really is possible. Whatever happens, we will continue to belong to the continent, and we need to be involved in the important decisions that take place there.

We can see a positive future for the EU, but it has to fought for. This begins with voting to Remain. Then we fight for a better Europe together.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

The two Britains

House of Commons

There are two Britains. Divided not by left and right but between the haves and the have-nots. One Britain is prosperous and the other is struggling. One is embracing globalisation, the other is suspicious of it. One believes the nation is going to hell in a handcart whilst the other is on the Eurostar for a weekend in Paris.

They exist in the same towns and in the same streets. They can be young or old, North or South. There are many divisions; they share the same pubs and cinemas but they never mix. The intensity of the EU debate is because of this great cultural gulf, not the cause of it.

The fact that there are two Britains means that the leave/remain arguments from both sides seem irreconcilable. Do you want your country to be modern and outward looking? Or do you want your country back? The two Britains speak past each other and not to each other. When they do address each other, it is to call the other side stupid or corrupt.

For too long our leaders have only appealed to one of the two Britains. All our leaders and MPs, on both the left and the right (save for a few rare exceptions) come from the prosperous Britain. Some politicians (again almost always from the prosperous Britain) have mobilised the less prosperous Britain to upset the establishment and extend their own influence. They have raised populism, anti-politics and hatred of elites to achieve this. The Westminster bubble, the expenses scandal, politicians refusing to give straight answers and sometimes showing concept for the public: all these are very real, but fan the flame of anti-politics lit by those who stand to gain from starting a fire under the establishment.

Not all the politicians and writers exploiting the anger of the less prosperous Britain and directing it at the political establishment are conservative or in favor of Brexit. The radical left, of which I am supporter, has been complicit in stirring up anti-politics, populism and hatred of the political establishment. This was done in the name of fighting neoliberal hegemony. However, pointing at business and media elites and shouting about how there is a conspiracy against the public has been used to cover up the lack of a convincing economic model to replace capitalism. The radical left is partly responsible for the appeal of anti-politics and the hatred of politicians.

Plenty of politicians from outside the dominant parties are also responsible for spreading anti-politics sentiment. Nigel Farage is the self-appointed spokesperson for the frequently ignored Britain, whether they agree with him or not. He has used his position to fan the hatred of mainstream politics, because it is the easiest way of achieving his political goals. Through repeating the lie that the media and mainstream political parties are out to suppress him, Farage encourages the hate of the political establishment.

The prosperous Britain is far from blameless for the spread of anti-politics and disillusionment. There are plenty of metropolitan liberals (who vote either Labour or Conservative) who sneer that any argument for Brexit is racist or stupid. They cry about the threat to recovery from Brexit, without ever thinking that there are towns in Britain that have not recovered from the 1980s. What difference does boom and bust make to perpetual poverty?

There are Tories in large houses who deny the realities of poverty and claim that the poor are poor because they are lazy. These are the people who cannot see why everyone else does not aspire to be more like them. They care nothing for those left behind by the relentless march of globalisation.

There are Labour and Green voters who swell with sympathy for the less well-off, just so long as it does not involve talking to them, listening to them, looking at them or visiting where they live. These people want to make a better world, so long as they do not have to give up their iPhone or holidays to Italy. The prosperous Britain shows indifference or outright hostility to the less prosperous Britain and is responsible for expanding the divide.

We are reaching the point where our political system is starting to break down under the tension of this division. We cannot shout about politicians being in the pocket of big business without spreading disillusionment with politics. We cannot tell someone that their country has been stolen from them and not expect them to despise the political establishment. We cannot sneer and degrade other people’s opinions without pushing them further away.

The immigration issue is symptomatic. Calling out racism is always a worthy cause, but mixed in with the genuine bigots are millions of people with unanswered concerns about housing and jobs that feel ignored or dismissed by the main parties. The root causes of these concerns have more to do with the legacy of the 1980s and the run-down of the welfare state than immigration, but they have been simmering away unaddressed for years in less prosperous Britain. The failure of the two Britains to communicate with each other on the issue lurks behind Farage’s noxious ‘Breaking Point’ posters as well as the watch-it-burn mentalilty of Brexit.

So how do we heal the rift between the two Britains? Is the solution a strong evidence based political campaign to bring us together? A campaign of honest debate and not emotional blustering? This seems optimistic as the two Britains seem entirely unwilling to engage with the arguments of each other. The EU debate is an example of this. One side shouts about the economy, the other about immigration. There is no debate. Trying to create a new consensus around intelligent debate is not going to work.

Perhaps we could try to understand each other, to see what drives the anger of each side. It seems we are drifting towards a situation where our differences can only be resolved by direct conflict and not empathy. This will be unpopular because understanding sounds like compromise and compromise sound like giving up. We need to swear off anger and hate if we are to heal the rift between the two nations.

This week Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen was murdered in her consistency. Her death is an enormous loss to British politics and at this point we do not know the full story. What we do know is that this did not happen in a vacuum. Widespread hatred of politicians is a fact of contemporary political discourse. We need to stand up to the hatred of politicians. We need to stop anti-politics. We need to heal the divide between the two Britains. Understanding is the only antidote to hatred and division. Tragedies like this cut us deeply and show how divided we are as a society.

We need to stop talking across each other and start listening to each other. We need to stop every radical left winger who finds it easier to spread hatred of politicians than to argue coherently for their cause. We need to stop every right winger wants to spread hatred of some group or other to gain influence. We need to stop every person from the prosperous Britain who denies the need for change, who denies the divide between the two Britains itself. We need to find a way to make the two Britians one again.

Please donated to the Go Fund Me campaign set up in memory of Jo Cox and to support causes that were important to her. More details can be found here:

https://www.gofundme.com/jocox

Sunday, 5 June 2016

What lessons can Labour learn from the 2015 election?

Tristam Hunt

No one expected the Tories to win the 2015 general election outright, not even the Conservative Party itself. It took the nation by surprise. A year on, a clearer picture of what happened is starting to emerge. The pre-election polls show that the Tories were perceived as better on the economy and leadership, and no party has ever won an election after being behind on these two metrics. However, the problems with the Ed Miliband era go beyond his leadership and his policies - although these were part of the problem. The left is out of power across Europe and the right is maneuvering on the centre ground. The left needs do some serious thinking about how it has found itself in such an unpopular position. What have we learned with the perspective that time brings?

Not everything about the 2015 election results was a disaster for Labour. The party did expand its vote in many seats. However, it piled up extra votes in areas where Labour already had strong support - mainly middle class, metropolitan areas - so it did not translate into more seats. The same result can be seen in the local council election results under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. Support for Labour is increasing, but not in a way that makes it likely that they will win the 2020 election.

The oblivious conclusion to draw from this is that Labour need to change its tactics and expand its electoral support in areas that are not metropolitan, liberal and middle class. Labour used to dominate working-class votes in the former industrial heartlands of Britain. Now the SNP and UKIP are eating away at that support. If UKIP makes gains in the former indisputable north similar to those which the SNP did in Scotland, then the Labour Party could be all but wiped out at the next general election. So, how does Labour expand its support?

Enter Tristram Hunt, who has edited a book entitled Labour’s Identity Crisis: England and the Politics of Patriotism, which looks in detail about why Labour lost the 2015 election. It details the experiences of 10 Labour candidates across the country and the complex changes in British politics that are working against the Labour Party. One such candidate is Suzy Stride, the unsuccessful Labour candidate for Harlow in Essex, who describes a disconnect between middle-class Labour activists and working-class potential Labour voters. This is unsurprising as Labour has become a party of the metropolitan, liberal, middle class. Labour’s entire make up as a party needs to change to tackle this disconnect.

Stride goes on to describe Labour activists as “like middle-class Ryanair passengers” when speaking to working-class voters. It appeared to her that talking to working-class people was something that a middle class Labour activist had to endure, so that they could get back to the real work of running the country. The “metropolitan squeamishness” of Labour needs to end if Labour is to expand its electoral support.

Hunt's other argument set out in his book is that Labour is insufficiently patriotic. He relates this specifically to English patriotism, claiming "Labour fails to embrace Englishness". Hunt makes a good point that patriotism has to come from the heart, if it is to be believed from a politician. I cannot imagine anything worse than half-hearted, fake patronising patriotism from a middle class Labour leader who thinks this is a pill he has to swallow to become Prime Minister. That would make Miliband eating a bacon sandwich look like a moment of grace and dignity.

Hunt makes a strong case for the fact that voters felt that “Labour did not really believe in England or the English”, and he goes onto say: “In short, we were seen as insufficiently patriotic”. This problem of Labour being unable to express English patriotism is bound up in the fact that Labour has become a middle class, liberal, metropolitan party. Many middle class, metropolitan, liberals are uncomfortable with the idea of patriotism. They associate it with UKIP and pubs with St George's flags in the windows that they avoid going into. If Hunt wants Labour to become a more patriotic English party, then it will need to address the problem of it being dominated by middle class, metropolitan, liberals.

Patriotism does not have to have to be expressed in a xenophobic UKIP way. It does not have to be the celebration of Kings and Queens, Empire, conquest and the suppression of the weak. It can be found in the writing of George Orwell, the music of Billy Bragg or the poetry of William Blake. It can be found in the shared British culture of everyone who lives in this country, that is strengthened by diversity and immigration. It can be found in the Tate Britain or the England football squad. I know this is a very middle class vision of patriotism and it is not what everyone wants or what will lead Labour back to power, but there is a way to find a relatable patriotic politics that is not alienating to either middle-class or working-class people.

Hunt's book makes a good case for how Labour should adapt to win in 2020, but is it the right approach? For one thing Labour cannot afford to alienate the middle class, metropolitan, liberals – they are the only demographic that still supports them. Embracing English patriotism will not help Labour retake Scotland. Then again, Labour's woes in Scotland are so deep that perhaps everything north of Hadrian's Wall should be written off. That means Labour needs to win big in England and Wales - about as big as Tony Blair did in 1997. English patriotism alone is not enough to deliver that kind of victory. I do not see any prominent Labour politician that can deliver that kind of victory in England.

Politics has changed, the centre is not holding and things are falling apart. There is no single strategy that Labour can use to appeal to the whole country. A strategy designed to appeal to swing voters in the former industrial north may alienate swing voters in the prosperous areas of the midlands and south. Appeals to the asset-rich southerners or English patriotism is likely to drive metropolitan liberals to the Greens. There are no clear answers for Labour, not like there used to be.

The trajectory Corbyn is taking Labour on is likely to increase Labour's support amongst middle class, metropolitan, liberals and thus repeat the pattern of Miliband increasing Labour support in areas where Labour is already popular.

Hunt's book is a good start to the conversation about Labour's future and how to expand support for Labour, but more is needed to turn Labour into a government in waiting. There are no easy wins or quick fixes to Labour’s problems. One strategy will not return Labour to government. Stephen Bush has even gone so far as to say that it is impossible to unite the different social groups Labour needs to win the 2020 election.

If Labour wants to win in 2020, they will need a strategy that is regional, speaks in different ways to different people without being contradictory, is precisely targeted and different to anything that has come before. It’s that simple.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

1984: A critique

1984

George Orwell's 1984 has a good claim to be one of the most famous books of all time. It is certainly one of the most famous books about politics, and has given us terms such as Thought Police, Big Brother and Orwellian. 1984 is frequently referenced in political discourse, but I am curious as to how many people who quote the infamous line about ‘a boot stamping on a human face – forever’ have actually read the rest of the book. Until recently, I had not read 1984; I knew the story, set up and characters, and I have read many of Orwell's non-fiction books, but I had never actually read his seminal text. So I decided to read the often-referenced indictment of tyranny and oppression.

1984 lived up to the hype. As well as being a terrifying vision of the future of humanity, where individualism, free thought and emotions are crushed by a cruel one-party super-state, I found it to be brilliantly written. I also found the book to be strangely old-fashioned in its thinking. Not conservative or even suffering from having an outdated vision of the future, many of Orwell's ideas about constant surveillance, entertainment machines that monitor you, and a fearful population constantly policing each other have come true. The key difference is that it is Google and Facebook who are constantly watching us, not the government. It is not a political party that wants to crush any dissenting thought, but hundreds of angry middle aged men on Twitter sending abuse to any woman who dares to question patriarchy. 1984 brilliant predicts 21st century life, but behind the scrutiny is not a not a shadowy political elite but large companies and ordinary human beings.

Our political debate has moved on from 1984. On the surface, Orwell's novel is an argument against the power of the state and for individual freedom. Orwell lived through the rise of Fascism and Stalinism in the 1930s and saw the USSR stretch its influence across Europe after the Second World War. He joined a Trotskyist brigade in the Spanish Civil War and fought against Fascism, but was appalled at how Stalinism was crushing alternative political movements on the left. Orwell believed in democratic socialism and individual freedom, and was against the naked tyranny of Stalinism. He wrote 1984 as a left-wing criticism of Stalinism, and not as a blanket condemnation of Communism - which unthinking readers often assume that it is.

Today, the threat of a specifically Stalinist dictatorship conquering the world through its subversion of the worker's struggle for emancipation is a distant memory. However, individual freedom does not reign worldwide. We are still watched over by a unknown elite, but now it is the masters of big data, not big government. Our thoughts and actions are still policed, not by political officers but by each other. Stalinism is dead, but we are still as frightened and as alienated as we were during Orwell's lifetime.

From our contemporary point of view, 1984 reads like a vision of the future from the past. It seem as a strange as the view in 1975 that we would be living on the moon in 1999. As I was reading the book, I kept asking myself, who supports this system? Who passionately believes in it, in the way that men on Twitter defend patriarchy and capitalism? Does everyone only support it out of terror? The political system of 1984 is so mercilessly awful that I felt that someone needs to gain from it or feel more secure through its existence to create the social cohesion that holds the system together. There are a few inner-party people who gain from the system, but what does the majority of the population get from it? Neoliberal capitalism benefits mainly a tiny group of the ultra-rich and oppresses billions worldwide, however the power of the ultra-rich is built on a comfortable middle class, who are supportive of the system because of their fear and superiority over the poor. The middle class lose out under neoliberalism (how many middle class people can afford to buy a property in London any more?), but they support it because they benefit enough from it not to cause a fuss.

In 1984, everyone suffers but no one questions. I do not see a political system like this surviving today, not with our ability to self-organise through social networks. Look at the Arab Spring and how the cruel dictatorships were swept aside by popular resentment (unfortunately to be replaced by war, chaos and more dictatorships). A system like that shown in 1984 could have conceivably existed the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, but not today. Social control still exists, but not in such as an aggressive and heavy-handed way.

Orwell was a member of a Trotskyist Party in the Spanish Civil War and a Marxist critique of class and capitalism runs through his writing. However, 1984 does not take into account the work of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci on cultural hegemony. The totalitarianism of 1984 is heavy-handed and unstable. Culture is used to protect the party's power; the character of Julia works writing novels for the Ministry of Truth, but these are also blunt instruments of state control. Today social control still exists, but without taking away our individual freedom. It exists through subtly convincing us all that an artificial economic system - which only really benefits the very rich - is natural, inevitable and in all our best interests. If Orwell was writing 1984 today, it would reflect a similarly bleak future, but it would also reflect how individual freedom is co-opted by cultural hegemony to suppress dissent against the economic and political elites. The nature of Marxist critiques of society have changed.

One of the most positive things that happened during the second half of the 20th century was the decline of totalitarianism and the expansion of democracy. The Berlin Wall fell and the dictatorships of Eastern Europe transitioned to democracy. China has liberalised, apartheid has ended in South Africa, and totalitarian in regimes in Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, Burma and many other countries have ended or are currently embracing democracy. The Arab Spring showed how the oppressed people of the world hunger for freedom and democracy. However, we are still not free. We are not free from class when social mobility is declining, we are not free from patriarchy when 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, we are not free from racism when Donald Trump can glide his way to the Republican nomination on a platform of Islamophobia and anti-Hispanic racism. Russia transitioned from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist one. The far right and neo-Nazi parties are growing in popularity across Europe and Fundamentalist Islam is spreading in the Middle East across Iraq and Syria. With the fall of Communism, it looked like freedom had won, but freedom is as much under threat today as it looked when Stalin might roll his tanks from Berlin to Lisbon.

Tyranny is still real, but it's face has changed since Orwell wrote 1984. It has become subtler and more appealing to our fears and insecurities. In the 1930s and 1940s, Stalinism and Fascism wanted aggressively to take away our rights and suppress our individualism; now, it is our rights and our individualism that is used to police us. There is no Big Brother, no Party, no Thought Police, but we are constantly watching each other and any deviation from the dominant ideology is swiftly punished - ask anyone who stands up for women's rights on Twitter. The ways in which a shadowy elite control society and politics for their own interest have become much subtler since 1984 was written, but they are still just as present. If you want a vision of the future, just imagine a voice whispering that this is natural and in our best interest into your ear, forever.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Labour need a better strategy

Jeremy Corbyn

Now that the dust has settled on "Super Thursday" we can critically examine Jeremy Corbyn’s first big electoral test as leader of the Labour Party. The results are very mixed. The Labour Party had some successes, most notably Sadiq Khan’s election as Mayor of London ending the Tories’ eight-year occupation of that office. Elsewhere Labour did not fare so well, losing overall control of the Welsh Assembly and slipping to third place in the Scottish elections.

The severe trouble that Scottish Labour finds itself in predates Corbyn’s election as Labour leader; he cannot take much blame for it. However the real problem comes from the wider test of Corbyn's electability, the council elections. Last Thursday the Labour Party became the first opposition party to lose council seats in mid-term local elections since 1985. The Labour Party picked up fewer councilors than Ed Miliband's Labour in 2012 or William Hague’s Conservatives in 1998 - both of which went on to electoral defeats.

This does not necessarily mean Labour is doomed to a landslide defeat in 2020. It is almost impossible to accurately predict the outcome of an election four years in the future. However with Tories, Lib Dems and UKIP eating into Labour’s support and no clear path back to electability in Scotland, the outlook for Labour is not so good.

In many ways the Corbyn leadership is going badly. There have been a series of unprofessional disasters including John McDonnell waving around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and Ken Livingston opening on Hitler a week before a critical election. The Conservatives are maneuvering on the centre ground of British politics and increasing their electoral support. At the same time, accusations of rising anti-Semitism are proving difficult to refute.

The ultimate question for Labour is what alternative is there? Corbyn's three leadership rivals were dismissed by party members not because of sudden love of socialism, but because they offered no chance of winning an election. The simple truth is that there is currently no alternative plan to get Labour back into government. Moderates talk about Dan Jarvis as a replacement leader, however, I do not understand what happens after Jarvis (or any other moderate) replaces Corbyn. What is the moderates' strategy for winning back voters and getting Labour into power?

In order for Labour to win the 2020 general election the party needs a platform that is radically different to what Gordon Brown offered in 2010, Miliband offered in 2015 and what the Tories are offering now. Repeating the failed 2010 or 2015 approach will not work in 2020. I do not see a direction that the moderates would take Labour in that would be different enough from the mistakes of the past and the current Tory government.

Those who argue for a return to Blair’s triangulation strategy miss the point. Rather than a cohesive coalition between working and middle class voters, the 1997 landslide relied on chasing ‘aspirational’ Middle England, safe in the knowledge that working class core voters could be relied on to vote Labour anyway. Endemic political alienation since then, along with the financial crash, means re-running New Labour is not the answer either.

Labour is under attack from all sides. Centrist middle class voters are defecting to the Tories; working class and northern voters are being wooed by UKIP. Scotland is off the table, for now. The strategy that the moderates would adopt to win back centrist, middle class voters is likely to drive working class voters to UKIP, and left leaning, metropolitan liberals to the Greens. There no is guarantee that Labour would fare any better under a different leader.

It is not enough to simply write off victory in 2020, as I fear both Corbyn and the Labour moderates have done. Labour needs a plan to return it to government. This criticism applies to both Corbyn, and to the moderates: fighting over control of the party does not matter if the party loses 100 seats in the next election. There has to be a clear strategy to win, and "make Dan Jarvis party leader” is not a plan, it is barely even the beginning of one.

Labour cannot spend the next 4 years squabbling and hand the Tories a landslide victory in 2020. Labour needs a clear, workable strategy to win the general election. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time for action.