I haven’t voted Labour for a long time, and even back then I occasionally voted Conservative when I thought that Labour was leaning too far left.
I’ve been watching the Labour internal conflict and it has echoes of earlier decades, just different players. A post I read recently was about the unelectability of Corbyn, and the author mentioned “57 varieties of Trotskyists“. That pretty much says it all.
The extremes of Left & Right aren’t happy unless they’ve got someone to be unhappy with and about.
The Left are particularly prone to it because they are collectivists first: it’s about OUR revolution – where the prols are included whether they like it or not. I imagine each of the 57 varieties (Labour is a collective of factions) saw the prols being freed by that particular group and no other, that the prols would all rise to that particular cause, if only they could see the light.
The Right is more about individualism: MY freedom; and in the extreme, my freedom and bugger yours. The true right is individual dictators, monarchies, criminals, business empires. We spot them easily.
It’s not quite so easy to identify the extreme Left because they make all the noises of concern for the ‘people’.
But it’s no surprise that National Socialist fascisms, considered to be right wing for their racism, have been such an attraction for socialists historically, sometimes embarrassingly so. More recently the Left has managed to align itself with some unsavoury Islamists on the grounds that all Muslims need saving from the western powers – heaven forbid some Muslims might actually want secular democratic liberalism in which to practice their religion on their own terms without interference from the Muslim Council of Tooting or the Popular Muslim Front or whatever – all very Pythonesque. It’s not the least bit ironic that The Life of Brian satired the socialist Palestinian movements of the late 20th century and still rings true today with the many conservative Islamist organisations – self-awareness isn’t common among the very serious.
The difficulty with the Left is they make you think they are doing it just for you. It’s easy to mistake their concern for their ideology as a concern for you as an individual. Cross the ideology and you’ll find out where their interests really lie.
There has always been a conflict at the heart of the Labour Party: socialism v social democracy. The unifying element has, since the inception of the Labour Party, been the then newly acquired franchise of the working man of low income – ‘labour’. Wanting to use them as a tool in a revolution, or wanting to work for their fair benefit does have a certain commonality to it, though ideologically the goals are quite different. The Labour Party has always been split along these lines, even as it won elections.
A crucial part of that is the argument over Clause 4’s “social ownership of the means of production”. Does that mean a mixed economy where employees have shares in the capital of the companies that employ them, or does it mean nationalisation of socialism, communism? Socialism in terms of the Corbyn and chums to the left means nationalisation.
How soon we forget. We currently have commuters complaining about state of the railways, and the younger ones are tempted to call for nationalisation. Many older travellers remember all too well the railways under nationalisation and don’t want it back. A mixed economy may be difficult to pull off. Some services require a national approach that might be better served under nationalisation; but it’s a tough call because unifying a service unifies the labour force in the unions and pits unions against government, even a Labour government. And then the government is torn between getting value for money for the nation and supporting the working benefits of the union members. A conflict of interest if ever there was one.
Employees that are shareholders binds their interest in the business and their own welfare at work. And a government whose interest is the nation and the public served by a service should not interfere except to set and enforce standards, of safety and service quality.
There’s a greater affinity between social democracy and the mild libertarianism of a mixed economy, a balance of collective/individual freedoms and benefits (*cough* Lib Dems). This explains the syphoning off from Labour of the centre left now and then to form alliances or new parties – it’s just too much to take when the Trots are making a noise, so the centre left bugger off and start again. But the extremes of Left and Right have managed to keep the electorate polarized by misrepresenting the centre ground of each side as being equivalent to their particular extreme; and so centrist parties haven’t done as well as their popular appeal might suggest they should – the wasted vote syndrome, played up by Left and Right.
Socialism is as much a fantasy as a benificent dictator – maybe more so, since at least such a dictator could exist, until ousted by a malignant one, or until the citizens have had enough of him. Authoritarian collectivism is pretty much destined to be doomed to failure since there will always be power battles among groups that have no respect for democracy at heart. It seems harder to bring down a collectivist party than a sole dictator that can make enemies in his ranks – as crap as communist states are, they have survived quite well. But that could be because it’s also easy for a collectivist state to morph into an effective dictatorship, of a great leader or of a single party – the difference to the citizens isn’t necessarily significant.
Unfortuneately democracy, while being fairer to the disparate individuals and groups within it, is vulnerable to attack from within. That a secular liberal democracy tolerates the extremes of Left and Right and gives their supporters a vote means its always in danger of at least becoming a pseudo-democracy under the thumb of a dominant group.
I suppose in principle there’s also the constitutional danger of voting in a group that changes the state into a non-democracy of some sort. But Thomas Paine’s “Rights of Man” should be our guide here: no generation should have the right to elect away the rights of future generations – in his time he was objecting to citizens submitting to the divine right of Kings for eternity.
The strength of a democracy lies entirely within the hands of its citizens and their desire to maintain it as such.
This is difficult when there are groups of such diverse political persuasions that are free to work for power. Even using a simplistic model, of a Normal Distribution of opinion, to describe whatever issue is up for debate, there will be extreme minorities and a bulk of opinion around the middle. There’s a small hard Left, a small hard Right, on the margins, that make up the minority percentiles of British political interests. Their extreme convictions often make them the loudest, talking above the centre majority. And by using the tactics of fear and demonisation they persuade others close to them, the centre left and centre right, that they must play along to prevent the other lot coming to power and destroying the world. The trouble is it’s the far right dictatorships and the far left communist states that have been shown to fail the citizens at large, using brutality to make them conform to the ideological demands of the state.
At least a combination of centre left and right parties struggling to get on with making things work through opposition and compromise as appropriate is a better prospect, and that’s what we tend to get when the extremes of Labour and Conservative aren’t getting their way. It’s a complex world and no system can manage an economy perfectly, so we have to expect ups and downs, and even mistakes. A multi-party system is healthy, as long as it’s realistic and isn’t a perpetual war of lies, smears, demonisation, bullying.
Social Democrats, Liberal Democrats, Conservative Democrats – the names of actual and potential centrist parties stress the political persuasion, rather than identifying with one group of people specifically. Can both Labour and Conservatives ditch their extremes and form new parties?
Of course the centre isn’t immune to unsavoury political rhetoric, but there’s a better chance of ironing that out among people prepared to compromise and engage in reasoned debate. It would induce a great deal more respect for political parties if, after losing an election, the opposition did their job of scrutinising the government rather that trying to bring it down simply for having won or for daring to have a different approach to serving the country.
It’s quite possible to grill a government on its activities, making sure they are in the interest of the nation, without looking for every opportunity to make the opponent appear like Satan and his minions. It’s actually possible for the opposition to say, okay, we’re with you on that one, as long as you watch out for X, Y, Z. And for the government to say, actually, that’s a good idea, we’ll adpopt that, credit where it’s due. The polarised politics we have tends more towards not giving an inch, whether you agree or not.
I would trust the middle groud of balanced opinion to accommodate the majority in compromise without persecuting those of extreme minority opinion. I wouldn’t trust either extreme to compromise with anyone. What alliances the parties of the far Left do form have historically ended in back stabbing.
This is why I’d love to see the end of the Labour Party as it stands, for the benefit of the labour classes – the majority of people. Let’s vote on policies and manifestos, not ideological alignments – the philosophical benefits of a secular liberal democracy should have already been won. Let’s switch affiliation in support of policies without the embarrassment of being labelled a traitor. And more free votes in parliament wouldn’t go amis.
That would be a new politics. Corbyn isn’t bringing anything new of substance that I can see, he’s just dressing up his socialism to appeal to the crowd. And he’s having a good go at it. Expect five loaves and two fishes at the next rally. The problem is that the last JC cultist that tried that got crucified and his party went on to inflict a few centuries of untold oppression on the world.
Corbyn himself may not be the extreme of extremes. But I really can’t find comfort in a man that calls the men from Hamas his friends. It reminds me too much of Galloway’s sucking up to Saddam. Even if he managed to distance himslef from conservative Islamists I think he’d still have to rely on his old Trots to back him up. And if he was too nice they’d be the ones hammering the nails in his cross.