WeeklyWorker

07.07.2022
Most Tory MPs agreed

Going, going, gone

Britain will soon have a new Tory prime minister, writes Paul Demarty. Meanwhile, Sir Keir is copying Sir Tony and his triangulation strategy, while the left is whispering about yet another broad party

Boris Johnson has now gone. His government was falling apart at the seams. The greased piglet is bacon at last.

What did it for him? Lie after lie, culminating in the lie about Chris Pincher (or was it sheer incompetence?).

Johnson’s fall was certainly not due to some cleverly hatched coup by Tory remainers, the 1922 Committee or ambitious cabinet ministers. No, it was Baron Simon McDonald of Salford, former foreign office mandarin, who delivered the fatal blow. Once he wrote his letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, the prime minister was done for.

The focus will now shift to the Tories choosing a replacement. Nadhim Zahawi, Penny Mordaunt and Ben Wallace are being talked about. So is Tom Tugendhat. There is no obvious heir and successor.

What is likely though, is that whoever moves into No10 will have their eye on calling an early general election - presuming that they enjoy any sort of honeymoon period.

The general election outcome is far from certain. Yes, Labour has a 10% lead in opinion polls. But that could easily evaporate. Nonetheless, it would be stupid to write off Sir Keir’s chances, not least because of his willingness to copy Sir Tony when it comes to triangulation - crucially over Brexit.

Sir Tony

Over to Blair’s Future of Britain love-in.

Looking down the list of attending grandees it is difficult to find someone whom it would in fact be wise to mistake for a human being. Condoleezza Rice was there, to round out the American contingent, and join Blair in the unrepentant warmongering hypocrites’ caucus. A handful of disaffected ‘liberal’ Tories - David Gauke, Rory Stewart - gave a bipartisan veneer to the whole thing. Liberal Democrats swarmed around the place like locusts, as did lesser-spotted Blairites of old (was anyone really dying to hear anything more from Andrew Adonis?).

We might quote a rather bemused account of the event by Freddie Hayward in July’s New Statesman:

After coffee, there were PowerPoint slides along the lines of “Three E’s to solve education” and “Five C’s to fix the climate crisis”. In one session, the speaker pointed to the fact that the gentrified London borough of Hackney had one of the highest levels of bicycle usage in the country. “Well done, Hackney!” they roared to whoops and applause. Another speaker said part of the solution to climate change was to herd the public like sheep.

The Staggers has repositioned itself essentially on the right wing of ‘Blue Labour’ these days, and this bias is clear throughout Hayward’s piece; nonetheless, we can find no enthusiastic accounts of the conference from people who did not have a hand in organising it. The ‘right-populist’ view that the world is dominated by self-appointed experts who ‘think they know what’s best for us’ is a very partial one, and exceptionally vulnerable to exploitation by cheap demagogues. But that is not to say that the ‘experts’ do not sometimes do a damn good job of proving the demagogues right.

Thankfully for Blair and his minions, he does not need to turn this sort of preposterous arrogance into a political project (Blair denied, again, that ‘Future of Britain’ was about founding a new political party, and in this one instance we take him at his word). He has a pet one - the Labour Party under Sir Kier. Starmer’s big Brexit speech was most notable for what it ruled out (any return to the single market or customs union - that is, any ‘softening’ of Brexit), in favour of a series of minor technical arrangements to cover agricultural imports and exports. It is a rather feeble and forgettable brew, but typical of the politics of triangulation advocated by Dick Morris in the mid-1990s. Sir Keir and his front bench keep their distance from the trade unions and striking workers and nestle up to the Tories when it comes to Brexit. Theresa May’s version of Brexit becomes the new centre ground.

Tight ship

Starmer pursues a ‘softer’ Blue Labour line than some, trying to tack between a liberal identity politics, with which he is manifestly more comfortable, and a flag-waving patriotism that could not look more fake if it was rendered in the late-1980s CGI. He will take the knee; but only if the England football team do it first. In the meantime, he keeps his left flank well shored up - not that doing so is terribly demanding, given the uselessness and cowardice of the Labour left.

Momentum spokespeople complain that when it comes to the selection of candidates for the next general election there has been a “brazen, systematic attempt to exclude anyone to the left of Tony Blair [who else? - PD] from the Parliamentary Labour Party”. In reply, Sir Keir’s people have protested that Paul Mason has made the long list in Stretford; which tells you all you need to know about Paul Mason. His fanatical pro-imperialism may, at this point, exceed Blair’s, the latter having a historic soft spot for the Russia-friendly tyrants of the Caucasus (if, of course, the price is right). In all, then, we may assume that, so far as selections go, Victoria Street is running a tight ship.

When the Manifesto Group (forerunner of the Social Democratic Party) asked Denis Healey why they should vote for him as Labour leader in 1979, he allegedly replied: “because you have nowhere else to go”. The question must occur to the residual groups of the Labour left today - do they have somewhere else to go? For so many of them - from Momentum to the Labour Representation Committee, to the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy - their basic strategy was tested by the Jeremy Corbyn years. That boiled down to the proposition that common-sense social democratic reforms were popular in issue polling, so a Labour Party campaigning on a medium-strength social democratic programme would sweep to power and pose far broader questions of the class struggle than were apparently at issue in such a manifesto. Pursuing that strategy, Corbyn was crushed, discarded as leader and found himself suspended from the PLP.

It is not surprising, then, that the idea of a ‘new’ party has come up again. After all, the sabotage actions of the right (and pseudo-leftists like Mason, for that matter) are part of the story of this failure. Perhaps it really is time to jump ship. Rumours have persistently emerged that a new ‘thing’ could be built around Corbyn himself, although we would not blame him for preferring a quiet life with his runner beans from here on out. The general secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham, is notoriously tepid on the Labour link. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the alliance of convenience between SPEW, the RMT union and others, is grinding back into gear and fluttering its eyelashes around the place. Owen Jones certainly seems to be suffering from an “identity crisis” when it comes to the Labour Party.

It need barely be said what might be built out of all this - a new broad party of the left: Corbynism without Labour. Were such a thing to be created, it would likely be a worthwhile site of struggle. But only for a certain period of time, for it would be deservedly doomed.

It is said that ‘the party’ - meaning a communist party in the strict sense - is the memory of the class. Organisations short of such a party may provide at least the memory of a slice of activists, as one generation replaces another. Alas, we lack any more than the most rudimentary excuses for such a party, and so the present population of socialist activists has predominantly a mayfly-level memory.

Memories

How many of these ‘broad parties’ must we watch descend into political capitulation at best, farce and disaster at worst? Internationally we may date the whole phenomenon, in its modern form, to the emergence of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) in the 1980s and the Communist Refoundation Party in Italy, dating from the early 1990s. More recent entries into the canon are Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. None of these are, ultimately, success stories. The PT is on course to regain the presidency of Brazil, but has long degraded into essentially a bourgeois developmentalist party, and never governed as anything else. In Italy Rifondazione was destroyed electorally after entering the Romano Prodi governments of the 2000s. Syriza was humiliated and destroyed by the euro zone ‘troika’. Podemos became a pliant partner for Spanish social democracy and, like the PT, lost all vestiges of its former ‘radicalism’, beyond the florid histories of some of its key personnel.

Like the endless succession of fad diets, to which the overweight (or merely insecure) are successively subjected, the next entry in the series of broad-left parties buries over past disappointment with apparently fresh hope. But the differences in either case are accidental, rather than essential - each fails for more or less the same reasons, if not always in the same way.

Those reasons come down ultimately to the question of the state. Organisations of this sort were once called by the Mandelite Fourth International “parties not programmatically delimited between reform and revolution”. Perhaps that is a good phrase. The distinction between parties of reform and revolution is characterised in very different ways by different schools of thought, but in all of them the question of the state is paramount in one way or another. For our part, it comes down to the question of the present constitutional order. Revolutionary parties confront head-on the need to overturn the prevailing constitutional architecture. This is because the prevailing constitutions are capitalist: they seek to guarantee, by fair means or foul, de facto political representation according to size of capital.

In formal terms, of course, much more has been granted to the populace of modern Europe and North America, and more unevenly the states of the global periphery - universal suffrage; one person, one vote. The essence of the matter remains unchanged, however, merely by the wholesale and - when you think about it - quite comic corruption of the political system, and along with it the legal system that supposedly regulates such corruption.

An honest reformist believes that socialism might be introduced without overturning the constitution, but it is quite plausible that this species is extinct. There are, on the one hand, individuals and parties of reformist origin that have long since abandoned any aim of overcoming capitalism at all; and, on the other, radicals who expect that they can dodge the fundamental questions of where power lies as part of some kind of cunning strategy. They are either bought off (PT, Rifondazione), pulled apart by competing egos (Scottish Socialist Party, Respect), isolated by the international institutions of capital and forced to submit (Syriza), or outmanoeuvred by the rest of the corrupt political system (Corbyn). It is not that no countermeasures exist to these responses on the part of the bourgeois state and its outliers: it is that they lie only in the delegitimisation of the institutions themselves and a coherent plan to replace them.

Ignoring these questions in order to focus on ‘popular’ proposals involves the almost touching belief that the questions will ignore you right back.

paul.demarty@weeklyworker.co.uk