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Currently viewing the tag: "UK Politics"

What’s the cause of that facial expression?

The dominance of New Labour over the Labour Party in the UK has been shattered by two major events. First, the May elections, in which they proved that they had no better idea on how to win an election than anyone else. (Admittedly, Ed Miliband wasn’t a typical Blairite and had some quirks, but he did support austerity and ran an election campaign that was textbook New Labour.) The second was the decision by Labour’s post-election interim leadership to abstain from voting on a welfare cuts bill. Either of these events alone could have been survivable, just as New Labour survived the Iraq War and the many scandals of Tony Blair’s last years in office. Both, however, were not, and have triggered a surprise surge in favor of an actual progressive leftist, Jeremy Corbyn, to lead the party. To Blairites, this is an absolute calamity. The pitch of New Labour going back to the 1990s was that (a) New Labour could win while Old Labour couldn’t, and (b) New Labour shared the same values as Old Labour, but just preferred newer, more sophisticated methods of advancing them. Suddenly, tons of Labour members find themselves doubting both of these assertions, so New Labour found itself needing a New case and a New spokesman to give the party-within-a-party a New direction. So naturally, they turned to the freshest, newest, most innovative leader they can muster: Tony Blair.

Blair’s pitch in The Guardian is quite interesting by what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t reference either of the key events that have led to a revolt against New Labour. Needless to say, the Iraq War and Blair’s postwar career of helping dictatorial regimes improve their image are similarly not addressed. Blair smartly acknowledges his controversial status in the actual headline, which is a solid hook, but the article offers little new data or argumentation. It does, however, contain this bizarre threat:

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.

This is actually quite audacious: Blair is claiming a negative-sum theory of politics, in which Tory policies make their party less popular, which winds up making the Labour Party even less popular because its leader is unelectable and therefore incapable of effective opposition. Some might argue that a leader that actually opposes the policies of the other side might be a more effective opposition leader, but whatever. Woo hoo, Daschle and Gephardt forever! Never disagreeing with the other side can see your party go from running the Senate to having a ten seat deficit in four short years, and simultaneously multiplying its House deficit by a factor of ten. Traditionally, in two party systems, one party becoming less popular gives the other party another hearing, and in spite of what the pundits predicted, the UK outside of Scotland is just as much a two-party state as it ever was, given the flattening of the Liberal Democrats and the failure of UKIP to win more than a single seat. Given this, though, Blair argues that the Labour Party will suffer a logic-defying voter apocalypse for the crime of not picking a leader that Tony Blair deems electable. It may well be that Corbyn is unelectable at the present (though so was Barry Goldwater in 1964, and from his supporters’ perspective they were not wrong to back him), but Blair fails to offer an affirmative case for New Labour on substance. He merely tries to scare people into continuing to support them, a cycle that continues to play out to Corbyn’s advantage, as the latter has gotten great mileage out of his hopeful message. All Blair has to offer them are the eternal history lessons and dubious predictions of doom. Perhaps it is time he took a page from his good buddy George and retired from the political arena, and who knows? In a few years, perhaps he too can stop being hated, and instead merely become a subject of ironic fascination.

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Lev filed this under: ,  

“Everybody” seems to think that Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster as UK Labour leader because he’s too left-wing. It’s possible they’re right, I’m no expert on what people in Britain are feeling. But you could make an equivalent case that it would be insane not to pick him. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that with another bland Blairite, Scotland is simply just gone for good from the Labour Party, and Labour isn’t going to come back without rebounding in Scotland. Also seems self-evident that defending Northern England from UKIP will be much easier with an actual progressive than with a typical character from The Thick Of It. It’s quite possible that Corbyn would flop in the role, but at this point it seems nutty to prioritize outreach before dealing with existential threats to the party, and given that Ed Miliband seemed to be the worst of all worlds (used populist rhetoric while accepting sole responsibility for the recession; supported austerity while shunning business), it’s not really one but maybe three or four huge problems due to him that Labour actually needs to solve, and a centrist isn’t going to be able to solve them all.

Far better than the current path they seem to want to take, which is to emulate the Gephardt/Daschle Democrats who tried to get along with Republicans and show how much they “understood” the voters, instead of the Pelosi/Reid model of strong, tactically sound opposition. The former pair served a decade each and never got to run Congress, while the latter two were running it within two years of taking over.

Lev filed this under:  

So, just as I predicted, the UK Election was a complete fiasco for the left aside from Scotland. Though I have to admit that even I didn’t expect the Liberal Democrats to wind up with less than ten seats. In retrospect, though, it makes perfect sense. Good summary here:

If the electorate felt an anti-incumbent impulse, they directed it not at the Tories but almost exclusively at their coalition partners. One-time supporters who leaned left abandoned the Lib Dems long ago; those who leaned right preferred to vote for the real thing.

Ultimately, I think, this is why it was such a stupid idea for the Liberal Democrats to join in a coalition. Nick Clegg often talks about the party carrying on this political and intellectual tradition down from John Stewart Mill and all that, but fundamentally, the party was two separate protest movements rolled into one: left-liberals who dislike the Labour Party (many due to the Iraq War), and conservatives who dislike the Tories (many over the party’s stance toward Europe), along with narrowly tailored appeals to specific voters in Scotland and Wales. The Liberal Democrats offered a perfect vehicle for all sorts of discontent: they had a definite presence in British politics and always got to take the high road, to stand on broadly appealing principle in part because they never exercised power (and it didn’t seem they ever would). As soon as they actually held power (or, at any rate, couldn’t avoid responsibility for its exercise), the entire thing crumbled like a fusilli hydra. And then there’s this detail, dealing with the intracasies of British politics that almost nobody here knows about:

Afterwards there was much talk of Lib Dem familiarity with disaster and historic resilience in the face of it. But now there must be a question over the viability of theparty. They lost a fortune – £170,000 – in forfeited deposits. They will no longer qualify for much of the parliamentary subsidy known as Short money. Their funding base in the prosperous London seats they once held has gone.

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If there’s one constant to multinational states, it is that the dominant faction sees the state as one big happy family that is just fantastic and wonderful and everybody else just must feel that way. The elites of the USSR certainly did, and it cost them their empire because to many in the Soviet Republics, the situation was much more like an extended home invasion than a leisurely family dinner. The fact that the UK’s political elite dogged their campaign to keep Scotland a part of the UK reeks of this same tendency, which made the pro-independence case much better than any argument they themselves could make.

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UK’s spinner-in-chief managed to get some good headlines by cutting banker bonuses, but it won’t do any good. They’ll just take it in salary instead. I’ve said it before, but there are three very good reasons for the rise of UKIP in British politics, and those are the three current major party heads.
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I do understand that the UK Labour Party is in a tough spot–they got virtually all the blame for the economic collapse, and while being in charge for thirteen years probably means you deserve most of it, I’m not entirely sure they deserve all of it. So a full-on onslaught against austerity in the style of now-French President Hollande is probably going to be politically dicey. But I see it as extremely ominous when they start sounding like every failed DLC-style failed campaign here in the US: defensive, granting virtually all of the other side’s premises, promising everything in such a way that the public can’t help but realize you’re promising nothing. I’ve long presumed that Cameron is toast the next time he comes up for election, but if this is what the campaign looks like over there, I can’t help but be pessimistic.
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Mr. Stross looks at the most likely effects this would have. Basically, Britain would see its foreign trade dry up and wouldn’t really gain any real independence, and considering that the UK is such a financialized economy at this point, getting cut out of free trade pacts don’t sound all that good. It does seem pretty clear that the UK’s deeply hated leaders are hoping to use Europe as a way of keeping attention off of the inability of their one-dimensional austerity strategy to prove results. The only question is whether or not it has enough juice to accomplish this, and I’m skeptical. It’s shrewd in its way, but it’s buttressing an essentially reactive economic strategy at this point, and that’s the biggest fundamental. It could wind up being Cameron’s “self-deportation” moment I suppose.
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