The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from within UK Labour is audible even at the greatest distances. Where’s his domestic agenda they cry as David Cameron rushes to bring Etonian empathy to the watery wastes of Appleby and Cumbria?
But gesture politics is everywhere. In France the Front National has made huge gains to become the third largest force in the country on the back of Marine’s newly ‘respectable’ populism (and no doubt the Paris massacres).
Labour has its own populist faction firmly ensconced in leadership. Moderates struggle – much as they did in the leadership election – to find a response that resonates with an electorate that’s rapidly closing down on tin ear elites.
As Andrew Grice notes, that is likely to presage a long struggle effectively taking the Labour out of any useful participation in a national debate leaving it with just the singular voice of one party:
The new politics may be more volatile; voters are less tribally loyal and more likely to shop around. But our anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system is a massive deterrent for anyone thinking about forming a new party. In May, Ukip won 3.9 million votes and the Greens 1.2 million; they both got one MP.
The Conservatives won’t change the voting system; until it is changed, the new politics will end up looking remarkably like the old politics. The irony is that, in what appears to be an era of multi-party politics, some senior Labour and Lib Dem figures fear we are heading for a virtual one-party state, with a long period of Tory rule.
Zoe Williams points out in the Guardian today, Corbyn’s coldest weapon has been holding a whipless vote on the Syria bombing. Thus exposing a large chunk of his party to rage of his as yet still minority faction within the elected machine:
One of Twitter’s core uses is for a kind of performative anger. It was built for people who wanted to explode with insatiable rage, with no more intention of acting on that rage in the real world than of applying in life the lessons of Minecraft. Twitter, having drawn in those people, exposes them to one another, which makes them all worse – it is the virtual equivalent of putting an angry person in a car.
…what the episode really shows is how much pressure MPs are under without the protective carapace of unity. Many, possibly all of them, right across the spectrum, see massed ranks of anonymous haters, and the very next straw will be the one that breaks them.
This is the novelty of the current politics – not Corbyn’s character or actions, but the sheer fact of Labour’s divisions. It has become routine to castigate this as somehow irresponsible – disagreeing about ideas when you should be attacking the Tory government. It is not irresponsible. It is right for Labour to search for an identity it can coalesce around. The party will not be strong enough to attack anything until it finds one.
Doubtless the battle will look chaotic and ugly, but while it continues, everybody – from the farthest right to the farthest left of the party – will be vulnerable and undefended.
Whether or not they would have chosen it, they are living courageous political lives. If they could see that in each other, and we could see and admit it in them, we might get closer to the new politics we claim to want.
Last time Labour there was an enforced parting of the ways, first under Kinnock then under Blair. Until that improbable point, the foreseeable future of the UK belongs to the Conservative party…