“while it continues, everybody – from the left to the right – will be vulnerable and undefended”

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.

She concludes:

…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…

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  • ted hagan

    Let’s face it, Corbyn may be a man of principle but would you be confident with him being in charge in the event of a large-scale terrorist attack?

  • chrisjones2

    “But our anachronistic first-past-the-post electoral system”

    Andrew may think so but the electors disagreed decisively – “the bastards” !!! That’s democracy for you – and fie on them – how dare they disagree with a London political editor you may well ask

  • the rich get richer

    Like; Cameron and Osborne are going to go out in the street and bayonet the terrorists themselves.

    They would in a very safe place and others would be dealing with the terrorists.

  • 23×7

    Yea Dave could get out there and point at stuff.

  • 23×7

    Why are you calling the Blairite wing of the party moderates? Surely this wing of the party and their repeated support for wars in the Middle East are anything but moderates.

  • leoinlisbon

    According to Zoe Williams, Labour’s battle will ‘look chaotic and ugly.’ Anyone who remembers that last time Labour battled in this manner will be aware that it was ‘chaotic and ugly.’ Also that, as Mick Fealty says, the end result was a victory for the right, so comprehensive that the rump Labour Party, shorn of its social democrats, threw itself at Tony Blair as a possible electoral victor.
    The Left lost in the 80s, though they had prepared for the fight for many years.
    In 2015 the Left has stumbled into a fight almost be accident.
    Its chances of victory look tiny.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Is this Ms Williams accepting that Corbyn is a divisive figure – and therefore the wrong choice for Labour leader?

    Of course you can blame his opponents in the party for the divisions. But surely it’s obvious if you choose a leader from one extreme of the party, it’s a recipe for dissent and division?

  • Reader

    Dave, who is indecisive, could possibly manage to do the right thing. Jeremy, who is decisive, will manage to do the wrong thing, or, more likely, nothing at all.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I take your point, the Blairites now are actually almost as much a distant wing of the Labour Party as the Corbynistas are at the other end. I don’t think you can have a leader now from either of those places.

    However, the difference with the Blairites is, being on the right of the Labour Party actually places them near the middle of the country politically – and it’s the country that really matters, not the Labour Party itself. Corbynistas being on the left of Labour are far to the left of most of the country, so properly at the extreme.

    So the term ‘moderate’ for Blairites does have some meaning – unless you’re thinking only in internal Labour Party terms. The problem with the hard left is that too many do think in precisely those terms. Ignore this at your peril:

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So the choice should be between three parties, Labour, Conservative and Liberal, divided only by the narcissism of very slight difference, over the same economic policies, and all utterly allergic to any genuine public interest of the entire community that conflicts with vested interests. It was not so much that the “left” lost in the 1980s, rather that the media began to market a particular brand of politician which was user friendly to the New Politics of “Financialisation” in a manner that was incompatible with any serious policies that represented the interests of the entire community.


    Much of what is being represented as extremist would have been unremarkable for any small “c” conservative of Macmillan’s generation, before the extremist radicalism of the Reganthatcher era.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “The country” (oh how I loathe such reifications…) did not simply come to think this way without a lot of “help” from marketing and the media.

    I’ve posted a link to part four of Adam Curtis’s “The Century of the Self” above in order to avoid one of my 1000 word postings. The fact remains though, what has ensured the ubiquitous “middle ground politics” is “manufactured opinion”, and this is not necessarily something that accurately reflects anything that may be needed by the whole community at this moment when our infrastructures are collapsing, and the “death cult” of a quasi religious to “Sacred” privatisation is even talking about selling off even the Land Registry! It will be the Court system next, and sooner or later the only thing directly managed by the state will be Parliament, until that too is privatised, and rationalised in a manner to dispense with these increasingly rather pointless elections.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Yes, both of the last two soldiers actually left in a privatised army whose purchasers can produce a business plan to prove that they can manage national defence with two on the ground and a few thousand managers.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I enjoy the Adam Curtis stuff, but we are where we are. However the centre ground got to where it is – and it’s a reasonable endeavour to seek to shift it – you don’t shift it by seeking its wholesale collapse, in a mature liberal democracy like ours.

    For all his latter failures, Tony Blair did more than anyone else since Wilson, arguably Attlee, to move the centre of gravity of British politics leftwards. For all his compromises and flirtation with private sector excess, in his era the Tories had to be seen to be matching Labour spending plans on hospitals and schools (which of course Osborne is very keen not to talk about now). Labour set the agenda. Could have done more, but … this is how to shift the country leftwards – you have to speak to the middle in the language of the middle. The parable of the Wind and the Sun again is apt. You need to be of that world, not an outsider.

    For me, government should prioritise those in most need and do lots of things around social justice and equality that I’m sure you would agree with. But to get into government and do that, Labour needs big swathes of people who sometimes vote Tory and Lib Dem onside. There is no getting around that. The sooner it starts talking to and for them, and not just to and for activists and core Labour voters, the sooner that centre ground is going to shift leftwards. It is impossible to get change without doing that.

    Labour has to work with the media environment it finds itself in. Some of the press is amenable, if Labour gets its act together. Of papers that didn’t support Labour last time, The Times and the Sun as well as the Independent have backed Labour in the past. If you seem like you’re where it’s at, if you seem to be capturing the mood of the public well enough, newspapers and indeed other backers will come to you. Blair also had the weather eye of Anji Hunter helping Labour communicate with middle Britain. I’m not sure Corbyn would even think to try such an enterprise.

  • leoinlisbon

    ‘It was not so much the “left” that lost in the 1980s’.

    It was the left that lost in the 1980s.
    Just as it was the left that lost in Venezuela a couple of days ago.

  • submariner

    “the foreseeable future of the UK belongs to the Conservative party”

    Part of me hopes this is the case as the Union wont survive for another decade with a bunch of right wing little Englanders in charge, The Scots wont make the same mistake again.…

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Nah, LinL…it was all of us who imagine we once lived in an actual community rather than in a dark wood thick with the predators of “Financialisation” whose watchword is “no such thing as society….”

    So, as the man said years back ” I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.”

    Watch the documentary, and find out just who is pulling your strings so effectively that you even mistakenly believe the nest egg you’ve sold out on the rest of the community to acquire is “yours” and not (as it is in actuality) the banks…..I’m told that the banks can now, in an “emergency” simply transform everything in anyones savings into “bonds”:


    So “I warn you not to hold any personel monies or savings, etc” as well now……

  • Hugh Davison

    I think there’s a lot of truth in what you say, and it saddens me that the post-war generation that benefitted most from a Labour government are now ‘Men of Property’ whose inclinations are Tory or Tory lite i.e. basically selfish.
    The press will always follow the mob in the long run.