By Kumar David –
“We are ready and able to put forward a programme that has massive support in the country.” – Jeremy Corbyn
He is knocking on the door at No. 10; but he must not cross the threshold, not yet. Britain needs a strong Labour government with a clear majority, not a pussyfoot contraption. Let Theresa and the Tories eat dirt for a few months, and wet their underpants screwing up Brexit. Fresh elections and a clear Labour majority; that is best. Though negotiating a decent Brexit or an exit-from-Brexit is important the crucial task facing twenty-first century Labour is rebuilding modern social democracy on the ashes of Thatcher-Blair neoliberalism. Mark you I said ‘modern social democratic’. There is no harking back to the 1960s except for values; a caring society, fairness, reinvigorating once renowned universities, more access to education and restoring the health care system. The folly of privatisation of public goods like railways and electricity supply has to be squashed and these services renationalised. I am looking a bit ahead, but not too far. But first let’s take stock of the lay of the land.
The task of this column is not to report the news but to analyse, theorise and prognosticate. My assumption is that readers are familiar with the run-up to the elections and the outcome; that is who lost, who gained, how many seats and where. I am inclined to say ‘I told you so’ referring to my 6 Sept 2015 column, but be that as it may, now the signposts on the landscape are:-
- Theresa May(TM) has been forced to lean on the ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party (Ian Paisley’s party) which has agreed to support her, vote-by-vote. For now the DUP will only help the Tories survive the Throne Speech.
- The government is hobbled and TM is shackled on social and economic policies and on Brexit. The 318 seat Tory bench survives by the grace of the 10 seat DUP.
- Coalition with the DUP could endanger the Good Friday Accord and imperil the fragile peace in Ireland. The Irish government and Sinn Fein have sounded warnings.
- TM goes into Brexit negotiations a lame duck. She is fighting on two fronts, at the front and at the rear. Back stabbing by Cabinet colleagues and backbench Tory MPs who judge her a harbinger of calamity may see her off within six months.
- The working class abandoned its brief flirtation with UKIP and came back to Labour.
- Young people voted 2:1 for Labour; the university towns were a landslide; youth enthusiasm propelled Corbin; they impelled each other.
- The post election surge to Labour has been as remarkable as the swing in the election. I see the makings of a Labour victory in an election within two years.
- This means a future Corbyn government is likely to be more rather than less radical and that fits Corbyn’s natural inclinations and his CV.
- Market research shows a loss of business confidence (read capitalist dismay). The well-heeled will put up a fight. Confrontation is expected, leading to further radicalisation of Corbyn’s support base.
- Labour’s right flank must be kept out of the shadow cabinet. Blairism is dead what need is there for its relicts?
I am not writing with the zealous hubris of a contented Corbyn and Labour, in its current avatar, enthusiast, though it may sound like that. I have reflected and concluded that these are sensible comments and prognostications. Where I see danger, and when you reach my vintage it is a recurring experience, is how large the gap between hope and reality will be in say the third, fourth, fifth etc. year of a Corbyn government. This is crucial, Labour needs two consecutive terms to undo the damage of four decades and fashion a new Britain. The challenge is not Jeremy becoming prime minister, on that I am sanguine but I hope not complacent; implementing the programme with necessary and sensible adjustments along the way will be the harder part.
But all is not as rosy as seems. The Labour leadership suffers from congenital sectarianism as acutely as its counterpart in Lanka’s left. The Tories won many marginal seats by majorities of one or two thousand. If only there had been tactical voting agreements! Labour’s former defence spokesman Clive Lewis and Green party co-leader, Caroline Lucas say in the Guardian “the result could have been very different if Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats agreed to more electoral pacts. If progressives had voted for the best placed left-of-centre candidate” 62 additional seats would have been wrested from the Tories. “The Greens offered to stand aside for Labour in 12 seats in return for Labour standing down in the Isle of Wight, but the Labour leadership refused”.
So the JVP and Lanka’s left are not the only loonies. Not one left party, group or sect in Lanka has called for a united left-front, let alone unification of the left movement! Worse still, not one has taken it up in-depth in internal discussions. There is no commitment, nothing but tittle-tattle. The JVP is chief among suicide seekers. It will NEVER have more than 10 to 20 parliamentary seats unless it stands with a left alliance drawing radical and left-liberal support. To do that it has to open discussions. Is it capable of such a thing?
Back to Brexit and Corbyn. It is known that Corbyn has always been ambivalent about the EU. He is concerned about the effect of immigrants on domestic wages and unemployment and critical of the exploitation of imported workers by employers. At the same time he sees that belonging to a European project is agreeable to his internationalist sentiments. We saw this during the Brexit campaign; Corbyn campaigned for Remain but it is hard to say he put his heart into it.
As putative prime minister he is likely to adopt a “soft Brexit” approach and he will put any deal to parliament for ratification. On a second referendum my guess is that he will cross that bridge if and when he reaches it. The crucial point is that both Leave and Remain sections of the British working class will trust him and accept a deal he brings back as the best that could be achieved. His credibility is higher than any other leader, Conservative, Labour or Lib-Dem. He is wise to remain ambivalent rather than hypocritical and see how things pan out. Will the EU allow the UK to Remain if it changes its mind? I don’t know the small type in the rule book, but the political answer is Yes.
Welfare-state social-democracy was facilitated in Europe by the long-boom (1945-1970) of post-war reconstruction, brisk economic activity, rising prosperity, virile capitalism, a sturdy working class, social democratic parties in power and the Marshal Plan. Today it’s as different as night is from day! Global capitalism struggles to climb out of the 2008-crisis, sovereign, corporate and private debt spin out of control, manufacturing is dislocated in its heartlands, unseemly income and wealth gaps poison society, and speculative finance capital dominates. New Social Democracy has to be planted on this soil.
But there is an encouraging side. Remarkable technological advances have broken through, huge productivity gains lie within the grasp of social labour, trade and global supply chains have advanced to an extraordinary extent, guaranteed basic income is talked about (“To each according to his needs”) and economic powerhouses have emerged in Asia and elsewhere. The productive prowess needed to create a society of abundance is at hand.
The old social democratic model of tax and spend is passé; New Social Democracy will be founded on a new social contract. The economy must be on a footing of productivity, technology and basic income for all. The option of a higher retirement age in line with longevity should be offered. The power of finance capital must be pruned. Debt must be trimmed and cuts spread across all society; this is not the same as neo-liberalism’s capitalism-in-crisis austerity. The psychological climate is unlike that of a government answerable to the ruling classes alone. Measures that appear similar will be accepted when implemented by a government people trust; for example Syriza in Greece. Rebuilding the NHS, support for schools and universities, better elderly care, public housing now in the limelight after London’s Grenfell Tower fire – Thatcherism 30 years ago turned its back on public housing – and nationalisations will set a different tone. Confidence will soar if income and wealth iniquities are pruned.
In an era of global capitalism in retreat and neo-populism over its peak and possibly in decline*, Corbynite Labour has the opportunity to be an inspiration for the revival of social democracy. When a Labour government takes office it will be a trendsetter flashing hopes of a younger Bernie Sanders and a stronger Jean-Luc Melenchon.
[*Neo-populism may be past its use-by date in the West because: Trump is in the dumps, the National Front fared poorly in French legislative elections, Brexit needs a fix-it, UKIP did not win a single seat, the German far-right is in the dog-box and the Finns Party split].