Rethinking Europe

UK: Labour Hands UK to Tories for a Decade

Britain’s Labour party, by reelecting Jeremy Corbyn, faces a miserable decade, like it did in the 1950s and 1980s.

Credit: David Martyn Hunt - www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader hands all power over to the ruling Conservative Party.
  • The Labour saga confirms the adage that the left loves politics but finds the idea of power distasteful.
  • From the beginning of the century, right-wing politicians made “immigration” a major British political issue.
  • Corbyn is a preacher not a politician. He never mastered the art of dominating the House of Commons.
  • Britain needs a new generation of intellectuals who can explore the new dominant Tory politics.

In June of this year, Britain voted to quit Europe. This September, barely three months later, the Labour Party topped it off: By reelecting Jeremy Corbyn, it effectively voted to quit democratic parliamentary politics.

Only the Tories matter now

Jeremy Corbyn continuing as Labour leader hands all power over to the ruling Conservative Party.

Britain is now a one-party state. At least into the 2020s, it is thus Tory factions, groups, alignments and ambitions of Tory MPs that matter.

This is hard on British political reporting as well on academics that have been feeding on Tony Blair’s Labourism and its chief personalities for the past 25 years. No more.

British journalists, intellectuals and journalists now need to turn their attention to the ruling Conservative Party, as it is the only relevant political game in the country.

Labour’s self-demolition derby

What lies ahead is a replay of the 1950s or then again in the 1980s (when there were 13 and 18 years, respectively, of continuous Tory rule).

What led to Labour’s opting out of political power at the time was party activists’ believing that the Labour governments, in the 1945-51 and the 1974-79 periods, had failed to convert Britain to socialism.

To vent the frustration, giant movements arose — first to oppose nuclear weapons and then British membership of the European Economic Community (which was driven forward by the Tories at the time!).

What Labour evidently tends to excel at is tearing itself apart, preferably by “virtue” of external left political groups. In the 1950s, it was supporters of the British Communist Party and, in the 1980s, it was the Trotskyist Militant group that helpfully provided this self-demolition service to the party.

The Labour saga confirms the adage that the left — not just in the UK — loves everything about politics, but finds the idea of power and government quite distasteful.

The “Momentum” movement

With this past as prologue, Labour has once again opted out of having any prayer to form a government in the UK.

Today, it is the Momentum movement that offers hard-hitting analyses of why past Labour governments had gone wrong.

True enough, the right-of-center Labour leaders’ misguided love affair with the United States played an important role as well. Where Blair fell in with America’s war machine, Brown just loved the Clinton machine’s financialization games.

It is the fury and resentment harbored by all those who had lost out during the years of the Blair-Brown government that now comes to the fore full force. The activists blame the more centrist Labour leadership for the absence of fair-pay jobs and social housing for their children.

Intellectuals, never good at practical politics, could also point to the decline of the working class and trade union members.

How Labour fell for the Tories’ master plan

And so it was that the same political forces that gave birth to Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece – angry students, bitter working class organizers, those hoping for post-industrial Green societies, impoverished retirees and anti-Brussels leftists – has now taken center stage in British politics.

The plan of the country’s right-wing operatives succeeded to perfection. Suddenly, working class people everywhere felt that Polish had apparently became Britain’s second language.

Other EU member states may have more EU “immigrants” proportional to their population. But that didn’t matter much. Right-wing politicians and the offshore-owned anti-Labour tabloid press did enough brainwashing to make “immigration” a major British political issue.

Why it’s so hard to be a leftie in the UK

There is one big difference between the UK and the other countries: In the latter, the system of proportional elections allows for new left parties to emerge and also to become part of coalition governments. Unlike venerable Labour, they thus have a realistic option to govern, in tandem with other parties.

In Britain, with the Anglo-Saxon majority first-past-the-post election system, leftist anti-capitalism politics may cause a fury at party conventions, as well as a media spectacle. But that excitement, like a flash in the pan, has turned the Labour Party into a de facto prisoner.

These voices have found their champion in Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, a preacher, not a politician

Corbyn is a preacher, not a politician. He can preach a sermon at a mass rally, but has never mastered the art of dominating the House of Commons.

This matters in a country that determines power and respect on the basis of often ruthless debate. Corbyn’s failure in this regard is all the more astonishing as the country’s new Prime Minister Theresa May is a wooden speaker prone to clichés.

Need for new generation of intellectuals

Rejuvenated in spirit, Labour will limp through a miserable decade — just as it did as in the 1950s and again in the 1980s.

Labour’s predicament is made worse by two other factors: First, its loss of seats in Scotland and second, the blatantly partisan redrawing of constituency boundaries that further increased the Tories’ contingent of winnable seats. This was David Cameron’s last gift to his Conservative party.

The wheel of political fortunes in the UK will turn once again, perhaps in the 2020s. But in the meantime, and especially for the crucial period ahead over Brexit, the only political game in town is the Conservative Party and its MPs and supporters.

Britain needs a new generation of journalists, writers and intellectuals who can rise to the occasion of exploring and reporting on the new dominant Tory politics.

It has been so much easier to dwell in the ever bigger absurdities of the intranecine warfare in Labour-land, even though the country is living somewhere else.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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