Durham Miners Gala July 2018

Be left. Be radical. Be Zen…

Some notes on the current British political situation

  1. As a result, millions of people are about to get a demonstration of how elite power works in Britain. As Labour goes 5% ahead in the polls, a small number of Labour MPs and members are making signals that they are about to leave and either join or form a centrist party.
  2. The purpose of triggering a Blairite split from Labour is not primarily to form some new, viable centrist force. Its primary aim is to prevent a Labour government. Why?
  3. Since the miners’strike Britain has become a stronger democracy, with institutions like the Supreme Court; formalised parliamentary procedures (eg the Committee system) and a politically accountable police force and prosecution service. Plus there is now an alternative to monopolised private media.
  4. The “old” method of dealing with a left-wing Labour government — sabotage by unaccountable elements of the executive as in 1924 or under Wilson — has become impossible. The “very British coup” has to take place before the election, not after it.
  5. The free-market economic system that underpinned both Blair/Brown, Cameron/Clegg and the Major era has fallen apart. The choice facing the UK elite is either to: (i) create a right-wing nationalist dystopia, crashing out of the EU to become Trump’s client state, mobilising xenophobic and racist rhetoric or; (ii) an economy with much stronger state intervention, regulation, welfare, higher taxation and state investment, defending a multilateral, rules-based system, with the strong links and regulatory alignment with the EU needed to do that.
  6. The Tory party is too divided, the Libdems too weak, and the SNP too obsessed with independence to resolve this dilemma effectively. Only Labour can execute a state-led, Europe-oriented high-welfare revival of British capitalsm. But…
  7. For a small ultra-right fragment of the Labour Party, allowing Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street, and allowing an energised, mass party membership to dictate policy, breaks every political instinct. When they accuse him of being a “national security threat”, or a “racist and anti-semite” etc. what they are really doing is to try to make Labour unelectable.
  8. A Labour government in this circumstance, even with a majority of MPs coming from traditional centre-left politics, is too big a risk for one section of the British elite to take.
  9. The actions it would need to take to revive growth, revive dynamism in small towns and boost wages in the precarious and low-paid end of the economy threaten the vested interests of hedge funds, offshore finance, property speculators, outsourcing companies and that segment of British society which manages the money of foreign dictators and crooks.
  10. It also threatens the interest of the despotic and unjust foreign governments who have relied on the Conservative and Blairite support throughout this century, for arms supplies and diplomatic cover. They have every interest in using soft power and intelligence activity to prevent Labour coming to office, and the growth of the private intelligence industry means it can be done using proxies.
  11. Any new centrist party might attract Tory rebels alongside neocons from the Blairite tradition. Either it will be formed around the infrastructure of the Libdems, or as a new party. Its purpose would be to take as many seats as possible from Labour and then facilitate a new Tory-Libdem coalition.
  12. The Labour Party will emerge stronger if it continues to be a broad church: an alliance of traditional centrist social-democrats, including people who subscribe to the Third Way doctrine that inspired Blairism, centre-leftists from the Brown/Ed Miliband days, Momentum, the unions and the new social movements and the “Blue Labour” tradition.
  13. The left needs to understand that parties in a first-past-the-post system are always coalitions; and that the UK labour movement’s attachment to reform, gradualism, partnership with employers etc is not some Blairite import but a legitimate political tradition that needs to be respected, even if you disagree with parts of it.
  14. We should do everything possible to maximise the amount of space inside the party for differing views: on Brexit, on Israel-Palestine, on anti-austerity policy, on Scottish independence, on Trident, on NATO, on gentrification and outsourcing etc — and on all the other legitimate differences a mass social-democratic party has to contain.
  15. The experience of Summer 2016 shows that, if they go, the quitters will aim to create maximum rancour and disruption. The sensible thing to do is to simply congratulate them on their decision, thank them for their work in the past, and get on with our own activity: picking new MP candidates, launching weekly surgeries, positively campaigning for the Labour Party’s policies.
  16. If someone sits in your house calling you a racist, making your life a misery, trying to damage your mental health and generally disrupting your life — why would you start persuading them once they packed their bags?
  17. The broadcast news, the radio talk shows and most major newspapers will big-up any new party, or the expanded Libdem party. That is their de facto role in the elite power system: to prevent progressive change. The leading decision makers have been educated and trained from birth to defend the system of corporate power and hereditary wealth and, whatever rules constrain them, that will be their instinct. If a Labour MP splits, just tot up the number of times that MP has been hosted on the politics programmes, versus equally talented loyal ones you never see on TV, and you’ll understand what’s been going on.
  18. Don’t get angry, just switch off the TV news if you can’t stand it, or complain to Ofcom; only buy the newspapers that report fairly, boycott those who don’t and donate money to the growing number of online media outlets that reflect the radical new politics of hope. Meanwhile insist on the rules being applied: HM Opposition has media rights other parties don’t.
  19. Once the people who want to leave, they’re gone. They will feel happier and so will we. The Labour Party will have to make tactical alliances with them in future, for example on softening Brexit, defending democracy etc. But their moral right to argue with Labour members, influence us, slag us off, call us names, gaslight us etc will evaporate. Likewise their MPs will no longer be able to sabotage a Corbyn government from within, which was their Plan A, or covertly sabotage Labour’s election campaign, as in 2017.
  20. So lets not fret, let’s not waste time calling them out on social media, or indulge in the nasty atmosphere they want to create. Concentrate instead on one task…
  21. Labour must be the force that unites Britain: around the closest possible economic relationship with Europe; the strongest form of devolved government for Scotland; a new economic model that delivers high wages, high welfare and high growth; promotes women’s rights actively in the face of a global misogynist backlash; and a foreign policy that strengthens the multilateral global system and refrains from wars of aggression.
  22. The ancient Greeks called this kind of leadership hegemony: leadership through persuasion and moral authority, trust and the creation of a shared narrative. The left, resurgent as it is, could never lead Britain in the way the Tories are trying to — through manipulation, panic, abuse of power and a propaganda press.
  23. Everybody who agrees with the above strategy should stay in Labour or join. With the people who brought us war, rendition and privatisation gone, the way is open to a better dialogue with, for example Green voters and the pro-independence left in Scotland. Labour can, if we get this right, become the centre of gravity for all progressive politics and social movements. So in the face of the nastiness, lies and hypocrisy: just be left, be radical, be Zen.



Ideas, strategies, arguments and reports on resistance to the global far right

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Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.