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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 November 2018

Non-fiction: Spirit of Britain, purpose of Labour

Nothing to offer from the Blairites

Awkward: Blairite Stephen Kinnock, still from The Summer That Changed Everything/BBC

Awkward: Blairite Stephen Kinnock, still from The Summer That Changed Everything/BBC   (Click to enlarge)

Dave Reid

Labour's right wing is attempting to regroup.

They have been reeling from a succession of hammer blows since 2015: Jeremy Corbyn's landslide victory for the Labour leadership; the Brexit vote in the referendum; and in 2017, to the amazement of the right wingers, Corbyn's left manifesto gained the biggest increase of the vote for Labour at a general election since 1945.

The image that most eloquently conveyed the dismay of the right wing at Corbyn's success in the general election was the picture of a stunned Stephen Kinnock watching the result of the exit poll in the BBC programme 'Labour - the summer that changed everything'.

One of the biggest obstacles that the Blairites have faced is their own policies. Who among working-class people looking towards the Labour Party to offer an alternative would support more austerity, higher tuition fees, a rock-bottom 7.50 minimum wage and so on?

One of the biggest condemnations of Ed Miliband's manifesto in the 2015 election is that the Tory government has actually implemented some of it.

Now Kinnock and a section of right wingers are regrouping from the devastating blow of Corbyn's programme performing well in the election. 'Spirit of Britain, purpose of Labour' is a collection of articles by 14 Blairites attempting to pull together some kind of manifesto - a 'new' ideology and programme, with a capital 'N'.

This book feels like they have woken up from the nightmare and are attempting to come to terms with the new reality. But they only have a dim view of the reality that has slapped them in the face.

Weak policies

The authors are all establishment figures on Labour's right. The painfully weak polices they offer underline the weakness of their position.

The book illustrates that Blairism has nothing to offer working people post-2008.

Prior to the capitalist economic crisis it was possible for them, despite privatisation and neoliberalism, to allow a few crumbs from the overflowing capitalist table to fall to working-class people. That era is over forever and now there are not even crumbs on offer.

They are scratching around trying to reorder the chaos of the market, staying within the confines of a diseased and corrupt capitalist system. The book tries to be innovative and 'modern' but it ends up with familiar ideas to rejuvenate capitalism - investment in infrastructure, a wealth tax, community banks, new models of ownership - without ending the power over the economy of the top 100 or so banks and monopolies.

Kinnock's touching faith in capitalism is revealed when he attacks the 'hard left': "in practice the desire to end markets altogether shows a complete lack of confidence in the nation state's ability to shape markets for the common good." If Kinnock can show an example of nation states shaping markets for the common good I would like to see it.

Their programme is limited to things like adult education funds for people who don't go to university, government-funded training days for workers, a decentralised national curriculum for schools in England, and baby boxes - already introduced in Scotland.

Nothing shows the anaemia of their policies better than housing. Faced with the record homelessness, sky-high rents and hundreds of thousands of empty properties, the group propose... wait for it... restrictions on foreign ownership and an overhaul of the land market.

They do propose a suspension of the right-to-buy scheme - which has already happened in Wales and Scotland - but they do not have any plan for mass council-house building, hoping that private developers can be persuaded to build new homes.

Just as you are beginning to doze off and think you are having a dream about Miliband and the 2015 general election, the reader comes across a genuinely 'radical' policy - devaluation of the pound by one third, proposed by millionaire donor to New Labour, Jim Mills.

This would increase prices and slash real wages at a stroke. Mill says the intention is to achieve parity with the dollar, dramatically improve the competitiveness of British goods and revive the manufacturing industry.

Devaluation

But the shot in the arm to British manufacturing that Mills hopes for would be blunted by the blinkered approach of British capitalists who would see this as a chance to make quick, short-term profits, rather than expand production to win new markets. And the standard of living for working people would suffer yet another hit.

The main thing that these Blairites took from the Brexit vote is that Labour has to be 'patriotic' now - as though the desire of working-class Leave voters for more control over society is the same thing as the flag waving of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

This stereotypical analysis leads to such gems as "it must never be forgotten that the communitarians' worldview centres on and revolves around the nation state: it is the primary source of democracy, legitimacy and identity."

I suppose we should acknowledge that Kinnock and co have moved on from the Blairite habit of just calling working-class Leave voters "racist". Now the buzz word is 'communitarian'.

Arising from the false idea that politics is now dominated by cultural politics instead of class politics, Kinnock has divided Britain into two tribes - communitarians and 'cosmopolitans'.

Communitarians are people in 'conservative' working-class communities in the 'left behind' areas of the north and Wales which voted Leave. Cosmopolitans are 'liberal individualists' in the cities.

Having just discovered the working class in his own Aberavon constituency, Kinnock is attempting to find ways of attracting communitarians by appealing to their patriotism and sense of social solidarity - although if he genuinely believes that communitarians of Aberavon sing 'god save the queen', then he has not learnt much.

His dichotomy is false.

It is true that older workers in working-class communities - affected by the media campaign against Jeremy Corbyn and vicious attacks by Kinnock and other Blairites - are more wary of the Labour leadership. But the idea that they have separate interests from younger workers in urban areas is utterly false.

Kinnock believes that public-sector pay rises and benefits are unpopular to communitarians. But communitarian communities in south Wales have much higher proportions of public-sector workers and benefit recipients than cosmospolitan areas in the south east of England.

Blunted programme

The problem is that Corbyn's anti-austerity programme has been blunted by the Blairites and Kinnock himself, blurring the message brought to areas devastated by neoliberalism and austerity.

So long as Corbyn supports Labour local authorities carrying out cuts there will be a suspicion that he will not really follow through and really attack austerity in government. But the Kinnockites have no answer themselves on these issues.

Incredibly, in the chapter on public services, not once are the cuts or austerity even mentioned. It is not so surprising when you discover that the author, Steve Reed, was leader of Lambeth Council.

Reed carried through brutal cuts to care services, libraries and children's services, while championing co-ops and mutuals so that council workers could be given the job of cutting their own pay and conditions. To the Blairites, cutbacks and austerity are a given that cannot be challenged.

Kinnock and co have done their best to find a way out of their nightmare, but to quote the Roman poet Horace - the mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse, or rather a group of little mice.

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In The Socialist 21 November 2018:


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Nothing to offer from the Blairites

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