Shifting Alliances

Saturday, 9th July 2016

For a long time Britain’s political parties have failed to represent the views and aspirations of ordinary people. Politicians have become mere implementors of policies devised elsewhere by a maze of global organisations. Labour, Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and even the SNP have all converged on a variant of Blairism, broadly speaking a form of managed corporate globalisation with a blurring of traditional national boundaries, a merger between large corporations and public sector services, greater surveillance and above all greater interdependence. They only differ in their presentation to their target audience and can even pretend to disagree on issues over which they have little control or are not mission-critical. The real changes we see in our lives are driven by large corporations and rapid technological innovation with environmental and human consequences few of us can fully comprehend.

The Brexit vote is likely to change the British political landscape in some quite unexpected ways. The EU referendum revealed a divide not so much on traditional party-political allegiances, as on socio-economic classes and tribal identity. In England and Wales people on lower incomes voted overwhelming to leave the EU. Even in Scotland, despite tribal loyalty behind the SNP and its calls for a second Independence Referendum ( #indyref2 ), many working class voters rebelled against their political elites.

In the aftermath of the shock Brexit vote, the British Labour Party is in meltdown. The English and Welsh working classes failed to heed its warnings about the dire economic consequences of leaving its beloved European Union. They sent a clear signal. “Enough is enough. We’re fed up of condescending lectures on the benefits of globalisation. We think it’s out of control and not in our interests. We want you to put local people first.” One thing is clear few leave voters have villas in France or Eastern European nannies. Many live on the breadline, the very people who would once have voted Labour. While some protest votes went to UKIP in the last General Election, many more simply did not vote at all. A few Labour MPs and activists supported the Labour Leave campaign. I donated to help produce #Lexit the movie, presenting the leftwing case against the EU superstate. However, the mainstream media ignored these voices in the wilderness. Only Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart and Frank Field really took part in the public debate. The party machinery and the bulk of its parliamentarians supported staying in the EU, something which had become an act of faith. Not surprisingly the party’s staunchly pro-EU Blairite wing did not blame the handful of mavericks for openly opposing their line, but the new infantile left-leaning leader for failing to present a positive case for staying in the EU. The SNP proudly boasted that they had delivered a pro-EU vote, probably because many of their supporters instinctively distrust remote superstates. Why complain about Westminster being too remote, only to transfer control of your economic and migration policies to Brussels. However, the defining issue was not the finer details of free trade deals or international cooperation, but unsustainable unbalanced mass migration, a phenomenon felt much more in England and Wales than in Scotland. Amazingly on this subject both the Blairite and Corbynite wings are in wholehearted agreement. They may disagree on recent military interventions in the Middle East and Central Asia, on the renewal of Trident or the renationalisation of the railways, but both the infantile universalist left and Blairite corporate globalists adore mass migration, albeit for different reasons. Neither faction really cares about Britain, which they view merely as a social experiment, a kind of extended international university campus. While Corbynites imagine that people from different backgrounds will come together in their struggle against corporate oppressors, Blairites long recognised they had to work with multinational corporations and not against them. They could pretend to care about the environment, community cohesion, international solidarity and human rights just to bring the gullible aspirational left on board. Very often these concerns help drive their longer term agenda for greater corporate control. Human rights provide the ideal pretext for military intervention. Community cohesion can justify greater surveillance and restrictions on free speech. Calls for international solidarity can give grounds for the erosion of national sovereignty and environmental concerns can win public support for a transfer of power to global institutions, often working in cahoots with the same multinationals responsible for much of our industrial pollution. Blairites are pragmatists who usurp progressive rhetoric to empower their corporate masters. By contrast Corbynites can only offer the electorate abstract ideals. In power they could only follow a radical form of Neo-Keynsianism but would soon find themselves constrained by international markets and global institutions just as Greece’s Syriza had to bow to the will of the European Central Bank. They may preach universal love for all, including the disadvantaged native English communities, but they have few plans for managing social conflicts when their economic plans go awry. Ironically, outside the European Union, Britain would be freer to pursue independent economic policies, though global banks would be unlikely to let a potential Corbyn government overspend. For all the talk of investing in the re-birth of British manufacturing, I suspect a Corbyn / McDonnell government would be too busy trying to eke taxes out of multibillion dollar tech giants than to stimulate the kind of technological innovation we need to address our environmental challenges.

The biggest surprise in the wake of the EU referendum is that the Conservative Party is still largely intact, though maybe not for long. I suspect a fair number of MPs, like many voters, were reluctant or rather pragmatic remainers. The establishment know all too well the odds were stacked against the Leave campaign. In the end more people voted with their brain than with their heart. Apart from a hardcore of EU fanatics such as Kenneth Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Nicholas Soames and Anna Soubry, most Conservatives have accepted the result. They merely differ on the finer details of the UK’s negotiated exit. For the first time in living memory, the Conservative Party seem more in touch with the aspirations of ordinary working people than Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Tory Brexiteers can now argue that all deals with the EU must exempt us from accepting free movement of people with the full support of a majority of public opinion. Most voters support balanced migration, i.e. where a similar number of workers enter and leave the country every year letting us still attract foreign talent, but reducing competition at the lower end of labour market. Most would also rather pay more for goods and services than see cheap agency staff undercut local workers. However, I would not trust the Tories to stand up for the interests of ordinary working people. If the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party gain the upper hand in the coming leadership election and secure a favourable free trade deal with the EU that gives us full control over migration policy, UKIP will have lost its raison d’être. If they can genuinely bring down net migration to the tens of thousands, it will cease to be a bone of contention. UKIP’s other policies such as their hatred of wind farms and support for hydraulic fracturing and cheaper motoring basically just appeal to the Jeremy Clarkson mindset. They may have made a few interesting points on the merits of grammar schools and squandering of foreign aid, but few of their policies stand up to much scrutiny in the real world. Education will have to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology and greater automation. Rather than reintroduce outdated grammar schools, we should be setting up specialised schools to further science, technology, engineering and mathematics and let children develop at different rates. Most important we should aim for smaller class sizes. This will mean training more teachers and limiting population growth. Unlike UKIP, I would spend more, not less, on international aid. I would rather help other countries develop sustainably than poach their best and brightest doctors and engineers. I’d rather see poorer countries give their people a better future than tidal waves of migrants crossing the Mediterranean on makeshift boats. The trouble with international aid has always been corrupt local elites and empire-building NGOs who acts as mere fronts for the same global corporations that want to exploit the resources of much of the developing world. We cannot begin to address grotesque global inequalities until we reduce our dependence on resources only available in poor countries. I’m fairly certain the Middle East would be a much more peaceful place were it not for our dependence on plentiful cheap oil and the vast concentration of wealth in a handful of nabobs.

I cannot see any easy way to reconcile the divisions between the Blairite and Corbynite wings of the Labour Party. The Corbynite Momentum movement will retain its strengths among students, trendy cosmopolitan city dwellers and virtue-signalling click activists. If the Parliamentary Labour Party fails to win a likely leadership election with Corbyn on the ballot paper, they will have little choice but to form a new party, which could potentially attract some renegade Tories or even merge with the Liberal Democrats to become effectively the voice of the arrogant upwardly mobile professional classes. A nightmare scenario for British politics would be the growing likelihood of a narrow victory for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership election, not because her team’s policies are all that radical or dangerously rightwing, but because her commitment to an immediate invocation of article 50 and to negotiate a deal that would exempt the UK from freedom of movement. If Jeremy Corbyn wins a likely Labour leadership contest, we could see a seismic shift in UK parliamentary politics. It would only take 20 Tory MPs or so to join forces with the mainstream Blairite wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party to rid the government of its majority and trigger a general election with unpredictable results. Faced with a choice between warmongering Blairites and idealist Corbynites, many traditional Labour voters would run a mile.

I suspect neither grouping would carry a majority of the traditional Labour vote. The party has come to rely too much on the volatile support of ethnic minorities who see the organisation as a vehicle to further their ethno-religous interests. I really do not see Britain’s growing Muslim community forming an alliance with Blairites committed to more wars in the Middle East or with the infantile left pursing a fanciful rainbow coalition of gays, ecologists, vegans and pacifists. That leaves a huge vacuum for working class labour, the kind of people who believe in a pragmatic mix of social conservatism, patriotism, a non-interventionist foreign policy, international solidarity, environmental sustainability, steady-state economics (i.e. a focus on the quality of life rather than GDP growth) and technological innovation.

Following Nigel Farage’s resignation, I’m unsure whether UKIP will ever win over a substantial proportion of the tradition Labour vote. They may just ensure a complete exit from the European Union without any compromise on the globalist left’s treasured Freedom of Movement. They may urge tighter immigration controls, but really have little to offer that differentiates them from the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party. There has been some talk about Red UKIP, but apart from a few populist commitments on the NHS, the party has little to offer disenfranchised Labour voters in a post-Brexit Britain.

Real Labour Manifesto

  • We want an independent, democratic and federal United Kingdom, defending the interests of our citizens while cooperating with our European neighbours and other countries further afield in an intersecting network of international communities. We support strong nation states and international solidarity. Democracy can only thrive in viable nation states able to respond to the will of their electorates.
  • Balanced migration. Only when we can manage migratory flows in a very unequal world can we safeguard the most vulnerable in our society and ensure community cohesion. Immigration policy should focus on social stability, environmental sustainability and international solidarity first and only then take into account economic factors. We should invest in the future of our young citizens by providing the right training opportunities for tomorrow’s world of high skill employment.
  • International aid: In a fast changing world richer countries have a moral duty to help poorer countries develop the infrastructure and skills base they need to take full advantage of modern technology, sop we can live in peace together. While we support international exchanges in science and engineering, we should not deprive poorer countries of their best and brightest.
  • Steady-state economics. For too long we have had a narrow focus on economic growth. In practice this just means a greater volume of financial transactions, higher corporate profits and more consumption. Economic growth cannot continue forever. We need to focus instead on improving people’s quality of life through greater stability and a more diversified but high-skill economy.
  • Stakeholder economy: Artificial intelligence and robotics will transform the world of work. However, we must ensure everyone is involved in shaping our future rather than consigning a growing proportion of our working age population to a life of welfare dependence. We must invest in lifelong training and education, facilitate remote and part-time working and explore ways to ensure that everyone, except the most severely disabled, can contribute in some way. We would rather have full employment with average working hours of just 10 or 15 hours a week, than a growing divide between a technocratic elite of wealthy professionals on high incomes and millions dependent on corporate benevolence.
  • Self-defence: Britain should become a normal post-imperial country. Our armed forces should exist for the sole purpose of national defence. We will continue to participate in international military alliances to avert potential threats from foreign imperial powers, but we will not intervene unilaterally in disputes that do not affect our national territorial integrity. We will scrap all nuclear warheads and reinvest in essential naval defences.
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