Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Labour and National Populism After the Peterborough By-Election.

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Brexit Politics (Cold War Steve).

“When in a crisis” wrote Stuart Hall in 1979, “the traditional alignments are disrupted, it is possible, on the very ground of this break, to construct the people into a populist political subject with, not against the power bloc; in alliance with new political forces in a great national crusade to make Britain ‘Great’ once again.” (1)

In this,  The Great Moving Right Show, Hall foresaw the way in which the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher was able to bring together voters behind an “authoritarian populism” that played in the difficulties of Labour’s social democratic collectivist heritage. The details of radical free-market policies mattered less than law and order; the “nation” and “our people” appealed to the large racist constituency that had been given a voice by Enoch Powell and was visible in the street marches of the National Front; ‘popular morality” embraced her call for hard work and getting the state “off our backs”.

The Peterborough by-election was marked by the presence of a new army in that Holy War for British Greatness, the Brexit Party. As Alan Wager says, “for the first time since the introduction of universal suffrage, Peterborough is no longer a Labour or Conservative contest. Instead, an insurgent party just eight weeks old – the Brexit Party – came a close second, campaigning ostensibly on the single-issue basis they will “bring democracy back”. Farage, he continues, fills a vacuum. His defeat, acknowledged, if at all, with ill-grace, was not a decisive blow. The new start-up business/Party, “mixing together democracy and leaving the EU without any withdrawal agreement, clearly hits the electoral sweet-spot of the current moment “ Their impact on the Conservative Party leadership contest, and the potential boost to the No Deal Boris Johnson, is considerable. (2)

Farage’s own stunt – clearly planned in anticipation of victory – still went ahead:

 

This indicates, those inspired by one side of Hall’s articles argue, the left needs its own “national popular” language to counter the national populists of the Brexit Party and the Tory European Reform Group. Calls for class struggle, or mass protests, the “real struggle”, have been launched, largely to deaf ears. There were a couple of thousand People’s Assembly demonstrators in January. They might have sparked some sympathy if they had not finished the day with pointless fisticuffs between their high vis clothed supporters and far rightists in yellow jackets over who were the “real” Gilets Jaunes. The “floating signifier” of the People against the “elite”, the “power bloc” could be harnessed by the left and filled with democratic content. National Sovereignty could be the key to fighting ‘neoliberalism’, largely, it appears, an enemy located in the European Union.

National Therapy Culture.

“The Language of emotionalism pervades popular culture, the world of politics, the workplace, schools and universities and everyday life” began Frank Furedi in Therapy Culture. (2004) Today the ‘red-brown’ Brexit Party supporter is one of many who celebrate the national “Self”. Far from a bold assertion of self-affirmation and independence the Brexit crusaders wallow in victimhood and narcissism. Identity politics, of the ‘real’ working class, the ‘real’ British, the English has flourished. The quiet decency of love for people, culture and things dear has been replaced by cries of Treason, and Betrayal. (3)

The Brexit Party is an Encounter Group for this constituency. Perhaps it’s to ease their pain with palliatives like turning against the hard Brexit free market pain pain by proposing “John Lewis-style” – boss run – social ownership by companies part-owned by the workers in British Steel.

Socialist Resistance predicted a Carnival of Reaction after a Referendum Leave vote. It is still taking place. This time the moving right show is leading a simulacrum of Greatness, subordinate to a new American assertion of autonomous, unilateral, action. Those who pinned their hopes on a popular pro-Brexit revolt “from below”, paralleling the French Gilets Jaunes. But such signs of the vanquished standing up in the line of a “democratic and social revolution” seen in the rose tinted spectacles of the French journalist Edwy Plenel, has not appeared. They will not appear. (4)

Left Brexiters at an Impasse.

The disillusion of left Brexit supporters has yet to unfold. Larry Elliott, is a supporter of the ‘red brown’ Full Brexit grouping, which brings together Brexit Party backers the Communist Party of Britain, Labour Leave, some Counterfire supporters, and the anti-cosmopolitan Blue Labour. Elliott defends Jeremy Corbyn’s “Euroscepticism”, and places anti-EU politics on the left, ignoring long-standing radical socialists who have had a more favourable “transform and remain” stand for some decades. Those who recoil from National Populism and advocate this view turn a blind eye to Europe with a “a currency that doesn’t work, an economy that doesn’t work and a political process that doesn’t work.” Elliot is reluctant to describe in detail the socialist potential offered by a Brexit Britain, one carried out by the only available vehicle the Conservative government, negotiating with the WTO and Donald Trump,.

That the Labour leader has done a good job in keeping Leavers and Remainers under the same tent – a “marriage counsellor” – seems to be the “line” in some quarters. The idea that Labour needs its “herbivores” – middle class liberals – as well as is sturdy working class supporters may well be true. Stuart Hall talked of Thatcherism speaking out for those with negative experience of the corporate institutions of the social democratic consensus. Labour, it hardly needs saying, can draw on the lived experience of neoliberalism, austerity and the coercive bureaucracy of the shrunken welfare state.

But Brexit remains at the centre of everything. There is indeed a “significant minority”, with or without the romance of labour movement history, of Labour supporters who backed Brexit. But this claim covers something that needs thinking about. Efforts by Left populists to “federate” the “people” against the “oligarchy” have been set back in the European elections as Podemos and La France insoumise lost a lot of votes. It is even less likely that Labour can win support as an “insurgent” party against Europe and against those opposing National Populism and Brexit. 

This may help clarify Labour’s position,

It is commonly assumed that Leave supporters want to leave the EU — regardless of the type of Brexit — more than Remain supporters want to remain. But a new YouGov survey of over 1,600 British citizens carried out by academic researchers shows it is wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. 

While 33 per cent of the country now want a no-deal Brexit, 42 per cent say it is their least-favourite outcome. Our survey also shows that support for the Brexit Party is higher among financially comfortable voters — adding to previous research showing that support for no-deal is also higher in that group.

The gap between Remainers’ attitude to leaving and leavers’ attitude to Remaining holds true across supporters of all the political parties. Even Brexit Party voters are not all vehemently attached to leaving at any cost. Only 50 per cent prefer their lowest-ranked Leave option to Remaining.

Meanwhile, among people who voted Labour in 2017, 72 per cent of Remainers would mind “a lot” about leaving the EU, whereas only 25 per cent of Labour Leavers mind “a lot” about Remaining.

Everything you think you know about Leavers and Remainers is wrong.  Christabel Copper and Christina Pagel.

Not that these considerations will affect the Boycott Labour in the European Elections editors of the Communist Party of Britain’s Morning star.

They are still rattling out the same old tune,

 Labour’s chances of forming the next government rest on finding a principled basis for uniting the labour movement with and within the party that best represents its diversity.

The only credible basis for such unity lies in convincing a decisive majority of voters, most particularly Labour’s core constituency of skilled and lesser skilled workers, that Corbyn meant it when he said Labour would respect the referendum result.

That is….back the part of that diversity which alone, and against everything, supports Brexit….

There is only one Brexit on offer and this is the Man who would like to carry it out:

Matthew Parris.

*********

  1. Page 49. The Hard Road to Renewal Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left, Stuart Hall. Verso. 1988.
  2. Peterborough: Labours squeaky victory and the vacuum on the right. Alan Wager.
  3. Therapy Culture. Routledge 2004. The Minimal Self. Christopher Lasch. Picador. 1984.
  4. La Victoire des vaincus. À Proposes des gilets jaunes. Edwy Plenel. La Découverte. 2019.
  5. Jeremy Corbyn is right: Labour needs both its leavers and its remainers. 

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2 Responses

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  1. Letter in yesterday’s Graun:

    • As a redundant miner who campaigned before, during and after the 1984-85 strike for both economic and social investment, I, far more than Mr Harris, am aware of the depth of betrayal, loss and anger in previously strong working-class communities.

    However, there is absolutely no alternative but to take on the Brexit party, Farage, the ERG and the Tory party both in and outside of parliament, in the interests of working people throughout Britain.

    The incoherent decision-making by the Labour party’s national executive committee that flies in the face of an annual conference decision does not in any way give the lead the nation is desperate for. The way out is a binary choice, starkly in or out. The May-negotiated EU agreement shows that any form of compromise cannot succeed.
    Lawrence Knight
    (Former president, Kent Area NUM), Aylesham, Kent

    Jim Denham

    June 8, 2019 at 2:04 pm

  2. So who won? England or Anschluss?

    oiltranslator

    June 13, 2019 at 9:01 pm


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