Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Declinism and Tory Culture Wars.

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As Far-right Surfaces Left Gets Involved in Culture Wars.

In an important article ‘The Seductions of Declinism in the latest London Review of Books William Davies discusses Britain’s economic malaise. The Goldsmith professor cites the Resolution Foundation,’s latest report which reads, “The UK has great strengths, but is over a decade into a period of stagnation. The toxic combination of slow growth and high inequality was posing challenges for low-to-middle income Britain’s living standards even before the post-pandemic cost of living crisis struck. Growth stands at 0,4% a year, compared to an average 0,9% in OECD countries. Since 2007 wages have not grown at all. The UK is now an “unusually unequal country”.

In form of capitalism which has been called “rentier” (for many this will evoke the work of Thomas Piketty, although he cites Brett Christophers) or ‘neo-feudalism’ (for many again this evokes Cédric Durand and techno-feudalism rather than Jodi Dean) “economies like Britain’s have effectively abandoned the pursuit of prosperity through the traditional practices of investment in technology, R & D, skills and entrepreneurship…and (have) descended instead into passive speculation on unproductive assets, above all housing, bu extending to such Ponzi schemes as NFTs and other cryptocurrencies.”

This is the backdrop to the “nostalgia fest of the Tory leadership election”.

But one thing brightens the Conservative contest, cultural issues. They soak up “vast amounts of attention on-line” – propelled by the priorities of the news business, “a handful of newspapers owned by three or four billionaires”. This is illustration of Durand’s take on the “Dépendance des sujets aux plateformes, brouillage de la distinction entre l’économique et le politique” people’s dependence on digital platforms, a blurring of the distinction between politics and economics. At the same time it indicates Davis’ own view that with digital platforms we have shifted from the ideal of the presentation of factual information towards a landscape of swirling cascades of data and sentiment.

Davies’ picture was summarised last year in the Los Angeles Review of Books,

“The world of publicly available facts that these figures marshaled and mediated for ordinary citizens becomes increasingly divorced from the hidden world accessed by the miners of private data, with the result that new sets of insiders and outsiders are created and the workings of power become increasingly opaque. The ground is laid for conspiracy theories to replace consensus about reality. According to Davies, we have entered a new regime of truth, one with scant time for the shibboleths and separations — “between public and private, between state and market, politics and media, and between the three branches of government (executive, legislative, judiciary)” — that defined the liberal order.

The Liberal Trust Crisis. Adam Kelly.

Davies may well be right that “Pronouncements about Stalinism, gender identity, wokeness and Brexit” are more oaths of Tory loyalty than a contributions to Conservative electoral victory, or a ‘hegemonic’ strategy that can draw the electorate behind the Tories. He may, though this is less than sure, have a point about underlying this is a dispute about narratives between universities and papers over such topics as British identity, though this begs a lot of questions about the authority and coherence, let alone radicalism (many self-identifying left leaning ones are very quiet on the pressing issue of Ukraine) of academics. His observation that the under 50s do not read papers is undermined by the prevalence of their content on social media. Playing, cos or otherwise, many people are indifferent to battles on these issues, preferring simply to be “to be alive to issues of race and social justice,” and plenty of other subjects.

One topic though, Brexit, is neither a matter of wokeness, nor, despite the efforts of some of Davies’ left wing sovereigntist colleagues, a “floating signifier” that could have been given a left inflection. It is damaging to those trying to create a radical alternative to the Conservatives, and Starmer’s moderate slide, that it continues to capture illusions about popular sovereignty whose reach can be read in those left wingers who believe that People’s Brexit could have happened. Or that, for all its present Tory cast, is, in some sense a step forward which a future left government could build on.

It is hard to forget that New leftist Perry Anderson, whose thesis (with Tom Nairn) on the lack of a proper bourgeois revolution to spur later British modernisation Davies discusses at length, stated “for all its woeful shortcomings… Westminster is vastly superior to the lacquered synarchy” of the European Union” (The Breakaway: Goodbye Europe London Review of Books. 2021). Brexit, headed by a populist braggart, welcomed by the new millennium New Left Review, to be continued by the next Tory PM, is another cause of a economic, political and social regression, aiding the economic stagnation the Resolution Foundation outlines.

Davies concludes that the Tory Party leadership contest, “creates the impression of a country that can now only speak to itself in slogans, oaths and insults, and has no has no capacity to describe or explain its problems”. At the same time, it looks, he says, concentrating out minds, as if “Britain’s elites now intend to stake everything on another financial free-for-all”. If a limited (constrained by anti union laws) wave of strikes is breaking out, there has not been much success in getting the people to yearn for another clamp down on organised labour. There have been calls for a union day of action. As yet there is no sign of Britain seeing this: Grève générale et nationale le 29 septembre 2022 (France).

There is no doubt the case that the political world is now digitally captured to the point where it is hard to know where Twitter and platforms begin and at what point they merge into face-to-face politics and end political – even state – decisions .

The culture wars, in the meantime, are both in the billionaire media, and out on the streets:

You might almost think dredging up the culture wars is a deliberate distraction from the reality of economic decline….

Written by Andrew Coates

August 7, 2022 at 12:27 pm

8 Responses

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  1. The biggest distraction from rising inequality was Brexit – both the remain and leave campaigns. But abandoning LGBT people to the fascists won’t stop the fascists, it won’t make LGBT people magically stop complaining while their rights are taken away. If the right are engaging in a culture war, copping out won’t help.


    August 7, 2022 at 1:48 pm

  2. Culture wars play the same role for the right as for the left – a distraction from the lack of any credible response to material economic problems…


    August 7, 2022 at 4:07 pm

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