Friday, July 24, 2015

Corbyn-mania and the SNP: beyond left and right

The surprise poll ratings for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership battle have got quite a few people, traditionally seen on the centre-right of the party, rather worried.  Others on the left have got rather excited because they think it shows enthusiasm for traditional left-wing policies within the party, which they believe, in turn, would be popular throughout the country.

Some of those who fall in the latter camp have taken the popularity of the SNP in Scotland as evidence that a left-wing platform can get to the parts that dessicated managerialists cannot reach.  My concern is they are drawing the wrong conclusions from this and would argue instead that there are two rather different lessons that could be drawn from the SNP surge:

1) What the experience of the SNP shows is that you can talk like Jeremy Corbyn and govern like Liz Kendall, if you can get enough people to like you, as this gentleman has pointed out.  I'm impressed with just how many people have swallowed the line that the Nationalists are to the left of Labour.  Part of the appeal here is their 'anti-austerity stance'.  But this isn't, in and of itself, a leftwing position.  Samuel Brittan, for example, isn't exactly a pinko subversive   The view that the deficit or the national debt are not as urgent a matter as some people are making out is more often found on the left but ultimately it is a technical matter that has to do with the likelihood of possible constraints on fiscal policy in the event of a run on gilts.  If anyone imagines that the Nationalists' 'anti-austerity' position has anything to do with this sort of reasoning, they are dreaming.  Their opposition to austerity is nationalist-populist, not Keynesian.  What has gained traction in Scotland is the idea that this is being done to you by a government you didn't elect, rather than anything that Paul Krugman has to say about the matter.

The only circumstances under which the SNP's anti-austerity rhetoric would collide with reality would be if Scotland became independent, by which time it wouldn't matter to them because they would have have got us across the line, achieved their goal and there wouldn't be anything anyone could do about it.  Short of this, the SNP's anti-austerity will be enjoyed from the luxury of opposition.  It isn't obvious, therefore, what lessons Labour could learn from this, unless they also long for the purity of opposition or want to complete the eighties revival and campaign for withdrawal from the EU in 2017.  This is another issue that isn't obviously left or right.  It used to be Labour policy and could be again.  It could get the sort of populist-nationalist vibe that might win over some UKIP voters, as well as appealing to people like the teenage Trot Owen Jones.  The problem with this is it really really wouldn't be a very good idea.

2) What the experience of the SNP has shown is the importance of party discipline.  I saw Angus McNeil claiming Corbyn was the candidate that the SNP feared most and thought, "Ah, man - you're just taking the piss now".  The SNP don't fear Labour at all any more but since they're fans of bayoneting the wounded in a big way, I assume they want Corbyn to win for the same reasons the Conservatives do.  This candidate has a big disadvantage that, again, can't be slotted neatly into left or right: you're only a leader if people are following you, and Corbyn wouldn't be able to lead his own party, never mind become Prime Minister.  What people who pretend to have been observing the Scottish scene need to understand is that the SNP would never tolerate any of this.  In the past they haven't spent the aftermath of an election defeat indulging in a public display of existential angst and they certainly wouldn't put up someone like Jeremy Corbyn, whose sole claim to fame prior to this leadership election was to be serially disloyal to the leadership of his own party.  So how could he insist on loyalty to his leadership: on the grounds of his authenticity?  Gimme a break - and while you're at it, take note of the fact that Nigel Farage is also seen as 'authentic'.

I wouldn't say I admire the SNP's party discipline, exactly, because it's a bit creepy and robotic - but any observer can't fail to be impressed by it.  English SNP fans might want to look, for example, at how they dealt with the former ambassador Craig Murray, who applied to be an SNP candidate.  It was described as an example of the party's 'control freak tendency'.  I'd say, well maybe - but it was also a sign of good sense, from a party that actually wants power.  It's the sort of thing that parties who want power do.  The Conservative do it and the SNP do it - but we're being asked to believe it was their policy platforms that have been the secret of their success?  Seriously talking about Corbyn as leader, in contrast, is the behaviour of people who have assumed that 2020 is already lost.  2020 may well be lost but - if there's ever going to be a Labour government again - it might help if people didn't behave as if this were inevitable.


sloppy said...

Some good food for thought in that post... I also think the reasons for the SNP's wins on 7th May have been misinterpreted. That's a whole other issue, though.

With regards to Corbyn : you seem to imply at various points that left-wing policy is unpopular and not a vote winner - therefore then is right-wing policy popular? I don't think it is. I think right-wing parties generally treat their supporters with more respect so then their supporters essentially think that whatever they think is their party's policy. That's a bit convoluted, but do you see what I'm trying to say? Left wing parties tend to preach and dictate a bit more to people.

Whether this is because leftism is inherently less popular, and has to be shoved down throats, is IMO the wrong reading of the situation. It is inherent within right wing thinking that the self has more responsibility.

Anyway, back to Corbyn : Apart from anything else, Labour should be Labour and not watered-down Conservative, which with all the will in the world it has been since 1994/5/6. I think the electorate as whole also think this and Labour are seen as not being what they're supposed to be : on the other hand, the Tories are as Tory as ever.

Also, the New Labour experiment, or whatever it was, has failed dramatically. Particularly in Scotland. Can Corbyn and his ideas do any worse than that? I don't think so. The ironic thing about the Blairites is that for a group so obsessed with winning, they're a bunch of losers.

Also, would age perhaps play a part? Corbyn will be 70 years old in 2020, and if he wins, 75 by the time he has served his premiership. Is this feasible? Look at the stick John McCain got in 2008.
A final thought - if not Corbyn, and not Burnham, then who?

Shuggy said...


The age thing is an interesting point. Like most people, I'm assuming this isn't going to be an issue because he's never going to be Prime Minister. The purpose of the piece was really to stress those elements in all this that are beyond left and right: Corbyn just won't be able to lead his party at all, never mind to an election victory - particularly if he adopts a No in the EU ref.

I was going to expand on a couple of the points in the post later but here's a preview: some of Corbyn's 'leftwing' positions are indeed unpopular, such as getting rid of the monarchy but what I'm going to argue is that much of the problem is that the 'Blairites' are right to say elections are won from the centre but I would argue that it is they who have deserted the centre by buying into too much of what is sometimes called 'deficit fetishism'. 'Anti-austerity' isn't a leftwing position, and neither is nationalisation. Keynes was a liberal, after all. I think that labelling these postitions as 'hard-left' is a symptom of the fact that it is the Blairites who have vacated the centre-ground, which has allowed nationalists in Scotland and Corbynites in the rest of the UK to fill that void. In other words, if they want to 'win from the centre', it might be an idea if they claimed some of it back. As for the candidates, I couldn't say. I just think Burnham - who I expect to win - is just a loser. It might help if someone like Yvette Cooper stopped caving in to the Treasury view and also did a better human impersonation but I won't hold my breath.

sloppy said...

Yvette is unfortunately a bit of a non-entity. Nobody is quite sure of who she is or what she stands for. Okay, she is Ed Balls' wife, but who was he, and what did he stand for? Why didn't she take his name? Or, more preferably, he take her name? It's a weird one. Ad nauseam with these New New Labour types. I don't really understand what it is they want ; if it were power, they wouldn't be quite so useless. If it were opposition, they would at least have principles. It appears to be neither and one can't help but wonder if what it is they really, really want is actually a zig-a-zig-ahh * .

* By which I mean a £70,000 a year pay check and various homes and expenses paid for by the state. Hmm.

This is a good post about the situation the Labour party is in and the reasons for the defeat in 1983. I think Progress know this, but can't get over their lust for power - and I suppose, their silent respect for how the Conservative party win elections with such regularity. Progress probably respect the SNP just as much, but they fail to understand how either the Tories or the SNP operate. One thing I would extent to neither the Tories or the SNP is respect. But hey, that's just me.

Shuggy said...

Ed Balls? Fairly centrist politician with an impressive talent for losing friends and alienating people but knows a bit about economics.

This (Balls in 2010) is worth a read:

This is the sort of thing I'm talking about. Did he forget this or change his mind? He shouldn't have.

(Btw, erm - names? Why should Yvette Cooper do this?)

sloppy said...

I was under the impression Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper were married.

But maybe wives don't take their husbands names anymore. Either way, I know practically nothing about it, being as I am 23 and still 15 years, at least, from having to bother with anything like that.

I think Ed Balls spoke quite well in the Commons, but he strikes me as essentially being a party loyalist - rather like Burnham - and while this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it has its downsides too.

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