THIS IS A SITE that tends to stick to music, but today I digress given the momentous events over the past week.
As the entire world now knows the vote was 52-48 percent in favour of leaving the European Union, with working class areas most virulent in voting to get out. It’s being regarded by some as a swing to the right, as a victory for the right-wing UK Independence Party, for Little Englanders and racists and fascists. To an extent it is a victory for the odious likes of Nigel Farage, the right-wing elements of the Conservative Party, and those who want to live in a land called 1957.
But that only tells part of the story. People voted to leave for all sorts of reasons: immigration, to hurt the establishment, disgust in the way the EU imposed horrendous austerity measures on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and decades of being let down by neoliberal politics.
This was England and Wales’s chance to hold two-fingers up to the establishment in the way the Scots had enjoyed doing in the 2014 independence referendum. When you have no money how on earth can you support a system that rewards the rich and the middle class and punishes those cruelly sidelined by unemployment or forced to work two jobs just to pay the electricity bill?
Neoliberalism is the system that wants rid of unions, church-based communities, laws that stand in the way of ‘competition’, human rights, privacy, and that pesky thing called the environment. They are all obstacles to growth and individual wealth.
It’s a battle being fought around the world: from Cuba which is gainfully trying to maintain its socialist system in a sea of capitalism, to New Zealand, where the “quarter acre dream” – home ownership – is rooted in the entire fabric of a once near-egalitarian society, but is now a distant pipedream for many.
Multinationals are in every suburban shopping parade, and tinned tuna is but an aisle away.
But neoliberalism is creaking at the seams. It isn’t in any way sustainable as the resources are not never-ending. The rising temperatures will mean the mass loss of land and farmland. Ad nauseum ad nauseum. A system that benefits the few at the detriment of the many is clearly limited in its ambition, and lifespan.
The village idiots rise up
And so back to the island group that stretches from the Shetlands to the Scilly Isles. The referendum campaign descended into propaganda and lies, and the Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered in the street.
When the result was revealed all hell broke loose. Xenophobic and racist attacks multiplied, a second Scottish independence referendum is a strong possibility, David Cameron resigned, Nigel Farage looked smug, the markets dived and there was even ruminations about a unified Ireland.
The resignation of Dodgy Dave was no shock: he who lives by the sword etc etc. But the turmoil that enveloped within the Labour Party has been. Here was a chance to hold the divided Tories to account; instead it turned on itself.
The venom from self-important Labour MPs who are clearly detached from the ambitions of their membership towards the democratically-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn (on a bigger mandate than Tony Blair achieved) was overboard and vindictive.
The bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party comprises people parachuted into safe or marginal seats by Blair and his ilk, and they generally lean to the right. They have never viewed Margaret Thatcher as the destroyer of communities, rather as someone who did what she needed to at the time.
They know nothing of poverty, injustice or working so hard you can’t spend time with the kids and are worried shitless about the loan repayment. Blair’s governments did little to reverse the destructive laws introduced by Thatcher or to create a more equal and just society.
Corbyn, and his loyal lieutenant John McDonnell, are cut from a different cloth: they attend rallies and demonstrations while their fellow MPs talk to property management companies about renting out the second house. No wonder they are hated in the Westminster Labour bubble: they actually stand for something. And goodness, it’s called things like justice, peace, unionism and a decent living standard. Gosh, Tarquin, isn’t that a bit like … socialism. Oh, I don’t think I like the sound of that, it lets children have fruit for free.
In his brief time in charge Corbyn has:
- Fought back against vicious Tory policies and forced them into significant reverses, such as converting schools into academies and cuts to tax credits.
- Boosted the party membership by tens of thousands.
- Won four by-elections, three of them with increased majorities.
- Won the May council, mayoral and assembly elections.
- Proved that being honest and upfront can win people over.
A coup d’etat
As I write Corbyn is “holding on” apparently. 172 MPs voting in a no-confidence vote against him, with 40 in favour, isn’t, it has to be said, massively encouraging. The largely unknown Angela Eagle is expected to face off against him in a leadership spill her wing of the party hopes to institute. Another nonentity Owen Smith is also intending to do so.
And all because they say Corbyn didn’t push the case for Remain hard enough. Unlike another anti-Corbynite, Gisela Stuart, a hardline Brexiter who devised the misguided slogan about diverting 350 million dollars per week from going to Brussels into the National Health Service, and who shared a battle bus with Leave leader Boris Johnson and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell. She even appeared on a national television debate stating her case. That’s what I call party loyalty.
But the European battleground is merely a ruse: This is a coup planned well in advance. They wanted Corbyn out, and have waited for their opportunity; and thankfully for them it came days before the Chilcott Report into Blair’s unnecessary war in Iraq is finally released.
Ah, so here we are again, the spectre of Mr Blair hovering over the party like a father in prison for murder. This is a contest for the soul of the party, and of neoliberalism itself. Lose the leadership election and the Blairites will claim Labour is consigned to “electoral liability” for decades.
The reality is the legacy of the 1997-2005 Labour governments will be eternally tainted by the Iraq war, and those MPs who supported the war and were involved in the government of the time have some explaining to do when the report is out.
But it’s also a little more. Those 172 MPs want a party with limited membership, a party controlled by MPs, a party ruled by a clique of those at Westminster, a party where the union backers are largely silent and a party that’s pro-business and for “the aspirational classes”.
A leadership contest won’t settle this ideological warfare; this is going to keep on going for years, if not decades. Someone needs to bang some heads together.