Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Strange Death of Labour Britain?

Labour has entered its new wilderness years.  Yet these are not going to be like those of the 1980s; unlike in the days of Margaret Thatcher, when Labour was the opposition but just as much part of the political debate as the Tories in government, now it looks like Labour is actually disappearing off stage, and could it be for good?
       During the not-fondly-looked-back-upon 'Wilderness Years' of 1979-1997, the Labour Party was out of power in Westminster and they remained in opposition election after election.  But however much Labour might not want to look back on its past during those years and for all their nickname, the 'Wilderness Years,  they weren't actually that wild a wilderness for Labour; Labour was, with the Tories, on Centre stage.  Whether it was Michael Foot vs Thatcher, the Miners vs Thatcher or Kinnock vs Thatcher and Major, on the stage before the Country's eyes was the struggle between left and right, between the two parties and the two ideologies they upheld, while the miners and the Unions too, were at the centre of attention, particularly, of course, during the Miners' strike. Labour and its ideology were out of government and for ever it seemed, but they weren't beyond mainstream attention; quite the opposite.
        Now however, Labour really is in uncharted territory, and that's being quite positive about their situation.  At the 2015 general election, they lost almost the entirety of their traditional Scottish heartland and as of the Scottish Parliament election this May, they are now the third largest party in the said institution, where nine years ago they were the government.  South of the border, Labour's internationalist and pro-European core principals were found to have not been shared by the majority of their working class constituents across most of their industrialist heartlands in the North of England and South Wales, the working class being the very people the party was founded to represent.  The party now faces a leadership election that might only lead to further catastrophe and it was widely agreed that their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, did not do enough for the remain side in the lead up to the referendum.  What ever becomes of the leadership election, whether Corbyn survives or is replaced, whether Labour stays as one party or splits into Pro and Anti-Corbynite parties, it may well be too late; the marginalisation of Labour from the mainstream of political debate may well be permanent, although this may well depend on how Brexit turns out.
        Whether it is Labour's fault or not, the party, or at least the leadership, didn't seem to have a very high profile in the referendum debate, a debate which consumed nearly all of the country's political attention.  It was of course, in many ways, a 'Tory Debate'; it was called by David Cameron and it was his party which was divided on the issue there and just as it had been the Tories for whom Europe had been a hot-potato issue for 25 years.  In the Wembley debate, the key figures who stood out most notably for me were Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsome on the Leave side, and Ruth Davidson for Remain; all Tories.  UKIP, it goes without saying was central to the debate, while the Lib-Dems as an internationalist party threw all their effort into the Remain campaign.
       It just seems that the old debate between Capitalism and Socialism just doesn't exist any more.  Now it's nationalism vs Internationalism, or rather Pro-Europeanism vs British nationalist Europhobia, that is the play before the country's eyes.  Celtic Nationalism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be a third force which will of course be Centre-stage again if there's a second independence referendum in Scotland.  Where's Labour's socialism's place within that two/three way struggle? Obviously firmly within the internationalist camp but is it possible for Labour to have the starring role there? I'm not so sure.  Corbyn's inaction doesn't seem to have helped.  Perhaps we need a new progressive but non-socialist force to embody Internationalism in Britain.  The Lib-Dems are the obvious party for the job, and they have been capitalising on that opportunity.  Nevertheless, having May rather than Leadsome as Tory leader will make it less easy for them to attract remain voting Tories.  Either way, I wish them good luck.
      As for Labour, if they are not careful, crises such as their loss of support and even retreat from the mainstream in Scotland, their ideological detachment from their working class constituents south of the border (who are their raison d'etre) and, not to mention their savage infighting after the referendum, might end up leading to, if such problems don't constitute it themselves, a strange death of Socialist Britain too much like the Strange Death of Liberal England, so described by George Dangerfield writing in 1931, which occurred a century ago, seeing the Liberals fall from being the governing party before and into the First World War, to what it has been in the century since.

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