Clueless as ever and still addicted to the politics of media, the Labour Party has gone from National Treasure to “What’s your pleasure?”
“I really don’t know why you’ve got it in for Grant Shapps,” a softish-right wing friend of mine remarked two years ago, “he’s come from nothing and made his way to the top….I’d have thought you of all people would admire that”.
It would take the best part of a book to deconstruct that opinion, because to my mind it lacks any logic or discernment, so one would have to do it word by word. However, the Sun headline is, ‘because he’s a wide-boy liar who conned his way to wealth’. I’m not going to lose a good friend as a result of this post, because he doesn’t read The Slog: “It’s never less than lively or amusing, but to be honest I think you make most of it up” is the one answer he ever gave on the subject of why not.
My chum is part of the Passive Acceptance Naivety Tendency Sector (PANTS) and he prefers life that way: the use of words like decadent, depraved, psycho, odd, and sociopathic in relation to middle class Ministers of the Crown he regards as only a small step away from treason…and so it will come as no surprise that he’s solidly behind the Camay soft-soap of anti-NVE legislation, and all the threats to plurality it brings with it as hand luggage.
His attitude is a very British one, from which my parents also suffered: give these people a cardboard goose-stepping maniac covered in military regalia and sporting a silly moustache, and they will say “Yes, I-Spy Nazis”. But shave off the sub-nasal toothbrush, add a posh accent – and swap the jackboots for impeccable tailoring with shiny sensible shoes – et voilà! Jolly good chap and safe pair of hands, what?
To stay on message within the Conservative fold, The Peeps from Pants will tolerate seamy little graft merchants like Shapps….just so long as they mind their manners. The golden rule, if I may go all Betjeman here, might be defined thus:
Come all you carbon copy Grants
you’re welcome in my pair of Pants –
but if you set out to deprave,
pretend you know how to behave.
No such conditionality is applied to the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Timothy Yeo, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and David Cameron, for they’re all chaps schooled in the values of the oval ball, and no-balls at the Oval: the game’s the thing, Up School, the Officer Class, and all that. Hunt, a self-serving scoundrel using family connections? Yeo, a bender of taxi pollution statistics who snaffles brown envelopes stuffed with cash? Boris Johnson – a serial shagger who hires heavies to threaten people? George Osborne has a crack habit? David Cameron, a master of grubby cover-ups to do with Newscorp, HSBC, Joint Enterprise and Saudi arms deals? Are you mad sir? Or are you an NVE, eh? Well if so, we’ve got you taped – you little oik.
So then: the triumph of Camerlot codswallop is entirely down to those who prefer comfortable PANTS, right? On the contrary: join me now in a trip down Leftie Lane, and observe how what used to be the Labour Party has become everything designed to alienate the decent citizen and the open-minded voter….such that, when a genuine opponent of Friedmanite drivel becomes leader, the first (and only) instinct of the Party establishment is to strangle him at birth.
Following the disaster of Michael Foot and over-confidence of Kinnock, the early demise of John Smith ushered in the era of Blairite spin bollocks under the watchful eye of Alistair Campbell, and anal control-freakery of Peter Mandelson. The dominant Labour tribe at this time were the heirs of Tony Crosland, whose Future of Socialism tract at the outset of the Sixties was a veiled attempt to suggest that ‘cloth-cap’ Socialism had no future at all.
Crosland was right, but the Blair Project took this a giant step further by saying that power was the only Party objective with any validity. And once he had power, Teflon Tony replaced the aim of querying neoliberal ideas with one of embracing them. It was, if you like, a classic case of no definable Ends justifying the anything-goes Means.
In an extraordinary irony, the Blairites kept the Party unified by the wholesale adoption of US-style ‘liberal’ pc in relation to feminism, minority sexualities, multiculturalism, immigration and unquestioning support for the EU. And to cement their image for being ‘safe hands’ and grown-up, most of them joined in enthusiastically with Dubya Bush’s knee-jerk War on Terror after 9/11.
Such an attempt (successful on the whole in electoral terms) would have been described by Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels as National Socialism. But the effect on Labour’s traditional core vote was devastating: huge swathes of older supporters drifted away – as did young people on benefits – while those who regarded most of the pc/EU agenda as complete bollocks began to look at other alternatives to the emerging Camerlot.
In the 2010 Election debates, two things were clear: Gordon Brown was a turn-off, and Nick Clegg was the man who promised everything as if he meant it. The surge in LibDem support delivered a Tory-led Coalition, and – thanks to the TUC – saddled Labour in Opposition with the ultimate personification of Metrochique liberal nonsense, Ed Miliband. Five years later, the voters also virtually destroyed the LibDems (again, largely by not turning up) after Clegg’s failure to deliver anything – or take the existential crisis in the EU seriously.
After 2011, that crisis began to arm UKip with stronger and stronger arguments in favour of Britain leaving the European Project. It also armed them with 13% of the vote – by any measure a staggering achievement – but under the ‘rules’ of the UK winner-takes-all electoral system, just one seat. In Scotland, meanwhile, half as many votes gave the SNP 60 seats and wiped out the Scottish Labour Party.
Faced with a desperate situation in which two forms of nationalism were cutting a swathe through their natural franchise, the Labour big beasts sort of ummed and aghed. There seemed no learnings at all from the failure of Miliband Rightonism to engage with the voters, 40% of whom were no longer voting for anyone. Only Jeremy Corbyn saw the lack of connection for what it was: by Autumn, he was voted leader by an overwhelming popular margin among Party members.
Although Corbyn himself is a somewhat robotic member of the International Socialist pc wing of the Labour Party, the reaction of Labour’s Establishment – the people who no longer appeal to anyone outside Highgate – was that the Party had been stolen from them, and must be won back. It seems highly possible this coming week that the Oldham by election (where quite deliberately, the Conservatives are not standing) will hugely reduce Labour’s majority, handing a creditable performance to UKip. Corbyn will, of course, shoulder the blame for this; having had sight of some constituency research last week, however, my reading would be that with the leadership change, in a high-unemployment, high immigrant area Labour will do better than otherwise. (The Corbynistas, by the way, can point to Jeremy’s support within the Party being even higher now than the level that so convincingly elected him leader).
Now a teddy bear might analyse where the Party is today, and say “what we need is a person with Corbyn’s principles and without his baggage”. But being the conclusion of a bear of very little brain, it’s a nonsense. Corbyn has baggage because he has principles: they come with the territory. The Labour Old Guard, by contrast, is a bear of no brain at all: its solution will be to put up another slithery type like Andy Burnham, and pretend he has principles.
This is the bottom line: Labour’s Establishment view is that if the more subtle Shappses of this world are what makes MOR voters happy, then that’s what the Labour Party needs. It isn’t: what the Labour Party needs now is to re-engage with the losers in Cruel Britannia, and join in with Mr Corbyn as a means of both showing they mean business, and saving the guy from himself. So far, the evidence is that he is open to the application of pressure and does behave like a house-trained radical rather than feral Occupier.
But the Party won’t do that, because the Party mainstream suffers from Death of the Soul. Mrs Thatcher put the soul-food poison in the rat-run, and under Blair, Labour ate it. The Party of the Underdog has been rendered Top Catatonic. Britain desperately needs a replacement Opposition, but for the life of me I can’t see one coming.