About a week ago, I was in the process of writing an article dismissing the most recent explosions over expenses as piss and wind. This was before the ‘flipping‘ scandal broke, with Hazel Blears at the centre of it, due to non-payment of Capital Gains Tax; before the resignations and apologies began to mount on the corpse of what was once a fairly respectable and decent institution. In the end, my contrarianism was defeated by the complete incapacity of even those implicated to just be honest. Which is why Hazel Blears is handing back £13,000 but not the £45,000 profit she made for flipping her second home, and the same with David Cameron and others.
My attitude has been changed and changed utterly. It is difficult to describe in words how angry I am with the whole bastarding, effete bunch in charge both of the Party and of Westminster. How is it that the holders of so many degrees, of so much wealth and so much life experience can be so wholly venal? There is no other way to describe such a sink of self-aggrandizing moral turpitude. It is disgusting, and the ineffectual quagmire which the Expenses scandal reveals – and which many have been noticing – is one gigantic problem for the Left, because while all this goes on, our people have been running around with their heads up their arse.
Paul, over at the Bickerstaffe Record, is an exception – though I’d much prefer it if he would hurl Jovian lightning bolts down upon the heads of the Parliamentary Labour Party rather than being so damn reasonable. Yelling, “It’s time for root and branch reform now you sodding bastards!” doesn’t begin to cover the fury expressed to me by other members of the Party – and of the CLP email lists I’m part of where we have sitting MPs, I know that those MPs have been assiduous in their declamations of innocence, knowing exactly what’s good for them in the wake of the scandals that are breaking like waves against a hitherto sheltered shore.
Nevertheless, it is Paul who recognizes the qualitatively different role that the Labour Party was set up to play in Parliament, to make an intervention of organised labour against Capital – however ineffective that has been, as a result of Labour’s unwillingness to accept the Marxist description of that conflict. This is why Labour will bear the brunt of the anger over the expenses row – because Labour’s own supporters will feel cut to the quick in a way that neither Conservatives nor Lib Dems can understand, and for those who aren’t Labour supporters, the media will do the rest.
It is important to remember that this expenses nonsense is a further symptom of the depoliticization of politics. Historically, Conservative MPs have made themselves much richer than their Labour equivalents, as Labour MPs were ideologically opposed to feathering their own nests. The further Left one goes, the more entrenched is that ideological opposition – until you reach the Communist and Socialist MPs of the last seventy years and their refusal to accept any further remuneration than what a skilled worker in their constituency would earn. The remainder was donated to Party building exercises.
Members of Parliament are far from the only coseted, depoliticized section of the country. Off in their own little world, the media darlings of the Left are still doggedly pursuing their Popular Front strategies. Facebook messages, emails and a blog article over at LibCon have announced Magna Carta 2.0, which wants to rank MPs according to their position on civil liberties and human rights, and then hold a big conference in June 2010. Or should that be “another” big conference, since the predecessor – the Convention on Modern Liberties, seems to have died a death now that the different parts of the Commentariat have found other, more entertaining, stories to write about.
Not that I ever believed it could achieve anything, just for the record. Magna Carta 2.0 seems like a rehash of the same event, with the same organisers still in position, still unlikely to achieve anything lasting on the basis that the nature of democracy is not just one more “administrative” issue. It is profoundly ideological, and the battle over what it should look like – how authoritarian, how liberal – is not the result of disinterested decisions by sufficiently-lobbied politicians. It is the result of class struggle, between a class that requires freedom of association and expression as cornerstones of mass political organisation, and a class that could care less about those things.
It is no accident, after all, that some of the most illiberal measures in history have been passed by Conservative governments, and that the current trend towards authoritarianism was inaugurated by a Tory government only to be continued by the most right-wing Labour government ever. So effectively have the best methods of prosecuting class struggle for our side – the side that bitterly resents the enrichment of its representatives whether at taxpayers expense or by their prostitution to private companies – been suppressed that we are now witnessing a great disintegration in every aspect of popular politics.
What remains to be seen is, as the sense of urgency and panic rises in Labour ranks, if Compass can emerge from their “No Turning Back” conference with a programme that might begin to push the local and national party back towards mass organisation rather than the plebiscite-media-institutional bias combination of New Labour. I doubt it. With elements of the media so despairing at Labour’s change that they are openly courting Tories – as at CoML – and with a strong bias towards mildly incestuous autocracy in the Labour Party, there is essentially nowhere to turn except what we have traditionally regarded as the fringes – the Socialist Party, for example.
Perhaps it is time to explore the edges of the map and the concomitant new forms of organisation entailed by breaking with the self-styled party of the working man. At the very least, the extreme Left of the political map should no longer read, “Here be monsters.”