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Westminster farce and prognostications on Labour

Shakespeare would have appreciated politics today. The combination of tragedy, the evisceration of the remaining strands of the welfare state, with the comedy of the Westminster bubble would have provided fertile ground for plays.

Had the playwright been conversant in modern culture, it couldn’t have been long before we had satires of Baroness declaiming hysterically of Labour, “There’s Klingons off the starboard bow, scrape ’em off Dave!” But this is not satire; it’s all too real.

“The only thing [Ed Miliband] knows for sure is that he is a socialist and will stick up for the trade unions.” [BBC]

Meanwhile the whole media would inevitably be cast collectively as Titania, from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, awaking from slumber to see a Nick Bottom that looks suspiciously like Oona King. Alas there’s no Puck to “restores amends”.

We can watch for real this sad troops of failed politicians trooping through the House of Lords, with nary a critical brow raised from a media that should be scathingly critical of such creatures. Compared to this, the now infamous Lord Young looks almost as if he should be taken seriously with his Supermac-cum-Marie Antoinette impersonations.

As for Ed Miliband, who knows what the bard would have made of him. Certainly no socialist, the strongest words to come out of his mouth have been a demand that Labour ‘reclaim’ the Big Society model from the Conservatives. Evidently all the hot air expended by the blogosphere on tearing apart the claims of Big Society have been lost on Miliband, who is also walking a very Kinnock-esque line as regards the violence of student protest.

We know where that line ultimately leads – and Miliband’s inability to escape the Blairite paradigm is already a step further down his road than one might wish. All the comments about how Labour must listen, to become a “people’s party” is the most watered-down tosh and ignores the strong and steadfast role a socialist political party must play if it is not merely to bow and scrape with each demand placed on it by “the market” (i.e. the capitalist class).

Of course Labour is not a socialist political party. The delirious (if politically shrewd) rantings of various Conservatives to one side, it’s fairly obvious from the banal witterings about “hopes and aspirations” that the Labour Party has not moved on from Blair. It has no definite programme, no concrete economic or social aims, no critique of its opposition beyond the populist emotive or cynically managerial – and nor is it likely to acquire such.

Thus the parade of people to the Lords will continue to be fairly inoffensive worthies and party cronies. Labour need merely tread water until people’s resentment of the Conservatives outweighs their demoralisation. In some cases that will happen fast, in some cases slow, but it will happen. Then the populist and managerial aspects to Labour will once more begin to unravel and we’ll have a Conservative government again, unless we interrupt this cycle.

Resentment is not a political programme, it is a reaction. Thus were people slow to cast off Thatcher and Major, thus were people slow to cast off Blair, despite his great and growing unpopularity leading up to the 2005 election. Nor is anger a political programme; the occupations of universities, the demonstrations and – potentially – the strikes of the next few years will not bring down the Conservative government by themselves.

They might bring down the Coalition, depending on how panicky the Lapdogs get, but a subsequent general election would almost certainly see a Conservative outright victory or a renewed Coalition unless much wider sections of the working class are moved into joining hands with those in struggle. The battle to do this will be at once emotive and intellectual; the appeal to solidarity and collective, class interest. There is no possibility of Miliband doing this, or letting it happen within his Labour Party without a moment like the 1985 Party Conference.

Perhaps the kindest minds of posterity will judge Mr Miliband a sort of Hamlet. Caught between the ghost of his father, alive in the presence of the demonstrators (though not the hack SU and NUS officials who ostensibly lead them), and what he sees as pragmatism, he’ll wander the bland halls of Victoria Square slowly going mad. Or will vanish with a whimper, like Kinnock, to take his place as a working peer, like so many of the dignified, restrained worthies he himself has and will elevate.

  1. November 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

    Unless and until the Labour party throws off the failed economic theories that leave 4.8 million people out of work and another 2.5 million short of work, then they will never represent real change.

    If they can’t make the fairly straightforward business case for full government funding of University education then they haven’t got a prayer with the more complicated stuff.

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