The Blairism problem – why the UK Labour party is in a mess

I wrote about my pet political theory a while ago. In this theory I argued that democratic government should always tend to the centre ground, but electorates tend to push this balance rightwards. There are issues with this which has been highlighted by recent British elections: The failure of the political system to represent the interests of their electorate, partly caused by unrepresentative democracy and recently by the doctrine of Blairism.

I have discussed the real causes for this problem before: The problem of two party systems, lacking the refinement in voter choice to be truly democratic, which leads to the second problem of political parties failing to serve their electorates by becoming slaves to the direction of their parties ideology; I have argued that good ideas and solutions to issues in economies can come from thinking from across the political spectrum, but political parties tend to favour a narrow range of basis for ideas. In two party systems elections become a battle ground between the right wing party bloc and the left wing party bloc. In the UK, this is represented by the Tories (moderate right,centre right and centre) and the Labour party (moderate left, centre left and centre). The UK has the third party , the Liberals, but stuck with being a centrist party and only able to offer radical centrist policy; Liberalism  was not stuck in the middle before industrialisation created the need for left wing ideas..

The issue is when you have a political creed , that is dominant and is perceived as the political centre, in the current case the (centrist, centre-right) Blairite position.   How does this fail, as it has done recently? Simply, Blairism causes political discourse to get stuck in an ideological quagmire, it actively prevents a natural drift back towards the left.

Blairism was simply the idea that for the Labour party (or indeed any  major party), when stuck in opposition and desiring power by winning elections from in this case a right-wing Tory party, it must position itself politically as close to the Tories as possible. The Labour party left it’s traditional spread of positions to adopt a centre-right position, and any dissent from the left was criticised on purely electoral grounds. Blairism electorally, at least worked for a while, with over a decade of centre-right government. But the problems caused economically by continued long-term right wing government remained uncorrected, the UK is still politically very unbalanced. Eventually people get fed up with this failure of the political system of slow gradual decline in living standards and demand change.

How should democracy work? There should be intellectually informed debate between competing ideologies and a consensus reached about political direction, elected representatives should reflect the prevailing arguments of their time. The job of a politician is to make decisions based on the best available evidence and argue the individual case, not to persuade or cajole from an ideological basis. The concern of the electorate, is simply to choose people to represent them who are good decision makers, who understand the specific needs of their local area and highlight local concerns. Policy and directional debate should be held by civic society as a whole. Politicians should reflect society, and not have an agenda of their own. Of course as individuals they have their own ideology and thus a range of positions by viable candidates is selected between. In modern times, instead of the best decisions being made, there is a kind of mob rule by the media and desire for power by sections of society. For example in 1970s Britain the Trade Unions held too much power. Now the corporations, big businesses, hold too much power. There should be no egos, or fear of ideas not carrying the day, When the government is too right wing, right wing people should continue to argue their case, create ideas, play their role, but be happy for them to be largely rejected at these times. Rather than see not being in power as a failure and seek to gain power by any means available. Arguments should be won, rather than campaigns winning based in misinformation.

I recently described the UK EU referendum result has highlighted a huge disconnect between the political class and the people and expressed a deep dissatisfaction with the establishment and status quo. Arguably, this effect has been in evidence since the economic crash of 2008, but the disconnect happened long before that.

This change manifests itself by a rejection of the political establishment, on these rare occasions elections offer such an opportunity, the FPTP electoral system does not offer this, the political class should be respecting this and change, rather than exploit the situation as they seem to be doing for ideological party ends.  When this disconnect occurs, people seek solutions and become attracted to more radical options and political parties to the left and right of the prevailing orthodoxy. Democratically, this is a problem, as instead of a united opposition to the status quo, dissent splits two ways, rather than a traditional correction to the left or right. This effect can be seen in recent UK elections:

In Scotland the SNP has assumed a dominant position from the left (but isn’t actually left wing itself), whereas in England the UKIP have gained support as a far right party, hence evidence of dissent splitting two ways. In Wales, we also see this split, the support for Labour is down, but oppositions splits left to Plaid and right to the UKIP, yet the UKIP have gained the lions share of dissent. There is an important difference between the parties to explain this. UKIP are an ideologically right wing party, whereas Plaid Cymru are a devolutionist civic nationalism party. Plaid Cymru has no ideological left or right wing ideology, it is is dominated by the left at the moment because that is largely where the solutions to Wales’ difficulties is. Plaid perhaps attracts less dissent  as it’s struggle is not on the left-ring wing spectra, but is a movement for the devolution of political power. There are also the issues of the media, right wing and London dominated, giving lots of coverage to UKIP and a purely Welsh party struggles to get it’s voice heard.

Government breaks down when it itself becomes a slave to it’s own  ideology. For a functional governance requires attention given to ideas and solutions from across the political spectrum, right through centre to left. Governments fail when they ignore these other voices. The trouble is political parties are antagonistic to other parties and inspire party loyalty. This party loyalty, perhaps narrows the vision of it’s members. We can see this in the current Labour party leadership crisis and in the Tory party.

As a result of the success of the Blairite project in the late 1990s and 2000s, the parliamentary party is dominated by Blairite centrists, contains a handful of centre-left politicians and even fewer moderate left wing people. As such, it is unresponsive and stuck in the Blairite  ideology. However, the mood has changed, the UK population are seeking change and Labour is failing to perform it’s role as a left wing party (the problem with Blairism). It’s support and party members, voted in a leader from the left of the party, because an ever higher proportion of left wing solutions  is what is required to re-balance the economy. This leader is Jeremy Corbyn, but the parliamentary party in  no longer reflecting the electorate of the centre and left, so as has been reported, rather over zealously in the media, is this conflict between Corbyn and the parliamentary party. The Labour party structure, directly because of Blairism has mired itself,  has been slow to change with the times, it’s leaders are disconnected from it’s natural support.

The issue is that with the major left of centre political party bloc in England neutered like this, partly it is because there is no major alternative left wing party. Well, there is the Green party, but the Green party are not an ideologically left wing party, it’s agenda is set instead by green economics and environmentalism. It means all the disaffection from voters goes the other way, to the far right and the UKIP and nasty fascist things start to happen, as we are seeing. So, how do Labour sort this out quickly, before they split or implode, leaving the UK stuck with a n even more right wing government, pulling the country further down in it’s standard of living for the majority. The right wing people should not be winning many arguments in such times!

My solution would be to keep Mr Corbyn as leader, campaigner and a figurehead of the change in direction of the party, because there is no-one markedly better to fulfil this role to make up for the cost of public disunity. However a deal should be struck that a new deputy leader or somesuch of the centre left, deals with policy, with the aim of striking a balance of consensus between the parliamentary members (mainly an assortment of  centrists), ordinary party members and the leader (moderate left), this should  also satisfy the electorate and be right for Britain,  Labour will then be offering the right sort of change, and not only the changes called for by any one grouping.

This all needs to be achieved within the context of the UK and EU crisis. Firstly leaving the EU needs to be put on hold for the time being and a clear message sent to the EU and the world, that the UK is remaining for the time being, whilst we sort ourselves out. Then , if the arguments and desire for leaving the EU still hold, those options should be explored, there is a very clear desire for a new relationship with the EU, but no consensus on what that should be, which is a huge problem. Indeed part of the desire for change was for less centrist control, a rejection of further EU integration, but continued cooperation. A vote to reject the leaders of the political class, for a return to the principles of democracy. This is what the UK needs to do, it is what the UK voted for. Sadly it seems the political class will fight  tooth and nail to cling to their own power and party victories, to the detriment of the economy and population of the British Isles as a whole. This is why Mr Corbyn should remain as figurehead for a new direction, for a politics of political argument, rather than party spin. Then the UK can be rebooted as a new democratic force,  prosperous and out-looking to the rest of the world.

 

 

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