Wednesday 12 August 2015

Splits Ahead Politically

A few articles in the press have mentioned some main political parties splitting. The original notion was that the Liberal Democrats are too weak to split, but by membership recovery and leadership change they are going more back the liberal-left they were before the Orange Book takeover and the disastrous wooden leg prop given to the Conservatives. The Tories rewarded the Liberal Democrats for their help by destroying them and have used the transition to majority to create one of the nastiest governments around.

The effective majority is about 16, and the government is shoving through its most ideological and nasty stuff (and dropping many electoral promises) from the off, until of course the European Referendum comes along and the accusations start to fly of rubbish 'renegotiations' and presentation over substance for public consumption. David Cameron will be fully exposed for what many of us already know - he's a P R man and little else, and for all his talk about 'compassionate Conservatism' the real guts of his government is to attack the poor in particular and indeed anyone that isn't well off already.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat narrative that Labour caused the economic mess, rather than rescued us from calamity, stuck. Now we see a narrative that somehow Cameron occupies the centre ground, and yet again it seems Labour has no counter-narrative. Under Harriet Harman, it just rolls over and tells the government that Labour won't oppose for the sake of opposing.

Now, a strong Labour opposition, and indeed the SNP and even the Liberal Democrats turned around, are what keeps a governing party held together, but we know that this 16 majority (if formally 12) is in deep trouble once the nut jobs get their sham renegotiations and the government has to argue in favour of staying in the European union. The potential, post-referendum, is that only UKIP would keep the demand politically alight to get out. Such Tory MPs are bound to disbehave or even jump to UKIP.

But suddenly the unexpected is happening before all this. What was expected was that Labour had a voting system extended to public supporters as a way to get around its own sectarianism and invite in a moderate public to have a moderate leader. What they didn't expect was to encourage a whole load of increasingly disenfranchised people to warm to one candidate's socialist alternative, a socialist who even needed a leg up from opponents to get on the ballot paper. We expected Tim Farron to guide the Liberal Democrats back leftwards as Labour once again took on a position that vacated people vilified by all but the Greens and TUSC during the election for not working or not being part of a family.

Along with that has been a sea-change within the membership for something more coherent and not in the direction of Harriet Harman and her 'roll over and tickle my tummy' approach to opposition politics.

How is it then that a liberal lefty like me can support Jeremy Corbyn? Because his socialism is also democratic and libertarian. He supports those rights that Labour trampled on during the Blair years and which, crumbs, the Orange Book Liberals still upheld, along with their economic liberalism. Thus he is not a statist, and nationalisation does not mean state bureaucracy but a more participatory model. The old 'elite knows best' agenda of 1945 is not on offer this time by this choice.

I'm impressed by his manner too, especially when interviewed. In one of the more sensible questioning sessions, he didn't have to tell the reporter to calm down or ask who was feeding him the nonsense asked. It was in Wales, and Corbyn mentioned at the end having a look again at the Caerfyrddin/ Carmarthen to Aberystwyth link on the railways - that it doesn't go all the way north said Corbyn but would improve north-south travel. I don't care whether this is his interest or via a researcher: I am impressed by this attention to detail. I could suggest a line out of the heads of the valleys to near Aberhonddu/ Brecon and up to the Shrewsbury to Barmouth line. What of renewed possibilities around Llyn Celyn and to Trawsfynydd from Morfa Mawddach and Bala and linking back with Blaenau Ffestiniog? Or utilising the narrow gauge from Porthmadog (either to Blaenau Ffestiniog or Caernarfon)? These are much better suggestions for investment and in localities than the HS 2 waste of money, out of date before it is finished. But to rebuild rail links (as in the Edinburgh to Carlisle line) is a super way to add to travel infrastructure.

In response to his potential win, some in Labour are already saying about a coup, and some commentators about a split. If Labour did split, the Tories are likely to split even more with the EU referendum as the excuse. So it is worth identifying where the parties are regarding their coalitions.

The Liberal Democrats are still divided between Economic Liberals and Social Liberals/ added Social Democrats. Labour clearly now has Blue Labour, the Social Democrats and the Socialists. Blue Labour are virtually left-Conservatives. It's not clear that the Liberal Democrats would welcome them as they once welcomed the SDP - after all, the SDP had commitments to equality and social justice missing from Blue Labour. Blue Labour would be just as relevant with the Red Tories. The Social Democrats are regarded as being anti-liberal by track record: people like the deposed Ed Balls and that one who introduced Student fees and wanted identity cards, David Blunkett (and many others). Actually David Blunkett may have morphed into a  right winger. The Liberal Democrats, having overridden the Orange Bookers as destroyers of the party, might find they have more in common with the Socialists, especially if non-statist and refreshing.

It's amazing how many Tories resent David Cameron, almost as much as Labour resents Tony Blair, although Blair has blood on his hands whereas Cameron turned away from bombing Syria (except in secret) and has walked away from Libya. There are the anti-European nationalists - I call them 'nutjobs' from my bias - and then those inheritors of Thatcher and Blair for their agenda. There are still a few pro-European old-school One Nation Tories, but only a few, those who were the most comfortable with the Liberal Democrat wooden legs in government between 2010 and 2015 and till retained some sense of social conscience without punitive desires. Cameron isn't one, but he is nearby. In fact, one isn't sure about Cameron at all. The Blair-Thatcher types are trying another right wing push at present, and are Eurosceptics but not leavers.

The Tories could split three ways depending on what happens to Labour. We assume the purist nutjobs go first, in a sea of resentment. They become right wing nationalists, and will still appear to some working class types who voted UKIP from both Labour and the Tories. The Orange Book Liberals might well have to join a combination of Red Tories and Blue Labour, but one can hardly see these 'New Whigs' being very large or self-sustaining. The betting has to be that they would stay attached to the other Tories in a reshaped electoral alliance. Against them would be the Labour left, the SNP, the Liberal left and Greens, learning to co-operate.

First Past the Post was already a ridiculous voting system last time. If scrapped, it would allow the parties to be as they would be; with it we still get the Tories with the rightist top gone and bringing in a right-centrist middle. Labour would be a party of challenge with the others: if they could get people who vote less to get out and vote there could he a radical future: otherwise the Tories could reform to hold a kind of right wing inherited new centre. The Fixed Term Parliament Act is bound to be repealed for an earlier election.

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