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On Labour being taken over by Lefties

August 2, 2015

It really has been quite extraordinary declaring myself as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. I have been subjected to what I can only describe as a consistent, concerted and aggressive campaign of intimidation.

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Everything from people just swearing at me, to supporters of other candidates trawling through my past tweets and blogs in order to misinterpret some criticism of the Labour Party as “treason” and alert HQ to it, to MPs sending me private message calling me disgusting for saying that ad hominem attacks are counterproductive.

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This hysteria boils down to three basic issues:

1. The fervent belief that moving the party to the left will mean electoral oblivion.
2. The notion that the only thing worth being is “in power”, regardless of what you do to get there.
3. A narrow view of the Labour grassroots movement as some private members-only club.

Does Labour moving to the left equal electoral oblivion?

Central to this claim is the juxtaposition of Tony Blair’s “golden years” versus Ed Miliband “move to the left” costing Labour the last election. Both elements of this argument are simply fictitious.

Tony Blair’s victory was as much a product of the previous few elections as it was of the 1997 campaign. Labour had consistently improved its position since its low point in 1983 (27.6% to 30.8% to 34.4% to 43.2%). Remember that before John Smith’s untimely death, Labour was widely predicted to win the election, having established an ostensibly unassailable 23 point lead over the Tories. A week before he passed away, the Conservatives suffered a spectacular defeat in Council elections.

From the point of Blair’s election onwards Labour’s share of the vote began to steadily decline (43.2% to 40.7% to 35.2% to 29%) and actually rallied a little under Miliband to 30.4%, despite being obliterated in Scotland. You can see all the figures here. The facts, then, are that Labour was a party ascendant since 1983 and declining since 1997. You may not like it, but that is the only cogent conclusion.

It is also worth noting that Ed Miliband’s peaks in the polls coincided with the moments in which he stood up to the Murdoch press, committed to price regulation and reform of the energy market and promised to control rents and abolish the nondom tax status. And it was moments during which this message was confused with pink vans, immigration mugs, Sun photo ops and Edstones that his popularity dipped.

I’m not saying that Blair’s policies did not help him to get initially elected. They did. But they were also deeply unpopular while in government – the decision to go to war with Iraq saw the biggest exodus of Labour Party members, seeing membership dip to levels not recorded since the 1930s. It is also worth noting that Blair was not just positioning himself in order to win. He genuinely believed in his programme and could orate on it with authenticity and passion.

Personalities and style are important, too. There is little doubt in my mind that Miliband offering precisely the programme Blair did in 1997 may not have been elected and a young unknown Blair, offering Miliband’s policies in 2010 may have. Although, this is clearly imponderable.

It is also bizarre to exclude from the equation the demise of Thatcher, Black Wednesday and allegations of sleaze from the 1997 election result. As bizarre as it is to exclude allowing Tories free rein to establish a narrative of Labour being responsible for the global financial crisis from the result in 2010.

In short, Blair’s success as much as Miliband’s failure are down to an immensely complex nexus of circumstances. To reduce them to “move to the right = winning” versus “move to the left = losing” is a profoundly cynical move by those who want the party to move to the right regardless.

We can’t do any good, unless we’re in power

The political landscape is shaped by all political forces. Labour are currently ignoring their role as Opposition in a maniacal dash to calibrate and triangulate their position aiming for electoral victory in 2020. Not only is this unbelievably daft, because it is far too soon and there will be immense, game-changing events in between, some of which we know about (Referendum on European membership) and most of which we don’t, but also because it ignores a distinct, tangible and inexorable panEuropean shift of popular movements towards anti-austerity politics.

Absconding from the job of Opposition is an unforgivable snub to the nine million people who voted for Labour and gave it the second most important position in British politics. It is being observed, it will be prominent in voters’ minds and it will further weaken Labour’s voting base (the main challengers in the North will be UKIP, who will be able to say “look, they’re all the same”, mark my words).

One only needs to look at how the SNP has progressed or how Nigel Farage has forced a referendum to understand the long term value of having a clear, unwavering message in a landscape of shifting values and disenfranchisement. The apter question, in my mind, is this: If Labour shift their policies to the extent of not offering a clear alternative to the Conservatives, (a) what good are they to working people, whether in power or not; and (b) why would anyone vote for them instead of the real Tories?

The Labour Party as a private members’ club

It is indicative that in the last few days I have been attacked as a “three quid socialist”, a Marxist entryist, a clicktivist, a hipster fair-weather fan etc. etc. It is indicative of the mindset within established Labour circles. Three quid for someone like me – and millions of others – means food for as much as a couple of days. It is not an insignificant amount.

Any other party would cheer hundreds of thousands of people suddenly becoming inspired by one of the leadership candidates and joining the movement. They would instantly think “Maybe this guy has something that is attractive to voters”. But no, not Labour. Labour is proving itself to be the ultimate authoritarian, establishment structure in which seniority and rank are the only things which render one’s opinion worthwhile.

Consumed by conspiracy theories, this is a party membership unable to argue for any of “their” candidates’ policies. I have genuinely not had a single tweet clearly stating “I am voting for X, because A, B, and C policy will be great for the country”. It is a party looking inwards and to the past. Asking only “What is good for the party?”, instead of “What is good for the country?” They still think Blairism – now over twenty years old – is a modernising concept; not the thing that was tried and didn’t work. The gap between rich and poor has widened consistently for the last thirty years. They think that they can rerun the 1997 election and win, as if nothing has changed in the intervening years. Everything has changed.

“You voted for the Greens at the Euro elections”, accuses one. Yes, I did so specifically and publicly for the first time in my life, because I felt that Labour had drifted too much to the right. I now see an opportunity to reclaim my place in the party. Hundreds of thousands see the same to a sufficient extent to part with money – even if only three quid. I note that, when I campaigned vocally for my local Labour candidate in May, nobody asked me to show them a membership card. Anyone can join, it seems, as long as they toe the line. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Labour voter all your life, the “worthy” will find a way to discredit you as disloyal to the party.

This is why Labour lost the last election. And why it will probably lose the next one and the one after that. Because it sees anyone not voting for it as either cruel or stupid, anyone critical of its policies as disloyal, and feels absolutely entitled to electoral success. The Pasokification of the party will continue apace unless it understands that this is not so.

By all means, continue accusing progressive people from the left political space of being infiltrators, while lifting your skirts to show your neoliberal ankle to a handful of voters in Tory marginals and shouting “Oranges! Oranges!” The result of sharing the “austerity platform” with your opponents will be as inevitable as sharing the “No platform” was in Scotland: complete obliteration.

It is just very, very sad for those of us who understand what is happening to watch.

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Did Labour lose the election because Ed Miliband was too far to the Left?

August 1, 2015

No.

The Pantomime of the Greek Deal

July 10, 2015

A bad deal is what Greece wanted. A bad deal is what Greece got. Tsipras neither saved nor doomed the country.

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This is my initial reaction to the deal proposal by Greece: it is more austerity -harsh austerity at that – and many of the measures are recessionary. Distribution of the burden seems to me fairer than before. If the upside is access to a significant stimulus package (front-loaded), a smoothing of the measures (back-loaded) and substantial restructuring of debt, to make it definitively viable, it will probably be seen as worth it. It is certainly capable of being sold as worth it.
Essentially, everyone managing to keep their position/perks/income in the context of an economy which is in the middle of a death spiral, is meaningless. If the economy begins to recover, then things which were unbearable, become bearable. Austerity becomes a background noise, rather than a preoccupation and a progressive government will be able to offset the damage. It is a delicate balance.
Market confidence is a strange creature. There is a lot of money sloshing around at the moment, taken out of China which is in free-fall. Money which is bulging to be invested. All it takes is an intangible notion that Greece has hit the low point, for investment to return. Whether this package achieves that balance or not, will have to be assessed over time, as the detail of each measure becomes known and away from the adrenaline and hysteria of negotiation fever.
Instant, dramatic, pantomime reactions of the type “Tsipras just destroyed Greece” and “Tsipras just saved Europe” are numerous and deeply unhelpful. He has done neither. This isn’t a booing or cheering moment…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so.

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WHATEVER THE RESULT, “OXI” HAS WON

July 6, 2015

Like the independence referendum in Scotland, Greece has entered a process which is unstoppable

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OXI, the “no” to the unconditional surrender demanded of Greece, has already won. We just don’t know how big the victory is yet. It may seem a bold prediction, but I’m not talking about the result of today’s referendum, monumental though that is, but about something much more profound.

All week the parallels between the Scottish referendum on Independence last year and what is happening in Greece, have been unavoidable. The fearmongering and predictions of doom have been hundred-fold, of course, and the situation much more extreme, but the way in which the representatives of the corrupt status quo have lined up, one by one, behind the “yes” camp, the way in which they have chosen to frighten, rather than convince, has been unmistakeable.

In June 2011, in my very first piece about the Greek crisis, I wrote about the occupation of Syntagma Square. I wrote that what was happening there was beautiful; filled with hope; gloriously democratic. About how the crowd of thousands shared what little food and drink there was. About a microphone which stood in the middle, through which anyone could speak and make proposals, which were then voted on by a show of hands. I talked about the beginnings of Citizenship and predicted that hope for Greece existed within that movement.

Four years later, Alexis Tsipras, the man who emerged as a leader from that movement, stood in the same square in front of a million people, this time as Prime Minister, and made a speech filled with both generosity and defiance. He stood alone, with no security, no fear, nothing between him and the crowd, other than a white shirt, unbuttoned at the collar. “Democracy is life”, he said. “Democracy is strength and joy.” The crowd…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so. 

WHERE IS MY EUROPEAN UNION?

June 30, 2015
As Greece prepares for a monumental decision, there is only one certainty: the European Ideal has been irrevocably damaged.

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I am a Europhile. Not only that, I am a product of the Union. I have structured my life around the idea of free movement; my identity around the notion that I can be more than one thing: Mykonian, Greek, Londoner, British, European. For the first time in my life, I am beginning to wonder, whether the European project is now simply too broken to be fixed.

Do not misunderstand me. I am passionate about the notion of a Europe of partners, united around principles of solidarity and trade. I just think we have taken wrong turns. So many and so wrong that I feel very uncertain as to whether we can ever find our way back.

I am not alone in feeling like this and it is not of consequence only with regard to Greece. I have had numerous messages in the last few days from pro-European friends here in Britain, telling me that the way the institutions have treated Greece, have convinced them to cross over to the “out” camp for the forthcoming UK referendum on European membership.

I am not in the deluded camp who think that national sovereignty is a magic bullet that will restore some nationalist utopia which only ever existed in our minds. Governments have been captured by corporate interests, so completely and at every level, that all EU exit changes is the field on which necessary battles must be fought. No flag provides protection from that, however tightly we wrap ourselves in it.

Neither do I want to suggest that the project hasn’t been a success. Before it was captured by this fatal monetarist fever, it achieved decades of unprecedented peace and prosperity, extraordinary advances in working and consumer rights, and a mingling of cultures and populations which has enriched us all. But I know, in my heart, it is now irrevocably damaged.

The choice being presented to the Greek people is a difficult one. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, as they say. On one hand, continuing a programme which has decimated the country and its economy, plunged millions into poverty…

You can read the rest of this article here on BYLINE – a crowd-funded alternative news platform, on which writers can express their opinions with no fear, favour or editorial control. It is completely free and has no advertisements or spam. All we ask is that you consider funding us, if you have the capacity to do so. 

Why the battle between Athens and Brussels matters to all of you

June 4, 2015
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Athens is a war zone. (AFP Photo / Louisa Gouliamaki)

There is a lot being written about the current negotiations between the Syriza government in Greece and the EU/IMF. The distance of most journalists from the Greek reality and atmosphere and the sheer volume of competing information, makes for a lot of white noise. I want to filter much of it out and boil the issues down to some very basic points. This is by no means a definitive list, but it is one which I think captures a number of “big ticket items” which I have not seen made clearly and explicitly.

1. The crisis is not an economic, but a political one. In the grand scheme of things, the sums which are the totality of the difference between the government’s proposal and the EU/IMF’s counterproposals are tiny and risible. Stripped of their political significance, they would not even show up as a blip on the European, let alone the global economic radar. A solution has not been achieved, because the EU/IMF are defending austerity in general. To concede, would be to accept they got it wrong.

2. The measures being counter-proposed by the EU are undeliverable and punitive. One only has to look at the proposals on VAT to realise that the EU is either clueless or not interested in a deal. Proposed VAT rates of 11% on staple food and 23% on electricity/water are not only regressive and unaffordable, but would plunge Greece into an inflationary death spiral, discouraging tourism, encouraging illegal trade and costing many times more than they raise in lost revenue. The proposal to scrap the relief to islands shows a lack of understanding of basic economic realities regarding the cost of shipping goods to thousands of small, remote islands. It is blindly trying to apply German policies. The proposals are not economically realistic; they are a punishment beating for having elected the “wrong” government.

3. The entrenched position of the players has to do with domestic rather than international policies. The battle between Merkel and Schäuble behind the scenes for leadership of their party before the next German election; the threat Rajoy faces in Spain from Podemos, underlined by recent municipal results; resistance to Dijsselbloem’s programme of ultra-right-wing economic policies in the Netherlands within his own Labour Party; the failure of Renzi to stimulate a stagnating Italian economy; – all these factors, and many besides, play a much bigger part in shaping players’ position towards the Greek crisis, than anything to do with the Greek crisis.

4. A fundamental misjudgment of Syriza in general and Tsipras in particular. There was a catastrophically widely held belief among the European establishment that, once elected, Tsipras would “play ball”. There is still palpable shock at his sticking to his election commitments, often expressed as the accusation that he is being unreasonable. Every statement out of EU institutions for the last five months has been practically underlined by the subtext “shit, he wasn’t bluffing”.

5. A Grexit would be disastrous for the EU. Tsipras understands this. Given current geopolitical circumstances, Putin’s expansionism, the powder keg that is North Africa, the Middle East on the brink of all-out war – strategically, Europe could afford to lose practically any single country from the Union, except Greece. Greece is the geographic and military key to all those conflict zones. Greece slipping by default into a China/Russia alliance would be nothing short of a global game-changer.

6. There was an underestimation of popular support for Syriza and misunderstanding of the mood in Greece. The EU/IMF clearly expected support for the new government to ebb away, as fruitless negotiations protracted. The opposite has happened. Support is significantly higher now than in the January election. Tsipras’s personal ratings are sky high. After living on the brink of disaster for so many years, I sense a que-sera-sera attitude in most people. This is not to say they don’t fear capital controls, the threat of Grexit, austerity, hunger, poverty and degradation. It is to say that they have lived with them for so long, they have become an ordinary part of the landscape.

7. Greeks are busiest in the summer. Everyone is busiest during the summer months. Everyone is richer during the summer months. It was a fundamental miscalculation by the EU/IMF to try and win a PR battle of fear during this period. The country is too light, too warm, too beautiful and too busy to take notice.

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CONCLUSION: The EU/IMF have played their hand badly. By calling a bluff that wasn’t a bluff they have played themselves into a situation in which they have no win scenario and no exit strategy. They will lose. The only question now is whether they lose badly or not and whether they take Greece down with them.

If this intransigence is played out, they force Greece into a new election, possible Grexit, instability, and plunge the entire continent back into recession. If they back down, Greece is seen as victorious, Podemos wins in Spain and they start the same negotiations with Iglecias, only the sums involved are larger and a resistance front in Southern Europe pushing back against imposed market liberalisation and austerity becomes a serious challenge.

They have, I think, realised this, but are still locked in a self-destructive raising of the stakes. Merkel and Hollande have noted this, which is why they have taken charge of negotiations increasingly away from the Eurogroup.

The reason this matters to all is twofold. First, it forces out into the open and brings into sharp contrast the increasing divergence between the wellbeing of markets and the wellbeing of populations. Second, it marks a clear act of economic blackmail by a global de facto establishment – let’s call it “The Davos Set” – unhappy at a democratic people opting for an alternative to neoliberalism.

How these tensions resolve themselves will determine whether national elections remain meaningful in any way; whether democratic change is possible or violent revolution is in fact the only effective option.

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I think Labour may be over

May 22, 2015

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I don’t say this lightly. It seems to me that Labour is about to make such a fundamental strategic flaw, it will make itself irrelevant for the next election, the one after that and, possibly, forever. I have seen this in Greece with PaSoK.

Simply put, Blair’s strategy would not be successful today. Attempting to emulate it will be disastrous. Blair worked from a completely different voting base: he knew he “had” most of the North, Wales, Scotland and a strong base of working class votes everywhere else. All he needed was a little help from the Home Counties; a little push from floating/undecided voters in the centre.

Labour today does not have most of that base any more. Its vote is under serious threat in all those areas. It is largely seen as having betrayed working people and this is being exploited by UKIP, SNP, even the Conservatives. It needs to, first and foremost, fight to secure that base again. Nobody at a strategy level appears to get that. They think that, just like Blair, they can leave their homestead entirely undefended and forage for votes on the centre-right.

If we’re lucky, a new entity – possibly a coalition of progressives a la Syriza – will challenge from the left. And I say “if we’re lucky” meaning everyone, wherever they are on the political spectrum. The political landscape needs balance. Enlightened voters, wherever they sit politically, instinctively understand that a strong centre-left, keeps the centre-right honest and vice versa. If we’re less lucky, a party like UKIP will continue to shift in a populist direction and become the party of opposition.

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