Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

"All that is solid turns into air"

Rod Holt looking serious at Keep Corbyn rally, Manchester 1 July 2016
So wrote Marx in the Communist Manisfesto 166 years ago, and this seems a very good description of UK politics over the last two weeks.

UKIP, although only given a single MP by the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system (and not even an MP they actually like), have never-the-less managed to get their main policy adopted by a reluctant government.

The Tories themselves, the most resiliant of all political parties, are regrouping after the resignation of their leader, and the humbling of both his prospective heirs.

The Labour Party meanwhile, is either a farce of tragic proportions or a tragedy of farcial proportions, with the parliamentary party and its resurgent membership either on a collision course or heading in opposite directions.

So what on earth is going on?

The obvious answer is that politics as we know it has ceased to exist. The traditional left/right split has almost become meaningless.

Political compass of UK parties May 2015
Various alternatives have been proposed. The two dimensional model of the Political Compass, which grades parties on both their economic and social liberalism, being a popular alternative.

The problem is, when you look at the UK, it turns out 90% of us voted for right wing, authoritarian parties. This might be true, but it's not very useful.

In my opinion, the extra dimension you really need to add at the moment, is whether the party is pro or anti-austerity.

UKIP, with their 'back to the 1950s/blame it all on the EU' views may not be a coherent anti-austerity party, indeed their billionaire backers and ex-banker leader (now ex-leader) rather suggest otherwise, but they did hoover up a huge chunk of disaffection with the status quo.  Anti-immigrant rather than anti-austerity perhaps, they are still different to the Tories.

In 2015 Labour offered up austerity-lite, and the Green Party were the only real anti-austerity party of the left. The SNP though were channelling the same disaffection north of the border as UKIP did in England, and mostly (if not entirely) sending it leftwards.

Today Labour is pretty much an anti-austerity party of the left, or rather it is a party whose members and leadership appear to be mostly anti-austerity, but whose MPs aren't. If Labour's current difficulties result in a split, then we will end up with an austerity-lite Blue Labour and anti-austerity Red Labour.

The Europeans

European Parliament as of June 2015
Looking out across Europe we see the same political mess as here. In the countries hardest hit by the Credit Crunch the fault lines are becoming clearly. Broadly speaking the people of Europe are up to 20% anti-immigrant right, 60% pro-austerity centre (usually split between two traditional parties) and about 20% anti-austerity left.

The error bars are at least 10% on those figures, and the results of individual elections are skewed by voters wanting to kick out corrupt or incompetent governemts and punish those seen as responsible for mess we're all in.

Hellenic Parliament as of September 2015
In Greece, for example, the pro-austerity left party PASOK has been almost completely wiped out, giving the anti-austerity parties of the left nearly 45% of the vote. However they also seem to have stolen support from the anti-austerity right as the Golden Dawn (the Greek BNP) and the Independent Greeks (the Greek UKIP) used to muster about 15% of the vote between them, whilst now they're down to about 10%.

Back in Blighty

In the UK in the last election the figures for the 2015 election (rounded to the nearest 5%) were:

UKIP (anti-austerity/immigrant right) 15%
Conservatives (pro-austerity right) 35%
Labour and LibDems (pro-austerity left) 40%
Green and SNP (anti-austerity left) 10%

Of course, in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn and his pals all voted Labour. If we pretend that Corbyn's election as leader immediately transformed Labour into an anti-austerity party of the left (which it obviously didn't), then the breakdown of the electorate after this years local government elections becomes:

Anti-austerity/immigrant right 15%
Pro-austerity right 30%
Pro-austerity left 15%
Anti-austerity left 50%

Clearly Labour did not become Syriza overnight, and 25% of the electorate have not become anti-capitalists since the general election. All we can say is that the true political views of UK voters are probably somewhere in the middle of these two sets of figures.

A 20/30/30/20 split is not impossible.

So what?

The obvious answer is chaos.

A progressive alliance?
Our first-past-the-post system, billionaire owned media and electorate that prefers to vote for confident idiots, gives an advantage to parties who are able to target marginal seats, reward the rich and present a confident front, which is the Tories.

However if we really do have 20/30/30/20 split in the vote, then no one politcial faction, even one prepared to play fast and loose with the rules for electoral expences, can guarantee victory on its own.

The question will be, what alliances will emerge? If Labour splits, will some of the austerity-lite middle of the party follow Corbyn and can an anti-austerity left 'progressive alliance' really work? These are very important questions.

Other deals are possible. Tory/UKIP is certainly on the cards. A Tory/Blue Labour/LibDem alliance of the pro-austerity middle is not impossible, and potentially unbeatable. Even a UKIP/Red Labour deal is not out of the question, as this is effectively the coalition that runs Greece.

To the barricades?

All of which is very frustrating to those of us who don't want to use politics as a game, but as a means of actually getting things done. Unless you really do think The Revolution is at hand, you have to
Occupy London, February 2012
vote for someone.

Even if you're sure you want to vote for an anti-austerity left party, unless you live in Chippenham, you can't actually vote for Corbyn yourself. We need some options, and they aren't easy right now.

The complete Marx quote is "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober sense, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

Alas, I think in the second half here Marx is in error, or at least premature. Sober sense is the one thing I feel I can safely predict is going to be abscent from UK politics for a while yet.


Anonymous said...

"UKIP, although only given a single MP by the UK's first-past-the-post electoral system (and not even an MP they actually like), have never-the-less managed to get their main policy adopted by a reluctant government." True that. However May is clearly making a play to get Ukip voters to return to the Tories - where many came from.

I would not call Labour/LibDem 'left' myself. Certainly not the LibDems rump, left after the 2015 election. Labour itself is not a homogenous party, being split between its PLP careerist elite with a strong feeling of entitlement, and its mass movement membership.

Martin Porter said...

The LibDems are socially liberal and economically conservative. That was pretty much the Blairite position, and Cameron's too really, relative to the rest of his party.

What happens next with UKIP is probably almost as important as what happend to Labour. Is it 'job done, back to the Tories', or are they going to be the anti-austerity right, like the Independent Greeks?