The prevailing liberal consensus has failed. By this I mean the ideas, visions, plans for the future held by the leading liberal politicians and intellectuals in many countries – my writing so far has only focused on India, the UK, and the US – have come to nothing. Within their own terms, within the presuppositions that they are committed to; they have no idea what more they can do to win elections. Winning elections to govern more sympathetically than conservative parties has been their main claim to legitimacy against left critiques.
The quickly diminishing leading liberal party in India, the Indian National Congress, is committed to dynasty rule that has automatically, and rightly, ruled out its credibility amongst most of the electorate. Ed Miliband’s Labour tried to square the circle of offering economic competence, technocratic verbiage (‘predistribution’ matches ‘trumped up trickle down’ for rhetorical futility), and anti-immigrant sentiment to find that more or less the same package was more slickly, and believably, sold by the Tories. Clinton’s slick, data-driven campaign lost handily to a man who can’t finish a sentence. Why?
This is a lot. The gravity of the situation hits me in waves. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I had assumed the Obama coalition from 2012 would hold up, given that Obama had made a couple of speeches endorsing Clinton. Michelle had made a really strong one too. I had thought it would be the margin of Obama’s win over Romney, that the bad old familiar order would continue. I didn’t bother to look into the polls or the specific states in the Midwest more closely, Clinton was experienced enough and the Democratic GOTV machine strong enough to carry it home.
Seeing the results come in on 11 pm on Tuesday, I felt a sinking familiar to me from past election nights. I was now numb to the painful realization that the familiar, comfortable liberal world of the late 90s and early 2000s was ultimately over. This certainty has been exploded many times in my life now. I felt like when I did in Edinburgh in May 2014, preparing to move to Chicago in a couple of weeks but broken apart by the Modi BJP’s resounding win: a clear single-party majority for the most authoritarian candidate in India since Indira Gandhi. It reminded me of what I felt seeing David Cameron win a single-party majority in May 2015. Like Clinton this year, Ed Miliband of the Labour Party ran an unfocussed, uninspired campaign – dogged by a press more intent on bringing him down a peg than challenge Tory dogmas on deficit-spending. It reminded me of the Brexit referendum in June this year; another muddle-headed campaign for an admittedly unpleasant and imperfect status quo surprisingly lost to a clear, direct message – fuck ‘em.
“It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there, it’s not in the national interest and I would say, for heaven’s sake man, go!” David Cameron
For observers of British politics, it might not come as a surprise that the press and most of the politicians in the country have taken advantage of Brexit to launch a comprehensive assault on the very possibility of an anti-racist social democracy. There are multiple parties involved in this assault, making for a curious, yet on reflection entirely understandable, list of allies.
We had David Cameron, former Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party who by calling this referendum to resolve an intra-party dispute, had brought the very union of nations that comprises the United Kingdom into doubt. On his last outing at the Prime Minister’s Questions – an increasingly frivolous forum where one hears howls of laughter when a colleague brings up the rise in child poverty in the country – David Cameron spoke on behalf of the “national interest” to demand that the leader of the opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, resign. “For heaven’s sake man, go.”, thundered Cameron, with cheers erupting in the hall and across the twitter feeds of English journalists. Not just journalists, but political and public figures across the political spectrum agreed. For the national interest, Jeremy Corbyn simply has to go. Cameron had honourably resigned upon losing the referendum. Why didn’t Corbyn?
Then we have much of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the group of Members of Parliament who won their seats campaigning for Labour in the last general election, but are now attempting to assert dominance over the broader Labour movement and party members who by and large prefer Corbyn to any alternative leader (Times/Yougov poll). The week after the referendum, the PLP voted 172-40 to pass a no-confidence motion in Corbyn as leader of the Labour party. Their leaders in the Shadow Cabinet (ostensibly appointed by Corbyn as an act of intra-party unity) had spent the previous weekend resigning periodically for maximum public effect. The Labour party is now in disarray. Corbyn has forced many Labour MPs to undermine their opposition to the real architects of the Brexit disaster, the Conservatives, by training their sights on him. For the national interest, for the country to have a functioning opposition the man who was apparently the cause of this disaster now has to go. For heaven’s sake, he has to go. This plea is now being seen across the British press as a question beyond narrow political concerns, a matter of basic human decency. Something to be done for the national interest. What nation are Cameron and the Parliamentary Labour Party speaking for? To what sort of nation does Jeremy Corbyn pose a threat?
The politics of reaction in the UK are scrambling. The events and debates surrounding the upcoming Brexit referendum reflect well the chaos, the idiocy, and sheer bloody-mindedness of Tory rule. The quality of the coverage, most notably the naked class-interest on display, reflects well the Tory press. In its efforts to sustain and popularise the Blairite neoliberal settlement by protecting Cameron at every turn, this press has found itself all-too-successfully aping his inability to sustain a thought for more than ten minutes. It has been the PR-man of the PR PM. Unlike most PR campaigns, this one – the project of the Tories and their press to reinforce their class rule – has done and will continue to do an astonishing amount of damage to the people of the UK in a short amount of time.
First the contours of Tory rule. This referendum was called by David Cameron to appease the backbenchers or the ‘fringe’ of his party who have questioned the European project since the 1990s. This potted history by a former editor of the Spectator – a publication that recently described Muhammad Ali as a “performing seal” – argued that Euroscepticism within the Tory party was began as a movement for liberty, modernity and national economic flexibility in response to poor governance by an increasingly sluggish European behemoth. At the start, these meek, cool-headed Tories merely wanted the EU to focus on “trade and business” rather than “grand political projects”. As they were ridiculed and marginalized by Blair in the 2000s, and then by the Clegg-Cameron coalition in 2010, their stance couldn’t help but harden into outright malevolence for these effete cosmopolitan elites (Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg) who had little concern for the true interests of British business. Blair’s failure to use his outsize charisma to “reform the EU” per Carswell’s requirements forced the latter into the hard Brexit position. What were these reforms that Carswell and the charmingly dubbed Brexiteers wanted? Tellingly, the accomplished journalist and one-time editor of Britain’s oldest conservative magazine allows this question to pass in silence. Whatever they were, they clearly weren’t racist.
We have two factions in the Tory party who have been given complete hegemony in the British political debate as it is reflected in its papers and broadcast media. The Remainers on the one hand, led by Cameron and Osborne, are arguing for more of the same. By their expected win they are hoping to silence their power-hungry opponents within their party once and for all. On the other side, the Brexiteers, led by Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farrage, given intellectual weight by giants like Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan, and emboldened by the racist campaign run by Zac Goldsmith in London last winter (a campaign which failed), are all too eager to overthrow the ‘metropolitan’ conservatives and benefit from the economic and social chaos inevitable upon their victory. The Tory press have little interest in the opinions of those outside the Tory party. Thus Corbyn while reserved yet steadfast in his support for Remain but with his politics of moderate Keynesianism considered far too left-wing for “acceptable mainstream opinion”, has continued to be given short shrift by the big papers. No doubt he will be blamed no matter the result.
We have an apparent paradox. If, as I argued, the ascendancy of neoliberalism in the UK is total, then why is there a right-wing faction within the right-wing party unhappy with its apparent success? The EU has no issues with the brutal austerity policies pursued by the Conservatives. Indeed it inflicted something similar on Greece late last summer. The EU has also done little to reign in the City of London and its financial sector’s profitable boondogglery. The access to the single market in labour and goods that the EU offers is a net economic gain for the UK – the country is the largest recipient of FDI in the single market, acting as the primary conduit for international capital into the continent and continental investments into the outside world. If Tory rule consisted primarily in safeguarding the interests of capital, the interests of the ruling class as we have said, why then is a significant faction within the Tory party willing and almost quite able to throw a massive spanner in its profit-making operations by triggering Brexit? A “Leave” vote would cause a massive loss in financial confidence in the country for all of its trade and legal agreements with the EU – a significant portion of its economic external relations – would be put in limbo. The UK would then have to negotiate an exit as a much weaker partner ripe for punishment by an already hurting Europe. Continue reading
Filed under Europe, Politics, UK
I am incredibly frustrated after having read this essay written by a journalist with exclusive access to the Miliband campaign team. To everyone’s surprise, it reveals that the Labour party political machine is run with the kind of competence, clarity, and consistency seen otherwise in Iannucci’s brilliant political satire “The Thick of It”.
These “campaign profiles” – can’t wait for the one about Hillary, or the one about Modi – substitute structural and salient political analysis for an inspiring personal narrative and a retelling of the campaign team’s ability or lack thereof to manipulate the media. Yes, this is the truth about politics today. But if you are going to pay someone thousands of pounds to write it up, is it going to get any more interesting? Profiles like this reward the reader with endearing personal details about a leader, or the fact that those around her genuinely consider her a “nice” person, or someone who “believes” in her values, or actually is quite witty and funny when not on television. Instead of being lied to on television, these profiles lie to us in person. In helping us understand the person behind the politician, they help us ignore the politics of the person. The political situation or conjecture that defines and limits a person’s ability to act. Continue reading
Filed under Europe, Politics, UK