Tag Archives: Tories

Neoliberalism in one country

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

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What Happened to the Postwar Dream?

This past UK general election result should not have been surprising. Yet it was. We shall discuss why this was the case but let’s dwell on the title of this essay. I think it’s significant that the Conservatives won on the same weekend as V-E Day, the day that Europe celebrates victory over Nazi Germany – the end of World War II in Europe. The complete victory of the Conservatives in the United Kingdom parliament marks the denouement of a long moment in European history that began in 1945; a moment that began with the exceptional Labour victory that year and the systematic pursuit of a collective dream of social democracy. This dream consisted of full employment, free education, universal healthcare, and a party-political movement that aimed to represent the interests of the most vulnerable – the working class. This dream became a nightmare to Thatcher in the 1980s, a neurotic symptom that Blair could never quite work out in the early 2000s, and an irrelevant fantasy to David Cameron today. With his election victory last week, and with the decimation of British social democracy that both preceded his rule and will only continue more rapidly now – we have to reckon with the fact that the moment of this dream has passed. We have put 1945 behind us. The threat of world communism no longer forces us to imagine publics larger than marginal constituencies. The shared horror and triumph of collective participation in war is behind us. The memory of how radical solidarity in the face of global disaster can, in fact, defeat completely the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and global capital is long distant, and perhaps no longer a relevant fact to our contemporary experience. Though I, and the honourable musicians of Pink Floyd, would argue that it should be.

Social democracy does not just describe a government providing generous welfare to its citizens, though that is an important feature. It is not simply about a government attempting to achieve full employment through the right monetary policies, though that matters. It is also not all about a strong trade union movement that can allow the most vulnerable workers to stand together and survive against large capital-owners, though that is absolutely essential. A key characteristic of a healthy social democracy is a public sphere that can include within it as expansive and as comprehensive range of voices and perspectives as possible. This does not mean variety for variety’s sake; we can probably find a hundred different contrarian conservative perspectives in Wimbledon, people who take visible joy in their risible opinions – “I’m a Tory because Ed Miliband can’t eat a bacon sandwich, you need leadership qualities to be a Prime Minister for god’s sake!; I’m a Tory because Labour wouldn’t keep the country safe from the Scots; I’m a Tory because Labour would tank the economy; I’m a Tory because radical Islamists have really gone too far in this country”. Of course this doesn’t mean that Tories should be excluded from a social democratic public sphere. A great tragedy is that we don’t get to hear them. They seem to be shy. Why is that?

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