Labour Centrists Bend The Knee To Jeremy Corbyn, Once Again

Yvette Cooper

No courage, no backbone, no vision of their own

Telegraph sketchwriter Michael Deacon reports on the rapturous reception given to Jeremy Corbyn by the Parliamentary Labour Party when he entered the Commons yesterday:

Labour MPs cheered Jeremy Corbyn.

Genuinely. They really did. And when I say Labour MPs, I don’t just mean John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and the other members of his little band of loyalists. I mean all of them. As Mr Corbyn entered the Commons for the first time since the election, his MPs rose as one and awarded their leader a delirious standing ovation. Yes, the same MPs – well, apart from the 47 new ones – who not so long ago sat in scowling silence while Mr Corbyn floundered at PMQs, and voted by four to one that he must stand down.

On and on they clapped and whooped. Beaming from ear to ear, like a Wimbledon champion greeting his adoring public, Mr Corbyn waved, shook hands, did the thumbs-up, and basked in the acclaim. On the opposite side of the House, Tory MPs – including Theresa May – stared glumly.

What a sight it was. If this is how Labour celebrate losing an election, imagine what they’d do if they actually won.

Well, well, well.

It’s almost as though I wrote something warning about the spineless Labour centrists and their yawning lack of principle a year ago, after Jeremy Corbyn saw off their pathetic, ineptly executed leadership challenge. Oh wait, I did. Twice.

And just as they did when Corbyn vanquished the hapless Owen Smith, now the Labour centrists are prostrating themselves at their leader’s feet because his big government manifesto managed to bribe sufficient voters to win Labour a handful of additional seats, if not the general election. They are jostling for position, eager to worm their way back into the the Shadow Cabinet – which many of them previously deserted or refused to join, in an effort to destabilise Corbyn – because they taste the tantalising prospect of toppling Theresa May’s government, forcing another election and creeping across the finish line as part of some “progressive alliance”.

Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Owen Smith – all of the usual suspects quickly dropped their plans to revolt against Jeremy Corbyn after what they anticipated to be an electoral wipeout, and instead took to the airwaves to praise their leader and lay the groundwork for what they clearly hope is a return to power and prominence.

Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left worldview will destroy the Labour Party, we were once told. But more than that, his policies are wrong! So said the sanctimonious Labour centrists, despite failing to clearly articulate their own centrist vision for Britain or clearly explain which parts of the Thatcherite revolution they want to keep, which ones they want to reject and which ones they simply want to pretend to oppose in order to project the right image to their base. And now they come crawling back, ready and eager to serve, all previous ideological and moral objections to Corbyn having been conveniently compartmentalised and forgotten.

The Labour centrists have no courage and no backbone. This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now, not theirs. Labour’s 40% vote share was driven by Corbyn, not by any of the B-lister centrists who can barely inspire their own family members to the polls. If the centrists meant what they said when they wept at Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, resigned from his Shadow Cabinet in a huff or explicitly repudiated his leadership on the campaign doorstep, they would break away and found a new party of the centre-left. But they won’t. The prospect of power – even hard left power which not so long ago they found utterly objectionable – is simply too alluring.

This blog will make time to hear a multiplicity of political perspectives, but I have no time for people who cannot manage basic ideological consistency. And I have no time for oleaginous political swamp creatures who stab their leader in the back one day only to lay garlands of flowers at his feet the next.

Such degeneracy can be rivalled only by the rootless Conservative Party, who seem to have concluded – God help us – that the best way to bounce back from Theresa May’s disastrous election campaign is to race the Labour Party in a sprint to the political Left.

 

UPDATE – 14 June

Lobbyist and former Labour MP Tom Harris concurs with my assessment, and lays into the Labour centrists – particularly the so-called “big beasts”:

They were the epitome of principled opposition to a philosophy that, although alien to Labour Party traditions, was, for the time being, in control of it. They would not overtly oppose Corbyn (out of respect for his mandate, naturally), but neither would they be complicit.

Until now. Because it turns out – and who could possibly have predicted this? – that their “opposition” was not founded on principle at all. At least, not the principle we all thought.

Jeremy Corbyn stood in silence to honour IRA terrorists. He said that the homophobic, misogynist, anti-Semitic terrorists of Hamas, when they weren’t chucking trade unionists off the top of tall buildings in Gaza, were “dedicated towards… bringing about peace and social justice.”

He called for Nato to be disbanded. But it turns out that the “big beasts” had no problem with any of this, oh no – shame on you for thinking that!

Their only concern – and, to be fair, it was one that was shared by many of us – was that Corbyn just wouldn’t have an electoral appeal that would be great enough to warrant their participation on his front bench.

These are important people, after all, whose time is more precious than everyone else’s – they can’t be expected to spend their days asking parliamentary questions and leading opposition debates unless there’s the serious prospect of ministerial office at the end of it.

And now there is. After last week, there is the every chance that Jeremy Corbyn will be Prime Minister of this country, conceivably by the end of the year.

Before that earth-shattering exit poll was published at 10.00 pm last Thursday, at least a couple of those “big beasts” had already sought the support of their colleagues in anticipation of a return to the front bench, not as Shadow something or other, but as Leader of the Opposition. Labour’s 40 per cent of the vote changed all that.

Now, those of us with less political abilities and intellect than the “big beasts” might take a cautious step backwards at this point. In our naïveté we might fear that extremists who prove themselves popular are even more dangerous than extremists who are unpopular. But we would be wrong to think so.

With the sudden realisation that, contrary to expectation and logic, there are no votes to be lost in anti-Semitism or in friendship towards terrorists, the “big beasts” have made it clear that they are willing, after all, to get with the programme.

Some sore losers might harbour the hope that Corbyn will tell them to sod off and that he’s doing just fine without them, thank you very much.

But whether they return to their (as they see it) rightful place at the heart of Labour’s front bench, or whether they continue to sulk (with principle, of course) on the back benches, the term “big beast” will always be preceded by the descriptive “so called”, and will always be used with inverted commas, in order to indicate irony.

Principle has no place in British politics anymore, at least as far as the political/media elite are concerned. Pragmatism is king. And if your route back to power and influence means executing a deft 180-degree turn on supposedly inviolable principles, so be it. This is the rotten core of the Labour Party’s centrist wing.

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn speech

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Labour Manifesto: Voters Know Left Wing Policies Are Individually Alluring But Collectively Foolish

Labour Party General Election 2017 Manifesto - Jeremy Corbyn - For The Many Not The Few

Left-wing party manifestos fail to deliver electoral wins despite the popularity of their individual components because voters are smart enough to realise that promising the moon on a stick is not realistic

One self-deceiving mantra that we hear time and again from the Labour and the British Left is that people supposedly love individual left-wing policies but fail to vote Labour in the same numbers, and that if only they change X, Y or Z then the public will fall in love with the great package deal of free stuff + no responsibility and usher in a perpetual era of socialist government.

Currently, the excuse for failure is Jeremy Corbyn, and a number of leftist activists are busy consoling themselves that the Labour leader’s reputation is the only problem. Swap him out and keep the same policies, the self-deception goes, and everyone will suddenly start clamouring to vote Labour at all times.

How many times have we heard the likes of Polly Toynbee sanctimoniously declaring in a TV news debate that people “overwhelmingly” support left-wing policies like the renationalisation of the railways and the utilities sectors, hiking taxes on “the rich” or funnelling ever-increasing sums of money toward “Our NHS”? Too many to count.

And yes, certain individual policies can be very popular, particularly left-wing ones. If you prance around promising more stuff for less money – better public services, faster healthcare, higher welfare payments, all conveniently paid for by somebody else – you are bound to pick up a number of gullible admirers. But more importantly, when pollsters test the appeal of individual policies, people are likely to be very warm to left-wing, redistributive ideas when they are named individually.

It is only when you look at the systemic effect of implementing a basket of left-wing policies all at once that the appeal begins to wear off, as people engage more deeply with the question and the shine starts to come off the socialist Utopia. You might be able to convince voters that a punitive tax raid on the most productive people in society will cobble together enough money for one shiny new government programme, but when you start spending the revenues from that same tax hike multiple times and promising to do fifteen wonderful things with the same small pot of cash, that’s when voters’ natural scepticism kicks in.

Here’s the Guardian, falling into the same trap:

Renationalising the railways was backed by 52% of voters, with 22% opposed and 26% saying they did not know. Nationalising the energy market was supported by 49% with 24% against and 28% saying they did not know.

Labour’s most popular policy among those surveyed was banning zero-hours contracts, with 71% in favour and 16% against.

Despite the strong support for the party’s policies, only 30% agreed with the sentiment that Corbyn should be given a fair chance at leading the country, while 56% said he would be a “disaster” as prime minister.

And the Mirror, doubling down:

There is also widespread support for increasing income tax on those earning more than £80,000 a year.

This is backed by 65% of voters, with just 24% opposed.

A small majority (51%) of Tories also support the policy as do 80% of Labour voters, 72% of Lib Dems and 69% of UKIP voters.

Labour’s pledge to limit the state pension age to 66 is supported 74% of voters, with 15% against and 11% don’t know.

Again this policy goes down well with Tory voters, with 67% of them supporting it and just 22% against.

Here’s Manuel Cortes banging the drum at LabourList:

Make no mistake, Labour’s programme is transformative in a way not seen since 1945 or, Thatcher’s counter-revolution. We know our policies are overwhelmingly popular. Our challenge between now and June 8, is to turn the debate in our country away from Brexit onto the bread and butter issues which our policies tackle.

The polls tell us this will be a Herculean task but they are also saying that our manifesto commitments, on a raft of issues, have huge majorities in favour.

Meanwhile, Josiah Mortimer at Left Foot Forward at least recognises that voter preference is more complex than approval for a basket of individual policies, but still manages to miss the point:

It begs the question: if voters agree with most of Labour’s headline policies – what’s going wrong?

The latest poll of polls has Labour on around 30% – 16 percentage points behind the Conservatives. It’s a divide that makes sense only if you understand politics as being about much more than policies – but leadership, and above that: presentation of those policies and that leadership.

There are of course the usual misgivings over Jeremy Corbyn’s qualities as a statesman (56% say they think he would be ‘a disaster’ as Prime Minister while 30% think he should be given a ‘fair chance at leading the country’).

But beyond that, there is the issue of presentation. It’s been said time and again that Labour’s current policies aren’t significantly to the left of his predecessor (‘warmed up Millibandism’). From renationalising the railways and ending private involvement in the NHS, to prioritising council housing and clamping down on the energy companies: all this has been done and said before.

But it often feels that the left do ourselves few favours – in presenting policies as more radical than they really are – and voters do perceive Corbyn as much more left-wing than he is: with 0 being effectively a communist, and 10 being the most right-wing, voters put Corbyn at 2.2, and Labour at 3.

But the discrepancy between individual policy popularity and overall opinion poll performance is due to more than the “Corbyn effect”, and it is disingenuous of the Guardian and other left-wing media to pretend otherwise.

We see similar enthusiasm gaps between individual left-wing policies and overall voting intention throughout recent British political history – support for rail renationalisation has been high since the railways were privatised – and also in the United States, where Democrats love to crow that many voters actually support their high-taxing, pro-union, pro-redistribution policies only to be disappointed on election day when conservative Republicans keep being elected to various levels of public office.

But many leftists genuinely seem to struggle with this notion. To their minds, if one promises one wonderful free thing after another, the cumulative effect will be enormous and should result in nothing but a Labour landslide in the general election. They make no allowance for the diminishing returns of left-wing fiscal incontinence, or realise that each further promise makes the complete package less believable rather than more.

Owen Jones actually gets closer to the truth, admitting to Varsity:

However, Jones is quick to point out that popular policies aren’t enough saying “individual policies don’t win elections, you need a clear vision to inspire people in terms of what you’re going to do.”

And developing his point in the Guardian:

As has been noted, Labour’s recent policies are indeed electorally very popular. You don’t win elections, though, with policies that – taken individually – have high levels of support, as Ed Miliband discovered. There has to be a vision to bring them together. If you don’t define what you are for, you will be defined by your opponents, already the critical problem afflicting Labour’s leadership. You need a sunny, optimistic vision, not a miserable shaking of the stick at everything that’s wrong.

Jones is right and wrong here. A vision certainly helps. However, the Tories have just launched their 2017 general election manifesto which contains no discernible vision or philosophy of government at all, beyond a final repudiation of Thatcherism, a spiteful kick at libertarianism and a pledge to make random gestures to the Just About Managing (JAMs) by pinching from the Labour playbook.

This blog certainly wishes that it were otherwise; that Theresa May had decided to fight the 2017 general election on an unapologetically small-government, conservative platform – particularly since electoral victory is all but guaranteed, together with the opportunity to reshape the country if only the political will was there. But the Conservatives’ imminent victory is proof that one does not need a logical set of policies or a coherent philosophy of government in order to win support.

If anything, the problem is that many voters know the left-wing vision only too well, and simply want nothing to do with it. Jeremy Corbyn may be bad at communicating an appealing left-wing worldview, sometimes couching even relatively pedestrian policies in the off-putting language of revolutionary struggle, but his predecessor Ed Miliband was as bland as bland can be, and still nobody took the bait. Likewise, since leaving office the heavy fisted Gordon Brown has developed a talent for giving angry TED-style intervention speeches at crucial political junctures, but he too was unable to sell an attractive, convincing left-wing vision to voters tired of centre-left New Labour rule.

The problem is not that the left-wing vision does not exist, or lacks decent salespeople to pitch it. The problem is that people who know it tend to dislike it. Envy of the rich, a desire to tear the successful down rather than build the underprivileged up, a seething antipathy to business and entrepreneurship, the stubborn insistence on inviting the government deep into the private lives of every citizen, treating half the country as perpetually helpless and “vulnerable” people in need of constant nurturing by the state, endless moralising about being the sole keepers of compassion, and now the embrace of toxic and divisive identity politics – there is no confusion about what Labour stands for, only dislike ranging from mild indifference to complete revulsion.

Unfortunately, though, these beliefs and attitudes run deep through the political Left. Even when voters like a particular individual Labour policy they are too often unconvinced to give Labour their vote because they rightly perceive that the policy is borne from the wrong motives.

Labour could promise to cut income tax to zero for everybody earning below £50,000 and throw in a £10k rebate on top, funded by punitive taxes on millionaires and confiscatory wealth taxes on assets, which would be a hugely popular policy, but they will not persuade an election-winning coalition of voters to back them based on it because in the back of their minds, voters know that even if they are to personally benefit from one of Labour’s pie-in-the-sky ideas, everybody will suffer – themselves included – when they quickly succeed in driving the country into the ground.

Hard as it is for some on the Left to believe, voters sometimes actually appreciate it when political parties level with them rather than endlessly trying to flatter and bribe them with “free” stuff. It was a Democratic president, John F. Kennedy, who exhorted his fellow citizens to ask what they could do for their country rather than what their country could do for them. Somewhere along the way, on both sides of the Atlantic, the Left seems to have lost this spirit, and replaced it with the gnawing certainty that voters want a shopping list of bribes, a promise to be perpetually looked after by the state and alleviated of all responsibility for their lives.

Fortunately this is not the view of most voters, which is why the Labour Party and the British people look set to continue talking past one another, on June 8 and into the future.

 

Labour Party Manifesto 2017 - For the many not the few

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Quote For The Day

Brendan O’Neill, writing on Facebook:

With trustafarian Corbynistas on one side and media Blairites on the other, Labour is now entirely the property of people who do not labour, and have never laboured, and will never labour, and whose only experience of labour is when they keep an eye on the stupid bloke from Barking who probably voted Brexit as he fixes their boiler, to make sure he doesn’t steal anything.

An insult made devastating because it is so undeniably true.

This is not to say that there are not still (potentially) many good people within the Labour Party – people who perhaps voted Remain but who do not see Brexiteers as unthinking, subhuman trolls with racist tendencies, people who want to bend markets to do more of the state’s bidding but who have fundamentally made their peace with capitalism.

In fact, Brendan O’Neill was at pains to say that the Labour Party is now the “property” of the elites, not that the entire composition is rotten – just the Corbynite and centrist factions together with their sycophantic allies. Meanwhile, the decent people of moderate left-wing persuasion are utterly out of power and deep in the political wilderness right now. The direction of the party is firmly out of their hands.

Instead, with one hand on the reins of power we have the die-hard Corbynistas with their coherent but deeply unpopular worldview, and on the other we have the angry, bitter centrists, furious at having been forced from power since 2015 and eager to snatch back control so that they can pick up right where they left off, ratcheting up the size of the state, bowing down to public sector interests and eagerly fellating the NHS-Industrial Complex.

Both groups are led (if not wholly constituted) by elites – on the Corbyn side, the kind of “trustafarians” who will never have to worry if far-left policies tank the economy and render millions permanently unemployed, and on the centrist side, London-dwelling political and media types locked in an unhealthy symbiotic parasitic relationship and utterly beholden to the previous pro-EU status quo.

Where are the Labour MPs who rise up through the trades union, who might have some tangential claim to represent the interests of ordinary workers? Where are the Labour parliamentary candidates with actual firsthand knowledge of working in modern day call centres, warehouses and retail environments? Where is the great body of Labour MPs and candidates who represent the 52% of British voters who voted for Brexit in a non-partisan referendum? As a solid caucus within the Parliamentary Labour Party, they simply do not exist.

The Labour Party is not run for their benefit and so does not require their input.

 

Ed Miliband Labour One Nation

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2017 General Election Campaign: The Last Stand For Conviction Politics?

The only national party leader with clear political convictions and the courage to publicly defend them is rendered unelectable on the basis of those convictions, while cowardly and triangulating politicians with more superficially palatable opinions are poised to do well in the general election. How depressing.

Here’s the thing: While Jeremy Corbyn may be wrong about economic policy, foreign policy, national defence, the size and role of the state and a million and one other things, he is also the only major party leader (with the very occasional exception of Tim Farron) who can be fairly described as a man of conviction, somebody with a coherent worldview and the political courage to stand up and unapologetically argue for it.

Covering this general election will be hard for me, not just because (as usual) there is no party which reasonably represents this blog’s conservatarian stance but because the only party leader potentially worth admiring from a political courage perspective is the man that nobody in their right mind can reasonably vote for. If some nervous voters believe Brexit Britain is bad, that’s nothing compared to the kind of sudden confiscatory wealth raids, punishing tax rates and ramping up of the state we would see under Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn.

The most plausible prime minister on 9 June – incumbent Theresa May – has gravitas and the outward appearance of baseline competence, yes. But she is ideologically rootless, her only real defining trait being a consistent hard lean towards authoritarianism. Beyond that, what does she stand for? Helping the JAMs, people who are just about managing? Surely every politician in government should strive to do that anyway. Theresa May was against Brexit before she became its most ardent champion, unable to take a bold stand on the most pressing question to face Britain in the post-war era until her hand was forced by the referendum result.

Then look at the other party leaders. Nicola Sturgeon is an expert at spinning her grievance-soaked tale of Scottish persecution and the need for supposedly childlike, simple Scots to be protected from the Evil Tor-ees, but while she campaigns in poetry (or rather crude limericks) the SNP governs in single-minded, authoritarian prose and is busy constructing a one-party statelet north of the border. At one point the Scottish Parliament failed to pass any legislation for over a year, so consumed were the SNP with manoeuvring for a second independence referendum. And when they did pass laws, they were frighteningly authoritarian schemes like the “named person” scheme which makes Sturgeon’s government an unwanted auxiliary parent to every newborn Scottish baby.

Under Paul Nuttall, UKIP – when they are not infighting and twisting in the wind – continue their lurch to the left, abandoning their original voter base of libertarian types in ever more fevered pursuit of hardcore immigration opponents and the disaffected Northern Labour vote. UKIP (or rather, Conservative fear of UKIP) played a significant role in forcing the referendum and achieving the outcome, but now the party has nothing left to say beyond defending the Leave campaign’s most indefensible promises and pledging to fight for the hardest of hard Brexits with nary a thought for how uncontrolled exit from the EU would impact our economy and diplomatic standing.

The Green Party remain an irrelevance outside their stronghold of Brighton, not helped by their visceral antipathy toward material human progress. And besides, the Green Party are…well, the Green Party.

And to be clear, Labour are in a mess, too. Not everybody subscribes to the Jeremy Corbyn agenda. But at least Jeremy Corbyn has a coherent worldview, as risible or abhorrent as some people may find it. What is the Labour centrist worldview? What are their inviolable beliefs and convictions? What gets Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper or Dan Jarvis out of bed every morning? Being a bit more left-wing than the centrist Tories while prattling on about “fairness” a lot more? Pretending to be heroic tribunes of the working classes but then ignoring their opinions on key issues like the EU and immigration?

One might have more sympathy for the Labour centrists, if A) they hadn’t bottled their cowardly post-referendum coup against Jeremy Corbyn, with all of the shrunken people who now pass for “big beasts” within the party electing to save their political hides while sending out the risible Owen Smith as their stalking horse, and B) they had a solid, work-in-progress alternative to Corbynism in their back pockets. No such alternative is being proposed.

And so we are in a position where the one candidate with a coherent worldview and the glimmer of a sense that the British people should be called to overcome a challenge rather than being soothed, placated and made safe, cannot be elected because his political ideas are broadly wrong. Meanwhile, a bunch of politicians whose views are slightly less wrong than Jeremy Corbyn’s will benefit from the 2017 general election thanks to their ability to conceal what they really think and bend, flatter and shapeshift their way into the public’s good graces.

Just compare the opening campaign speeches made by Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May respectively.

Here’s Jeremy Corbyn, opening with a stridently anti-establishment message which could almost be described as Trump-like:

The dividing lines in this election could not be clearer from the outset. It is the Conservatives, the party of privilege and the richest, versus the Labour Party, the party that is standing up for working people to improve the lives of all.

It is the establishment versus the people  and it is our historic duty to make sure that the people prevail.  A duty for all of us here today, the duty of every Labour MP, a duty for our half a million members – including the 2,500 who have joined in the last 24 hours.

Much of the media and establishment are saying that this election is a foregone conclusion.

They think there are rules in politics, which if you don’t follow by doffing your cap to powerful people, accepting that things can’t really change, then you can’t win.

But of course, they do not want us to win. Because when we win it is the people, not the powerful, who win.

The nurse, the teacher, the small trader, the carer, the builder, the office worker, the student, the carer win. We all win.

It is the establishment that complains I don’t play the rules: by which they mean their rules. We can’t win, they say, because we don’t play their game.

We don’t fit in their cosy club. We ‘re not obsessed with the tittle-tattle of Westminster or Brussels. We don’t accept that it is natural for Britain to be governed by a ruling elite, the City and the tax-dodgers, and we don’t accept that the British people just have to take what they’re given, that they don’t deserve better.

And in a sense, the establishment and their followers in the media are quite right. I don’t play by their rules. And if a Labour Government is elected on 8 June, then we won’t play by their rules either.

They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past.

This is good because it is not a message which resonates only with Labour’s traditional voter tribes.

Especially now, following an EU referendum which literally pitched the establishment of this country and their sycophantic allies against the ranks of the people, voters may be receptive to this message of fighting against a political, economic, media and cultural establishment which arrogantly seeks to rule in its own interest. Even as a conservative libertarian type, this passage resonates with me.

And here is Corbyn waxing lyrical about the benefits of wealth distribution:

Britain is the sixth richest economy in the world. The people of Britain must share in that wealth.

If I were Southern Rail or Philip Green, I’d be worried about a Labour Government.

If I were Mike Ashley or the CEO of a tax avoiding multinational corporation, I’d want to see a Tory victory.

Why? Because those are the people who are monopolising the wealth that should be shared by each and every one of us in this country.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a contribution to make and a life to lead. Poverty and homelessness are a disaster for the individual and a loss to all of us.

It is wealth that should belong to the majority and not a tiny minority.

Labour is the party that will put the interests of the majority first, while the Tories only really care about those who already have so much.

That is why we will prove the establishment experts wrong and change the direction of this election. Because the British people know that they are the true wealth creators, held back by a system rigged for the wealth extractors.

He is dead wrong, obviously – coercive, large scale redistribution destroys wealth faster than it can parcel it out, dooming people to receive ever more equal slices of a rapidly miniaturising pie. But by God, Corbyn sounds convincing when he makes his case because he actually believes what he is saying, and because it fits into a coherent wider narrative which supports the entire Corbynite worldview.

Meanwhile, here is the prime minister launching the Conservative Party’s election campaign in Bolton:

And that’s what this election is about. Providing the strong and stable leadership this country needs to take Britain through Brexit and beyond. It’s about strengthening our hand in the negotiations that lie ahead. And it’s about sticking to our plan for a stronger Britain that will enable us to secure that more stable and secure future for this country and take the right long term decision for the future. It’s about strong and stable leadership in the national interest. And you only get that strong and stable leadership by voting for the Conservatives. Because that’s what Conservatives government provides. And just look at what we’ve done.

[..] when I took over as Prime Minister, the country needed clear vision and strong leadership to ensure that we got on with that job of delivering on Brexit for the British people and that’s exactly what we did. We delivered that strong and stable leadership, we delivered the certainty that strong and stable leadership can give. And that’s what leadership looks like. Now there’s a very clear choice at this election. It’s a choice between strong and stable leadership under the Conservatives, or weak and unstable coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn.

And that is very clear. Let’s look – the other parties are lining up to prop up Jeremy Corbyn. We’ve seen it with the Liberal Democrats, and we see it with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish nationalists. They’re very clear that they want to do everything they can to frustrate our Brexit negotiations. To undermine the job that we have to do, the task that lies ahead. Do everything to stop us from being able to take Britain forward. And it’s their tunnel vision focus on independence that actually provides uncertainty. They want to pull the strings, try to pull the strings of this election, prop up Jeremy Corbyn and provide more risk and uncertainty for the British people and that’s not in Britain’s interests.

So it’s only a vote for the Conservatives that can deliver, and every vote for the Conservatives is a vote for me and local Conservative candidates, and it’s a vote to ensure that we have that strong and stable leadership that we need to take us through Brexit and beyond. Every vote for me and the local Conservative candidates here and across Britain is a vote to deliver on that plan for a stronger Britain and a more secure future for us all. And if we have that certainty of five more years of strong and stable leadership then we can ensure that we’re delivering for people, for ordinary working people up and down the country, across the whole United Kingdom.

This isn’t a speech. It is a soundbite delivery mechanism, the flavourless rhetorical equivalent of a Ryvita cracker, designed to drill the phrase “strong and stable leadership” so deep into the minds of voters (the exact phrase is repeated twelve times) that we all walk zombie-like to the polling stations on 8 June, muttering the phrase to ourselves as we dribble down our chins.

As a political speech, it has no poetry because it was conceived by partisan political calculation rather than any deep conviction about what’s best for Britain. “Vote Tory to prevent the other parties from either influencing or thwarting Brexit” is Theresa May’s message – an implausible message in itself, considering that the prime minister only came to believe in the deep wisdom of Brexit after the British people had voted to Leave.

As a modern political speech (with the bar set accordingly low), Theresa May’s effort will probably be quite effective though. Getting up on a stage and ranting about strong and stable leadership is a very effective way of implying that the various jabbering parties of the Left will screw everything up given half the chance, either by naively giving everything up to Europe in the negotiations for no commensurate return, or by descending into infighting over whether to push for a softer Brexit or seek to thwart Brexit entirely.

The Tory position – advocating a hard Brexit and exit from the single market, to be replaced with a fictional comprehensive deal within two years – is moronic. But it does have the advantage of being easy to understand. Now imagine Corbyn, Sturgeon, Lucas and Farron all sat around the Cabinet table. Do they collectively push to stay in the EU or just for the closest relationship with the EU? Who knows? Ergo chaos, versus Theresa May’s “strong and stable” leadership.

But what of other issues than Brexit? Where is the ringing defence of Conservative principle? The speechwriter crams this material – such as it is – into the final paragraphs, very much as an afterthought:

But it’s also about getting the right deal for ordinary working people here at home, and that’s about building a strong Britain. Britain is the strongest country in Europe in terms of economic growth and national security.

It’s about building a stronger economy. It’s about creating well paid secure jobs. It’s about ensuring that there is opportunity for all. That we provide a good school place for every child. That there is affordable housing. That people can get on in their lives. It’s about ensuring that we create a more united nation. That we take action against the extremists who want to divide us, and that we stand up to the separatists who want to break up our country. So it’s providing that strong and stable leadership.

That certainty. That stability for the future ,and that’s going to be our message as go out in to our election campaign. And I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to fight a positive and optimistic campaign about the future of this country. I’m going to be getting out and about around the country. I’m going to be visiting communities in every part of the United Kingdom.  And I’m looking forward to taking our case out there to people. Because this is the case – that it is only with the Conservatives that you get the strong and stable leadership that this country needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.

That’s it. In other words: “blah blah authoritarianism blah, angrily insisting that the country be united while proposing zero tangible policies to actually rekindle shared British values and identity, blah. Cheap houses for everyone with no explanation of how or where they will be built, oh and I guess we’ll make schools great too, blahdy blah. Strong and stable leadership! Blah”.

What does Theresa May actually believe about anything? How does she intend to remake British society with her (hopefully) increased parliamentary majority? Who knows? I’m not remotely convinced that the prime minister knows herself.

What about tax reform, maybe simplifying the code, eliminating loopholes and lowering the burden on ordinary people?

What about constitutional reform, recognising that Brexit is the beginning and not the end, and pledging to devolve power to the home nations and regions, so that nobody can complain about the “Evil Tory” government in Westminster when their own local officials have greater power over taxes and services?

What about our national defence, committing to serious spending increases to reverse years of decline in our capabilities in order to increase our hard power?

What about an energy policy which frees Britain from dependence on rogue or ambivalent states while keeping costs low for consumers?

What about getting a move on with critical infrastructure projects like Heathrow Airport expansion, allowing other airports to expand too, and cutting the outrageously high Air Passenger Duty tax on flying, which increasingly makes Britain a pariah state for international business travellers?

What about – and I’m shooting for the moon on this one – an end run around the Labour Party, integrating health and social care, and doing it with a dispassionate fixation on healthcare outcomes rather than weepy tributes and pledges of loyalty to Our Blessed NHS?

Perhaps it will all become clear when the Conservative Party release their 2017 general election manifesto. But I wouldn’t count on it. I confidently expect to download that document and read a hundred more exclamations of “strong and stable leadership” while key policy questions are studiously ignored.

And yet all the smart money says that party whose leadership has a coherent worldview and the political courage to argue for it will lose seats in the general election, while the opportunists (Sturgeon, Farron), authoritarians (May, Sturgeon) and nonentities (Wood, Nuttall) do well, or at least escape cosmic justice for their ineptitude.

Assuming that the election goes as expected, rest assured that the next generation of political leaders will be watching and taking note.

Be opportunistic. Short-term tactical gain over long-term policy coherence. Soundbites over substance. Promise voters an easy, consequence-free life. Never tell the public difficult truths or call them to any kind of civic duty.

Message received.

 

Theresa May - General Election 2017 campaign launch speech Bolton - Strong and stable leadership - 2

Theresa May - General Election 2017 campaign launch speech Bolton - Strong and stable leadership

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What Is The Point Of Theresa May?

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Right now, Britain needs a leader, not a placeholder – Theresa May needs to step up and set some ambitious national goals, or else be swept aside to make room for a real conservative leader

David Mellor doesn’t know what Theresa May stands for. And as Christopher Hope writes in the Telegraph, Mellor has good reason to be confused:

Theresa May is proving as Prime Minister that she is no Margaret Thatcher, a former Thatcherite minister has said, because she is not “seizing the initiative”.

David Mellor, who served under Baroness Thatcher for three years, said “the description of Theresa May as the new Margaret Thatcher is as wide of the mark as it could possibly be”.

Mr Mellor urged Mrs May to call a general election next year and win a larger House of Commons majority. The Tories have a consistently strong polling lead over Labour.

Mr Mellor was a minister in Lady Thatcher’s last government in four departments from 1987 to her resignation in November 1990.

He said Mrs May had shown herself “infirm of purpose”, most recently over the Christmas strikes at post offices, Southern Rail and Heathrow airport, where action will take place later this week.

He told Sky News’ Murnaghan: “When I was a minister for four years she treated me with even more disrespect than my mother did, but Margaret Thatcher knew what she wanted do and did it.

“I don’t think Theresa May knows what she wants to do. Her advisers appear to be the ones that create the headlines. I think she is sitting there and she is infirm of purpose, and she needs to seize the initiative.

“The main initiative she needs to seize is to have an election and get herself a mandate.”

This blog has never joined the calls for an early general election, not least because the laudable idea of having fixed term parliaments is rather undermined if we suspend the rule on the first occasion it becomes politically inconvenient. But if triggering a general election is what it takes to force Theresa May to really think about what kind of prime minister she wants to be (and hopefully give the British people a clue as well) then maybe we should just get on with it. Because right now Britain is idling in neutral at a time when we should be setting a firm course and all striving to pull in the same direction.

The underlying problem is that having succeeded to the office of prime minister unexpectedly in the most turbulent of times (in the wake of David Cameron’s resignation and Andrea Leadsom’s surprise departure from the following Conservative Party leadership contest), Theresa May evidently took office without ever having clearly thought about what it is that she wanted to achieve through her leadership of Britain (the recent Sunday Times interview is heavy on temperament and almost completely lacking in vision).

And it shows. Mellor cites Theresa May’s supposed “infirmity of purpose” when it comes to things like tackling the strikes on Southern Rail, but those are side issues. More troubling than May’s failure to get tough with striking railway workers is the fact that she used her first party conference speech as prime minister to declare war not on Labour and the vested interests of the Left, but on the libertarian Right.

What’s worrying is that Theresa May’s government has passed the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, dynamite for privacy and civil liberties, and is still toying with the idea of enforcing section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act and Part 2 of the Leveson Report, further curtailing freedom of the press. It is not just that we do not know enough about Theresa May’s agenda for Britain – what little we do no should give small government conservatives everywhere cause for concern.

Contrast this to the last great transformative Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had four years behind her as Leader of the Opposition in which to solidify her worldview and flesh it out with policy (notably from the Stepping Stones Report and Centre for Policy Studies think tank) before taking office. By the time Thatcher entered 10 Downing Street in May 1979, she had not only diagnosed Britain’s ailments but formed a fairly clear idea of how she intended to tackle them, even though the road ahead was inevitably marked by missteps and challenges.

Theresa May appears to have no such plan. If she has a burning ambition to change Britain from an X type of country to a Y type of country then she is keeping her cards very close to her chest, for there is no evidence of such a goal. All we have is her reputation of flinty-eyed authoritarianism and aversion to publicity, earned during six years at the Home Office, a grammar school fetish and some woolly words about focusing her government’s attention on helping the JAMs (people who are Just About Managing).

The danger, therefore, is that with Brexit on her plate, a populist rebellion afoot in the country and challenges abroad, Theresa May’s government will become so preoccupied with fighting fires and engaging in daily damage control that the big picture vision never emerges at all. Mellor is right to say that most of the useful tidbits of information about the government’s intentions have come not from the prime minister but from public spats between rival cabinet members. And who can be surprised that such turf wars are underway when there is no clear drumbeat emanating from Number 10?

Of course, Theresa May is by no means the first politician to reach 10 Downing Street without a plan for what to do in government. Gordon Brown famously spent so long plotting his own ascension and the downfall of Tony Blair that he cut a uniquely uninspired and uninspiring figure among world leaders, at least until the global financial crisis breathed some fire into his belly (even if his “solution” was hiking the top income tax rate up to an immoral 50 percent).

There are times when a bland and uninspiring individual, a technocrat, is the right leader for the moment – primarily when times are good and the key imperative is not to rock the boat. This scenario does not describe Britain in 2016. Brexit may be foremost of our challenges, but there are others, too. And from Theresa May’s cautious and unambitious start in office, it is difficult to see how she – and we – are to best confront them.

 

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