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Jeremy Corbyn and the new mainstream

Tweeting earlier in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech, Ed Miliband observed that the centre ground had moved and was being shaped by Labour. Correct. The boasts about Labour being the mainstream have a solid foundation because, to be more exact, our party is one of two mainstreams.

There’s the one we’ve seen Labour pander to for the 20 years pre-JC. The “common sense” centre ground expressed by newspaper editorialising, which has seen a rough consensus around market economics and the role of state, groupthink about cutting social security and immigration, and a unity of purpose in scapegoating powerless minorities. Blair’s genius, if that’s the right phrase, was to constantly adapt to this consensus rather than challenge it. Even redistributive politics that assisted low wage earners were crafted in such a way as not to frighten the horses in the leafy marginals. One problem was once the Tories got their act together under Dave, all it took was Brown to bottle an election for them to cruise to pole position among your YouGovs and Survations. The progressive consensus the later Blair talked about as the timer ticked down lacked substance. For the policy achievements, and there were some, there was no legacy in terms of value and political change. Dog-eat-dog economics reigned and right wing populism and fascism started getting traction during his time. Dave certainly had his problems after ascending to the top job, but overcoming popular affection for New Labour wasn’t one of them. This is the mainstream our Labour First and Progress comrades want to orient toward. The route to power runs through the middle of Britain they say, and this is where it’s at. But they’re entirely wrong, because there is another mainstream. Corbyn’s politics were for years condemned and dismissed as fringe lunacy, but the general election result was a rude wake up for establishment politics of all hues. Just because the anger and frustration accumulating across British society didn’t find expression in elite media outlets, that didn’t mean it was a minority pursuit. Once the general election was called Corbynism became the repository of all that was rebellious and disaffected. Here was a party and a politician who spoke to those excluded from politics, responded to aspirations and interests the establishment conspicuously turned a tin ear to and from an incredibly low base took Labour to within a whisker of power. What Corbynism articulates is a sensibility that the world can be better. There is no need to throw a young generation on the scrap heap of precarity, low pay and frustrated ambition. Or look forward to a future of decaying public and social infrastructure, declining solidarity and atomisation bordering on loneliness. Or older people having their later life blighted by shoddy or non-existent care. Corbynism believes we can aspire to something better than beggar-thy-neighbour and I’m alight Jack selfishness, and 13 million people agreed. If the polls are to be believed – a risky proposition, yes – a consistent plurality of voters now do too.

The mainstreams are increasingly visible because we’re seeing the process of polarisation come out into the open. As British capitalism seizes up and its class relationships undergo a profound transformation, the mainstream or centre ground as Blair and friends understood it ekes out a half-life only in their imaginations. The task of progressive politics now is to ride the wave of the new working class, of drawing the immaterial worker into politics in greater numbers and transform the Labour Party into its vehicle. It’s about not just shaping the new mainstream cohering around left politics, but expanding it outwards. What the Labour Party is starting to grasp is how the centre is where the mass of aspirations are, and the mainstream the direction of political travel of a rising mass of millions of people. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech shows he understands this, while his legion of critics do not. And it is this that will continue commending him to the growing dominance of our mainstream.


  1. David Pavett says:

    A number of claims are made in this piece.

    (1) “Blair’s genius” was to constantly adapt to the rough consensus around market economics and the state rather than challenge it.

    The facts of Labour’s rapidly declining electoral support during the Blair years seem to indicate that if this was his strategy then he wasn’t very good at it. It should also be said that adapting to the consensus didn’t show its effect when it came to going to war in Iraq. We can avoid these problems with a less superficial analysis of New Labour’s strategy. Blair only “adapted” to such parts of the rough consensus that suited his political philosophy. That philosophy was based on rejecting any idea that socialism had anything to do with class interest. Rather socialism was about using raising the standards of all through by embracing the dynamic of capitalism and ensuring that everyone’s living standards rose as the level of economic activity rose. This was a political philosophy and not an adaptation to consensus. Any adaptation took the narrower form of trying to keep the media moguls on board by showing that Labour was no threat to their interests.

    (2) “Dog-eat-dog economics reigned and right wing populism and fascism started getting traction during during his [Blair’s] time. Dave [Cameron] certainly had his problems after ascending to the top job, but overcoming popular affection for New Labour wasn’t one of them. This is the mainstream our Labour First and Progress comrades want to orient toward.”

    As a way of answering Labour First and Progress this has no traction. Their response, if they were inclined to answer, would be to point out that they believe in an increased role for the state and in better regulation of capitalism’s least desirable effects. They will even admit that some of the deregulation under Blair/Brown was a mistake.

    (3) We are told in paragraph two that for the Labour right “The route to power runs through the middle of Britain … and this is where it’s at. But they’re entirely wrong …”.

    In paragraph three we read “What the Labour Party is starting to grasp is how the centre is where the mass of aspirations are, and the mainstream the direction of political travel of a rising mass of millions of people”.

    Which is it?

    (4) “What Corbynism articulates is a sensibility that the world can be better.”

    Phil B-C has forgotten is that this vague slogan was also that of the Blairites. In fact their rally song was precisely “Things can only get better”.

    I agree that there are issues concerning the changing nature of work and the changing nature of the working class (or whatever term we use to designate those on the negative side of capitalist exploitation). But all we get here is a vague allusion to this problem and I would have to have a good reason to follow the many references that Phil gives to his own blog writings on the question.

    P.S.1. There are eight links given in this piece. One is to a tweet by Ed Miliband. The other seven are all to items on Phil B-C’s blog. While this may be legitimate on the original blog it looks worryingly like political narcisism when reproduced on another website. Are we seriously being invited to read seven of Phil’s blog articles in the course of reading this piece?

    P.S.2. This article was taken from Phil B-C’s blog of 27 Sept. Shouldn’t this be indicated so that the reader knows the difference between original articles and those copied from other sources?

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      I agree with David that Blairism was more than an adaptation, although its theorisation by Giddens as ‘ The Third way’, prabably exaggerates its significance. Essentially it is a form of liberalism, and Blair looked forward to a Lib/Lab coalition in 1997, although in the noughties the Lib-Dems managed to position themselves to Labour’s left, but post Iraq this wasn’t difficult.
      What is often not recalled is the appeal of Blairism pre the 97 election, evidenced in the enormous increase in membership in 95 – 97, only surpassed in recent times with that under Corbyn. The appeal was similar to Wilson’s in 64, to modernisation, casting the Tories in both cases as hopelessly out of date. A favourable economic background enabled some redistribution to take place, particularly regarding the elderly via pension credit, the best thing perhaps that New Labour ever did, but the emphasis on choice and neoliberalism saw growing inequality, while the failure to provide housing and restore trade union rights mark two huge betrayals.Blairism should have completely collapsed in 2007, but it has proved resilient, and it has taken almost a decade for a mild form of social democracy to reestablish itself.

      1. David Pavett says:

        I agree with your way of putting it. Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty expressed it well when he said that if we brush aside all the ridiculous scaremongering and red-baiting then we find that

        A spectre is indeed haunting the Tory party, but it is the spectre of moderate social democracy.

      2. Stephen Bellamy says:

        Who Jon Lansman cheerfully admits to working closely with

  2. JohnP says:

    Phil B-C has published a few good articles (always recycled from his blog) , over the years of his self publicising output , amongst a welter of utter dross.

    But, as a former happy bag carrier for arch neoliberal , Tristram Hunt, in Stoke Central for years, and a supporter of Yvette Cooper in 2015, the entire purpose of Phil’s current output (as with that dreadful opportunist backstabbing turncoat, Owen Jones, in the Guardian ) is to bury his political past, and jump decisively on the now hegemonic “Corbynist” political bandwagon in the guise of a “true believer”. In Phil’s case (and possibly Owen Jones’s too ) with a clear, calculating, eye to future CLP candidate selection committees when a vacant seat comes available.

    Phil’s fundamental opportunism just keeps surfacing in his treatment of Blairism and simplistic sloganizing in this article.

    1. Stephen Bellamy says:

      One of the more entertaining features of the current political scene is watching Owen Jones’ desperate attempts to rehabilitate himself. Having his name linked with Momentum at every opportunity seems to be a key part of the strategy.

      1. Paul Dias says:

        None will struggle to rehabilitate themselves more than the geniuses on the Left who said Brexit would be good for working people.

  3. Mervyn Hyde says:

    New Labour simply are not Labour, Blair came to power on the back of Labour support but immediately set about changing Labour into a pro business party.

    He even went to the extent of saying peoples living standards have to fall in order to be competitive, forgetting that companies had seen unparalleled growth in their profits and simply refused to pay workers what they were entitled to.

    The Tories have been sustained in office and outside it in the clear knowledge that whatever government was in office the same message would be delivered. The dismantling of the state has been wrapped up terms of affordability, whilst at each turn money has been taken from public expenditure which further reduced the capacity of public services to deliver, self serving the pressure for more privatisation. Classic Naomi Klein’s description of the “Shock Doctrine”.

    In the early days most of us were taken in by Tony Blair, thinking he offered a new way of presenting a vision for Labour, although superficially recognising that what he was saying in reality did not add up. That is I thought he being clever and talking the Tory Neo-Liberal talk but things differently. Sadly the longer time went on the reality grew that he really was a Tory Neo-Liberal.

    As we have seen over the last couple of years, people realise that platitudes are what they are and just hide the real intent of what is corrupt government. No politician has all the attributes to appeal to everybody in society, but in Jeremy Corbyn warts and all, people see someone who’s intent first and foremost, is not to do actual harm, whilst the Tories demonstrate that they simply do not care and will pursue their own interests above the needs of the country and its people.

    We are also now talking about progressive policies that are achievable, and people know that Labour has done it in the past and can do it again.

    What the Tories say is un-affordable has been broken by their own actions, when Cameron said after sacking half the environmental flood teams, then during the floods that money was no object, was a point not missed even by his own Tory voters. Theresa May of course proved her incredulity by saying we have to make cuts in public expenditure, whilst in the next breath giving the DUP a loyalty bonus of £1 billion, the money tree is there for all to see, but only when the Tories decide to shake it.

    Whilst capitalism is busy devouring itself, a new dawn is arising, that money is really not the issue for a country such as our’s, and that we really don’t have to sit around waiting for large corporations to decide they can exploit our talents to make even more profits for themselves. We can do that all by ourselves, and all it will take is a government willing to do it.

    John McDonnell’s investment Bank is a good start in the right direction.

  4. Tony says:

    Corbyn now needs to make a real effort to change Labour’s policy on Trident and to drop the commitment to spend 2% of national income on the military.

  5. Bazza says:

    Article says little.
    Interesting to hear that Hammond has attacked Corbyn et al at their Conference as “Labour dinosaurs” and wanting to go back “to the failed ‘socialist’ experiments of the 70’s” plus they are happy to take Labour on over capitalism.
    The Tories (as true con-artists) greatest skill is to PRETEND that they are non-ideological and at times ‘non-political’ when of course they are Neo-Liberal dinosaurs who have been captured by Neo-Liberalism since Thatcherism in the 70’s!
    Ideologically too they also represent the Neo-Liberal capitalist forces who legally nick the surplus labour of working people whose labour really creates the wealth and makes societies work; the Tories know this and hence their claims to act on behalf of the national interest for which we should read capitalist interest – so Tory Neo-Liberal capitalist legal thieves bring it on!
    All machinery, computers, buses, planes, trains etc. etc. are dead until you add one magic ingredient everywhere in the World – working people – and we need genuine left wing democratic socialists in power everywhere to serve WITH working people and not just do FOR them.
    So Labour needs to learn too, we need to get away from being predominantly top down and these are also good arguments for democratic public ownership.
    I have mentioned how we could have CLP Community Conferences on Labour draft policies like housing, to give people a say and build support.
    In a grassroots members approach we also need to be reforming more: Labour rules, Conference, the NPF, Labour in local government plus look at harnessing new technology alhough face to face discussions are best as you hear the arguments and remember 80% of all communication is non-verbal plus let’s do more of what some branches and CLPs are doing now and that is cutting down business to half an hour and discussing campaigning/politics/resolutions for the rest of the time – some may be driving new members away with boredom!
    We have moved on from top down crumbs for working people Labour, to Neo-Liberal New Labour, to left wing democratic socialists for the 21stC.
    We can see the lines the Neo-Liberal Tories will be pursuing and we need to counter these captured Right Wing Neo-Liberal capitalist ideologues!

    1. Tony says:

      “The Tories (as true con-artists) greatest skill is to PRETEND that they are non-ideological and at times ‘non-political’ when of course they are Neo-Liberal dinosaurs who have been captured by Neo-Liberalism since Thatcherism in the 70’s!”

      Yes and anybody who opposes them is ‘politically motivated!’

  6. JohnP says:

    Hellooooooo … anybody there ? This Left Futures discussion site appears to have died – as a blog that is regularly updated (I know for a fact about 4, or more, good articles are awaiting publication).

    ALSO…The National Momentum Site appears to have died too – not being updated since Conference – or, quite extraordinarily, even DURING the most successful Conference for the Left in generations !

    Most peculiar. Have the entire Momentum and Left Futures teams gone on holiday somewhere exotic to recover from Conference ? Still … there’s nothing important going on at all at present politically worth bothering about is there ?

    1. Paul Dias says:

      There is plenty going on! Our future prime minister went to Brussels and made clear what his priorities are:

      “We are here to make sure the negotiations get on track, that we defend jobs in Britain and that we make sure there is a trade access in Europe in future, we have to defend jobs in Britain and we have to have a trade relationship with Europe”

      In other words, in Corby’s Britain pragmatic economic thinking will trump nativist fantasising. This must be upsetting to sclerotic racists of all political stripes.

      1. JohnP says:

        Errrr, “irony alert”, Paul. My “nothing important going on…” comment was ironic. Try to keep up lad.

        Also your politically juvenile belief that wanting to leave the entirely neoliberal EU and its “Four capitalist freedoms” straightjacket, in order to free the UK to pursue a radical reformist Left economic and social agenda under a future Labour government , is based on fascist/racist motivations, simply demonstrates you immature political ignorance. You could equally be accused of being a gullible Left liberal stooge of the propaganda image presented by the neoliberal Big Business enforcement machine that is the EU.

        By the way, nothing Jeremy said necessarily implies the UK has to stay within the Single Market , just that the UK gets tariff free ACCESS to it – whatever the neoliberal Labour Right, and yourself , may devoutly wish.

      2. C MacMackin says:

        As John says, Corbyn’s comments don’t commit the UK to Single Market membership. In fact, they don’t commit the UK to much of anything; they are mostly empty waffle.

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    The above article is date 1st October.

    It’s now 22nd October.

    So why, if as JohnP states, if there are four new articles awaiting publication, why have they not been posted up?

    There has been a major political issue over Universal Credit.

    There is an ongoing crisis in Spain, with the repression of the Catalan struggle for self-determination.

    There has been a huge national industrial action ballot in the postal industry,

    And the Tory Party is riven with splits and division.

    But it seems the people running this site have no interest in any of these current issues.

    Have they left?

    1. JohnP says:

      Two of the four articles apparently rejected, or ignored, for publication (none written by me) were concerned with democracy in the Labour Party and , via the Venezuelan “Chavezism” case, democracy on the Left more generally. All a bit close to home in Momentum currently possibly, Karl ?

      This is a Momentum where the now 31,000 members have once again been presented from on high ( from a totally gerrymandered “leadership group”) , with three recommended “Momentum” nominees for the three new NEC CLP places. And, bizarrely , since immediately before our triumphant Conference, up to today at least, the National Momentum site has also ceased to function – even to announce , or justify, the three “Momentum” CLP NEC nominees (we Momentum Members just get our personal EMAILS instructing us to campaign for these three persons , including Jon Lansman, in our CLPs !)

      This sort of old guard cronyist, backroom, undemocratic, manipulation will of course easily outmanoeuvre a politically uneducated and naïve membership – BUT , come a future Labour government inevitably under severe economic sabotage by the global markets and their creatures in the UK press and PLP, and ,disastrously, a politically unsophisticated, ideologically unprepared and unmobilised mass membership will not be available to provide the backing “on the streets , in the workplaces, and in the communities” that that Labour government will desperately need to survive.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        The article dealing with Venezuela was written by me, although it’s worth noting that it is now a few months old; I originally wrote it when everyone was demanding Corbyn condemn Maduro. I suspect it has been deleted from the dashboard by now. I do still have the draft, though. Since it was written, I have grown even more convinced that this is a message Labour members needs to hear.

  8. JohnP says:

    Good article on Chavism and venezuela, and lessons for Labour, C.Mack. I can now see just why this blog wasn’t keen to publish it !

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