Monday, 27 February 2017

Labour's Way Forward

There has been much analysis of  Labour's predicament following the Copeland and Stoke elections of February 2017. This is another take on it.


Corbyn's declared policies are a socialist manifesto, aimed at improving the lives of the working people of Britain. So why is he so unpopular? I think that the answer lies in the fact that as a species we have not really evolved much in the last few thousand years, we are still highly tribal and deeply suspicious of outsiders. It's what helped us survive.

Since the day Corbyn came to prominence the media have delighted in generating an image of a man who would not use nuclear weapons to defend our country, does not sing the National Anthem, will not bow to the queen, would like a reduced the armed forces, and who is extremely tolerant of other cultures and faiths and welcomes immigrants. The resultant image is not a defender of a tribe.

Prime Minister May on the other hand presses all the right buttons. She has vigorously pushed for Trident, and as a new and enthusiastic convert to Brexitism has declared her top priority as reducing immigration, at whatever financial cost to the nation. She and other ministers also use nationalistic jargon whenever they can. The government, we can assume, has canny advisors, they know how to tap in to tribalism.

When it comes to putting a cross on the ballot paper it's gut feelings that sway many people, not in depth analysis of the issues. So how does the Labour Party avoid complete decimation?

I think the answer is not to try to deny tribalism but redefine the tribal borders. Imagine a Labour party that places the UK as a proud and strong member of the continent of western Europe. A Europe that we can take pride in having rescued from the evils of Nazism, a Europe where we can travel and work amongst friendly people who look like us and share a common set of Christo-centric values. A Europe that needs strong defences against a resurgent Russia - especially now that an inward looking US can't be relied on. A Europe that is the tribe we belong to. The rest of the world is then 'the foreigner' against which we need to protect ourselves. Labour cannot change the nature of the beast, it must adapt to work with it.

And it is self evident that the highly principled Corbyn has no place at the head of such a party. He just isn't opportunistic enough. But surely amongst the 50 Labour MPs who had the courage to vote against the Article 50 bill there must be someone who can take on the task of reshaping the party, coming up with some plausible excuse for a U turn (not easy - but politicians have always been good at this). The next election should present the public with the Tories as architects of the greatest disaster to hit Britain since WWII, pitted against the combined forces of the Labour party, the Libdems, SNP and the Greens who must jointly project the idea of belonging to the bigger tribe that is Europe. How exactly to bring about that belonging is impossible to define given the complexity of the Brexit issue, but it can still be a clear objective. Also it is worth remembering that only 37% of the polulation actually voted to leave. More Labour supporters voted against Brexit than for. And that was then, before we had a clear idea of the size of the looming Brexit disaster and before the Brexit campaign lies had been exposed for what they were.

And the thorny issue of immigration needs to be clearly defined as two separate issues (European immigration, which of course works both ways, and non-European) each needing to be addressed separately. And there can be no ducking the issue of Islam, for many, the real fear behind what are euphemistically called 'immigration issues'. It needs to be openly addressed by both sides with a view to achieving better integration into UK culture. We should be more demanding of Islam's leaders to deliver on this.

For the colossal sum of £60bn the UK is on course to leave the single market, leave the customs union, be thrown into closer trade ties with a self-serving US, potentially loose Scotland, and risk the hard won peace deal in Ireland. Already we are hemorrhaging foreign students, essential foreign workers and financial businesses. The only tangible gain, and it's highly debatable if it is a gain, is a projected reduction in immigration numbers by some 15%.

The country desperately needs Labour, but it needs to get real. Sadly, policies on social equality aren't enough. It needs to appeal to basic human instincts as well as to reason.

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