Tony Blair – a warning.

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” George Burns.

Last week Tony Blair came to Kings College on the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour Party to seek to bury it.

Four core points stuck out from a word cloud of vaguely progressive sounding phrases that were otherwise as substantial and hard edged as a bowl of blancmanc.

1) That Labour has only been in power for a quarter of its history.

2) That elections are won “on the centre ground” by “broadening the coalition”.

3) There is a need for a “progressive realignment” with the Liberal Democrats – on an entirely undefined political prospectus.

4) That the current membership of the Labour Party is full of people who are an obstacle to this – because of their commitment to “old fashioned” things like public ownership (and peace) and are therefore a problem.

This is the Third Way greatest hits playlist. He even re-heated his old “gotcha” anecdote about a Party member in the early 90s complaining that Blair’s strategy was to get people who voted Tory to vote Labour – but changed the context and the gender of the member in the retelling, thereby making it about as plausible as David Cameron’s “I met a black man once” story. The laughter that greets this story as the penny drops is designed to obscure the content of the complaint (if there ever was one); that he was aiming to make Labour safe for Tory voters by being as much like the Tories as possible; and that is more of a problem than he seems to think.

His notion that somehow Labour should have been in power far more often reveals that he either does not grasp – or seeks to ignore – the fact that Labour  was set up 120 years ago to give the working class a voice and has therefore always been more of a cross class coalition than either the Liberals or Conservatives; which have always been unambiguously ruling class parties. Even though the currents that seek to be “statesmanlike” and “credible” and “a reliable Party of government” have usually been in the ascendancy, letting Labour into office is therefore a concession by the powers that be that they would really rather never make. Labour is therefore always playing uphill with the wind in its face – even at the most favourable of times.

The key phrase he used here is “you decide first and unite after”. And what he wants unity on is a significant move rightwards. He skids over what this might consist of and just how far right he wants to move so as not to scare the horses in the middle of a leadership election. A way to imagine it is to recall that he put a lot of effort into courting Rupert Murdoch and had the endorsement of the Sun in 1997. Think about what policies you’d have to adopt to get such an endorsement now and that’s your Blair manifesto for 2024.

This is of course entirely consistent with the practice of the right of the Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. They did not agree with the decision of the members, so they did not unite; and many of them worked “every single day to bring forward the end of his tenure in Office” Peter Mandelson (1). Given the daily quantities of ordure dropped on Jeremy Corbyn from a great height since 2015 – with such significant sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party declaring him “unfit for office” right up to polling day – its quite miraculous we did as well as we did in the December election. Despite these attacks, Corbyn’s leadership and politics led to our two highest popular votes out of the four general elections held since the the 2008 crash and its important to register that, lest we lose ground in future. It should also be noted that Boris Johnson has given Ian Austen and John Woodcock peerages in eternal gratitude. Peter Mandelson already has one.

What is striking about this speech is the things he misses. He misses out the 2008 crash – and the impact this has had on removing the conditions for his sort of economic and political framework – altogether. He mentions the climate crisis but in an extraordinarily complacent way; as though its all in hand and will be taken care of one way or another by the wealthy and intelligent people (like him) who run the planet. He doesn’t mention the completely catastrophic economic and political course being followed by the United States in sabotaging the Paris process and doubling down on fossil fuels in an attempt to stave off the rise of China – scheduled to have an economy much bigger than the US by 2030 at current rates of growth. Nor that if the US succeeds we’re screwed and if they fail (given the scale of the Chinese investment in renewables) – there’s some hope. Its not surprising that he does this given his “pro western” orientation (which is entirely consistent – it seems- with him offering lucrative advice to the President of Kazakhstan).

His comments on antisemitism are very revealing. The problem he says is not so much antisemitism, but “the world view” of people who are pro Palestinian, or the “hard left” in general.  That world view is opposition to imperialism; which he sees as not “patriotic” and “anti Western”. The distinction between antisemitism and people having a dim view of Israel passes him by because he wants to elide the two. If they were in fact one and the same, the 54% of people in the UK who have a negative view of Israel would translate into a comparable figure for racist attitudes towards Jewish people. It doesn’t – thankfully. The rate for that is 4%. He ducked a question about military interventions – lest we remember what his abject subordination to the United States led to and how many people died as a result.

He uses lots of soothing phrases in a comforting montage of cliches – that all sound good if you like political muzak but have no content. “Modern”. “Future”. “Forward looking”. But on what we’d need to do he has nothing to say apart from negatives. He says the right will respond to the climate crisis and Artificial Intelligence in the wrong way, but doesn’t spell out how, nor what the correct way might be. The left way forward – the colossal state investment in the green transition that’s being done in China, and was being done in Bolivia until the coup – he dismisses as old fashioned stateism that the “public” is bound to reject. The close election result in 2017 passed him by it seems. The problem with this is that if we never elect a government that will do what needs to be done with democratic consent, and popular mobilisation, to do it, we will end up faced with one that does far more authoritarian things as a matter of necessity when the consequences of inaction are crashing life support systems all around us (and many of us will die as a result). As the The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security implications of Global Climate Change report chillingly put it “Governments with resources will be forced to engage in long nightmarish episodes of triage; deciding what and who can be salvaged from engulfment by a disordered environment. The choices will need to be made primarily among the poorest, not just abroad but at home.” (2)

His notion that there should be an re-alignment of “progressive” forces begs a number of questions about what makes a party “progressive”. The Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories not just because the parliamentary arithmetic stacked up that way but because they were more aligned on economics. Blair would have been aligned that way too – and so would the people who supported his wing of the party – from Alasdair Darling to Chris Lesley. This would not be a “progressive” realignment but a centre right bloc with nowhere to go but austerity and “hard choices” dumping the costs of the crisis on those least able to bear them.

Four key points underline why a Blair is wrong and a “move to the centre” cannot work.

  1. No “return to normalcy” is on the cards and the future looks more like a trap than  a promise

The period we are in is defined by the 2008 crash and its aftermath. The “sweet spot” of the USA’s unipolar moment from 1991 to 2008, with cheap and ever expanding credit, buy now pay (through the nose) later PFI deals, cheap imports allowing governments to be grudgingly tolerated and re-elected with low votes while life slowly got better for most people has gone and won’t come back. People are insecure, pressured, uncertain, more political; but rarely well thought out about it. We  are – perhaps – about to hit another economic crash; with very little prospect of the same methods being viable to get out of it. At that point all sorts of unthinkable things will start to happen.

We also have the climate crisis inexorably becoming more apparent. . It is becoming apparent that we can no longer take our environment for granted as a generally safe space. People are waking up – and not just “woke” people. 

In such circumstances people tend to polarise – to either cling on hard to certainties that used to make sense, dancing ever more frantically to the old failed nationalist tunes, while snatching gratefully after small mercies – or look for answers beyond borders. On a global scale this can be simplified as a retreat into nationalism (America – or Britain – or wherever – First) and a “New Dark Age” (as the Daily Telegraph enthusiastically put it) or Global Green New Deal.

Parties of the  Left have to embrace the latter with policies and campaigns that both pose solutions and develop deeper social roots; so what we are proposals an expression of where our communities are at and overcome the fear of change that freezes them like hedgehogs in headlights waiting to be squashed. 

The Green New Deal must be right at the heart of things – but also posed as – “this is what it will mean for our town, city, neighbourhood”. In the run up to the General election, Labour Local Authorities had been asked – for example – to make plans for home insulation so that an incoming Labour government could hit the ground running and get this done. Putting those plans on the leaflets, citing examples of where such plans had began to be implemented, holding meetings about them in the affected communities could have been very effective in making the prospect of positive change real for people who might be sceptical about it.  

2. There is no individualist “aspirational” solution.

People want life to be better. We want our children to have decent work and security.  This has too often been posed as “aspirational” in the sense of “getting up and out” with “social mobility”. There is virtually no social mobility in the UK. We are the most unequal society in Europe and Brexit will copper bottom that. The individual route up and out is effectively blocked for almost everyone. This will only get worse under Johnson. We either try to organise collective solutions in this pressure cooker situation or people turn on each other with – expertly choreographed – blame games.

3. Neo -liberalism is bust.

Neo-liberalism – in shorthand – is the acceptance of the Thatcherite economic settlement.  It encompasses those strains of thought that argue that politics should be subordinated to a free market economics in which deregulation and privatisation are seen as solutions and the best those at the bottom can hope for is that the prosperity that this channels to the top will “trickle down”. This was a foundation stone for Tony Blair’s governments and made them acceptable to the powers that be. Since 2008 it has survived on life support because it functions very well for the 1%. It does nothing for the rest of us. Life expectancy in the UK is now in decline. As a foundation for a Labour government now it would be sand.

In 2010 part of the problem for Labour was that it embraced austerity almost as strongly as the Tories did in a bid to be “credible”. If you track the opinion polls from the 2010 election, the point at which Labour ceased to be gaining ground on the Tories was when Alasdair Darling announced that the cuts Labour would make would be more severe than Thatcher’s. “Credibility” was not credible with the voters.

To add insult to injury, in  George Osborne’s first budget, when he announced his eye watering £19 billion in cuts, he was at pains to point out that this was £1 billion less than he had been advised to cut by Alasdair Darling.

Had Labour been in office with such a policy – in the “national interest”- the effect would have been catastrophic; not only for the people affected by the cuts but also the Party. 

The fate of the European Social Democratic parties that have imposed such a programme in government, is an eloquent warning for where this leads. 

In Ireland it was not the Irish Labour Party that smashed the old sterile centre right duopoly in the General election this month, but Sinn Fein on an anti austerity programme. Irish Labour, having been in a coalition government with Fine Gael imposing austerity between 2011 and 2016 saw its share of the vote drop to 6% – below the Greens.

In Germany, the SPD, in a terribly responsible middle of the road coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, are currently polling at 14%.

In France, the Parti Socialiste never recovered from Francois Holland’s lacklustre pro austerity Presidency. It now has just 25 of 577 members of the National Assembly, its membership collapsed from 173 000 in 2012 to 40 000 in 2017 and is now polling at just 11%. The realignment of the “progressive centre” advocated by Blair and personified by Emmanuel Macron – which took a substantial slice of SP voters and members with – it has now collided brutally with the French trade unions in a series of bruising general strikes and is shedding both MPs and popular support. His Party, La Republique en Marche, is now polling at 18% with Macron himself having a 30% disapproval rating. (4)

The danger in all this is that opposition to the status quo is ceded to ethno-nationalist currents who blame immigrants – from the Alternative fur Deutschland to the Rassemblement Nationale (or the Brexit Party).

This is where Blair’s course leads.

We should compare this experience that of the Socialist Parties in Portugal and Spain which have opposed austerity in government and have formed governing coalitions with “Hard left” Parties like Podemos or the Portuguese Left bloc for a way ahead that we need to stick to. We have such a coalition already inside the Labour Party. Tony Blair would like to suicidally split it by driving out the left.

4. There are no “national” solutions and the Pax Americana guarantees war

There is an established view of what might be called the “national mission” which is replete with symbols and imagery from WW2 and Empire which holds us back into a nostalgia and fantasies of a “special relationship” with the United States. This has more hold with the old than the young, many of whom can see through it, but going beyond it – which we will need to do – requires us to  not so much live up to our past but live it down, and make up for it too –  as something we are not just doing for ourselves but the world.

This is a crucial issue because the glue that holds the right of the Labour Party together is not so much Europhilia as Atlanticism. Blair has – for now – abandoned any idea of rejoining the EU. This from the man that wanted to join the Euro. Quite what the glue would be to combine Labour with the Lib Dems in this context is unclear, but Atlanticism would be part of it. This is a tricky act to pull off in the age of Trump, who makes no concessions to the vanity of his auxiliaries; and its rather difficult to argue that we should be forever Robin to America’s Batman when Batman is behaving more and more overtly like the Joker: but it won’t stop them trying.  

Being “pro Western”, in the way the Labour right supports, means being signed up to a Pax Americana that’s in crisis. It is not a “safe” option. Not only because the US’s global thrashing around to hold on to its dominance in the face of a level of Chinese growth that will make the Chinese economy half as big again as its own within the decade, nor the prospect of being pulled in Trump’s wake into the international axis for climate change denial, but because of the domestic consequences flowing from Johnson’s projected post Brexit US trade deal. This poses ever deepening national subordination and humiliation at the hands of the Americans as their pharmaceutical companies latch on to the NHS and UK labour regulations are degraded to US levels. To pick two examples. the US is the only developed economy in which there is no guaranteed right to paid maternity leave and US holiday entitlements are half the European average. This will  hit the people who voted for Brexit – thinking that it would return them to a period of decent jobs with decent terms and conditions and less pressured public services – very hard indeed. They don’t know what’s going to hit them. Blair’s commitment to “get up the arse of the White House and stay there” (5) means that Labour would have no realistic framework to resist this.

The US is now smashing up many of the multilateral institutions that have previously mediated its dominance into a series of bilateral relationships that its easier for it to dominate – they are even blocking the selection of new judges for the World Trade Organisation Court because they don’t want to be held accountable to it. So there is no doubt that part of the price of the deal Johnson is lining up with Trump will be ever enthusiastic participation in US interventions, not just being a cheerleader for its destabilisation efforts across the world. The rapidity with which Dominic Raab flipped from calling for de-escalation to dropping right into line on Iran is the shape of things to come with this government. Not following suit is vital for Labour.

All this explains why Blair’s speech had to cover the consequences of following his line with such an easy listening soundtrack of soothing political muzak. He was very clear that a move slightly towards the centre – as with Keir Starmer – would not be enough for the forces he represents. The ruthless logic of recognising that Labour will no longer be tolerated as a safe alternative government by the ruling class so long as it retains a programme that challenges it, a mass membership that supports it, and institutional links to mass working class self organisation in the form of trade unions, leads inexorably in the direction of a Macron type formation jettisoning the left, or a US style Democrat Party without the Sanders/AOC wing. Those who start out on that road thinking that it need not lead so far or require the abandonment of so much have been warned and should take stock. This is a search for office without power. The challenge to us posed by the December result – on the contrary – is to organise to shift power at every level, utilising whatever levers and handles there are to struggle inside and through every level of what Gramsci described as the outworks of the state; so that an election victory represents genuine mobilised support throughout society out of the deep seated resistances to the tumultuous attacks we are about to face.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/21/peter-mandelson-i-try-to-undermine-jeremy-corbyn-every-day
  2. https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/media/csis/pubs/071105_ageofconsequences.pdf
  3. NLR 120 Nov/Dec 2019. Snipers in the kitchen – State Theory and Latin America’s Left cycle. Juan Carlos Monodero
  4. https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/france/
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/nov/13/biography.politicalbooks

Tony Blair is living in the past – we need a better future.

“Sincerity – if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” George Burns.

Tony Blair came to Kings College on the 120th anniversary of the founding of the Labour Party last week to seek to bury it.

Four core points stuck out from a word cloud of vaguely progressive sounding things that were otherwise as substantial and hard edged as a bowl of blancmanc.

1) That Labour has only been in power for a quarter of its history.

2) That elections are won “on the centre ground” by “broadening the coalition”.

3) There is a need for a “progressive realignment” with the Liberal Democrats – on an entirely undefined political prospectus.

4) That the current membership of the Labour Party is full of people who are an obstacle to this – because of their commitment to “old fashioned” things like public ownership (and peace) and are therefore a problem.

The key phrase he used here is “you decide first and unite after”. And what he wants unity on is a significant move rightwards. He skids over what this might consist of so as not to scare the horses. A way to imagine it is to recall that he put a lot of effort into courting Rupert Murdoch and had the endorsement of the Sun in 1997. Think about what policies you’d have to adopt to get such an endorsement now and that’s your Blair manifesto for 2024.

This is of course entirely consistent with the practice of the right of the Party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. They did not agree with the decision of the members, so they did not unite; and many of them worked “every single day to bring forward the end of his tenure in Office” Peter Mandelson (1). Given the daily quantities of ordure dropped on Jeremy Corbyn from a great height since 2015 – with such significant sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party throwing in their own faeces right up to polling day – its quite miraculous we did as well as we did in the December election. Despite these attacks, Corbyn’s leadership and politics led to our two highest popular votes out of the four general elections held since the the 2008 crash and its important to register that. It should also be noted that Boris Johnson has given Ian Austen and John Woodcock peerages in eternal gratitude. Peter Mandelson already has one.

This is the Third Way greatest hits playlist. He even re-heated his old “gotcha” anecdote about a Party member in the early 90s complaining that Blair’s strategy was to get people who voted Tory to vote Labour – but changed the context and the gender of the member in the retelling, thereby making it about as plausible as David Cameron’s “I met a black man once” story. The laughter that greets this story as the penny drops is designed to obscure the content of the complaint (if there ever was one); that he was aiming to make Labour safe for Tory voters by being as much like the Tories as possible; and that is more of a problem than he seems to think.

What is striking about this speech is the things he misses. He misses out the 2008 crash – and the impact this has had on removing the conditions for his sort of economic and political framework – altogether. He mentions the climate crisis but in an extraordinarily complacent way; as though its all in hand and will be taken care of one way or another by the wealthy and intelligent people (like him) who run the planet. He doesn’t mention the completely catastrophic economic and political course being followed by the United States in sabotaging the Paris process and doubling down on fossil fuels in an attempt to stave off the rise of China – scheduled to have an economy much bigger than the US by 2030 at current rates of growth. Nor that if the US succeeds we’re screwed and if they fail (given the scale of the Chinese investment in renewables) – there’s some hope. Its not surprising that he does this given his “pro western” orientation (which is entirely consistent – it seems- with him offering lucrative advice to the President of Kazakhstan).

His comments on antisemitism are very revealing. The problem he says is not so much antisemitism, but “the world view” of people who are pro Palestinian, or the “hard left” in general.  That world view is opposition to imperialism; which he sees as not “patriotic” and “anti Western”. The distinction between antisemitism and people having a dim view of Israel passes him by because he wants to elide the two. If they were in fact one and the same, the 54% of people in the UK who have a negative view of Israel would translate into a comparable figure for racist attitudes towards Jewish people. It doesn’t – thankfully. The rate for that is 4%. He ducked a question about military interventions – lest we remember what his abject subordination to the United States led to and how many people died as a result.

He uses lots of soothing phrases in a comforting montage of cliches – that all sound good if you like political muzak but have no content. “Modern”. “Future”. “Forward looking”. But on what we’d need to do he has nothing to say apart from negatives. He says the right will respond to the climate crisis and AI in the wrong way, but doesn’t spell out how, nor what the correct way might be. The left way forward – the colossal state investment in the green transition that’s being done in China, and was being done in Bolivia until the coup – he dismisses as old fashioned stateism that the “public” is bound to reject. The close election result in 2017 passing him by it seems. The problem with this is that if we never elect a government that will do what needs to be done with democratic consent, and popular mobilisation, to do it, we will end up faced with one that does far more authoritarian things as a matter of necessity when the consequences of inaction are crashing life support systems all around us (and many of us will die as a result). As the The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security implications of Global Climate Change report chillingly put it “Governments with resources will be forced to engage in long nightmarish episodes of triage; deciding what and who can be salvaged from engulfment by a disordered environment. The choices will need to be made primarily among the poorest, not just abroad but at home.” (2)

His notion that there should be an re-alignment of “progressive” forces begs a number of questions about what makes a party “progressive”. The Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories not just because the parliamentary arithmetic stacked up that way but because they were more aligned on economics. Blair would have been aligned that way too – and so would the people who supported his wing of the party – from Alasdair Darling to Chris Lesley. This would not be a “progressive” realignment but a centre right bloc with nowhere to go.

Four key points underline why a Blair is wrong and a “move to the centre” cannot work.

  1. No “return to normalcy” is on the cards and the future looks more like a trap than  a promise

The period we are in is defined by the 2008 crash and its aftermath. The “sweet spot” of the USA’s unipolar moment from 1991 to 2008, with cheap and ever expanding credit, buy now pay (through the nose) later PFI deals, cheap imports allowing governments to be grudgingly tolerated and re-elected with low votes while life slowly got better for most people has gone and won’t come back. People are insecure, pressured, uncertain, more political but rarely well thought out about it. We  are – perhaps – about to hit another economic crash; with very little prospect of the same methods being viable to get out of it. At that point all sorts of unthinkable things will start to happen.

We also have the climate crisis inexorably becoming more apparent. . It is becoming apparent that we can no longer take our environment for granted as a generally safe space. People are waking up – and not just “woke” people. 

In such circumstances people tend to polarise – to either cling on hard to certainties that used to make sense, dancing ever more frantically to the old failed nationalist tunes, while snatching gratefully after small mercies – or look for answers beyond borders. On a global scale this can be simplified as a retreat into nationalism (America – or Britain – or wherever – First) and a “New Dark Age” (as the Daily Telegraph enthusiastically put it) or Global Green New Deal.

Parties of the  Left have to embrace the latter with policies and campaigns that both pose solutions and develop deeper social roots; so what we are proposals an expression of where our communities are at and overcome the fear of change that freezes them like hedgehogs in headlights waiting to be squashed. 

The Green New Deal must be right at the heart of things – but also posed as – “this is what it will mean for our town, city, neighbourhood”. In the run up to the General election, Labour Local Authorities had been asked – for example – to make plans for home insulation so that an incoming Labour government could hit the ground running and get this done. Putting those plans on the leaflets, citing examples of where such plans had began to be implemented, holding meetings about them in the affected communities could have been very effective in making the prospect of positive change real for people who might be sceptical about it.  

2. There is no individualist “aspirational” solution.

People want life to be better. We want our children to have decent work and security.  This has too often been posed as “aspirational” in the sense of “getting up and out” with “social mobility”. There is virtually no social mobility in the UK. We are the most unequal society in Europe and Brexit will copper bottom that. The individual route up and out is effectively blocked for almost everyone. This will only get worse under Johnson. We either try to organise collective solutions in this pressure cooker situation or people turn on each other with – expertly choreographed – blame games.

3. Neo -liberalism is bust.

Neo-liberalism – in shorthand – is the acceptance of the Thatcherite economic settlement.  It encompasses those strains of thought that argue that politics should be subordinated to a free market economics in which deregulation and privatisation are seen as solutions and the best those at the bottom can hope for is that the prosperity that this channels to the top will “trickle down”. This was a foundation stone for Tony Blair’s governments and made them acceptable to the powers that be. Since 2008 it has survived on life support because it functions very well for the 1%. It does nothing for the rest of us. Life expectancy in the UK is now in decline.

In 2010 part of the problem for Labour was that it embraced austerity almost as strongly as the Tories did in a bid to be “credible”. If you track the opinion polls from the 2010 election, the point at which Labour ceased to be gaining ground on the Tories was when Alasdair Darling announced that the cuts Labour would make would be more severe than Thatcher’s. “Credibility” was not credible with the voters.

To add insult to injury, in  George Osborne’s first budget, when he announced his eye watering £19 billion in cuts, he was at pains to point out that this was £1 billion less than he had been advised to cut by Alasdair Darling.

Had Labour been in office with such a policy – in the “patriotic” “national interest” that made “hard choices” to dump the costs of recovery on those least able to bear them – the effect would have been catastrophic; not only for the people affected by the cuts but also the Party. 

The fate of the European Social Democratic parties that have imposed such a programme in government, is an eloquent warning for where this leads. 

In Ireland it was not the Irish Labour Party that smashed the old sterile centre right duopoly in the General election this month, but Sinn Fein on an anti austerity programme. Irish Labour, having been in a coalition government with Fine Gael imposing austerity between 2011 and 2016 saw its share of the vote drop to 6% – below the Greens.

In Germany, the SPD, in a terribly responsible middle of the road coalition with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, are currently polling at 14%.

In France, the Parti Socialiste never recovered from Francois Holland’s lacklustre pro austerity Presidency. It now has just 25 of 577 members of the National Assembly, its membership collapsed from 173 000 in 2012 to 40 000 in 2017 and is now polling at just 11%. The realignment of the “progressive centre” advocated by Blair and personified by Emmanuel Macron – which took a substantial slice of SP voters and members with – it has now collided brutally with the French trade unions in a series of bruising general strikes and is shedding both MPs and popular support. His Party, La Republique en Marche, is now polling at 18% with Macron himself having a 30% disapproval rating. (4)

The danger in all this is that opposition to the status quo is ceded to ethno-nationalist currents who blame immigrants – from the Alternative fur Deutschland to the Rassemblement Nationale (or the Brexit Party).

We should compare this experience that of the Socialist Parties in Portugal and Spain which have opposed austerity in government and have formed governing coalitions with “Hard left” Parties like Podemos or the Portuguese Left bloc for a way ahead that we need to stick to. We have such a coalition already inside the Labour Party. Tony Blair would like to suicidally split it.

4. There are no “national” solutions and the Pax Americana guarantees war

There is an established view of what might be called the “national mission” which is replete with symbols and imagery from WW2 and Empire which holds us back into a nostalgia and fantasies of a “special relationship” with the United States that will undo us if we let it. This has more hold with the old, but going beyond it – which we will need to do – requires us to  not so much live up to our past but live it down, and make up for it too – posed as something we are not just doing for ourselves but the world.

This is a crucial issue because the glue that holds the right of the Labour Party together is not so much Europhilia as Atlanticism. Blair has – for now – abandoned any idea of rejoining the EU. This from the man that wanted to join the Euro. Quite what the glue would be to combine Labour with the Lib Dems in this context is unclear, but Atlanticism would be part of it. This is a tricky act to pull off in the age of Trump, who makes no concessions to the vanity of his auxiliaries; and its rather difficult to argue that we should be forever Robin to America’s Batman when Batman is behaving more and more overtly like the Joker: but it won’t stop them trying.  

Being “pro Western”, in the way the Labour right supports, means being signed up to a Pax Americana that’s in crisis. It is not a “safe” option. Not only because the US’s global thrashing around to hold on to its dominance in the face of a level of Chinese growth that will make the Chinese economy half as big again as its own within the decade, nor the prospect of being pulled in Trump’s wake into the international axis for climate change denial, but because of the domestic consequences flowing from Johnson’s projected post Brexit US trade deal. This poses ever deepening national subordination and humiliation at the hands of the Americans as their pharmaceutical companies latch on to the NHS and UK labour regulations are degraded to US levels. To pick two examples. the US is the only developed economy in which there is no guaranteed right to paid maternity leave and US holiday entitlements are half the European average. This will  hit the people who voted for Brexit – thinking that it would return them to a period of decent jobs with decent terms and conditions and less pressured public services – very hard indeed. They don’t know what’s going to hit them. Blair’s commitment to “get up the arse of the White House and stay there” (5) means that Labour would have no framework to resist this.

The US is now smashing up many of the multilateral institutions that have previously mediated its dominance into a series of bilateral relationships that its easier for it to dominate – they are even blocking the selection of new judges for the World Trade Organisation Court because they don’t want to be held accountable to it. So there is no doubt that part of the price of the deal Johnson is lining up with Trump will be ever enthusiastic participation in US interventions, not just being a cheerleader for its destabilisation efforts across the world. The rapidity with which Dominic Raab flipped from calling for de-escalation to dropping right into line on Iran is the shape of things to come with this government. Not following suit is vital for Labour.

All this explains why Blair’s speech had to cover the consequences of following his line with such an easy listening soundtrack of soothing muzak. He was very clear that a move slightly towards the centre – as with Keir Starmer – would not be enough for the forces he represents. The ruthless logic of recognising that Labour will no longer be tolerated as a safe alternative government by the ruling class so long as it retains a programme that challenges it, a mass membership that supports it, institutional links to mass working class self organisation in the form of trade unions leads inexorably in the direction of a Macron type formation jettisoning the left or a US Democrat Party without the Sanders/AOC wing. Those who start out on that road thinking that it need not lead so far or require the abandonment of so much have been warned and should take stock. This is a search for office without power. The challenge to us posed by the December result – on the contrary – is to organise to shift power at every level, utilising whatever levers and handles there are to struggle inside and through every level of what Gramsci described as the outworks of the state; so that an election victory represents genuine mobilised support throughout society out of the deep seated resistances to the tumultuous attacks we are about to face.

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/21/peter-mandelson-i-try-to-undermine-jeremy-corbyn-every-day
  2. https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/legacy_files/files/media/csis/pubs/071105_ageofconsequences.pdf
  3. NLR 120 Nov/Dec 2019. Snipers in the kitchen – State Theory and Latin America’s Left cycle. Juan Carlos Monodero
  4. https://www.politico.eu/europe-poll-of-polls/france/
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/nov/13/biography.politicalbooks

The UK General Election in 7 myths.

Sun Tsu wrote “In the absence of strategy, an argument about tactics is the noise before defeat.” He might have gone on to note that after a defeat, there is a tendency for people to hunker down back into default tactics and console themselves with self soothing myths. These set a course for future defeats. Here are some of the most potent and popular.

Myth 1. Boris Johnson won an overwhelming mandate for a hard Brexit.

No he didn’t. Winning a majority of seats in parliament is not the same as having majority support in society. A majority of seats in parliament means a government can ram through whatever legislation it likes, but, without majority support in the country that cannot be done with impunity – or sparking resistance. Given this government and who its leading figures are, there aren’t enough fridges in the country for them to hide in when the going gets tough – as it is bound to do. Here are the figures.

  • The total votes in the UK cast for the Conservatives and Brexit Parties in favour of a hard Brexit was 47%.
  • The total votes cast for parties opposed to hard Brexit was 52%. Essentially, this is the 2016 referendum in reverse, but, as with the last US Presidential election, the side with the lower popular vote winning.
brexit election votes

However you look at this, the blue slice isn’t even a majority, let alone an overwhelming one.

This matters because the end of 2020 is crunch time to decide if the UK stays in regulatory alignment with the EU or not. Johnson is already signalling that it won’t. The EU will not agree to this. So we are looking again at no deal and the rapid implementation of deal with Trump that has been being negotiated quietly behind our backs – and remains mostly redacted – for the last couple of years while the charade in Brussels has played itself out and occupied everyone’s attention. Resisting this from day 1 and getting the truth out as it unfolds is an imperative. Whatever the theoretical merits of a “Left Exit” from the EU in the eyes of those who support it – the Brexit we’re going to get has nothing in common with that and should be resisted by the whole Labour movement.

Myth 2. “The British Lion Roars for Boris and Brexit” Daily Express Headline 13 December 2019.

Not in Scotland, Ireland or Wales it didn’t. For the Express and a lot of its readers, “Britain” is basically Greater Little England. Given the figures, perhaps it was the idea of “Britain” that was roaring. But if that was the case, that idea is revealed to be only alive and well in small town England.

  • In Scotland the combined Conservative, Brexit Party, UKIP vote in favour of a hard Brexit was 26.6%, while the combined vote of the SNP Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens – opposed to hard Brexit – was 74.4%. Pretty overwhelming. The Scottish Lion was roaring “no”. Election Scotland
  • In Wales they did better, but were still a minority. The combined Conservative, Brexit Party, UKIP vote in favour of a hard Brexit was 41.4%, while the combined vote of  Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid and Greens – opposed to hard Brexit – was 58.8%.Wales election
  • In the North of Ireland the combined DUP, Northern Ireland Conservative and UKIP vote favouring hard Brexit was 30.8% while the combined vote of Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance, UUP, Aontu, People Before Profit and the Greens was 68.5%. This overstates the support for Johnson’s deal, because the DUP, although in favour of a hard Brexit in principle, are opposed to this one and any other that would lead to a border between North and South or in the Irish sea – i.e. any deal that might actually exist in the real world.Election N Ireland

I was going to make a joke about Johnson being “a one nation Conservative” in that he only represents one of the nations in the UK; but he doesn’t even do that. Even in England, hard Brexit did not win a majority. A damned close run thing, but the combined vote for the Conservatives, Brexit Party and UKIP was 49.3% while the combined votes for Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens was 49.4%.

So, Johnson’s huge majority in Parliament represents a minority in every country in the UK.

This matters because the attempt to implement his Trump Brexit will exacerbate the national tensions within the country and accelerate centrifugal tendencies.

  • At the moment there is no majority for independence in Scotland – because separation from the rest of the UK would be even more of a wrench than separation of the UK from the EU – but support for IndyRef2 is likely to be one form of resistance as Johnson tries to drive his deal through: in the same way that support for devolution reached tipping point when the Conservatives used the Scots as the guinea pigs for the Poll Tax in the 1980’s. Depending on how much this grows and how stiff necked and effortlessly offensive Johnson is – and he is, after all, a man who can’t resist making provocative “jokes” to see how much he can get away with – we could be seeing a dynamic like the one in Catalonia and “the British Lion” might find itself biting its own tail off.
  • Similarly in the North of Ireland. The current deal would see a tax border of sorts in the Irish Sea – with an inevitable depressing effect on the Northern Irish economy and letting it remain in orbit around Brussels even as the rest of the UK disengages. The geo-political logic of this is obvious. Going out with no deal would reopen the issue of the border in Ireland and there would be stronger support for a border poll to unite the country. In this election, for the first time ever, there are more nationalist MPs (Sinn Fein and SDLP) than Unionist. Johnson might find himself having to take the St Patrick’s cross out of the Union Flag quicker than he thinks.

The break up of the country is a worst case scenario from the point of view of anyone who wants to keep it together, but it follows the logic of taking back control at smaller and smaller levels. Whatever happens, it means trouble, not a return to calm or “normality”.

Myth 3. Johnson’s majority means that he can “face down the ERG”.

This piece of wishful thinking appeared in a number of places in the immediate aftermath of the election, not least the Guardian. The fraction of the ruling class opposed to Brexit but more worried that the only viable vehicle to stop it was a left Labour government, and poured more money into the Liberal Democrats than they knew what to do with, churned out some articles, possibly to keep their own hope alive and console themselves for the damage that’s coming. The measures in the Queen’s speech should have put paid to these delusions. Here they are in case anyone was in any doubt about where Johnson is heading.

  • The pledge to keep workers entitlements and rights up to at least EU standards has been discarded.
  • All out strikes in public transport and other services are to be banned.
  • The pledge to raise the minimum wage was dropped.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on holiday entitlements.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on sick leave.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Ways are to be sought to limit the right of the courts to limit government actions.
  • Even Lord Dubs amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to continue to give refugee children sanctuary post-Brexit has been dumped.

Clear enough I think. This matters because Brexit is not “done”. The UK will leave the political structures of the EU at the end of January but still be inside the economic arrangements until the end of the transition period. The damage that will be done by a no deal exit is real; so this argument will continue. The extent to which it spills out from behind closed doors will indicate the extent to which any fraction of the ruling class is prepared to make a stand on the question of regulatory alignment. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but these articles are a sign that they haven’t entirely given up the ghost.

Myth 4: This was an unprecedented defeat for Labour and this is all Corbyn’s fault.

If we look at the results for the six General elections we’ve had this century, the graph looks like this.

labour vote 2001-2019

Its quite clear from this that Corbyn led Labour to its best (2017) and third best (2019) result this century. More than Blair in 2005, Brown in 2010 and Miliband in 2015. In 2005 far fewer Labour votes led to a majority government.

This matters because Labour’s stance in the next five years will determine whether it has any chance of toppling Johnson in 2025 – or possibly before then if things get bad enough – which they might. Corbyn’s politics – against austerity and for significant state investment to regenerate the economy, create  an inclusive and more equal society, make the green transition we need and distance ourselves from wars of intervention – are all needed if we are to resist and organise against the impact of Johnson’s Brexit.

Myth 5: the defeat is entirely down to what Labour did or did not do.

This is not usually stated as such, but seems to be a premise for a lot of the soul searching that has gone on since Friday the 13th, which has tended to look inwards at the Party, its leadership, policies and campaign. This is missing the bigger part of the picture; which is not just about how Labour lost but how the Conservatives won. Its a bit like if Napoleon’s Marshals sat down for a post mortem on Waterloo and paid no attention to anything the Duke of Wellington or Marshal Blucher had done.

it is a truth universally acknowledged that Theresa May’s 2017 election campaign was a bit of a car crash. But this judgement needs nuance. May increased the Tory vote over Cameron’s 2015 score more than Johnson did over hers this year. See graph.

tory vote 2015-19

However, what May’s campaign failed to do was neutralise the threat from Labour – which put on a spectacular increase in support during the election campaign which destroyed her majority. In 2017 the Conservatives were over confident. They believed that their initial 20 point lead was unassailable. They thought that they could get away with saying some of the unpopular things they would actually do before they did them – like the punitive social care policy which blew up in their faces. They hadn’t quite reached their current state of shamelessness and had the decency to look awkward when they ducked debates. They also thought that Corbyn’s “old fashioned socialist” ideas were sufficiently discredited that all they had to do was give him enough rope. which just shows how wrong you can be,

This time, knowing that their own vote was not going to go up much beyond the hard leave tribe, they played a cannier game to hold back a Labour surge.

  • They adjusted spending policy just enough to be able to talk about what looks like significant sums of money going into areas that they have been running down to destruction for the last ten years – while claiming that the previous policy had nothing to do with them guv – even though they were in Parliament (and sometimes the cabinet) voting for it. That these sums of money would still leave these services underfunded (and in the case of the NHS are a pre-emptive move to cover the costs of the increased drug bills it will be paying as a result of their pending and half negotiated deal with the US) passed most people by. This had a significant impact on people who previously might have come out to vote Labour to get any increase in funding for the health service. or their children’s school. In 2017, the NUT (now the NEU) waged a huge school gate campaign – without endorsing any party – on the impact of school spending cuts, which is credited with shifting 700 000 votes in Labour’s direction. In 2019 a similar campaign was waged by the NEU – with even more people taking part – but had nothing like the same impact. The Tories did just enough to innoculate themselves against this issue.
  • They were vague and bland about what their plans are. Beyond the mantra of “get Brexit done”, there was little concrete in their manifesto and they sold themselves on a false prospectus.
  • They fully embraced “post truth”politics. Having had Labour run rings round them online in 2017, they bought up space on websites so that whenever anyone searched for a Labour related item they were directed first to Conservative supporting sites attacking them. They were controlling the gateways to any narrative anyone wanted to find online as well as in most of the established mass media. Its amazing what money can do. They have picked up lying rebuttal techniques from sites with fake ids characteristic of the US Republican Party. So, the story about the little boy waiting on the floor in hospital – which was completely substantiated and documented by the Yorkshire Post and Daily Mirror, was rubbished online by anonymous sites claiming to be or know a nurse in the hospital who said it wasn’t true and then put around as fact by Tory supporters, or dupes. Moreover, 88% of Conservative online advertising was found to be at least “misleading”. The comparable figure for Labour was 0%.
  • They ran a tag team operation with other Parties. Most obvious was the role of “the Brexit Party” which withdrew from Tory marginals after being effectively instructed to by Donald Trump on a phone in to Nigel Farages’s LBC show. Farage blustered about second order issues as a bit of face saving but followed his master’s voice and did the deed.
  • The role of the Liberal Democrats bears deeper examination and they were essential to the Conservative win. They were dragged kicking and screaming into the alliance to stop no deal because it was being led by Corbyn. They blocked a transitional Corbyn government to block no deal, renegotiate with the EU to stay in the customs union and single market then put that back to the people, because keeping Corbyn out of No 10 was more important to them than stopping Brexit. At a ppoint that Johnson’s deal was about to be subject to scrutiny that would tear it apart, they and the SNP went behind Labour’s back to give Johnson the election he wanted, on the issue he wanted at the time he wanted it. One interpretation is that, lush with cash and the hubris of their rapid revival during the EU election campaign, they actually believed that they could win up to 100 seats and be in a position to hold the balance on a hung parliament or even provide a coalition Prime Minister. Another is that they were playing the role the ruling class – even their fraction of it – needed them to play; which was to split the vote against no deal Brexit and damage Labour in remain leaning marginals. This was built up throughout the campaign by “tactical voting” sites that initially advised voting Lib Dem in seats in which they’d been a distant third in 2017. Candidates who stood down to try to stave off a Tory win in Labour Tory marginals were slapped down and replaced by Jo Swinson. On polling day in London, the Evening Standard was covered in a wrap round advert calling for “Remainers” to vote Lib Dem – even though by this stage they were a busted flush almost everywhere and the effect of a Lib Dem vote would let in a hard Brexit supporting Tory. This was also behind the split in the People’s Vote campaign between those who saw it as a vehicle to stop Brexit and those – like Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell – who saw it as a vehicle to damage Corbyn. The logic of this was spelled out during the campaign by Lib Dem Deputy Leader Ed Davey, who said that in a choice between Corbyn and a hard Brexit, it would be a hard Brexit every time.

Myth 6. The leave vote is the voice of the working class.

Only if you believe

  • that there are no working class people in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, London or any other big city.

The leave vote is a vote from small town England. Ashcroft’s poll after the referendum concluded that a typical leave voter was an ageing middle class white man who lived in the South of England and voted Tory.

Myth 7: Labour lost because it pledged to allow a second referendum on any deal negotiated with the EU.

There are a number of problems with this argument.

  1. It only looks at the seats Labour lost; which were all in regions in which there was an overall shift in votes to leave, not at the whole picture – including the marginal seats that Labour would have to gain to win an election in every other region – in which the overall shift to remain parties was substantially greater than the shift to Brexit supporting parties.
  2. It discounts any shift in voting intentions between 2017 and 2019 to make the false assertion that the primary potential damage to Labour was by leaking leave votes to the Conservatives. This is to turn Maths on its head. The Labour vote in the referendum was 37 leave to 63 remain. The damage done by losing remain votes was always going to be greater. And so it came to pass at the time of the EU election. Up to that point Labour had been level pegging with the Conservatives in voting intention polls. At the election there was a colossal hemorrhage of votes to the Lib Dems and- to a lesser extent – the Greens. Labour polled 14% and went down in national voting intention to the low 20s and didn’t recover. polling tracker

This matters because a shift towards “winning back traditional voters” has led to the nostrums of “Blue Labour” rising like a zombie waving a “controls on immigration” mug. Maurice Glassman’s slogan of “family, faith and flag” has some horrifying echoes that we could do without and would destroy Labour as any kind of progressive force.

To sum this up in one paragraph, the disagreements within the ruling class – nationally and internationally -over Brexit, while serious, were tactical, while their objection to a Corbyn government was strategic. So every single establishment institution and every single political current that – when it comes to the crunch – favours continued dominance by capital, whatever their view on Brexit, threw the kitchen sink at stopping Corbyn as an over riding priority.

Litter leafletting and other campaign oddities.

There are moments when wearing a badge matters. Sometimes you don’t want someone to prejudge you; and a badge puts you in a pigeon hole before you start. Unlabelled, anyone you are talking to is listening first to your thoughts and ideas without a preset filter set to dismiss. But sometimes a declaration of allegiance makes a difference. There was such a moment in 1977 outside Woolworths in Coney Street in York – which was the main pitch for the left to sell newspapers at the time (much to the annoyance of the Woolies management). For some weeks there had been small grumbling, gatherings of National Front supporters that had been getting increasingly threatening but the week after the Anti Nazi League’s bright yellow and red arrow badges went on sale there was a sudden flooding of them from one end of the street to the other. It seemed as though nearly everyone was wearing one; recognising each other as a new collective strength in an impromptu carnival of defiance and exuberation. It was like spring after winter, the sun breaking through an overcast sky.

So it is now. I have taken to wearing my Vote Labour sticker when I am not canvassing. This leads to people grinning at me on the tube and the bus, leaning across in the supermarket and saying “Good. Yes. I agree,” people in the choir in Kilburn pulling out Labour leaflets to talk about, a barmaid in the pub opposite the Kiln asking enthusiastically how the canvas is going, a lengthy friendly explorative discussion in an equally lengthy queue at Aldi, with other people listening in – and no hostility at all. In an election in which part of the campaign the right is waging is to make Labour seem a pariah, wearing the badge in public and just going about your everyday business is a statement in itself – and gives heart to others.

The Tories and Lib Dems locally seem to be unsure where one constituency starts and another ends. Harrow West Tory leaflets have been posted through doors in Brent North. Brent North Lib Dem leaflets have turned up in Brent Central. The importance of local knowledge? Another feature of their leafleting effort is that they are so stretched for supporters on the ground that they don’t go up steps to flats to actually put the leaflets through the letterboxes; leaving them in a pile at the bottom of the steps instead. They then get blown all over the place by the wind and pile up with the general street mulch of squashed plastic bottles and crushed Kronenburg cans that so enhances the aesthetic quality of our lives round here. There were something like thirty dull orange Lib Dem ones scattered on the pavement in front of the shops like fallen autumn leaves and people were walking all over them without a second glance. Given that litter has become a growing problem scumming up our streets locally this is not a good look for them.

 

Climate Change. The Conservative Manifesto is playing chicken with Physics.

Reading the section of the Conservative Manifesto on climate change- one page tucked away as a sort of afterthought – one item among so many – on page 55 (out of 64) to show just how important they think it is – I can’t help but be reminded of a 1971 meeting between Thurrock Friends of the Earth and the local Young Tories. We were from different planets of course. Thurrock FOE – like a foretaste of the UKSCN -was made up entirely of school students. Mostly working class high flyers from Grays and Aveley Tech and the Convent Girls School living on estates in Grays, Stifford Clays and Tilbury. In the Conservative Party it was possible at that time to be considered “young” at the age of 35, but the two brittly over confident chaps who came to talk with us weren’t much older than we were. They were also from Orsett, a well to do rural enclave that could double for Ambridge on a good day.

Our concerns were global, systemic. Even before climate change was recognised as the threat that it is, there was a sense that we were using resources in a way that was reckless for our own survival. We picketed Tescos because of overpackaging and worried about the built in obsolescence of so much of the tat that was being produced – the philosophy at the time being neatly skewered in Tom Stoppard’s play “Jumpers” as “no problem is insoluble; given a large enough plastic bag.” We picketed the motor show over safety and pollution. We worried about the air we were breathing. With the huge cement works by the Dartford Tunnel, where Lakeside is now, and the predominantly westerly winds, everyone between there and the Estuary was breathing solid lungfuls of cement dust on a daily basis. That then blew across the North Sea and contributed to the acid rain that was killing European forests at the time. We worried about Dutch elm disease as the local variant of deforestation – all the magnificent elms in Dell Woods, Alfred Russel Wallis’s* abandoned arboretum, were dying- and we were beginning to see all this as a manifestation of a system driven by profit.

The Young Conservatives saw the fundamental issue with “the environment” as being litter. More to the point, litter and fly tipping being brought in by people from Basildon – at that time a relatively new New Town full of decanted Londoners and therefore deeply suspect. It struck me at the time that this missed the point on every level that it was possible to miss it on.

Today’s Conservative Manifesto – written as it is by a consultant for a fracking company – does much the same. It starts with a self soothing pat on the back for achievements they have not made.

“Our Government’s stewardship of the natural environment, its focus on protecting the countryside and reducing plastic waste, is a source of immense pride.”  Really? Walk down any urban street and check out how successful they have been at “reducing plastic waste”. Take a deep breath and savour the air that has led them to being taken to court – twice – by the European Union for failing to clear up dangerous levels of air pollution. Bear in mind that this was the government that wanted to sell off National Parks and – for a while – was prepared to contemplate fracking within them.

“But today, the climate emergency means that the challenges we face stretch far beyond our borders.”

This would be the climate emergency that was introduced into parliament by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party and on which most Conservative MPs abstained. Note that the challenge that stretches beyond our borders is one that “we” face. Not a global problem that has to be faced together, but one that has to be seen through the distorting lens of nation. The challenges being faced now under the impact of climate change in the developing world are seen in the framework of a possibly threatened cosy domesticity.

“Thanks to the efforts of successive Governments, the UK has cut carbon emissions by more than any similar developed country. We are now the world’s leader in offshore wind – a fantastic success story of Government and the private sector working hand in hand to cut costs and deliver ever more electricity at plummeting costs.” 

This sentence stands boldly and four square on the thinnest of thin ice.

  • The UK has cut its carbon emissions by a sharp shift away from coal for energy generation and by offshoring significant parts of manufacturing industry to China and other developing countries. The cement dust in the air I grew up with is no longer in Thurrock, but in Chongking. The goods that are consumed in the UK are not counted towards its carbon emissions. If they were, UK carbon emissions from consumption would almost double.
  • There is no mention here of onshore wind – which the Conservatives have hobbled. Onshore wind installation – now the cheapest form of energy generation – fell by 80% in 2018 because of planning restrictions brought in by the Conservative government.
  • Nor is there a reference to solar. The removal of the solar subsidy – on the grounds that a “mature industry” should stand on its own two feet in an open market – led to new solar installation falling by half in 2016 and again in 2017.
  • Fossil fuel subsidy in UK in 2018 was running at £12 billion – the highest level in the EU. So much for mature industries competing on a level playing field.

These decisions are perverse and suicidal – not something anyone could be proud of. We should also note that without the colossal Chinese investment in wind technology which have reduced its costs to below those of fossil fuel equivalents, there would be no expansion even of offshore wind. Freeloading of the efforts of others while taking credit for them is ever the Conservative way.

“Unlike Jeremy Corbyn, we believe that free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet.”

This translates as, leave it to the good old boys in charge- when have they ever let you down? Such complacency in the face of all the evidence to the contrary. How far have “free markets, innovation and prosperity” reduced carbon emissions so far? Innovation requires a level of investment that the private sector is proving remarkably resistant to making. Prosperity is an odd word to lay claim to after ten years of austerity. More urgently, business as usual free market investment decisions, already taken and in the pipeline, threaten the world with a 4C temperature rise. That is not according to Jeremy Corbyn. That is according to the Governor of the Bank of England. The fossil fuel companies spend millions on subverting any decisions that might affect their profits in the short term – in the same way that the tobacco companies and the asbestos companies did. Left to itself the “free market” is knowingly pushing us to hell in a handcart.

Lets look at what the Conservatives propose to do if re-elected.

“We will lead the global fight against climate change by delivering on our world-leading target of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as advised by the independent
Committee on Climate Change.”

2050 is better than many but not world leading. Sweden is aiming for 2045, Finland 2035 and Norway by 2030. But more significant than the date is the action taken to meet it. The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee pointed out in August that “Fundamental change is required, but government keeps papering the cracks instead of fixing the foundations.” Current plans, none of them revised by this Manifesto, mean the UK will miss its existing targets and increasingly fall behind in the next ten crucial years – which, as Labour rightly points out – have to be front loaded with initiatives if we are to have a chance of keeping temperature rises below 2C, let alone 1.5C. The Conservatives seem content to keep playing chicken with physics. We really can’t afford to let them keep doing that.

“We have doubled International Climate Finance. And we will use our position hosting the UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in 2020 to ask our global partners to match
our ambition.”

“Doubled” sounds impressive, but the actual quantity of International climate Finance coming from the UK is £5.8 billion over 5 years (2016-21); about a billion a year. Developed countries – acting under the Paris Agreement – are supposed to be transferring £100 billion a year to developing countries to allow development without carbon emissions, but the actual transfer is running at between a tenth and a fifth of that. Meanwhile the UK continues to use development funding through UK Export Finance to finance fossil fuel developments (amounting to 96% of UKEF funding over five years of £2.4 billion to developing countries). The ambition we need from Glasgow is an awful long way beyond the compromised, hesitant half steps taken by the UK so far.

We will set up new international partnerships to tackle deforestation and protect vital landscapes and wildlife corridors. We will establish a new £500 million Blue Planet Fund to
help protect our oceans from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing, and extend the Blue Belt programme to preserve the maritime environment. We will continue to lead diplomatic efforts to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030.

Half a billion pounds – to “protect our oceans from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing”.  Very grandiose ambitions for such a tiny amount of money. This is a quarter of what they propose to spend on filling in potholes in roads. The phrase “drop in the ocean” comes to mind. No budget for the “international partnerships to tackle deforestation.” It should be noted that planting lots of trees has recently been adopted by sections of the right internationally as an alternative to taking any other action on climate change.

Our first Budget will prioritise the environment: investing in R&D ; decarbonisation schemes ; new flood defences, which will receive £4 billion in new funding over the coming
years; electric vehicle infrastructure including a national plug-in network , and gigafactory; and clean energy. In the next decade, we will work with the market to deliver two million new high quality jobs in clean growth. We have ambitious targets:

All this is what might be called feelgood broad brush. There are no budgets or timescales.  “We will invest” an unspecified amount in all sorts of things that sound terribly good but we’re not going to say what they are or how much or what results we expect nor by when. “I shall do such things. what they are I know not.” *The key phrase is “we will work with the market”. Working with the market means that the interests of private sector profit trumps everything else and the state will help it along. This has not worked out well so far and there is little reason to suppose there will be any change in the immediate future. And we don’t have long.

Their record on this is not good. Once David Cameron decided to “clear out the green crap” Conservative policies in the renewable energy sector led to a third of the jobs being lost between 2014 and 2017. There is no sign in this manifesto of the either the policies required to reverse this nor the scale of investment that would be needed to get anywhere near the figure of two million jobs; which they seem to have sucked out of their thumbs by taking Labour’s promise and doubling it but with neither the required level of investment nor the sector by sector analysis of where these jobs would come from (or be). Labour’s plan has more precise and credible projections – 98,000 jobs building an additional 7,000 offshore and 2,000 onshore wind turbines. 450,000 jobs by upgrading every home in Britain by 2030 to cut emissions. 26,500 jobs in Hydrogen production in Yorkshire, the Humber and the north-east. 195,000 jobs in electric car production. 25,000 in nine new recycling sites.

Nor is there any reason to suppose that – if re-elected “the green crap” would sit around very long before being cleared out again. This is quite evident in their section on fracking – which they completely reversed before the manifesto even went out.

We placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.
Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.

This is quite outrageous. Just two days after announcing their “ban”, not only did they re-designate it a “moratorium”, but government documents were released that foreshadowed proposals to allow fracking “at will” with no planning permission, making fracking “as easy as building a conservatory.” The shape of things to come if we allow them back in.

It is also indicated by their approach to transport.

We will support clean transport to ensure clean air, as well as setting strict new laws on air quality. We will consult on the earliest date by which we can phase out the sale of new conventional petrol and diesel cars.

Its tempting to say that this is “breathtaking”. They have been taken to court TWICE by the EU on air quality. They have been in government for TEN YEARS. Where have the “strict new laws” been all that time? More to the point – what will they say? Given that Conservative candidates often make opposition to clean air zones one of the points in their campaigns “strict” should not be taken at face value. “Support” for clean transport can mean anything from being pleased that there is a bit of it coming on stream to actually taking steps to ensure that there is. There is a definite big budget for building roads. Building new roads tends to increase motor traffic; the opposite of what we need. No budget for bus services, reopening or electrifying rail lines nor for making sure that the vehicles running on these roads are actually “clean”. The consultation on the earliest date to phase out sale of new petrol/diesel vehicles gives the game away. If you consider whose interests have been prioritised every time the Conservatives launch a consultation its clear that they will dance to the tune of the motor manufacturers, not set them the tough targets we need to actually make the transition.

This graphic summary of the financial projections for these “ambitious targets” listed here, alongside what they plan to spend on building roads and filling in potholes illustrates just how lacking in ambition they are. This is a deeply perverse set of priorities.

Conservative investment in Environment priorities

Their one relatively substantial commitment is this.

We will help lower energy bills by investing £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals.

This is one twenty fifth of what Labour would do and would barely scratch the surface; so, by 2030 we’d still have the overwhelming majority of our homes leaking carbon at a ludicrous rate with people paying the energy companies through the nose for the privilege. Labour would fix that problem in both respects.

Home insulation investment

This graphic is a suitable illustration of the different scale of Party ambition. What we have with the Conservative manifesto is muddling on with business as usual, kicking the can further down a road that we are about to run out of, a little tweak here, a little tweak there, but nothing that recognises either the scale of the crisis nor the level of urgency with which it has to be tackled because of its deep seated aversion to the necessary state action.

*Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin. In fact, it was a letter from Russel Wallace that persuaded Darwin to publish, out of fear that Russel Wallace would do it first. He lived for a while in Grays in the early 1870s building one of the world’s first concrete houses, later used as a convent (!) and now converted into flats. The grounds of the house included a 16 acre walled arboretum along a steep hill which has been disused and run wild for over a hundred years – a place of mystery and darkness for generations of local children.

*Shakespeare. King Lear.

Conservative Environment Policy – a Manifesto for Mr Toad.

This graph speaks for itself. The spending commitments are all taken from the Conservative Manifesto. Conservative investment in Environment priorities

So road building is 58 times more important than saving the oceans and filling pot holes in roads is four times more important than carbon capture and storage. The commitment to homes and public building insulation is roughly 1:25th of Labour’s.

As Mr Toad might say “Poop poop!”