(This is an update of an article of mine that was posted in early August)
Politics did not really take time off this summer. Well, not for Labour it did not. Ed Miliband’s decision to step down within hours of leading his party to its greatest postwar disaster since 1983 set in motion an electoral contest that has dominated the political news ever since. It also meant Labour could not formulate policy as it could not guarantee that this would be overturned by a new leader. This explains why Labour could only abstain over a Conservative welfare reform vote that blackened the reputation of three of the four contestants. Corbyn voted on principle and rebelled. It enhanced his status. None of the other three, Kendall, Cooper or Burnham could do so without leaving their posts. Burnham somehow thought his dogged loyalty to Harman’s party line would get him support. He was wrong. Had he quit, he could have given Corbyn a run for his money. He didn’t. The value of loyalty in politics varies so much it perhaps needs its own bourse.
Michael Howard had the right idea after the Tories’ third defeat in 2005. He stayed on as leader, promoting the best and brightest from the new intake of the Tories’ wilderness years to provide front-bench experience prior to launching a short contest. That campaign lasted two months end-to-end. By contrast the time between the fall of Miliband and the rise of Corbyn was two and a half times longer. Howard deserves praise for starting the process of reshaping his party into a vote-winning machine.
No-one in May could have predicted that Corbyn would now be appointing a shadow cabinet. Here was a man with no experience of office who had rebelled against his party whip hundreds of times. And yet the man who has repudiated the party line more than anyone before had the support of an overwhelming majority of the wider party and those who paid the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal to vote. It also appears that the unions now have the kind of voice in the party that they last had during the ‘beer and sandwiches’ era of the 1970s.
The only real outcome of Ed Miliband’s leadership has been to purge the party of Blairites and have the Unite trade union increase its stranglehold over the party by having more of its placemen – or is it placepersons – as MPs. This is all ironic as Miliband’s reforms were in response to Unite’s plot to do exactly that when its plans to determine who would stand in the Falkirk constituency were exposed. But then Labour is not like the other parties in the Commons. The election of a Labour leader cannot be compared to the elections that elevated David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the leadership of their parties.
Corbyn’s post is in fact the Leader of the Parliamentary wing of the Labour Movement. Expressed that way, the rise of Corbyn makes perfect sense.
It is a mistake to assume that moving Labour to a more ideologically pure left-wing position on the political spectrum renders it incapable of forming a government by winning a general election on the basis of being voter-friendly. That it will mean that all that Labour faces will be further disasters at the polls due to its unpopular policies. Again this is making an erroneous assumption that the wider labour movement will do nothing to influence events. Given that the Left regard ‘direct action’ as instrumental in gaining power, this is naive.
The labour movement is nothing in this country without the ever-present threat of direct action. It is the reason why teachers are not fired for incompetence when school-leavers are unemployable. It is the reason why London underground drivers command double the average wage for operating trains that can be safely run fully automated and are staging one-day strikes to prevent a change in working patterns on trains that do not actually require them to turn up for work. It is the reason why no-one has been prosecuted for the premature deaths at Mid-Staffs Hospital. It is the reason why no-one has gone to jail for criminal negligence over the mass rapes of children in council care in Rotherham.
The labour movement also believes that none of the political reforms have been obtained through the democratic process of reasoned debate; instead they believe that it has only been mass actions that have coerced Parliament to grant new rights. The labour movement also see violence as an important part of direct action. Indeed Shirley Williams was arrested on the particularly violent Grunwick picket line in the 1970s. It is where Harriet Harman met Jack Dromey.
The labour movement also persistently refuses to accept the election of Conservative governments as legitimate. Time and again in the 1980s, Neil Kinnock explained away Labour losing elections as being due to people voting against their own interests and being deluded by the right-wing press. He even repeated this mantra after Labour’s rout this year. This is simply a nice way of articulating the Marxist analysis of ‘false consciousness’ as it tries to explain why the proletariat have not spontaneously assimilated and implemented the ‘Das Kapital’ in full as soon as it was published. Watch Kinnock’s comments on YouTube, if you have the patience.
Socialists and neo-communists always denounce an unfavourable election result. They even questioned the legitimacy of Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 landslide by pointing out that more people had voted against the Conservatives than for them. They failed to notice that even more people had voted against Labour and some former senior Labour MPs, including the arrestee and by now ex-MP Shirley Williams, had even created a new party to make it easy for the electorate to do so.
It is worth recalling the comments made by the Alan Johnson’s union, the UCW, the people responsible for the growth of the fax machine industry in the 1980s by staging postal strikes:
“We think that it is time for a change for Labour. The grip of the Blairites and individuals like Peter Mandelson must now be loosened once and for all. There is a virus within the Labour party, and Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote.
“We reject the notion that Labour needs to move to the centre ground of British politics. The centre ground has moved significantly to the Right in recent years.”
So the ‘antidote’ is to have the Labour Party unelectable by conventional means. A platform that is demonstrably popular with the electorate is openly rejected. Where Labour goes, the voting public are apparently required to follow, presumably once they have shed their false consciousness. The union leaders are talking riddles that only committed neo-communists can understand. This is actually all part of the never-ending project of these neo-communist pressure groups to establish a socialist one-party republic in Britain.
Consider the behaviour of the Unite union that triggered Miliband’s reforms in 2013. They wanted their person to fill the vacancy left by the outgoing pub-fighting MP Eric Joyce and recruited new party members to affect the constituency vote for a candidate. A union official used company time at his workplace, the Grangemouth Oil Refinery, as part of this effort. The company got wise to this and suspended the man. He was paid to be a union convenor, but was devoting a quarter of his time to party business. Unite voted for strike action and the refinery was shut down. As part of the strike action, Unite sent ‘leverage teams’ to the homes of managers and senior employees to force the firm to climb down. Instead the firm threatened to close the plant down permanently. Since this was a private-sector operation, the owners were exercising their right to withdraw their capital and move it to where it could gain a better return. The union backed down. It had no choice. The union believed it had a right to employ direct action to picket people’s private dwellings and also to have a nasty leaflet campaign against individuals. It also believed it had the right to stuff the ballot box with for its candidate.
Consider also the fact that the labour movement and the Left has always used strikes and civil disobedience to challenge every incoming Conservative government within two years of it winning an election. It’s a kind of stress test. It happened to Heath, as he tried to establish an Industrial Relations Court to criminalise some union activity and caused him to lose in 1974. The 1980 TUC ‘Day of Action’, a one-day re-run of the 1926 General Strike, was a flop, but there were also inner-city riots. There were equally unsuccessful strikes in the nationalised industries of the time, but the government backed down in 1981 to avoid a miners’ strike.
Arthur Scargill of the NUM refused to accept the 1983 Tory landslide barely one month afterwards. This Labour Party member employed a private army of thousands that roamed across the land intimidating people trying to get on with their jobs as part of the NUM’s illegal strike. He wanted to bring down the government elected by a landslide the way his predecessor had in 1974. There was a hiatus after 1992 as the collapse of communism meant that all socialists had to keep a low profile lest people laugh at them. There were a series of marches in central London in 2010 and 2011 that degenerated into violence. An armed gangster was shot dead in London by police and the protests turned into widespread rioting that was justified by Harriet Harman as a protest against scrapping the Education Maintenance Allowance. Meanwhile there were a series of one-day strikes by state-sector workers that persist to this day.
The Conservatives, now shorn of the limiting action of a coalition partner, are proposing the greatest raft of union reforms for two decades. Automatic funding by union members, political donations and salary deductions are to join civil servants paid to work full-time on union business on the scrapheap. Strike votes will require bigger turnouts and better majorities. They are going to have a head-on collision with the unions.
So how could this all pan out? As I mentioned earlier, it is inconceivable, based on their past form, that the labour movement will not try to influence democratic politics through extra-parliamentary action, especially as they do not respect the results of elections when they lose them, and have denounced the only person to given them their longest run in power through being – shock, horror – popular. Unite, the largest union and the party’s biggest paymaster has changed its rulebook to authorise illegal activity.
It is possible that union opposition will coalesce into what will become illegal strikes and other direct actions. They are better prepared for the financial implications of court sequestrations of funds as they operate their own bank. There may be large mass demonstrations in London and other towns, which will turn violent. There may be some kind of illegal occupation of ground, perhaps ‘Occupy Trafalgar Square’ or some such. There may be a re-run of the General Strike, but this time by teachers, train drivers and health workers. The street violence may escalate to the degree that there will be very ugly incidents with serious injuries. The police may refuse to get involved; the Police Federation is not a good friend of the Conservative Government. The army may need to be called in. Boris’s water-cannons may get an outing. Anyone jailed during these disturbances would be accorded the status of political martyrs. There would be demonstrations and other actions calling for their freedom and a change of government by force.
The postwar British government has always shirked from jailing people for criminal activities associated with mainstream political activity to avoid politicising incarceration. The two men jailed for murder when they dropped a concrete block onto a taxi driver’s car during the miners’ strike had their life sentences reduced to a few years for manslaughter after a complex technicality was introduced. Pickets arrested after the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ found the charges went away. This time, the unions may force the Government’s hand as part of a power struggle unseen in the UK for 40 years.
I do believe that the labour movement is gearing up to goad the Government into some form of reaction that will change forever how we view the state and its relationship to the people. They would also tarnish the Conservative Party as the party of oppression. Shocked and horrified by what was happening to their country, with the trains idle, the dead unburied, schools closed and hospitals turning away patients, the electorate may turn to Labour to make the horror stop. Milder activity gave Harold Wilson his second term in office in the 1970s that represented the high-watermark of union power, a golden age that the unions want to return to.
Revolutionary politics seem to be all that Corbyn understands. He associates with regimes that gain or hold power without legal mandates or who suppress opposition. His only big idea is to have the state print money to spend on its favourite projects, ignoring the inflationary consequences. It was Lenin who stated that the best way to destroy capitalism was to debauch the currency and Corbyn is a confirmed neo-communist. Corbyn has no hope of attaining power in Parliament unless the labour movement facilitate it with extra-parliamentary action, which they are straining to do. Corbyn and the unions all have strong connections with neo-communist groups. Neo-communists swarmed to join Labour in one way or another to vote him in. All the other candidates were overwhelmed by the support for a man who now leads a party he has openly repudiated on hundreds of occasions. Unlike poor Andy Burnham, he is not a party loyalist in the conventional sense.
Corbyn cannot become prime minister by fair means, so he and his fellow travellers will resort to foul. It may be tin-hat time soon.
It does look like this is all coming to pass if the news from the TUC is anything to go by. We are living in very interesting times.