25 January 2020

Europe's failing politics

I've already posted about why the Conservative party landslide in last month's British election doesn't hold any particular lessons for electoral politics in the US -- the dominant issues and the character of the political parties involved in the two countries are simply too different.  It does, however, offer reminders about the roiling political situation in the UK and in western Europe generally -- a subject which continues to be widely misunderstood in the US, especially on the left.

This blog post by a British moderate leftist ("Against: totalitarianism.  For: liberty, secularism, enlightenment, cats.") sets things forth well, and with classic British bluntness.  First, he expresses the shock of seeing the Labour party so crushingly defeated (winning less than a third of the popular vote and a similar share of seats in Parliament) when its Conservative rival was so unappealing:

.....the Conservative Party will reign unchecked and unchallenged for at least another decade, quite possibly longer.  They will govern, moreover, regardless of performance.  That they will do so after a decade of austerity and ruthless infighting about Brexit boggles the political mind.

The Conservative Party will lead Britain into the 2020s despite food banks, the blight of homelessness, libraries shuttered, public services being slashed at and cut, the NHS in crisis, despite the chaotic and cruel implementation of Universal Credit.  We will be herded through the most profound and complicated constitutional change in half a century of British history by an unprincipled bluffer and chancer with a promiscuous attitude to both women and the truth.  Despite all the empty post-election rhetoric about forming a "resistance" to Tory rule, this is by any reckoning a complete and total failure of opposition.

There were warnings of impending disaster, but they went unheeded (note: "Tories" is a slang term for the Conservatives):

For sounding various warning bells my comrades and I on the Corbyn-sceptic left have been rewarded with years of abuse and slander from the proponents of a 'kindler, gentler' politics. We have been called 'Blairites', 'centrists', 'red Tories', 'Zios'. We have been told to "fuck off and join the Tories". We have lost friends. We have been blocked, unfriended and unfollowed.

He goes on to describe how the ideology-besotted Labour party lost touch with, and became contemptuous of, the typical working-class voter who was formerly at its core:

He has a deep love of country, cherishing its rights and freedoms which he sees as compromised by the European Union, which is why he voted to leave.  He also believes we should control immigration. He is, on the whole, proud of our history, our institutions, and our traditions.  He takes an especial pride in our armed forces, because he has relatives in the military, including his own son.  He is angry, true, but he is angry at the shabby state of the country; the way the once bustling high street now looks like a row of rotting teeth, reduced to a scattering of pound shops, charity shops and we-buy-your-gold pawnbrokers.  He is angry at the way those old industries, pounded by globalisation, have been largely replaced by low paying service sector work.  His wants are hardly obscure: to provide for his family, to own a decent home, a car, to save enough for a holiday now and again.  He wants to know that next year will be better than last year; that his struggle and toil is building towards something.

Despite claiming to speak for the poor and the vulnerable, the typical Corbynista couldn’t be further away from the object of his patronage if he tried.  The left may do a good job of keeping up appearances, but it doesn’t take much to jolt their true feelings from them.  They have, after all, spent three years telling ordinary British voters they were idiots for voting for Brexit.  They have called them ignorant, racist and xenophobic.  They said they were too stupid to understand what they were really voting for; that they were brainwashed by the tabloids, Nigel Farage and some words on the side of a bus.  They have openly discussed disregarding the largest democratic decision in British history.  They have done everything in their power to delay the process and undermine our negotiating position abroad.  They have cheered every defeat for the British government, lapped up every humiliation. All while comporting themselves like our self-appointed intellectual and moral superiors.  Is it any wonder, really, that the targets of such scorn rejected Corbynism en masse?

This is the core of the problem, and again, it extends across Europe, not just the UK.  For ordinary people's profound attachment to their own countries and cultures (whose roots go back more than a millennium), for their objections to mass immigration unprecedented in the history of those lands, for their concerns about the encroachment of a corrupt and unelected EU oligarchy upon national laws and sovereignty -- the mainstream parties have had no response to offer except scolding and name-calling.  This has generally been true of right-wing mainstream parties as much as the left, driving voters toward fringe parties, some of them dangerously extremist.

(As a personal aside, my own family roots lie among just such ordinary people, in the unfashionable industrial cities of England.  It was the Labour party government after World War II that gave them a chance at better lives, somewhat like the New Deal and the GI Bill in the US.  That the party is now led by snobs infected with the same slimy, aristocratic disdain for ordinary people that it once rebelled against -- this is beyond infuriating.  Yes, there are some hints of such disdain among the Democratic left activist fringe in the US, but nothing like this bad -- and the party leadership has not succumbed to it.)

The UK broke out of this pattern almost by accident when David Cameron, a Conservative prime minister as pro-EU as any other mainstream politician, called a referendum on leaving the EU.  He did this primarily as a threat to strengthen his hand in dealing with the EU oligarchy, probably never seriously considering that voters might actually choose to leave.  Even after the referendum, it took more than three years for a genuinely pro-Brexit figure -- Johnson -- to emerge as party leader.  It could just as easily have been the Labour party that got out ahead on this issue; it should have been.  But with the current leadership, such boldness was unthinkable -- and now it will be the Conservative party that reaps the benefits.

It could have been worse.  If the Brexit referendum had not happened, or if the elite had continued to obstruct the implementation of its verdict, by now the British people might well be on the verge of electing Farage or someone like him to lead the country -- a genuinely Trump-like figure in some ways, unlike Johnson -- out of sheer frustration with the arrogance and contempt of the mainstream parties.  The same risk exists in other European countries.  Some of them have already elected dangerously-fringe leaders.

One other matter is mentioned only in passing, but deserves more attention:

The most despairing thing about that period was watching good comrades on the left, some of whom had spent decades of their lives fighting for the labour movement, being lectured at and abused by Jew-baiting trustafarians who had joined the party five minutes ago.

After several decades of disrepute in the wake of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has re-emerged in Europe and even become somewhat fashionable among certain elements of the activist-ideologist fringe.  In Britain, infuriatingly, it has become especially pervasive in the Labour party (another way in which British politics differs from ours, since over here it's mainly the Republican party which is infested with bigots).  Whether anti-Semitism is also on the rise among ordinary people, I don't know; certainly in the centuries before World War II it was a plague that transcended class boundaries.  But I think most voters in December were smart enough to see that Labour's obsessive Israel-bashing is, at the very least, irrelevant to their real problems.

Sensible Labourites now have several years to try to take back their party from the crazies and bigots.  By the time the next election comes around, Brexit will be an accomplished fact and hopefully fading as an electoral issue.  But variants of at least some of these problems exist in most European countries, and most mainstream parties still show no sign of being able to break out of their ideological bubbles and respond to their voters instead of insulting and psychoanalyzing them.  There is more upheaval to come, over there -- and the American left remains locked into a mind-set and vocabulary which precludes understanding it accurately.


Blogger jenny_o said...

Interesting read, and food for thought. I don't have enough room in my head for all the politics happening around the world, only some - so I like reading non-media analyses of those with which I'm less familiar.

25 January, 2020 10:49  
Blogger Mike said...

If all the different UK democratic wings would gotten together they would have easily defeated the conservatives.

25 January, 2020 15:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jenny_o: Thanks -- the UK is one of the relatively few countries where I understand the politics fairly well, and I hope I can help other Americans understand too.

26 January, 2020 09:31  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Deleted: I can't count how many times I've said this -- if you want to argue, address the specifics of what I said in the post, don't just regurgitate your own canned talking points. In fact, if you really want to argue -- don't.

26 January, 2020 09:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mike: The post was about the voters' rejection of the Labour party specifically. If they'd gotten most of the votes that went to the Lib Dems, they might have won the election -- but that's not the way people chose to vote. The Conservatives got a plurality slightly short of an absolute majority, because of third-party votes, but that often happens in US elections too. Winning is winning. And all these parties are "democratic" in the sense that they participated in free elections -- though I'm a bit dubious about that word in the case of those who tried to thwart the will of the people as democratically expressed in the Brexit referendum.

26 January, 2020 09:36  

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