15th August, 2015
The Blairites may be right in claiming that a Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn won’t win the 2020 general election. But they are missing the point : by that time we can expect the most pressing issues in British politics to have been resolved. The next five years are crucial in setting the direction for a new, post-imperial Britain and Corbyn as Labour leader buoyed up by the mass movement that will put him there will play a crucial role. The Blairites have misread this badly denouncing Corbyn as throwback to the past when, in fact, it is they who hold that position.
British politics is in a state of flux and it will be become more and more evident that things cannot be understood within the framework of the old left/right divide. The significance of the recent developments in Greece has been missed : pragmatism prevailed over ideology. The contradiction is that ideological rigidity and sectarianism seems more entrenched than ever, at least, in certain quarters.
Last night’s Corbyn rally in Glasgow bore out that point : it was very much a rally of the faithful in an atmosphere of revivalist enthusiasm. All the leftist shibboleths new and old were itemized: global warming, identity politics, even the old warhorse “class”, nationalization, socialism and so on. Of course, Corbyn has to press all the right buttons but I maintain despite that that he will prove to be a pragmatist. Otherwise, what was someone like myself who has long dissociated himself from the left doing there?
I was there because I anticipate Corbyn playing a strong hand concerning the most pressing issues we face and because I don’t expect these issues to be resolved by the victory of either the left or the right. I expect them to define a new center ground in British politics which can draw support from left or right or neither.
The first of these is the renewal of Trident. Corbyn will oppose it vehemently and hopefully the British people will take tp the streets in their millions to the same end. The left have always opposed it on moral grounds and have claimed, to counter the right, that it is not effective as a deterrent. Actually, it is very effective as a deterrent : would Russia still exist as a unitary state without it? The left’s longstanding opposition is, however, no longer the point. What clinches the argument is that the Cold War is over and Jeremy Corbyn seeks constructive cooperative relations with Russia. He does this as a pragmatist despite his ideological difficulty with what he chooses to see as a homophobic government. The simple fact is that Russia has no aggressive intent towards Britain, quite the contrary, and since there is no other nuclear threat in sight there is no need to cough up 100 billion for Trident. Apparently, many in leading military circles also hold this view and not many of them will be Corbyn supporters.
The cost of Trident is anyway prohibitive for a country in the kind of financial state we’re in. The left has developed a complacent view on the debt since there has been no run on UK bonds or on sterling despite QE. They fail to see that this because the Chinese have agreed not to ditch sterling assets. The Chinese have instead sought a deal with the UK government evidence for which can be found in the rarely noted Comprehensive Geostategic Partnership we have signed with China and the fact that we are issuing UK government bonds in RMB. To Corbyn’s credit he does not share the prevailing left view that the debt doesn’t matter and that we can simply go on for ever borrowing money from people who don’t want to lend to us or simply go on devaluing the currency to monetize the debt and then force feed it to China and others in exchange for their exports. Without actually explaining this he admits that the budget has to be balanced. Actually, the principle is also a problem since interest payments are only manageable due to negligible interest rates. Anyway, Corbyn shares with the SNP and the Tories the new consensus view that the debt is a problem and, given that, the ridiculous costs of Trident are also a problem – to be overcome simply by canceling it.
Corbyn’s realism about Britain’s financial plight also extend to the realization that simply cutting the budget won’t work. Whether we like it or not the survival of millions of people and Britain’s social cohesion depends on welfare spending and that isn’t likely to change soon. We need to look at the other side of the equation; income. There isn’t any: we lose massive amounts every month running up our monster trade deficit. Almost everything we consume we import and our exports are limited by a depleted industrial base. We must therefore, reinvest in that base both to boost exports and to substitute for imports. Corby proposes a financial system orientated to this end, some form of national investment bank. How can anyone disagree with this even if the modalities remain to be determined?
Whatever form it takes it is clear that foreign investment will play a major role in the recapitalization of Britain. The deal with China probably concerns this and ,in fact, it’s already happening. However, were Britain to withdraw from Europe this investment would be threatened. The recent Greek crisis saw a surge of anti-European and anti-German feeling and, most notably, a shift on the radical left towards a eurosceptic position. Corbyn has already come out for the EU in principle and has thus provided something of a corrective to left’s Little Englander drift. The fact that born-again eurosceptic Owen Jones is sharing his platforms illustrates this. The anti-European left and right will then hopefully be marginalized by the time of the referendum and they will have been by a new pragmatic consensus.
Corbyn’s promise to renationalize the railways looks highly ideological but he certainly knows what he;s talking about on this question. Privatization has been a disaster which has seen a natural monopoly milked and undermined by private interests. Adam Smith wouldn’t have any problem with nationalization in this case. In the end it may just come down to a form of words : the mess has to be sorted out by the state in the interests of the nation. Is that or isn’t it nationalization? How many London commuters find the remedy just as sweet by any other name. One could say the same regarding the disarray in the utilities or the education system. Does any state simply leave these things to hobble along anyhow or assume that the market will for some obscure reason sort everything out? Only, Britain it would seem. The utilities only work at all because they’re being run by people like EDF, a state run company – although the state ,of course, isn’t Britain. But maybe the British state can have at least some say. After all, we’re British!
The simple reality is that the required program for Britain is fairly obvious and we can expect to find it insinuating its way into the manifestos or discourse of the most unlikely bedfellows. We’ve understood that we don’t want any more wars and must now turn our attention to the mess on the home front.(Does that mean it has to be like Dad’s Army?) Ideology, however, still reigns and it’s only right and fair that the most passionate adherents of the various secular faiths should have one last chance to insult each other in a frenzy of self-righteous indignation before going quiet in the face, hopefully, of the concurrence of the mainstream on simple pragmatism.