We live in interesting times.
The long sought after clear blue water between Labour and the Conservatives is starting to reemerge after a long period where both parties seemed to be swimming the same laps of the pool. I remember a lecturer at Edge Hill, where I studied Politics in the 1990s, saying Britain had three Conservative parties, just with different leaders. The political centre ground truncated, and shifted rightwards; almost in an echo of America. The fringe, all too often painted as dullards, extremists and worse, have been pushed to the sides; excluded from the discourse. Big boys and girls, big beasts, have pushed them out, citing a need to be realistic, grown up, about politics. What that seems to mean is allowing the Market to have its head, and has slowly mutated into a situation where it is the chief concern of government, arguably culminating in Mr Cameron's drive towards a 'weightless state' which seems to involve turning government and state into something that has almost no ability to impact on the real world as it is forced to operate though private companies.
What has become clear is that this sort of hands off, managerial, style of politics is unappealing to a lot of people in the UK. Too often it speaks to the head, not the heart, and from a street level view, it skirts about the issues, thinking in terms of balances of payments, exports and imports and so on. It views things in terms of money and capital, not lives. It's hardly a surpise that we have seen a swing back towards something more people orientated on both sides of the political divide. On the right this has resulted in the rise of UKIP, their concerns slanted through the lens of immigration; on the left we see it in the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party.
Corbyn was the only candidate to offer
something different, to step outside the current neoliberal
paradigm. His platform looks like a call back to Old Labour in many
respects, and I suspect that's why he's been so popular. Against a
political hierarchy that looks increasingly helpless, seemingly content
to wave its arms and say 'oh we can't do anything because', the idea of
renationalising the railways or building our way out of recession are
radical ideas that offer people something tangible; concrete. It
asserts the primacy of the nation state, rather than suggesting that
countries be at the mercy of international trade or the likes of the EU.
Judging from the way the media has torn into Corbyn, over a series of storms in a china set, there's a goodly amount of fear about what will happen if he wins. I've never seen such a visceral reaction to the election of a party leader and at present it look as if they run the risk of tearing the British public between our seemingly innate tendency to tug our forelocks and our desire to support the underdog; a situation where the latter impulse will almost certainly win. There seems to be some confusion over what we actually want to see; a politician with principles who espouses something outside the current orthodoxy, or someone who is just another face in the crowd. His appeal derives from the latter, and has tempted back many voters who had deserted Labour for the Greens, as well as apparently galvanising young people.
Even more baffling is that at present we have no idea if Corbyn will be electable, or if he can do the things he talks about. Given the way that the SNP's plans to put extra tax on alcohol to discourage drunkeness were shot out of the air by the EU, it may be that any attempt to stretch the influence of the state is doomed to failure. In addition, we may see a reversion to traditional voting lines; especially if Corbyn sounds too radical. Its estimated that without the female vote the Twentieth Century would have been dominated by the Labour party, not the Conservatives and it would have looked very different. It may be that we see something similar happen again, or that new lines are drawn in the sand as politics becomes more fraught.
The reality is that we just don't know what will change, or even if it can. Corbyn seems to be trying to change the nature of the House of Commons already, attempting to make Prime Minster's Question Time a more civilised, informative affair. I suspect this won't work, or if it does it will only convince more people that politics isn't worth bothering with. As a species we are wired for excitement, and polite questions with thoughtfully given, truthful answers will only drive people away in droves (which makes me wonder why it hasn't already happened).
The other thing is that the UK is now a signature party to so many different treaties and agreements that it may be that we're literally hemmed in by red tape. Whether it is Kyoto or the looming issue of the TTIP, it may may be the case that even if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister he is effectively powerless to change anything, and that's before we consider the deep pockets and litigious tendencies of multinational companies, who have proven themselves more than willing to take national governments to court if their profits are endangered. Even the squeaky clean Swedes merrily muck into the scrum to open up markets if they have to, as the German government has found to its cost over nuclear power. I am unconvinced that the train operators in the UK will take attempts to renationalise lying down, and bluntly, they have deeper pockets than UK PLC does.
There is a danger in thinking in terms of borders and boundaries when, thanks to the internet, these things are becoming more and more irrelevant. Parts of both Left and Right seem to retreating further into a narrative that pushes nationhood to the fore, firmly ignoring the changes that have bypassed the state entirely. While the support for this on the ground is understandable, unless we are willing to tackle a much bigger set of questions, and I fear that's where that wiring I mentioned earlier kicks in.
I feel we are at a fork in the road, if we go one way we further dilute the notion of nation in favour of internationalism, greater powers for the unelected and a stronger form of Capitalism. The leads back to a stronger state, more robust borders and a controlled state. One way will be easy, the other hard, almost to the point of impossibility. Corbyn is right when he warns that Labour will have to fight for every line in his plans to renationalise the railways; he will have to fight every step of the way, as will anyone who wants to push for the primacy of the state over the interests of international capital.
At present we are in the 'wait and see' territory, with no clear way forward. I'm sure the next couple of years will add more clarity, but at present who knows what will happen?