Saturday, January 14, 2017

Britain's Left in Free Fall

Recent surveys show that Britain's Labour Party is polling only around 20 percent and may be headed for its worst electoral showing since 1918. This is partly due to its members having split over questions of nationalism – first Scotland's leave vote, and then the Brexit vote – but it also reflects a serious problem for left-wing politics worldwide.

Right now the Labour Party is led by Jeremy Corbyn, an old-school socialist who hated the New Labour of Tony Blair. Blair supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and generally favored capitalist, internationalist economics; you can think of him as being much like the Clintons. Corbyn hates capitalism, hates the international business elite, hates the Iraq War, but on the other hand opposed Brexit as being too reactionary and racist; you can think of him as being much like Bernie Sanders.

Corbyn's aggressively socialist, pro-Europe line has made him the hero of the Labour Party's activists, who are sick of compromising their principles to get along in a neoliberal world. The party's professionals, on the other hand, can see that his hard line is leading them to electoral disaster, and the MP's tried to get rid of him in a sort of Parliamentary coup last year. They ousted him as their leader, but then the activists voted him right back in again. By revealing how much opposition there is to Corbyn even among moderate Labour MPs, this affair only weakened him and the party further.

As I have indicated, I see this same dynamic playing out in the US. Americans on the left are sick of compromising with capitalists and want real measures to decrease inequality, reduce indebtedness, fight climate change, fight racist policing, and so on. Because our primary system encourages broader participation in the selection of the national candidate, Sanders was not able to get that slot; but if he had, I am certain he would have gone down to a terrible defeat. The majority is not ready for 90 percent income taxes, single-payer healthcare, or prison for any cop who shoots the wrong person.

Actually it seems to me that there is not a majority for anything in America right now. Both parties are struggling to put together coalitions of voters around issues that seem to work for them, but this can only be done with lots of smoke and mirrors. Republicans are divided over immigration, whether to cut Social Security and Medicare, whether to have an aggressive foreign policy, and what sort of economic policy might help both their middle class voters and their billionaire funders. Democrats are divided over race, cultural issues, education policy, and the whole big question of how far left to go in economics.

The only thing that seems certain to me a about our political future is that most people will remain dissatisfied.

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