Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Labour's strategy of right-wing populism

"...More specifically, the tenor of his latest intervention fits into a wider Labour strategy of articulating a politics of the "squeezed middle". In Miliband's bland cadences, this sounds anodyne. But, in fact, it is a strategy taken over directly from rightwing populism. To understand this, one need only revisit the rightist backlash against social democracy and New Deal liberalism. This had a racist component, visible in the seemingly evanescent campaigns of Enoch Powell and George Wallace. But race wasn't all there was to it, and the techniques of populist mobilisation continued to be deployed long after these two had passed into obscurity.
"Rightwing populism is not merely transparently "representative": rather it seeks to create the division that it articulates. Societies divided along multiple lines are simplified into a dichotomy between "the people" and its other. The working class is redivided into the hard-working taxpayer and the slothful undeserving poor, with the former subsumed into the "people", the latter into its other. The people are then construed as a "middle" whose sovereignty has been abused by bureaucrats, tax-avoiding plutocrats, criminals, protesters and clamourous minorities alike. Thus, Wallace complained that "middle America" was squeezed between the "silk-stocking crowd" and the poor and criminal.
"The "middle", thus defined, is a depthless discursive entity: "the people" supposedly bracketed by the term share little by way of work, culture, housing, education or daily experience. They are united only by what they oppose. Nonetheless, this type of appeal would underpin Ronald Reagan's attempt to forge a Republican majority. In the same way, Powellism would pass into mainstream politics in the form of Thatcherism, which championed a squeezed "middle England" of hard workers against a bossy state and the grasping poor: a form of politics characterised by Stuart Hall as "authoritarian populism". Since then, capturing the "centre ground" has often meant genuflecting to an incorrigibly reactionary "middle"..."