Monday, June 08, 2015

Labour is not finished as a party. It is finished as a party of labour.

Harriet Harman is a pitiable figure.  Seen, rather risibly, as a figure of the 'left' by the press, she usually positions herself to the right of whatever the middle ground of the Liberal Democrats is saying.  For her entire period in office, she was a hostage to New Labour with a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.  

The subjective bad faith inherent in such a position can perhaps best be illustrated by Harman's willingness to take responsibility, as Secretary for Social Security and Minister for Women, for the in-coming Blair government's cuts to single mother benefits.  There was no justification for this cut.  Even in narrow fiscal terms, the money it saved was trivial.  It was a pure sop to the welfare-bashing, misogynist right-wing.  Harman knew this, just as her bosses did.  But single mothers - being then generally reviled as sluts, leeches and layabouts without even the energy necessary to hold onto a man - were made into a ritual sacrifice to prove New Labour's fidelity to the post-Thatcherite orthodoxy.  A tragic necessity in the struggle to triangulate a failing Conservative Party, control the middle ground, fondle the Murdoch press and defang the middle market tabloids.

And so it goes on.  Today, in her position as acting leader, she swings hard behind the Blairites, arguing that Labour lost not due to its having accepted Tory premisses on austerity and the Union, and Ukip premisses on immigration, but because of its opposition to zero hour contracts and because it was seen as a party of welfare-sucking parasites.  The same bad faith presents itself in Harman's discourse: we have to face up to the harsh reality, it's very nice being principled but we need to move out of our comfort zone, no good being right if we have the wrong message, we need a leader who will reconnect with people rather than telling members what they want to hear.  And so on and so on.

The implication is that Labour would like to be better but, well, needs must when the devil drives...  And that, of course, is a classic way of abdicating responsibility.  As if Labour, with its ingrained conservatism, its managerial middle class leadership, its institutional linkages to the continuist state bureaucracies, its alliances with business and the right-wing press, its authoritarian moralism, its contempt for the left, is in anything other than its comfort zone when it is - as Caroline Flint recently put it - 'kicking the spongers' and toadying to the 'wealth creators' whom Andy Burnham extols as 'heroes'.  

This is a strategic choice made long ago; or rather, the culmination of many strategic choices made long ago.  They're good with it.  They like things like this.  And they know what their choice means.  It means that Labour survives only to the extent that Labourism dies.