is a party political broadcast for the Scottish Labour Party broadcast today.
The children in the advertisement are not just annoyingly obsequious in the questions they are given to ask: they are all white, and code as middle class in how they are dressed, how they are groomed and in how they deliver their lines. That reeks of 'aspiration'. So, I would suggest that the pitch is not to the working class voters who have gone over to the SNP as an alternative party of reform, but to middle class voters who don't like the SNP but could never vote Tory. The phrase 'Red Tories' isn't so much an insult as the self-conscious electoral positioning of Scottish Labour.
And there is something else. The broadcast has the look and feel of a 1997 re-enactment promotion. It presses all the right buttons: the children are our future, meritocracy, opportunity, fairness, education, education, education. These thematics entirely omit, of course, the huge and central questions facing Scottish voters. Such as the future of the nation, austerity, Trident, and other related matters. They are self-consciously oriented toward some other era, when progressive-sounding themes could be articulated within an aggressively pro-business ideology.
How can you, in the age of austerity, claim that the children will have a better future, if you are supporting austerity? How can you, post-credit crunch, claim to support a meritocracy when the social basis of your growth strategy is a reviled financial oligarchy? And how, in the name of Hades, can you tell Scottish voters about education when your party introduced tuition fees? No amount of soft-focus camerawork, and no number of human children can make this look like anything other than a flight into the past.
is Jeremy Corbyn's first Labour Party conference speech as leader.
It spells out a synthetic 'vision' of what a left-reformist government could do for the majority. It spells out a range of policies, such as building council houses and supporting the self-employed, all of them directly related to facets of experience in contemporary British capitalism. It also links these policies to a wider discourse on 'values'. The speech is, of course, unapologetically left-wing. But what distinguishes it for me, and what really deserves special credit, is one particularly good presentational turn: the utterly ruthless and maliciously witty appropriation of Blairite language.
It was as if Corbyn had approached the glittering generalities of the old triangulations (endless invocations of "values" and "the many not the few" being salient) and thought to himself, "what would be good for a laugh would be if we were to actually imbue some of this shit with substance". Much of the denouement of the speech was taken from something written by Richard Heller some years ago and offered to Ed Miliband. It is not difficult to see why Miliband turned it down, as it's far too rebellious. The recurring refrain, "you don't have to take what you're given", is so general that it could touch on various, polyvalent discontents, but it was also very specifically linked in the speech to class antagonism. In context, it was an exhortation to dare.
Now, John Harris was complaining in The Guardian
yesterday that the 'visionaries' of Marxism Today
had been left behind and misunderstood. The article is interesting if slightly revisionist as to the full depth of Marxism Today
's implication in the Blairite project. However, I want to suggest that Harris has missed the point. Insofar as that group of intellectuals diagnosed some real problems and reacted against real backwardness on the left, the lessons have long since been learned, if not by everyone. In fact, if you want to see a thoroughly Gramscian job of appropriation of the existing ideological detritus for a left project; if you want to see an articulation the 'national-popular' where the emphasis is on the popular rather than the national; if you want to see a form of left-reformism that is relevant, modern, diverse, and technophilic, then Corbyn's speech had it, all of it, in abundance.
The point is this. Corbyn's critics in the media, upon hearing a speech that they barely understood, rehashed the predictable line that it was aimed at the party not the public. This rests on the questionable premise that journalists are the public, or at least a reliable cipher for the public. They are mistaken. Corbyn's speech was incredibly contemporary, and he can say with some plausibility that the agenda he now articulates is the only truly modernist current in Labourism. His scepticism toward markets and profits, his pro-immigrant discourse, his support for student grants, even his resistance to a macho, patriarchal form of politics, are all operating on the most progressive ideological developments in Britain, and those most associated with the young. Blairism was always justified as a form of modernism, a tendency whose currency was its ability to fight and win on a terrain shaped by globalisation and related developments. But now the major discourses of the Labour Right, from Blairism to Blue Labour, resemble nothing so much as a longing look backwards.