Wilderness years for the Labour Left, by Paul Halas

Keir Starmer, photo by Rwendland, Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Halas

With the Labour Party once more appeasing the “Establishment”, can it still be home to left wingers?

Like many, I’m one of those who has found the past year thoroughly dispiriting. Leaving aside Covid, these have been dark days for the left. Keir Starmer’s virtual opening speech at the virtual Labour Party Conference was both revealing and demoralising.

Is this going to be yet another Starmer-bashing piece? Well, not entirely.

My first reaction to Starmer’s piece was to think back to Peter Sellers’ wonderful all purpose party political speech parody from 1958, but the subtext was of course very serious (unlike Mr Johnson so we’re told) and underlined the party’s clean break with Corbynism. The party is under new management. That’s so important it’s become the new party slogan. The party deserved to lose the last election in spite of the combined might of the news media, the City, the corporate sector, a vast and sinister tsunami of venom via social media, and many within the Labour Party itself, telling the electorate that Jeremy Corbyn was a danger to the British way of life and would lead the country to ruin. By the same token, I assume Sir Keir must be implying that Boris Johnson and his cronies deserved to win, despite all the above, and by appealing directly to people’s very worst instincts.

Starmer was very keen to emphasise family values and patriotism, having no doubt been told by various advisors and focus groups that the folk oop north who’ve trickled away from the party over the past twenty years are xenophobes who love their motherland and dote on their tight-knit, populous families. It’s a bit like Marechal Petain banging on about famille et patrie. He wants us all to be proud of our country, differing slightly from Jeremy Corbyn, who wanted to build a country to be proud of. The message is that Labour is trying to appeal to traditionalists from all classes who mistrust politics tainted by radicalism.

What was lacking in Sir Keir’s speech was a vision for the future, any hint as to what the Labour Party’s policies might entail in the coming years; all we got was an assurance that they’d be groundbreaking and super. Except for a few cursory mentions about public services and a couple of afterthoughts about the environment, there was nothing about the party’s adherence to the Ten Principles he’d sworn to uphold when campaigning for the leadership. I get the feeling that at some point in the future, once the left has been further weakened by expulsions and demoralised members quitting the party, we’ll see an Animal Farm type moment: “Four legs good, two legs bad” will morph into “Four legs good, two legs better.”

In his speech Starmer said it’s full speed ahead to winning the next election. He and the Labour Party will do whatever it takes. Did I mention that the party is under new management? Part of the strategy for becoming electable is acknowledgement of the received wisdom that you cannot win without having at least some of the media onside. And of course the same goes with institutions such as the CBI, the City and Whitehall… I think it’s telling that Starmer has used the Times and the Sunday Times as platforms for making his major pitches. Rupert Murdoch is renowned as an Earl of Warwick figure – a king-maker – and I believe it’s only a matter of time before the Sun proudly announces that Starmer is the man… Helped of course by Johnson and company being such shite. It would be a Faustian pact, but then where Sir Keir is concerned I think he crossed that Rubicon a few decades ago…

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When she first entered Parliament last year, MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana was taken aback by the volume of lobbying pressure she was immediately subjected to. A few hampers from transport groups and Heathrow Airport are small beer, but of course they’re only opening gambits in a much bigger game and the tiny tip of a vast and for the most part utterly amoral iceberg.

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The piranhas lie in wait

The corporate sector has always tried to buy influence and favours from politicians, and of course it usually succeeds. If it didn’t, hundreds of potential lobbyists would’ve had to find more wholesome employment. The usual procedure is to reward politicians – from all parties – for services rendered with cushy, highly paid non-executive directorships or “consultant” roles in high power corporations as soon as they step down from their political roles. All done very discreetly, nudge nudge, wink wink, that’s the way of the world.

That has always been the way in politics, so commonplace that apart from the occasional outburst of pique the public is pretty accepting that it’s normal procedure. What is not appreciated, however, is the extent to which elements from “the Establishment”, or the “dark state” – whatever one wants call them – hold influence over the political process.

Little by little it’s becoming obvious that the political process is not only no longer being controlled by democratic means, in fact it’ s no longer following its own rules. The Judiciary is losing its independence, the Civil Service is in the hands of a right wing cabal and Parliament, already the plaything of a supine, talentless Tory Cabinet, is increasingly bypassed and made irrelevant. This has not come about by accident; it’s a process that has been taking place over decades.

Who is the “Establishment”? Who are the shady figures that pull the strings of our political and economic system? They are a chosen few political grandees from past and present, from all parties. They are media tycoons, top civil servants, they are lords and ladies, minor royalty, top civil servants, bankers, hedge fund managers, industrialists, an oligarchy of powerful influential people who don’t want us to know what they’re doing. They come from the UK, from the USA, from Canada, from elsewhere in Europe, from the wider world of capitalism. They are a network of organisations and think-tanks that exist to covertly promote and propagate a worldwide neoliberal consensus which guarantees an ever increasing concentration of power and wealth.

This tangle of highly influential groups is truly international and embedded in the politics and economics of several countries. They don’t just lobby, they set the agenda. They pay little heed to the need for sustainability or equality, because the dogma central to their existence doesn’t recognise that the planet has limited resources and populations have breaking points. This runaway neoliberal monster has no moderator.

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Where does this take us with regard to Sir Keir? I’m almost done with trashing him. In amongst all his ties with the establishment I’ll mention just one. He’s a member of the Trilateral Commission. It’s so important it should be mentioned again and again. This select group was founded in 1972 by David Rockefeller and exists to promote establishment hegemony worldwide. It wields great power. That a Labour Party leader is part of such organisation should be unthinkable.

For the past half century the UK has oscillated between Labour and the Conservatives, with neither proving too much of a threat to the Establishment, or Dark State, or whatever one wants to call these charmers. Meanwhile the influence of Parliament has been diminished, the state has been shrunk, the Judiciary diminished and traduced, social services and the health service ravaged and inequality has grown ever greater. Power has never been further from the people. And all the while the majority of the population have been convinced to look elsewhere for people to blame for their increasingly restricted and impoverished lives.

The one fly in the establishment ointment was Jeremy Corbyn. Under his watch we were promised a government that would roll back the neoliberal tide. That would put a cap on corporate greed and reverse inequality. No wonder he had to go. He nearly made it in 2017; the Establishment was going to make bloody sure there would be no repeat of the fright it had been given.

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Bane of the Establishment

With hindsight we should’ve known that 2019 was a doomed endeavour. I think many of us kind of did, but were deeply in denial about it. And if Corbyn had won in 2017 what’s the betting the Establishment would have made absolutely sure the country was ungovernable.

So what now for lefties? We’re stuck with a leader who still enjoys considerable support amongst members, and a government that’s so inept and badly-run even its staunchest backers will probably give up on it soon. Cue Sir Keir in shining armour, backed by Earl Murdoch. The trouble is, with the changes happening in the world today, particularly environmental and virus-related, continued adherence to the neoliberal consensus will no longer be viable. The system was bust years ago; Trump and Johnson are symptoms of that.

It will be up to the left to supply sustainable and just answers. Left wingers will have to come out of the woodwork and members who’ve left the Labour Party will hopefully rejoin. Hopefully we’ll be able to emerge from the wilderness. Another leader who’s unafraid to confront the Establishment would be a boon, but for all those who despair of ever finding one, who would’ve thought that a bolshy backbencher in his autumn years would be plucked from obscurity, command such a following and come so agonisingly close to capsizing the Establishment boat?

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Could she be the answer?

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Paul Halas

Paul Halas is a writer of Jewish heritage whose escape from 1970s hippidom was the discovery that he could invent stories. He spent forty years contributing to various Disney magazines and books, as well as a variety of non-Disney comics, books and animated films. His retirement from commercial writing coincided with Jeremy Corbyn becoming the Labour Party leader. He is a self described Corbynista. As a result he has been a Labour activist for the past five years – and most of his current writing is political. He is currently hoping to find something funny to write about.



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