The UK currently has a Prime Minister who is held in widespread contempt by the ordinary public. It follows that the power of the mainstream media to dictate public opinion has been broken. The broadcast media reached new levels of election campaign bias, and the print media was fanatical, during the election campaign in promoting May. But the Tories nonetheless lost their majority. The press is trying to cover up its loss of power by switching towards the anti-May camp, but it is running hopelessly behind. We have passed a key tipping point where the cloud power of social media is now more important than mainstream media in shaping public opinion.
That has been crucial in smashing the surrounds of the Overton window. There were a set of beliefs which the political and media Establishment believed it was essential to hold, or you would be “unelectable”. These basic beliefs included:
1) An unwavering commitment to nuclear weapons and an enthusiasm about their use
2) Privatisation of public services including natural monopolies
3) State funded services to be provided through intermediary private organisations
3) An untrammelled free market in rents, wages and the other major factors in the life of the poor
4) Low taxes on the wealthy and corporations
5) Ever greater deregulation
6) Neutered trades unions and removal of employee rights
7) Inequality of wealth as a consequence of a healthy economy
8) Unquestioning support for Britain’s retention of Imperial possessions and for military interventions abroad.
9) Politicians must talk tough on immigration to reassure “indigenous communities”
10) Unwavering support for Israel
There are more. Every single one of these were taken as absolutely fundamental to “accepted” political thought. Anybody questioning any of these was regarded as at best an amusing eccentric, at worst a dangerous fanatic. Portrayal of Corbyn was sometimes the former, during the election campaign overwhelmingly the latter.
It cannot be said too loudly or too often that New Labour subscribed absolutely and without question to 100% of the above political orthodoxy. It is what the large majority of Labour MPs have spent their lives believing.
It was the SNP who led the way in showing that attacking this “consensus” did not make you unelectable, and the SNP smashed New Labour in Scotland from the left. Precisely two years ago I wrote a post on why left wing politics do not make you unelectable, which was read by hundreds of thousands.
The terrible tragedy at Grenfell tower has reinforced understanding that benign state regulation is an essential factor in protecting the most vulnerable people in society. It adds to a national mood which was already swinging towards more economic regulation and a bigger role for the state. My last post I hope was nuanced in explaining the situation at Grenfell Tower. Nothing can bring back those who so needlessly lost their lives. But I do hope it may lead to a period of greater social housing provision by councils, working with direct labour forces and sweeping away the intermediary bodies which bedevil provision throughout the public sector.
I am not going to worry too much about the Tories at the moment as they appear to be plummeting to earth with no chance of medium term recovery. But where does Labour stand?
The most important question is whether the Blairites are going to abandon their belief in the neo-liberal consensus and actually support the policies in the Labour Party manifesto. A week ago Peter Mandelson, of all people, gave a television interview in which he said he had no moral problem with Corbyn’s policies, he had merely thought them unelectable. So the question arises: what do these people really believe in?
Some of them really are right wingers and find left wing policies unbearable. I believe that accounts for fifty to sixty of the Parliamentary Labour Party. About the same number are genuine left wingers. But the vast majority of the Blairite remnant are like Blair himself – morally pliable. If getting on board with the Corbyn programme looks good for their money-making prospects, they will do it. They are practising their new left wing vocabulary right now before their mirrors.
Corbyn’s hand is much strengthened, but he still has a major task to strengthen his grip on the party. Compulsory deselection is the obvious way forward but may prove difficult to force through. However pending very extensive constituency boundary changes may give the leverage required. To date, Corbyn has suffered from an inability to influence local constituency labour parties, where young activists are difficult to turn out for procedural meetings and old hacks manipulate arcane procedures. In addition, Labour’s entrenched full time staff is viciously anti-Corbyn, none more so than General Secretary Ian McNicol. The truth is that before the election Corbyn was not winning in the institutional battle within the Labour Party. He needs to exploit his current strength now ruthlessly in internal battles.
In Scotland, a dreadful and unpopular Tory government dependent on the DUP, and a lurch towards a disastrous Brexit which Scotland does not want, should provide a massive boost to the Independence movement. But the SNP is failing as a leadership vehicle for Independence. Having fought a pathetic general election campaign in which it prepared to accept that the very thought of Independence is a dirty little secret that should be hidden under the bed, the SNP appears in almost as great a crisis of confidence as the Tory Party. It needs now to come out and forcefully explain why Scotland would do much better as an independent country. The purpose of the SNP is not remunerative employment for Scotland’s political class. It is, however, beginning to look like it.