What Labour Can Learn from the Corbyn Leadership Campaign

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What Labour Can Learn from the Corbyn Leadership Campaign

by Bryan Gould

First posted 6th September 2015

No one, surely, could begrudge Jeremy Corbyn the odd chuckle or two when he contemplates, in his private moments, the consternation he has caused by his unlikely candidature for the Labour party leadership. It is not just the discomfort of his opponents, though that is sufficient cause no doubt for a little schadenfreude, but the fact that so many expectations have been confounded by someone who has been for so long dismissed as a nonentity, a fringe figure and a relic of the past.

It may be that the sweetness of his achievements so far will be as good as it gets and that the “sanity” narrowly defined by his opponents will in due course be restored. It may even be that, in his heart of hearts, he would be secretly relieved if that turns out to be the case. It would be true to his self-image and temperament that he should see himself as the catalyst for change, rather than as bearing the responsibility for putting it into practice.

But, as the possibility of a Corbyn leadership looms ever larger, it is the reaction of his opponents that is truly instructive. That reaction has developed from incredulity, then on to alarm and indignation, and finally to resentment and anger. How could someone as ill-fitted for the task, as unworthy of consideration, as out of touch with political reality, possibly be on the threshold of walking off with the party’s leadership and challenging for the role of Prime Minister?

These reactions are typical of those who feel that an impostor and an interloper has cheated them of an inheritance that is rightfully theirs. Those in the party who have steadfastly trodden the middle way, who have shown their superiority, by recognising “political realities”, over those who do not have to bear parliamentary responsibilities, have long grown accustomed to deciding the party’s fortunes.

For them, Ed Miliband was bad enough, but could, in the end, be restrained. With his defeat, they now want what they have lost returned to them. When the attempt is made to deny them that birthright, they want to vent their anger at the perpetrator by unmasking him and showing just how misled his supporters have been.

So, the “mainstream” stance on Corbyn is to focus on his lack of experience, on the skeletons in his cupboard, on his supposed inability to win a general election. And when those who have the votes and the power to decide seem unmoved by these considerations, there is nothing left but to impugn the bona fides of the voters themselves.

The Corbyn phenomenon is to be explained, it seems, because those tens of thousands of newly enthused actual and potential Labour voters who have joined the party – an unfamiliar sight, after all – are, in reality, “entryists” whose real purpose is to destroy the party and make further Tory victories inevitable.

There must surely be a more rational and constructive approach than this negativity, whatever the outcome of the leadership election. With or without a Corbyn leadership, is it not worthwhile to ask why so many people were ready to support him – not, in other words, what is it that disqualifies him as a leader but rather, what did he do and say that attracted so many to his cause?

We don’t need to look far for the answer. Jeremy Corbyn dared to suggest, along with the IMF, that austerity is an inappropriate and destructive response to austerity, that government has the responsibility to use its power and resources to strengthen the economy and share its fruits more equitably, that the OECD is right to say that inequality is not the price we must pay for economic success but a major obstacle to it, that – as the Global Financial Crisis demonstrated – the market is not infallible and self-correcting, that the drive for private profit is not a guarantor of efficiency, that we must cherish our most important resources by raising the health and education levels of ordinary people, that we are all better off if burdens and opportunities are fairly shared and if every shoulder is put to the wheel.

These may be unwelcome or unacceptable ideas in some quarters, but surely not in the Labour party? As far as we can tell, they are ideas that, however frightening they may seem to Labour’s power-brokers, have appealed to a significant part of the electorate who have not hitherto found much about Labour to enthuse them.

They are ideas that deny the mantra that “there is no alternative”, that challenge the voters to think about better ways of doing things, that look forward to new hope that a healthier, more inclusive, society and economy are within our reach.

If we were not so keen to condemn him, if we would look at what his candidature has achieved, could the Labour party as a whole – with or without a Corbyn leadership – not learn and benefit?

 

It’s up to Europe’s Leaders now -Bryan Gould

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It’s Up to Europe’s Leaders Now

From Bryan Gould, previously published here: 

Like so many others, I long ago got used to being pilloried as “anti-European” for daring to say that the “Europe” we were urged to sign up to was no such thing, but was a particular arrangement cooked up by the powerful and foisted on the people of that often benighted continent without bothering either to consult them or to take count of their wishes.

As the Greek crisis unfolds, and as it strips bare the pretensions of those powerful forces who talk with less and less conviction of the European ideal and of democratic rights, we can surely no longer be in any doubt. The “Europe” in whose service so much sacrifice is now demanded is a cartel of bankers, financiers and right-wing politicians who have no interest in democracy, or jobs, or the living standards of ordinary people. As the Greek people suffer, and plead “no more”, it is not the travails of the Greeks – or, for that matter, the Spanish, or the Portuguese, or the Italians – that weigh with Europe’s powerful; their sights are fixed on maintaining austerity and discipline, on adhering to ideology and doctrine.

Above all, they are determined to protect the euro, because it is the one weapon that ensures that there can be no backsliding. The euro was put in place so that, whatever temptations – or even imperatives – there may be, there can be no going back. The grim and unrelenting disciplines of neo-classical economics demand nothing less.

For many of us, this imposition of a single monetary policy and discipline on a hugely diverse European economy was always destined to fail. There was no way that small and underdeveloped economies like Greece could survive competition from a powerful German economy, especially when it was the Germans who had the power to decide on the monetary policy that should be put in place – and no prizes for guessing whose interests that policy turned out to serve.

The irony is that is those powerful interests – represented by the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission and obliged to follow the dictates of the German Finance Minister – who now find that, despite the disparity in power between them and a bankrupt and demoralised Greece, it is they – and not the supposedly feckless Greeks – who have the responsibility for saving the euro.

With the power of the referendum result behind him, Prime Minister Tsipras can now say that there is nothing more he can do. Ravaged by austerity, Greece has no resources left. Unless they are helped by a bail-out package that does not drive them deeper into collapse but instead gives them a chance, over time, to begin to grow again, they will be forced – since there is no other option – to leave the euro and seek their own salvation.

The Greeks have, in other words, taken their decision. There is nothing left for them to decide. The ball is now in the court of Europe’s leaders. It is not for them to give up entrenched positions. It is up to them to decide whether to refuse to help, with the result that Greece will have to leave the euro whether they like it or not, simply to survive, or to relent and offer a more acceptable and realistic package that will keep Greece afloat and allow them to stay in a re-shaped common currency.

We know what they want to do. They have stuck to the current stance in the hope that the Greek government will fall and “regime change” will be brought about. There has even been talk of a government imposed on the Greek people from outside or of a government of “technocrats” that will do the bidding of the financial establishment. The referendum result, though, seems to have put paid, for the time being at least, to that disgraceful objective.

But, for a brief period, the Greek crisis has given us a glimpse of the mailed fist and doctrinaire rigidity behind the “European” ideal. Rarely can there have been such a stark demonstration of the inherently undemocratic nature of the European power structure and of the interests it truly serves.

It may be that the Greeks, by forcing an “agonising re-appraisal”, will end up having done the true adherents of a united Europe a favour. It may be that, at long last, we will begin to contemplate a Europe based on agreement freely given by the continent’s governments and peoples, an agreement to build a Europe by learning from each other how to work together and to cooperate more closely, a functional Europe that will do those things that are best done together rather than separately, a “bottom-up” Europe that will develop as a result of, but not getting ahead of, a growing sense of European identity and the wishes of its peoples.

We need a Europe, in other words, that is not just a vehicle for advancing powerful interests, and riding roughshod over everyone else, but that understands that the Greek poor and unemployed are just as important, and just as essential, to Europe’s future, and that enabling them and millions like them to live a better life is both a united Europe’s true purpose and its only real chance of success.

Bryan Gould 

Related:

The Real Greek Crisis, – Bryan Gould

The Real Greek Crisis

By Bryan Gould

Most people will feel that they don’t need to look far for an explanation as to what lies behind the Greek crisis. Lazy reporting and racial stereotyping will persuade them that the Greeks – a feckless lot, no doubt – have spent more than they should, got into debt, taken out loans from the hard-working Germans and now won’t repay the loans because they refuse to tighten their belts.

But there is another narrative that tells a somewhat different story. That story is one of a powerful economy enforcing its will on its weaker neighbours and refusing to acknowledge that it has thereby made it impossible for them to dig themselves out of a hole.

The story begins at the turn of the century when the Greeks, along with many others, were persuaded that being part of Europe required them to give up their own currency and accept the euro. A single currency meant a single monetary policy and a single central bank – and guess who decided what that policy should be and what the central bank should do?

Germany, by far the most powerful economy in the euro zone, ran it to serve its own interests, but life wasn’t so easy for the weaker countries. The Greeks, for example, with their smaller and less developed economy, had no chance of surviving the competition from efficient German manufacturing. We do not need the benefits of hindsight to make this point, since many commentators, myself included, foresaw the inevitability of this outcome at the time.

As things began to go wrong, and they had to borrow to keep their heads above water, the Greeks were assured that they could look to the Germans and others to help them out. But this was in the days of cheap and plentiful credit; when the Global Financial Crisis struck and the cheap credit dried up, the creditors who had happily lent to the Greeks wanted their money back.

The Greeks didn’t have the money. But the price they had to pay for borrowing yet more from the IMF and the European Central Bank was to accept a programme of savage austerity. The cuts they have already been forced to make have meant that 25% of the Greek economy has simply closed down and 60% of young people are without a job. Again, as some commentators observed at the time, it was impossible to see how the Greeks could ever – from an already weak economy that is now so much smaller and still going backwards – find the resources needed to repay their debts.

And so it has proved. The price that creditors insist upon for a continued bail-out is yet more austerity which can only mean yet more closures and unemployment. Leaked papers show that the creditor institutions themselves recognise that more austerity will make it even less possible for the Greeks to pay back their debts.

So why are the Germans and other creditors determined to force the Greeks into such a damaging dead end? The answer is that they care little for the travails of the Greek people. Their focus is on those countries that are watching the Greek situation closely – countries like Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, even Italy, that have faced similar problems, and suffered similar penalties, but that have not yet been compelled by pressure from their populations to resist a further descent into even more austerity.

The fear from the financial establishment and from the Germans in particular is that the Greeks might find a way to demonstrate to other similarly afflicted countries in the euro zone that there is a way out – and that those other countries would then follow a similar course. The rational course for the Greeks to take, after all, would be to leave the euro zone, restore their own currency and then print the drachmas needed, as monetarily sovereign countries are able and entitled to do, and repay their debts in devalued drachmas.

The difficulty that Greek Prime Minister Tsipras faces is that he has committed to resist austerity but also to retain the euro. It is doubtful that he can achieve both. In the forthcoming referendum, no one can be sure whether the dislike of austerity or the fear of leaving the euro zone will prevail. The poor and the unemployed – those who have suffered most from austerity – will vote to reject the new bail-out offer; the holders of assets and the pensioners will vote to stay with the euro.

Either way, the outlook for the euro looks bleak. In the long run, the attempt by the financial establishment to over-ride the wishes and interests of ordinary people and to negate the power of a democratic government to protect them will fail. The only question is as to how many more crises there will be and how much more suffering has to be endured before common sense prevails.

Bryan Gould 

“I once contested the Labour party’s leadership myself. The answers to the dilemmas facing British politicians today seem to me to be more clear-cut than was the case in 1992. It is easier now, with a longer perspective on the orthodoxy that has prevailed for so long, to see what has gone wrong, and to see what is needed to put it right. What is needed now is to unlock the intellectual straitjacket in which Labour has been shackled for too long. Where is the leader to deliver that?” Since Bryan Gould wrote these words,  Jeremy Corbyn agreed to stand as leader, and there is hope for a change from the intellectual straitjacket Bryan speaks of.

Project Osborne

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Update: George Osborne’s response to the loss of the AAA rating from Moody, is that he is just going to keep on doing what he has been doing.. in spite of the flat-lining economy, the increasing deficit and a potential triple-dip recession.  All of which adds substance to the suggestion that Osborne has another agenda.

Since it seems that the Tribune magazine website is still not working, I have taken the liberty of posting Ian Aitken’s excellent piece from the latest edition. Tribune is always an excellent source of left-wing thinking and cannot be more highly recommended. www.tribunemagazine.co.uk

‘Led into the Darkness by Tory guiding light Osborne’

by Ian Aitken

One of the most extraordinary features of present-day British politics is just how few of its citizens appear to realize how awful – indeed, how evil – their present Government really is.  Amazingly, this almost wilful blindness seems to apply as much to Labour voters as to Tories and Liberal Democrats.

Yet it becomes increasingly obvious with every day that passes that the true aim of George Osborne – who remains the ideological guiding light of the Tory wing of the coalition Government – is the destruction of the entire post-war settlement which emerged from the achievements of the 1945 Labour Government. Osborne is hell-bent on dismantling the welfare state in its entirety, and he doesn’t seem to care what else he has to destroy to achieve his aim.

What makes it even more outrageous is that Clement Attlee and his colleagues had a massive parliamentary majority behind them when they took office, and therefore an unchallengeable popular mandate for what they intended to do.  David Cameron and company have no majority, and therefore no mandate.  They did not win the 2010 election, and such majority as the Government possesses relies on the votes of Lib Dem MPs, not one of whom ran on an Osborne programme when they were elected.

I have no doubt that Osborne knows full well that this will be a one-term Government, and that he will be a one-term Chancellor.  So he clearly intends to complete the job of wrecking the welfare state before the inevitable defeat in 2015.  And he probably calculates that, provided he wields the axe with sufficient brutality, it will be almost impossible for any succeeding government to put Humpty together again.

That, I believe, is why Osborne appears to be so indifferent to the catastrophic impact his policies are having on the British economy.  It is blindingly obvious that his programme of savage cuts in state spending is contributing to the depth of the crisis, and even threatens to plunge the economy into a triple-dip recession.  Now even the International Monetary Fund is telling him to ease up on the austerity.  Yet he pays no attention whatever.

I am convinced that this is because, in his eyes, the spending cuts aren’t just instruments of a failed economic policy but a positive good in themselves.  They aren’t unfortunate measures forced on him by the need to cut the deficit (as he constantly tells us), but a specific means to creating a free market, stand-on-your-own-two-feet, devil-take-the-hindmost society of a kind that we have not seen in this country since the early years of Queen Victoria.

Margaret Thatcher began this process by deliberately creating the unemployment which enabled her to destroy the power of the trade unions.  Thanks to her, Osborne has been able to do his even more destructive work without having to worry about militant action by organized labour.  The pity of it is that he has hardly had to worry about the militancy of the labour movement as a whole – including, I fear, the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Can Osborne pull it off in the time left to him?  As things stand, he probably can.  But if the rag-tag army of the opposition parties – including not only the Greens but also a large swathe of the Lib Dems – can get themselves organized and into action, it is possible to slow the process so radically that Project Osborn could be derailed.  I can think of  nothing that matters more right now – certainly not horsemeat in burgers or (say) gay marriage.

So what is holding us back?  I fear that a major factor is the mood of cynicism which has engulfed the voting public ever since the scandal of MPs’ expenses.  Strangely, the ‘they’re all in it for themselves” culture that now holds sway on the doorstep has become the active ally of Project Osborne.  Too few people believe politicians who express the kind of innocently idealistic aims that formed the basis of Attlee’s great victory in 1945.

But this may be Ed Miliband’s opportunity.  Perhaps his lack of charisma could prove a positive advantage, just as it did for Attlee.  No one could accuse Clem of being in it for himself.  Nor, I think, could they accuse Ed.

22 February 2013 Tribune p5