20 June 2016

I have left the Labour Party - a few words

I left the Labour Party this morning. I won’t go on for ages about why because I don’t want this blog to be about me, but I will say a few words.

Firstly, people who have read some of my witterings on here will be aware that I’ve always been critical of the Labour Party, quite stridently in some cases. I think Labour has deep institutional and cultural problems, albeit I think these are really issues of the liberal-left ‘tribe’ and the systems of identity group favouritism it has spread into much of our public life rather than just about Labour. Labour simply provides a focus and a centre for them.
My 2015 leadership election ballot paper

Nevertheless, in looking at all this as I’ve done here, and on LabourList while I was allowed to write there, I’ve seen myself as a critical friend – as someone who is basically on the same side and wants us to change and become more responsive to all the people rather than just minister to certain groups and our own – mostly middle-class, liberal - priorities.

But as time has gone on I’ve grasped how embedded these practices are in the way we act, talk and organise ourselves. Identity group favouritism – by race (non-white), nationality (non-English especially but non-British to an extent), gender (female) and sexuality (non-heterosexual) provides the core focus and the core identity of the liberal-left now. Protecting and promoting these groups is what we are most passionate about and what excites us most, hence around 80% of Labour members describing themselves as ‘pro-immigration’ while around the same proportion of the population wants immigration reduced.

When you say you think immigration should be reduced or that the systems of favouritism are damaging and unfair, the nicer among these predominantly nice and decent people go silent. To say so is heresy, to breach an article of faith, to slaughter a sacred cow. But some of them – including some otherwise nice and decent people that you might have been chatting happily to a minute ago – get angry and start accusing you of being anti-immigrant, racist, an ally of Nigel Farage and of the far right and fascists.

On social media of course, and Twitter in particular, this is a lot more pronounced. It has been a major feature of the EU referendum campaign – and as someone who came out in favour of Leave, the barrage of abuse but mostly insinuation and innuendo has been quite tough to bear, not least when much of it is coming from fellow Labour members and promoted by senior politicians (although not Jeremy Corbyn, notably). To vote for leaving the EU is to be ignorant, uneducated, racist, intolerant, anti-immigrant, anti-European, choosing the past over the future, supporting the far right and even supporting the murder of Jo Cox MP - so we are told. Seeing so many Labour people leading this chorus has tipped me over the edge, albeit I was already at the edge.

I think the chorus is so strong and loud partly because it unites the different parts of the wider left family. Ideologies of identity group favouritism (which, it is worth saying, have decent origins and good intentions attached) unite the left with most of the centre-left, including the Blairite tendency. Without the politics of identity and support for mass immigration, these different factions would have little in common. So they delight in the chance to howl together.

Not just institutionally but culturally, the Labour Party is bound together with the politics of identity. It is what we do and therefore who we are. I say ‘we’, but for me of course it should now be a ‘they’. Old habits and old tribal loyalties die hard, even if you disagree with the party line as much as I do...

Anyway, I don’t see any of this changing. In fact I think it’s almost impossible for it to change because identity politics is such an integral part of Labour’s institutional fabric now. Once you integrate yourself into ideological and institutional systems, you are stuck there. For Labour to wrench itself out of this situation would take a mighty big and painful effort which would outrage and offend its core activist base no end. I see no sign that anyone with any power in the party has any appetite for even thinking about doing that, let alone trying – and I don’t blame them. So I’m out.

I will leave you with a terrific little clip from The Wire, of a security guard confronting a teenage drug kingpin who has just shoplifted a few lollipops from the store he is working in. The gang leader says to him: “You want it to be one way. You want it to be one way. You want it to be one way ... But it’s the other way.”

18 June 2016

René Cuperus on 'the populist revolt against cosmopolitanism'

In 2011, the Dutch writer René Cuperus wrote a chapter on 'the populist revolt against cosmopolitanism' for a Policy Network pamphlet ‘Exploring the cultural challenges to social democracy’. I think most readers will agree that the class divide he identifies appears starkly for us now with our EU referendum just a few days away*.

Cuperus says:

“One could argue, and thinkers like Manuel Castells made this point long before, that globalisation implies two contradicting things at the same time:

1. The world grows more together, becomes more ‘familiar’, interdependent, connected, better-known, better reported and visited and travelled, because of revolutionary changes in transportation, media (the world wide web) and the economy. The world is becoming flat.

2. But, ‘at home’, within nation states, globalisation implies that through global migration or by mergers and acquisitions, national societies become more global, more diverse, more ‘strange’, more fragmented and heterogeneous.

So we see a dialectics of more ‘familiarity’ and more ‘strangeness’ at the same time, caused by the same factors. And if we relate this simply defined dialectics of globalisation to the populist revolt analysed above, we can observe that globalisation in the first meaning, that of more familiarity, is predominantly an experience for those people who are internationally connected, who act on a transnational or global level, i.e. the international business, academic, political (including NGOs) and cultural elites.

The impact of globalisation at the nation state level, however, is predominantly directed towards low-skilled and semi-skilled workers, who are the first to experience job and wage competition as a result of labour migration – towards people living in worn out inner city or banlieue-neighbourhoods where non-expat migrants settle first, and so on. To put it in one badly formulated English phrase: “The world is becoming flat, but national democracies and welfare states are becoming less flat.”

The impact of a globalised world in flux has, in other words, a strong pro-elite bias....

...The ideology of global, cosmopolitan citizenship threatens to downgrade those who cannot connect internationally. So, cosmopolitanism, as a matter of fact, produces second-class citizens. This puts democracy at stake in the long run. Society is threatening to split into globalisation winners versus losers of globalisation among countries and within countries, a fault line running right through the European and American middle class society.

In the context of the contemporary globalisation process, cosmopolitism threatens to become the neoliberal and cultural ideology of international business and expatriate interests, instead of the philosophy of cultural universalism, the global open mind, of, say, Erasmus or Stefan Zweig. Instead of paying homage to cultural openness and curiosity, it tends to become the accompanying song of cultural standardisation and commercialisation. Philosophical cosmopolitism threatens to become replaced by the pseudo-cosmopolitism of the world market and the world consumer.”

* (For an example of this, check out John Harris' excellent article for the Guardian on how 'Britain is in the midst of a working class revolt')