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Power Failure

November 23, 2019 - 08:02 -- Admin

The current Labour Party has a weak instinct for power. This undermines its chances, but it reflects some rare and important traits.

By George
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th November 2019

Try to
imagine Jeremy Corbyn in Tony Blair’s post-political role: flying around the
world, enriching himself by striking deals with tyrants and oil companies. Try to
picture John McDonnell setting up, like Blair’s righthand man Peter Mandelson,
a consultancy that gives reputational advice to controversial corporations. Try to picture Rebecca Long-Bailey being
caught in a sting, like three of Blair’s former ministers, who offered undercover journalists political
influence in exchange for cash.

I find
these scenarios impossible to imagine. Whatever you might think of Labour’s
frontbenchers, you could surely no more picture them behaving this way than you
could picture Boris Johnson abandoning his career to become a hospital cleaner.

The first
test of politics is this: are they in it for themselves, or for us? I don’t
mean to suggest that Blair and his frontbenchers were entirely selfish, but
self-interest and the national interest became too easily entangled. Among the
Conservatives there is no confusion: self-interest is the political doctrine.
Unlike either group, Corbyn’s team passes.

This
carries a high political cost. The game you are supposed to play in British
politics is feathering your nest by feathering the nests of others. Those who
refuse to play are denounced in the billionaire press as unfit for government.

I’ve never
been a member of any political party, and have no party loyalties. I know the
Labour Party is imperfect. But what I see is a group of people genuinely
seeking to solve our massive problems – environmental, political, economic,
medical and social – rather than appeasing press barons and queueing at the
notorious revolving door between politics and money-making.

My
experience, as an author of the Land for
the Many
report
that Labour commissioned, has been of a party boldly seeking new ideas
for improving national life, and being prepared to weather a storm of lies for having the temerity to mention them. We
are likely to see a lot more of this when it publishes its manifesto on
Thursday.

Of course
the first test is not the only test. Another is the ability to lead, and here
Labour often fails. First, some context. Several hundred Labour members, out of 485,000, have been accused of anti-Semitism. That is several hundred too many: every
instance is an outrage. However, as a fraction of 1%, it’s a far cry from
public perceptions of the issue. According to a new book about the media’s
treatment of the Labour Party, Bad News for Labour, the average estimate by people surveyed in
the UK is that 34% of Labour members have succumbed to this evil.
Anti-Semitism’s extent in the Labour Party has been exaggerated, across the
media.

Part of
the problem is that Corbyn has failed to get a grip on his party and respond
with the decision and speed this deadly bigotry demands. Instead, senior
figures sometimes appear to have done the opposite, obstructing the swift and uncompromising
resolution of complaints. This is completely unacceptable. But it does not
amount, as some have claimed, to a party riddled with anti-Semitism.

Corbyn’s
dithering on this issue reflects a general diffidence about asserting power. It
could be seen as the flipside of his lack of self-interest. Blair might be
egocentric, but one result was that he immediately stamped out any tendency he
believed would threaten his chances of election.

By
contrast, Corbyn wasted precious months failing to articulate a clear position
on Brexit. He repeatedly ignored or missed the open goals the government
offered. He allowed infighting to dominate when the party’s energies should
have been concentrated on the Conservatives. No one could definitively solve
the conflicts within the Labour Party, but a firmer leader could have prevented
them from spiralling into open warfare.

Yes, drift
in politics is a sin. But compare it to the alternative. Last week, I wrote about the government’s proposal to criminalise the
lives of Romani Gypsies and Travellers, among the most persecuted minorities in
European history. It was so determined to beat them up in public that it broke its own rules: “consultation exercises should not generally
be launched during local or national election periods”. This is what
institutional racism looks like.

Of course,
it does not cancel or excuse Labour’s failure decisively to crush anti-Semitism.
Yet, by contrast to the justified outrage about Labour’s weakness on this
issue, my article, a week after the consultation was published, was the first in the national press to
criticise the government’s extraordinary assault on threatened minorities.
There has been almost no take-up since.

A survey by YouGov for Hope Not Hate discovered that 54% of Conservative party
members believe Islam is “generally a threat to the British way of life”.
Islamophobia is a genuine majority sentiment within the party, whose leader has
repeatedly made racist and Islamophobic statements. This
week, I searched Google for mentions of Labour anti-Semitism by the
BBC, and found 7810 returns. But a search for BBC mentions of Conservative Islamophobia delivered only 1420 results.

Labour has
an urgent desire for a better world, coupled with such a weak instinct for
power or even self-preservation that you can’t help wondering how much of its
programme it can deliver. The Conservatives are entirely focused on wealth and
power, and the protection of those who wield them. On one side, there is a
ferment of new ideas. On the other, the dreary old agenda of stripping away
public protections and promoting private business at the expense of public
interests.

We have a choice of self-denying dither or determined cruelty. Neither set of traits will deliver an ideal government. But I know which one I favour.

www.monbiot.com