Sunday, 28 August 2016

Corbyn or Smith? The Labour Leadership Contest so far

The Labour leadership contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith seems to be heating up. It seems to many people, that the result will be a forgone conclusion: The re-election of Corbyn as the leader of the party. However, with the constant string of anti Corbyn reports in the mainstream media, and select members of the Labour party being banned from voting for trivial reasons (In one case, someone was even banned for saying that they love the Foo Fighters!) the right of the Labour Party seem absolutely determined to oust their leader. Should they be successful, we can expect a return to Tory light economic policy, with the casual bit of leftist rhetoric thrown in, as not to dissuade the corbynistas too much. Should the attempt to get rid of Corbyn fail, I think we can expect a potential split in the party and greater support among the vast majority of Labour party members for Corbyn and his progressive agenda.  Now that we have seen two sets of policy pledges and multiple Labour leadership debates, we can begin to compare the candidates, and analyse how the leadership debate has unfolded as a whole. Although Owen Smith likes to pay lip service to Corbyn’s supporters by pilfering his policies, there are a number of clear ideological dividing lines related to the candidates.

State Management or economic Change?

Although it may not seem like it from hearing them speak, Corbyn and smith have two very different economic agendas. Smith focuses on softening the worst blows of neoliberalism, using gentle reforms and public spending. Corbyn urges criticising the economic system, which allows austerity and neoliberalism to flourish. The difference is crucial.
If you trust Owen Smith, you may be lead to believe that he supports a centre left programme of state sponsored redistribution and an end to the governments underfunding of public services. What this means from a Libertarian Socialist point of view, is that Smith favours the expansion of the welfare state with increased taxes and bigger public spending. He promises increased funding for services like the NHS and the Fire service, an institution whose union currently supports Jeremy Corbyn. Slogans such as ‘Anti austerity’ and even ‘Socialism’ litter Smith’s campaign posters. Although Smith does not support Corbyn’s plan for unilateral military disarmament, he is very vocal about his former membership of the Campaign for nuclear disarmament (CND). On the issue of Brexit, Smith is proposing a second referendum, despite the fact that both Labour leadership candidates are disappointed about the referendum result. On the surface, to Labour Party members, Smith’s programme should be slightly refreshing. It is testament to how far Jeremy Corbyn has shifted the political debate, that the ‘anyone but Corbyn’ candidate has left wing policies. The problem is that these proposals leave out a criticism of Blairism, instead behaving like Labour have always been a progressive party, and like the last 20 years never happened. 
In contrast to Smiths policies, Corbyn’s proposals begin with the recognition that Labour have in fact been pursuing a right wing economic programme, and that their failure to offer a credible alternative is what lost Labour the 2010 and 2015 general election. There is no ignoring this reality. Our industrial base has been destroyed and essential public services such as the NHS and our school system, have been torn up and sold to the highest bidder. The problem is not that our public services have been underfunded by the Tory’s, but that the whole economy has been casino rigged against us, and that both main parties have been complacent in this. As such, the Corbyn offer is for a restructured economy. This means the creation of the first proper industrial strategy in 40 years, designed to deliver £500bn of infrastructure and jobs to the communities that have suffered the most as a result of Thatcherism and Blairism. Rather than introducing reforms and hoping people will forget about the past 20 years, this approach begins to challenge the ideology that the market knows best. This is not to say that Corbyn should be the be all and end all to challenging capitalism. As I have explained before, in leaving the essential structures of capitalism in place, social democracy ultimately ends up recapitulating to anti progressive policy, by caving in to corporate demands or bribes. If however you see the neoliberal unbridled capitalism of the past 20 years as a massive failure, then you would be better with Jeremy Corbyn than Owen Smith.

 Manegerialism or Participatory Democracy?

In the candidate’s summation at the first leadership debate, Smith focused specifically on his personal qualities. The main reason for this is probably to show himself off to be more electable than Corbyn. Contrast this with Jeremy’s summation speech where, among other things, he focused on what ‘we’ as a movement can achieve. These speeches reflect two very different approaches to leading the labour party and fighting an election.
The first approach is a long standing tradition within the Labour Party, emphasising what the relationship is between the Parliamentary Labour party (PLP) and Labour Party members. Under Tony Blair, the PLP asserted its supremacy, making itself answerable only to the Leader. Ironically, the Labour MP’s who abide by Blairite principles seem extremely unwilling to abide by this rule with regard to their current leader. Regardless, under Corbyn, this tradition has begun to slip. Although Owen Smith pays lip service to giving greater power to the membership, he emphasises his personal ability to command support from Labour MP’s and to sell his visions to the voting public. This model casts the electorate and the Party members as political consumers and spectators, who watch politics played out in the media, and every few years get the chance to vote for their favourite characters. The reason for this is that, as a result of Corbyn’s election as leader of Labour, the PLP are terrified at the influx of new Labour Party members having a say. It is for this reason that they have resorted to anti-democratic tactics like election rigging and abuse. They can see that Corbyn is steering the party in a more democratic direction, away from the Labour MPs, parliamentary donors and political insiders like them. Tom Watson gave the game away a few weeks ago when he labelled Corbyn supporters ‘Trotskyist infiltrators’, and described the democratisation of the party under Ed Milliband as a ‘terrible error of judgement’. If Owen Smith wins, he would be under enormous pressure from Tom Watson and the rest of the PLP to scrap the one member one vote electoral system, so that ordinary people never get the chance to threaten the Labour managerial class ever again.
The second approach is one that is much newer to the Labour Party. This is the networked social movements that arose as part of the anti-globalisation struggles of the 1990s, and have since grown exponentially thanks to the rise of social media and the greater availability of smartphones. Unlike political parties or campaigning organisations, decision making is fluid and taken by a crowd rather than a small group of people. These movements are rightly suspicious of electoralism, but 2015 leadership election saw them collide with the Labour Party. As a result, this movement currently takes the form of Momentum – a pro Corbyn campaign group. The Corbyn campaign recognises the power of political organising and seeks to utilise and expand it. We have seen some example of this in the past ten months, with initiatives like peoples PPE and The World Transformed, on the horizon. However, the biggest change will come when Labour moves from letting its membership vote, to encouraging political participation and Democracy in areas where there is none. Corbyn’s economic policy of a £500bn investment programme is rationally coupled with a political commitment to expand democracy. The idea behind this is that communities that have been devastated by neoliberalism will not only be flooded with jobs and opportunities, but they will be put in the driving seat and empowered to decide on their local priorities.

Convince the Party or Convince the Country?  

Corbyn’s opponents argue that he is preaching to the converted, whereas Smith has wider appeal to the electorate. In fact, their approaches to the leadership contest so far suggest the complete opposite. For instance, when Smith announced his plan to rename the department of work and pensions to the Ministry for Labour, he described the need for a ‘cold eyed socialist revolution’. This is a not too subtle appeal to the Trotskyist membership that only exists in the Labour rights imagination. It is not a pitch to swing voters.
More concerning is Smiths attitude towards the EU referendum. Knowing that most Labour Party members, including Corbyn’s core base of support, were remain voters, he has threatened to overturn the referendum result. This is extremely dangerous. The Brexit vote was driven in part by hostility towards what was seen as the establishment. This is not to suggest for a moment that vote Leave or UKIP, are in any way anti-establishment, but simply that this was the message that these campaigns put across. The worst possible response to this, is to say that the democratic participation of Leave voters should be binned. This would result in Labour giving half of its northern seats to UKIP, and writing a fat check to other far right organisations. This does not matter to Smith however. He would rather attack Corbyn for not putting up a big enough fight to stay in the EU, so he can position himself as the pro EU candidate.
By contrast, Corbyn’s proposals are the beginning of a manifesto for the 2020 general election. He appeals to the young, who have been saddled with tonnes of student debt and the working class, who have been impoverished by Tory Austerity. Appealing to these people is Labours best route to power, but the party can only use this as their battleground if it is secure on its home turf. Under Corbyn, Labour have consolidated a base, so it is possible for him to speak beyond that. However, Smith still needs to consolidate his core support. He currently has a handful of people who still believe in Blairism and a larger cohort of the soft left who like Corbyn’s politics, but see him as unelectable. Smith needs to expand this dramatically in order to win the leadership election, but doing so requires the creation of a precarious coalition between these groups. A coalition which is totally unprepared to fight a general election.


Owen Smiths policies are a radical departure from Blairite orthodoxy, but his strategy and ideology is certainly not. His position on the economy is that it requires reform, not overhaul. He sees politics as theatre and the Labour Party in need of better marketing. Corbyn on the other hand, is able to offer a coherent vision that builds on his already consolidated base and looks ahead. He treats the newly expanded membership as something to be treasured, not overcome. This means that he can begin to craft an approach that can win a general election. Last year’s Labour leadership election marked the death of Blairite policy. Let’s hope this one will mark the death of Blairite strategy.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Movements and Revolutions #4 - John Carlos' Olympic Protest

Today, iconic Olympic moments seem commonplace. Everyone has seen the grand slogans and gestures from gold winning Olympic athletes, aimed at cementing their place in history. From Muhammad Ali’s famous declaration of ‘I am the greatest’ to Usain Bolt’s often imitated pointing signal, some of these iconic moments are certainly more meaningful than others. The religious definition of the word Iconic, defines it as an image that contains a power beyond itself. One icon no one can forget therefore, is the famous image of black Athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, stood on the award podium with raised fists. However, the athletes did not do this just so they could be remembered or so they could get a spot on the evening news. Rather, their gesture was the result of several years of anti-racist organising. Indeed, given the oppression of indigenous populations and the clear dominance of corporate money at today’s Olympics, be they in Brazil or London, many athletes and sports goers would do well to remember the history of activism in sport. Despite this, even the image of Carlos and Smith has been Co-opted by the establishment, in order to be used as a symbol to promote Competition and consumerism. As such, if we are to rescue this image from the jaws of corporate ‘iconography’, it is important that we recognise its true meaning.

From Protest to Podium

In his book, the John Carlos story, Carlos explains how, in early 1968 he joined a handful of other elite African American athletes in his newly formed Olympic project for Human Rights (OPHR). The aim of the project was to launch a boycott of the 1968 Mexico Olympics, by African Americans, in order to bring the issue of the continuing oppression of Black Americans, to the forefront. Like all good movements the OPHR had demands. These were the hiring of black coaches (a crucial issue for Black Americans whose daily lives were managed by old white coaches, with disgusting racist assumptions), the restoration to Muhammad Ali of the heavyweight title which had been stripped from him because of his refusal to take part in the Vietnam war, the exclusion of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympic movement, and the removal of Avery Brundage – a long time white supremacist who helped Hitler secure the 1936 Olympics – as head of the International Olympic committee. 
In spite of their brave efforts, the OPHR activists were unable to persuade many of their fellow competitors to sign up for the boycott; for most of them the games represented a once in a lifetime opportunity. In the end, Carlos and Smith decided that they themselves would take part. Luckily however, as a result of that decision, the OPHR activists found themselves in the position to stage a protest at the Olympics. In the 200 metre final, Smith won the Gold in Record time, with the Australian Peter Norman in second, just ahead of Carlos. This gave Smith and Carlos the opportunity to stage their protest before a global audience. As the US National anthem played and the flag fluttered overhead, the two African American athletes raised clenched fists and bowed their heads, while peter Norman supportively wore the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. The accompanying symbolism included black gloves for black unity and strength, bead necklaces to remind people of the lynch mobs, no shoes and black socks as a symbol for African American poverty. While we barely notice these symbols today, despite the image of the protest being an iconographic one, their message was unmistakable. Here were African Americans who refused to let their success bolster America’s image, to imply that black people in America enjoyed the same freedoms of everyone else. They realized that this image was a sham, a cover up, and at the same time they showed solidarity against it.

The Context of 1968

On the eve of the 1968 Olympics, a wave of protest had rolled through America and Europe and into Mexico City. It was then that the military fired on protesters killing hundreds of students. In making their stand, Smith and Carlos were able to blur the lines between sport and politics, making people realise, as Muhammad Ali had done before them, that the two are explicitly linked. They were only able to do this however, because of the swelling current of Global activism. They knew that millions would stand in solidarity with them.
Many historians today like to lament that the 1960s developed into a wave of violent black activism, and point to the early 60s as a time when the civil rights movement and protest in general, abided by rules of innocence and nonviolence. The problem with these sorts of mainstream narratives however, is that they fail to recognise that the shift to black power politics occurred because of the frustrations and failures of the early phase of the civil rights movement, out of which arose a need for a deeper, more systemic analysis of racism and how it is connected to American society, as well as more effective forms of action. Mainstream narratives also neglect the achievement of the black power movement in allowing black performers, such as Smith and Carlos, to be self-reliant and contribute to culture. The protest at the 1968 Olympics perfectly demonstrates this. It was an example of a black nationalism that saw problems of racism and discrimination, as explicitly connected to capitalism and statism. It is a tradition which, despite the achievements of black power and the civil rights movement, is one that needs to be remembered today.

What Carlos Sacrificed

As a result of their action, Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympic village and returned home to find themselves vilified. They were denounced as ‘Black Storm Troopers’ who had disrespected their country and shown a shocking display of ingratitude for all America had done for them. For years on end, the award winning athletes were treated as Pariahs by the political and athletics establishment. There were no sponsorships, no coaching or media jobs for these world record beaters. To feed his family, Carlos was forced to take a job as a gardener in a grocery store and an aluminium factory. As the black power movement which had inspired him and his Olympic competitor disintegrated, Carlos and his family were isolated. His marriage broke down and in 1977 after years of financial distress and ongoing depression, the same wife who had supported Carlos in 1968, took her own life. After much struggle, Carlos found a rewarding life as a school guidance councillor, though it was not until a few year ago that he and Smith earned the recognition that they were due. Carlos makes clear in his book that the fight against racism is by no means over, and that it is the responsibility of future generations to fight against it as he did.


Since Carlos’ day, the Olympics, like so many other aspects of life, has been turned into a capitalist spectacle. At Rio 2016, the podium will serve as nothing more than a symbol of individual competition and national identity. The removal of indigenous people from public view has become just as much of a tradition as the Olympic torch. Along with that has come the suppression of protest that might interfere with Olympics, and the aggressive safeguarding of private and intellectual property rights. We are told to ignore the aching contrast between public austerity and Olympic extravagance. Despite the attempted suppression of dissenting voices however, the inequalities are hard not to notice, and one way or another they are bound to collapse.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Why are Brexiters so Angry?

On June 23rd 2016, the British Public voted for the UK to leave the EU. This was in spite of the fact that the official Leave campaign was unable to produce anything even remotely resembling a coherent post Brexit settlement plan. It was not as if experts and political commentators did not try and explain what the consequences of Brexit would be. We pointed out that a Leave vote would almost certainly result in economic chaos, and empower the far right to set about restructuring our political system. However, the result of the referendum seemed like a woeful attempt by the public to stick two fingers up to the status quo. As such, after a period of celebration following the Leave vote, the witch hunting against Remain Campaigners began. Within days, the right wing tabloids had set the narrative that anyone complaining about the result of the referendum was either a ‘cry baby’ or a ‘sore loser’, ironically contradicting the mantra of free speech which leave campaigners harped on and on about during the debate. This desire to shout down and silence discussion of the actual consequences of Brexit is extremely difficult to empathize with, but easy to understand. Many Brexiters do not want to think about the consequences of their actions because they would rather continue living in their post Brexit fantasy land, where the referendum result was a wonderful victory for good and against the establishment, with no questionable or negative consequences at all. By their logic, anyone who tries to pull them out of this fantasy land by asking inconvenient questions is a dangerous heretic, who needs to be silenced. This blog post will look at some of the actual consequences of Brexit and why refusal to address them is not only ignorant, but very dangerous.


One of the most commonly used objections to any sort of scrutiny towards the Brexit result is that it is anti-democratic to criticise referendum results that you disagree with. The irony here is that the referendum only came about because anti EU protesters spent 40 years questioning the overwhelming public support for European Integration, at the last referendum. Surely the whole point of democracy is to be able to criticise ideas that you disagree with. Going by Brexit logic, should we just ban any future elections and referendums? It is absolutely clear from this attitude, that many Brexiters are using furious outbursts of rage to shut down legitimate discourse, and that they are the ones with illiberal attitudes.
Any Brexit voters confused about what counts as democratic and non-democratic should consider looking to David Cameron’s cronyism following the result. In what might be the biggest misuse of the honours system since Harold Wilsons 1976 ‘Lavender List’, David Cameron gave 62 honours to his mates. Aside from showering knighthoods on his Tory cronies (Including Samantha Cameron’s stylist and stylist and Georg Osbornes image consultant), Cameron also appointed yet another Thirteen Tory’s into the unelected House of Lords. These include the massive Tory donors Jitesh Gadhia and Andrew Frasier, who can be added to the staggering number of millionaire Tory Party bankrollers to have been handed peerage by David Cameron. He wanted to stuff two more Tory donors in there to, but Michael Spencer was rejected by the Scrutiny Committee and Remain campaign bankroller Ian Taylor rejected the peerage because he didn’t like the negative publicity. Thanks to David Cameron’s six years of cronyism the House of Lords is now the second biggest legislative chamber in the world, second only to the Chinese parliament. It is by far the biggest unelected chamber, and as such is an affront to democracy. An awful lot of Brexit voters seem immune to the irony that their vote to quit the EU is going to hand even more power to this unelected £300 per day plus expenses, political cronies club.
 Numerous political figures have complained against this brazenly anti-democratic move but it is unlikely anything will be done about it. Instead of attacking Cameron the Labour Party are too busy trying to get rid of their democratically elected leader. Similarly, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party pretend to oppose the anti-democratic House of Lords, but when offered peerages, they don’t turn them down. Furthermore, Cameron’s replacement as Prime Minister Theresa May, outright refused to intervene to stop David Cameron’s display of political cronyism. After all, she was appointed leader of the Conservatives without a hint of democracy. The 150,000 Conservative Party members should have been given a vote on their next leader, but the other candidate, Andrea Leadsom, was leaned on to withdraw from the contest so that May could be the next Prime Minister, without anyone else having a say. What this should show to Brexiters is that, while there were certainly anti-democratic elements in the Remain camp, this by no means excludes the referendum result from criticism.

Anti-Working Class

Another line I keep hearing get repeated from Brexit voters is that Remain voters are anti-working class. Ignoring the very obvious fact that a lot of Remain voters came from a working class background, these attempts to crudely define Brexit as some kind of class war between the working class and the middle class is ridiculously divisive, especially as Brexit is an issue which split families, political parties, friendship groups etc. into bickering rival factions.
Most of this pro working class rhetoric comes from the rise of UKIP, who portray themselves as an alternative to the corrupt political establishment. This is despite the fact that UKIP is a Thatcherite political party, bankrolled by former Tory Party donors and stuffed full of disgraced Tory politicians. The purpose of UKIP is solely to soak up the discontent at the appalling consequences of right wing economic dogma and channel it into a political party that serves to drag the political spectrum even further to the right. One of the main reasons people fall for this, is that they are conditioned into believing right wing tropes by a mainstream media that constantly frames the political debate in terms of hard right economics and immigrant bashing being common sense, and anything to the left of that as ‘unrealistic’ or ‘fanatical’. The problem for Brexiters now, is that they no longer have the excuse of supporting UKIP to get the UK out of the EU. Those working class people that still support them need to admit to themselves that they are supporting a hard right political party, that endorse those same politics which got the country into a mess, in the first place.
If Brexit was really a victory for the working class against the establishment, then I urge someone to explain to me the economic effects of the referendum result. After the vote, the UK economy took a huge and widely predicted hit, forcing the Bank of England to revise their growth figures for 2017 down to 0.8%! Their response to this self-inflicted turmoil, was to announce yet more Quantative Easing for Private Banks. This includes £60 billion in the same kind of QE as before and another £100 billion created out of nothing with an unclear stipulation that banks will lend it, plus an extra £10 billion to buy lots of corporate bonds. The Bank of England are well aware that last time Quantative Easing was tried very little of it went to investing in beneficial stuff like industry or infrastructure and that their interventions will not prevent some 250,000 job losses. Even their own report admitted that QE for bankers is a failed strategy. The best conclusion we can draw from this is that the Bank of England have the intention of further enriching the wealthy, all the while showing complete disregard for the working class and using Brexit as an excuse. Amazing what a good lie can achieve isn’t it.

Conspiracy Theories and Character Assassination

When all arguments based on logic and facts have failed, what do you do? Resort to personal attacks and smears of course. One of the most extraordinary examples of this came the Brexiter response to the informative talk by the legal expert Michael Dougan, on the consequences of Brexit. Despite the fact that his talk contained a firm denial that his research is funded by the EU, in order to diffuse the bizarre conspiracies that he had already been subjected to, angry leave voters still turned up in their droves in the comments sections, to smear him with claims that his primary motivations for not believing the Vote Leave lies and wanting to remain in the EU, must be because he is a paid EU shill. Everyone has seen examples of angry Brexiter’s slinging abuse at people for daring to express their opinions. The obvious problem with dismissing peoples arguments with accusations of them being a ‘sore  loser’ or a ‘cry baby’, is that it ignores  facts, evidence and analysis, not even trying to establish that the main target of their abuse is often an individual, and not a group. It is easy for me to laugh off this kind of abuse. I practically make a hobby out of taking the mick out of right wing trolls. However, it is easy to see how blatant threats and insults could intimidate other people that are a bit more sensitive than me, into keeping quiet.
 Something that is equally pathetic as a debating tactic is Conspiracy theories. During the referendum debate, Boris Johnson notoriously compared remain campaigners to Nazi scientists. Alongside Michael Gove’s appeals to anti-intellectualism, Johnsons comments has helped to foster a Brexiter mentality, whereby every expert is a paid disinformationist, hell bent on taking away their freedom of speech. Nigel Farage further fanned the flames by predicting that the vote was going to be rigged. A survey carried out shortly after he made these comments, found that 46% of the British public believed Farage’s conspiracy. It doesn’t matter that after the vote a lot of the widely predicted economic and political chaos came true, because like all good conspiracy theorists Brexiter’s had their own get out of jail free card, for every negative consequence. Indeed, the theory that any evidence of Brexit having negative consequences is further proof of a massive EU conspiracy, is just the kind of perfect solution to help ignorant people continue believing in their post Brexit fantasy land.


The Brexiter rage tactic to shut down legitimate political debate, is incredibly dangerous and misguided. These people hate the fact that other people do not think in the same way that they do. They hate the fact that Brexit has had some negative consequences, so they resort to insults, smears and conspiracy theories in order to discredit their opponents. They will use any tactic they can think of in order to dismiss opinions which silence or question their own.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

What Happened to Latin America's Pink Tide

Throughout the Late 1990s and Early 2000s, Lain Americas political system seemed to be changing course. Following anti-neoliberal protests, a number of Left leaning governments in countries such as Venezuela and Brazil rose to power. This new kind of politics, mixed with the growth of solidarity alliances and people’s councils, made many on the left excited for the future. As such, it was quickly labelled the ‘Pink Tide’. Indeed, perhaps the biggest victory for the Pink tide project against neoliberalism was the political mobilisations which led to the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in 2005. However, since then, the balance of power has shifted slowly back towards the right, with the popularity of left wing governments rapidly declining. The biggest defeats come in the two largest Pink Tide economies. The election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina represents the first time a government from Latin Americas progressive coalition has been defeated in a presidential election. Also, In Brazil, the opposition has been able to accomplish what it was not able to through democratic process, by launching a coup against President Dilma Roussef. There is no doubt that the US is attempting to take advantage of this crisis. In contrast to the 1970s and 1980s, its efforts to assert dominance in the region are not through Military coups, but through much more covert measures such as economic sabotage alongside propaganda campaigns. All this is paving the way for the right to defeat left wing governments in Latin America. Despite this, it is inefficient to look to imperialism to explain the crisis facing the American left. Previously, when opposition forces have attempted to overthrow left wing governments like the coup d’├ętat in Venezuela in 2002, popular support for these governments was sufficient to defend them. Contrast this with today, when governments cannot rely on support quite so heavily. As such, to understand the current crises the left must look at itself. The crises is a result of the limitations of the Pink Tide, which have increasingly undermined its radical goals.

Challenging Capitalism?

The Pink Tide, which consisted of the governments from Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and to a less radical extent Brazil and Argentina, first achieved electoral victory as a result of wide spread discontent about neoliberalism. In response to this, these governments softened the harshest blows dealt by neoliberalism. This included reversing privatisations, promoting growth based on production, wealth redistribution measures and expanding public services such as health care. There is no doubt that many of these programmes significantly benefited the poor and ordinary working people. In fact, these reforms led to ideas amongst the left, that Latin America was capable of building a block that would break with US economic policy. However, the reforms of progressive governments sought only to mitigate the effects of capitalism. They did little to challenge the more fundamental economic rules which define capitalism. In addition to this, there was no significant agrarian reform and major resources like mining, agro industry, finance and mass media remained in the hands of a small sector of elites, who continued to profit. As a result, Pink Tide governance was repeatedly undermined.
The defining aspect of the Pink Tide model was the neo developmenatalist model. This was an attempt to reduce dependence on foreign capital by promoting small business and forging alliances with the ‘national bourgeoisies’. However, subsides to business owners failed to promote investment in ways that could support the goals of national development, leaving these countries to depend more on raw material exports and natural resource extraction to fund social welfare programmes, preventing further progressive change. This model has been linked to a number of anti-progressive developments such as deforestation and soil pollution linked to the use of mining and soil erosion. In addition to this, peasants and indigenous people from rural communities have been displaced as a result of the policy. This has generated a new wave of resistance against extractive projects. What all this means is that, rather than transcending capitalism, Pink tide economies accommodated to it, deepening their dependence on global capital. Also, this reliance on resource extraction and exports have made governments in Latin America vulnerable to boom and bust cycles. Falling commodity prices as a result of declining growth in China, reduced demand for agro fuels and development of forms of substitute oil, have been devastating for pink tide economies, leading to reduced rates of growth, currency devaluations and declining resources. The region now faces its fourth year of economic decline. Meanwhile, very few alternative trade and industrialization goals have been achieved, making the economy even more stagnant.

The Limits of the Pink Tide

There is no doubt that, aside from it being environmentally destructive and acting as a contradiction to left wing politics, the extractivist model provided Pink Tide governments with the money necessary to implement significant welfare programmes. However, unaccompanied by a more radical project for transformation of the economy, the social programmes have only been a tempory solution. The systemic mechanisms which reproduce inequality are left intact.
Firstly, it needs to be pointed out that many social programmes in Latin America have been limited in effectiveness, due to the maintaining of the capitalist economic model. In Argentina, food emergency plans and soup kitchens were set up to provide life support to the most impoverished sections of the population during the economic crises. Despite this, they were unable to tackle the underlying causes of poverty in the long run. After the initial emergency these programmes were never replaced by efforts to organize alternative livelihoods for people beyond the narrow limits of individual consumption. Emptied of their revolutionary potential, social assistance programmes became mechanisms for co-opting social organisations. The Kirchners unemployment scheme was used as a tool to divide the Piquetero movement. ‘Loyal’ activists were rewarded with official positons, while those that were more critical were isolated. Similarly, In Brazil, the rise to power of the Workers Party (PT) resulted with the dissolution rather than the empowerment of left wing movements. The PT’s relationship with movements was primarily defined by the appointment of leaders from unions to public administrative positons. This meant that activists left the ranks of grassroots organising to become part of the elite, resulting in a loss of legitimacy. The left was disoriented and unable to form a coherent political stance.
Across the board, social programmes were not accompanied by new forms of education, mobilisation, unification and political formation. The role of the poor was to act as passive beneficiaries of social programmes, rather than as people who had been put in their financial position by an unfair socio economic system. They were by no means part of a project seeking to challenge neoliberalism. This is what thwarted the possibility of building towards post capitalist societies. What had once been seen as a new political horizon in Latin America, was limited to a tempory increase in consumption capacity for the working poor. The economic stagnation countries like Brazil are now facing has laid bare the contradictions in the Pink Tide project. Governments are no longer able to fulfil their role as both facilitators of higher profits for capital and benefactors for the poor. In the absence of a more radical programme to confront capitalism, governments have retreated to the right, implementing pro market reform. In Brazil, Rousseff cut back social programmes and appointed a liberal finance minister. In Ecuador, Correa increased public debts and exports, and awarded oil concessions to large corporations. Meanwhile, the market friendly policies of Pink Tide government’s created more and more confusion amongst their base of support.


As previously explained, the deliberate curtailing of grassroots activism mixed with a series of broken promises, created division within social movements. They were not able to establish relationship with governments that also allowed them to stick to their principles, whilst also being open to criticism and dialogue when protest arose.
The best example of this is the controversies in Bolivia and Ecuador. In the latter country, popular mobilizations reached a high pint in 2008 when the rights of nature were recognized in the ‘Living Well’ constitution: An alternative vision of development based on principles of helping ethnic groups and maintaining a sustainable environment. However, in practice these goals were always subordinated to the growth strategy, as demonstrated by Bolivia’s recent abandonment of the keep oil in the ground initiative, in favour of opening drilling operations Yasuni national Park. This has heightened tensions between the Correa government, which has become increasingly undemocratic, and popular forms of peasant, indigenous and environmentalist movements. Movements have organised marches and petitions against the governments expansion of agribusiness and mining, as well as the criminalisation of social protest. The government’s hostility towards these protests ended up providing an opening for the right, which took the opportunity to mobilize against higher taxes, with the ultimate aim of restoring the conservative government.
Similarly, in Bolivia the MAS’s appeal to ‘pluriculturalism’ emphasises the issue of identity and values for indigenous people, primarily through legal recognition. Despite this, it pays little attention to the material conflicts arising in these communities. While the Bolivian states brand of Capitalism is supposed to acknowledge the coexistence of diverse cultures within society, the experience of conflict over infrusture, would appear to reassert the dominance of capital. When the Highway proposal for the Isiboro Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) was pushed through despite widespread protest, the Bolivian government was accused of intimidating and criminalizing indigenous organisations. Much like in Ecuador, social movements have been weakened, suffering a loss in autonomy.


Governments too focussed on the economic agenda have lost their relationship with social movements. Mass protests against the PT in Brazil in 2013, started as left wing demands concerning public transport. The party’s complete disregard for this form of organisation however, opened the doors for the upper classes to seize the opportunity to mobilize discontent, which eventually became a major force behind the toppling of the government in 2016. Amongst all of this, it has become evident that the mobilizations which initially bought the Pink tide governments to power, have little continuity. This is partly because they lacked a long term project, but also because they were undermined by the agendas of their own governments. Even if activism has not disappeared completely, the forces on the left are a far cry from building an alternative hegemonic force. Rather, they were completely unprepared for the current economic crisis. While governments made alliances with the right and adopted pro market policies, popular forces lacked the ability to understand what was happening and mobilize for an alternative.  As such, movements criticising the government ended up promoting the cause of the right.
What these experiences make clear is that a project for societal transformation cannot be limited to greater redistribution of wealth, without also seriously confronting deeper power structures and building a radical base. It is not that greater access to Public services and goods is unimportant, but that their effectiveness does not fundamentally alter the reproduction of class and power inequalities. Nor do they necessarily encourage the mobilization necessary for a longer term political project. After all, it is not enough to defeat neoliberalism without also having a strategy towards building a post capitalist society.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Tom Watson's Red Scare

Earlier this week, the desperation to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour by the right wing faction of the party went from sheer political opportunism to outright Joseph McCarthy, ‘Red Scare’ style paranoia. This started with a Guardian interview where deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, alleged that trots have come back to the party’ going on to accuse them of ‘twisting young arms in the process’. He followed this utter show of scaremongering up by sending a dossier to the press, which claims to reveal the extent of the ‘infiltration’. This is hardly surprising. Like many of the attacks waged on Corbyn by the Blairites, this line has been used before, most effectively by the Tory’s. I hardly need to point out that it is obviously a completely dishonest line of argument. It should be clear to everyone, regardless of their political positions, that Corbyn and most of his supporters are obviously not Trotskyists. What gives Watsons allegations greater weight however, is not their substance but their implications. In conjuring the idea of a Trotskyist conspiracy behind the Corbyn movement, his aims are greater than misrepresenting the views of thousands of Labour supporters. Watson’s statement also feigns concern for the young, who have supposedly been deceived by Corbyn and his allies. If left unchallenged, Watsons McCarthyism will pave the way for greater attacks on party democracy and for greater policing of political opinion.

 How valid are Watson's Trotskyism Allegations?

It is obvious that there have long been some Trotskyists in the Labour Party and outside Trotskyist organisations have always made pronouncements about internal Labour matters. Given this, some will have joined the party since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader. As the dominant opposition to the Conservatives in the UK, there are plenty of reasons for the far left to relate to Labour. So far, Watson’s argument bears a little bit of substance.
So how significant is this? To get a sense of this, we need to consider the numbers involved. Reliable estimates would put the total active membership of the two largest Trotskyist Party’s in the UK, The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party, at a little over three thousand combined. Smaller organisations count their members in hundreds or dozens. In total, British Trotskyist organisations have somewhere between five and ten thousand members. By contrast, under Corbyns leadership, the Labour Party has increased its rolls from two hundred thousand at the end of Ed Milibands leadership, to about six hundred thousand today. Even if we charitably accept that one thousand Trotskyists have escaped the clutches of the compliance unit and joined (even though this guess is far too high anyway), that would mean that 0.25 percent of new members were hard left entryists. Of course, Watson does not care about analysing the actual facts, when he and his friends in the Parliamentary Labour Party, can simply spin a false propaganda narrative, about the nasty ‘Reds’ infiltrating the Party.

Who Are the Labour Party ‘Infiltrators’?

What about Watsons other allegations that the Trotskyists in the Labour Party are ‘twisting young arms’ and leading them astray. Aside from this being a completely fallacious appeal to emotion, in his dossier, Watson provides no evidence whatsoever of Trotskyists in positions of influence in the Labour Party. Instead, he focuses solely on people attending local meetings, Phonebanking, and organising in affiliated trade unions. These king of activities do not even come close to the kind of ‘arm twisting’ that Watson implies. Indeed, the closest Watson actually gets to providing us with any kind of analysis that backs up his point, is his mention of pro Corbyn campaign group Momentum. So who are the dangerous infiltrators leading this campaign? Its chair John Lansman is certainly an experienced organised, but he is not a Trotskyist. Rather, he is currently recovering from a lambasting in the press for having previously supported more right wing political parties. This is far from the only inaccuracy in Watsons claims. For example, one of the five points in his dossier refers to an alleged SWP ‘training course to infiltrate Labour’. However, if you actually read the document from the SWP, it makes clear that they ‘are not members of the Labour Party’ and that they consider membership of Labour to be at odds with Socialist ideals.
This kind of error is hardly surprising, considering that the labour right have described Corbyn as both an Anarchist and a Marxist in recent weeks. I would not be surprised if the Conservatives have a better grasp on left wing political philosophy! However when you dig a little deeper into Watsons sources, it becomes clear why he gets so much wrong. At the end of his dossier he claims to quote a book from Michael Crick about a manual from Militant Tendency. Except that is not what he quotes at all. The quote he uses comes from a review of that book by the Blairite pressure group Progress. Considering that Watson is trying to complain about parties within a party, this seems like an extremely hypocritical source to use on Watsons part. Indeed, at the same time that this controversy erupted, leading Progress supporter John Mcteran was using his column in the Daily Telegraph to call for the Tory government to crush the rail unions. This same party member has previously called for the National Health Service to be privatised, for public libraries to close and even for Iraq to be reinvaded. Despite this, John Mcteran is an almost daily presence in the mainstream media, defending the Labour right. No questions have been raised about his Labour membership or his political views. Clearly, right wing positions are not treated with the same scrutiny or paranoia.


All this shows that Tom Watsons attacks have very little basis in reality. Jeremy Corbyn is not leading a revolutionary movement. He is fighting to revive the Labour Party around a moderate Social Democratic program. So why is Watson associating Corbyn and his supporters with Trotskyism? Part of the reason is probably the reputation British Trotskyist parties have earned for sectarian behaviour in the Labour movement. If Corbyn could be painted as soft on them, it might discourage a layer of his supporters. Given the fact the Corbyns challenger, Owen Smith, is pretending to be left wing, this can be seen as an effort to convert some of the less hardcore supporters of Corbyn to support Smith.
Noticed the glaring hypocrisy yet? Watson’s faction of the Labour Party have been engaging in some of the most sectarian behaviour imaginable. If you want conspiracies, you would struggle to find one more obvious than the recent Party coup, which was not only planned weeks beforehand, but coordinated so resignations occurred on the hour, every hour in the national press. It also ended with a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, for which there was no basis in the party’s own rules. Also, what can be more anti-democratic than banning local party meetings for months and the suspension of entire constituency branches, on the basis of unjustifiable claims of harassment? What about purges, has any Trotskyist organisation ever removed 130,000 members from its voting rolls?  Or increased the fee to vote overnight? It should be obvious from this which wing of the Labour Party poses the greater threat to Labour democracy and electability. Watson himself has made his aims clear. In the same interview with the Guardian he said that he wants to change the mechanism for electing the party leader and to drastically reduce the input of the membership. What better way to achieve this, than to engage in a Red Scare?


This Kind of McCarthyism is nothing new, it has a history in the Labour Party. 1960 saw Hugh Gaitskell used his speech at the Labour Party conference to brand opponents of nuclear weapons ‘fellow travellers of the Soviet Union’. In the decades that followed numerous MP’s were subject to allegations of spying for the USSR. One was even driven to suicide by the campaign. None of the allegations were true. This is what political bullying looks like.
When Watson Talks about being ‘reliably informed’ about nefarious behaviour, and provides dossiers and interviews in order to weed out political opponents in his party, it should provide a chilling reminder of those days. It is clear, without a fraction of a doubt, that the Labour right are disrespecting their members by gathering information on their political enemies. As with the Red Scare and Trotskyists, that just distracts from the climate of fear within the Labour party that the Blairites are fostering. It is no coincidence that this is happening while millions are supporting a left wing candidate and polls are showing stronger support for Socialism than Capitalism. That, not the labour party becoming unelectable, is what Tom Watson is afraid of.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Awful Arguments #6 - The 'Democracy is Responsible for Trump' Delusion

Seeing the rise of the far right presidential nominee Donald Trump, in a country which is (falsely) regarded as the world’s bastion of democracy and freedom has understandably frightened many people, leaving them searching for answers as to why this has happened. Given that the political task for everyone on the left and a lot of other people as well, should partly be to beat Trump, the next question that comes to mind is, how can we defeat Trump and his ideology? It is also worth asking what kind of country we will live in when and if Trump is defeated and if we will find a way to live with his supporters in the aftermath. Only one thing is certain: This is not a debate that will be ending anytime soon. Amongst all this, some elite commentators from liberal and democrat supporting news outlets, have argued that Trump’s success shows the problems Inherent in Democracy. This line of thought goes along the lines of, ‘democracy has given a vote to thousands of people susceptible to flattery and irrational fearmongering, who do not know how to use their vote’. Firstly, it is true that, in our media dominated political landscape, many people’s views are subject to manipulation by mainstream media narratives. Despite this, it is important not to blame them alone for this, realising that we have probably all been subject to this kind of manipulation. Secondly, given that the ‘blame democracy for trump’ narrative has dominated mainstream headlines and has been jumped on by a number of journalists, some of those propping up the idea could be accused of blatant hypocrisy. This blog post will look at the main reasons why democracy is not to blame for the rise of Trump, and why if we are to have any chance of defeating Trumpism, we need more democracy, not less.  

Democracy is not a Current Reality

The only way that the ‘Blame Democracy for Trump’ narrative can make any sense whatsoever is if you presume that democracy is an observable reality in the US. This runs in contrast to the Left libertarian perspective which posits that democracy is an ideal to aspire to, and understands political disruption in our current system as the result of mass economic and identity bases inequality.
The idea that we live in a ‘hyper democracy’ as Andrew Sullivan calls it in his essay on the subject, ignores the relationship between the economy and the mechanics of political decision making. Who makes the donations and hires the lobbyists which guarantee that only the views of the wealthy really matter in guaranteeing political outcomes? Why is someone’s ability to stand for election determined by their bank account and not their experience? How much tolerance of diversity will ordinary Americans be able to handle while bogged down by their economic status and simultaneously being told that immigrants are the ones to blame? Andrew Sullivan tries to dismiss these questions by pointing to the failure of the well bankrolled Jeb Bush campaign, and the popularity of the publicly funded Sanders campaign. However, while money in politics obviously has a huge influence on presidential campaigns, they are a relatively bad example. After all, elite fundraising cannot convince voters to love a candidate who leaves them cold. Despite this, In Congress, which makes all the laws, the skew of policy making to big donors and super PACs is very clear. Grassroots presidential funding may be a slight spanner in the works to this, but the fact remains that most politicians spend their days and nights soliciting money from the wealthy, which means listening to and acting on their priorities.
The capitalist way of organising economic power is also a perennial challenge to democracy and a huge challenge to the idea that we live in a hyper democracy. It undermines the premises of personal equality and collective governance, substituting it with workplace hierarchy and the political power of wealth. Indeed, this is something which Trump, as a billionaire megalomaniac should know all too well. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Trumps voters have never seen democracy exercised in the way that ‘hyper democracy’ suggests. Instead they have watched impassioned elections channelled into corrupt forms of government, where the wealthy are a check on any kind of populist influence. They have seen bailouts for huge banks and Trade deals that wipe out entire industries. Far from being given equal access to health care and decent schools, they have been marginalized. To them, however misguided a view this may be, they see Trump as an alternative. This leads me to my next point

Blame Unbridled Capitalism Not Unbridled Democracy

This is not to suggest that Trump’s supporters are in any way confused Socialists or anything like that. Exit Polls confirm that the primary force in his success is not the working class. Also, poor and working class voters make up only about a third of the GOP electorate, measured by an income of below $50,000, as they are more likely to vote. So what does it mean that Trumps voters see him as an alternative to the current political system, and yet are not mainly working class?
We can begin to answer this by looking at who many of Trumps supporters are. His real base of support consists of business owners, supervisory and middle management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers and so on. They are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America. Many of them are not even doctors or lawyers. Rather, they are the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from middle band positions within the corporate hierarchy. To use a Marxist analysis for a moment, this situation is an example of the petty bourgeois – the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business world and the need to exploit themselves – experiencing worry and insecurity following a financial crisis. This makes them receptive to right wing authoritarian solutions and the scapegoating of ethnic minorities. What is particularly attractive to this class of Trump supporters is the idea that he will somehow suspend the self-interest of his own class, because he supposedly cannot be bought. This is very appealing to those small business owners who resent ‘red tape’ and the minimum wage. The great shock of 2008, followed by a less than persuasive economic recovery, inflamed fears about unemployment among many people. Such conditions bred not only anxiety but resentment, explaining the appeal of Trumps anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican and anti-muslim rhetoric. If this message did resonate with some members of the white working class, the GOP’s upper income voters helped Trump secure the nomination. This is why, Trump is not the fault of unbridled Democracy, but unbridled capitalism.  

The Fight Ahead

Trump is a liar, a bigot a xenophobe and a bully who plays on anti-establishment sentiment, economic abandonment, and wounded white privilege like a maestro. He is putting a white nationalist, populist identity politics at the heart of the presidential election.  This is all the more reason why in order to defeat trump we cannot blame democracy, and to do so is just to play into his mind-set.
In order to strengthen democracy in the face of the Trumpist threat, it may prove useful to avoid calling Trump supporters fascist and racist by default. Admittedly, some of his core supporters are those things and should be fought as such, but many are not. The problem is that in politics, people tend to become what they are addressed as being. That is what makes Trumps brand of far right populism so dangerous. The hope has to be that when Trump is gone, most of his supporters will become something else – not double down on the defining features of racism and sexism. Otherwise, we will have to accept and find a way to live with a generation of far right movements in American Politics. This would mean choosing between normalizing Trumps anti democracy politics and stigmatising a large amount of citizens – two bad alternatives. Attacks that assume Trump supporters share his ugliest qualities only give weight to the claim that he is their voice. If we take this as our starting point, we face a drawn out and nasty fight against Trumpism, even if he loses in November. The more we question whether Trump actually does speak for millions of disenfranchised Americans, the sooner we can work towards something different.
 In light of this, it is important to remember what we are actually fighting for: an economy where workers have democratic control over the means of production and a country that is more democratic and less alienating. Trying to undermine Trump should not turn into defending the system he is attacking, as ‘too much democracy’ theorists like Andrew Sullivan are trying to do. Trumps attacks are opportunistic and a victory for him would only make things worse, especially for the vulnerable. However, he is succeeding in part because there is so much that could be better. The radical left should emerge from this fight with aims and objectives that speak to the young people who overwhelmingly voted for Sanders, the older and non-white voters who tend towards Clinton, and those Trump supporters who are not essentially racists and bigots, but who feel the need for radical change.


Trumps success is not the fault of democracy. Rather, his campaign is a desperate cry from an outdated and brutal capitalist economic system. Our society and culture cultivates the fantasy that rich people are better than us, natural rulers, brilliant and inherently knowledgeable. Trump is the extreme version of that money driven deformation of democracy. His version animates the populist wing of the Republican Party, while the big donor version animates the Jeb bush wing. If we beat Trump, there is going to be more than enough temptation to recoil from the little bit of democracy that gave him his votes. Pundits will say that government is a problem for the political elites to manage, not something that must be justified or challenged. We need to resist this. Trump is a profoundly anti-democratic figure, with no respect for ideas of civic equality or self-rule. His ‘I am your voice’ rhetoric should make this clear. If we defeat him but allow him to decide what democracy means for the rest of us, then we will simply be playing into the hands of the far right.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Owen Smiths Political Shape Shifting

A few weeks ago, following the Brexit vote, the right of the Labour Party made a series of ultimately futile attempts to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign as Leader. These included orchestrating staged resignations from his shadow cabinet, submitting a vote of no confidence in Corbyn and even attempting to keep him off the ballot in the event of a Labour leadership election. For a few weeks, it looked as if Angela Eagle would be stood as the candidate to replace Corbyn as Labour Leader. However, as a result of Jeremy Corbyn refusing to step down, the position of the ‘Anyone but Corbyn’ candidate has now been conceded to Owen Smith. Aside from the apparent redundancy of standing someone no one has ever heard of against a politician who has gained a massive following because of his progressive agenda, there are a number of reasons why Owen smith is by no means the soft left ‘reasonable’ candidate that he likes to portray himself as. Also, the chances of Smith actually beating Corbyn when it comes time for the Labour membership to vote in September, are very slim indeed. In fact, it is not too unfair to describe Smith as a last desperate attempt by the Blairite faction of Labour, to prevent it going in a left wing ideological direction. Despite this, it is still worth making a critical analysis of him and his campaign.  

Pilfering Corbyns Policies

It is undeniable that Owen Smith has been imitating Jeremy Corbyns policies on a number of issues. These include ending ideological austerity, investing in infrastructure and even the highly specific policy of introducing a ministry of Labour. His policies are pretty much indistinguishable from Corbyns. Given that Smith is the candidate being tipped to replace Corbyn by the Blairite faction of Labour, this approach seems more than a little strange. In 2015, the Blairite former Interim shadow minister Chris Leslie savagely attacked Corbyns policy of using quantative easing cash to directly invest in infrastructure and services, instead of handing it to banks and naively hoping they will invest it in useful things, (rather than the inflation of asset and housing bubbles). Leslie wasn’t the only one either. Yvette cooper who stood against Corbyn in the original leadership election, also bitterly criticised the Corbyn/McDonnell plan to boost the economy by directly investing in infrastructure and services. Despite this, Owen Smith has been promising to invest an extra £2 billion in infrastructure as one of his flagship policies. Are Leslie and Cooper angry that their ‘Anyone but Corbyn’ candidate does not support their vision? Of course not, they’re supporting Owen Smith.
So why is Smith supporting policies which so blatantly imitate Jeremy Corbyns? Why do the right of the Labour Party seem to be supporting the anti-austerity policies which they were only a few months earlier flinging abuse at? The answers to these questions should seem obvious. As can be seen through the surge of support that Jeremy Corbyn has received from the general public, the ‘let’s cut our way to growth’ narrative is rapidly falling out of fashion. Acknowledging this however, would force the Blairite faction of the Labour Party to actually admit that Jeremy Corbyn is a good communicator, who has manged to convince people of his position. Instead, they have chosen to stand a candidate who portrays himself as a sensible leftist, in order to win over the overwhelming majority of the Labour Party membership who support Corbyn. Of course, I am sure that in the event that the Labour right get Smith elected, he will ditch his investment plans and go back to promoting the kind of right wing style economic policies that lost them the last general election.

Ideological Flexibility

So Owen Smith is trying to present himself as the ‘soft left’ unity candidate. Notice I use the term ‘present himself’. Despite his left wing rhetoric, investigations into Smiths history and voting record tell quite a different story. This is because, for Smith, political stance is nothing to do with personal belief, it is to do with brand positioning. Indeed, one of the complaints that Smith has against Corbyn is that he is somehow not ideologically flexible enough. What he appears to mean from this that unless you are unprincipled and opportunistic like himself, you are not fit to be leader of the Labour Party. So, let’s look at some of Smiths ‘ideological flexibility’ on the important issues.
NHS: Before being parachuted into one of the safest Labour seats in wales (Pontypridd) during the New Labour era, Smith worked as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer where he promoted a report calling for greater private sector involvement in the NHS. He was also working for them when they made a big donation to the right wing Blairite pressure group Progress. He has conveniently backtracked on privatisation since being selected as the ‘anyone but Corbyn’ candidate.
Iraq War: Back In 2006 when he tried and failed to win the seat of Blaenau Gwent in a by election, Smith made some very odd excuses for the Invasion of Iraq. Even after the WMD’s had not been found, the deaths of ill equipped British soldiers and the increase in sectarian violence, he still claimed that he thought that the illegal concept of regime change was part of a ‘noble valuable tradition’ and could not bring himself to say that the invasion was a mistake or that he would have voted against it, had he been an MP at the time. Smith now claims that he actively opposed the war in 2003.
Privatisation: Another example of Smiths wonderful tendency towards ideological flexibility, is the way he has gone from promoting New Labour Policies like PFI and private schools to admitting that, like their pro - privatisation ‘choice’ agenda in the NHS, they were mistakes. Unless upon standing in this leadership race, Smith has suddenly converted away from right wing Blairite policies, it seems highly likely that his ‘I made a mistake’ rhetoric, is nothing more than another desperate attempt to garner votes from the left.
Nuclear Weapons: In this case, rather than flip flopping from supporting a Blairite policy to supporting a Corbyn policy, Smith seems to have done the opposite. He has gone from being a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons, even admitting himself that he used to be a member of CND, to actively voting in favour of Tory legislation to write the biggest blank cheque in parliamentary history to corporations that make billions from Trident renewal. Perhaps the reason Smith keeps bringing up that he used to be a CND supporter, is because he does not want to sound too much like a warmonger in the face of the labour membership, that he is trying to win over.
Resignations: Perhaps the most telling example of Owen Smith being ideological flexible on an issue is his attitude just a few days after the EU referendum result came in. On June 24th he rightly slammed David Cameron for resigning calling it ‘Petulant, Rash and Selfish’ before complaining that the national interest was being ‘sacrificed on the altar of Tory Party Politics and individual Tory’s self-interest’. Despite these powerful words, just three days later Owen Smith Joined in the mass resignation event, that was pre planned to bully Jeremy Corbyn into resigning. Participation in an internal coup at a time of uncertainty, would have been bad enough on its own, but doing it three days after lambasting David Cameron for resigning, is an absolutely stunning example of hypocrisy.
The problem with Smiths ideological flexibility is that it makes it hard to ever trust what he is saying. Some of the things he is saying at the moment actually make a fair bit of sense, but how is it possible to believe what he says is the truth, rather than a cynical attempt to win over the labour leadership, by posing as an Anti-austerity candidate? It is my guess that if Owen Smith ever becomes leader of the Labour Party, then we will see a recapitulation to neoliberal policies, which landed labour in the mess they are in.


My overall point here is that Owen Smith is a political shape shifter who will do and say anything in order to serve his political interests. Today he is pretending to be a radical socialist, because he knows that this is what he has got to do if he is to have the slightest chance of winning over the Labour membership. However, before he was playing this character, he was a full blown Blairite who supported policies like PFI and the Iraq war. If Smith can flip flop on important issues this easily, what is to stop him enforcing a right wing agenda on Labour, if he becomes leader, especially given that his bid is backed by every Blairite in the party?