Long after Tony Benn had lost his fight for the soul of the Labour Party, he complained that ‘the Blairites’ were attempting to turn the Labour Party into a British version of the US Democratic Party. By this Benn meant that Blair and his cabal wanted a Labour Party free from union influence and predicated on the values and votes of metropolitan liberals. This, Benn argued, would be a grave betrayal of the class politics upon which the Labour Party had been built.
Three years after Benn’s passing, the Labour Party is led by his favourite MP – Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has shifted Labour to the left and fought this year’s general election on an old-fashioned, unashamed social democratic platform. There is no doubt that the late Benn would have heartily welcomed this manifesto, with its simple, socialist commitment to stand “for the many, not the few.”
And yet, the nature of the election result seemed eerily to mirror Benn’s prediction of what the Labour Party might turn in to. Although the Labour vote went up dramatically, it did so almost exclusively among the young, the middle classes, the city-dwellers, the immigrant labour force, the liberal left and those for whom union and class politics are possibly, if not probably, anathema.
Tony Blair once famously told Michael Foot in a letter that he had “come to Socialism through Marxism.” In a similar way, Blair argued his politics were actually more closely tied to the union wing of the Labour Party – rooted in the everyday experiences of real people with real needs – than the more highfalutin ideals of the Fabians and other intellectuals. It seems somewhat ironic, therefore, that ten years after Blair stopped being Labour leader, the Party now seems more likely to appeal to the well-intentioned middle classes than to the white working class.
How to solve this Gordian Knot is the perennial question facing this publication and others. How do we stop the continual drift of our traditional supporters in the Midlands the North away from us to the Conservatives? How do we achieve this whilst consolidating our new coalition of support among the young and those who previously saw no point in voting?
There has been much talk of British politics moving away from a battle of classes and towards a dialectic between ‘open’ and ‘closed’. The danger for Labour in simply siding with ‘open’ is that, in so doing, we alienate half of the population – much as the Tories achieved at the last election.
In fairness to Corbyn and those who wrote the Labour manifesto, our Brexit position managed to straddle this divide fairly skillfully. This is partly why we were able to comprehensively outflank Tim Farron’s Liberals. But this is a fast-evolving political situation. Nobody, least of all the editor of this blog, can be quite certain about what is going to happen next or where we will be in a few months’, let alone a few years’, time.
But if we want to avoid our beloved Labour Party becoming a pale British imitation of the Liberal wing of the US kleptocracy, we would do well to remember the old Germanic logic that where there is a thesis, there must follow an antithesis, and that where there is an antithesis there must, at last, follow a synthesis.