Pigeonholing myself

I am about to do a thing that Dan Jarvis would never do: ideologically pigeonhole myself in The Labour Party.

A warning: this is utterly self-indulgent, egotistical stuff. It isn’t intended as a serious piece of thinking, but rather to organise better the file storages in my mind to help my ridiculous identity crisis.

Since Corbyn won…nay, since Ed Miliband destroyed my entire world and lost…and especially since the likes of Milne and Trident and Russia have been topics of Labour conversation in a way I never thought they would in my lifetime, I have had to reconsider my place in the Labour Party and on its spectrum.

So, I set about -in the shower, of course- imagining myself in a line of distinguished MPs. NOT LIKE THAT.
From Corbyn to Nandy (to Jarvis?) to Miliband to Burnham (to Jarvis?) to Cooper to Kendall (to Jarvis?) to Danczuk to McTernan.

First, an ideological backstory: as a kid -we’re talking a childhood of BBC Parliament, thus I was always doomed to the life of a nerd- I would watch John McDonnell, then a figure of the rebellious Labour Left, with admiration. I didn’t know much about him, rather that I considered him old Labour (a term mired with revisionism now) and standing up for welfare and against cuts when the frontbench would not. I thus allied myself with him, instinctively. I considered myself a Bennite because the run-ins I had with Benn Sr were romantic and idealistic. I remember watching Michael Moore’s Sicko (bear with me) and seeing him talk about the NHS and democracy and falling in love.

But then I got truly into Labour politics and began to become infatuated with the ideal of Milibandism. What many saw as a flaw in Miliband -his unwavering geekiness- I grew utterly endeared to, admiring him trying to create his own intellectual space, his attempts to draw on original ideas like predistribution, as well as those of guild socialist ideas like workplace representation, mutualisation, cooperatives and profit-sharing.

It is this originality that I now find lacking in Corbyn and his ilk. I shudder when Trident threatens to overshadow his anti-austerity message, cringe at the old way of doing mass nationalisation -or at least, the image of me trying to sell it on the doorstep, screeches of ‘where’s the money coming from?’ already ringing in my ears.

This isn’t a rightward shift in my development, from Bennite to Milibandite, it’s a quest for a new intellectual morphing of ideals associated with both. Why do we have to revert to anything old when we can muster the creativity and originality to create something new? Something more radical and less cautious than Milibandism was in practice- a Milibandism on speed, if you will.

Corbyn excites me in some ways, certainly by way of delaying what I thought would be a Blairite takeover with unfounded explanations of an election lost, and in a totally self-indulgent way of making me feel happy (Feel. This is such a selfish drive, and I fear one that the Labour membership has succumbed to) at a conference where we could proclaim our anti-austerity-ness. But he alienates me in many others. It’s old and rackety, it compromises a Party that I not only love, but rely on winning. And that is where I am now: alienation and an identity crisis. Looking for something new, radical but electable. With a new face, with no baggage.

And thereby I return to that list:

From Corbyn to Nandy (to Jarvis?) to Miliband to Burnham (to Jarvis?) to Cooper to Kendall (to Jarvis?) to Danczuk to McTernan.

One thing strikes me. There are two extremes, and a muggy middle with disparate figures.

The soft left isn’t anywhere near as organised or established as the hard left or hard right; this has allowed for the false dichotomy between the hard left and the ‘moderates’, a term that tries to cannibalise every non-corbynite whether they agree with the people that created the term or not: the Blairites. I have little in common with the latter.

Nevertheless, despite the cannibalising of the soft left through the latter’s disorganisation, the left to left of centre (from Corbyn to Burnham on my simplistic scale) or what I’d broadly consider the ‘Labour Left’, is too a less-defined dichotomy with, not a muggy middle, but a completely vacated one.

There is a concentration around Corbyn and McDonnell that can historically be considered the hard left, and there is a concentration around Miliband and Burnham that can historically be considered the soft left, with an emerging Nandy occupying a rather ambiguous but closer to soft space in-between. What there isn’t is an established mid-way between the Corbynites and the Milibandites.
There is a lot that divides these two, the hard and soft, the LRC and Compass, and both have distinguished features and figures. The gap between them and the figures that purport their respective positions is pretty vast.

To illustrate as my hero Eoin Clarke would:

hard v soft

This dark, empty, probably useless vacuum has no name, no leader, no magazine.

But, if I can be so pretentious, I presume to give it a few qualities:

  • It’s main distinction from the hard left is its world view: There are no Milnes’ here, no excusing the IRA, no betrayal of an anti-British streak, no appearances on Russia Today, no ‘trots’ or ‘tankies’ (I use these not derogatorily, but in their historical senses). At home, there is no similarity with the SWP or the likes of Class War. It’d prefer Krugman to Engels and the idea of false consciousness, though it may share a relation to Marxism as the broad left always has. It is still, nevertheless, class-based and proudly socialist.
  • It’s main distinction with the soft left is that economically, it is (explicitly) anti-austerity and shares that in common with Corbynomics, though too does it with Trudeau to its right. It would be willing to make the case for bolder taxation plans (wealth taxes, and -yes- a 60p top rate of tax) and higher borrowing and (specifically welfare) spending, rather than being cautious. (This does not wield to the idea that Miliband and Balls were austerians, they were not -but it makes the rhetorical break). It would not waver on nationalising railways or the like.
  • Ultimately, it would have a focus on anti-austerity, class politics without the (tbh, shocking) Cold War, anti-West world view. It would also choose its fights: Trident is just…off the table. Please leave. But the welfare cap? It’d be willing to stand and fight here.
  • What academia would it lend itself too? I have always been inclined to Milibandite ideas on public ownership, but love to read class-based philosophies. It’s intellectual roots would come from both lefts. Concepts like predistribution allied with classical redistribution (who the hell knows how?). Ideas of guild socialism with state socialism. A new socialism, and an institution-building one at that (And this is why Andy’s National Care Service drew me in).

So what would it call itself?

This is me, to a fellow Fabian, trying to work it out:

semi left

You can tell your conceptual thinking is bullshit when it dwindles down to soft porn. But I persevere nevertheless. I think this would be, something along the lines of, the Economic Left, the Anti Austerity Left, The Next Left? Or the Guild Left? I’m literally bullshitting here. Maybe it should be about texture. Firm Left? OH, OH I LIKE IT. Let’s go with that.

So, for those that came (all none of you) to see what faction of Labour I now call home, here it is: none of them. I’ve literally created my own one. Between Corbyn and Miliband. To the left of the Soft Left but not Hard Left.

The Firm Left. [drops mic] I’m out.

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