View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
22 October 2018updated 07 Jun 2021 2:38pm

Westeros banded together to defeat the real enemy. Labour’s warring tribes must do the same

By Paul Mason

It was not until the zombie dragon lost its rider that it began to wreak destruction on a massive scale. It knew it had to crush the castle walls and incinerate the defenders, but it didn’t seem to mind torching most of the zombie attackers at the same time, for the obvious reason that they were already dead. 

This scene, from the latest episode of Game of Thrones, provides a vivid metaphor for the current stage of neoliberalism’s crisis. 

Capitalism has become a zombie system, animated only by $16trn of central bank money and the state support of commercial banks. But as its national elites thrash around for solutions, they are killing ideologies and institutions once dear to them, just as effectively as they destroying those of the 99 per cent.

In the UK, in the space of just 10 years, the centrist mantra has morphed from Cameron’s famous “British society is broken” to Chuka Umunna’s assertion that “politics is broken” and Nigel Farage’s accusation that “democracy is broken”.

A cold look at the facts shows something more encouraging. It is the Conservative Party that is broken – at least as a tool with which the business class can rule Britain.  

In the space of two weeks, Farage’s Brexit Party has assembled a new electoral coalition whose poll rating, between 23 and 28 per cent in the last four polls, looks real, and is only likely to grow as habitual UKIP voters realise their party has morphed into a fascist pantomime.

In proportion, the Tory vote has slumped from 30 per cent on the day Farage activated his new party to between 13 and 17 per cent in the last four samples. If – and it’s still a big if – the UK were to face a general election with a blue-on-blue struggle in Tory-held marginals, then whatever happens to Labour it still wins. 

That is the rationale for the Brexit Party – to threaten the Tories so hard with electoral Armageddon that, despite their personal preference for the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, they are forced to enact a hard or No Deal Brexit before October and defenestrate their clueless leader.

Two other facts make this worse for the Conservatives. The first is that, according to Survation, a majority of voters still backing them supported Remain in 2016. If the European Parliament election were to become a proxy referendum on Brexit, that part of their vote might soften towards Labour, the Libdems or Change UK.

The second problem is the membership: it is, in some constituencies, so heavily pro-Brexit that we have to assume it is actual Tory party card-holders who are telling pollsters they will vote for Farage.

So the dilemma for May and any politician who replaces her is: how to shore up the Conservative Party as an effective governance tool for the financial, landed and corporate elite who, together with numerous foreign crooks, fund the operation.

The shape of the modern Tory party was formed around the need to control Britain despite the enfranchisement of the working class. At constituency level it operates as a social institution; in business it functions as an analogue version of LinkedIn; at university, joining the Tories is the recognised route to wielding power, while joining Labour is the route to not doing so. Even the civil service and the officer class, though barred from active participation, speak its language and share its assumptions.

All those monochrome group photos in the Oxford Union tell a story of cultural hegemony. Since 1922, whether in out of power, it has looked like the natural party of government. Pouring all that down the drain would be a mighty achievement for May and her lieutenants.

Because – despite all its internal conflicts, which I will come to – Labour is not yet broken. The Corbyn revolution decisively removed Labour as one of the safety mechanisms through which elite power kept the working class and the poor in check. 

When the ex-spooks and the anti-Islam bores pontificate in the Spectator about Labour being a “threat no national security” or “not fit to govern”, what they mean is: not prepared to play the game of running capitalism and a militarised state in return for a few knighthoods. That Labour Party is gone: decamped to Change UK or into the non-jobs in PR.

Only two things can prevent Labour winning the next election, triggering the end of the neoliberal economic model in Britain and, if we are really lucky, transforming the Anglo-Saxon world alongside a Progress Democrat administration in the USA.

The first threat – real and growing – is that the CUK party not only gains members and momentum, but attracts serious backing from the corporate elite. By that I don’t just mean a few dollops of money from self-made entrepreneurs and consultancy groups, but that the CUK “offer” of a liberal-authoritarian Blairite nostalgiafest, begins spawn the same kind of social networks in business, the law and academia as the Tories have now.

Without this, in a first-past-the post electoral system, there is not a hope in hell of CUK replacing Labour, or splitting it on the same scale as Farage has split the Tories – because you need a ground game on the doorstep, and in the UK system money can’t buy it. But it could replace the Tories.

The second threat, also real and growing, is that Scotland secedes from the UK, altering the political dynamics of the surviving rump state forever. 

To meet these threats the course of action for the Labour leadership should be obvious, but is not – because in both cases Corbyn and his advisers have a one-dimensional view of British politics in which the economic struggle trumps issues like nationality, culture or geopolitics.

On Brexit, they have become convinced that there is a group of voters in play in the English marginals who might come back to the party if it either delivers a withdrawal deal, or at least does not decisively act to stop it. This flies in the face of all polling analysis, which reveals to the contrary, that if Labour actively backs Brexit it loses seven seats in Scotland, 14 in London with a gain of precisely zero in the Leave-voting ex-industrial areas. 

On Scotland, even as the Brownite wing of Scottish Labour tried to persuade the party to offer maximum devolution, Corbyn allied himself with hardline unionists of the old right and left. The result? Scottish Labour is now polling at 16 per cent compared with 46 per cent for the SNP (Yougov/Times 24/26 April).

Now, in at Labour’s NEC meeting, Corbyn has ignored the clear wishes of the majority of activists and core voters, by limiting the offer of a second Brexit referendum to the unlikely circumstance of the Tories getting a deal in parliament without Labour backing.

The form of words don’t matter. What matters is the anti-democratic and manipulative way in which Corbyn’s allies on the NEC and in the unions have attacked the internationalist and pro-globalists who wanted, as the members wanted, a commitment to Remain and reform, a second referendum and a member-led party.

Since 1979 I’ve supported Labour in every election except one (voting for the Socialist Alliance in 2001). I’m used to campaigning for a manifesto that’s inadequate and for a leadership that ignores me – but the Corbyn experience was both politically and organisationally rejuvenating, and I still think the essence of it survives.

Labour’s project is much bigger than stopping Brexit, or mitigating its damage. It is – as Corbyn rightly says – to construct an alliance of the Remain voting cities and the Leave voting towns around a programme of peace, social justice and a green transition. It is to empower the barista, the security guard and the cab driver to tell their manager to get lost; to rescue thousands of refugees from the hell of detention centres; and to make sure there are no future expeditionary wars. 

This bigger mission makes it worth all the setbacks and compromises. But it also means the internationalist left, which wants a party run from below, fighting for a green and socially liberal society, has to find a distinct voice.

“Corbynism” was a label applied to an alliance of three political traditions: the old Bennite left; a more cosmopolitan liberal leftism which knew the game was up for freemarket economics; and a younger, horizontalist, activist movement emanating from the student protests, the anti-war movement and the climate camps.

The point now is not to break the movement back into its constituent parts but to find a new synthesis: more democratic, greener, more critical of the “left” dictatorships, more diverse – and less trusting of party paternalism. It will have to find a new label and a more effective modus operandi – and think in terms of the next decade not the next conference.

Its immediate tasks are to support Labour’s MEP candidates who will campaign openly on a Remain and Reform platform, campaign vigorously for a Green New Deal, and select a new left slate for the NEC in 2020. For this we will need a “primary” process on the left, similar to the one that allowed the US Democrats to depose their own unreliables.

The opportunity for a truly modern, internationalist Labour left does not go away when Brexit does, or because Corbyn makes a tactical mistake. Because Brexit is not the crisis. The crisis is an economic model that no longer works, which is fuelling the rise of fascism, racism and misogyny, and the imposition of algorithmic control by states and corporations.

Whatever we disagree on, all fractions of labour movement should at least agree on one thing. We’ve got to kill the effing dragon. And that, as is obvious if you’ve been watching the telly, usually means an alliance involving more than one tribe.

Content from our partners
Individually rare, collectively common – how do we transform the lives of people with rare diseases?
Future proofing the NHS
Where do we get the money to fix the world's biggest problems? – with ONE

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.