“Oh Snap” – Storming Into The New And Excellently Populist World Post-UK General Election

By   /   June 13, 2017  /   5 Comments

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At the time of writing, we are perhaps a mere forty-eight hours after the results of the UK’s General Election came in. And already, it seems like an entire Amazonian forest of trees, and a fairly literal Black Sea of ink have already been spilled in attempting to make sense of what has happened.

At the time of writing, we are perhaps a mere forty-eight hours after the results of the UK’s General Election came in. And already, it seems like an entire Amazonian forest of trees, and a fairly literal Black Sea of ink have already been spilled in attempting to make sense of what has happened.

That’s arguably fairly normal of course, in the scheme of things. An Election – even one which doesn’t, ultimately *quite* manage to result in what we might term a clear-cult ‘transfer of power’ [the DUP excepted – the word after “clear” was not a typo] in one of the more populous and potent polities of the planet almost invariably attracts scrutiny, and post-facto analysis.

But what’s arguably remarkable about this one, is the tone and tenor of many of the media-pieces and media-appearances on the subject. To wildly misquote Churchill … never have so many been so wrong about so much, apparently. And this isn’t even a “Dewey Beats Truman” style situation wherein the commentariat got the outcome *completely* wrong. Like it or not [and I don’t], there is still a Conservative Government in-power in England. Theresa May is still the Prime Minister.

It might all go – as they say – Pete Tong very shortly, with Corbyn pledging to attempt to roll May on the occasion of the Queen’s Speech later this year. This is significant, because rather than the empty bluster which a comparable ‘Vote of No Confidence’ in our own Parliament generally entails [wherein some Opposition Party moves the motion, and then it fails because the Government manages to whip all its MPs into line, partially by threatening to deselect them or have them booted off the List, and cajoles its support partners into doing likewise], given the fairly comprehensive disarray the Conservative Party has descended into since the Election, there’s every chance that UK Labour will actually be able to – if not get rid of May, then at least force meaningful policy-concessions from the Government.

But why is this even a thing? Surely the Conservatives, as a broad analogue to our own domestic National Party, love power so much that they’d not easily be induced to do anything which might seemingly jeopardise their holding of it? [other than, of course, selecting an apparent shop’s mannequin as their Prime Minister, who calls a Snap Election] Well, yes and no. As applies “yes” – those MPs who are still in Parliament may deign to go against the May Agenda in the hopes of *remaining in Parliament* in the prospectively very near future; whilst other Con MPs – folk with principle, perhaps surprisingly – are presently kicking up a fairly huge fuss about the presumptive inclusion of the Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland as the essential support-partner which makes the Conservative Government still a viable thing.

It’s um … it’s probably not a great sign for Government “Stability” if you’re facing a back-bench revolt about the only thing still keeping you in Government. But I digress.

During the campaign, we were repeatedly warned by everyone from notional Tories to nominal Labour supporters [and even, ominously, MPs] that the very real risk of this Election would be that it delivered a Government of Extremists and Terrorist-Sympathisers.

Nobody thought to mention, of course, that it would be May leading the aforementioned Government; but a cursory examination of some of their representatives’ utterances, as well as an illustrious history that includes close operating ties with everything from criminally accused paramilitaries to international arms smugglers …  it’s not at all hard to see why the Scottish Conservatives who’re pretty much the only thing allowing the Conservative Party all up to pretend it’s keeping its head above water right now wound up seeking an agreement with the party main that the DUP’s influence upon the prospective MayDUP Government would be ring-fenced and limited. And were even reportedly considering breaking away from the Conservative Party itself in order to form their own independent electoral organization.

When May campaigned on a ‘Hard Brexit’ … one presumes that this particular ‘Dissolution of Union’ wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.

But then, there are currently quite a LOT of people out there – particularly well-known figures in the ‘literati’ spheres of politics, popular culture, and the (print) media, who haven’t gotten anything like they (so dearly) seem to have expected out of this Election.

As cannot have escaped anybody’s notice, things “weren’t supposed” to play out this way. Go back and look what’s been said over the past two years. Read any of JK Rowling’s tweets on the subject. Or Bill Clinton’s speech remarks on Labour’s leaderOr Obama’s. Or any of the bevvy of Labour Party front-benchers and big-men who queued up to pour scorn and vitriol upon their now incipient Messiah-in-tweed. Corbyn was “supposed” to lead Labour to an utter disaster in the low-mid 20% range. Not come within two and a half thousand votes of being able to govern the country!

Forget Rupert Murdoch storming out of a party upon hearing that he apparently no longer singlehandedly decides who lives and who dies in British politics on Election Night. Or our own home-grown pauper’s penny-roll equivalent, Mike Hosking’s jubilant pre-Election pro-May triumphalism.

What really interests me is all of those nominally [and here, I stress that term] ‘left-wing’ people who’re so adamantly ardent that this whole thing is a fluke, can’t be real, was a one-off … or, somehow, that Labour should have inconceivably done BETTER [than this already almost-inconceivably-except-it-ACTUALLY-HAPPENED result], and that it’s Corbyn’s fault [you know, the man who somehow took them from polling low-twenties to polling in the forties, just behind the Conservatives] they aren’t presently inexplicably in Government.

Please excuse my salt-shaker approach to parentheticals there. I tend to get a bit bracket-happy when I’m exceedingly bewildered.

The reason why people who SHOULD be overjoyed are, in fact, vituperatively annoyed as applies this result, is a glaringly simple one. Because it wasn’t done “their” way. And, in point of fact, it makes it plainly apparent – egregiously so, in fact – that “their way” [also known as the “Third Way”] … is one of those interminable Roads to Hell [and we all know what those are paved with – at least in the beginning], rather than a pathway to prosperity and psephological success.

We have been told now, for quite some time, that Elections are won and lost in the Centre. This is, from my perspective [and also, interestingly, that of the New Zealand Public] pretty inarguably true.

It’s just that over the last thirty years or so, the ‘Centre’ has seriously – although obviously not ‘irrevocably’ – changed. Policies and positions [and, for that matter, politicians] who once upon a time would have been considered so far right that they’d be the exclusive demesne of the more relatively-sane bits of McWarlordville AnCapistan are now the new ‘middle ground’. In fact, they’re actually marketed fairly openly as being “centre left” [this is also, incidentally, why our own Muldoon is now ‘far left’ economically; whilst the NZ Labour Party has managed to move barely an iota since 1987 in terms of economics and has somehow wound up being occasionally described IN THE PRESENT DAY as ‘socialistic’.]. It’s madness. And we all KNOW it’s madness. The only reason why it’s been allowed to festeringly continue is because we’ve been continuously told – ad nauseum, ad infinatum, and at laboriously-ratcheted up fingernails-on-chalkboard volume – that There Is No Alternative.

Bullshit.

The people who turned out for Corbyn, in their millions, are living proof that not only IS there an Alternative [i.e. if you get enough people together, a party running a platform that’s *reasonably to the left* – although, as ever, *reasonable* – of what’s considered “electable” by our “benevolent” elites … CAN actually bring together the numbers to make a serious political difference]; but that the broad mass of The People, out there across the Anglosphere and beyond, are waking up to this fact.

And they’re pretty pissed at realizing they’ve been lied to for all this time.

This is, arguably, why all of the incredible fusilade of phantasmagorical firepower directed at Corbyn over the course of the campaign seems to have fizzled and fairly utterly failed to make a mark upon his prospects. Because all of a sudden, when you realize you’ve been chronically mislead by just about everybody in the media sphere about everything, the same talking heads attempting to fearmonger about Corbyn supposedly being pro-Hezbollah [one of the leading forces fighting ISIS, incidentally, unlike the Saudis whom May just helped out massively by suppressing a report showing they’re *helping* dodgy extremist groupswhile also selling them arms] become pretty much a non-event.

Maybe it’s because people care less about vague claims of anti-semitism and links to Iran than they do about whether a politician looks like they’re *actually going to help them* with a home, a job, and the protection of their right to healthcare. Perhaps it’s the above-alluded-to “Cry Wolf” effect.

However it’s happened, this represents a refreshing and exciting potential change away from the politics of New Labour [wherein ‘Style’ was most definitely in vogue over ‘Substance’ [with the possible exception of Pulp’s excellent expository anthem, Cocaine Socialism]], through to a prioritization of reality over carefully massaged spin-doctoring. Some might call this “TrueLabour” as an obvious, rhyming contrast.

But the trouble with this, from the perspective of those aforementioned nasty elites, is that it risks ‘opening the door’ to putting People back in charge of politics – rather than shady, nefarious think-tanks and the occasional veneer of focus-grouping effectively presiding over The People.

How else to explain pieces like this from the LA Times, wherein Corbyn’s surge is presented as a dire manifestation of “the perils of too much democracy”. [this article is particularly ridiculous, as it attempts to argue that Britons having a say in their own affairs at previous instances such as Brexit drives down turnout for ‘actually important’ elections – a manifest untruth, given the turnout for last week’s General was the highest it’s been in a quarter century] Or figures with ties to the ‘Blairite’ wing of Labourlike Lord Sugar attempting to pour scorn upon the people now voting for Labour in their droves as being ‘out of touch’. [Gosh, it’s a funny sort of world wherein it is parties and their apparatchiks attempting to argue that The People are out of touch with them, rather than parties being out of touch with their constituents. Reminds me of the famous Bertolt Brecht ditty about an Eastern European country’s government losing confidence in its people – and asking the question as to whether it would be thusly desirable for the Government to dissolve its people and elect another]

Although the best illustration of the principle I’m trying to explain is probably to be found in the Bill Clinton speech I linked a few paragraphs above. In it, Clinton characterizes Corbyn as a “guy off the street”, and therefore patently unsuitable for the leadership of a modern political party.

This is a funny thing, indeed, when we consider what the Labour Party was originally supposed to be: namely, an organization by ‘guys off the street’ [in specia, often from the union movement], *for* ‘guys off the street’. Perhaps not quite an “ordinary person’s party”, but certainly not a party of the seemingly plenipotent and omnipresent insidious elites who believe it’s their influence-given right to come in and rule us like latter-day [quasi-elected but often not really] kings.

In short, they’re seriously afraid of ‘Common People’. [this is probably an appropriate time for another Pulp song – this time, of the same title, but as covered by William Shatner]. Or, more specifically, ‘common people’ they can’t control. The technical term for this, as I may have noted before, is “Ochlophobia” [although there’s another school of thought which

This isn’t really a ‘new thing’ in Western politics nor elite perceptions [consider the representation of ‘the mob’ in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for a rather overt indication of what the Nobles of our society have always thought was the logical consequence of allowing people to have a say in their own destiny]. But it is absolutely peculiar – if not outright offensive – that in the view of these craven harpies, there is no place for the “Rule of the People” in their conception of “Democracy”. Ironic, no? [although at the very least, I suppose it’s better than what was done to Greece not so long ago thanks to a slightly different (yet overlapping) group of transnational malignant elites …]

In a related sense, the reason so many media commentators and other such associated personalities remain both confused and annoyed about Corbyn’s ‘shock’ not-victory is because they’re used to setting up and controlling “the narrative”. My learned associate [and fellow TDB columnist] Chris Trotter once told me of the “Three Dicks” who presided over political media here in New Zealand in the 1980s. Richards Harman, Long, and Griffin of TVNZ, The Dominion, and Radio New Zealand respectively. David Lange was reportedly of the opinion that without their co-operation and being ‘in’ on the strategy, putting forward a coherent message to voters would be strenuously difficult. The UK is a more ‘sophisticated’ [I hesitate to say ‘advanced’] society than ours in many ways; and yet whereas our traditional sources of media [along with their coseted ‘gatekeepers’] are of fading importance, theirs still have the temerity to believe themselves to still be seriously in control [a feeling no doubt deliberately fostered thanks to the famously close relationship between Blair’s ‘New Labour’ and the big press barons]. It must certainly be an inordinate feeling of power to be able to not just arrange the news on a page – but to be able to [at least partially] choreograph the actual events and perceptions being reported upon.

But the thing about power – as with any other compulsive, dopaminergic drug … is that its absence or curtailment begins to trigger some rather nasty withdrawals. Subjective symptoms can include confusion, aggression, erratic behavior, and the compulsive engagement in some rather wild delusions. All of which, I would contend, fairly describe quite an array [but importantly, not all] of those folk opposed to Corbyn in the media.

“The Narrative”, as it were, is up in the air. It’s been supplanted in many ways, by a different chain of events [which, if you look closely, make *far* more ‘narrative sense’ than the original ‘script’ ever seemed to]. So the people who feel it’s ‘their’ prerogative to be penning it are deathly worried that it’s events and the story-determined flow of causality – rather than just people – which they thusly can’t control.

They’re right.

The reason why we’re constantly bombarded in the run-up to Polling Day [in whatever country] with maliciously false opinion-pieces and polling data about how certain things are “inevitable” or “can’t possibly happen” – is in order to set up the sorts of ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’ which seriously condition YOUR choice going into the voting-booth. As we’ve seen time and time again, if people think that there’s no point in voting because the result’s already been determined … then they won’t. And thus, it happens. This is why pro-National sources push the idea of National riding so high in the polls and being set to govern alone so vigorously for the months before an Election – because it suppresses turnout from non-National voters [who appear to think – why bother voting if it’s not going to change anything], thus guaranteeing a higher Nat share of the eventual [lowered] turnout.

A similar thing has evidently been tried in the UK last week, as well as with the previous Brexit referendum which lead to this whole glorious imbroglio. Except on both occasions, ordinary Britons decided to ‘buck the narrative’ – buck it right up, in fact – and made the effort to actually vote in numbers and in ways that hadn’t been anticipated. Like I said above – Friday represented the highest turnout since Labour’s historic high-water mark in 1997.

The core message from the 2017 UK General Election, then, is that regardless of what any number of commentators, pop-cultural figures, and has-been politicians might tell you … if you put in the effort to support something, it actually CAN make a difference. The greatest force in politics – the stuff of which revolutions are truly made – is, in fact, people. People coming together to believe in things. Together.

It was said by all of the above vested-interest talking heads that Labour’s policies and presumptive Prime Minister In Waiting made the whole edifice unelectable. That the ‘only’ “path to victory” would have been to go back Neoliberal in a futile bid to repeat the Blair successes of the late 90s and early 2000s. No less a personage [for could there truly be any lesser] than Tony Blair HIMSELF bleated to any who would listen that this was the inexorable way to go to avoid oblivion. And yet, if we go back and look at the results from the last five General Elections, it’s quite abundantly clear that – if anything – the converse is arguably true. In 2001, Labour scored 40.7%. 2005, 35.2%. 2010: 29% [and a loss of Government to the Conservatives]. 2015: 30.4%. And 2017? 40.0%

It is surely no coincidence that the declining limb of the above dataset represent the neoliberal twosome of Blair and Brown; with the rather small bump of the Miliband campaign showing the Labour Party had not seriously moved to distance itself from this disastrous Blairite legacy. It’s only under Corbyn – ‘plain old’ actually-a-socialist Corbyn – that they’ve cracked back up to the 40s. Scoring, not coincidentally, well above what Blair and Blairism were capable of delivering once the ‘shiny’ had worn off.

Gosh. It’s almot like giving the people what they actually want [as opposed to what elites think they should *ought* to want] is a pretty good recipe for electoral success or something. Who’d have thought?

In any case, it might seem somewhat peculiar to be so avowedly celebrating a “losing” result. And certainly, there are even now Conservative-supporting spinners attempting to construe such conduct as utterly illogical if not outright psychotic-hallucinatory. These latter sorts are apparently unaware of the concept of a ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ [so named for King Pyrrhus of Epirus – who famously opined following the Battle of Asculum words to the effect of “one more win like that and we’re stuffed”].

But what Friday’s outcome represents – to me, anyway – is a serious and perhaps even decisive blow struck in the ongoing war for your mind. An overt, and undeniable signifer that we don’t just have to do what the TV tells us; and that the supposed “experts” who apparently get to de-legitimate or pooh-pooh well-thought out and well-costed policy on the basis of personal preference [masquerading as highly technically ‘competent’ and long-won ‘expertise’] CAN be proven wrong. Even if only from time to time, by large and impressive events such as these.

It has been said [most popularly in V for Vendetta] that Governments should be afraid of their people.

I don’t know that I’d go quite that far.

Although ringing in my ears as I type this are the sage words of Winston Churchill. And not the one that goes “‘as the deluge subsides and the waters fall short, we see the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone emerging once again” – however relevant that might be, given the new saliency of the DUP and Irish issues in British politics as of this week. [My thanks to my former Politics lecturer, Patrick Hine, for drawing my attention to that one]

Instead, it is the rather more famous aphorism from a speech he made in 1937:

“Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.”

Those who oppose us are not, in the conventional sense of the term, “dictators”. That would require rather more overt presentation and exercise of control than they are comfortable wielding.

Instead, they are Oligarchs. Oligarchs, Technocrats, and other Elites both Uncountable and Unaccountable.

The ‘Tiger’ which they ride upon, they had thought an old, geriatric, de-fanged and de-clawed beast more fit for living out its remaining days behind the glass at the local zoo. Less of a threat, even, than the proverbial ‘paper tiger’ – and infinitely more bendable [to their will].

It must have come as an awe-ful [in the older sense .. as in, inspiring quite some awe – in me, at least] surprise for them to come to forcibly realize that it yet maintains a most considerable vitality!

I suspect that things are only poised to get more *ahem* ‘excitingly stripey’ from here!

 

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"Part Apache; Part Swede. Part Attack Helicopter; Part Kitset Furniture."

5 Comments

  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    Helen Clark won in a landslide in 1999 when she used the policy of offering “A kinder Gentler caring government”

    We must encourage all opposition parties to heavily express these Human qualities so to capture the youth vote as Jeremy Corbyn did successfully Curwin.

    We attended a rail meeting in Gisborne last November and saw Winston really clearly convey these human principals and he will get many youth on his side if he carries on caring for the disadvantaged provinces, as he does so very well.

  2. phillip ure says:

    it wuz the policy..!..it wuz the ‘radical’-manifesto wot dun it..!

    corbyn or no corbyn..had their policies just been more of that centrist-neoliberal-incrementalist ilk..(that i am sure nz labour will soon offer us..)

    ..then their vote would have stayed in the toilet..

    (reading corbyns’ manifesto can cause you to break into a verse of ‘the workers’ flag is deepest red’..and mean it…)

    (and a poll in a rightwing tabloid-rag showed over 80% support for the ‘radical’ policies corbyn was proposing/promising

    and nz labour should copy/paste corbyns’ manifesto and stick their name on the top..

    .but they won’t..

  3. mjh says:

    An excellent analysis, as usual, Curwen! [I could as a teacher/editor say not to use so many () etc, and to edit your comments, but…I won’t, because your content is so good! Labour must move to the left on economic issues. And the party that can make them do it is, as we both believe, NZ First. NZ First is the ONLY party in NZ whose principles are clearly and in principal opposed to Neoliberalism.
    Government investment, or govt sponsored and regulated business investment is essential. We need to revive industry! But we need also to plant trees, save the environment, think about how many cows we really need…let’s restore rail!
    And above all, NZ must reflect on immigrant levels and only let in the numbers it can safely absorb; this has nothing to do with race!

  4. Samwise says:

    A resurgent Left will be the only successful response to a rising populist movement in Washington and France. We need a coherent Left with coherent policies and then people will turn away from racist demagogues like trump and Le pen.

  5. Strypey says:

    “Perhaps not quite an “ordinary person’s party”, but certainly not a party of the seemingly plenipotent and omnipresent insidious elites who believe it’s their influence-given right to come in and rule us like latter-day [quasi-elected but often not really] kings.”

    Good point here. Reminds me I keep meaning to get hold of a copy of ‘The Divine Right of Capital’ by Marjorie Kelly.

    “I suspect that things are only poised to get more *ahem* ‘excitingly stripey’ from here!”

    Oh I do hope so 😉