So, where did we get to?
Progress is a good thing.
The principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" was a mechanism intended to achieve this thing called Progress. We have now abandoned this particular mechanism. But this is okay, because the mechanism was never what we cared about. What really mattered were the Underlying Values, and these have not changed.
I am a bit unclear about what the Underlying Values are. I am a bit unclear about whether Marxism has been abandoned because it is old or because the external circumstances happen to have changed. (You might stop wearing wooly hats because they are out of fashion and make you look like your granddad. But you might stop wearing them because the weather has turned hot all of a sudden.) I am also a bit unclear if we are talking about what is right, what will work, or what will win elections. I am not even sure if Tony Blair would recognise the distinction.
It might be that Marxism was morally good in the 1960s in the same way that slavery was morally good in the 1760s, but that the inexorable march of cosmic evolution has changed the nature of morality.
It might be that people in the 1960s were stupid, and honestly believed that Marxism was good, in the same way that people in the 1760s were stupid and honestly believed that witches existed. We know better nowadays. But we shouldn't blame the people in the past for burning witches and believing in Marxism. They truthfully didn't know any better.
It might be that "from each according to his ability" was a very good means to an end to adopt in the 1950s, when everyone worked in factories, but that now everyone works on the internet, a different means (unspecified) needs to be adopted to achieve the same ends (also unspecified).
Finally, it might be that in the 1960s a canny politician had to pretend to believe in Marxism because that was the sort of thing gullible people would vote for, but nowadays you to pretend to believe in something else if you want to fool people into supporting you.
When it turned out that Blair's reasons for starting a war with Iraq were not entirely true, he didn't think that this invalidated the war. He said that if he had known then what he knows now he would have "deployed" other arguments. Possibly Marxism and Progress are things which you deploy in order to achieve something else. I just wish I knew what the Something Else was.
I think that we should go North at 100 miles an hour. You agree that we should go North, but only at 10 miles an hour. We are going in the same direction but at different speeds.
Maybe we want to end up in the same place, and you think that by going slowly we are more likely to get there in the end. Or maybe I want to get to John O Groats but you think that Edinburgh is quite far enough.
But someone else might find themselves thinking like this.
"I want to go North, and my followers want to go North: but our opponents want to go South. I reckon that if I go South at 50 miles an hour, most of my supporters and some of my opponents will still vote for me. And even going South at 50 miles an hour is better than going South at 100 miles an hour, which is what is going to happen if I admit that I want to go North at even 1 mile per hour. Southhampton may not be Inverness, but it is slightly better than Penzance."
That is the difference between sweet Moderation, which is the hope of our nation, and Centrism, which leads inexorably to Johnson, Trump -- and worse.
I do not think that SCIENCES!! automatically leads to Progress, but I do agree that SCIENCES!! changes the kinds of things you can do to make Progress happen.
Assuming that we all agree what we are Progressing towards, which we don't.
It is very silly, in the age of the Interwebs and Twitface, to be selling paper copies of Socialist Worker outside railway stations and spending hours and hours putting statistically dubious bar charts through people's letterboxes. Obama and Trump both understood that elections are won on social media. So, in fact, did Momentum.
Blair, and by Blair I mean Peter Mandelson, won three elections because he understood how television and newspapers worked: how to take control of an interview, how to associate himself with "eye-catching initiatives", how to keep his acolytes "on message". The rebranding of his party as "new" Labour, and the wallet sized "pledge card" were both highly media-savvy tactics. If he had carved his pledges on a giant stone tablet he would have doubtless done even better. But Blair came to power when The World Wide Web was a novelty and no-one had heard of Facebook: those tactics would not work nearly as well tomorrow.
I think I can envisage ways in which SCIENCES!! might make the old questions about Left and Right wing politics redundant.
It might go something like this.
"We want to get books into the hands of poor people because knowledge is power and I used to love the Famous Five when I was a kid. But we are using the Old Ways -- charging people Council Tax, and using the money to pay librarians to keep paper books in alphabetical order. I think we should close all the libraries and reduce council tax (which will earn us votes) and use SCIENCES!! to get books into people's hands. We will go to Jeff Bezos and say "It's all right. You don't have to pay us any tax, and you don't even have to let your staff go for a wee. But in return, we want all ebooks to be free, and for you to provide a tablet computer for every school kid in the country. (That will cost about three billion but you are worth about a hundred and thirty three billion so its not like you can't afford it.) Result: a massive democratisation of knowledge and literacy. Which was the Enduring Value we started from."
It would not be true to say that New Labour was the same as the Old Tories, and that Blair as Prime Minister didn't do anything nice. It would be cynical to say that today's Labour Right don't believe in anything. But if you ask a continuity Blairite what the party achieved in power (having agreed that we are not going to mention the war) what you would get is a shopping list of small reforms.
The thing which the Blair Party is most proud of is SureStart, which increased poor people's access to childcare and nursery education. They also introduced a national minimum wage. Blair took incremental steps towards full equality for LGBT people. He made some big political reforms, like devolved government in Scotland. He incorporated the human rights act into English law and formally abolished the death penalty. He banned fox hunting. These were undoubtedly Good Things. Some of them would have happened anyway, but some of them most definitely wouldn't. But they were hardly an all-consuming new vision of Britain. And they were not particularly informed by SCIENCES!!
Now we are going to tear down the Labour party and three days later raise up another in its place. Nothing less will do, apparently.
So, is this New New Labour Party forged in the white heat of the genome project and sat-nav going to be anything more than a new shopping list of moderately liberal reforms? Or is Progress (like Marxism before it) simply a rhetoric that we are going to deploy so we can dupe the voters into putting us in the position where we can introduce identity cards and ASBOs and frogmarch drunk teenagers to cashpoints?
Screwtape said that Christian clergymen always warn people against the sins they are least likely to commit. When everyone is itching to launch a crusade against the infidel, they will hear stern sermons against lukewarmness and nominalism. When they regard churchgoing as a pleasant social duty they will be warned from the pulpit of the dangers of extremism and fanaticism. Blair does not tell Starmer to be more exciting; more radical; more daring; to take more risks; to try to get the public excited. Instead he presents a tabloid parody of the Left, and solemnly warns Kier Starmer not to be like that.
Blair's analysis of the current political situation is very obscure: but it is just about decipherable. He seems to say two different things.
First he says that young people -- and a new generation of uniquely and specially young people appear to have unexpectedly emerged fully formed in the the last year or two -- want change for change's sake. He seems to envisage them looking for something to rebel against and asking "what have you got?" Because the Moderates -- Kier Starmer -- are not talking about big economic changes, the young people have started calling for big changes in other areas. They are saying we should change the way black people, transexual and homosexual people are treated. They are saying we should change the way we do industry and travel, so as to halt global warming before we all die. They are saying we should change the way that nationality, gender and religion inform and define political beliefs. He lumps these together as "culture" or "identity". He says that moderates (Kier Starmer) don't understand these issues. But they are aware that their views may be wrong, or out of touch, or at any rate perceived as such. So they stay out of the argument altogether. This makes them look weak. So we have a vicious circle: the Young are radical because Starmer is so boring; Starmer is boring because the Young are so radical.
But he also says that the agenda around "cultural" issues has been set by the Right. I think he is thinking here about the Far Right -- the ones who are prepared to say that imperialism was an unreservedly good thing and that trans people ought not to be allowed to go to the loo, and whose supporters are often nakedly racist and homophobic. But the result is the same. The moderates (Kier Starmer) are reluctant to push back against the Right's anti-immigrant, anti-trans rhetoric, so the only opposition comes from Young Radicals. But the Young Radicals scare everyone else off, meaning that the Right keep on winning elections. Which the Young Radicals secretly like, because they would rather be heroic martyrs than actually have to worry about the boring nuts and bolts of government. The Silly Right created the Culture Wars; the Sensible Left failed to oppose them, and the Silly Left have lept into the vacuum. And since the Silly Left are too silly too actually win the argument, the Right have victory handed to them on a plate.
I don't know how true any of this is. I am, for example, intrigued by the idea that left-wing, Marxist politics are hopelessly old fashioned and mired in the past and at the same time especially attractive to the dynamic, new, young generation. If it is a bad thing to have old fashioned views on trains and trades unions, why is it kind of okay to have old fashioned views about transexuals?
Blair seems to agree with us recovering Corbynistas that Kier Starmer is hopelessly moderate, dull, weak and wet, and that he is failing to provide and intelligible response to the scary right wing agenda of Priti Patel and Nigel Farage. But that is not how the Centrists whose votes Blair wants perceive him. The Daily Mail call him hopelessly Woke for taking a knee during a black rights matter demonstration. A Tory MP described him as "prisoner of woke" during a serious debate in the Houses of Parliament. I think Starmer is boringly moderate; Blair's target audience think that he is terrifyingly left wing.
I find it very hard to take seriously the idea that Greta Thurberg or the Colston Four are being radical for the sake of radicalism, and that if Kier Starmer had better policies about student loans and mortgages they would have been content to spend their evenings putting New Labour leaflets through their neighbours doors.
There is room for more than one opinion about direct action: it may be that you shouldn't remove kitch Victorian statues of 18th century human traffickers from city centres, even when they have become the focus of nasty local nativist movements. These things are always better handled through process than through protest. I understand that you are cross about not having the vote, but tying yourself to railings and jumping in front of race horses only hurts your case.
But I shudder, slightly, when I hear that behind the agenda of Black Rights Matter, Reclaim the Streets and Extinction Rebellion "lies an ideology that ordinary people find alien and extreme". What ideology lies behind these movements? One Daily Mail pundit thinks that they are working towards the destruction of "white society". Is this the kind of thing which Blair has in mind?
But still, I do recognise the vicious circle that he is pointing to. The young are too extreme because the left are too moderate. The right are too extreme in response to the extremism of the left. The left can't provide an alternative to the extreme right, because they are too moderate. So the young become even more extreme to counter the extreme right.
Starmer's moderation and the left's radicalism are both part of the problem. On this argument, the left need to dial it down and Starmer needs to turn the volume up.
So: what is Blair's solution? How is this new scrub-it-out-and-start-it-again Labour Party going to look?
Blair is not really a moderate or a compromiser. He may be interested in forming an alliance between New New Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but he isn't interested in a rapprochement between Corbynites and Millibandians. He is a populist. He sets about telling us what The People, or People or Ordinary People really want.
A third of The People of Hartlepool wanted a Labour MP. A third of the People of the UK wanted Corbyn to be Prime Minister in 2019. (About forty per cent did so in 2017.) Nearly half The People voted to stay in the EU in 2015. Nevertheless The People are a homogenous lump who all speak with a single voice. I, a remain voting, Corbyn supporting, human rights advocating, pro-immigration, multi-cultural Old Labour Marxist am not one of The People.
I do not, in fact, exist.
"People", Blair says, do not like "their" country, "their" flag, or "their" history being disrespected. I think that we need to flip this round: Blair thinks that Old Labour and the Too Radical Young are inclined to be disrespectful about Britain, the history of Britain, and the Union Jack. He says that it does not follow that we can never acknowledge that Britain has done some Bad Things in the past: but in what other respect has anyone ever been inclined to diss this great country of ours? Do you hear the Left saying that the Lake District is not very pretty at this time of year, that Blackpool is not a great holiday resort, that Keats didn't write great poetry, that the Beatles didn't write great tunes and that Stevenson didn't invent steam trains?
It is when I say that maybe Britain should be ashamed of the slave ships in the same way that Germany is ashamed of the concentration camps that I get called unpatriotic. It is when I ask if a black person with a slave heritage might feel about a medal called "Member of the Order of the British Empire" in the same way a Jewish person might regard a medal called "Iron Cross of the Gestapo" that I get accused of dissing my country. It is when I say that the guide books to national monuments ought to tell us the whole story about where they came from, whips and sugar plantations and all, that I am told that I want to erase, destroy, eradicate and rewrite our history. Either we join the the Right in celebrating Rhodes and Colston as great British heroes, or we accept the charge of being being unpatriotic, or we retire from the argument altogether.
A cowboy and his comanche companion were in the bad-lands. "We're surrounded by Indians!" cried the cowboy. You know the punchline.
Again, Blair tells us that "people" like common sense, proportion and reason. And so they do. Very probably they also like chocolate cake and bunny rabbits. But the flipside is that Blair thinks that The Left are unreasonable, inclined to overreact to things, and prone to act in ways which are contrary to common sense.
"Whatever is contrary to common sense" is a frequent definition of Political Correctness. I don't know if Blair means it as a dogwhistle. David Cameron fought a nasty election campaign around the idea that lots of nasty right wing talking points were plain and simple common sense. Are you thinking what I am thinking of.
He says that "people" like the police and they like the army. He says that the Left are allowed to criticise police and military conduct provided they do it without smearing -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! -- the organisation itself. The implication being, once again, that the Left do not like the police or the army, and that they are always seeking to smear soldiers in general and police officers in general. I suppose a small number of the radical left are pacifists and anarchists. Corbyn was misquoted -- smeared -- as saying that he would like to disband the British army, but what he had actually said was that he hoped one day wars would come to an end and no-one would have any need for soldiers. Again: any suggestion that a soldier tortured an enemy combatant or killed a civilian or that the police roughed up a suspect or fabricated evidence or provoked a riot or didn't treat the murder of a black person as seriously as they would have treated the murder of a white person will always be deemed by the Right to be a scurrilous attack on Our Brave Boys and Bobbies On The Beat. "Don't smear the police and the army" means "Stop going on and on about institutional racism and human rights abuses."
Blair does say that defund the police is a silly slogan, and I probably agree with him.
This is an absolute play-book of the tabloid right wing. The Woke Mob hate England and the flag; the army and the police; they are politically correct; they take everything out of proportion. Blair's New New Labour party will not be like this parody of the Left.
And now comes the bit where he says that the left-wing critique of the Moderates is partly fair, and lists ways in which Starmer could be more Radical.
Like hell he does.
His parodic critique of The Left is the beginning an end of his analysis.
He is refreshingly honest here. He doesn't say that Labour should support the police unreservedly, assert that slavery and empire were Good Things and deny that trans people exist because those ideas are right and true. Pretending to believe those things is -- he says this explicitly -- a tactic. To believe anything else is "electorally off-putting". The party who does not believe those things will "not win elections".
"Let's pretend to be more racist so we can get into power and reduce carbon emissions by 2030" or "Let's throw trans people under the boss so we can massively tax Amazon and send twice as many people to college" might conceivably be the kinds of compromises that a politician needs to make. The gay and lesbian issue really did cost Kinnock dear among the pensioners. But Blair is long on the "let's do this bad thing..." part and very short on the "...in order that we may do this good thing" element
"On cultural issues, one after another, the Labour Party is being backed into electorally off-putting positions. A progressive party seeking power which looks askance at the likes of Trevor Phillips, Sara Khan or JK Rowling is not going to win."
Trevor Phillips was suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Islamic statements: he talked about Islam being a nation within a nation, and complained that the Muslims did not wear Remembrance Day poppies. Sarah Kahn's appointment by Theresa May as an "anti extremist Tsar" was criticised by some Muslims because of her connection with the governments Prevent programme which it was felt equated Islam with extremism. And J.K Rowling
wrote a lot of shit fantasy books argued that someone born with a cock could never transition to being a woman.
I am not a hundred per cent sure what "look askance" means: I think it is a way of saying "You should not disagree with them" without quite saying that you agree with them. Blair thinks that "we" ought to have a debate. The question of whether Muslims are scary nation within a nation (as opposed to a minority religious group like Roman Catholics and, er, Jews); whether people who go to Mosque rather than Chapel are more likely to be terrorists than anyone else; and whether trans people even exist is the kind of thing that is open for discussion.
Flipside: the Left think that the existence of transpeople and the idea that Muslims are just British citizen is something which is not open for discussion.
"The Labour Party needs to push back strongly against those who will try to shout down the debate."
Flipside: If you think that Muslims are not truly British and trans people don't exist, the Left will not let you speak.
The Far Right are not prepared to say "Racism is good, actually" or "We hate trans people and want to abolish them" although that is clearly what some of them think. So they have adopted a strategy of making Free Speech the issue of the day. We are supposed to be scared of the Woke Left, not because they are against Racism, but because they won't let people who are in favour of racism have their fair say. We are supposed to be sympathetic to J.K Rowling, with her book contract and her fourteen million Twitter followers, not because she is right, but because no-one can hear what the poor woman is saying.
The Left are intolerant of other views. The Left need to embrace the right of people to hold racist and anti-Islamic and anti-trans opinions. Presumably not anti-gay opinions and definitely not anti-Jewish ones. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the way to win elections. The Labour Party, dissolved and reconstituted according to Blair's vision, would be the party of Peter Hitchens, Piers Morgan and the tabloids who drool and rant about the Woke Left.
If you say you want to go South, you will be shouted down. The most important thing is not to go North: it is to allow the people who want to go South to speak because if you look askance at them you will not win any elections.
Fuck! How the hell did we end up in Cape Town?