Spadocide and the future of Labour

by Chris Bertram on September 13, 2015

Driving though France to catch a cross-channel ferry is an odd situation in which to try to follow the UK news. Back in 1997 we tuned into British radio and heard outraged callers demanding to know why the BBC had been insensitive enough to run a documentary on the land-speed record after Diana died in a car crash. That was weird, but not so weird as being on a ship where we seemed to be the only people not worshipping in front of enormous TV screens installed for the funeral. We were coming back to a country that was a bit different to the one we had left three weeks before. Eighteen years later we managed to pick up decent reception for radio 5 just before the Labour leadership result was announced, but every bridge and power-line we passed under resulted in a whoosh of deep-bass interference, so that key bits of information were lost and we had to infer them from later commentary. And then the only programme on the ferry was rolling BBC News, a succession of talking heads and policy wonks on College Green, telling the public what to think about events which had revealed just what an important section of the public thinks about people like them.

BBC journalists, newspaper columnists and professional politicians all seemed to be carrying on with zombie incantations of what they take to be the the eternal truth of British politics, as decreed by the prophet Tony: tack to the centre. This hardly seems adequate to what has happened. Jeremy Corbyn, the most awkward of the awkward squad, previously barely a household name in his own house, has thrashed the professional elite of one of Britain’s two main political parties, gaining nearly 60 per cent of the vote against candidates with ministerial experience and considerable public reputations. The estimable Flying Rodent [deployed the following well-judged sporting analogy](

> In football terms, this is like East Fife beating Celtic 13-0 at Parkhead – one of those things that should just never, ever happen.

> To stretch the analogy, I can tell you now that if a bottom-tier team dealt out that kind of drubbing to the richest club in the country, nobody would put it down to East Fife’s sudden samba football. The headlines wouldn’t read “Fifers Fantastic”.

> They’d say – “Woeful Celtic hammered”, “Shambolic Celts stuffed” and, most importantly, “Fans demand immediate resignation and suicide of everyone associated with this mortifying catastrophe”.

But the media friends of the androids who Corbyn defeated thought the important thing to say was that the he had no future, rather than querying the performance of their preferred candidates.

I didn’t believe this moment would occur, and if I had had a vote, I wouldn’t have backed Corbyn. But then I’m very cautious by disposition, too focused on the potential catastrophes rather than the possibilities of change for the better. What the result tells us is that things have changed a lot since the financial crisis in 2008 and that the deep alienation that people feel from the professionals on the conveyor belt from PPE to think-tank to special adviser (SPAD) to junior minister to high office is now such as to tip them over from the cynical indifference of *The Thick of It* to active rejection. That’s a process being reproduced over and over in various ways in different places, with people voting for UKIP, the Front National, Beppe Grillo, Donald Trump, the SNP, Podemos, Syriza, and so forth. Those parties are very different from one another: some are far-right xenophobic populists, others campaign for human rights and Keynesian anti-austerity (now dubbed “extremist” by their local pundits). The process of alienation and re-engagement works differently for the activist bases and the wider public. Labour’s selectorate have killed the SPADs and chosen Corbyn, who stands for the socialist values of the past; Labour’s voters have already defected in some numbers to the SNP and UKIP, and Corbyn may not be able to bring them back.

The Tories are currently in raptures and are painting Corbynite Labour as a danger to “national security”. They have seen off their erstwhile coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, a team of second-division SPADs themselves, and they managed to get through the 2015 General Election undented by UKIP. They seem confident that in a first-past-the-post system they will vanquish all in 2020 (and they’re working hard to tinker with the system to make this even more likely). They may well be right in their confidence. But “events, dear boy” may trip them up. Cameron needs to get through the EU referendum and hold the UK together with the Tory party intact. That may not be so easy.

If 2008 is 1929 then this is 1936, and we’re all looking better than we did last time round. Still, the confidence of the SPADs and the pundits that normal service will be resumed shortly seems to rest on nothing but habit and inertia. The danger for all of us is that mass electorates, feeling insecure as the world changes around them, driven by processes they cannot understand, will blame the most visible symptoms of change, immigrants and foreigners, and that this will bolster the politics of nationalist rejectionism across the Western world. A year ago, I though President Le Pen was an absurdity that could never happen, now it just might. The SPADocracy and their counterparts in other places have reacted to the populism of the right by tacking slightly in their direction. Corbyn and the Europeans who demonstrated in solidarity with refugees yesterday have chosen to reaffirm liberal and democratic values instead.

The deep forces driving these changes are globalisation, the end of growth and rising living-standards for ordinary people in Western democracies, the effect of the internet on people’s expectation of work, increasing inequality and subversion of democracy by the wealthy, and, looming in the background, ecological disaster and climate change. These forces are not going away. Bebel famously said that anti-semitism is the socialism of fools. Grabbing onto some sense of collective belonging in the face of uncertainty is a natural human instinct and the new socialism of fools may consist of atavistic nationalism and hostility to Muslims, a republicanism of the right in which “the people” has a somewhat flexible quasi-ethnic definition, this is the appeal of UKIP or the FN.

What of the socialism of non-fools? The real thing (or something close to it)? The hope is that Corbynite Labour can build an leftist and internationalist coalition, perhaps linking up with Caroline Lucas and the Greens in some way. The fear is that division and splits with the Labour right will undermine the left alternative whilst Nigel Farage takes full advantage.



John Garrett 09.13.15 at 3:24 pm

Ample parallels to the talking head’s response to Bernie Sanders here in the US – although the threat to national security stuff won’t hit until he wins in New Hampshire and Iowa. Hope Corbyn will look this way as well as to Europe.



Chris Hanretty 09.13.15 at 3:40 pm

Brings to mind the classic headline, Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious


engels 09.13.15 at 3:49 pm

Good post. Maybe revealing myself as out of touch but I wasn’t sure what you mean by “the effect of the internet on people’s expectation of work”.


Chris Bertram 09.13.15 at 3:55 pm

@engels I meant the disruptive effects of technology on jobs, basically. The freelancing of some work, the potential for invasive management of other jobs. Pervasive domination and insecurity.


Avattoir 09.13.15 at 4:19 pm

JG, Maybe within big limits. It’s not like any of a half dozen top leaders in Labour’s ranks out-poll Cameron and any of his rivals to lead the Tories; nor is it like choosing between the S.S. Hillary and feeling the Bern has any relevance to overcoming Gomert’s Congress.


Sandwichman 09.13.15 at 4:20 pm

But how could the Very Serious Pundit People ever question the performance of the Very Serious SPAD People?


Stephenson-quoter kun 09.13.15 at 4:21 pm

Corbyn has a difficult job. He needs to win votes in Scotland and South-East England at the same time – Blair only managed this by taking Scotland for granted, which (like many of Blair’s tactics) worked just long enough to deliver a few election victories, with the problems left to his successors to sort out. He needs to take votes off UKIP and the Greens, Conservatives who will be worried about his economic policies and Lib Dems who will be worried about civil liberties (though Tom Watson will help there).

His best approach is probably outright populism. The British people demand some sensible measure X (railway nationalisation, say), why won’t David Cameron give it to them? Keep on hammering on at the fact that the Tories can’t or won’t act in the public interest. Cameron’s moderate image won’t help him if it looks like he’s being held hostage by rabid right-wing backbenchers, and with such a narrow majority and Europe back in the headlines, Cameron may find himself fighting the same battles as John Major did in the mid-90s.

It’s a trite statement that politics depends on momentum, but in Corbyn’s case it really is true. He needs to look like a winner, and his surprise victory in the Labour leadership contest needs to be translated into the belief that he might do it again in a general election. There are a few reasons:

* At the margins, there are many Scottish voters who would prefer a Labour government to a Conservative one, and some of them might be persuaded to vote tactically. They would vote SNP if they think a Labour government is unlikely, but would vote tactically for Labour if they think it might keep the Tories out.
* The Tories don’t really believe in discipline: they believe that they’re the natural party of government and will get back in sooner or later, so they can be oddly short-termist, even self-destructive. If they think that the clock is ticking, the Tory right will try to get more right-wing legislation through while there’s still time, and Cameron either has to acquiesce (and lose some marginal voters) or risk a split (and lose even more).
* UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems have done well out of disaffected Labour voters. If Corbyn can create a sense that Labour is where the action is, the smaller parties may be starved of the energy to do real damage. In any case, a Lib Dem rebound would probably be a good thing for Labour as there are many more Lib Dem/Tory battlegrounds than Lib Dem/Labour ones, and Farron is easier to imagine in a Labour coalition than Clegg was.

A Labour victory therefore becomes easier as more people think it is likely to happen. The problem is that Corbyn needs to utterly confound two major factors: firstly, taking advantage of Tory division will require Labour unity, and Corbyn is not in a great position to lecture his foot soldiers on the importance of following the whip; secondly perception is shaped by the media, and a substantial fraction of the media hates him.

This all sounds desperately dull, the kind of tactical politics-by-numbers that thinking people have come to despise; presumably Corbyn needs to appease the media and his own backbenchers by tacking to the centre in order to get a fair hearing. But there is another option which might just achieve what I set out above without Blairite triangulation. Corbyn could try to route around the media, making use of those new grass-roots Labour members to get the message out; hold more of the local meetings and rallies that his leadership campaign was built on, and instruct his shadow cabinet to do the same; use social media (all of it, not just Twitter) to reach voters directly; focus on the positive, renewal, the dream of a better life and gain coverage from the sheer novelty factor. He might just be able to persuade people to believe that something interesting is happening in the Labour party, and at that point he’s ahead of his opponents. If it looks like he’s shaping public opinion rather than conceding ground to it, the media won’t be able to attack him. And at heart, the Labour backbenchers are tribal loyalists, and as soon as Corbyn shows that he can draw Tory blood in knife-edge Commons votes, they’ll enthusiastically fall in behind him. People expect Cameron to remain calm and in control, and they expect Corbyn to be chaotic and disorganised, but that just massively increases the impact of any evidence to the contrary.

Corbyn is the only one who could make such a strategy work, because he’s the only candidate vaguely interesting enough to persuade people to care. Burnham, Cooper and (to a lesser extent) Kendall were all known quantities, with their best hope being to stand around looking plausible and hope for the best. Corbyn has the ability to surprise, and although it’s very difficult to take advantage of this, it’s probably the only way Labour could get back in to power at the next election given what we currently know.


Daragh 09.13.15 at 4:25 pm

@Chris (and offered with the greatest respect and genuine seeking debate) – I think most of what you’ve written above is basically correct, especially the dismal and uninspiring campaigns of Cooper, Burnham and Kendall (though, ironically enough Kendall probably had the most robust claim to not being a ‘typical Westminster politician’ than any of them).

Having said that – is the phenomenon of ‘activists of political party respond to crushing defeat by doubling down on losing electoral platform in the belief that they lost because they compromised too much’ really that new a phenomenon? Or one that requires that much explanation? Being an activist usually means, by definition, being extremely intellectually and emotionally passionate about a cause or a set of policies. Being told that the electorate disagrees with you, and you’ll need to come up with something else, is understandably a bitter pill to swallow. For the flip side, see Hague, IDS and Howard – all clearly, totally unelectable and unpopular, yet scored decisive wins against more politically realistic alternatives. Ditto the GOP in the US.


Layman 09.13.15 at 4:31 pm

“I meant the disruptive effects of technology on jobs, basically. ”

I think this is an area where the impact is spectacularly underestimated by the ruling classes. In the US, at least, the standard prescription in the left and the right continues to be talk about education investment. People must get a good education – which means a university degree – in order to avoid unemployment. People who have been unemployed by technology, or outsourcing, or whatever, can be ‘retrained’ into another line of work. Which other line of work is always left unclear – what should the unemployed accounting clerk be trained to do instead?

Then there are these two esteemed gentlemen:

They’re here to tell us what jobs will be safe in our technological future. Their answer: We should all aspire to be entrepreneurs or writers; or managers, or football coaches; or, in a pinch, gardeners and maids.

The ordering itself is interesting. They think self-employment is more likely to be ‘safe’ than manual labor in service jobs. My instincts say the opposite – the ruling class seem to like their cheap servants, and if anything that looks like the boom industry to me.

That aside, what will writers write, and who will pay for their work? What will entrepreneurs, well, entrepren? Who will managers manage? Can their prescription actually mean that each of us will clean houses, or manage house cleaners, or start up our own house cleaning businesses?

Of course, they end their piece with a call for government policies more friendly to the ‘job creators’.


engels 09.13.15 at 4:40 pm

[1] what will writers write, and [2] who will pay for their work

Answers: 1. blog posts, comments 2. no-one


Sasha Clarkson 09.13.15 at 5:12 pm

Corbyn won decisively in the constituency parties because many members thought the existing Labour hierarchy was so dire, that the party was already unelectable in 2020. Nor was it demonstrating any capability of being a moral force now. Given that, they preferred to vote for a man of known principle to, as a fellow ex-chair of my local branch told me, “rebuild the party from the bottom up”.

When demonstrable failures like John McTernan lectured members and supporters about “electability”, and other candidates’ spokesmen resurrected the Campbell-Mandelsonian dark arts of spin and smear, it simply strengthened Corbyn’s support. I think he’d have won anyway, but I suspect that Harriet Harman’s decision to abstain on the Welfare Bill, and the other shadow-candidates’ acquiescence in this, was a turning point. High profile individual members, like Harry Leslie Smith of Harry’s Last Stand switched allegiance to Corbyn, and an probable narrow result became a landslide.

Many of the £3 registered supporters were former members who resigned/drifted out of the party in the early naughties. When the result was declared, and was clearly NOT rigged, many of those immediately applied online to rejoin the party: by teatime there were an extra 10,000 members. I expect that many more will have joined by the end of the month, and that the Labour party could end up with more members in Britain than the rest of the political parties put together.

This was never a repeat of the 1980s. There are no block votes any more: one member one vote will mean that the membership and MPs will have to negotiate a new relationship, and that there will be no return to Blairism. The future is fraught with enormous difficulties, but the Pasokification of Labour has been avoided. At worst, Corbyn will be a kind of George Lansbury figure, acting a midwife to the rebirth of the movement.


William Timberman 09.13.15 at 5:38 pm

Layman @ 9

I just finished reading a blog post by Jared Bernstein, who has reviewed the most recent data on investment and productivity, and is skeptical about claims that a huge increase in technological underemployment is on its way to an sonn-to-be-empty shopping mall near you. He rejects the idea that an increase in investment in robots, big data, real-time monitoring of manufacturing and supply-chain processes, etc., will necessarily relegate labor’s share of the economy to what can be earned in the personal lackey remnants of the so-called service economy, or that capital must inevitably wind up in in total control of everything and everybody.

As he puts it, before we conclude we’re all robot fodder, let’s see it in the productivity and investment data. Hmm…. My data may be all anecdotal, my instincts those of a paranoid leftist, but I can’t help thinking that he — and the other ebullient Keynesians like him — are whistling past the graveyard.


Igor Belanov 09.13.15 at 6:00 pm

Sasha Clarkson rightly points out the ‘electability’ red herring that has been used by the media and the Labour establishment. Labour had effectively been in a long decline in popularity since 1997, and the 2010 and 2015 defeats basically finished the party elite as their trump card of success could no longer be played to counter the increasing levels of frustration that their cynicism and lack of principle had created.

The focus on the 2020 election and whether Corbyn could be PM is also something of a speculative cul-de-sac. There were very few lessons from the 2015 election except that opinion polling is about as accurate as looking at animal entrails when it comes to forecasting a result. As such it is rather pointless basing a political strategy solely on winning an election when nobody knows the best way to achieve this. Corbyn believes, I think, that the best bet is to try a build a democratic mass movement of activists that would be able to exert influence, engage in politics in the broadest and deepest sense of the word, and remain in a position to seize any opportunities that present themselves. This is going to be interesting, and will involve the most anti-establishment politics that the Labour Party has ever seen.


Brett Dunbar 09.13.15 at 6:13 pm

@ 12

Well at every point that the labour required in part of the economy has dropped the left have predicted permanent mass unemployment. The economy has found uses for the surplus labour. What makes you thing that this time it’s different?


Hidari 09.13.15 at 6:18 pm

The idea that technology is currently causing a huge upsurge in unemployment is self-evidently absurd.* Here’s some random stats:

Switzerland: unemployment rate 2.8%
Singapore: unemployment rate 1.8%
Norway: unemployment rate 3.3%
Germany: unemployment rate 4.7%
Japan: unemployment rate 4.1%

Kenya: unemployment rate 42%
Lesotho: unemployment rate 42%
Mali: unemployment rate 30%
Mozambique: unemployment rate 60%
Senegal: unemployment rate: 48%

Most of the ‘evidence’ for the ‘technology causes unemployment’ seems to involve the ‘the United States is the Universe, other countries don’t really exist’ argument, or else drawing wild conclusions from events in Europe which are much more parsimoniously explained by the Euro disaster, deunionisation, the collapse of the welfare state, ‘austerity’ and other causal factors.

*of course it might in the future, who knows, but my argument is purely about the present.


Roger Gathman 09.13.15 at 6:22 pm

Glad to see, finally, a post on Corbyn! I’m not sure why, Chris, you say that if you had a vote, you wouldn’t have voted for Corbyn … because you are cautious. Cautious about what? Is that caution about electability – which is always an odd reason to vote unless one feels that your choices are parity products – or is it because you oppose Corbyn’s views? Although you rightly criticize the press for their inertia and pile-on, it does seem that ultimately, this post is about whether Corbyn can be elected, and not about what Corbyn’s policies would be like. One thing that I think Corbyn will do is oppose, both stylistically and substantially, the Tories – and I think that that is the only road to electability. Otherwise, Labour will be both defeated and represent nothing. That is the kind of defeat that really does kill a party – hence, the Lib Dems self-burial.


Chris Bertram 09.13.15 at 7:20 pm

@Hidari, the level of unemployment is not the only effect of technology on jobs. The fact that people are insecure, may be technically self-employed, may have a lot of different contracts over the course of a lifetime is a big change in jobs. The unemployment level in the UK is quite low, the level of anxiety and precariousness around employment is high.


Layman 09.13.15 at 7:25 pm

@Hidari, also, too, the labor force participation rate is the interesting stat. Once people are resigned to unemployment, they stop being counted as unemployed.


Stuart Ingham 09.13.15 at 7:35 pm

Whilst PPE graduate and ex-SPAD David Cameron still occupies number 10 I am going to say that rumours of the death of the SPADocracy are premature.


Layman 09.13.15 at 7:35 pm

“The economy has found uses for the surplus labour.”

This must be why the labor force participation rate is dropping, and why fast food dominates new job creation…


Mr Punch 09.13.15 at 7:48 pm

That technology will eliminate employment generally is highly questionable; what is clear is that disruption destroys (actually existing) unions . That’s not objectively the same thing, but certainly seems so to pro-union parties. (The unwillingness of Democrats to run on the success, such as it is, of Obama’s economic policies may well cost them the election.) My own sense about Labour is that having lost a chunk of its right wing to UKIP, and the Scots who are as old-Labour as anyone but famously canny to the SNP, the party is in a state of imbalance and panic.


Bruce Wilder 09.13.15 at 7:48 pm

My no doubt ill-informed impression is that Corbyn, with no great ambition driving him (in contrast to those others who put themselves on the SPAD conveyor belt for a reason), and also being of an age where a certain sad self-knowledge replaces narcissistic “hope”, will struggle to remake the front-bench, hoping to find if not a protege or two, at least ambition and talent attached to a better class of personal commitments. Regarding the hostile Media, I think he needs to fight, and not be tempted to tack to the center seeking approval that will never come. Ruin a pundit or three nameless BBC producers, rinse, repeat, would be the only really practical course. It means he can never be PM, but if if he is willing to let that go, he can be an effective catalyst.

The problems the world faces as the 300 years of Anglo-American hegemony crumbles are daunting. The future will not be like the past. Most people in the past did not understand much of what they were going thru either, which is one reason it is so difficult to remember the past accurately. It is telling that we are resurrecting the Corbyns and Bernie Sanders, just before their (my?) generation sheds ye olde mortal coil, but what exactly it is telling is not clear to me. I do know that people are resisting the implications of necessity embedded in resource depletion and climate change, the implication that the model of liberal progress cannot run on technological magic alone, without filling the gas tank on “discovering” new resources. I love my iPhone, but I recognize that I carry in my pocket dynamite that demolished a score of industries, but left rentiers still greedily straining to claim the associated financial flows. There is a political opportunity in demolishing the ghost of an industrial past, but it will be scary, as any killing of myth must be. Talk of deep forces overwhelming us, combined with talk of solidarity with abstract ideals has never been a practical politics. Britain’s Labour Party, more than the U.S. Democratic Party, is in contact with the folk memory of an industrial past. It is history etched in the landscape and family. That might be a good thing, a haven of innocence as a newer economy turns, to contrast with the blame Gordon Brown earned with his indulgence of The City. The deep forces may play a part in the next five years few anticipate, as the finance economy London and the southeast depend on crumbles under the weight of its own corruption and the “rebalancing” of deflationary neoliberalism.


Brett Dunbar 09.13.15 at 7:53 pm

Electability seems like an important thing in a political party. If you can’t get elected you aren’t going to achieve anything. The Liberal Democrats had the problem that quite a lot of supporters preferred the impotent principally purity of opposition to the messy compromises of government. Then stayed until the bitter end of the last parliament which meant that they were unable to demonstrate what they had been stopping the conservatives from doing.


Marshall 09.13.15 at 7:57 pm

eople in Kenya and so on didn’t used to be standing around on streetcorners, they were small farmers and whatnot. Subsistence farming might not appeal to you, but it’s a living, as it were. That wasn’t just yesterday, of course. OTOH, in the US “unemployment” is down, whatever that number really represents, (and how much linked to high unemployment elsewhere) but household income and net worth among the relevant workers is also declining; the working class would appear to be consuming what substance it has.

It’s a point that these trends are a result of social technology, not technical/industrial innovation per se: the very thing the post at Layman’s link wants to accelerate. Material productivity is not necessarily relevant: recall that “1%” is a relative, not an absolute.


Daragh 09.13.15 at 8:09 pm

“People in Kenya and so on didn’t used to be standing around on streetcorners, they were small farmers and whatnot. Subsistence farming might not appeal to you, but it’s a living, as it were.”

It also has the unfortunate side effect of leading too many many fewer Kenyans, both through the inability of subsistence farming to support… well the farmer and his immediate dependents. Unless of course there’s a bad harvest – then they die. ‘Neo-liberalism’ has its downside, but it also has resulted in countries with life expectancy rates above 50, and given people options other than tilling the soil their fathers tilled. I think most Kenyans would take that bargain.

@Brett – tell me about it…


Stephen 09.13.15 at 8:10 pm

Layman@18: “the labor force participation rate is the interesting stat. Once people are resigned to unemployment, they stop being counted as unemployed.”

Dead right. ONS, 19 March 2015: Participation Rates in the UK Labour Market , 2014: “The UK has seen an increase of 1.3 percentage points in labour market participation in the 16-64 age group since the beginning of 1994, with much of this increase seen since 2010.”

You were saying?


Bruce Wilder 09.13.15 at 8:10 pm

The thing is, Brett, that after an election, the politicians must govern, and successful policy or unsuccessful policy, sooner or later, has the same result: those who are in are turned out. The opposition relies on the inevitability of that dynamic, and if they are smart enough they find ways to leverage it.

In a two-party system, the third party is not the opposition so much as a reservoir of innocence. The innocent can get elected, only as long as they avoid governance, but if they avoid government, they may avoid power, which, after all, is the point.


Daragh 09.13.15 at 8:17 pm

@Bruce Wilder – thank you for that rather pithy summary of Corbyn’s brave new vision for the Labour party. Though if John ‘the IRA brought peace to Ireland through the unorthodox strategy of assassinations and proxy bombings’ McDonnell is named Shadow Chancellor, I’m not sure we can describe Labour as either innocent OR capable of being elected.


Hidari 09.13.15 at 8:19 pm

I am perfectly well aware of this. What I am questioning is that it is technology that is the only (or even the main) causal factor in this. *

For example, the rise of the ‘zero hour contract’ (in the UK). Was it the internet that caused this? If so, why is it only in the UK (and a few other countries) that zero hour contracts are so popular? Do other countries that don’t use zero hour contracts not have the internet?

Have we seen a huge rise in the ‘precariat’ in Singapore, or Switzerland?

*Just to be precise, I’m not claiming that technology has no impact on employment patterns: that would be nuts.


novakant 09.13.15 at 8:25 pm

Stop the presses! newsflash!



Matt Heath 09.13.15 at 8:31 pm

novakant: They agreed with Ed, too.


Bruce Wilder 09.13.15 at 9:07 pm

Hidari @ 15

The developed world benefits from a partly invisible capital stock, that provides productive places in the economic structure. There has never been much scope for substitution of labor for capital in that structure: as Pareto observed, there is only one seat on the farm tractor. If a person can find a place, a role, a tractor seat in that structure, productivity and income follow.

Much of the world has never accumulated much capital. If countries participated in the world economy at all, it was as the victim of extractive industries. In a place like Kenya, there are simply way too many people, either for the land to support or for the number of useful places available in the economic structure such as it is.

For technological reasons, the capital stock required for structure is declining. Much of the developed world is disinvesting on net from its capital stock. This disinvesting shows up as a lot of obsolescence and cashing out — the cashing out as an increase in capital’s share of income. There are also fewer places in the structure, as a consequence. (If policy countered, increasing investment in anticipation, say, of the effects of resource depletion and repressing finance capital, more investment might create more productive places in the structure. It is one of the little appreciated paradoxes of capitalism that increasing returns to capital tends to depress investment in capital. Isn’t neoliberalism clever? Exacerbating the problems it purports to meliorate: one big self-licking ice cream cone!)

The decline in labor force participation is a worrisome proxy for a decline in the number of places in the capital stock in the U.S. In Japan, it is in the blighted career prospects of the younger generation thru the Bright Depression. In Europe, it is hidden in the Harz reforms and exported to the Euro periphery. It is, in an important sense, all the same problem of where the industrial revolution is in its development cycle: just as agriculture shed labor and then manufacturing shed labor. Only, now, we must take account of resource depletion, energy and the assimilative capacity of the global environment.

One reason it is useful to see broad “technological” trends as a driver of changing industrial structure is to see the interdependence, and to begin thinking thru the policy options, once “there is no alternative” neoliberalism has lost its deathgrip. Another is to understand that Germany’s ability to export misery to Spain is not a global solution.


Bruce Wilder 09.13.15 at 9:12 pm

Daragh @ 28 brits outta Éire, I say; English votes for English crimes!


Daragh 09.13.15 at 9:20 pm

Bruce @33 Ha! Though I’m sure UK politics is going to be electrified by a whole new generation of voters who have been waiting for a REAL alternative to the tired, anti-proxy bombing politics of the past.


Brett Dunbar 09.13.15 at 9:22 pm

The problem is that it isn’t inevitable either that the government will lose an election, the LDP ran Japan for decades, or that your party will be in a position to form a government when they do. After WWI the Liberals were never able to form a government, losing much of their centre left support to Labour. That keeps happening in Canada which as a notably unstable party system.


Roger Gathman 09.13.15 at 9:52 pm

24 – in my opinion, if the candidate can only make 19 or 14 or 4 percent in the election of their own party, an election that was opened to people outside the party, they’ve sort of nailed the unelectability title. Not, of course, among the Westminister pundits, for whom words get detached from their signification in the real world, and someone who can’t even win a tiny sliver of their own party is dubbed “electable” on the basis that talking heads, talking to other talking heads, say so. George Monbiot pointed out that it is unlikely than any labour leader will get elected in 2020, unless conditions change – unless, say, the disturbance in the Brics knocks down the UK’s financial center and it has to be rebuilt again, for instance. But one can be defeated and still shift the ground. If Corbyn is as unflappable, in opposition, as he was in the leadership election – I can’t imagine a Blairite like Burnham coming under that kind of attack without a series of retractions, clever excuses, and attempts to change the coversation, all of which don’t work – I think he’ll make the best opposition Labour can field at the moment.


Layman 09.13.15 at 10:11 pm

“You were saying?”

Check out the Europeriphery. Not quit so rosy there, eh?


Daragh 09.13.15 at 10:23 pm

@Roger Gathman – if you’re comparing a self-chosen selectorate of Labour and Labour minded activists to the country at large, I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment on the ‘electability’ front. Put another way, Corbyn voters might not have any problem with him and John McDonnell’s open and consistent praise of the IRA (including explicit support for violent terrorist acts on McDonnell’s part), but I’d be happily bet any sum of money you’d care to name that the reaction of the vast majority of voters will be one of revulsion.


Daragh 09.13.15 at 10:31 pm

@Layman – Ireland projected GDP growth 2015 – 6%, Spain – 3.1%, Portugal 1.7% (after 6 quarters consecutive growth), Italy 0.6%, Greece – negative 3% contraction.

There’s a story to tell about the relative success of differing economic policy approaches in the europeriphery, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the one you were looking to tell.


engels 09.13.15 at 10:34 pm


Layman 09.13.15 at 10:43 pm

@Daragh – nice, but we were talking about long-term trends in labor force participation, right?


Daragh 09.13.15 at 10:47 pm

@Layman – I’m pretty sure there’s a connection between labour force participation and economic growth, or at least the amount of labour capacity an economy can absorb.


Ronan(rf) 09.13.15 at 10:51 pm

I don’t think anyone in England really cares about politician Xs position on the IRA. I’m happy to be corrected by more knowledgeable commentators, but irish republicanism doesn’t seem to be a live issue in British politics at the minute (I’m only half joking with you daragh, out of a good bit of love for your surprisingly controversial centrism, but I think you’re overplaying your hand here.)


engels 09.13.15 at 10:52 pm

Please remind me how many seats LibDem’s won in 2015 Daragh


Layman 09.13.15 at 10:57 pm

@Daragh, I’m pretty sure there’s a connection between how many miles I’ve driven and how much fuel I used, but if I wanted to know the former I’d probably measure it and not the latter. More importantly, if you told me how far I’d driven, and I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t try to dispute by checking my fuel tank when my odometer is right there.


djr 09.13.15 at 11:05 pm

In the last election, willingness to consider a coalition with a mainstream social democratic (but not unionist) party was spun as a vital reason not to vote Labour. I’m fairly sure plenty of people in England can be convinced to care about politician X’s view on the IRA.


Daragh 09.13.15 at 11:05 pm

@Ronan(rf) – given that the Stormont assembly just collapsed over what looks very much like an IRA conducted revenge attack, that may not be the case for much longer. But even if it weren’t there’s a difference between having a rather ugly pro-IRA position in the 80’s (like Corbyn) and saying things like “It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table” in 2003, and then defending the remark afterwards. Couple that with glib remarks about wishing he could go back in time to assassinate Thatcher, and proposing renationalisation with out compensation and you’ve basically painted yourself as more than a bit fringe. Add on top of it the Stop the War coalition (which Corbyn chairs) de facto endorsement of attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and you’ve made it crushingly easy for the Tories and the press to paint you as utterly insane while making it incredibly difficult for your colleagues to defend you. And this is before we get to Corbyn’s stance on Ukraine, his appearance on PRESS TV, all the Hamas stuff – well let’s just say I think the Tory strategy of painting Corbyn as not just misguided, but dangerous, and the Labour party being totally irresponsible in nominating him is not going to be a terribly difficult one to pull off.

@engels – very droll. I’m sure that if only Clegg had come out in favour of disappearing working class mothers, killing British troops with IEDs and the particularly loathsome tactic of proxy bombing, the Lib Dems would be running the country right now.


john c. halasz 09.13.15 at 11:15 pm

Daragh is a “political risk analyst”, people. (Whose “political risk” he didn’t say). So you’d better listen to him, people. (He might know people who know people, etc….)


Ronan(rf) 09.13.15 at 11:20 pm

” I’m fairly sure plenty of people in England can be convinced to care about politician X’s view on the IRA.”

People who don’t like him anyway will use it as another reason to dislike him, those who do won’t care. No one really changes their mind.

Daragh. Not really. Mainstream British politics won’t care about NI unless the place is literally burning to the ground. Stormont collapsed over budget cuts with paramilitarism used as an excuse. Nobody cares about that stuff anymore, except for the Sunday indo a handful of ex squaddies and perhaps a Tory backbencher or two. It ain’t politically useful.


Garrulous 09.13.15 at 11:22 pm

As Roger@36 points out, Corbyn does continue to have an extraordinarily calm and reasoned way about him. That sort of nerdish doggedness & certainty reminds me of Chomsky.

But watching him, it seems hard really to think of him as a politician at all: I mean in the sense of welding together just-about-holding coalitions and being brutal with a knife when he has to. Livingston, the obvious point of comparison, was all about that kind of thing. Major, who had something of the same affect as him, turned out to be a mean bastard of an infighter. Not really getting that from Jezza though.


djr 09.13.15 at 11:28 pm

Maybe. That was my theory about “coalition with the SNP” too, and also about”Ed stabbed his brother in the back”. I’m not so sure about either of those now, and the IRA seems a much easier thing to stir up strong feelings about.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 09.13.15 at 11:33 pm

I’m happy to see Corbyn’s big win.

Wish we could have some of that over here, we need it.


engels 09.13.15 at 11:41 pm

Daragh, tee hee. Fact remains that reading advice from a LibDem activist on how to win elections is like attending a training seminar on safer spaceship design hosted by Richard Branson.


novakant 09.13.15 at 11:43 pm

Daragh has received his talking points for sure.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 1:15 am

McDonald was absolutely, positively correct that armed self-defense by Northern Irish catholics against the combined assault of protestant terror groups and the British deep state was what forced the loyalists and their protectors in London to negotiate. Tory death squad supporters and their hangers-on among LibDems and the Labour right are in any event the very last people who should open their mouths about this issue.


The Raven 09.14.15 at 1:40 am

Just BTW is there any real radicalism in the man? What I can find quickly makes him seem to me fairly normal Old Labour. Where do I go to find out who he is?


js. 09.14.15 at 2:37 am

This is really a brilliant piece, CB. Thanks. (Haven’t read the comments yet.)


Tabasco 09.14.15 at 3:01 am

Corbyn will probably fail, but it could be a matter of reculer pour mieux sauter . This will depend on whether he succeeds in breathing some life into that near-dead institution once known as the labour movement. The pitch to swing at will be the 2025 election. Let’s face it, none of Burnham, Cooper or Kendall was going to win in 2020 either.


js. 09.14.15 at 3:14 am

Daragh @8:

Ditto the GOP in the US.

Really? Give me one example of a “doubling down” candidate that won over a “moderate” one, or whatever.


Tom West 09.14.15 at 3:29 am

A genuine left-wing voice in charge of a major party pushes the discussion back towards the centre. Even if Labour fails to get elected, the odds are high it will push the whole conversation left-ward, including (to some extent) the policies of the Conservatives.


Marc 09.14.15 at 3:40 am

@60: that wasn’t the consequence of McGovern in the US; it was instead the leading edge of a massive rightward shift from a majority liberal country to one that elected Reagan. Sometimes you really do get crushed if you swing too far away from the median voter.


js. 09.14.15 at 3:43 am

Re various on technology: I think the real worry isn’t about robots replacing human jobs and such, but rather about new technologies being a tool to control, suppress and harass workers. See, e.g., the recent spate of articles on scheduling software, or e.g. corporate surveillance of workers or whatever corporate-fascist shit Amazon is up to. That’s the thing one really needs to be worried about, seems to me.


js. 09.14.15 at 3:48 am

Sometimes you really do get crushed if you swing too far away from the median voter.

Does this only apply to the left, or equally to the left and right? (Cf. 1980, e.g. I can come up with a couple of more examples too, if you want.)


Tabasco 09.14.15 at 4:02 am

McGovern in the US; it was instead the leading edge of a massive rightward shift from a majority liberal country to one that elected Reagan.

The rightward shift was caused by the Repubs southern strategy, the entry of the evangelicals into politics and the 70s economic malaise. McGovern was just swept along in the wake.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 4:04 am

Autocomplete fail in my post 55: apologies to John McDonnell.


LFC 09.14.15 at 5:20 am

Shit, let’s rehash the McGovern campaign. Not. Please.

I’d rather the discussion continue to focus on British politics, not that I’ve read all the comments or wd catch all the references if I had. I did get Sasha’s reference to George Lansbury, though, b/c I just happened to be reading something the other week that mentioned him.


Bruce Wilder 09.14.15 at 5:21 am

It is not about the mythic median voter.

The difficulty for the Left is not choosing the correct monotone along a continuum, right to left; the key problem is how to balance progressive with populist appeals, to gain the support of the “masses” against the worst impulses of a predatory or indifferent elite. I thought the OP, in its last couple of paragraphs took this up quite eloquently. It is not a problem solved by tacking to the center, and it can be a tricky thing to accomplish in the face of demagoguery and practiced media manipulation.


Peter T 09.14.15 at 5:36 am

The zeitgeist counts. From 1870 through to 1970, it was mostly unelectable extreme socialists who drove the agenda and set the centre, to the point where labour legislation, industry regulation, nationalisation, welfare were all enacted by “centrist” or even centre-right regimes. The radical marxist program of 1890 was the default moderate position of 1950. From 1870 to 2010 the shift has been the other way. Even if Corbyn is “unelectable” he may shift the goalposts – in which case his achievement would be greater than Blair’s.


Hidari 09.14.15 at 6:43 am

I think that people are missing the first real (and this really would be revolutionary) impact that Corbyn will make: the UK just took a step further towards leaving the EU.

‘ On Saturday, Chuka Umunna quit the front bench, saying he had been unable to secure an unambiguous promise from Corbyn that Labour would campaign for Britain to remain inside Europe in the coming referendum.’

@53 The Libdems. That was that party that people used to vote for in the olden days, wasn’t it?


magistra 09.14.15 at 7:06 am

One data-point on the IRA. I voted Labour in 2015 and was against the Iraq war. Having prominent IRA supporters at the top of the Labour party makes me less inclined to vote for Labour. It’s not a complete deal-breaker and if I were in a marginal I might well still vote Labour on domestic policies. But there’s a big difference between accepting the need to negotiate with terrorists and being enthusiastic about them.


Daragh 09.14.15 at 7:25 am


FFS – It’d be interested to hear Maria and Henry’s thoughts on this, but as an Irishman who remembers the troubles, I also remember consistent and large majorities, north and south, strongly disapproving of their campaign through electoral means and requesting they stop. The response of the Provos was to claim the mantle of Republican legitimacy – i.e. only Tom Maguire’s vote counts, and if you say different we’ll shoot you. In other words, if you want to see a supporter of death squads, look right in the mirror. If you’d like to cheer on a terrorist rampage through someone else’s country to burnish your credentials, please f right off.

@Engels – You seem to be of the mistaken belief that I worked on Lib Dem electoral strategy, or much of anything for the party. In any case, while you’re congratulating yourself for dismissing someone else’s opinion, you might want to ask yourself ‘who won that election?’

@js -59 Uhh, McCain and Romney? The reaction to Bush’s collapse in popularity – nominate an arch neo-con! Lose in 2008? More upper class tax cuts – and so forth. This is before we get to the GOP’s epic failure to take the Senate in 2010 due to a gaggle of unelectable candidates.


JohnTh 09.14.15 at 8:53 am

To agree with Magistra at #70, and to disagree profoundly with Ronan (perhaps you live in the Irish Republic?), but the idea that the former targets of the IRA (aka the British public) are ever going welcome praise of them is fantasy. The only reason the subject never comes up is that British politicians are generally assumed they dislike the IRA in the same way as they can be assumed to dislike child molesters.

Separately, and in a spirit of genuine enquiry: is there anything preventing David Cameron from arranging a set of votes over the next couple of months on subjects on which Jeremy Corbyn and his MPs disagree (e.g. Trident, renationalising power companies etc)? I understand quite a lot of Labour MPs will be looking to demonstrate to their new leader that if ‘voting your conscience’ was good enough for him, then it is certainly good enough for them. The resulting ructions within the Parliamentary Labour Party will not look good.


Phil 09.14.15 at 8:58 am

” I abhor the killing of innocent human beings. … Irish republicans have to face the fact that the use of violence has resulted in unforgivable atrocities. No cause is worth the loss of a child’s life. No amount of political theory will justify what has been perpetrated on the victims of the bombing campaigns.”
John McDonnell MP


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 9:08 am

That’s a nice sentiment from the new Shadow Chancellor – it’s also diametrically opposite to what he said before the papers came in for a reaction, namely –

“‘It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle.

‘It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table.’”


Jim Buck 09.14.15 at 9:30 am

2016 (being the centenary of the Easter Rising)is likely to bring all strands of opinion on the Irish question into the national spotlight.


JohnTh 09.14.15 at 9:37 am

Phil, I read that too, but the point is that I don’t think the average Briton is looking for their Shadow Chancellor to be even-handed between the IRA and the British Army.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 9:53 am

Daragh (71.): Armed struggle against colonialism is legitimate, full stop. That does not mean, and McDonnell did not say, that every act of violence done in the name of national liberation is legitimate. It is simply outrageous that those who support and supported vicious violence by the British army and its allied Protestant death squads in the Tory, LibDem and Blairite camp now have the cheek to complain when McDonnell states the obvious: that the murderous Tory government would never have agreed to any negotiation if the Republicans hadn’t fought back. Get your political friends to call for locking up the MI5 and SAS people who collaborated with the UDA and UVF and I might take you seriously.


engels 09.14.15 at 10:07 am

Daragh, they’re not opposite if you note that armed struggle against occupying state (and hunger striking etc) are not same thing as killing civilians. What was Sands in prison for


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 10:09 am


So despite the fact that the victims of said colonialism repeatedly and vociferously voiced their opposition to the IRA campaign, which employed its own death squads to liquidate those who dared to speak out, their campaign was still legitimate because colonialism?

As to the allegations of collaboration between the British security services and Loyalist terrorists – absolutely those crimes should be investigated and the guilty punished, insofar as possible under the terms of the GFA. But a full truth and reconciliation process might also involve the Provos doing their part, and Gerry Adams dropping the ridiculous lie that he was never in the IRA.

As to McDonnell – he gave a blanket thumbs up for bombs and bullet, then reverse-ferreted when it blew up in his face and he was threatened – quite rightly – with expulsion.

Whether or not you’re prepared to take me seriously is, frankly, not something I care too much about.

Oh and BTW – the Good Friday Agreement was signed under the Blair government, though I’m suspecting that your knowledge of the troubles isn’t particularly detailed.


JohnTh 09.14.15 at 10:30 am

Also, to steer us back to the OT, the specific political problem that the Irish question will almost certainly present Corbyn and McDonnell is that unless they retract their previous kind words about the IRA, any hope of ever getting the Unionists in the UK Parliament to vote with them against the Conservatives are finished. That effectively adds a vital few seats to Cameron’s precarious majority


engels 09.14.15 at 10:46 am

‘who won that election’

Didn’t vote, very nearly don’t care. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. If Corbyn’s standing next time I will.


Watson Ladd 09.14.15 at 10:52 am

christian_h, you’ll have to explain to my father how bombing his offices in downtown London was a legitimate act of armed self-defense. But first the orphans of Omagah deserve this explanation. The Provos extracted nothing from England that England had not already given up in Sunningdale, and at the cost of thousands more lives.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 11:15 am

It’s sort of grimly amusing how well propaganda works.
The new Tory message of “security, security, security” – their new NLP phrase for this parliamentary term – has been taken up in all quarters.

I suppose in itself, this points to why Corbyn’s victory is so much part of the wider trend of “anti-politics statements” and why those statements are increasing in size and frequency.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 11:22 am

The negotiations started under Major, and cease fires declared in 1994 before Blair was elected, did they not? But hey, LibDems have a strained relationship with the truth as we all know, so I’m not surprised by this dissembling by Daragh. Although maybe it should make us wary about his claim that the Northern Irish Catholics opposed IRA self defense – because despite what Iraq war supporter Watson Ladd insinuates, what McDonnell was talking about was the struggle in the 70ies (hint for Daragh who may mix up years, Bobby Sands was murdered by the British state in 1981), not the bombing campaign later.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 11:25 am

JohnTh , name one time the Ulster Unionists have ever voted with Labour against the Tories? This is getting ridiculous.


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 11:31 am


This is tiresome. Yes the negotiations started in 1994. Then THIS happened. And however hard you squint, McDonnell was not just talking about the 70’s. Your attempts to delegitimise people by insinuating they’re liars or through irrelevant ad hominems s neither pleasant, nor particularly illuminating. One does not need to take my word for it about Irish people, of all faiths, being broadly against the IRA’s campaign of terror – we had elections. Sinn Fein lost, soundly, consistently and repeatedly. It responded that it didn’t matter, because Republican legitimacy.

Now please go find someone else’s country and someone else’s band of murdering psychopaths to praise in order to burnish your sense of political self-worth.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 11:40 am

I think the sad part is that (as someone else notes above) there’s no evidence to believe that Corbyn has the organisational skill or political dogfighting ability to make a go of being party leader. So it is all likely to end rather badly more from Labour’s infighting than any test of “electability.”

What is so interesting is the presumption that the press would have lined up to praise Liz Kendall (as the candidate apparently most opposite to Corbyn.) In reality it would have been a month or two before “Kendall’s Dad hate Britain” came along…

Thus, one possible positive in a Corbyn leadership it is that they already know they have to try to route around the media. I doubt they’ll succeed but perhaps they can lay the groundwork for a future leader.


christian_h 09.14.15 at 11:50 am

I said armed struggle forced the Tory government to negotiate. Which it did. I pointed out the hypocrisy of attacks on McDonnell by people who have ignored or in fact supported loyalist and British state violence – only to get a prevaricating answer. I talked about Northern Ireland only to get told how Republic of Ireeland elections went… People can make up their own minds. Enough commenting on this issue from me with apologies to Chris; you enjoy your righteousness, Daragh.


dsquared 09.14.15 at 11:53 am

name one time the Ulster Unionists have ever voted with Labour against the Tories?

This would have been difficult for them after 2010, as they have no MPs in Westminster (they lost all of them except Sylvia Hermon in 2005, and she resigned from the party in 2009 after they formed an alliance with the Conservatives). You mean the Democratic Unionists.


RosencrantzisDead 09.14.15 at 11:57 am


This would have been difficult for them after 2010, as they have no MPs in Westminster

Danny Kinahan and Tom Elliott are both still there, surely?


Val 09.14.15 at 12:01 pm

Well excuse me being OT, but here in Aus ANOTHER Prime Minister just got rolled. That’s like 4 in 2 years or something. Feel the volatility.


dsquared 09.14.15 at 12:01 pm

armed self-defense by Northern Irish catholics

riiiiiight. The IRA actually killed more Catholics than did any other group. The number of Catholics killed by the IRA was greater than the total number of deaths attributable to the British Army; it’s about equal to the sum of Catholics killed by the UVF plus the UDA. The reason being, of course, that the IRA was neither a Catholic organisation nor a self-defence organisation.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 12:02 pm

I think there’s also something in the rise of UKIP and Corbyn about permeability.

We’re all aware of interesting policy idesa that get no traction because they don’t fit into the Tory-Blair-Clegg consensus that the media frame as the “centre-ground.” I was reminded today of the “Simple Plan” yorksranter put together on how to begin to improve housing provision from the local level.

Part of the search for alternatives candidates/parties has been the deafness of the centre to real problems like housing and deafness to solutions that don’t fit into the established frame of “Capita will sort out” or “privatise it.”

Further – supposedly “radical centrists” (some Lib Dems come to mind – or Anthony Painter might be a good example) are deeply locked into pseudo-localism where atomised units are created with nominal democratic accountability – undercut by the fact that the funding comes from an unaccountable source. (Treasury and/or private sponsor in the case of school academies.)

This for me sort of highlights what went wrong with Liz Kendall – she made some good noises about empowerment and localism, but her first instinct was to go to bat for further private provision in health and to deny accountability problems with school academies. Academies being a great example where those parents with kids in good academies are happy and will vote Tory, those with kids in failing academies are told “you’re too stupid to understand that academies work” by Kendall, Painter, the Sunday Times, etc. It should be obvious how this sets up a fragmentation of the electorate…


dsquared 09.14.15 at 12:04 pm

#90: Of course! I forgot they got some back in 2015. Don’t know whether they have or haven’t voted with Labour … actually, checking, it appears that they voted against the welfare benefit cuts on which Labour abstained!


Val 09.14.15 at 12:05 pm

Well a little more specific – there have been five PMs in just over five years (one of them being PM twice). Three got rolled by their own party, and two changed as result of an election.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 12:08 pm

@Val – maybe JohnQ will post a thread?
It’s some years since I lived in Aus, I’ve completely lost track of the political dynamics.


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 12:13 pm

@dsquared – but you forget. All of those deaths were totally justified, because the IRA said it was fighting colonialism. If only the British army had pulled out in express opposition to the wishes of roughly 2/3 of the northern population, the Provos wouldn’t have had to do all that bombing and killing, which incidentally, was the only way to eventually bring peace. It’s all very simple really.


Guano 09.14.15 at 12:28 pm


“Not, of course, among the Westminister pundits, for whom words get detached from their signification in the real world, and someone who can’t even win a tiny sliver of their own party is dubbed “electable” on the basis that talking heads, talking to other talking heads, say so.”

Quite. The failure of Tessa Jowell to be selected as Labour candidate for mayor of London is interesting. Her strategy seems to have been to get her friends and contacts to say that she was the best candidate and that she was the front-runner, and assume that members would vote for her on that basis. They were saying that she was the front-runner even before nominations had closed and even a few days before the result. On other occasions it might have worked but this time Sadiq Khan won by actually campaigning, by going and meeting his potential electorate. I get the feeling, though, that Tessa Jowell might feel a little uncomfortable in a CIU club!

The best example of dubbing someone “electable”, on the basis that talking heads talking to other talking heads say so, is David Miliband. He is an unknown quantity, who has never been tested and who failed to challenge Gordon Brown but was somehow anointed the front-runner for leader when Brown resigned. He’s only now giving himself a public profile by talking about the refugee issue as head of IRC but previously his public profile has been mind-numbingly dull and illogical articles about globalisation and “passionate reform” of public services.

Of course the unspoken threat in the statements by these talking heads is that someone like Corbyn is unelectable because the talking heads will do a great deal to sabotage his chances. I suspect that we all have a great deal to do to expose the circular logic of the Spadocracy.


Ronan(rf) 09.14.15 at 12:33 pm

Johnth- fair enough. I have lived in England for a few years in the past, and being the enquiring type found largely indifference, Apart from people who served in the north. There might be a lot of selection bias involved of course, people of my age group (late 20s early 30s) didn’t even seem to be aware of the Ira in any meaningful way. Having said that, my English uncles and aunts would have their opinions, but would (I doubt) vote solely on the issue.
I mean, even among the public in the south it’s not a huge issue, and it was a much more divisive issue there than in England. My grandparents generation who (when they cared) staked strong positions were replaced by my parents who (when they cared) were less involved were replaced by mine, who generally have vague recollections and are largely indifferent. I’m genuinely surprised that it would be a meaningful issue in British politics , but I’ll(genuinely and happily) stand corrected.


JohnTh 09.14.15 at 12:37 pm

dsquared #92 – thank you, that what I was going to point out too. The fact that (according to Malcolm Sutton) the IRA and other Catholic militants killed a lot more people during the troubles than the loyalists and the British state put together is very hard to square with anything other than a usually very restrained approach by the British (with some horrific exceptions). God knows Iraq (under both Saddam and the US), Vietnam, Guatemala, Syria et al have given us more than enough datapoints to clarify just how much slaughter a modern state can inflict if it is not trying to restrain itself.


JohnTh 09.14.15 at 12:43 pm

Ronan (#99) – I’m a fraction older (late 30s) but still under the average age for the UK electorate, I suspect. I think you’re right that for the most part the English have put the Troubles behind them. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve entirely left behind the bomb scares (and occasional bomb hits) or that they regard the IRA with anything other than revulsion. The Provisionals were mostly forgotten not at all forgiven, which means that if the media can really tar Corbyn and McDonnell with their past words it will hurt them, The fact that a bunch of professional right-wing trouble makers have decided to sit on this stuff till just after the leadership election suggest they think it has real legs with their target audience.


Val 09.14.15 at 12:49 pm

Metatone @ 96
Yes it would be good if John Quiggin did write a post – I guess he usually writes about economic issues here, but this change will hopefully have a big influence on Australia’s position on climate change, potentially restoring the bipartisan position that Abbott destroyed about six years ago, so JQ may be interested in it from that perspective also.

Trying to bring this back a little closer to the OP, while Aus still has a conservative government at federal level, this is definitely a shift leftwards in that party (back towards the centre). There’s been several state elections here which have shown leftward movement too recently.

Looking at the international scene, Spain, Greece (muddled as it is) and the election of Corbyn as UK Labour leader, I get the feeling that the high tide of the right is over. Maybe a bit bold to say that, but I do.


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 12:49 pm

@JohnTh – Actually Corbyn’s past support for the provos was mentioned frequently, by both left and right commentators throughout the campaign. McDonnell’s are ‘news’ again because he’s just been made Shadow Chancellor.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 12:54 pm

Martin Sandbu quotes Martin Wolf in his FT column:

“As Martin Wolf’s Corbyn piece went on to say: “Labour cannot now begin from the assumption that the economy is working well, because it is not.””

All the calculations of “electability” (both regarding Labour alternatives & future Tory success) begin with the assumption that the economy is working well. The media consensus is certainly that things are fine.

A lot of the Corbyn “movement” seems to come from people for whom, on the ground, in their lives, the economy is not working well. Whether they are enough to win a general election in 2020 depends a lot on if Martin Wolf is correct that their personal analysis actually reflects a wider truth about the economy…


casmilus 09.14.15 at 1:05 pm

Any Britons of the age of 40+ can remember major mainland bombings of the 70s, 80s or 90s. Whether that influences their voting is another matter. Ken Linvingstone was more closely associated with “talking to Sinn Fein” in the 80s, and he went on to be London Mayor, despite the Blairites wanting to stop him.

There is a difference between “talking to the IRA” (which many UK governments have done, whether or not they admitted it) and actually supporting their means & ends, of course.


Brett Dunbar 09.14.15 at 1:11 pm

Omagh wasn’t the provos, who were observing a ceasefire which eventually became permanent. It was a bombing by real IRA. RIRA is an anti GFA splinter group that split from PIRA in 1997. The other smaller and older anti GFA splinter group is the Continuity IRA.

Britain wasn’t the problem in Northern Ireland. We had wanted something like the GFA for decades; there is a reason it was sometimes called Sunningdale for slow learners. The problem was getting the Unionists to accept power sharing.


Chris Bertram 09.14.15 at 1:38 pm

The last bombing on the mainland was 19 years ago. I’d be very surprised if what people said about the IRA in the seventies and eighties is something most English people care about now. Ancient history.


Trader Joe 09.14.15 at 1:51 pm

Picking Corbyn seems to me fairly on par with the Torries picking Hague back in 1997.

Politically its a sop to the core of the base, and affirms a foundation on which the party can be rebuilt over whatever period of time circumstances allow. In the Torries case, that rebuilding took the better part of 8 years which saw the much more inherently electable Cameron into the job (if my dates are right) and then the better part of 5 further years to see him elected…call it a 13 year rehab project.

I don’t think Labour in 2015 is measurably worse off than the “vanquished” Torries were in 1997, so Corbyn strikes me as the necessary first step in circling the wagons among the base from which an eventual PM potential candidate can emerge.


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 1:52 pm

@Chris – John McDonnell quotes are from 2003. And Corbyn was getting flack for refusing to condemn the IRA last month.

Even if it were ‘ancient history’, a pattern of support for the IRA, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, appearances on PRESS TV, de facto taking Putin’s side in the NATO conflict… well none of it adds up to a particularly rosy picture. If you genuinely believe that most English people won’t care, I’d suggest you’re sadly mistaken.


Chris Bertram 09.14.15 at 2:03 pm

Daragh: the fact that there has been a recent media fuss about Corbyn or McDonnell doing or saying unrespectable things does not establish that people care. The fact that people ought to care about the things you list also does not establish that they actually do. Lots of Tories backed apartheid South Africa. People ought to care about that, but they don’t.


Metatone 09.14.15 at 2:03 pm


You’re definitely on to something there. The pattern across the world, across the post-WW2 period is that a party seen to be responsible for a major recession typically has a reputation problem for around 10 years afterwards.


magistra 09.14.15 at 2:18 pm

Chris@107: Well as I said, I voted Labour this time, was anti-Iraq war and pro the Good Friday Agremment and though it’s not a deal-breaker, I do still react negatively to pro-IRA statements. Of course, I’m old (50 this year), which means I was 18 when the IRA bombed Harrods for the first time during the Christmas shopping and I worried whether my brother had been killed. But after all, it’s not as if over-50s vote, is it?

And it does seem to be part of a wider pattern in which Corbyn and his closest allies are fine with violence and invasions by some groups. That starts to look less like high-minded anti-war principles and more like picking sides, almost as a mirror-image to Blair and his cronies.


Daragh McDowell 09.14.15 at 2:19 pm

@Chris – the point is that the Tories later reversed their position on South Africa and apartheid (too late, I agree), whereas Corbyn and McDonnell still hold the same views by all accounts. And as distasteful as it might sound, I’m relatively certain the average Englishman cared more about the IRA in the 1980s than South Africa, and probably does today.

As to them saying ‘unrespectable’ things – that’s a rather bowdlerised way of putting it. I note you praised ‘liberal and democratic’ values above – how does ‘Tom Maguire says we can kill people, so to hell with what the voters say, and if you stand up to us you’ll end up in an unmarked grave’ representative of liberalism and democracy? To be honest it sounds rather fascistic to me.

If you really, truly believe that Corbyn and McDonnell’s record of supporting terrorists – whether out of naivety or something less palatable – is unlikely to be a major concern for the British electorate I don’t know what to say to you. But then again, the enthusiasm for Corbyn does appear to me to involve a lot of wishful thinking.


David 09.14.15 at 2:20 pm

Leaving aside the Irish dimension (and yes I’m old enough to remember the IRA campaigns of the 1970s) and looking back at what Chris actually wrote, I think he’s basically right. Corbyn’s victory is a symptom of the utter disgust with the professional political classes which is now found in virtually every western state. This disgust manifests itself in different ways in different countries, and it may be appropriate to label some of its exponents as “left” and others as “right”. But what they have in common is not only anger against the present system, but a demand that that system should at least acknowledge, and even perhaps address, issues that ordinary people are concerned about. Politicians who do address these issues, whether you think they are being honest or cynical, are rewarded with support from an embittered populace.
Especially in Europe, the political class has absolutely no idea what to do about this. It has pretty much realised the traditional liberal dream of a professional political class competing among itself for power, and totally detached from civil society. It talks only to itself, and only about things that interest it. The media is simply a reflection of this class’s preoccupations. The political class is unused to criticism and to alternative points of view, and can only label them as “extremist”, “xenophobe” and soon, no doubt “communist”. If it only knew how much it was detested, I think it would be deeply afraid.
This is why the question of whether Corbyn wins the next election (and I hope he does) is secondary. If he wins, or if Le Pen or Trump win, as could happen, then it will be less the individual who will have won, and much more the system that will have lost. And something will have changed fundamentally, even if all these candidates do well, without actually winning. But the system has shown itself incapable of reforming, or even understanding the need for reform, and history shows that bad stuff often happens at such a juncture.


Layman 09.14.15 at 2:23 pm

Daragh @ 71: “Uhh, McCain and Romney? The reaction to Bush’s collapse in popularity – nominate an arch neo-con! Lose in 2008?”

Both McCain and Romney were the most moderate and centrist of the GOP contenders at the time. Both played to the conservative base in their campaigns, but McCain has long enjoyed a centrist, pragmatic reputation (though no one can say precisely why!) while for a rich Mormon, Romney was almost a liberal (pro-choice, Governor of a liberal state, and architect of the Obamacare approach). Romney was certainly the most electable of the Republican team at the time, and may still be. There was no electable GOP contender in 2008 – it was an inflection point of an election, with events conspiring to create a situation where any competent Democratic contender would win. McCain’s lifelong erratic behavior was finally exposed, and Obama won running away.

But in neither case did the GOP nominee represent the most extreme elements of the party. Those elements don’t even believe McCain or Romney are actually true Republicans!


Steve Williams 09.14.15 at 2:34 pm

Probably a small data point, but the frequency with which sections of fans can be heard singing ‘No Surrender’ and ‘Fuck the Pope’ at England football matches has, if anything, increased in recent years. Generally there’s a sour, right-wing mood in Britain, especially amongst groups that would in the past have been solid Labour voters, and especially concerned with issues like immigration and terrorism. I think this stuff about the IRA and McDonnell is likely to prove a bigger deal than some on here seem to be saying.


Oliver 09.14.15 at 2:46 pm

I think Ronan is largely correct about the importance of NI in UK politics. I am a youngish (26) Englishman and I cannot think of a single occasion where I have heard someone talk about a politicians views on the IRA. It is, I think, largely a non-issue these days.


Sebastian H 09.14.15 at 3:09 pm

To echo some of the above, this win, and the threat of Sanders to the anointed one on the Democratic side, and Trump on the Republican side suggests a serious dissatisfaction with the current political elites. I tentatively suggest the impression that this is from the elite (protect your friends/donors) response to the banks and the financial crisis and/or other feelings about cronyism which seems ascendant. The anger about that resonates strongly with both the left and the right. The elites don’t even seem to know it exists, much less what to do about it.


Igor Belanov 09.14.15 at 3:16 pm

“Especially in Europe, the political class has absolutely no idea what to do about this. It has pretty much realised the traditional liberal dream of a professional political class competing among itself for power, and totally detached from civil society. It talks only to itself, and only about things that interest it. The media is simply a reflection of this class’s preoccupations. The political class is unused to criticism and to alternative points of view, and can only label them as “extremist”, “xenophobe” and soon, no doubt “communist”. If it only knew how much it was detested, I think it would be deeply afraid.”

This is the most sensible contribution to this thread. The fact is the the line between ‘establishment’ and ‘anti-establishment’ runs right through the Labour Party, with most of its professional politicians on one side and most of its members and supporters on the other. Corbyn’s election is part of an anti-establishment trend in British politics, and depends less on some kind of scholastic examination of opinion polls with a view to winning the next election, and more to the dire need to muster support for democratic mass movements to challenge privilege and the hold of the establishment on the political process. This is a difficult task, and will probably result at some stage in the final division of a dysfunctional Labour Party. Nonetheless, it is a step towards progress.


Ze K 09.14.15 at 3:43 pm

Yeah, something like what David and Igor said: the liberal establishment is in a deep crisis (in Europe more than US) and possibly doomed. The question is whether the right or the left ceases the opportunity. Could go either way, no one can predict. This has been a typical scenario in the last hundred years or so, hasn’t it? Interesting times, very exciting.


Guano 09.14.15 at 4:03 pm

To add to recent comments: the political class is also unwilling to take on large vested interests or, on some cases, is intertwined with them (as part of its survival strategy). Large vested interests are, for the political class, just part of the landscape and the idea regulating more stringently the banks or the press is off the agenda. This is very clear to some sections of the population who thus see the political class as having no legitimacy.


dsquared 09.14.15 at 4:16 pm

I agree with Steve Williams at #116, and I don’t think the IRA is in the past at all. Not only is basically nothing in Ireland ever fully in the past, but look at us all still nowhere near getting the Iraq War off the list of defining which-side-are-you-on moments. America’s still got Vietnam. People don’t get over violent conflicts that quickly.


Layman 09.14.15 at 4:21 pm

Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

John Rooney (Road to Perdition): “There are only murderers in this room!”


Chris Bertram 09.14.15 at 4:41 pm

@dsquared well yes, but McDonnell isn’t standing for office in Ireland, Iraq was much more recent, and thousands of ordinary Americans never came back from Vietnam, and the people singing “No Surrender” at England games are probably Glasgow Rangers fans. I accept I could be totally wrong about this one, but I suspect even if people do care it gets swamped by other issues. After all, Ken Livingstone, Corbyn, McDonnell and others managed to get lots of people to vote for them, even when the bombing campaign was in the much more recent past.


Bruce Wilder 09.14.15 at 5:07 pm

Observing from afar, it looks to me as if the immediate issue isn’t latent sentiment about past conflicts per se, but, rather the media bullying used to police the boundaries of acceptable discourse, and the severely distorting effects that has on the ability of the political system to adapt.


Keith 09.14.15 at 5:07 pm

At 83 “The new Tory message of “security, security, security” – their new NLP phrase for this parliamentary term – has been taken up in all quarters.”

I am sure Jeremy and The Queen will be amused by that when he is shortly sworn of Her Majesty’s Privy Council. When Atlee became PM he told the king “I have won the election…” to which he replied ” I know I heard it on the radio…”.


William Timberman 09.14.15 at 5:18 pm

What of the socialism of non-fools? The real thing (or something close to it)? The hope is that Corbynite Labour can build an leftist and internationalist coalition…

Concerned centrists point with alarm at the wreckage of Syriza, and the crucifixion of the Greeks, and warn us of the terrible fate awaiting all who stand up to the neoliberal consensus armed only with their own aspirations. Not much of a deterrent to a genuine leftist, all this squawking and flapping, or at least it shouldn’t be. Centrists, concerned or otherwise, are, after all, in the business of teaching timidity to the masses, experts at seeing what anyone can see, and at overlooking everything else. What they’re overlooking in the present case is this: unassailable as the neoliberal consensus may seem to be at the moment, it is also highly unstable. Like any other consensus, it is vulnerable precisely to the degree that it underestimates or ignores the risk of events which have the power to undo it. Alexis Tsipras or Jeremy Corbyn can be dealt with, global warming not so much, or at least not so easily. Even relatively modest problems (!) like euthanizing the rentier on a global scale, rebalancing the Chinese economy, or peacefully managing the resettlement of Middle Eastern refugees in Europe have the potential to take the bloom off the neoliberal rose.

What does building a leftist and internationalist coalition look like in this environment? I find it interesting that Yanis Varoufakis, unhorsed in his first real battle with neoliberalism, seems to be doing what the above quote from the OP recommends, i.e., polling the left in other vulnerable European countries to see if he can interest them in coordinated action toward the goal of European reform. This may seem to be Quixotism, but as the arguments against neoliberalism begin to gnaw away at the intellectual underpinnings of Thatcher’s TINA — a process which I think is already well underway — it may come to seem less risky for national politicians to incorporate them into their own agendas. Right-wing populists may be more succesful at present in harnessing the discontents of our civilization, but inasmuch as their demagoguery has to be tailored to local conditions, they don’t seem likely to develop much international reach. Once their followers are done pummeling all those-who-aren’t-like-us within their own borders, what do they have to offer?

Patience is undoubtedly a virtue, just as everyone says. Whether or not it can also be effective as a political strategy depends on just how clear-eyed and cold-blooded the left — what remains of it — can encourage itself to be.


Bruce B. 09.14.15 at 5:27 pm

William: Once their followers are done pummeling all those-who-aren’t-like-us within their own borders, what do they have to offer? Wars of expansion, traditionally.


William Timberman 09.14.15 at 5:52 pm

Bruce B @ 128

Yes, but in the context of the present, I judge this to be unlikely. The countries likely to be captured by Peronism, or caudilloism, or whatever you want to call it, lack the resources. Without the world-class armaments factories of 1930’s Germany, it can’t be so easy to turn an Orbán into a Hitler. Putin, one might argue on the basis of recent evidence, could have a better shot at gobbling up his neighbors, but if even the U.S. finds itself stretched thin in a battle with ISIS, one has to wonder what an incursion into the Baltic states, for example, would do for him. Proxy wars, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia are still toying somewhat half-heartedly with, or which one might imagine occurring in Africa between the U.S. and China, don’t seem to offer the rewards they once did.


Keith 09.14.15 at 6:00 pm

At 124 McDonnells’ sympathy for Irish unity and qualifications about methods appropriate for its creation is irrelevant, it is his anti austerity chops that occasion the uproar in the Tory class enemy. “Labour can seriously damage your wealth” as the young tories used to say, is the real objection. The Labour Party was set up by people outside Parliament to advance their class interests and that is what we still want and need. Corbyns’ support is the temporary repository of the people “out of doors” and we would like to be heard. The British Crown in Parliament has no interests it has declared in preventing a united Ireland by the Ballot box so all now agree including the tory party.

Making the rich pay not the poor for the Capitalist crash is always the job for the peoples party, so long as there is Capitalism and so long as it crashes, as it always will, until it is replaced by something else.

I hope Jeremy and The Queen have a lovely chat when he assumes office in the Privy council and some nice vegetarian fair. And they ensure he is not “bothered” by Sky journalist doing a hatchet job for Murdock . Hopefully special branch can take care of that…


Bruce B. 09.14.15 at 6:02 pm

William, I’m inclined to agree. I just remind myself sometimes that I miss imaginative leaps violent jerks end up making.


Keith 09.14.15 at 6:14 pm

At 128 and 129 politics is confused as we have a conflict about class and economics within given states and a conflict about the form and size of the state or nation. The SNP are not socialist but nationalist. They exploited discontent which really arises from economic and class problems to drive in the direction of Separation. Ukip want separation from the EU superstate for economic reasons and those of xenophobia, along right wing lines, the left eurosceptics hate the EU as a Capitalist club. Internationalism requires its destruction. It is unclear if you can place all the different groups and ideas in a neat continuous line of ideological theory. You have overlap and contradiction. With a choice of different ways to interpret political events around the world or at home.


Garrulous 09.14.15 at 7:21 pm

Someone supporting England and Rangers would be a pretty rare bird, all the same.


Stephen 09.14.15 at 7:37 pm

Chris Berteam@124 : ” Ken Livingstone, Corbyn, McDonnell and others managed to get lots of people to vote for them.” Very true, but have you considered the possibility that many of those voting for them (apart from the tribal voters) were the useful idiots who thought that bombing the fascist/neoliberal/capitalist [delete as appropriate] bastards of England was a good idea? And that a rather large proportion of previously-Labour voters, like me, think it wasn’t?

As for “the people singing “No Surrender” at England games are probably Glasgow Rangers fans”: I can only add to, or multiply by a rather large factor, Garrulous’s scepticism. Can’t you accept that bombing England is not a good way to endear yourself to the average Rnglish person?


Stephen 09.14.15 at 7:42 pm

William@127: “Once the followers [of right-wing populists] are done pummeling all those-who-aren’t-like-us within their own borders, what do they have to offer?”

Probably no more than what the “clear-eyed and cold-blooded left” have to offer. Iron Felix, here we go?


William Timberman 09.14.15 at 8:13 pm

Stephen @ 135

The perils of metaphor. If you really want to look for Stalin and Dzerzhinsky under my bed, I’ll leave you the keys to the house.


David 09.14.15 at 8:28 pm

William @127 and many others. Another thing the political classes don’t understand is that most people couldn’t care less about the minutiae of policy positions or indeed who said what thirty years ago. Most people vote either negatively, or out of instinct and moral conviction. In the present situation, a significant percentage of the electorates of various countries just want the bastards out. This means that who “wins” the next set of elections may not matter that much. Corbyn, Trump, Le Pen, etc. may well go down in history as agents of destruction rather than anything else, perhaps to be followed by something quite different. My personal hunch (though I have exactly zero evidence for it) is that we may be moving into Louis Napoleon territory – authoritarian reformist leaders may be the next major development.


William Timberman 09.14.15 at 9:09 pm

My personal hunch (though I have exactly zero evidence for it) is that we may be moving into Louis Napoleon territory – authoritarian reformist leaders may be the next major development.

And what do you imagine would bring such an improbable creature to power? The authoritarian part might prove no impediment, but the reform part? Something like the kabuki theater of President Obama’s time in office is perfectly plausible, but not genuine reform, not without a mass movement or something equally formidable to back such a reformer’s play. And where do you suppose that something would come from?


The Temporary Name 09.14.15 at 9:16 pm

Corbyn, Trump, Le Pen, etc. may well go down in history as agents of destruction rather than anything else, perhaps to be followed by something quite different.

Something about lining up the three of those doesn’t seem quite right.


MPAVictoria 09.14.15 at 10:28 pm

Isn’t the flip side of the lesser evil argument that if a leftist does win an intraparty struggle, the moderate liberals need to fall in line?

Or does that only work one way?


Roger Gathman 09.14.15 at 10:36 pm

38 I’ll take that bet. Now, how are you going to measure revulsion. Myself,I think revulsion will be the response to cuts in healthcare funding, further privitization, and the murder of random Syrians by the British PM.
As for the selectoriate argument, how weird is that. There was a huge influx of new members to the party, but even with the old members, Corbyn received 49 percent. The idea that Sun’s quote du jour about the IRA is going to have people shaking in their boots about the radical Corbyn is of course a joke.
Nobody can predict events, but the current mood in England is pretty much anti-Blairist and, in the major opposition party, Labour, pro Corbyn. I would bet money that more people find Blair repulsive than Corbyn, but then again, it is an ill constructed bet, because there is no way to prove it one way or the other. It is, in other words, nonsense on stilts setting itself up as political analysis.


Roger Gathman 09.14.15 at 10:48 pm

It is interesting that the way Corbyn campaigned has received so little attention. All the usual scandalmaking media ploys were in play – the accusation that he loved bin Laden, the way he only chose his best friends among Hamas and Hezbollah, his participation in hunting down and killing various UK patriots in Ulster, etc. He didn’t care. I do think this is going to be new. The tories who learned the New Labour media tricks from New Labour are now confronting not their mirror image, but someone who is playing a different game. The press, who loved the New labour game, are unanimous that this is amateur, and Corbyn is a goner. The press so far has been 100 percent wrong. Will they be right about this, or will Corbyn mobilize an internet and social media game that will simply lead the newspapers and the tv? In any case, Corbyn’s relationship to the Unions does put him a step closer to real grassroots politicking.


js. 09.14.15 at 11:21 pm

@js -59 Uhh, McCain and Romney?

What Layman said: comparing McCain or Romney to Corbyn is bizarre. And anyway, one could plausibly argue that 1980, 2008*, and 2014 are all counterarguments to your position.

*2008 not because Obama’s some flaming leftie (he obviously isn’t), but because (a) he was widely perceived to be way more to the left than he actually is, and (b) he was partly chosen explicitly as (i.e. on the grounds of being) the alternative to establishment candidate(s).


js. 09.14.15 at 11:22 pm

My response to Daragh is awaiting moderation (for some incomprehensible reason).


David 09.15.15 at 8:36 am

@138 and 139. There’s an assumption here (widely shared, it’s true) that multi-party electoral politics will continue in the next decade as it has since 1945. In such a case, who “wins” the next UK General Election is an important question. But it’s easy to see that that might not be the case. The most obvious scenario would be the election of a parliament which was too divided and too fractious to form a government or to have a majority for anything. This came quite close to happening in the UK this year, and may indeed happen at a later stage if Cameron loses his majority after by-election defeats. It’s very likely to happen in the French elections of 2017. But public opinion, especially in its current enervated state, may not be ready to wait indefinitely as politicians play endless games of musical coalition building. They will instead take to the street and demand action, as they are in Lebanon at the moment, for example. In such circumstances, there is a historical tendency to turn to a figure who promises change and a clear idea of what to do, irrespective of that figure’s actual virtues and even their actual ideas. This is why I think it’s a mistake to concentrate too much on personalities and policies, and why instead it’s the public mood, and public expectations, that are important. A lot of different figures, of many different persuasions, could have benefited from this mood. The three I mentioned benefit in different ways now: others will certainly do so in the future.


Richard M 09.15.15 at 8:58 am

> All the usual scandalmaking media ploys were in play – the accusation that he loved bin Laden, the way he only chose his best friends among Hamas and Hezbollah, his participation in hunting down and killing various UK patriots in Ulster, etc. He didn’t care. I do think this is going to be new

Problem is, you can neatly divide the electorate into two equal-sized parts; those who read the papers (A), and those who don’t (B). When you are in opposition, you can’t enact a left wing policy, you can only proclaim it. And a proclamation of a left wing policy affects these two groups differently. Group A reads about it in the papers, in a presentation determined by the controllers of that paper, who rarely like left wing ideas. And group B never hears about it, so are utterly unaffected.

There are a few minor exceptions to this rule, like those union and party members sufficiently engaged to attend meetings or read circulars. And, for completeness, those who read political blogs. Call those group C.

Obviously, the New Labour strategy was based on group A. Corbyn’s victory was with group C. But there is nothing I have seen to indicate that he has a viable plan for bringing group B into play. And only that could lead to an election winner Murdoch does not approve of.


magistra 09.15.15 at 9:15 am

Richard M@146
The Corbin supporters’ assumption seems to be that social media allows left-wingers to contact potential voters directly, without having to use the mainstream media and that has the potential to draw in lots of people who didn’t vote this time, especially the young. The big issue here is how diverse most activists’ social network is and whether they can enthuse their Facebook friends/Twitter followers or just piss them off. I think any campaign that wants to mobilise without using the mainstream media needs to look very hard at the techniques of the SNP, who did manage that fairly successfully via a lot of small-scale local meetings (not just rallies by the leader). I thought Stella Creasy’s ideas on campaigning also showed promise, but again, she didn’t get elected.


Andrae 09.15.15 at 9:41 am

@14 “The economy has found uses for the surplus labour ” is one way to put it. Or, having read 19th c’ history, another would be, “consigned generations of surplus labour to squaller, disease, and the occasional violent state-suppression until such a time as a convenient world war conveniently disposed of it”.

And to answer your question: no, I don’t expect this time will be any different.


Richard M 09.15.15 at 9:48 am

You are, I suspect, right that the average Facebook/twitter/tumblr political post has zero or negative effect.

The key point in Scotland was that most of the papers sold are Scottish or local editions of national titles. So either they are in competition with national titles, or have to justify their existence to a head office. Most have some variation of Scotland or National in their titles.

So the SNP win was mostly just a variation of the New Labour strategy of finding some reason for the papers to like you, mixed with the after-affect of the extra political engagement brought by the indy-ref. A crisis like that, or the one in Greece, does expand the set of people interested in politics (A + C). But they are probably impossible to manufacture on demand from opposition (short of attempting a coup or something).

If I was Corbyn, I would be proposing a big newspaper subsidy in return for a small public service obligation…


James Wimberley 09.15.15 at 10:14 am

What is the etymology of SPAD? Perhaps it’s a Civil Service payslip code. I get SPecial Adviser, but what’s the D? Department?


christian_h 09.15.15 at 10:14 am

Apparently now the patriots are upset that Corbyn won’t rule out wearing a white poppy on Remembrance Day. The speed with which liberals collapse into the most vicious nationalism is astounding. Next they will whinge that McDonnell and Corbyn dont sufficiently honour the achievements of the Raj.


James Wimberley 09.15.15 at 10:17 am

Dammit, it must be SPecial ADviser. Need more coffee.


christian_h 09.15.15 at 10:23 am

Just by the way, the people who demand honoring British participation in one of the most massive and senseless acts of political violence in human history – World War I – are the very same who just can’t get past someone correctly pointing out that only political violence (of much smaller extent) forced the British state to the negotiating table over Northern Ireland. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.


Richard M 09.15.15 at 10:43 am

Not sure it is that useful to worry about the general case of the self-consistency of the opinions of ‘people’.

But “Pacifism for the British, any and all violence against the British is morally justified” does seem a slightly strange combination of political stances for a single named individual to be taking. Especially if that individual is supposed to be a candidate for UK PM…


christian_h 09.15.15 at 10:48 am

Of course said individual honored those who fought the Nazis in the Battle of Britain today but don’t let fact stand in the way of your smears.


Richard M 09.15.15 at 10:51 am

To tie @153/154 back into the wider discussion, I think it can be usefully pointed out as an example of the limitation of the ‘hoping to gain voters by allowing activists to engage in social media’ plan.


christian_h 09.15.15 at 11:01 am

Yes, what a German in Australia by way of the U.S. writes on Crooked Timber is surely going to make British people vote for the Tories. More seriously, this whole idea that the only goal of politics is to win elections for no purpose is beyond ridiculous. And, btw, loses elections. Voters are utterly tired of it.


Miguel Madeira 09.15.15 at 11:14 am

dsquared: “The IRA actually killed more Catholics than did any other group. The number of Catholics killed by the IRA was greater than the total number of deaths attributable to the British Army; it’s about equal to the sum of Catholics killed by the UVF plus the UDA. ”

Deaths of Catholics:

IRA+INLA+”O” IRA+”unknow”+RIRA=338+33+24+42+13=450

UVF+UFF+UDA+”unkown loyalists”+PAF=265+212+132+58+37=704

Yes, dsquared talked only “UVF plus UDA”; but why UVF+UDA instead of, for example UVF+UFF (who killed more catholics – 477 – than all “republican” groups together)? And UDA and UFF were more or less two names for the same thing, no?


Daragh McDowell 09.15.15 at 11:16 am

For the record, I have mixed feelings on the poppy and wouldn’t begrudge someone choosing to wear a white one. But Corbyn is the leader of a political party, taking part in a national ceremony of remembrance, which the vast majority of the country take very seriously. To indulge in a relatively meaningless gesture that would (rightly or wrongly) alienate vast swathes of the electorate, including Labour’s own core voters, isn’t just politically idiotic, it’s more than a little narcissistic. For the sake of Corbyn’s inability to lower himself to wearing a commonly shared symbol of remembrance, and to show how much better he is than everyone else by consciously separating himself from the nation’s political leadership on a day of unity and remembrance, the Labour party would likely suffer lasting electoral damage. I’m glad the Shadow Cabinet were able to talk him out of it.


engels 09.15.15 at 12:20 pm

Yes if anyone knows something about alienating vast swathes of the electorate, it’s Daragh


engels 09.15.15 at 12:25 pm

You’ve been very generous with your time and knowledge. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to take fencing lessons from the Monty Python knight.


Ronan(rf) 09.15.15 at 12:32 pm

“Now please go find someone else’s country and someone else’s band of murdering psychopaths to praise in order to burnish your sense of political self-worth.”

I missed this earlier, but for Christ sake. Christian h is as entitled to his view on irish politics as we are to ours on British/American/Russian whatever debate we’re sticking our oar into of a tuesday.
I don’t agree with his take, personally, but neither do I agree with the idea that the ira were “psychopaths” or this more general trend towards emoting over sensible analysis .
I’ll try get back later to add my tuppence worth to the more general debate “if the British security establishment are so awesome, how come the continually make a balls of everything?”


Ronan(rf) 09.15.15 at 12:37 pm

..the short answer is that the British security est were (relatively) “restrained” in NI because the provos were (relatively) restrained. This was the strategic decision both sides made. It was politics and ideology, not psychopathy .


Daragh 09.15.15 at 12:39 pm


Agreed – was intemperate of me (though I’d disagree with the sentiment that the IRA didn’t have a lot of people in it who were killers first, ‘revolutionaries’ second). However, having seen some of the Troubles up close (thankfully the tail end) I do find the attempts by people to justify the PIRA as some form of group of freedom fighters nauseating, especially as, since I’ve mentioned above, they explicitly and consistently rejected the right of the people on behalf of whose freedom they were supposedly fighting to ask them to stop.


Daragh 09.15.15 at 12:39 pm


(And with apologies for multiple comments) – Look up ‘proxy bombing.’ If that’s restraint…


RosencrantzisDead 09.15.15 at 12:41 pm


I laughed out loud at that comment.

If we are concerned about whether Corbyn can ‘sell’ his ideas to the electorate, a half decent spin-doctor will be be able to say Corbyn is ‘tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism’. And there is an example rather close to home where dialogue ‘worked’ and massive military operations were much less effective.

Of course, if vote-getting is the key here then Corbyn should be frothing at the mouth about immigrants and sharing facebooks posts about how we should be housing ‘our brave soldiers’ and not letting in refugees. Clearly there are votes to be found there.


Ronan(rf) 09.15.15 at 12:44 pm

They had some people who were “killers first” but I’d doubt “a lot.” Afaict (although it’s been a while since I read it, and its a little dated) Brendan o leary pretty conclusively demolishes the claims that the provos were “killers and criminals” in his book on “understanding the troubles,” i’ll dig out the chapter later.
They were freedom fighters, at least in their own heads.(if not mine)


Ronan(rf) 09.15.15 at 12:48 pm

Daragh. Sure, I can disagree with everything they did because their war was unjustified, but by most comparative studies they were restrained, and strategically they didn’t look for mass casualty attacks (even if, if you want to interpret it solely as a matter of self interest, only because they didn’t want to turn public opinion completely against then)


Metatone 09.15.15 at 12:56 pm

I read this and thought it was quite interesting – it wasn’t until I got to the end that I saw who it was by:


magistra 09.15.15 at 1:03 pm

Of course, if vote-getting is the key here then Corbyn should be frothing at the mouth about immigrants and sharing facebooks posts about how we should be housing ‘our brave soldiers’ and not letting in refugees. Clearly there are votes to be found there.

Yougov did a survey back in Feb 2015, which asked the question: “On balance, do you think the level of immigration into the country over the last ten years has been good or bad for the country?”

22% said mostly good; 36% mostly bad; 38% both good and bad for the country; 4% don’t know.

There’s a lot of middle ground potentially to be won over on issues of immigration: but if you decide that anyone who expresses any doubts about it must be condemned as a racist, you’re not that likely to get them to vote for you subsequently. Even if they are a racist, it’s not good strategy to call them so unless you really are hoping to peak at a 20% vote and wait for 40 years in the hope that overall attitudes might have changed (the over 40s were definitely less positive about immigration in this question).


Daragh 09.15.15 at 1:06 pm

@Ronan(rf) Fair enough. Though I’d argue that the Provos were certainly restrained by the standards of modern Islamist terrorist groups like AQ or ISIS, but not in comparison with say, Spear of the Nation (which had much greater legitimacy).


engels 09.15.15 at 1:51 pm

Proxy bombing is repulsive; the issue is how much emphasis it should have in an overall assessment of the IRA’s activities and aims over several decades before the current compromise. You seem to think that whenever the IRA is mentioned it should be the first or only thing people should think about. I doubt many people, even British people like me who can personally remember some of the fear and disruption (as well as the state repression), will buy that.


Layman 09.15.15 at 2:05 pm

@ Daragh, one more time, for your benefit: “There are only murderers in this room.”


Daragh 09.15.15 at 2:21 pm


Certainly by the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s when Corbyn/McDonnell were offering their praise for the IRA and the ‘armed struggle’ had already gone to some pretty indefensible places (one of the Irish outlets on my Twitter feed just popped up an article on the remaining ‘disappeared’.) Especially – and for me this really is THE crucial point – their campaign was opposed by substantial majorities of their supposed constituency, North and South. And McDonnell’s claims about ‘bringing the British to the negotiating table’ notwithstanding (though on C4 News last night he claimed his comments were all part of a clever plan to keep the peace process going, so who knows what his next excuse will be), the PIRA decision to negotiate was largely a result of its realisation that the ‘armed struggle’ was futile. Ironically enough in the context of this conversation the turning point for many was the Loughgall barracks raid, which Corbyn so famously observed the minute’s silence for.

@Layman – ??? To be clear – My belief is that armed resistance against the state can often be legitimate, but that depends a lot on how its conducted, and whether it has the support of society.


Layman 09.15.15 at 3:26 pm

“Layman – ??? ”

In a situation in which one side militarily occupies another, and on which both sides develop extralegal paramilitary forces, which then engage in extrajudicial killings of both combatatants and non combatants, while the official occupying force themselves repress the population and engage in extrajudicial killings secretly, it’s a bit much to point at one group and say they’re reprehensible killers. It seems to me there were reprehensible killers on all sides, and this is what one gets for creating the situation in the first place. Thus “There are only murderers in this room.”


Daragh 09.15.15 at 3:38 pm

@Layman –

The iniquities of British rule in the North notwithstanding, classifying it as a ‘military occupation’ elides the inconvenient fact that a substantial majority of it’s population want to remain within the United Kingdom and did not want to join the Republic. Unless you’re willing to argue ‘self-determination for me, but not for thee’ it’s not much of an argument IMHO.


Layman 09.15.15 at 3:40 pm

@ Daragh

You have a habit of seizing on a minor point when you want to avoid the larger issue.


Layman 09.15.15 at 4:06 pm

Coming back to the OP, the Wasington Post declares Corbyn to be ‘radically anti-American’ and a friend to terrorists. He’d better keep an eye out for drones…


Daragh 09.15.15 at 4:19 pm

@Layman –

I’m sorry, but how is ‘the demonstrable and repeatedly expressed wishes of the population of Northern Ireland’ a ‘minor point’ when discussing the moral legitimacy of the IRA?


David 09.15.15 at 4:30 pm

I hesitate to intervene in a learned debate among historians, but it needs to be remembered that in the 1970s, at least, many on the Left argued that (1) Northern Ireland was an artificial entity, whose boundaries were drawn with the intention of providing a permanent Protestant majority (2) discrimination against Catholics had to be tackled before there could be lasting peace and (3) Ireland was England’s first colony, so what was going on was a de-colonialisation struggle. The first is objectively true, the second was implicitly recognised as true by the British government in its overall strategy, and the third is, well, true in a sense but pretty irrelevant in practice. But in the febrile atmosphere of the times, and especially in the 1980s, any deviation from the line that the IRA were criminals and sadists exploiting largely imaginary grievances was regarded as grounds for exclusion from mainstream political discourse.
The same was true of other issues in that generation of course. To be against the Vietnam War, to support the independence movement in Rhodesia, or to support the African National Congress was simply to show yourself a stooge of international communism. Times change, don’t they?
Does this matter? It depends what you mean by “matter”. It will certainly be used by the Tories and their performing seals in the media, but, as with attacks on Le Pen and Trump, people who are angry with the existing system will simply find another non-establishment candidate to vote for. It’s the system, not the candidates, that is in trouble, as I keep saying.


Chris Bertram 09.15.15 at 4:32 pm

I think this particular detour has probably gone on long enough.


Roger Gathman 09.15.15 at 6:11 pm

146 – I agree that on one level of abstraction, you can divide the voters between their information sources in your ABC fashion. But then, in practice, these divisions relate to each other. Facebook can drag along the press or the tv, and vice versa. In the 90s, when the web was a mere baby, Matt Drudge became the driving force behind the impeachment of Clinton without writing for a paper or having a tv show.
Personally, I think a Corbyn who shows huge contempt for the establishment press and gives interviews to the Huffington Post or on Youtube, or twitters like Donald Trump, at least as the media strategy for a while, might indeed achieve a certain credibility that the press or the tv would have to go after at a certain point. Since everybody insists that Corbyn is going back to the 70s or 80s – instead of going back to 1890, like the real men do – perhaps the hint here is from punk. Banned from the radio and tv, the Sex Pistolds became all the more pervasive and moved the boundaries, so it was their opponents who began to look ridiculous. It was the megagroups that crumbled or adapted. I’m not entirely sure that the Sun’s screaming about Corbyn is going to be entirely bad for him: the aura of a rebel is a sexy one – which is sorta what Corbyn, who is so non-sexy, rather needs. Similarly, the trivialization of the Corbyn’s monstrosity – reporters watching to see if he moved his lips, for God’s sake, while singing God save the Queen and Kiss her Ass daily – is part of the media idea that people are stupid and can be incited like lab rats to respond frantically to symbols. But if the symbols shift, the media will have to shift. I think Corbyn could, for instance, credibly make the case that the UK is much less secure due to blowback, due to selling arms all over the Middle East and bombing, thus endangering the homeland. This worked in Spain in the elections of 2003, reinforced by the bombing of Atocha station, which shifted things to the left rather than the right.
Perhaps this kind of strategy will fail. But I don’t see why we can say, apriori, that it will fail.

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