I’ve got into a quiet period with this blog. It’s been a while since my last post, in the meantime I’ve been busy, or just generally stressed about my PhD. Anyway, here are some stray thoughts about local elections and Labour.
I’ve been putting together an election campaign for the city council in Leicester. It has been in the works for months, and only now starting to take off.
Political activity in public is now legally permitted again; every weekend I meet up with one or two friends and a bundle of leaflets, we walk up and down the streets, chatting on the way. It’s social, I get good exercise out of it, and overall it’s a very enjoyable experience. I relish the opportunity to finally to do something outside with other people.
Along with that, I’ve had less optimistic thoughts about the fate of the Labour Party. The last round of local elections were delayed, so with everything which was pushed forward, this year we’re getting two sets of local elections in one. Plus national elections in Wales and Scotland, plus various mayoral elections for unitary authorities, plus police commissioners. There are a lot of votes coming together in May, and there’s a lot which could potentially swing the wrong way for Labour.
Since January I’ve watched the bizarre spectacle of Labour outflanked by the Tories on corporation tax. Refusing to support a 5% pay rise for NHS staff, which was a committment from the 2019 election manifesto. This along with a series of dodgy stitch-ups of candidate selections Liverpool and Bristol. The party also recently scrapped its community organising unit ahead of the elections.
From 2015-2019 the Labour left often reminded us not to forget how far they had come. Recall how things were under Blair, remember how bad the Labour Party used to be! Well, now I have been reminded. I feel all the disappointment and mournful anger at seeing this great engine of the movement being demobilised.
Starmer speaks up for the working class, but he is careful never to speak too clearly. Any substantial positions have been shorn away and polished out by slick marketing, so as not to disturb the general order of things.
Within the Labour Party, young people generally prefer Corbyn, the ‘Generation Left’. This the story of young people strugling through a world of insecure jobs and housing, low pay and high rent, a lost generation:
More than half of under-25s had been furloughed or lost their jobs by last June.
I maintain that it isn’t a generational divide as much as a symptom of capitalist crisis. The large corporations spent the last decade rigorously strengthening their power and creating new opportunities for exploitation. And through that process they drove class composition among people who are exploited and aggrieved. These ‘children of the crisis.’
There is a liberal idea that gentrification can occur through replacement rather than displacement. What if the working class was simply disappearing of its own accord? Working people receding into the background as the descendants of factory labourers took up student loans, onwards to take their place in a landscape of offices and suburbs. As industries died out, the empty factories would be turned over to housing development, machines would give way to computers.
Trade union membership was on a long spiralling decline, financial services were more profitable than anything else. Chimneys and mine shafts converted to cultural attractions for tourists. The Marxist historian Gwyn Alf Williams commented:
Today it looks to me as if the Welsh people have been declared redundant. As redundant as this pit, which after 200 years is now a museum. This is a museum. Wales is being turned into a land of museums.
This is a caricature, after the crash of 2008 the reality on the ground was very different. Yet, the heady prospects of a neoliberal post-industrial future still echoes in gentrification discourse.
Cities like Oxford or Brighton are increasingly unaffordable, and instead of tackling the difficult issue of spatial segregation or property ownership, the government just urges developers to build more houses. Every year things get worse, all politicians recognise and acknowledge the problem, but nobody really wants to confront it. What happens to all the people unable to meet the rent any longer? Where do they go, and what do they become?
I predict Labour will fall victim to pasokification in May, and these things are related. Proletarianisation becomes pasokification. The crisis drives people in sharp conditions of exploitation to auto-constitute themselves a working class. We gather around demands which meet class interests.
When the Labour right meets those demands with indifference, it can expect the same response at the ballot box.