The B team Strategy


This article which forms part of an important debate about the future of the left and the Labour party was first published here 

Paul Atkin writes: Labour was defeated in December as the result of a strategic choice by every fraction and institution of the ruling class to crush Corbyn’s challenge. Their serious disagreements on Brexit were subordinated to that.

However, the self soothing myth on the left that “It was (only) Brexit wot lost it” – as if a more pro Brexit policy would have saved us – was one of the factors in a demoralised – and overwhelmingly pro remain – membership voting for Keir Starmer as leader.

Since the election, Boris Johnson’s government has blown its initial dominance– regularly polling at above 50% until mid April – with its appalling handling of the Coronavirus crisis. This is an unavoidable consequence of deliberate policy. The “take it on the chin” approach favoured by the most ruthless fraction of the ruling class – from the Wall St Journal to Dominic Cummings – the subsequent lackadaisical lockdown and premature reopening has given us the worst death rate and deepest economic crash in Europe.

Keir Starmer’s response has manifested a politics that Antonio Gramsci called “corporate”; which he defined as a set of ideas and polices defined and limited by someone else’s hegemonic, or dominant, framework. So, instead of clearly putting people before profit – a hegemonic line in the interests of the whole of society – he has gone out of his way to be understanding of the government’s difficulties and given them the benefit of the doubt, while seeking an entirely unrequited “national consensus”.

The nudges he has given them towards an “exit strategy” have given them political cover to exit too early. Criticisms at PMQs– however forensic – have been entirely tactical. Welcoming the government’s intention to reopen most of the economy on July 4th encourages a demob happy attitude that is already blowing away social distancing. Unions and scientists are voicing the concern that should have been heard louder and clearer in parliament. Caveats and scrutiny are hollow when a blank cheque has already been signed.

This is meant as reassurance to the ruling class that Labour could be a safe B team that would not threaten their interests and might therefore be allowed a sniff at government in the fullness of time. Sacking Rebecca Long Bailey fits into this because she has supported the NEU’s stance that children should only go back to school when it is safe to do so.

Polices have again become more a matter of what a Labour government would do and not about what campaigns Labour will actively support to change the balance of forces on the ground; leading to defensiveness when such movements erupt outside a parliamentary framework. This can be seen in the legalistic response to Black Lives Matter and failure to challenge the fake Tory narrative that throwing a statue of a slaver into a harbour is some sort of threat to war memorials.

His statement that Labour would not support an extension to the transition period for negotiating deal with the EU gives another green light to the government. In this case to leave the EU with no deal in December; followed swiftly by the trade deal with the US they are already negotiating. This will enable the most sweeping attacks on the working class since Thatcher; as UK labour and environment standards are reduced to US levels and the NHS is handed over to US insurance and pharmaceutical companies. It also means being a client state in other respects with very little room for maneouvre.

This active embrace of a Britain that is “global” primarily by virtue of being firmly wedged under Uncle Sam’s armpit, is expressed by statements from Lisa Nandy and Stephen Kinnock, echoing US sabre rattling. We are in an extraordinarily dangerous moment. The US administration is at war with a large part of its own population, is actively sabotaging global co-operation on tackling climate change, and its trade war against China is increasingly predicted to turn hot. That could kill us all. Being a cheerleader for US aggression is the last thing we need to be.

In a period of “disaster capitalism” in which “recovery” will be marked by ruthless measures from the government that put profit before people, the future of the Party depends on us not going along with any of the above in “the national interest” but mobilising people against it.


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