Has the UK become an ‘elective dictatorship’?

Lord Hailsham suggested the UK was an elective dictatorship in 1976. While the concept might have seemed unusual in that decade of working class assertiveness, it now seems to fit with reality more closely. The Brexit referendum has allowed the executive to debate the use of ‘Henry VIII powers’ in Parliament and a small coalition majority may facilitate the use of this authority. This could diminish future democratic scrutiny and would underline precisely who has gained from the ‘take back control’ slogan.

The experience of the United States shows that voters who want to kick the status quo can end up with an alarming outcome. The fuzziness of Brexit is enabling the Conservative Party to take the country into a dangerous place. The idea that low skilled British workers will benefit from restricting immigration from the European Union is risible. Limiting immigration excessively is likely to undermine the efficiency of British capitalism, while departing from the single market could have other negative consequences.

It would appear that a general election is more democratic than a referendum in the British context. This is primarily because the public is accustomed to regular general elections. As the UK lacks a proper written constitution, holding a referendum on a constitutional matter can be highly problematic. The elite set the terms of the debate and then interpret the outcome. In the case of the EU referendum, the failure of successive governments to clarify the economic importance of immigration was disastrous. For the Conservative Party to continue to put authoritarian populism ahead of economic prudence is irresponsible.


Sylvia Pankhurst by Mary Davis

This brilliant text illuminates a life of struggle. Lenin treated Sylvia Pankhurst with respect, while the campaigner spent decades in the fight against sexism, imperialism and racism. Pankhurst was eccentric and prone to alienate others, but her sincerity, vision and passion cannot be questioned. While the Pankhurst name is commonly associated with the suffragettes, Mary Davis reveals how one of the family retained her radicalism after the franchise victory had been attained.

Pankhurst may be attacked for inconsistency. However, in such turbulent economic times sticking to a party line would have brought its own difficulties. Those who adhered to the principles of the Labour Party were betrayed by Ramsay MacDonald and others, while those enthused by the Russian revolution were swept into compromising positions by the complexities of international socialism. For a feminist, the political problems of the period were compounded by patriarchy.

Pankhurst was quick to warn people about the terrible dangers of fascism. An early critic of Mussolini, she did not think the new type of dictatorship was similar to other forms of undemocratic rule. She wrote:

“Fascism…is essentially a manifestation of capitalism having felt danger and revenging itself for having been made to fear for its existence.”

Drugs and socialism

“Our fundamental delusion today is not believing in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously – on the contrary, it is not taking fictions seriously enough.”

Ever since Slavoj Žižek demanded his third pill, the potential link between modern socialism and drugs has been emerging from the haze. With Acid Corbynism now a live debate within Momentum, the minds of the people are going to be expanded once more. As has been noted by Jeremy Gilbert, the New Left dabbled in mysticism back in the day. Now, nobody is suggesting that day tripping is going to be the start of a Great Leap Forward, but it is fascinating that the discourse of drugs is being pushed at the present time.

While Russell Brand has recently penned a book on how to deal with addiction, he may well be swimming against the colourful tide. Without sufficient socially useful work, the generation betrayed by Brexit may be about to party like there is no future. So what should socialists do in this moment of peak alienation?

Austerity has forced many people to reduce their discretionary spending. More affluent types have been tempted into conspicuous consumption. It seems that people should refrain from making easy judgements. If others want to escape from the paranoia of reality, the least that one can say is good luck.

The prospects for Labour north of the border…

“Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge.”

Economist Paul Krugman, prior to the referendum on Scottish independence, was clear that the SNP was advocating a leap in the dark. His argument was that Scotland might lack the economic levers to sustain a prosperous future, given the raging controversies about the future currency.

Since his intervention, the fluctuating oil price has underlined the potential vulnerability of an autonomous Scotland. An independent Scotland would need a diverse economy, good fortune and excellent external relations to thrive.

The revival of the Scottish Conservative Party has arguably been something of a surprise. It has flowed in part from resistance to the stuttering independence movement. However, Scottish Labour has become ineffective due to weak leadership, poor strategy and internal divisions. This may change with the departure of another leader. If Scottish Labour can become coherent again, it might be able to win over those sections of the electorate who are aware of the economic problems with the case for independence.

Last Man Standing by Jack Straw

Political memoirs can be turgid and dishonest. But they can shed some light on important aspects of modern history. Jack Straw was so surprised to be made Foreign Secretary he swore, yet he presided over the Foreign Office during a crucial period in the evolution of the European project. At the time, Tony Blair was keen on the politics of joining the euro, but the Cabinet was unconvinced by the economic case.

Straw was given the job on the understanding that he would agree with Blair on the euro. However, he secretly had faith in Gordon Brown’s ability to retain the pound by virtue of the rigorous economic tests. This duplicity enabled him to represent British interests at the European level while retaining a deep scepticism towards the processes of the European Union.  Understanding the lack of sincere enthusiasm for the European ideal within parts of New Labour is central to appreciating the causes of the referendum defeat in 2016. It is foolish to blame Jeremy Corbyn for a campaign that could not rely on the support of senior Labour figures like Frank Field.

Straw’s antipathy to “more Europe” was illustrated by his tribal hostility to the Liberal Democrats. He was determined to prevent a coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in 2010. Completely unconcerned about the potential impact of Tory-led austerity on the working class, he:

“sent Gordon a detailed note setting out my view that a coalition with the Lib Dems would be doomed- on grounds of legitimacy, stability and the management of the economy and public finances. I took issue with the fanciful notion of a ‘progressive alliance’ saying that I thought it ‘arrogant nonsense’.”


Labour can’t lose Momentum over Brexit

Brexit is continuing to be awkward for the Labour Party. This is not because of the leadership or the trade unions. Both of these groups recognise the economic benefits of the single market, whilst acknowledging the result of the referendum. Problems have been coming from discontented MPs who have used the summer to deviate from the party line. Neoliberals are reluctant to accept the referendum result, while there are Blue Labour figures who want to clamp down on immigration swiftly. Members of Momentum should probably remember the delicacy of the European issue and focus on campaigning against austerity.

The liberal media likes to depict the Shadow Chancellor as profoundly sceptical of the European Union. The truth is that John McDonnell MP is pragmatic. He wants to preserve the living standards of the working class and is prepared to compromise to achieve his goals. He knows that many young people are pro-European and respects the pluralism within the socialist tradition.

Vowing to remain in the single market for an unspecified time could have a negative impact on the poll ratings of Labour. Nevertheless, it is essential to have a dividing line from the Tory policy. Leaving the European Union hurriedly or clumsily may have serious economic consequences. It was a Conservative referendum and the Conservative Party should be made to pay an electoral price for their juvenile nationalism. Hence Labour would do well to be as pro-European as its leadership desires. Socialists should recall the opinion of  Rosa Luxemburg:

“Strength lies not in numbers, but in the spirit, in the clarity, in the energy that inspires us.”

Is the Universal Basic Income on its way?

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) is attracting increasing support from across the political spectrum. Academic Guy Standing sees the UBI as a solution to the problems of those in precarious work, while thinkers like Nick Srnicek view it as an urgent political demand in an era of increasing automation. In the UK, the huge problems associated with welfare reforms connected with the Anglo-American neoliberal orthodoxy underlined by Nikolas Theodore and Jamie Peck mean that the status quo is under growing pressure. An experiment in UBI is currently underway in Finland, while a guaranteed income was once advocated by the free-market economist Milton Friedman. Centrist journalists like Simon Jenkins are now seeming converts to the cause of the UBI.

However, there are several obstacles to the adoption of the UBI. The first is the widespread belief that people should not get something for nothing. The second is the feeling that the measure might encourage indolence. The third is the fear that its introduction would necessitate much higher rates of taxation. Taken together, the critics can keep the project at bay for some time by dividing and ruling.

Nevertheless, there is yet another barrier to the UBI. For many on the left,  long years have been spent in the struggle for social justice. The UBI is a reform which would leave much of the system intact. Some activists may feel that their efforts deserve a more radical social transformation. It is the possible gaps between progressive people which could undermine the initiative.