Labor and the UK General Election

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The media focus in the UK general election has tended, understandably, to be on BoJo Johnson, the latest prime (un)mover of Ukania’s protracted and bizarre Brexit ordeal.

BoJo also draws attention for his antics, gaffes, endlessly contradictory hot-air pledges, and torrid love life.

By contrast, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, comes across as a benign and slightly eccentric grey-bearded uncle, quite unlike BoJo’s persona as an overweight, tousle-haired and preening lothario of the kind any decent or self-caring person (women especially!) would keep well away from at a family reunion.

None of this stops the rightwing tabloids from resorting to fiction when depicting Corbyn as a sinister and wacko figure who supports or keeps company with Palestinian and IRA terrorists, insurrectionists (he was arrested outside the South African embassy calling for the release of Nelson Mandela), “antisemites” (Palestine will be recognized as a state if he becomes PM), peaceniks (he opposes the renewal of the Trident nuclear missile programme), anti-monarchists (he supports the abolition of the monarchy), vegetarians who grow their own vegetables (as does Corbyn), environmental activists (Labour supports the Green New Deal), and so forth.

For crying out loud, Corbyn even had the gall to denounce the coup against Evo Morales, and meet with that yacht-hitchhiking uppity teenager Greta Thunberg!

Labour has not yet released its election manifesto, but as has been clear since Corbyn became its leader, the party is committed to overturning the neoliberalism entrenched solidly in Ukania since the Tory and New Labour premierships of Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, and David Cameron and his two successors as Tory leader, that is, from 1979 until now.

Labour’s election manifesto is likely to have the following key elements:

+ Labour will introduce “sector-wide collective bargaining” across the economy. To quote The Guardian:

“Laura Pidcock, the shadow employment rights minister, told the TUC congress in September that “sector-wide collective bargaining will set minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employer and every worker in the sector”.

She added: “In practice, it means that rather than the employer having all the power to determine what your conditions and pay are at work, they will be legally obliged to enter into negotiation with your trade union – a giant step forward in rebalancing the unequal power relations that exist between worker and employer”.”

+ Labour’s proposal for a 32-hour work-week will be negotiated with the trades unions.

+ £10/$13-an-hour minimum wage for all workers will be introduced.

+ Labour will increase the top rate of tax to 50p/65c for workers earning more than £150,000/$193,000 a year.

+ £150bn/$193bn for schools, hospitals and housing

+ £250bn/$322bn of investment to prime the pump for a “green industrial revolution”

+ University tuition fees will be scrapped

+ Labour will hold another referendum on Brexit

+ A free and universal broadband service will be introduced, paid for by a new tax on media giants such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon. (The UK ranks 35 out of 37 nations for broadband connectivity according to an OECD report, and while 98% of South Korean premises have full-fibre coverage, the UK’s figure is less than 10%.)

Labour will of course face the almost ritual “tax and spend” accusation from the Tories, but the force of this allegation will be mitigated by the fact that the Tories also propose spending increases in a last-ditch effort to play down the impact of austerity (albeit while cutting taxes for the rich— obviously taking a leaf from the Trump playbook where the latter is concerned).

Labour is still behind the Tories in the opinion polls, though it has been closing the gap steadily.

Brexit continues to be the elephant in the room for all the main parties, and will have such a variable impact in different parts of the country that uncertainty until polling day is the only guaranteed outcome.

A major consideration where Brexit is concerned will be the degree to which Brexit-leaning voters in Labour strongholds are moved to abandon their party and vote for the Tories or Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

Media attention is of course focused on these Brexit-leaning Labour redoubts, and while in London last week I spent hours watching election coverage on TV. I saw people interviewed in one such working-class Labour constituency who voiced the dilemma facing the Labour-voting Brexiter: “I want Brexit, and so does my family, but no one in our family has ever voted Tory”. Anguish was written all over the face of this interviewee. Will these Brexiters bring themselves to vote for the class enemy on polling day in the hope it will bring them Brexit?

What these Labour-voting Brexiters obviously want is a left-wing exit from the EU (“Lexit”), which many on Labour’s left have wanted historically, including Jeremy Corbyn. This would be an exit from the EU managed responsibly and with attention to due process.

However, this Tory Brexit has been the opposite of a properly conducted exit from the EU: it has been managed by an assortment of crooks, liars, con artists, fanatics, fantasists, racists, nincompoops, useful idiots acting as surrogates for “dark money” interests, and of course the usual troop of careerist politicians.

Add to the above the palpable sclerosis of Britain’s political system, and we have the beginnings of an explanation for the Brexit fiasco.

The next week of campaigning will see the televised debate between BoJo and Corbyn.

Also televised will be a show belonging to a different genre, with BoJo’s squeeze from a few year’s ago, Jennifer Arcuri, hinting that she may lift the curtains on what went on between them in a television interview.

We know that BoJo diverted public funds to her business, and that she accompanied him on trade missions while he was mayor of London, despite not being qualified to do so.

A chagrined Arcuri says that BoJo no longer takes her calls, making her feel like “a one night stand”. Hopefully this will envenom what she says about the former mayor of London.

BoJo’s first full week of campaigning has been a gaffe-filled parade, and his meet-the-people events have seen the proverbial middle finger raised in his direction nearly every time by hostile members of the public.

The media have started to ask questions about BoJo’s “relatability” when he meets the public, since he makes it quite clear he’s there entirely for the cameras and the ensuing photo ops. Even when he visits the site of a disaster, the people he encounters are made to feel like props for the Great Boris Johnson Progress Across Britain.

BoJo’s handlers will probably have to come up with new ways to improve their candidates “relatability” for the rest of the campaign—a tough ask, given his unquenchable narcissism.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.