Friday, December 13, 2019

Hi it's Stupid: Britain

Hi, it's Stupid to say the Conservative Party didn't win its election because the Labour Party was too far left, or because the Labour Party was anti-Semitic, but rather because everybody hates Jeremy Corbyn. He's just not likable.

As in Hillary Clinton was, as Obama put it, "likable enough", if just barely (the press could never tolerate her, perhaps because she couldn't hide her low expectations of them, but ordinary people mostly could, if they had a chance to judge for themselves), and he isn't.

This is why there are so many Brits who are willing to believe he's an anti-Semite: they're working under the assumption that anybody they know who's an anti-Semite is probably a pretty unpleasant person, not like that dotty prime minister Johnson, who looks like the Earl of Emsworth thinking of nothing but his prize fat pig, and who is self-evidently a jolly good fellow if not entirely reliable. They wouldn't lend Boris Johnson £50, and they're not crazy about having him for prime minister, but they can't imagine he'd be anything so reviled as an anti-Semite. Unpossible!
Boris Johnson has invoked some of the oldest and most pernicious antisemitic stereotypes in a book he wrote when he was a Conservative shadow minister. He describes “Jewish oligarchs” who run the media, and fiddle the figures to fix elections in their favour.
He portrays a Jewish character, Sammy Katz, with a “proud nose and curly hair”, and paints him as a malevolent, stingy, snake-like Jewish businessman who exploits immigrant workers for profit. There is nothing subtle about this. We know what antisemitism looks like.
Johnson has form when it comes to anti-Jewish hatred. As editor of the Spectator he chose to publish articles in which the notorious racist Taki Theodoracopulos boasted of being “an antisemite”, argued black people “have lower IQs than whites” and praised Enoch Powell as a “great man”.
Well, he's a Tory sort of anti-Semite, the clubbable kind, and besides he even has a Jewish ancestor or two alongside the Turkish and German ones, lending to his aristocratic mystique. Whereas Jeremy has an odd-looking beard and often appears without a tie and doesn't smile.

I don't like Corbyn myself! It's an almost personal thing. I admire his determination to return the Labour Party to the socialism of its roots after the damage of that smiling war criminal Tony Blair, and his commitment to the working classes. I don't like his dogmatism, and I don't like the fashion consciousness in foreign relations that leads him to defend the Russian and Venezuelan governments because of I don't know what, their opposition to Barack Obama, but what I can't get past is the feeling that he's that guy I've known for 50 years at every socialist and anarchist meeting, the white guy a few years older than everybody else, with the certainty that everything he knows is right, contemptuous of those who lack his purity of intent, humorless, particularly intolerant of too much talk from women (I don't know that Corbyn does that! I'm saying his mannerisms remind me of people I know who have done that). I'd certainly have voted for his party today if I were English (if I were in a Scottish constituency, I'd have voted for the Scottish National Party with real enthusiasm), but I pretty much always vote for a party and its platform, not a candidate, and even though I know Corbyn played a central role in creating this year's juicy socialist manifesto, it would have been in a spirit of irritation with Corbyn himself, and his paralyzed refusal to engage with the election's central issue, which was the European Union, not renationalizing British Rail.

How Stupid is that? At least I would have voted.

Turnout at 31.9 million votes total was was down 1.5% from 2017's 32.3 million, some 400,000 who decided not to vote. The Conservatives gained 300,000 votes, and Labour lost 2.6 million. The pro-Europe but otherwise maddeningly bland Liberal Democrats gained 1.3 million votes over 2017, though distributed in such a way that they managed to lose a seat overall. SNP was up close to 300,000.

Labour's official position on the EU, that a Corbyn government would negotiate a new Brexit deal and then put it to a popular Leave-or-Remain vote, was the right thing to do given the stark division inside the party, but the leadership seemed embarrassed to discuss it and it's not clear the electorate knew what it was. It looks (per BBC on my radio this morning) as if the Leavers who thought Labour was betraying them all went to the Conservatives, while the Remainers who thought Labour was betraying them went all over the place. It looks more and more as if there is a majority for Remain but no party that can capture it. The Labour approach really was the way to allow the people to decide. It's too bad Corbyn was unwilling to sell it.

Jonathan Chait is, as you'd expect, one of the smartest people to take the non-Stupid lesson:
Many writers, not only on the left, detected parallels between the rise of Corbyn and the movement around Bernie Sanders. The latter is considerably more moderate and pragmatic than the former, and also not laden with the political baggage of Corbyn’s widely-derided openness to anti-Semitic allies. And yet many leftists have emphasized the similarities between the two, which are indeed evident. Both built youth-oriented movements led by cadres of radical activists who openly set out to destroy and remake their parties. Both lost in somewhat close fashion, Sanders in 2016 and Corbyn the next year. And fervent supporters of both men treated their narrow defeats as quasi-victories, proof of victory just around the corner....
Chait gives a whole anthology of those triumphal responses from the US for the British party, which now looks really delusional, like James Downie in Wapo after the 2017 UK election:
“Corbyn’s success provides a model for U.S. progressives in 2018, 2020 and beyond: If you need turnout to win — as liberals in the United States do — you need a bold, uncompromising platform with real solutions …
Why was turnout so high? Because Corbyn was able to generate excitement among Labour voters, especially the young..."
Or Mehdi Hasan at The Intercept:
“Yes, mainstream center-left parties may have been crushed in recent European elections — think of France or the Netherlands. However, Corbyn — who spent 32 years toiling in obscurity on the backbenches before becoming leader of his party in a shock victory in 2015 — has now a paved a road out of the wilderness …"
But Chait's magisterial conclusion seems over-general to me:
Proceeding from the erroneous Marxist view that capitalism is growing more oppressive, and a working-class backlash is therefore inevitable, they glommed onto bits of data and ignored and large and growing array of evidence to the contrary.
You should base your campaign strategy on a more critical analysis of Marx? The delusionality of Sanders's 2016 primary campaign wasn't about that at all, but about Sanders's belief in his own personal charisma, which would inspire a "political revolution", not a class revolution, to arise as if by magic, as students from very expensive colleges flocked to his standard.

Personally, I think you should base your campaign strategy on selling a program you believe in, Marxian or other, to the voters you can get, and if you adopt the attributes of a crabby college professor in a very expensive school, you'll be appealing to the wrong ones—extremely enthusiastic, but there just aren't enough of them. But that's because I'm Stupid.

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