It is beginning to look a bit like the ‘End of Days’, isn’t it? – if not for humanity generally – though you never know: Covid-19 might turn out to be the agent of the next ‘Great Extinction’ – then for the British and American ‘ways of life’, the Republican and Democratic parties in the USA, the Conservative and Labour Parties in the UK, truth, decency and honour in both our countries, and late-stage capitalism. And it’s extraordinarily difficult to know what to do about it.
The most likely outcome – short of extinction – is the rise of a new sort of fascism, such as we’re seeing the seeds of today, in the authoritarianism implicit in Trump’s thankfully short-lived term as American President – but which will persist, surely, among his ‘robbed’ and vengeful followers; in various right-wing regimes around the world, from Hungary to Israel; and even – to descend to the example closest to me – here in Britain: where the Labour Party now appears to be putting ‘authority’ before ‘democracy’, by forbidding the discussion, even, of certain crucial issues in its constituency meetings. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2020/08/17/8636/.) Members have already been expelled for raising these questions; and the deputy leader of the party, Angela Rayner, has just been heard threatening to summarily suspend ‘many thousands’ more if they attempt to debate the issue of – for example – the possible exaggeration of the extent of anti-semitism in the party, as I’ve done. (See https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/angela-rayner-says-labour-suspend-23088719; and this blog, infra.) Hence my own departure, jumping before I’m pushed. Stay, and fight from within, I was told; but I don’t feel I should remain in a party that denies freedom of speech. Is that self-indulgent of me?
The relevance of this rather parochial (and indeed personal) issue to the ‘End of Days’ scenario is that democratic socialism is the only – or at any rate the best – way I can see of preventing the catastrophe that looms; so that if Labour no longer represents democratic socialism, of the kind promoted by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell in the last two General Elections, I can see little real hope for us in Britain. It’s obvious that a stronger State and a better-funded NHS – the great achievement of democratic socialism in Britain – would have coped with the coronavirus pandemic better than the present laissez-faire government’s reliance on its chums in the private sector. It’s also clear to me that greater social equality would have helped soothe the resentments that provoked the populist Brexit vote in 2016, whose disastrous repercussions are a main cause of much of our non-Covid-related distress today. In short, what we really, really want (cue the Spice Girls here) is a return to the path the country seemed to be following from 1945 through to the 1970s, under Attlee, Wilson and – yes – the social Tory Harold Macmillan, before the monster Thatcher (or, I would say, the special interests and large historical forces pushing her) slammed on the brakes and undid it all. That path was the basis of Corbyn’s and McDonnell’s platform, the one that had served us pretty well and had at least given us hope before the witch came on to the scene; which of course was one of the things going against it in 2019 – making it appear reactionary, and so playing to the negative propaganda of the right-wing press; in an election in any case dominated by extraneous issues, like Europe, immigration and Corbyn’s supposed ‘anti-semitism’.
The 2019 election result may have put an end to all chances of a return to the pre-1970s consensus, and to the taxation and social spending regime that had rescued Britain from economic ruin after the Second World War, and could conceivably rescue her from the similar situation that Covid-plus-Brexit might inflict on her in the next few months and years. I could imagine Corbyn returning us to the 1960s, and to proper social democracy – or trying to, at any rate; I find it difficult to see Starmer taking on the vested interests that have dragged us away from that since the ’60s, and putting in train the social revolution that alone will rescue us from Covid, the effects of Brexit, and the danger of authoritarianism. When Corbyn was first elected Labour leader I welcomed it for the traditional Labour philosophy he represented, while always being aware of the personal baggage he carried with him, which the Press was bound to seize on in order to bring him down. My hope at that time was that he would remain leader for enough time to reform its policies, and then give way to someone who would follow the same path, but ‘charismatically’ enough to please the Press: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/07/12/keep-corbyn-for-now/. I had in mind Emily Thornberry; or a return of Ed Milliband; or even Hilary Benn – if he’d been anything like his Dad. Unfortunately that didn’t work, and in the light of subsequent events it’s hard to see how it could have done. I also hoped – though without any great confidence – that, if he were fairly presented, Jeremy might come to appeal to more people in time, as he does to me, and did to the hundreds of thousands of much younger people he inspired and politicised before the 2019 election.
Can Starmer, with his relative respectability, the support of the Jewish community, and the ‘authority’ granted to him after recent events, turn radical enough to carry out the second part of my plan if returned to power, and implement Corbyn’s agenda? I still think that social democracy, of the kind we aspired to in the 1960s, is the only way out of the current ‘End of Days’ situation. If Keir can get us back on to that track, I might forgive him his assault on our ‘freedom of speech’. But the fact that I would need to says a great deal about our deeply depressing times.