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The pressure of conventional policy

The pressure of conventional policy
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If there is one single lesson of the last year in British politics and of the general election it is that it is an anti-conventional and radical politics, in substance and form, which can advance.
That's why Labour under Corbyn stands out uniquely compared with other European centre-left parties in its electoral gains. No amount of talking up the minority centre-left government in Portugal in the last two weeks alters that.
It's quite telling that there is a sudden enthusiasm for the government of Lisbon from quarters which only two years ago had transferred their interests to Podemos, a radical left force in opposition to Spanish social democracy, on a promise of breaking the political mould, a new politics beyond dessicated social democracy and so on. And before that, of course, a euphoria over the victory of Syriza in the Greek general election of January 2015.
The contrast between Corbyn-Labour and the rest is set to be highlighted further in the next three weeks with the performance of the SPD at the German general election. A centrist renosing of its profile saw only a brief bounce and now back to the doldrums, seeping blue collar working class support.
This new policy of Labour embracing the single market and customs union in a long transitional arrangement with the EU is a victory for those who want the party, having hit over 40 percent in the polls, now to settle down as a conventional party of opposition.
It will doubtless be welcomed by some on the left - probably with the argument that it can be a basis for defending the rights of EU migrants. But those can be fought for and won in their own terms. And in actually shifting public opinion decisively against xenophobia and racism, there is no substitute for winning these positions from the bottom up and on a class basis.
But the report here is that Labour's position would further be to seek to win a change in the EU "to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules". That demonstrates that far from being a move towards the internationalist left, this position looks very much like that advocated by George Osborne and Peter Mandelson. It was in broad parameters the position adopted by David Cameron in his renegotiation with the EU.
It is likely also to be explained as pragmatic, in two senses. First, as appealing to the Labour base which voted Remain; second, as a smart move to defang the internal opposition cohered around Chuka Umunna, who has bet the house on agitating hourly for the Blair-Mandelson pro-EU line.
We were not short two years ago of voices on the left whose response to Corbyn's first leadership victory was immediately to argue for programmatic adaptation and institutional compromise on a range of fronts: from Trident, through Nato to defence policy and toning down calls for bank nationalisation.
I'd suggest there is another, and greater, pressure, however.
The British establishment as a whole believed its own echo chamber in the run-up to 8 June. One result was that senior civil servants, who are constitutionally bound to make contact with a potential incoming government, did not do so until very late in the day and largely cursorily. They simply didn't conceive of Labour being anywhere near winning the election.
That will now have changed. The Tory government is incredibly weak and its crises over Brexit and the implications of the DUP deal are only just beginning.
It will want to avoid an election at all costs. But for the British state and establishment they must prepare and plan for the fall of the government at any moment.
Corbyn touring Britain has put the electoral side of this potential for a change of government. The civil service and British state must put the governmental and administrative side. That will mean far more intensive contact and intervention with Labour frontbenchers who might conceivably be ministers of state in short order.
And the biggest headache for the British state, and British capital, is Brexit.
The pressure for Labour to adopt a centrist, pro-business position, then is not primarily about internal party management or electoral considerations. On the latter, the election brought defeat or setback for the fanatically pro-Remain campaigns of the Lib Dems, SNP and Greens.
Rather, the pressure is through the mechanisms that come into play for "a government in waiting".
And it's not a surprise that we see this in not just the Brexit department (now sprawling across Whitehall), but already in defence (look at the shadow defence secretary's interventions on Trident and Nato). The report - I hope inaccurate - that Labour's shadow foreign secretary is looking to adopt a more pro-Israel position is a further case in point.
This is all so reminiscent of Syriza in the period before the January 2015 election.
It was in exactly these areas - Europe, defence, foreign affairs - that the deradicalisation of the party was most pronounced.
That was dismissed by some well intentioned people as merely an electoral gambit, to get over the anti-left propaganda, into government and then to deliver a truly radical policy - centred on the Thessaloniki programme of domestic economic reform and redistribution.
The argument was that these other concessions were either a price worth paying or would be swept aside by the logic of events as Syriza moved to end austerity.
But that is not what happened. In fact, the embrace in other areas of the conventional positions of the Greek state and capitalist class became a lever directly against the limited breach with austerity whose promise had secured the votes of working class Greece.
As with the situation in Britain now, the centre-right government of Greece in 2014 was so weak and its economic policy so incoherent that there was room for Syriza to present itself as the only real "national party", capable of solving matters both for the working class and for the capitalist class.
But in the course of doing so and preparing for government (something which Alexis Tsipras lamented privately the party had been "too immature" for in 2012) the inflow of this governmental and conventional logic swept back the insurgent radicalism that had enabled Syriza to break the old party system.
We know what the result has been.
Recalling it is not to cry treason and doom and gloom in Britain in advance. All sorts of questions are open. The Tories will face further crises over Brexit, which will demand choices by Labour which this policy around the transition period merely defers.
But it is to recognise that there is a deep connection between these kinds of policy manoeuvres now and the political logic down the line - over the central issues, over defeat and victory.
The other side of this conventional Brexit policy is Labour's domestic programme of some radical reforms and ending public spending austerity.
But as the ongoing crisis in Europe shows, those two positions are in conflict everywhere.
The alternative to this policy manoeuvre on Brexit is in fact to foreground and develop even more sharply the policies - and immediate fights for them - of rupturing with austerity, racism and war. And on that basis to articulate a negotiating position with the neoliberal EU. A People's or Left Brexit.
This means making the arguments and patiently debating now, and taking initiatives
And this requires a radical left - among which are forces who are committed to common actions and initiatives with Labour members and supporters (many of whom consider themselves as of the radical left), but who are also independent from these conventionalising political pressures.
For those pressures are built in to the governmental strategy, and they are transmitted within Labour because - notwithstanding its internal political differentiations - it remains Labour.
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Update : 17-11-2017
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