I have avoided discussing the British and French parliamentary elections to date, mostly because I couldn’t stomach the outcomes – May back and the neo-liberal Macron dominant. I also was tired of reading stupid columns from the likes of William Keegan and the rest of the Guardian neo-liberals raving on about Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn. Keegan is like an old record that lets the needle get stuck in a groove. He seems to have written the same column since June last year where the reader is told about the Brexit disaster and how Britain will be impoverished. But both elections, particularly the British outcome confirms what we have been noticing for a few years now – there is finally what we might call a true oppositional Left forming and gaining political traction in these nations. This is a Left platform that concedes little to the neo-liberals. It is vilified by the conservatives and the so-called progressive commentariat (such as the Guardian writers) and politicians (New Labour in Britain) as being in “cloud cuckoo land” and predictions from all of sundry of electoral wipeouts have been daily. But the results demonstrated that the message (such as in the Labour Manifesto) resonates with millions of people (40 per cent of those who voted in Britain). It is now a mainstream Left message that has taken over the British Labour Party and the Blairites are hiding under rocks. There is hope. People will only tolerate being bashed over the head for so long. There is now retaliation going on.
French National Assembly elections 2017
Over the last two weekends, the French have been voting for their legislative representatives, after the Presidential election was decided in May.
The final results indicate that the 577 National Assembly seats:
- La République En Marche! (LREM) and Mouvement démocrate (MoDem) 350 seats (60.66 per cent of total seats) – a pro-Europe, centre-right (neo-liberal) coalition.(
- Les Républicains (LR) and Union des démocrates et indépendants (UDI) 136 seats (23.57 per cent of total seats) – right-wing conservative, neo-liberals (Fillon was Presidential nominee, Sarkozy’s old party), scored best in rural France, lost 93 seats.
- Parti socialiste (PS) – 30 seats (5.2 per cent of total seats) – Other members of Parliamentary Left – 15 seats (2.6 per cent of total seats) – lost 286 seats overall, PS lost 250 seats.
- La France insoumise (FI) – 17 seats (2.95 per cent of total seats) – Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s breakaway party from PS, left-wing, democrats, defend worker rights, green transition, rejection of EU in current state with Plan B exit, new party so 17 seats gained relative to 2012.
- Parti communiste français (PCF) – 10 seats (2.75 per cent of total seats) – gained three seats on 2012 result – left-wing, supported Jean-Luc Mélenchon for President, advocate repeal of Lisbon Treaty.
- Front National (FN) – 8 seats (1.39 per cent of total seats) – hard-right, anti-Europe, anti-immigration, gained six seats on 2012.
- Others 11 seats.
The turnout of eligible voters was just 42.64 per cent with 57.36 per cent abstaining. Within that 42.64 per cent turnout, 6.93 per cent of ballots were blank and a further 2.95 per cent were declared Null.
Compare that to the 2012 National Assembly elections. The turnout then was 55.41 per cent with only 3.88 per cent Spoilt or Null.
So a very poor turnout and a record low, which puts a dent in the legitimacy of the outcome.
In the case of LREM, its 42 per cent of the total vote equates to less than 20 per cent of the total registered voters.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon as reported in the French daily, Libération (June 18, 2017) as saying that the very high abstention rate indicated that (Source):
Notre peuple est rentré dans une grève générale civique. Je vois dans cette abstention une énergie disponible pour que nous sachions l’appeler au combat … Pas un mètre du terrain du droit social ne lui sera cédé sans lutte.
Or in English:
Our people have gone into a general civic strike. I see in this abstention an available energy for us to fight … Not a metre of the field of social law will be given to him without struggle.
Him = Macron.
As in the Presidential election earlier, the low turnout reflected a sharp drop in votes for the traditional dominant parties on the right (LR) and the left (PS).
In 2012, LR (as the UMP) scored 27.12 per cent of the first round vote and 37.95 per cent of the second round. In 2017, it scored just 15.77 per cent of the first round and 22.23 per cent of the second round vote.
In 2012, PS scored 29.35 per cent of the first round vote and 40.91 per cent of the second round. In 2017, it scored just 7.44 per cent of the first round and 5.68 per cent of the second round vote.
It also reflected a sharp drop in votes from the low-income workers in the poorer suburbs.
The overall message I think is that Jean-Luc Mélenchon entry in the French political scene as a new party leader was somewhat successful and provided a true ‘oppositional left’ for French voters for the first time in many years.
The PS is all but dead, although inertia meant it still retained 30 seats (down by 250) and finished ahead of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s outcome.
It would have been better for the advancement of the progressive left agenda for FI to have replaced PS as the main Left party in the Assembly.
But, given the support of the PCF, FI will be able to form a ‘parliamentary group (having passed the 15-seat threshold) and with 27 seats between them have close to the same parliamentary voice of the PS and, certainly, more legitimacy.
The other observation is that the high abstention vote (record low) may be only a transitory phenomenon, as the major traditional parties get wiped out.
Remember that the PS has bred Jacques Delor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Pascal Lamy – all international neo-liberals destroying the Left legacy.
This gives Jean-Luc Mélenchon an opening – given that many of those who boycotted the election in one way or another were likely to be sympathetic to his message over time.
But France now as a parliamentary group that is a true oppositional Left. Much to build on that.
Macron and his mates will just continue down the same path – pro-business, furthering the reach of the El Khomri law and further consolidating France as the poor cousin of Germany in the dysfunctional Eurozone.
All of that will further the growing dissent in France and play nicely into the hands of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as long as he can hold his group together as a cohesive left-wing force.
The British election also established the emergence of a true oppositional Left in Britain for the first time since the early 1970s.
When Harold Wilson handed over the Prime Ministership to James Callaghan with Denis Healey as the Chancellor, the British Labour Party became a Monetarist rabble, capitulating to the neo-liberal surge that was infesting world politics.
That surrender made way for Margaret Thatcher to scorch Britain with her nasty policies (and she was lucky that North Sea oil came on at the same time, otherwise things would have been much worse than they were).
Then, British Labour went feral with the New Labour – an explicit attempt to distance the Labour Party from its past (although the Labour Party by the time Blair came along was hardly an image of its socialist, worker-friendly, trade-union associated past.
But New Labour damaged the progressive Left significantly and wiped out any oppositional left force in the British Parliament.
Until now that is!
Remember back on July 22, 2015, when Tony Blair was being interviewed about halfway through the Labour Party leadership election and spoke of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership credentials.
In that interview, he said of members who thought (Source):
Well my heart says I should be with that politics … well get a transplant because that is just daft
A subsequent UK Guardian article (July 22, 2015) – Blair urges Labour not to wrap itself in a Jeremy Corbyn comfort blanket – continued the Guardian’s manic undermining of Corbyn and promotion of the New Labour obsession with itself.
It gave Blair more oxygen by reporting that British Labour lost the 2010 and 2015 elections because they had “stepped somewhat from that modernising platform” (by which he meant the New Labour, Neo-liberal platform).
Blair should have just gone away forever after his lying behaviour over Iraq.
Blair’s main contention was than an “old fashioned leftist platform” is unelectable
Well he was wrong about that.
In August 2015, he intervened in the leadership battle again claimed that if Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader he would “lead Labour over a cliff to annihilation” (Source).
He also said that unless British Labour Party members need to go back to New Labour and:
… understand the danger we are in and turn back before the party is wiped out for good … [and voters] … will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence …
The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below
Well he was wrong about that too.
In the June 8, 2017 General Election we saw:
- Conservatives win 317 seats (down 13) and lost majority – 42.4 per cent of vote (up 5.5 points).
- Labour win 262 seats (up 30) – 40 per cent of vote (up 9.6 points).
- Liberal Democrats win 8 seats (up 4) – 7.4 per cent of vote (down 0.5 points).
- DUP win 10 seats (up 2) – 0.9 per cent of vote (up 0.3 points).
- Sinn Féin win 7 seats (up 3) – 0.7 per cent of vote (up 0.1 points).
The Conservatives now have to rely on a socially-conservative, climate denial lot (DUP) who scored less than 1 per cent of the vote to pass legislation.
The Liberal Democrats have still not recovered from their dirty deal witih Cameron in the 2010 election, which saw them abandon their traditional support base and support hard-core neo-liberal austerity. Their leader lost his seat and deserved that outcome.
Blair’s line was supported by the mainstream media in Britain (with the UK Guardian leading the charge it seemed – a disgrace in itself).
Corbyn was described as being a cult leader and this (Source):
A cult is destroying a major liberal political party …
That was a tweet from a CNN investigative reporter who attached a UK Guardian article from the obsessively pro Blair Nick Cohen.
Just as Keegan has become stuck on Brexit and is having daily conniptions about it, Cohen kept writing about civil wars in Labour and the incompetent Labour leaders.
He claimed that the Tories would take a glorious victory and May would:
… never have risked an early election if Labour had competent leaders who had not alienated millions of voters.
He predicted that Corbyn “must resign” and that “would have a purifying effect and a new opposition would be born from the ruins”.
Has jerk come to your lips yet. Or even something more descriptive of a venal, opinionated nobody!
When I read that last article (from the Washington Post) I wondered how basic manifesto aspirations such as:
- Creating an economy that works for all
- Negotiating Brexit
- Towards a national education service
- A fair deal at work
- Social security
- Secure homes for all
- Healthcare for all
- Safer communities
- Leading richer lives
- Extending democracy
- A more equal society
Could possible be considered belonging to a “cloud cuckoo world”.
They seemed to be the most basic aspirations that a sophisticated society should aim for and which people would desire.
Almost too tepid to be Left!
Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article (June 20, 2017) – Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism – makes a very telling point.
He is discussing how progressives have been conned into believing that they had to move their political narrative to the “centre” – where moderates live – to ensure offset the “right-wing monsters like Reagan/Bush/Bush/Trump”.
But he concludes that:
Voters for decades were conned into thinking they were noisome minorities whose best path to influence is to make peace with the mightier “center,” which inevitably turns out to support military interventionism, fewer taxes for the rich, corporate deregulation and a ban on unrealistic “giveaway” proposals like free higher education. Those are the realistic, moderate, popular ideas, we’re told.
But it’s a Wizard of Oz trick, just like American politics in general. There is no numerically massive center behind the curtain. What there is instead is a tiny island of wealthy donors, surrounded by a protective ring of for-sale major-party politicians (read: employees) whose job it is to castigate too-demanding voters and preach realism.
My conclusions from the British election results are several.
First, Jeremy Corbyn, despite having an undeveloped progressive macroeconomic narrative, has created a true opposition left force in British politics.
His Manifesto is appealing to 40 per cent of the voters, which is nearly enough to gain power in Britain’s crazy first-past-the-post system.
His “for the many not the few” resonates with the feelings of people, who have been denied by neo-liberalism’s attack on government services and the more recent austerity.
Second, unlike Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who needed to create an entirely new party (and coalition with the Communists) to develop a true oppositional left (the PS were incapable of making the leap out of pro-Europe, neo-liberalism), Corbyn has recreated the British Labour Party from within.
Corbyn was able to do that because his popularity as a person and as a leader with a resonating message inspired many people to join or rejoin the Labour Party.
Despite the whining Blairite-sycophant Peter Mandelson claiming in 2015 that “30,000 long term members have left the Labour party, real members of the Labour family, tens of thousands” because of Corbyn’s elevation as leader, nearly 188 thousand new members joined up between May 2015 and January 2016 (Source).
A House of Commons research briefing paper (published March 28, 2017) – Membership of UK political parties – presented this graph (their Figure 1).
The Corbyn surge is undoubtedly statistically significant.
The clue to Corbyn’s success came on the back of the expansion of membership categories under the 2010 Refounding Labour Review, which created a new membership category – Registered Supporters – who initially paid a £3 fee and could vote in leadership elections.
The fee was increased to £25 points in August 2016 as a deliberate strategy by the Anti-Corbyn National Committee of the Labour Party to discourage poorer pro-Corbyn voters from joining and being able to vote in the leadership ballot.
It didn’t work!
The House of Commons research briefing notes that:
In September 2015’s Leadership election, won by Jeremy Corbyn with 59.5% of the vote, 422,664 people voted. This included 245,520 members, 105,598 registered supporters and 71,546 affiliated supporters.
In last year’s Leadership election Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as the leader of the party with 61.1% of the vote. A total of 506,438 people voted, of which 285,176 were members, 121,527 were registered supporters and 99,745 were affiliated supporters.
So, Corbyn was able to work within the British Labour Party structure to mount a new oppositional Left message because the membership, that had been biased towards Blairites, was diluted by a new source of Left activism.
That option was not available to the PS in France.
Third, and allied to the second point, the New Labour narrative must surely be dead now.
All those Blairite creeps who wanted Corbyn out and who would have lost their jobs had they got their way on the leadership have zero credibility now.
Their message is moribund.
40 per cent of British voters (who voted) supported Corbyn’s message – and there is no ambiguity here. The man was harassed by all the media, his own PLP, faced votes of no confidence, was elected twice, was subjected to hideous scorn from all and sundry – and still attracted enough support to increase the Labour seats by 30.
Fourth, the YouGov summary breakdown (June 13, 2017) – How Britain voted at the 2017 general election – tells us that Corbyn’s Labour Party dominated the vote for all age groups up to 40-49.
Labour was very dominant among the younger voters – 18 to 29 year olds.
We also learn that far from being turned off by politics the majority of eligible younger British voters actually voted.
My theory is this. The younger voters have no life experience with old Labour (pre Thatcher). So all the bad things that New Labour-ites and the Tories might have said about Corbyn’s Labour would have had no meaning to them.
What do they care about the Winter of Discontent, Harold Wilson’s exchange rate crises, the bullying trade unions and all the rest of the narratives that are wheeled out to degrade the image of Labour – especially Corbyn’s ‘blast from the past’ policies (as depicted by the Tories and Blairites)?
What young people are searching for is hope for the future. And they have determined that neo-liberalism is not a source of optimism for the future.
Neo-liberalism and austerity has blighted their educational opportunities, undermined the health system, created chaose in the privatised transport system.
It is mean and nasty.
Moreover, while the mainstream media put out daily bile attacks about Corbyn, the young people don’t really buy or read the newspapers anymore.
The young people, increasingly connected by social media, and that is making all the Murdoch and Guardian-type hysterics irrelevant.
The British election, and to some extent, the French election shows that there is a new oppositional Left forming – finally.
A similar capacity is expressed in the US by the Sanders’ team.
How that pans out is the interesting question.
But for the first time in decades, the traditional Left structures are falling apart and new progressive groupings are forming with inspired policies and leadership.
The next stage is to marry that with a solid understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). We can live in hope.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2017 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.