QOTD: Young socialist voters

Malcolm Harris at Pacific Standard explains why young people have started voting for socialists – and why we shouldn’t confuse it for the reactionary anger of older voters.

Young people in the U.S. and the U.K. aren’t voting for socialists to make a point to their parents, and neither Sanders nor Corbyn can be plausibly cast as a rock-star messiah or a Trumpish demagogue leading the kids astray. Sanders isn’t charismatic enough to convince his immediate family what to order for takeout. The simplest explanation for this ideological turn is that the generation raised under neoliberalism doesn’t think it’s a very good way to run a country or a planet. There’s no shortage of evidence to support such a position — global warming, pointless war, vicious social inequality, etc. — and voting for a grouchy old socialist is an incredibly moderate, measured response. Characterizing it otherwise is rank hackery.

Bold politics: redefining a good business model

I’m slightly in love with this idea of Jeremy Corbyn’s: to stop companies paying dividends until they pay the people who work for them a living wage. He said in a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday:

Only profitable employers will be paying dividends, if they depend on cheap labour for those profits then I think there is a question over whether that is a business model to which we should be turning a blind eye.

By “slightly in love” I mean I cackled for a good five minutes after reading it because it’s so beautiful, righteous, and utterly outraging to the anti-Corbyn folk who have so desperately tried to get him to back down from his principles. This is not a guy who’s worried about being called “hard left” or “socialist”.

jeremy corbyn gives you the eye

It’s a serious proposition, though. It challenges our ideas of how businesses should operate – ideas which we tend to take for granted.

We know what a “good business” is meant to look like. It must be profitable! And efficient! And innovative! And of course it must “value” its employees – by giving them their own nametags or buying them Christmas hampers or talking a lot about just how much you value them. Even the second-most-horrible employer would agree that having happy employees/staff/associates/~partners~ is important to the success of your business.

(The most horrible employer is the Talley family, who think workers should be grateful to be fired for wearing green t-shirts. There’s always an exception that proves the rule, etc.)

We often talk about profit as though it’s the single most important measurement of a company’s success – but profit doesn’t trump everything.

britney serious

We don’t say “you only need to implement basic food hygiene after you become profitable.” We don’t say “accuracy in advertising is only required once you’re making money.” We understand the need for common-sense minimum standards in business.

If a CEO stood up and said “Look, our business model just wouldn’t be profitable if we had to ensure there wasn’t fecal matter in the ground beef” we would say “Your business model is broken.”

If a Director of Corporate Social Responsibility stood up and said “Our business model isn’t sustainable if we have to stop pumping raw sewage into the harbour” we would say “Your business model is both literally and figuratively shit.”

We already accept the idea of a minimum mandated wage for people who work. So why not stand up and say, “if you can’t afford to pay the people who do your work enough to live on, your business model is broken”?

Of course there’ll be pushback. Of course there’ll be resistance. And the people opposing us will have larger media platforms and greater influence and more money to throw into advertising and astroturf.

But that’s nothing we haven’t overcome before. That’s pretty much the entire story of the labour movement and the entire reason we have Labour Parties across the world.

This is the kind of idea which ticks all the boxes. It just makes sense. It challenges the rich and powerful who get whacking great payrises while the people who do the work struggle.

It’s the right thing to do. And taking a stand when it’s the right thing to do is how you win progressive causes. Isn’t it?

Centrism and Canada

I’m not an expert on Canadian politics, so the only thing I have to go on regarding its New Democratic Party is what Rob Salmond says in his latest argument on trying to campaign for the centre.

It’s like a poster child for every political consultant’s “grow from your base, then reach to the centre” fantasy. …

That focus on middle-income earners, and on widely shared, optimistic self-images about “hard work” is textbook political strategy, employed by left and right parties alike. Tell swing voters in particular that they’re the most important, tell them they’re great and deserve more, and if you’re the challenger tell them the incumbent is failing them.

But there’s a logical hiccup. Rob himself says right up top:

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) stands proudly for the progressive left in Canadian politics. Very few would accuse the NDP of being “Blairite.”

And good for them. But this pretty much ruins any argument that the NDP proves that a move to the right is a winning strategy for parties like UK or NZ Labour.

If there is validity in a push to the centre, it surely only works when, like the NDP, you’re still seen as “standing proudly for the progressive left”. It works because the left feel secure. They aren’t worried you’re selling out for the sake of a Crown limo.

This is not a luxury afforded to leftish Anglo parties like UK Labour which have been described as “Blairite” on a regular basis.

I said in The base is what you build on:

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Label them fringe, call them the Twitterati, accuse them of living in an echo-chamber and being out of touch with ~real voters~, but someone has to run your phonebanks. If your strategy is “winning both the left and the centre”, you need to win both the left and the centre. What concerns me is the idea – illustrated in another post – that:

Around a third of New Zealand’s population are leftists. Same for right-wingers. But you need 50% of the vote to govern

… so you assume you’ve got 33% in the bank and just need to convince half of the swingers (no pun intended) to back you.

For the non-Scottish parts of UK Labour, that’s not too silly, especially after the Lib Dems slit their own throats. In New Zealand, with MMP, it’s dangerous. Leftist voters have other options. One is “not showing up”. And we’ve had two elections to see exactly what that looks like.

There are other issues with Rob’s analysis. Implying that only a centrist strategy can have “professionalized “slick” messaging” is a bit weird, given that Jeremy Corbyn won with some pretty slick, professional campaigning. It would be sad if Rob were trying to paint people to his left as mud-covered rabble.

monty python executive power

Rob also sneers at Jeremy Corbyn’s style of campaigning by saying “the progressive citizenry now demands conviction politicians who say what they mean, no matter how out of step it might be with swing voters”. But the polls – the data – show that Corbyn is firmly in-step with swing voters in the UK. He is “a mirror to swing voters’ self-images and desires”. And he can say exactly what he thinks.

And there’s this:

If you go centrist on innovation, you can go left on climate change. If you go centrist on taxes, you can go left on education. And so on.

I want to believe, folks.

i want to believeI’m honestly interested to know which issues the NZ Labour Party’s centrist crew are willing to go left on. Because when it’s come to extending benefits, advancing gender equality, or not participating in the second invasion of Iraq, it’s been a resounding no. Tinkering at the edges of student loans or hospital waiting lists isn’t “going left”. If we’re selling our soul to polling, I want to see more out of it than a halfway public-private KiwiBuild policy.

We hear a lot about how moving to the right doesn’t mean compromising our principles. But I still don’t know what the centre stands for.

The base is what you build on

all your base

An easy way to dismiss the success of a staunch leftwing candidate (like Jeremy Corbyn, who is evidently providing all the inspiration for my posts this week) is to write off their internal supporters as “just” party diehards – not real people.

The local “centre-left commentator” peddling this line will not surprise anyone.

The basic tenet of centrist politics is the centre is fixed; we must move to occupy it. The left disagrees: we think the centre can be moved; the question is how.

That’s where the base comes in.

We’ve all heard the eye-rolling dismissal of bloggers and Twitterati and “social media echo chambers”. And it’s correct, to a small extent. There’s a certain type of person who has the resources, time and inclination to gabble on about politics online. They aren’t legion. They don’t represent ~the average voter~.

But for Labour, they’re the base. They’re the people who talk politics away from their keyboards, with friends and family and coworkers. They’re the people who give up evenings running phonebanks or weekends door-knocking or putting up hoardings or waving signs at the side of the road.

The National Party provides an interesting comparison. We’ve only recently started to see the rumblings from their base (at least, the Auckland chapter of it). But they can’t be happy. Key’s popularity is built on slick media management, invisible dirty politics, and swallowing plenty of dead rats. He hasn’t been benevolent, by any means, but despite our worst fears, he hasn’t gone all-out on the privatisation/extinction of the public service/strip-mining the economy for foreign interests front either.

That’s got to be pissing off the kind of Tory who after nine long years of Clark’s rampant socialism longed for some union-smashing poor-bashing environment-obliterating vengeance. Instead, classic National policies like Jami-Lee Ross’ strike-breaking bill have been shut down out of sheer pragmatism: it threatened the reasonable, even-handed facade they used to push through unfair employment law reforms.

Why doesn’t National worry about annoying their base? What they have, and Labour doesn’t, is money.


National can buy every billboard in the country. They can run super-slick ads all over the place (even if they don’t apparently pay musicians for the use of their intellectual property.) They can hire as many local halls and drive as many branded buses around the streets of their electorates as they like. They can pay off stale old MPs to ensure lots of fresh faces are coming up through the ranks.

Visibility isn’t the only thing that matters in an election, but it does matter. And where National can get its message across with money, Labour has traditionally done it through sheer, well, labour.

It’s basically a metaphor for the whole left/right worker/bourgeois struggle, innit?

Let’s accept the idea that Labour activists don’t reflect the views of enough voters to form a government. Let’s even accept the idea that we can magically convince those voters that we agree with them on everything without compromising our basic principles. The point is that Labour can’t reach those voters without its base. No point agreeing with them on everything if they never hear about it.

But why would Labour’s base, those silly lefties with their silly principles, keep grinding on trying to sell a moderate/unfrightening/uninspiring message which has only led to increasingly terrible election results?

Here’s another thought: more and more Kiwi voters aren’t showing up on election day. Maybe they skew left, maybe they align with the voting population as a whole. But they need a reason to turn out, and turn out for Labour. Unless someone dies and leaves a whopping bequest, the people giving voters that reason will be Labour’s base. They’re going to work a lot harder for a leader they believe in, who gives them a reason to be proud of their party and hopeful for the future of their country.

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has seen 15,000 new members join the UK Labour Party in a single day. Maybe he will have a big job ahead convincing ~average voters~ that he’s not a dangerous threat to national security. I doubt it, but if so, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier with that many people to help him.

And now, a song that got unaccountably stuck in my head while writing this post.