Sunday, 22 November 2015

On the Genealogy of Moderate

Another day, another Guardian columnist belts their toys out of the pram. This one will probably go down as a classic of the genre. All the arguments are there: 'people being insulting, despite my very reasonable manner', 'you don't understand, my calling people lunatics is merely an accurate description, not an insult' and, the number one in the list of 'bullshit preschool debating society rhetorical tricks': 'If wanting a world of sunshine, good will, freedom and no suffering for all makes me x, then fine: I am x'.

What particularly seems to exercise Ellen's ire is that 'moderate' is now a term of insult. This seems puzzling to me. It would suggest she either doesn't understand the concept of irony or else is being willfully obtuse.

When people, like me (who is not, incidentally, a Labour supporter), use the term 'moderate' it's used ironically and for a specific reason. The people in the Labour party who call themselves 'moderate' are not moderates; they're from the right of the party, sometimes it's outer fringes. They gave themselves the name 'moderate', not other people (the second rule is you don't automatically trust the label others give groups). Now the first rule in politics is that you don't just automatically assume that the label a group gives themselves is an accurate description. Otherwise you'd have to concede that the People's Republic of North Korea really is a people's republic, rather than a rather vile dictatorship.

The fact is the 'moderates' gave themselves the term in order to seem more centrist and reasonable than they actually are. Hence why people like myself, and the Corbynites, use the term ironically - it's mocking the right of the party, not the actual moderates in the party [1].

Ellen is, however, making a ghost of a good point; that you can't have a mass party entirely of just one wing. There always needs to be compromise and a key part of compromise is having a centre that can mediate between the two wings and help find a consensus with a 'best of both worlds' [2]. The fact that Labour doesn't have this right now, however, is not the fault of Corbyn. He has shown that he is willing to compromise in many areas (not least in making deficit reduction a policy plank) and appointed many actual moderates to his Shadow Cabinet to create a broad church. It's hardly his fault if the right of the party ruled themselves out for participation. But then they can hardly subsequently complain if they're not being included.

The trouble for the right of the party is that they don't have any ideas with which to engage or discuss. Tristram Hunt pops up in the media every now and again to insist that the moderservatives should come up with their own ideas to appeal to people, but the key continuity between all of these appearances is that he never actually proposes any ideas, never so much as suggests a vague direction for them. From an outsiders perspective it does really look like the only idea they have is to just keep throwing a temper tantrum until people give into their demands. Whatever they make think that's not an attractive, inspiring or helpful position.

The fact is that the right of the party lost and lost badly. Ellen has one hilarious passage where she states

Eventually, you just give up, driven back by a torrent of “leftier than thou” abuse, quite often from people who thrillingly “found their voice” after shelling out three quid on a whim in the leadership contest.

Note quickly how this is an article nominally talking about how awful it is being insulted that is essentially nothing but a collection of insults [3]. But it is revealing, seeing as this passage can be translated as: "Oh no! Corbyn inspired lots of people to join up to Labour and vote! What a catastrophe!"

Let's be perfectly clear here: Corbyn won fair and square across the board, but even if we just assume that it was on the £3 joinees it's worth saying that it was the same for all the candidates. There was nothing stopping Burnham, Cooper or Kendall from inspiring people to join up and vote for them, except Burnham, Cooper and Kendall themselves. The fact that they couldn't inspire people to sign up and vote for them, but Corbyn could, is the key fact that needs to be looked at in any explanation for why the moderservative and moderate candidates lost, but Corby won.

Sadly it won't be, though, as for some in the party they're far more comfortable with the belief that their own membership are idiots and nutters, and willing to call them this, than they are with idea that their way of doing things might not be the right way and that they have some self-reflection and critical thinking to do. As TheFlyingRodent aptly put it:

the party's leading lights are ever-prepared to countenance almost any kind of heresy, except for the type that suggests that the problem might be them.

[1] It was for reasons of distinguishing between actual moderates in the party and the right of the party that I came up with the appellation 'moderservative'

[2] Note here that compromise is a too way street - something that the moderservatives seem genuinely unable to understand.

[3] And worth saying 'people in glass houses' and all of that; remember it was the Labour grandees, brave and admirable people according to Ellen, and commentators and such who's only response to Corbyn's jump in support was to dish out abuse and insults to his supporters. Forgive me if I'm not all that sympathetic to the people who indulged in this who now whine about people being mean to them on Twitter.

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