Thursday 6 December 2018

Plenty of Common Ground

Neil Clark writes: 

The nostalgia station Talking Pictures TV (Channel 81 Freeview, if in UK and Ireland), has recently been showing repeats of the highly amusing 1981 sitcom Take a Letter Mr Jones, starring John Inman as a male secretary and Rula Lenska as his rather demanding boss.

It's not the only thing to remind us of the year of the Royal Wedding and Ricky Villa's classic winning goal in the Cup Final for Spurs. The SDP are back, too. 

Yes, that's right, the SDP. The party that caused such an impact when they launched 37 years ago are enjoying quite a revival.

Last week, they gained their first MEP, when Patrick O'Flynn, the former Daily Express journalist, joined them from UKIP. Will Nigel Farage, who announced he was leaving UKIP on Tuesday, be their second? 

It seems quite ironic that the SDP, who were formed in the early 1980s by pro-EEC Labour MPs opposed to the Labour left's Euroscepticism, should be the new, natural home for those wanting to leave the EU. 

But times have changed. The SDP of 2018 still espouses social democracy as it has always done. But it recognises that the EU today is a very different animal  from the EEC of four decades ago. 

In its New Declaration, published in November, the SDP pledges to uphold the Brexit Referendum Mandate.  

"The evident disdain of the Westminster class for, among others, many elderly and low-income voters revealed that the powerful only tolerate democracy when their views prevail," the document says. 

The SDP attacks what it calls "supranationalism", calling it "a neoliberal ideology aimed at neutering domestic politics and placing the most important issues beyond the reach of ordinary voters." 

It states quite boldly that the EU, or indeed any supranational entity, "is not, and will never be, a social democratic enterprise."

The SDP supports a mixed economy, such as Britain enjoyed in the period 1945-79. They criticise the privatisation of the railways and utilities and the selling off of Britain's national assets to foreign ownership. 

They take a pop at the Lib Dems for their embrace of neoliberalism, and both the right and the left for their adoption of socially divisive identity politics.

"For many years the liberal-left has abandoned the politics of solidarity for those of individual emancipation, without realising that putting differences above common bonds can harm mutuality," they say, echoing the words of sociologist Steve Hall, co-author of The Rise of the Right and The Death of the Left.

There's also plenty of common ground with 'Old Labour' activist David Lindsay's Lanchester Declaration of 2012.

On foreign policy, the New Declaration lambasts what it calls the "disastrous attempts to impose liberal democracy on complex societies in the Middle East via military intervention."

It states quite clearly, "Western powers must learn to respect sovereign frontiers." It advocates live and let live.

The SDP claim that their declaration represents the true centre ground of British politics, and it's hard to argue otherwise.

Most of the positions they put forward would be supported by a majority of the electorate, as opposed to a majority of the punditocracy or of the political and financial Establishment.

They offer a mix of economic radicalism, democratic populism, and small-c social conservatism, stressing that government "must defend and support family life wherever possible."

In fact, the SDP programme is likely to prove attractive not only to moderate UKIPers, who want to leave the EU, but who aren't keen on a Thatcherite post-Brexit vision for Britain and to Lib Dems too, who (a) don't share the party leadership's fanatical Europhilia and (b) don't like its embrace of Orange Book neoliberalism post-Charlie Kennedy.

It might also attract Labour supporters, worried about the party backsliding on Brexit, and from old-style One Nation Tories who are sick of austerity and privatisation.

What the declaration does expose is just how far politics in Britain has moved to the neoliberal, crony-capitalist right on economic matters, and to the cultural Maoist ultra-left on social and cultural ones, since the halcyon days of the SDP in the early 80s.

The truth is that if we take out Jeremy Corbyn and the still relatively small number of Labour MPs who actually support his democratic socialist programme, the SDP in 2018 are to the left of most of the PLP on economic issues.

The Blairites and Brownites, who have done so much to undermine Corbyn and his project,  are not social democrats, but actually pro-war neoliberals who disguise their banker-friendly politics by taking a "progressive", Politically Correct stance on cultural issues that conveniently do not affect the power and wealth of the one per cent.

Genuine entryists have been pushed out of the way in recent decades and had their clothes stolen by ideologues posing as "moderates".

The New Declaration though could be a game-changer.

By attacking neoliberalism and illegal regime-change wars, and by declaring their support for enacting the result of the Brexit Referendum, the SDP have put clear distance between themselves and the Inside the Tent, anti-democratic "centre ground" phoneys.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, Emmanuel Macron, memorably described by George Galloway as "Tony Blair with garlic", faces a new French Revolution.

Fake centrism is in crisis — there‘s no two ways about it. We could be witnessing the construction of a new political paradigm, which is most welcome and indeed long overdue.

Bless Neil for being the last person to remember the Lanchester Declaration of 2012, which I hope that he will forgive me for mentioning that he declined to sign at the time. 

Now a supporter of Brexit, David Owen, who was a former Foreign Secretary, was always more critical than the others of the Gang of Four of what went on to become the EU institutions, and it was he who tried to keep the SDP going. So this is not all that much of a surprise.

Some of the old Blue Labour boys are now in the SDP, so it is part of what comes next. As Neil says, though, it cannot be the whole of it.

Another hung Parliament is coming, however, and we need our people to hold the balance of power in it.

I will stand for this parliamentary seat of North West Durham, if I can raise the £10,000 necessary to mount a serious campaign. Please email Very many thanks.

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