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Eyes Left Oddly enough, the Prime Minister is right

Even if his rationale is awry, Sunak is correct to say that Britain is entering an increasingly dangerous era, writes ANDREW MURRAY

SINCE a stopped clock tells the correct time twice a day, we may allow that sometimes Rishi Sunak says something correct, even if his motives and analysis are entirely flawed.

So it is with his pronouncement that Britain could be facing one of the most dangerous periods in its history.

Sunak’s motive for this dramatic pronouncement was to create a clear dividing line with Keir Starmer, asserting that only the Tories could be trusted to navigate the looming storm.

In that, his speech surely failed. On every issue he raised, and every issue he didn’t come to that, there is no substantive difference between Starmer’s Labour and Sunak’s Tories.

The Prime Minister identified several components of the looming danger — mass migration, “cancel culture” and the development of artificial intelligence among them. 

Climate change didn’t make the cut, since this was a list of crises that right-wing Tories worry about.

But his main focus was on the supposed threat from Russia and China, abetted by Iran and North Korea in an “axis of authoritarianism” — a turn of phrase that invokes, surely not accidentally, George Bush’s phantom “axis of evil” which yielded such terrible consequences.

This fits in with the broader effort to whip up a war scare, including to justify the Tory plan, more-or-less backed by Labour, to hike military spending back to cold war levels.

In his cack-handed way, however, the Prime Minister is right. The danger of conflict is growing. Yet to present Britain as a defensive, even pacifist, actor in this drama is a travesty of the truth.

Yugoslavia. Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Yemen. The list of British wars in the post-Soviet era is long — a good deal longer than the Chinese, say, or even the Russian. And none of these wars were remotely defensive or forced upon a reluctant British government.

The actual danger to the British people is the same as the danger to those in many other parts of the world — British imperialism.

Allied to the vast military weight of the United States, Britain’s rulers continue to play a world role, interfering here, there and everywhere to safeguard the international economic system from which the City of London and sundry other interests profit mightily.

That has not made the world a safer place. The number of states unwilling to be bossed around with menaces by Washington and London is growing. Yet none of them remotely threaten Britain and the integrity of its democratic institutions.

The actual menace to democracy come from — well, you may have guessed: British imperialism. The war psychosis being whipped up is one front in the drive to impose a more authoritarian order here.

And babble about external threats was used to justify state plotting against Jeremy Corbyn when he was leader of the Labour Party.

We may assume that MI5’s Labour Threats Planning Group has been stood down for now.

Whether it is a matter of defending peace or democracy the enemy is the same. It is the British ruling class of which Sunak remains, for now, the leading spokesman.

 

Starmer’s blunders and the radical centrist tyranny

KEIR STARMER has made three significant mistakes over the course of his leadership.

That is not the same as things socialists should object to — that would be a far longer list.

They are misjudgements which prompted a backlash.

The first was taking a hostile view of Labour MPs attending picket lines.

The second, of course, was his blundering endorsement of Israel cutting off food and water to the besieged people of Gaza.

The third may be the warm welcome he has extended to the very right-wing Tory, now Labour, MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke.

Mistakes can be as revealing as things politicians do on purpose. Each of Starmer’s blunders tell a story.

In setting his face against union solidarity, he indicated that his Labour government will not be “labour” at all.

In backing Israeli genocide, he showed Washington above all that with him in Downing Street the interests of world imperialism would be in safe hands.

And in the case of the embrace of Elphicke he shows that Labour is now the obvious rallying point for all bourgeois politics, no matter how reactionary.

None of those are messages Starmer is averse to sending. But they are all examples of over-reach, with the backlash reaching a point at which he has to partially retreat and recalibrate his position.

Elphicke is hostile to migrants, sceptical about climate change, anti-trade union and defended her ex-husband, a sexual offender.

There are not many bases in the Labour Party that she has not alienated there. Starmer’s blunder raises a question he would rather not address — what is the Labour Party for?

It offers no alternative on economic policy or foreign affairs. It won’t even do things, like abolish the House of Lords, which are very cheap.

That does not look like stopping Labour winning the next general election. It does prevent it posing as an alternative to the status quo in any significant respect.

In the Telegraph, crazed-but-insightful columnist Sherelle Jacobs writes this week: “There is no end in sight to the tyranny of centrism.”

She would seem to be right, in the short-term. Her preferred alternative, right-wing radicalism, advances towards the electorate divided.

Reform UK constitutes a more comprehensive threat to the Tories than Ukip ever did.

The latter stood for one thing only — withdrawal from the European Union. The Tories could, and eventually did, spike its guns by making that policy its own.

Reform, in contrast, challenges the Conservatives across the whole policy front with an authoritarian nationalist agenda.

Furthermore, Reform’s support is almost entirely drawn from former Tory voters, according to polling. Ukip and the Brexit Party secured a significant minority of its vote from ex-Labour supporters.

Labour won some of those voters back in 2017 and lost them again, with more besides, in 2019. Today, it is only Tory strategists that fret about the Farageists. I would guess that Reform’s “red wall” support draws on people who have not voted Labour this century, or ever.

Reform is looking to the post-election period, the aftermath of Tory defeat, to advance their populist authoritarianism in alliance with the hard right of the Tories, who will spin electoral rejection as a repudiation of tyrannical centrism.

An alliance between Farage and Boris Johnson would look formidable on paper, but it will still face the same challenge as national populists elsewhere. Do they supplement their nativism and social authoritarianism with a break from the economics of neoliberalism?

Donald Trump didn’t, but the Law and Justice party in Poland, for example, to a certain extent did. Realising that Hayek points only down a dead end in terms of winning broad support is a prerequisite for success.

Suella Braverman gave a recent hint of this when she called for the dropping of the cruel two-child benefit cap.  She apes, in a tentative first step, the Law and Justice strategy of harnessing nationalism with welfarism.

That won Boris Johnson the last general election, and his comprehensive failure to deliver the “levelling-up” part of his programme surely contributed to the Tories’ present predicament.

Elphicke believes that agenda is safer in Starmer’s hands.  She has seen not a tyrannical centrist but a Johnsonian. Is that a mistake too?

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