Sunday, January 08, 2006

Anti-Kennedy putsch is a right-wing coup

At the level of political skills Charles Kennedy is not the most impressive bourgeois politician around. Ming Campbell was freely telling people 18 months ago that Kennedy was a duffer. But don't be fooled into thinking his removal is solely about how much whiskey he drinks or his lack of oratorical ability. He would not have been removed if a considerable segment of the Liberal Parliamentary Party had not wanted a political shift to the right. This has in fact already been signalled by the Lib Dems abandoning their policy of increasing income tax by 1p in the pound to fund social spending.
The Liberal New Right (the authors of the so-called 'Orange Book') only sees the possibility of a share of power if their party abandons the 2005 general election profile of being to the left of Labour. In the shape of new Tory leader David Cameron (and of course Tony Blair) they see the political space which is becoming bourgeois 'common sense' in UK politics - to be economically neoliberal and socially liberal. Right-wing on the economy but socially open to multiculturalism and lifestyle diversity.
That of course is exactly where Cameron is taking the Tories. He is carrying out an effective 'Portilloisation' of the Tories, based on the rightwing common sense theory that the Tories have failed to be elected because they are 'out of touch with modern Britain' - ie they are old, socially conservative, too openly racist, homophobic, with a good admixture of old-fashioned mysogeny.
When Portillo made his famous Tory conference speech about inclusiveness (a speech which finished him politically) it went down like a lead balloon with the ageing Tory faithful.
Now Cameron wants to be seen as welcoming cultural diversity, defending (within strictly defined neoliberal limits) the NHS and coming up with a lot of rehetoric about the needs of the poor ("less well off" in Toryspeak).
Ming Campbell is an interim stopgap leader for the Lib Dems. Now the ideological fight will begin in earnest. If the Liberal New Right wins out Britain will have three political parties whose leaderships all essentially saying the same thing. But social 'liberalism' of the Blair-Cameron type has strictly defined limits too, mainly concerned with individual lifestyle choices. It is quite compatible with harsh police measures in the burgeoning security state that Britain is becoming.
Lifestyle openess combined with neoliberal economics suits a key electoral constitutency - the more conservative sections of the petty bourgeoisie working in the service industries, especially financial services, advertising, the media, education and the like. Many of these people have no problem proclaiming their love of black people, lesbians and gays, their support for better childcare for women professionals or even the need to give more to 'feed the world' - but please don't ask for a pay increase or have anything to do with trade unions (Love Bob Geldof, hate Bob Crowe).
Thus the removal of Charles Kennedy will help reconcentrate British politics around what the media laughably calls the 'centre', ie the neoliberal right. And at the same time it will deepen the vacuum to the left of Labour, which over time can begin to be filled by those fighting for the building of a new broad left party.


At 7:29 AM, Anonymous Raghu K. said...

These are the beginnings of a good response to columns like the one by the British/European correspondent of the Toronto Globe & Mail, Doug Saunders. He claims that the right-wing parties are now to the left of the traditional Left.

I think it's important to challenge this total obfuscation of the real difference between Left and Right.


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