Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, November 21, 2008

The very model of a modern bourgeois politician


Any semi-regular readers of this blog might well over time have got the impression that New Labour resembles a despicable bunch of war-mongering, cynical, unprincipled, shameless careerists who have abandoned entirely the egalitarian socialist ideals of the labour movement and sold their souls in pursuit of 'power for power's sake'. How refreshing then to find that, perhaps inspired by Barack Obama's oratory about change and hope,* New Labour seem to recently have made an slight ideological turn in the hope of inspiring young idealists to join them.

Take for example, the heartwarming interview published this week with the new Immigration Minister Phil Woolas. 'I'm trying to heal this country' Woolas said. Stating he joined Labour 'because of racial tension', Woolas declared his complete opposition to racism, and his commitment to helping 'break down racial stereotyping'. Referring to the British Nazi Party, declared 'In a democracy you've got to beat them, and you don't beat them by pandering to them. You beat them by thumping them politically in the face.'

Inspiring stuff. Woolas's political philosophy is all about 'keeping it real'. 'Letting people know that you understand in this modern world is as important as what policy you pursue...It's very important in politics that the public see politicians being real people.' And what does 'keeping it real' mean for Woolas in terms of New Labour policy? Woolas proposes 'a mature debate on immigration'. About bloody time, you might think. For over a century in Britain the body politic has been polluted and poisoned by right wing media racist scapegoating of immigrants and asylum seekers, fueled by opportunistic politicians who should know better. The time for a 'mature' debate on immigration in Britain, which discusses the merits of an open borders policy, is long overdue. As Jeremy Seabrook notes there is a hidden noble tradition up to the present day among ordinary people of welcoming the dispossesed to Britain, which one prided itself as being a beacon of liberty for the world on this question. 'It is easy to harden hearts in a vacuum, especially when created by media owners pursuing some vanished dream of imperial or racial supremacy. Everything depends upon direct experience of exiles' suffering; there is no lack of people in Britain who want to show the world our better selves, and demonstrate to the tormented and persecuted that we are a refuge not a fortress.'

Well, we can dream. In reality, for all Woolas's declared intentions about 'saying the unsayable' and 'thinking the unthinkable', when it comes to immigration, rather than even discuss the idea of open borders, New Labour is unfortunately happy to play the race card in the oldest most traditional fashion of 'divide and rule'. Praising Brown's slogan of 'British Jobs for British workers', Woolas declares his committment to getting his 'hands dirty', and notes of racist voters - 'You have to let them know you know what they are thinking'. As Diane Abbott noted, 'Woolas is peddling every rightwing half-truth about immigration.'

He claims that the government has "to face up to voters' concerns about the level of immigration". But the truth is that the government has done little else but pander to white fears on the subject. Since 1997 the government has passed seven separate pieces of legislation on immigration and nationality, all designed to make the system tougher. Woolas claims that it is "too easy to get into this country". Tell that to my constituents who wait years to be joined by their partners or dependents. Or explain this to the young children detained for months in detention centres for no other crime than being the offspring of asylum seekers. The truth is that the legislation has never been more draconian, and asylum seekers and would-be migrants have never had fewer rights. If the numbers of migrants continue to rise it is because of the "pull factor" of an (up until now) booming but deregulated economy sucking in cheap labour. And there has been a global rise in the millions seeking asylum from war, pestilence and famine. We all know that a recession leads inexorably to a rise in racism and xenophobia, but a cap on immigration is not the answer.

Indeed, that last month, Woolas told The Times that such a cap was necessary as a result of the economic crisis was about as unremarkable as it was possible to imagine. Could you get a more classic ABC textbook Marxist model of the kind of thing a capitalist politician representing a capitalist government might say in the midst of an economic crisis? Rather than allowing working people's anger to explode into righteous indignation at the richest and greediest parasitical bankers and stockbrokers and those in power like Woolas who have just spent billions and billions of tax payers money on bailing out such people, there is an attempt instead to divert attention and bitterness against the poorest and most powerless and vulnerable people in society instead - migrant workers. If New Labour had any kind of social conscience, then scum like Woolas would never have been able to rise inexorably to the top of the Party, and that he has the support of Gordon Brown and the rest of the Cabinet shows only the depths to which this party supposedly committed to 'democratic socialism' has sunk. As you were.

* The reaction to Obama's victory in Britain was quite amusing. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, said the following: 'In these difficult times people everywhere are crying out for change. Barack Obama is the first of a new generation of leaders who will deliver it.' Of course, Cameron offers a similar message of 'change and hope' as Obama in that having an Old Etonian Oxbridge-educated rich white man as British Prime Minister would really constitute something new and inspiring...

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