Political Cultism – Is it akin to religious cultism?

Jeremy Corbyn is often referred to as having a cult following and the same is said of Nigel Farage of course. Brexit itself seems to be cultish too but our view of cults is often more likely to be connected with religious extremism rather than politics. So the question is do political cults have a commonality with religious cults?

According to Wikipedia in sociological terminology, sects are products of religious schism and therefore maintain a continuity with traditional beliefs and practices, while cults arise spontaneously around novel beliefs and practices.

Well Brexit certainly fits the ‘novel beliefs and practices’ definition as it is based very much on belief rather than facts/reality and it’s proponents (Brexiteers) can be fanatical in their following of it despite strong evidence challenging their often seemingly emotional based stance.

But what of Corbynism? Is it akin to say Thatcherism or Reganism in that its followers see themselves as the true believers whilst they look upon the scepticism of others who do not subscribe to their beliefs as being, in religious terms, heathens? Certainly, in my experience Labour Party members and supporters who see themselves as Corbynistas will often refer to anyone else, even fellow Labour members who are not in the Corbyn sect, as ‘Tories’, the political alternative terminology to the religious heathen I guess. Subscribers to the political sect known as Blairism are particularly hated by Corbynistas yet both Blairism and Corbynism have both been the majority view within the Labour Party in the past 20 years. I’ve heard it said that some Corbynistas hate Blarites more than their traditional ‘enemy’ Thatcherites!

Interestingly though, Johnson, whilst probably being more of a Brexiteer than any members of the Brexit Party, does not seem to have a cultish following. Indeed, he seems to be widely unpopular other than with extreme right wingers. Is that because he switched from being an EU supporter and because he is seen to be a politician who follows the crowd. In other words not a true believer in Brexit?

What makes some of us look upon Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as being akin to cultists is that they will back their leader no matter what. No criticism of him is acceptable in any form from any quarter and they ‘know’ that anyone who does question Jez is a ‘Tory’.

As a Liberal who likes to hold a healthy scepticism of all political leaders, often particularly Liberal ones, this defence of ‘The leader’ come what may is hard for me to get my head around. I think I smelled something worryingly like cultism with the people who surrounded Nick Clegg during the Coalition Government days. They, like Jez Corbyn’s backers, were not for hearing the noise outside of their seemingly closed group and the consequences were dire for liberalism as it is now starting to prove for Labour too.

To conclude I think it is perfectly possible for political cultism to exist as an extreme form of the political sects which clearly exist within some political parties. The other interesting point to consider here is that those who look to be backing what seems to others as being a cult will probably deny that they’re cultists. Is that because they don’t see themselves as cultists? Is it only those outside of a cult who can see cultism for what it is?

And finally when does a sect, political religious or otherwise, become a cult?

When the Right is controlling British politics – That’s most of the time!

It really is the majority of the time whether we on the left are willing to admit it or not.

There have only been 4 General Elections since the 2nd World war when the the left has had a significant majority in the House of Commons. Then again it could well be argued that whilst Tony Blair had a huge majority his was hardly a government of the left and probably it was only just left of centre. Could the same or similar be said of Harold Wilson’s Government?

What started this line of thought was that I happened upon a lecture by Vernon Bogdanor being shown on the BBC Parliament Channel recently. It was actually about the history of the Conservative Party. Now whilst I don’t care to be told about the regular electoral success of the Tories Bogdanor is always interesting, impartial and factual in his work.

One thing he mentioned has long been a matter of great interest to me and that is the working class Conservatives who have regularly helped put a Tory government in power. You could be forgiven for thinking that the working class (not a term a personally subscribe to but one that is widely quoted) will usually be voters of the left and therefore for Labour, but up to a third of them are not. What’s more many of them may be conservative (with a small c) or simply right wing whilst at the same time tribally aligned with the Labour Party.

I have regularly been fascinated by the group of Labour MP’s (and there have always been a fair number of them in each Parliament) who come over as reactionary, right wing, anti progressive politics or just Tories wearing a Labour rosette. I saw similar people in the trade union movement in my time as well. They must come from families that are loyal to Labour yet their stance on things such as equality issues, gay rights, crime and punishment, immigration etc. are firmly based on the politics of the right. Often these MP’s and trade unionists will be from the industrial midlands and the north and they will be utterly loyal to Labour, no matter what it stands for.

That loyalty will stem from the early days of the trade union movement and the need for trade unionists to stick together through thick and thin. It will have been inbred into them through families, trade unions and the Labour Party, yet often these people will be as far away from progressive politics as you can find. Sticking together is the most important thing, backing their leaders almost come what may is also big for them and I think it is what is in part driving the cult of Corbyn.

He’s either a very, very late political developer or he really is a second division politician of the left who has, almost by chance, found himself leading a political party. If you look at his history prior to being elected as Labour Leader he had pretty much no positions of responsibility in public life much at all. The Labour left will say that was because he had always been down-trodden by the right wing of the Labour Party (the Social Democrats) and held back and that he was always going to be a working class hero of the left one day. Well it’s a view but hardly a credible one I would venture to say.

Corbyn’s big problem is that he has some right wing tendencies and Brexit is the one that really stands out. Brexit has always been about internal battles within the Tory Party. UKIP was set up as those within the Tory Party who could not get the Tories to back leaving the EU felt they had to take a different route. Of course they succeeded in turning the Tories into a Brexit Party and they won over many people within Labour too. Remember the successes of UKIP electorally have often been in areas of England that are working class and where they won council seats they were often in Labour areas. Now UKIP has all but expired its supporters have drifted back to the Tory Party or indeed Labour. That Corbyn backs Brexit is bizarre to many of us on the left of British politics but he does and the Labour Party is backing him despite, we are told, the vast majority of Labour voters not backing Brexit.

But Corbyn is loyal to his right wing working class supporters who of course were the part of the Labour vote that helped the Tories/UKIP give us our Brexit. His party prides itself, or at least it used to do, on being a very broad church. At one end true socialists looking to break up the capitalist system and at the other people who would be at home in a Bluekip type Party if only it was called the Labour Party. That is indeed a very broad church, you could say so broad that internal power struggles would be almost impossible to to stop. The Social Democrats within Labour have gone very quiet these days (with a few exceptions) especially those in elected public positions as their stance is particularly unwelcome in Corbyn’s Labour Party and they need to be seen to be complying with the wishes of Momentum if they are not to be deselected.

So at face value Labour is presently seen to be a party of the hard left under McDonnell and Corbyn but, with Brexit in particular, they are peddling a Bluekip line. Also the party is having more than its share of infighting over racial issues at present and this is another indication of people of the left holding what seem to be intolerant right wing views.

Across Europe in many counties Social Democrat and Socially Liberal Parties have been a part of the mainstream. Labour has tried to be that in the UK but the drag of having illiberal and far left members in the same party has meant that it has struggled far more more than it has succeeded. Many thought that the victory of Tony Blair signaled a new (or New) Labour Party with broad center ground and moderate appeal but the medicine did not work and now Labour is in the hands of both the socially illiberal and hard left at the same time!

The point of all this? To show that the right has a huge influence on UK politics and that’s not just in the UKIP and Tory parties. Labour has it’s right wingers too and it can be quite easily argued that even the Lib Dems all but ceased to have a Socially Liberal leadership during Nick Clegg’s unfortunate time as Leader. Thankfully and even slightly surprisingly, under Cable, it seems to be regaining its radical and socially liberal edge though.

Which ever way you look at it the right usually predominates in UK politics and its because, in my view, there’s no electorally successful Social Democrat/Liberal Party at the heart of our mainstream politics and I say that as someone who looks upon some Social Democrats as being too right wing.

Reverse this phrase – ‘Labour gathering Momentum’

www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/nov/25/momentum-loyalty-test-would-be-mps-labour-corbyn

The Guardian has this interesting piece on its web site.

That Labour is ‘suffering’ another period of entryism akin to that it had ‘trouble’ with in the 1980’s (Militant) is a given. But entryism and the radical changing of direction of political parties is nothing new although Labour in particular does seem have periods where what it believed in yesterday is no longer what it believes in today more often than other parties. It’s social democrat and hard left wings seem to be in continual battles to be top dog you might say.

But if you look at the Tories now they are nothing like the political party of Heath or even Major. Often now referred to as ‘Bluekip’ and at times leaning worryingly towards fascism is it not reasonable to look upon all those UKIP supporters and activists joining and voting Tory as entyists too?

And then there was the Clegg period running the Lib Dems. Apart from that period being an utter disaster for the Party there were what seemed to be very genuine fears amongst the party membership and indeed the electorate that what had been a genuine party of the center left under say Kennedy, Grimmond etc. had been hauled over to the right, certainly in economic policy areas. Not quite entryism but a significant and truly unwise experiment which may well take years to ‘wear off’ with left leaning liberal voters.

Momentum gathering Labour

So policy lurches in political parties are nothing new as there are other examples across all the main political parties if you delve into their pasts. However, is what is happening within Labour of far greater significance? I ask as the process within the party under Momentum does seem to be much more far reaching. Not so much Labour gathering Momentum but Momentum gathering Labour.

But is there anything fundamentally wrong with Momentum, if they are the dominant creed within Labour these days (and we assume they are), demanding loyalty to their policy agenda before Labour candidates are selected/reselected to fight elections for the party? There seems to be a logic to that argument to me, although it does significantly change what Labour have often referred to as their ‘broad church’ where once they tolerated and even celebrated a membership with vastly differing views.

Tuition Fees and Student Debt – Labour’s in a tangle all of their own making

I have been trying to get to the bottom of what Labour generally and Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Rayner MP in particular have been saying about this controversial matter.

Let’s kill one piece of fake news first – Labour brought in Tuition Fees when in government, end of. No they weren’t brought in by Nick Clegg, he just made an almighty mess of pledging to fight them before doing his spectacular U-turn and in effect reversing that pledge.

So ownership of Tuition Fees belongs to Labour but both Tories and Lib Dems in Government have backed them.

Of course the big news of this June’s General Election was that Labour had decided that their flagship policy to bring in Tuition Fees had been wrong and that they would be abolishing them if the electorate gave them a majority. That pledge went down very well indeed with young voters who flocked behind the Labour banner in the ballot box but not in sufficient numbers to give Labour a majority, indeed Labour were nowhere near a majority.

But what’s been going on since then is interesting as Labour spokespeople seem to have been trying to build on their success of attracting young voters by suggesting, saying and promoting the righting off of student debts. Clearly that talk has given the impression (intended or otherwise) that already held student debts (going back to when Labour introduced Tuition Fees?) would be written off.

And that of course begs the question of what would then happen about the Tuition Fees that have already been paid off? Would it lead to the students who have paid off their debt getting a refund? The logical end of this policy process is that yes they should and obviously folks are drawing that conclusion.

Clearly Labour has by loose talk put itself in a position where there are great expectations over Tuition Fees being abolished, debts being written off and already repaid debt being refunded. Oh how a political party can talk itself into a a hugely significant and expensive policy stance!

But what seems to be going on now is that Labour are trying to talk the expectations down (backing off the pledges?) and saying they had not promised this that or the other.

Have Labour learned nothing from Clegg’s U-turn and how young people took against him?

General Election – Reflections of a radical lefty

Brexit – Well it now seemingly has huge support as both Labour and Tories were backed to pursue it. What happened to the 48% who voted against Brexit because many of them must have effectively voted for it this time around?

Nick Clegg – Probably for the best that he lost his seat. In many way he was one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable MP in Parliament but because of his poor judgement over tuition fees (he said he would oppose them and did the opposite) he found himself in a place from which there was no return. Indeed, he ended up being blamed for tuition fees when in fact they were brought in by Labour who, in this most recent election, pledged to abolish their own previous policy!

Diane Abbott and Teresa May – They had terrible campaigns, end of. Diane was seemingly incapable of fielding incoming fire whilst submarine commander May kept ducking under the waves to avoid the fire. Has any Prime Minister/Party Leader been so detached from an election campaign before?

Jeremy Corbyn – Well he did not implode as the hostile press said he would, in fact did reasonably well as a 1970’s socialist with a love of nationalisation. Maybe Labour kept sending in Diane Abbott because they knew she would be terrible so taking the pressure of Jeremy? If they did it was a well thought out move.

Ulster Unionists – Oh dear what will become of us now the fate of the Government is probably in their hands? Yes, they will get the blame for supporting the Tories when unpopular things are done but then again on Brexit and Welfare reform the Tories may be relying on Labour backing/abstaining based on recent history. It certainly makes me feel very uncomfortable that our country will in effect be in the hands of a political party which promotes sectarian politics! What’s the chances of it not ending up in tears?

Polarised UK? – Well yes when viewed from some angles but on the biggest issue of the day – Brexit – the Tories and Labour were actually united over pursuing what will inevitably be a disastrous economic process from which the poor will suffer the most.

Pensioners – How many pensioners actually voted Conservative despite their triple lock pensions (brought in by the Lib Dems) being under threat from the Tories? And what about the Conservative’s Dementia tax and their promised cuts to Winter Fuel Allowance? Did some pensioners vote Tory because they still want Brexit at any cost.

Young People – Many voted Labour because of their promise to abolish tuition fees but in doing so they also voted for some Labour MP’s who in effect support the restriction of freedom of movement, via Brexit, which is in no way in the interests of young people. And how on earth did Labour MP Kate Hoey survive? She has been the female bookend to Nigel Farage, representing a constituency which voted heavily (76.6%) against Brexit, yet she was re-elected with a thumping majority?

Tim Farron – He had a decent campaign with the limited exposure he got on TV and radio. He lacks the charisma of Charles Kennedy or Paddy Ashdown but he made a good fist of it.

Conclusion – Not a good election for us radical lefties but then again are they ever? Each time the deck chairs get moved around but the government of the day is always too right wing!

Tolerant – Is the Lib Dem’s favourite word selling them short?

A guest posting from Jen Robertson

Is our favourite word selling us short?

A quick google of the phrase ‘Lib Dem tolerant’ and you get a lot of hits, resulting in quotes like these:

“I will build the open, tolerant, united party that can be the opposition to this Conservative government… Together, we must fight to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.” – Tim Farron (http://www.libdems.org.uk/tim-farron-speech-16)

“Join the Liberal Democrats to help shape a more liberal, tolerant, inclusive society” (https://lgbt.libdems.org.uk/en/)

“The Liberal Democrats are the party that will stand up to the decent British values of tolerance, moderation and generosity.” – Nick Clegg (http://www.libdems.org./only_the_lib_dems_offer_stability_unity_and_decency)

Ignoring the fact someone just tried to claim moderation as a virtue, what I can’t help noticing from these quotes is we do like the word tolerant don’t we? I mean we really, really like it. Arguably even to the point where we’ve tried to redefine it. According to the Lib Dem website:

“Tolerant means diverse, compassionate and generous. We will always fight injustice and stand up for the underdog, the outsider, the individual, the minority and the vulnerable against the powerful.” (http://www.libdems.org.uk/about_our_party)

Unfortunately the Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t exactly agree with that, defining tolerant as:

“Showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that one does not necessarily agree with.” (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tolerant)

Willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behaviour that we don’t necessarily agree with. Well that’s a not exactly negative but it’s certainly a less positive definition than our website is endorsing. I’m certainly open to the idea that language is sometimes a tough thing to place a definitive meaning upon; words mean different things to different people and language is constantly evolving. However I suspect to many people (not least the OED) tolerant falls under the second definition offered here.

If for example you asked me what I thought of a something or someone and I responded by saying “I can tolerate them”, would you think that I felt compassionate and generous towards them? Or that I didn’t really like them that much but was able to be polite to keep the peace?

Tolerance, if you really can’t bring yourself to like and accept someone or something that nonetheless isn’t doing any actual harm, is not a bad thing in its way. It is certainly a welcome step from intolerance. However I am not terribly persuaded that people want to be tolerated. People want to be accepted, they want to be represented, they don’t want your polite (and slightly condescending?) tolerance that ‘allows the existence’ of their different views or ways of living.

Indeed I am not convinced tolerance is actually liberal. It feels like it falls far short of the oft quoted (and oft misattributed):

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” which I have always felt sat at the very heart of liberal philosophy. We don’t tolerate differences and disagreement, we outright encourage it.

All this is building to the fact that I’m just not sure tolerance is the value we should be championing any longer. I was raised at a time when tolerance was considered a wonderful virtue, I remember it being quite a buzzword back then, but a quick overview of the time I was born in might go some way towards explaining that. I was born in a time period when homosexuality was still classed by the WHO as a mental illness, a time when a black woman had never sat in the House of Commons, when a Muslim (man or woman) had never sat in the Commons. Looking back, I was born in a different world. It was also a world before the Human Rights Act of 1998 that sought to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, so in some ways maybe it’s a world we’re set to return to – from what I remember of it I can’t recommend that. I also can’t be comfortable with our liking for ‘tolerance’.

The thing is I don’t think as party we are tolerant, I think we’re better things than that. I think we’re progressive and welcoming and now I’m suggesting we need to take the next step and ditch what rings as outdated language.

What can we exchange ‘tolerance’ for? Acceptance, inclusion, real strides in diversity and representation.

I have a friend who works for the International Slavery Museum and a large part of her job involves teaching people about the legacies of transatlantic slavery, most obviously racism, and working with modern communities living with this legacy. I talked to her about tolerance as a word, running past her how I felt about it and she agreed with me. In her experience ‘tolerance’ was not what people still having to fight for their equal human rights today wanted. They want acceptance and they want to be heard. They want a voice. They want representation.

What’s worse than a party that I know means so well preaching an outdated word like tolerance? Doing it with a parliamentary party that, seemingly through chance, is undeniably lacking in diversity. That we have a female MP now in Sarah Olney is fantastic, but it’s not enough. We need to be championing diversity and representation, not tolerance. In at least some element I’m suggesting we exchange words for action.

I do believe the party is committed to diversity and to acceptance and to the definition of tolerance that I referenced above that’s on the website. I am however concerned that that definition is not what people hear when we keep talking about tolerance and a little bit of me winces when I hear it. There are better ways to talk about these issues. Tolerance may seem like a helpful linguistic shortcut, a quick way of stating our values, but I think that in seeking brevity we risk losing some of our meaning. Personally I don’t think much that we’ve said since in attempts to define ourselves has ever topped the opening sentence from our constitution preamble (very familiar I’m sure to anyone who’s been with the party more than a couple of years as a cut down version of it used to feature on our party membership cards.)

“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”

(http://www.libdems.org.uk/constitution)

You know what I couldn’t find anywhere in the whole constitution preamble? Any variant of the word tolerant.