In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Bye Bye LabourRichard Seymour
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close

In​ David Hare’s play The Absence of War, the Kinnock-like party leader, George Jones, is a tragic figure. His wit, his passion and his ability to extemporise are gradually extinguished, with his connivance, by a party machine that spends its time trying to out-Tory the Tories. They obey the polls religiously, yet still the voters aren’t ‘churning’. They do what ‘everyone agrees’ is necessary in order to win, but to no effect. Unable to work out why, they face the oncoming election much as they might a whirring propeller, and are left in shreds.

There is no tragic note to be sounded about any senior Labour figure today. Ed Miliband sacks his shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, for conveying a ‘sense of disrespect’ towards the owner of a white van. Ed Balls, having given up his brief attempt at an attack on the coalition’s austerity policy, courts respectability by pledging to honour all the coalition government’s spending cuts. Rachel Reeves gratuitously alienates the unemployed and welfare recipients – groups she treats as identical, although the majority of people who receive benefits are in work – by insisting that Labour ‘is not the party to represent those who are out of work’. All of this is evidence of Labour’s clumsy move rightwards in the hope of expanding its base. What has happened instead is that chunks of that base have seceded to the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Greens or even Ukip. Labour does not lack popular policy initiatives, from repealing the Health and Social Care Act or the bedroom tax to freezing fuel prices and introducing rent controls. What it lacks is a purpose.

Labour claims that addressing the ‘cost of living crisis’ is what really matters. But having accepted the straitjacket of austerity, what can Labour really do about it? The longest decline in living standards in fifty years can hardly be uncoupled from austerity policies that have retarded growth and removed vital support from working-class incomes. Ed Balls’s promise to continue cutting means that Labour can at best tinker at the margins of the crisis. In some instances, as with its de facto agreement with the Tories that unemployment benefit for the under-25s must be scrapped, Labour apes Tory policy. Even if this achieved its stated aim, by forcing unemployed young people to find work for poverty pay, how would that improve living standards?

Worse, Labour has accepted Conservative precepts. The private sector knows, and grows, best. The City is untouchable: it may be chastised, but never seriously confronted. Unemployment is a form of dependency, best dealt with through market discipline. Competition is the law of all social and economic life, and it is the role of the state to encourage it and to secure public participation in it. And the British state, and its military commitments, are sacrosanct. In the months leading up to the Scottish independence referendum – the sole recent instance of mass, enthusiastic democratic participation in the UK – Labour found itself campaigning alongside the Conservatives, with the result that in May’s election it will be all but wiped out north of the border. The logic of its position has compelled Labour to attack the SNP far more vehemently than it has the Conservatives. Miliband has been forced, under Tory pressure, to rule out a post-election coalition with the SNP, which may be enough to end any prospect of a viable Labour government.

By degrees, Labour has come to accept most of the Conservative ‘vision’, not least because it lacks one of its own. The Tory Weltanschauung is complex, its racist and authoritarian flavours tempered by business-friendly cosmopolitanism and ‘free market’ libertarianism. It has taken only thirty years for Labour to metabolise the right’s ‘common sense’ about the market and spending, its repressive attitude to security and criminal justice (the prison population and police numbers expanded at a much higher rate under Labour than they have under the Conservatives; ‘anti-terror’ legislation and Asbos proliferated), and now its immigration policy. Shortly after William Hague became Tory leader in 1997, Labour took up the Tories’ rhetoric about asylum seekers and gypsies. Its response to the riots in the north of England in 2001, which pitted young Asian men against the far right and the police, was to blame local tensions on the Asian propensity for self-segregation. There were years of authoritarian exhortations to embrace ‘Britishness’. But, as the Blairite columnist Dan Hodges has argued, ‘trying to ape the language of the BNP succeeded only in boosting the BNP.’ It also gave Cameron the opportunity in opposition to belittle the ‘Alf Garnett’ race politics of the Labour front bench and to pledge to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government’.

Judging from Labour’s painstaking recapitulation of Tory ideas, one would think that its main problem is the overweening strength of the Conservatives. Yet the Tory share of the vote is stuck in the range 30 to 35 per cent, exactly where it has been since Black Wednesday in 1992. The question of Europe has fatally divided its base, as a swelling coalition of small businessmen, lone traders and hyper-Atlanticist cowboy capitalists have shifted their loyalties to challengers such as Ukip. Big business, which traditionally dominates the Conservative leadership, may enjoy the fruits of Europe’s free-trade rules, but many small businesses demand the right to use cheap and precarious labour with as little regulation from Brussels as possible.

The roots of Miliband’s dilemma lie instead in a crisis of representative democracy that is not peculiar to the UK but is afflicting all the rich democracies. The context for this crisis is a rise in public indebtedness across the industrialised world whose proximate cause is the collapse of revenues resulting from the global recession and the subsequent need for unprecedented bailouts to rescue banks and prop up economic activity. But the problem is chronic; it was first detected in the 1970s. Among the root causes of increasing public debt are the slowing of growth rates compared to the postwar era, a demographic shift that has increased the size of the dependent population relative to the working-age population, and a displacement of manufacturing by service industries that are less profitable and thus generate lower tax revenues. But in the period of Thatcher and Reagan, it was argued that the postwar Keynesian consensus was the main culprit: it had distorted the market and driven up inflation, and state expenditure had outrun the productive base of the economy. Successive governments – Thatcher in the 1980s, Clinton in the 1990s, Schroeder and Blair in the 2000s – sought to reform the state to control costs. There were cutbacks in discretionary spending, and the public sector was restructured by the creation of internal markets.

The result was not a smaller state, or even a more efficient one (the introduction of internal markets in the NHS, for instance, has increased overheads from 3 per cent to 15 per cent of total costs), but a state that is more business-friendly and less democratic. And deficits have not significantly decreased in most cases. In the US, Clinton’s blitz on welfare and pro-Wall Street policies produced a short-lived budget surplus by the close of his administration. In the UK, governments have run deficits in all but six years since 1979, and even before 2008, the trend was that they were gradually increasing. Indeed, the surge in structural unemployment, used to control inflation and bust unions, has tended to exacerbate the public debt problem.

Wolfgang Streeck and Armin Schäfer argue in Politics in the Age of Austerity (2013) that one result of cost controls is to emaciate the budget for discretionary programmes, as more of the budget is consumed by debt repayments and other mandatory expenditures. Given the success of the rich in lobbying against tax increases, and in avoiding paying tax in the first place, it is increasingly difficult to raise the revenues needed for existing services. Taxes on consumption – which hit the poor hardest – have been implemented, but there is limited political tolerance for these. States are increasingly left with very little room to manoeuvre, while the growing domination of government discourse by neoliberal doctrine tends to suppress policy choices which are not ‘market-friendly’. In this situation, mild market interventions such as temporary energy price freezes might be possible, but nationalising energy companies will not be seriously considered. This narrowing of democratic choice renders Westminster politics increasingly irrelevant to the lives of citizens, except in so far as it panders to spite: the punishment of the obese, the disabled, Scots, single mothers, immigrants and so on.

Now that we’re expected to fend for ourselves, the expectations invested in parliamentary democracy have tended to dwindle, as has participation in it. Voter turnout has fallen across the rich democracies, most sharply among the poorer and less educated. The tendency is particularly advanced in Britain: turnout in general elections between 2000 and 2010 varied between 60 and 65 per cent, well below the 72.5 per cent average recorded by Streeck and Schäfer for the core economies in the same period. In the 2010 general election, turnout ranged from 44 to 72 per cent, with the lowest turnouts in the areas with the highest unemployment. The collapse in participation rates is much steeper in local and regional elections, perhaps partly in response to the centralisation of political power and the decreasing scope of local government to effect real change.

In Labour’s case, the collapse of its representative link with its base also has specific causes. The social basis of Labourism is the labour movement, and it is in retreat. Union membership has halved since 1980. The co-operative movement has shrivelled and the Methodist halls are no longer filled; the broader labour movement no longer produces a steady stream of orators and organisers. Even so, the accelerated rot of recent years is a product of New Labour’s period in office. The Blairites had argued that mass recruitment of new members would anchor the party to the mainstream, while a centrist governing strategy would help bind middle-class voters to progressive ideas. In fact, membership fell to the lowest levels in the party’s history after 13 years of Labour government, and the loss of five million working-class votes between 1997 and 2010 resulted in Labour’s lowest share of the vote since 1918.

Ed Miliband’s leadership bid was based partly on the need to reclaim the working-class vote. The first year of his leadership saw a brief revival in party membership. Yet he has struggled to reconcile his objective with Labour’s continued acceptance of the post-Thatcherite consensus – and of austerity politics – as the condition of gaining middle-class votes and the co-operation of business. The essential fallacy of British politics is that there is a large centre ground, and that this is where elections are decided. As Nick Clegg has discovered to his cost, in a period of economic depression this area has a tendency to shrink. Yet as the political situation polarises and the establishment parties feel the earth fall away beneath them, they cling ever more tightly to their belief in this centre ground. Labour is doing just this, as a matter of both principle and strategy. It is doing it because it thinks it’s the right thing to do, because it’s what the party is used to doing, and because it can’t do anything else.

Ironically, Labour’s electoral weakness may stave off the worst for it. The party is trapped in a spiral of self-destruction, which James Doran, a Labour activist, has called ‘Pasokification’. Greece’s dominant centre-left party implemented austerity and its vote collapsed from 43.9 per cent in 2009 to 4.7 per cent in 2015 – but Pasok’s fate is only an extreme form of the implosion threatening most European social democratic parties, from the German Social Democrats to the French Socialists. The Labour Party faces a dilemma in May. Defeat will be demoralising and will increase the possibility that the party will ultimately collapse. There is little evidence that any significant force, other than the Blairites, would be in a position to take advantage of Miliband’s loss, and certainly none that a Labour left with any influence would emerge from the ruins. Yet if it wins, Labour will be forced to implement an austerity agenda which, while not enough to satisfy Conservative voters, will turn its own remaining voters off in droves. That would be a defeat of a different order. For a vision of that future, one need only look across the Channel, at François Hollande sinking and sinking in the polls, and the Front National on the rise.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Letters

Vol. 37 No. 9 · 7 May 2015

Richard Seymour maintains that the idea that UK elections are won from the centre is a fallacy and that there is not ‘a large centre ground’ in British politics (LRB, 23 April). Not only is this disproved by Tony Blair’s electoral success: it ignores the lessons learned from Michael Foot’s performance in 1983. UK elections are not won from the radical left. Only 1945 contradicts that idea, an exceptional election in every way.

The election of 2015 is essentially a battle for disaffected Liberal Democrats. Virtually all the movement between parties (except in Scotland) is that of the 10-15 per cent of the electorate who voted Lib Dem in 2010 but are now planning to support a different party. Seymour acknowledges Nick Clegg’s problems briefly but then brushes them aside. He offers no evidence to suggest that there is a swathe of socialist support hanging back, waiting for a real red-blooded leftist party to emerge.

Matthew Young
London W7

Vol. 37 No. 10 · 21 May 2015

Matthew Young is mistaken to think that Tony Blair’s electoral success proves the decisiveness of the centre ground (Letters, 7 May). Blair lost three million voters in his first term alone, and his third election victory was won with a smaller share of the vote than the Conservatives failed to win with in 2010. Tory weakness shielded him.

In the 2015 election, the parties of the centre have done very badly. Labour’s voters did not return to them, the Tory share of the vote increased only marginally, and the Liberals, the quintessential centre party, collapsed. With Ukip, the SNP and the Greens surging, it is ostrich-like to assume an essential centrism in the British electorate.

Young is right, on the other hand, that Britain is not about to embrace a radical left government. The left barely registered in this election in England, apart from a reasonable vote for the Greens. But there is much ground between austerity capitalism and Bennite socialism, as the SNP have shown. Labour, were it to occupy some of that ground, would have more chance of winning over those disaffected Liberal Democrats – many of whom, after all, were once disaffected Labour voters.

Richard Seymour
London EN4

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.