Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations: a pragmatic approach to politics
(Of a person, party, or policy) not radical or excessively right- or left-wing:
The Blairites in the PLP are still banging on about being ‘pragmatists and ‘moderates’ as opposed to everyone else in the Labour Party who by definition must be ‘idealistic’, ‘extremist’, ideologues. But we all think we are pragmatic and moderate for goodness sake. Wherever we are on the political spectrum, we all think our position is entirely rational and that given the opportunity we would act reasonably, sensibly and practically to achieve our aims.
The reason we can all think this in spite of where we are on the political spectrum, is of course because ‘pragmatism and moderation’ are relative terms not established positions. To call yourself a political ‘Moderate’ really doesn’t mean anything – or more accurately means whatever you want it to mean. Describing yourself as a ‘moderate’ is a merely a form of moral self-aggrandisement – to be a ‘moderate’ is to be the ‘nice’, sensible, reasonable one, compared with all those ‘nasty’ extremists who disagree with you.
Similarly, ‘pragmatism’ without underlying values is an entirely empty term. Like the word ‘efficiency’, ‘pragmatism’ is only meaningful if we know where we are starting from and what we are trying to achieve – and what we are trying to achieve depends on values and ideology.
What the Blairites don’t seem to understand is that the vast majority of the membership of the Labour Party regard them not as the ‘moderate’ centre of the Party but as the extreme ‘right’ of the party. Indeed, historically it is easy to establish that the Blairites are essentially right of centre social democrats – in the 1980’s sense of the word – who accept the efficacy of neoliberal capitalism and the Thatcherite valorising of ‘business’ over civic society and merely want to ‘take the edge off’ for the most vulnerable. Indeed, Blair literally said as much. Things had become so bad that by 2010 the Labour Party were further to the right on almost every significant issue than the LibDems! And we know what those bastards did as part of the Con Dem Coalition!
So the problem isn’t that the Blairites represent the ‘moderate’, ‘pragmatic’ centre ground of Labour Party opinion and that the Corbynistas are illegitimately trying to drag the party to the lef against it’s will; the problem is that the Blairites are, and always have been, the far-right of the Labour Party dressed in the clothing of moderation and pragmatism. They have a political and economic position which is pro-austerity, pro-business, pro free market, pro privatisation and anti-union. And that ‘Comrades’, is not the moderate centre-ground of the Labour Party – however you dress it up!
It might or might not, be the ‘only’ policy position that can win an election in this country, only time will tell that, but even if it is the ‘only’ position that can win an election, the Labour Party still should have nothing to do with it because IT IS A TORY POLICY POSITION.
For example, if it became clear that the majority of so-called ‘floating voters’ would only vote for a racist party, i.e. only a racist party could win an election in the UK, would the Blairites ‘pragmatically’ put forward racist policies in order to get elected? That’s the logic of ‘pragmatic’ politics. You ‘pragmatically’ respond to polls and focus groups, continually shifting policy to accommodate your perception of where the voters are, and when you can’t keep up you say nothing at all to avoid offending anybody. Ultimately you end up not knowing where you are, where you started from, or most importantly, where you want to go. At best you end up simply ‘managing’ things as they are; at worst you end up being simply lost.
That being said, I don’t think that is what has happened here. I don’t think the Blairites have become lost due to their pragmatism. On the contrary, I think that the Blairites are actively pro-austerity, pro-business, pro free market, pro privatisation and anti-union, and they use the ‘pragmatism’ of chasing voter opinion to justify their hi-jacking of the party and to pacify a Party membership who they know do not agree with them.
Blair thought he had re-carved the Labour Party in his own cynical, opportunist, vain-glorious image, as just another vehicle for public school educated, career politicians and ‘men of destiny’, to climb the greasy pole into the history books. In this New Labour vision of the world the LibDem, Labour and Conservative parties become essentially like ‘Houses’ in a public school. You are passionately loyal to your ‘House’ and fight hard to win the House Prize, but ultimately you know it’s all a bit of a laugh and that you are all on the same side really. In this world of public school and Oxbridge graduates, class is dead, ideology is dead and Corbyn and his supporters are like some jumped up, impertinent, bursary kids from the local Comp allowed places into the Sixth Form and given hell for it. [And you saw that world-view vividly played out during the Syrian debate in Parliament. ]
But most rank and file members of the Labour Party think Labour is meant to sit outside that ‘old boy network’, to challenge it and ultimately to destroy it. But Corbyn is not a revolutionary and this destruction will not come from violent revolution but through progressive reform and the establishing of a genuine democracy. Corbyn is not seeking to ‘overthrow capitalism’, indeed, by the standards of the early 80’s when he was first elected, his position is a ‘moderate’, mainstream, Old Labour position, that was, and still is, criticised by many on the left as being reformist and reactionary.
What he is arguing for is:
(i) A regulated and managed capitalism governed by Keynesian economic principles.
(ii) A more participatory democracy with strong trade unions and an active civil society.
(iii) An adequately funded NHS and welfare system able to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism.
(iv) A progressive tax system helping to establish a fairer distribution of wealth and a more equal society.
And that my friends is not an extremist position… unless you are a neoliberal Tory, which is where the problem seems to lie for the Blairites in the PLP.