Wednesday 20 July 2016

Is ideological flexibility a political virtue?

One of the criticisms that has been levelled at Jeremy Corbyn by supporters of the Labour Party coup plotters is that he is "ideologically inflexible". Somehow there are people out there who consider it some kind of political failing that Corbyn has consistently stuck with the left-wing anti-warmongering principles which led to him vote against the New Labour whip on numerous occasions.

Corbyn refused to abandon his principles over his opposition to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, his opposition to lumbering students from poor and ordinary backgrounds with huge debts, his opposition to the New Labour reliance upon ripoff PFI economic alchemy schemes ... Not only did his principles dictate that he vote against his own party on many occasions, he also refused to abstain on rotten Tory legislation as instructed to by the Labour Party whip. In 2013 he refused to abstain on Iain Duncan Smith's disgusting Retroactive workfare legislation (that was later declared unlawful in the courts), and in 2015 he was the only one of the four Labour leadership candidates to defy the party whip and vote against the Tories savage welfare cuts.

As far as some people are concerned, having principles and sticking by them is some kind of political crime, therefore, it follows that in their minds, ideological flexibility must be a political virtue.

The severe backlash against the ideologically flexible Liberal Democrats after they dumped a whole load of their principles in order to enable the Tories back into power in 2010 doesn't seem to be enough to deter supporters of the Anyone But Corbyn faction of the Labour Party.

After jumping into bed with the Tories, the Lib-Dems performed one U-turn after another on core Lib-Dem principles like their opposition to tuition fees (followed by voting through the Tory policy of lumbering English students with the highest fees at public universities anywhere in the word), their pre-election anti-austerity economic stance (Vince Cable's instant conversion from talking pre-election economic sense to vigorously defending George Osborne's austerity con), their insistence upon Proportional Representation (watered down to a rigged referendum on the "miserable little compromise" AV), their opposition to imperialist warmongering (suddenly they supported interventionist policies in Libya, Iraq and Syria) and their opposition to the commissioning of hugely expensive taxpayer subsidised nuclear power stations (The Lib-Dem Coalition energy minister Ed Davey gave one of the all time great examples of ideological flexibility, then, like an Internet n00b tried to delete his past views from the Internet). 

As a result of all of these U-turns the Lib-Dems lost two thirds of their voters, and in 2015 their representation in Westminster dropped from 57 to just 8 MPs.

None of that seems to bother the Anyone But Corbyn camp, who are now throwing their weight behind the ideologically flexible Owen Smith as their candidate to overthrow their ideologically inflexible party leader.

Owen Smith is trying to present himself as the "soft-left" unity candidate, but investigations into his background and voting record show that if he is posturing as left-wing now, it's only because he's smart enough to realise that he can't possibly win over the Labour Party membership on a toxic and outdated centre-right Blairite platform. Owen Smith can only rebrand himself like this because he has the ideological flexibility to jettison his past principles in favour of more left-wing positions that he knows that he needs to project in order to have even the remotest chance of winning the Labour leadership election.

Before being parachuted into one of the safest Labour seats in Wales (Pontypridd) during the New Labour era Smith worked as a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer where he promoted a report calling for greater private sector involvement in the NHS. He was also working for them when they made a big donation to the right-wing Blairite pressure group Progress. Since setting himself up as the Anyone But Corbyn leadership candidate he's backtracked on privatisation of NHS provision and distanced himself from Blairism.

Back in 2006 when he tried, and failed to win the seat of Blaenau Gwent in a 2006 by-election Smith made some very odd excuses for the invasion of Iraq, and even after the WMDs hadn't been found, the lack of post-invasion planning had led to a massive looting spree, the deadly wave of sectarian violence, the deaths of ill-equipped British soldiers, and at the peak of the controversy over the US administered Abu Ghraib torture centre, he claimed that he thought that the illegal concept of regime change was part of a "noble valuable tradition" and still couldn't bring himself to say that the invasion was a mistake or that he would have voted against it. Smith now claims that he actively opposed the Iraq war in 2003.

Another example of Smith's ideological flexibility is the way he has gone from championing right-wing New Labour policies like PFI and academy schools to admitting that, like their pro-privatisation "choice" agenda in the NHS, they were "mistakes". Whether he is sincere in this conversion away from right-wing Blairite policies, or simply posturing as a left-winger to win the Labour leadership election before flexing back to the kind of economically right-wing policies favoured by the Westminster establishment club is anyone's guess.

Yet another example of Smith's ideological flexibility is the way that he's gone from being a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons to actively voting in favour of the unbelievable Tory legislation to write the biggest blank cheque in parliamentary history to the corporations that stand to make £billions from Trident renewal.

Perhaps the most telling example of Smith's ideological flexibility came in the few days after the EU referendum result came in. On June 24th he slammed David Cameron for resigning, calling it "petulant, rash and selfish" before complaining that the national interest was being "sacrificed on the altar of Tory party politics and individual Tories' self-interest".

Just three days later Owen Smith joined in the mass resignation event that was pre-planned to bully Jeremy Corbyn into quitting as Labour Party leader. Participation in a pre-planned internal party coup plot at a time of "deepening uncertainty and fears for Britain" would have been bad enough in isolation, but doing it just three days after publicly lambasting David Cameron for resigning, and slamming other Tories for putting their party political self-interest above the needs of the nation is an absolutely stunning example of brass-necked hypocrisy.

In conclusion, the problem with Owen Smith's ideological flexibility is that it makes it awfully difficult to ever trust what he's saying. He's actually talking some good sense, and he's clearly nowhere near as an appalling candidate for leadership as Angela Eagle was, but how is it possible to believe that what he says is the truth, rather than a cynical attempt to win the Labour leadership by posing as a left-winger, before switching back to the Westminster establishment approved right-wing economic orthodoxy he used to stand for once he's got what he wants?

The problem with ideologically flexible showmen like Tony Blair and David Cameron is that they'll show you whatever they think you want in order to trick you into voting for them, then they'll do whatever the hell they like once they get into power. It's impossible to tell whether Owen Smith would ever end up being as brazenly dishonest as those two, but one thing is for sure, he's already proven that he has the necessary ideological flexibility.  

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