Jones will come back!

Picture of a man holding a pigThere is a scene in Orwell’s Animal Farm in which the pigs (who had become the ruling class of the post-revolutionary farm once Farmer Jones had been thrown out) and the other animals argue over who gets the apples. Snowball (later ousted violently) tells the other animals that, although he personally doesn’t like apples, pigs are brain-workers and need the apples to keep their brains working, otherwise the farm will cease working properly and Jones would come back — and if there was one thing on which everyone was agreed, it was that they did not want Jones to come back. This comes to mind pretty much every time there is an election in which the purported ‘left’ are defending their position, despite having betrayed those who voted for them.

One recalls those who could not vote for Clinton in 1996 and then 2000, for all manner of reasons (his climb-down on healthcare, support for the death penalty even in dubious cases, signing IRA-IRA and so on), and chose to vote for Ralph Nader instead being blamed for George W Bush’s victory, even though the latter had as much to do with the irregularities in Florida as with anyone voting for Nader. Left-wingers who voted for Obama in 2004, having been promised so much only to see their hopes dashed as Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay and is now set to sign a bill which allows the military to treat a citizen as an enemy combatant while on home soil. No doubt many will vote for him simply for fear of a Republican getting back in, and those who choose to vote for minority candidates will be blamed if he loses.

The same is true of Labour voters here in the UK. A fair number of us started voting Liberal Democrat from about 1997 onwards, as Tony Blair changed the party so as to appear acceptable to the tabloid-reading public. This is not simply due to its softening its 1980s stances and promises to withdraw from the (then) EEC and reverse the sale of council houses: there was also the total subservience of Blair’s government after 2001 to Bush’s war machine, leading us into two disastrous, misguided wars that many people could see would be a failure from the start, along with the attacks on civil liberties and the onslaught of state surveillance and database schemes (notably the ID card scheme).

While Labour could not be expected to maintain their 1997 landslide performance in 2001, they lost votes hand over fist in each election after that. They ultimately pleased nobody, and even the claim that their “Iron Chancellor” could manage the economy better than anyone else had fallen to pieces with the economic collapse of 2008: it was all shown to be an illusion, even if the collapse originated with the American banks and their risky lending practices. The Lib Dems (and even some Tories) offered a strong and consistent civil libertarian position, and seemed to offer some of the social democratic vision that Labour seemed to have abandoned. When some members even dared to suggest in public (such as in letters to local newspapers in south Wales) that voters might vote for other than a Labour candidate, they were expelled from the party. Labour had also been trying to muzzle grass-roots activism since the 1990s at least, as I saw for myself in the National Union of Students. The reasoning is always that, if you rock the boat for those who are working to make (or keep) the party electable, you risk letting the Tories in.

Labour cannot blame those who voted in good conscience for a party that seemed to offer what they had left behind. Not everyone will vote for a party, whether it’s Labour or any other, just because they are not the opposition, or on the basis of a threat that the opposition might get back in, or stay in. Finally, we know that the “modernisers” in the Labour party and the Tories have some common policies in any case (including support for their wars) and are just as willing to use the Tory press (and certainly to play to them) as the Tories themselves, so scaring us about the Tories coming back sounds a bit hollow. After all, in Animal Farm, the very pigs who told the animals that “Jones will come back” eventually let Jones back in themselves.

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