#BBCdebate: win for the Nationalists and Greens, demolition for Miliband

Jonas Liston shares his thoughts coming out of tonight’s leader’s debate


1) Farage was isolated and snowed under by the dominance of the left in the debate. However, even though his central, racist focus on migration as the cause of every social problem (housing, NHS, etc.) got outdone in the debate, that and his sheer Powell-esque aggression will play to, and give confidence to his supporters and nudge those wavering between UKIP and the Tories. The fact that Cameron didn’t even turn up will help that as well.

2) A similar logic goes for the immigration debate. In the short-term, economic and liberal arguments for immigration might work, but in the long run, politics like that of the UKippers will need to be confronted by much more sustainable and principled anti-racist arguments that go to the root of the racist scapegoating of migrants, such as capital’s use of migrant labour. The limits of the approach described above were exemplified by Sturgeon’s (who otherwise was on complete fire) concessions to basic and “problematic” ‘common-sense’ arguments about migration and national security.

3) Miliband got battered from the left and the right. Especially at the end, when Sturgeon tried to pin him down on the question of a coalition to oust the Tories. The only point I thought he delineated well was his balancing of the need for national security but not subordinating British foreign policy to greater powers. Both bollocks points in and of themselves, but neither without currency nor uncommon. Nevertheless, the Scots have rightly fucked over Labour, the centre is getting squeezed more and more, and the slow, creeping, potential threat of ‘Pasokification’ looms.

4) The Nationalist parties and the Greens won the day by a long shot. Anti-austerity, of the left and (at least superficially on the former) hostile to the centre but *especially* the right. Sturgeon started off and finished very well, speaking to people in Britain, but crucially to Scottish Labour voters. Despite that, she really fell short in the middle, both in argument and in principle, on some of the more detailed, but telling, questions around defence and migration. Natalie Bennett was good all the way through, but as a friend watching it with me convinced me, Leanne Woods massively outflanked both, particularly on hostility to Labour, anti-austerity politics and the need for confronting the anti-trade union laws in order to defend workers’ rights. Let alone the flair.
5) Clegg and Cameron, the slimy scumbags they are, were morons for not coming on. Seems like a really stupid move from where I’m sitting.

Still haven’t  got a clue what’s going to happen in this election. It won’t be good in the final instance, so the questions are open for us; the anti-capitalist left. Where are we weak? What, are we actually a part of and learning from, in terms of social and political struggle, that can change narratives and win real victories (I think of the way massively inspirational housing struggles have concretised demands such as rent controls)? Basically, how do we make ourselves both relevant, thinking and fighting, as an anti-capitalist left, *especially* coming out of elections, recognising our real limitations during.


  1. Good, astute comments here, on a good and astute appraisal of last night’s show. Our principal weakness is our non-ownership of media, our strength is the relative democracy of social media, and the evident fact that almost nobody feels good about Neoliberalism these days. As for the debate, I think Mister (‘Working People’) Ed will have to unsay what he said about non-co-operation with SNP, GP and PC after May 7th.

  2. I agree with Jonas about the weaknesses in Sturgeon’s presentation over defence and the “economic” argument for migration, where she went into “stateswomen” mode. Other than that I think there were four notable things about last night.

    1) It was interesting just how badly Farage went down with members of the audience, and how rattled he was when they responded positively to pro-migrant positions, even to the point of attacking them for left-wing bias! He got applauded at the very beginning, but after that, virtually nothing, In part his outburst reflects the way in which he has largely been spared exposure to criticism and to audiences who don’t agree with him. So apart from maybe consolidating its existing support, I don’t think this helped UKIP at all.

    2) Miliband was useless. He sounds like he’s playing a part even when he’s saying what he actually thinks. That the conventional media apparently think he came out best in this encounter is only another indication of how these judgements are based on the ability of politicians to “professionally” present a case within the accepted parameters of neoliberal thought, rather than connect with an audience. The key moment, for me, was when the discussion turned to the Tories’ plan to sell of Housing Association stock. Bennett, Sturgeon and Wood all attacked the plan from a position of principle, but Miliband…wanted to know where the money was going to come from. (No problem with the money for Trident, apparently.) His reasons for refusing to ally with the SNP (because the Scottish National Party is, er…a nationalist party) allowed Sturgeon to make two a devastating points about a) how their differences were surely as nothing compared to the differences they both have with the Tories, and b) was he seriously going to allow the Tories back in by refusing to work with the SNP? No answer – except to vote a majority Labour Government, which no-one (including him) thinks is going to happen.

    3) One effect of these debates is that the minority parties have pushed the idea of what is politically possible to the left. We know, of course, that 40 years ago, with the exception of the environment, their positions – including Wood’s very welcome argument for stronger trade unions – would have been mainstream within the centre left of Social Democracy. Its an indication of just how far neoliberalism has pushed politics to the right that these do not just seem radical: they are. Context is all. It was obvious from audience responses, but also from speaking to people at work after earlier debates, that there is a widespread sense of relief that its OK to publicly say this stuff – about Trident, about trade unions, about council housing – and not be treated as insane. This provides an opening for the more consistently left-wing arguments that revolutionaries are making.

    4) Finally, back to the SNP. I’m not sure if comrades in England and Wales are aware of precisely what an earthquake is about to happen in Scotland. Labour became hegemonic in Scotland as a whole later than is often supposed (between the late ’50s and early 80s of the last century), although in some areas in the West it goes back to the 1920s. That is now coming to an end: the SNP currently have 6 seats at Westminster; the smallest number of seats they are likely to have on 8 May is 42, the largest, 54. Its a question of whether Labour are going to be either totally annihilated or just completely crushed in electoral terms. This is important enough for comrades in Scotland, but it is also going to impact on the rest of the UK. The SNP has over 110,000 members, 85,000 of whom joined since last September. It is the third biggest party in the UK and in terms of membership relative to the size of the population, it is the second-biggest party in the world, after the Chinese Communist Party. This is one reason why Sturgeon appears confident – she actually has a base. Furthermore, unlike the other major parties, the SNP actually “do” politics in a way that the other haven’t had to for decades. It is no accident, as we say, that the two most assured, most tactically astute bourgeois politicians of social neoliberal era in the UK – i.e. from the early 1990s – have been its last two leaders. Forget this “minority” party schtick, the SNP will almost certainly be the third-biggest party in the House of Commons. As Dan Swain rightly argued in a recent post, the ruling class will attempt to reimpose another Tory-dominated coalition, if they can possibly get away with it. If these circumstances, the immediate demand of the left across the UK as a whole would have to be for labour to form the government in alliance with the SNP, Plaid and the Greens – and that this is based on an acceptance of key elements of these parties programmes, above an end to austerity and the removal of Trident.

  3. Nice piece. I’m a green party member myself, far to the left of the party. Inter-sectional feminist. 🙂

    Good question at the end. As a green party member I think one of the key things we’re lacking is cohesive strategy. We’ve got 60,000 quite independent members who are going off in lots of different directions. We need to find the balance between democracy, freedom and organisation. 🙂


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