There are two stories that have dominated the news this week. The main news has been totally dominated by the announcement by Boris Johnson that all Covid restrictions would be lifted by June 21st – very handily just in time for Wimbledon the quintessential English sporting event which nobody English ever wins. The other news, of rather less interest to the media is that in what appears to be a blatant piece of anti-left manoeuvring the Labour Party has prevented three candidates from standing for the Mayor’s post in Liverpool.

In some ways these two stories seem entirely unrelated. But both are examples of the triumph of dogma over principle. If the Tories had an opposition that actually spent as much energy on attacking them as they do attempting (unsuccessfully) to appeal to Tory voters it is unlikely that the fact that 122,070 people are dead would be allowed to keep escaping the collective memory of the mass media. It is not just a failure of a tame scientific community or of a media, that allows the press to laud as the Daily Mail puts it “the road to freedom”. It is a total failure of opposition.

Liverpool in uproar

Liverpool was on track to have its first ever black, female Mayor, Anna Rothery, but a candidate endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn and most of the Campaign Group was not going to be popular with Labour’s central committee: David Evans, Claire Ainsley and Assaf Kaplan. I should add that I have no evidence that any of that triumvirate were responsible for preventing her from standing, but I doubt they would have been sidling up to SirKeith and whispering “not a good idea” in his ear.

Rothery was raised in Liverpool 8 (Toxteth) one of the most deprived areas in the U.K. and attended a comprehensive school before going on to study sociology at university. By any stretch of the imagination her story is an inspiration but she has now been told that she will not even be reconsidered for the readvertised post. Of course, Twitter is up in arms but the mass media have very little to say. According to Labourlist Labour Party sources say the decision to remover Rothery plus two other female candidates – Wendy Simon and Ann O’Byrne – was related to corruption allegations made against former Mayor Joe Anderson. Interestingly, the police are not investigating any of the three, and apparently the allegations are being made against right wing candidate Ann O’Byrne, which does raise the issue of why Wendy Simon and Anna Rothery should be excluded, even if as those unnamed sources say there are “concerns linked to the Liverpool corruption investigations, and it has been said that the causes are “serious”.

The ongoing purge of the left from Labour is part of a deliberate strategy by SirKeith to appear “electable”. As I have noted previously this strategy is based on a theory of the “new working class” first developed by Communications Director Claire Ainsley whilst she was director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. According to her analysis this new working class are in insecure, gig work and are patriotic, hard working and care about nationhood and local communities. They are also, though this is not trumpeted by Ainsley, likely to be racist, sexist and driven by individualism. These so-called core values, really just petty minded vindictiveness, are now driving Labour’s policies. The result of this is that Labour far from offering even a social democratic alternative is firmly in the hands of people who think, look and act like Conservatives.

Death, democracy and damnation

Whilst the left obsess about the affront to their own esteem by the jettisoning of anything remotely Corbynist including the man himself, the reality is that the failure of the Queen’s Opposition (to give them their rather anachronistic title) to oppose has allowed the Government to oversee the worst response to the Covid pandemic anywhere in the World with the only proper scrutiny seemingly coming from Piers Morgan. For those who point out that the UK’s death toll is the 5th highest (behind USA, Brazil, Mexico and India) we have a higher per capita death rate than any of those countries and indeed the highest per capita death rate of any of the G20 nations.

But, Covid should not be reduced to just death rates. Of course 122,070 families grieving is a colossal tragedy, but Covid has also pointed up major weaknesses in our political and democratic systems. The cronyism of the Tories in handing out over £11 billion of contracts to their friends, in many cases to companies that had no previous history of providing such services, is not just outrageous but shows the moral bankruptcy at the heart of the system. The Good Law Project had a court ruling which showed, without question, that Matt Hancock had lied about the extent of corruption and when asked if Hancock should resign the inclination of SirKeith was to back him up. If he had said no he should not resign he should be sacked pending his trial for misuse of public funds then just maybe SirKeith would have looked like an Opposition Leader rather than Matt Hancock’s bagman.

All of this is consistent with the way in which the political and democratic culture of the U.K. has been eroded over the past few years. From the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn to the failure to take responsibility for the nations health the political class in this country have failed to show either leadership or morality. It is difficult not to reach a conclusion that the entire system is now so corrupted that it is almost an impossibility to overcome it. Of course, that is a significant leap for anybody that believes that all we need to do is change the leadership or the electoral system and all will fall into place.

A kick in the ballots

A functioning democracy does not just consist of the opportunity for people to cast a ballot on a regular basis. When the franchise was restricted (and it still is if you are under 18, or in some elections under 16), there was an imperative to extend the franchise to working class people, to those without property, to women, to younger citizens etc. These campaigns were important in that they were symbolic of equal rights for all sectors of the community. They were opposed, every extension of the franchise has been bitterly opposed, because those with wealth and power did not want to risk losing the latter. Their wealth was always pretty safe if truth be told. As the franchise was extended that same powerful elite came to realise that actually extending the franchise far from threatening their power allowed them to strengthen it. People who were otherwise likely to feel, literally, disenfranchised and therefore attracted toward what the powerful would regard as ‘revolutionary’ politics now believed that they had a stake in the system. As somebody said to me only this week “people died to get me the vote, I have to use it, so I will continue to vote Labour”. The first part of that sentence is clearly true, the second part possibly flows from the first but how you use your vote is entirely up to you. Personally, I will be voting for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the forthcoming Welsh Senedd elections.

But that is a digression from the point. Social systems can only maintain themselves effectively through two routes. One is by fear and oppression. The traditional means that ruling classes have used throughout the ages. The other is by obtaining the illusion of legitimacy. Most political philosophers have grappled with the idea of legitimacy and from where it comes. David Hume, a Tory, believed the legitimacy of the state derived from people’s opinion that they had a duty to obey. The idea of a duty to obey is also found in Kant, though he was talking about morality generally rather than politics specifically. Ruling classes have never shied away from force, but as society has developed have found that democracy offers an easier way to maintain their legitimacy.

Of course democracy is desirable, but if democracy is undermined by the very system it purports to support then it points to major difficulties with the system. Socialism, as opposed to “democratic socialism” (often neither democrat nor socialist), has never been on the ballot. This is because parliamentary democracy exists to legitimise the capitalist economy and socialism is a belief system that cannot co-exist alongside free market capitalism, even if as Marx believed capitalism would be the midwife of socialism. Which is why the Labour Party has never been a socialist party. At no point in the history of Labour has it stood in an election to transform capitalism. Not in 1900, not in 1930, not even in 1945 or 2017 or 2019. And definitely not in 1997 or 2024. It has stood at best to reform the worst excesses of capital, but mostly to simply legitimise it.

Labour has spent more time in opposition than in Government. It is usually rather good at it, pushing the Government and holding them to account. But they have now abandoned any pretence that they even think reform is possible. Supporting legislation that will allow agents of the state to commit crime with impunity, backing law breaking by Ministers, failing to support an increase in Corporation Tax, I could go on. But, most importantly, this lack of a socialist backbone has allowed the British government to allow Covid 19 to kill 122,070, mostly, ordinary people without ensuring that these failures are constantly being pushed as part of an agenda to delegitimise the Government. The failure to provide the workforce with PPE, the deaths of workers forced to work without adequate safety precautions, the abject failure of the SERCO test and trace system, the late decisions to go into lockdown and the early decisions to come out, the inconsistencies in messages leaving many people completely unaware of what the rules were should have been part of a consistent opposition refrain ensuring that the media, who are not without blame here, had to report it. Instead, well, nothing really.


This failure of opposition is hardly a canny strategy setting up Labour to sweep into power. It has simply allowed the Tories to claim credit they do not deserve for the success (if indeed it is a success) of the vaccination programme, and allowed them to continue to rise in the polls. This is not just a disaster for Labour or for SirKeith, or for the poor who are so easily forgotten in this, it is a disaster for democracy. The legitimacy of the very system itself is now brought into question. But apart from the odd blogger (with an audience not more than a couple of hundred) or podcasters (whose audience is not any bigger) who is raising this as an issue which should concern us?

But hold on a minute, you might say, what has this to do with the failure to pick a well liked black woman as the candidate for Mayor of Liverpool? Sadly, this is just one further manifestation of the corruption at the heart of the political system. Perhaps the only Labour MP who has impressed recently has been Zarah Sultana and one wonders whether an up and coming Zarah would make it past central casting. If the Government is corrupt (it is) then it helps if the Opposition can claim some kind of moral superiority. When the Opposition are conducting a purge of members merely for supporting the previous leader any moral authority it might claim is gone.

Whether we are bound by an invisible social contract (as believed for example by Jean Jacques Rousseau) or we are simply too busy living our day-to-day lives to be concerned with who is actually running things, the fact is that we have grown accustomed to the idea that somebody or some bodies, are making decisions which will somehow allow us to continue to exist. Covid has disrupted that belief. It was never a great belief to begin with. On Twitter the other day somebody berated me for initiating a discussion group and then declared that they wanted a leader, somebody to follow. As Robert Paul Wolff has argued: “Taking responsibility for one’s actions means making the final decision about what one should do.

Ceding autonomy

We cede a large part of our life to the likes of Boris Johnson and SirKeith and provided the decisions they take accord with those we would have taken ourselves we are happy enough for them to rule and for us to live our lives in whatever way makes us happy. Political legitimacy relies on that dynamic, that the ruled (or at least a majority  of them) are prepared to give up their autonomy either for the greater good, or simply for expediency. Some people will point out that only a small percentage vote for the Government and therefore it is not true to say that they are taking the decisions that a majority want. As Lenin noted what we regard as democracy is “restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and a deception for the exploited, for the poor..” What this means though is that whilst we do not always get the government we want, even opposing that government (whether electorally or otherwise) if there is no intent to change the system of government is providing it with the legitimacy to carry on serving those it wants to.

The absolute failure of the British establishment to protect its own populace from the ravages of Covid, and the way in which the Labour Party and the media have singularly failed to present an alternative vision, shows that in a time of crisis that which normally remains hidden is actually the truth. That truth is that capitalist democracy is not democratic. It is no longer a means by which individuals can allow others to take decisions they might have taken themselves, if that was ever true. It is, in short, in a crisis of legitimacy. Can this be solved by changing the Government, or the processes by which that Government is determined? Capitalism is remarkably resilient so rule nothing out, but this lack of legitimacy means that it is possible that a space is about to open up where issues of democracy, freedom, equality and, dare I say the word, socialism will have not only a hearing but a willing audience looking for answers to questions they never even knew they had. It is into that space that the left, if we can get our act together, must flood to direct that conversation toward progress and not allow the regressive elements to hold sway.

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Dave Middleton
I'm Dave Middleton. I am a member of the Labour Party (until they catch up with me) and like to think of myself as left-wing. My Twitter account is @DavMidd Please do feel free to email me about this blog at
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