Jess Phillips and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Then, Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart. Now, Ed Balls and George Osborne. Labour figures are so snuggly with Tories it is hard to imagine what the actual difference between the parties is supposed to be. Of course, the likes of Balls have no skin in the game. these are all wealthy, comfortable figures. But the combination of podcast grift and civility politics says a lot about power in this country.
The latest offering in the chum grift is a podcast hosted by former shadow chancellor Ed Balls and former actual chancellor George Osborne. Balls’ successes include a run on a TV dancing show and once tweeting his own name. Osborne’s greatest hits involve the most violent processes of austerity in modern times.
“Ed and I are frenemies”, Osborne beamed to the Guardian on Thursday 29 June:
Once bitter foes, and now firm friends. When we talk politics and economics I find myself talking to someone who brings a different perspective but with an insight and intelligence I rate.
Meanwhile, Balls said:
George and I want to bring economics back to life and on the agenda – with explanation and entertainment in equal measure.
Nothing so entertaining or restorative as chumming up with the Bullingdon Club, hey Ed? We can and should mock this kind of thing. But we should also discuss what it says about our body politic.
From economics to empire
The Balls-Osborne podcast follows tightly on the heels of another Labour-Tory crossover. Except in that case, it is two arch-imperialists pouring into your ears. Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart started The Rest is Politics in May 2023.
As the Canary has had to point out before, Stewart is a favourite of the Mk 1 centrist Twitter ignoramus. Simply sounding sort of authoritative and posh is enough for them. At least, enough to cover for his objectively vile voting record and his stint as imperial governor of a province of Iraq.
Former Blair-era comms guru Campbell, of course, is even more familiar with Iraq. He is a figure of contempt for his role in the buildup to the war. Though one can almost admire how this slippery character has used the debate over Brexit to recondition his reputation. For well-heeled #FBPE liberals, little Poppy’s gap year being disrupted by ‘Brexshit’ is far more important than, say, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, maimed or displaced.
While it hasn’t become a podcast yet (if it does, then just whack me over the head with a shovel) the Jacob Rees-Mogg-Jess Phillips love-in is another prime example of this utterly turgid trend.
In 2015, Phillips, who routinely cosplays as working class, toured Mogg’s Somerset constituency:
The ultimate outcome of this was lots of smiley pictures and jovial banter about nannies and Jeremy Corbyn.
Naturally, people who buy into this kind of performance – just like the people who do it – have a particular formulation. That is, they have no skin in the game. They’re comfortable. Politics can be chummy if you’re secure. You can afford to talk about ‘civility’ if the barbarism inflicted by Mogg’s, Osborne’s, and Stewart’s doesn’t touch you.
Civility politics is a trap
Personally, I have no time for this bourgeois mode of politics. I do not ‘love my enemy’, as the Christian adage urges us. Better, surely, to take the man and the ball. Your political commitments should actually be, er, commitments. And not something to suspend for a headline or to fill a gap in the podcast market.
That’s not to say one wouldn’t be polite or collegiate if the occasion demands, or even as a general rule. Sometimes it is right. And sometimes it isn’t. Like last week, when I spent a few days rinsing butt-hurt Corbyn nostalgists and discredited Labour Big Brains. Either way, the idea that we should all get on board with the sort of smirking comradely patter embodied in these podcasts is just bizarre to me.
That’s all very well for the wealthy, posh, and comfortable but it’s not conducive to any serious politics. A serious working-class politics is ‘chat shit, get banged’ not ‘pass the biscuits, please, Rory’.
Dead in the water
And there is another point to be made here. The three politicians mentioned here aren’t marginal figures. Balls, Campbell, and Phillips represent the dominant politics in Labour. A brief and accidental moment of left-wing leadership did not change this. These three aren’t just figures in the Labour Party, they embody it.
And a look at the purges in Labour since 2019 then tells us there won’t be another time like the Corbyn moment. The Labour left won’t get near the levers of state power again. Vapidly and abstractly calling for everyone to back the party just won’t cut it.
Nor will talking about ‘extra-parliamentary’ activity as if getting some Red Tories elected should be at the centre of our thinking. What we need isn’t ‘extra-parliamentary’ activism, it’s an anti-parliamentary politics. The point isn’t to put your preferred set of capitalists, imperialists, and grifters in a position to govern you. It is to become yourself ungovernable.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Adrian Pingstone, cropped to 1910 x 1000, public domain.