This is awful, worse than last time, probably because Corbyn’s opponents know this is their last chance. It’s also completely unnecessary and a diversion from the task of opposing the Tories in Parliament made more acute by the Referendum result. I shall continue to support Jeremy Corbyn for four reasons and this blog looks them; about the policy platform, the electoral strategy, together with a vision about the desired role of Labour’s members and finally, sadly abuse and cheating. Possibly most importantly, it’s about the role of the membership in the Party, because as John McDonnel and Chunky Mark have said, “It’s not Jeremy Corbyn they fear, it’s you”, a Party of ½ million and still growing.
I have said before and it remains true that the attack politics is a design feature of primaries and that’s what we’ve chosen to do; it’s made worse by the consistent delegitimisation of certain politics and language; calling someone childless is not abuse, neither is suggesting they go for a swim in the sea. Sadly this cannot be discussed without stating that criminal abuse should be reported to the police. It is not an internal disciplinary issue and treating it as such would be cover up. Much of the rest of this is about turning a political disagreement into one about the rules, a talent far too available in today’s Labour Party.
First, the Politics. Corbyn has distilled his programme from last year to 10 pledges, with which Owen Smith says he agrees, except he wants a second referendum on Brexit; so do I, but after exit terms have been negotiated in good faith. (More about that another time). Smith’s problem is that of distinguishing himself between and preferring the “echo to the shout”; and even if Smith believes in the 10 pledges, it’s absolutely clear that many of his supporters, who have been planning this since 13th September last year, in the PLP don’t. For those of us who want to turn to the Left, we must have the man who launched the platform and whose supporters are all committed to it, because that’s how we do representative politics. We agree on values, collectively develop a programme, together we state our priorities and then and only then choose candidates to pursue them in public office.
Corbyn’s line on Europe has been superior in persuasiveness than uncritical support; it gives us an opportunity to build an alliance with the French PS and the Italian PDS, both of whom are desperate for changes in the Euro stabilisation treaties; Labour carried ⅔ of its voters, and to be fair, none of us in the Labour Party have carried our weight for a long time, in the interests of unity of course but the leadership of Labour IN were as absent as anyone and we all agreed not to share a platform with Cameron because of how it went down in Scotland. I shall leave my views on the Labour leavers unsaid.
Another critical change, necessitating a turn to the Left is that the ability to deliver to the majority of society using policies of neo-liberalism & trickledown is over, it has reached its end game and new politics are required to build a good society. It is the currently elected leadership of the Party, Corbyn and MacDonnel who have led over only 12 months an exceptionally effective parliamentary opposition stopping the Tories on numerous economic and social issues, i.e Tax Credits and mandatory academisation to the extent that the Tories have given up or postponed austerity. Labour’s opposition has even caused the Government to be defeated on its budget, or more accurately change its mind, by £4.4bn over disability benefit cuts. Labour has won this debate, none of Corbyn’s opponents from last year would have even tried and I argue that the PLP wants to turn its back on these victories.
The common wisdom of the PLP lost the last two elections, and has left some of Labour’s right wing to the right of Theresa May’s stated position on economic policy and social justice. It was the right’s opposition that led to the undermining of Ed Miliband’s more left wing positions which even when written into the programme and policy was spoken about as if it was what they thought it should be.
The issues around electoral strategy remain the same as last year. In 2015, Labour lost votes to the Tories, UKIP, the Greens and the Nationalists. New Labour has been losing votes and support since 1997. Since then, Labour’s core vote which was explicitly abandoned as having nowhere else to go, found they did, via abstention transfer to all the others. The right in the Labour Party argue the key is winning back Tories, except those MPs who feel more threatened by UKIP. I remain curious what more they want to do in terms of promises to win these people to Labour. “How much more racist do you want us to be?”, “How many doorsteps conversations will it take?” I also refer them to S4E2 of the thick of it where Nicola Murray is persuaded to adopt two Coalition policies to show bi-partisanship, only to find they’re so horrible that even the Tories give up on them. We can see how the right in the PLP want to behave on welfare from last year; this at a time where the new Prime Minister, May has sacked Osborne and is at least adopting the vocabulary of the “blue collar Tories”.
Some inside the Labour Party suggest that all that’s needed is a change of Leadership; a Super-hero view of politics. If it was Blair that made the difference, Owen Smith is not the answer, and it wasn’t Blair that made the difference. The Party’s leadership choices are much more limited due to the Blair/Brown conflict where they both caused so much damage to each other’s allies that there is no-one of sufficient stature to create credible leadership challenges and that is one of the reasons Corbyn won last year; the three survivors of the New Labour Governments weren’t deemed good enough to lead or win. Blair and Brown operated a King Herod succession strategy, although not killing people obviously. There are other reasons that this generation of the PLP is so uninspiring. Kinnock’s failure to win in 1992 turned a generation of activists away from traditional party politics. Eventually Leaders count, but more important is the focus of the programme and the conversation. Labour’s right are obviously claiming to prioritise the need to win, but that can’t be done without knowing where the votes are coming from and despite all the noise about the need to win and their echoing of the dreadful polls, they fail to show where they think those votes are coming from and how they will be won back. The polls are bad, but part of that is the due to our lack of unity, part of that is the new Tory Government’s honeymoon and part of it is the fall in vote of UKIP, there is little evidence that a New Labour retread would do any better.
This gap in what proponents of Owen Smith’s leadership say is important; at the end of the day all they have is a spurious unity and hope that not being Jeremy Corbyn is enough to win back the voters lost by Blair, Brown and Miliband. In the words of a friend of mine, applied to a non-political context,
“That’s not a plan, it’s a dream”
Tom Colcough in the New Statesman in an article titled “What Labour MPs still need to learn from Jeremy Corbyn” explores the issues of programme, policy and electability with admirable brevity.
This is key. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson stated they’d open policy making up to the membership; they’ve both been busy it would seem. Last year, the most commonly asked question I had was how to be heard about ideas for change. It’s not good enough to tell people to wait 6 months, earn their spurs by election campaigning (for someone else) and then to ask them to forward their ideas to the shadow front bench or Mayor & Cabinet. Labour is now the largest political party in Europe. Wherever politics is being discussed in Britain, there’s a Labour Party member present, there’s also a massive pool of expertise which we need to use. We have to do better at inclusion and mobilisation than we currently do. The exclusion of 25% of the potential electorate shows the end game of the #chickencoup, a passive and small membership a managed policy process, and fund-raising from millionaires; how they think they can win this way is beyond me.
However, in the speeches made by Tom Watson over the last few days, we can see the continued agenda of witch hunts, already started and the proposed return to the electoral college. The Labour right’s problem is that whenever they lose, there’s always been another layer to appeal to, firstly it was the quiet members because Labour’s activists weren’t representative of Labour’s voice, so those who attended GC’s had to be undermined and we introduced One Member One Vote, then it was the Trade Union members who got wrong by electing Ed Miliband, the long term supporters were engaged and they got it wrong it too, and so they return to the uncanvassed Labour voters expressed through the PLP and the MPs mandates. It’s been a disappointment to them over the last 6 years, longer if you consider the SDP as an earlier experiment to find the elusive moderates to support their careers. Owen Smith and his supporters do not believe in a member led party. The exclusion of 130,000 members who joined this year is disgraceful and another pointer to the ambitions of those supporting Owen Smith. Watson’s 2016 manifesto of witch hunts and exclusions is an attempt to ensure PLP control of the Party and through it the policy making process and candidate selections.
Frankly the language of much of the debate is dreadful. I have given up reading Facebook thread comments in the forums and much of the mainstream media merely repeats this drivel.
Most seriously the weaponising of anti-semitism allegations has reached the point where Smith and his supporters are joining with the Party’s opponents, sometimes through silence, to add credibility to the slur that the Party is endemically anti-semitic and that the Chakrabarti Inquiry has been corruptly influenced; this is wrong. It must be recognised that one of the reasons the right are so keen to devalue the report is that she states that Labour’s disciplinary process and the practices of the Compliance Unit are legally unsafe and contrary to the tenants of natural justice. It’s unacceptable. The screeching defence of McNicol, the Compliance Unit and some Regional Directors by Margaret Beckett is because they are a factional asset and the Courts have now given them the power to make up the rules. If Corby wins this needs to be put right. Let’s hope that Michael Foster’s “Brownshirts” comment in the Mail leads to disciplinary action and ends the impunity with which the right thing they can smear, suspend and expel their opponents.
With respect to Entryism, I am with Mark Steel, we might have noticed 350,000 Trotskyists hanging around over the last 25 years, although the 140,000 that waited until a year to join are obviously pretty poor Trotskyist, having failed to perceive the quickening of the objective pre-revolutionary conditions. Watson’s dead cat on the table , with the knowingly wrong suggestion that the Militant, now known as SPEW are either re-entering or will be let in is a gambit is designed to legitimise the management of the Party by the bureaucracy; you’d think that being on the receiving end of their secret police tactics during the Falkirk affair he’d have a stronger commitment to natural justice, but ti’s a commodity that seems to be in short supply in the Labour Party today.
The really bad news is that we had an effective opposition, so effective that the Tories new Prime Minister fired George Osborne and in her first speech after appointment parked her Tanks on New Labour’s lawn. Politically motivated austerity is over. We need to confirm Jeremy’s mandate, continue to build a democratic mass member party and Old New Labour needs to come on board.
Go and read the 10 pledges and then support Jeremy Corbyn and make the Labour Party a left wing party again.
This article contains hover comments and hyperlinks and was originally posted on http://blog.davelevy.info SURL: http://wp.me/p7KCT7-176
I have forwarded it to Facebook and Medium.
I have prepared two storify pages, one on the politics and one on entryism as I gathered source material for this article.
- http://ello.davelevy.info/2nd-referendum/, although I plan to say even more
 Although it can be a dog whistle attack on gay candidates, and is never pleasant.