Tuesday, 29 December 2015

On Jeremy Corbyn's Reshuffle

I wanted to hold off commenting about "real" events until after the New Year. Even monomaniacal bloggers deserve a break. But there's just been so much nonsense and idiocy swilling around Jeremy Corbyn's will-he/won't-he reshuffle that I feel compelled to say a few words myself. I mean it's not as if the government have totally screwed up on the northern floods and Labour ought to be seizing this moment to knock lumps out of them for their mismanagement or anything.

First thing first, I've suggested previously that MPs would do better not to whine and moan about their predicament because they will find scant sympathy in the party. So what happens? We have a (unnamed, of course) shadow minister accusing Jeremy of ruining Christmas with all this talk of demoting and reshuffling. Diddums. Then we have people saying that Jeremy can't possibly demote people on the basis of the Syria free vote because it was free, innit. Then we have people saying they will resign if so-and-so goes.

Let's strip out the political divisions and look at how the world appears from inside the leader's office. Jeremy won a huge majority among the membership, and it is one that is still growing as new people sign up and a much lower number of (mainly card-carrying) centre and right members flounce out. Those who've damned sitting MPs for failing to depose Jeremy yesterday are blind to this most obvious of facts. Jez won under rules (favoured by some on the right) that were designed to dilute the influence of a membership they mistrusted before the surge took place. Jeremy romped home under those rules and, presently, from his perspective, he has good reason to accept a basic congruence between his policies and priorities and those of the members. Second, not unreasonably, this is interpreted as a mandate to carry through his programme regardless of what the shadow cabinet and the bulk of the PLP thinks. Third, it doesn't matter how it is dressed up, direct criticisms of him in the media by his shadow appointees and the various proxy attacks via Andrew Fisher, or via Stop the War, or via Momentum, are seen as challenges to his authority as well as attempts to undermine him. When you have the shadow foreign secretary banging the drum of war, or shadow ministers repeatedly refusing to back the leader when asked, or shadow ministers openly attacking proxies for Jeremy, or worst criticising him directly, how else can that be interpreted? One should not be surprised if their places around the leadership table is not as secure as they thought. It's also worth remembering that Ed Miliband was more ruthless in rooting out shadow ministers who were less than enthusiastic with his leadership, so Jez has precedence on his side. Jeremy is well within his rights to axe who he wants, and b;eating about it just looks like, well, bleating.

By the rules of the game, what Jeremy decides is law. His position is unassailable, and no amount of front bench resignations will tip him over into retirement. Especially now Jeremy reportedly has around 30 MPs that are considered loyal - a number that has grown since assuming office. In these circumstances, I think it's probably for the best if oppositionists are neither seen nor heard. From the standpoint of winning the party "back" to the centre or the right, it would do their cause a world of good if a) they shut up, b) cared more about attacking the Tories than Jeremy, and c) confined their opposition activities to out-recruiting their opponents, rebuilding the labour movement, and/or making constructive criticisms. Shadow ministers and backbench MPs moaning down the phone to the Telegraph news room weakens their position among the membership, and finds no echo whatsoever among a largely indifferent public. Yet they won't pack it in, even though it would be good for them. With a few dozen exceptions, they don't know how to organise and so they're locked into this pattern of self-destructive behaviour.

To reiterate, the majority of members voted for the left-led Labour Party experiment and would like to see it to be allowed to work itself out on its own terms. You might be sceptical. I might be sceptical, but it does deserve that. If assorted shadow ministers, MPs, or factions are seen to be sabotaging it, the members aren't going to revert back to the old ways. If anything, they will be outraged. So that is it, that is the situation. If front benchers don't like it, they should make way for others who are prepared to do the job. And if they persist in attacking in making much of the motes in Jeremy's eyes while ignoring the beams sticking in the Tories', well, reselection after the boundary review is going to be interesting.


Alasdair said...

The Blairite MPs are like Scottish Labour. They have a sense of entitlement and cannot believe that the people - the bastards! - have spoken. They have had several months now to reflect on events of 2015 and should either reconsider their stance, or, do the honest thing and quit the Labour Party. If they had any democratic beliefs they would resign their seats and offer themselves for re-election.

Richard Turner said...

I think many of us (me included) once toiled under the illusion that the New Labour Blairites only adopted their centre-right position as a compromise to win enough votes to get into power ("at any cost!"), but in truth this candy-coating concealed the opposite. At core they were Thatcherites who have sat like fat cuckoos in the Labour nest for far too long. Good riddance when they take off.

Phil said...

New Labour's a weird formation, but its believers are still Labour & should be kept within the party if at all possible. The problem isn't that they've bought into Thatcherism as such - it's that they start from the assumption that both socialism and social democracy are dead, or at least outdated and terminally unfashionable (Blair described the old-school Labour Right as 'the right wing of old socialism'). Most of the Labour leadership, from Wilson's time to John Smith's, never really believed in democratic socialism; by the mid-90s the Shadow Cabinet had spent most of their collective careers edging away from the beliefs they purported to uphold. For the Labour right and centre, New Labour appeared on the scene as a twofold answer to a crisis of faith: on one hand, they didn't have to pretend to be socialists any more; on the other, they could start believing again, but believing in something other than socialism (although what that was, apart from not being socialism, was never very well defined).

And now the old faith is back, and the old believers are popping up out of their priest-holes. The Blairites are going to have to get used to it, and it's not going to be easy for them - it's not at all surprising if some of them are dropping out altogether. But they're not Tories, and driving them over to the Tories is the last thing we should do. (Same goes for deselection. I think we could probably win the seat if Danczuk was deselected and stood as an Independent - or even if he went to UKIP - but it would be a close thing, and we can do without the distraction.)

thomas potter said...

New Labour/Old Labour/Corbyn Labour will do as they are told and look like an'opposition' till the election run-up where they will implode.

Result-more Tory rule.

Job done- fooling the plebs that they're actually something useful,

not tory stoogies after all?

The charade rolls on and on but Scotland isn't playing that game any longer.

asquith said...

RE: floods

Unknown said...

No, the membership, activists, momentum and Momentum will build, activists be trained and deployed effectively. Sometime, others in the PLP will come around and realise that this is a new tide coming in across the world: and that of the neo-liberals will be swept out with it