Sunday, 7 August 2016

Reluctant Corbynism

I'm going to tell you a story. A friend of my went for a selection in an ostensibly safe constituency. The long and short listing exercise was observed, and my comrade made it to the final three. Not wanting to mess about, the prospective prospective parliamentary candidate got the members' details and visited the first house on the list. They introduced themselves, and was told politely but firmly to save their patter. Why? Because they'd returned their voting papers by post the previous week, several full days before the shortlisting for the ballot was officially finalised. Knowing the selection was blatantly stitched for a favoured son of the party machinery, my comrade refused to participate in the farce, packed their bags, and went home.

I offer this story because something important is missing from Helen Lewis's largely okay analysis of Jeremy Corbyn's support. Part myth-buster, part explanation of what's driving 'enthusiastic Corbynism' (for want of a better phrase) Helen has performed a service for a Westminster-focused readership who range from critical to actively hostile toward all things Jez. And they need it because some of the establishment explanations of Corbynism doing the rounds would embarrass a 9/11 truth'er for their crudity and incredulity. What Helen's piece doesn't include (but doesn't, in principle, really exclude) is a sociological understanding of the movement and the social dynamics in play. Nor does it consider a fully thought through account of grievances.

The one group of members overlooked in nearly all dissections of Corbynism are the existing members switching from whoever they supported in 2015 to Jeremy. We're not talking people who joined to vote last summer and have stayed, but comrades who've knocked about the block ( as well as a few doors) and have served the party in various capacities. I know this party constituency exists because, a) I'm one of those people, and b) so are nearly all my comrades. I know folks who voted Andy, Yvette, and Liz last time who are all hitting the Corbyn button on this occasion. It's not that Jez has so much won them over, but rather the behaviour of his opponents have driven their support into the arms of his campaign. Jeremy hasn't attracted them - the political geniuses of core group hostile, you know, the people supposedly specialising in reaching out beyond bases and comfort zones, lost them.

It's not just the constant undermining and anonymous briefing in the press, though that has been disgraceful enough since day one. Nor is it necessarily even the most petty, pathetic, and mind-bendingly desperate criticisms ever to have gained circulation in the modern history of British political discourse. Nor the high-handed and haughty dismissal of members' views by MPs - you know who you are - stupidly and blindly inviting their own deselection. No, what has turned previous Corbyn-sceptics into people voting and supporting him is a protest against the gross, but so far failed, attempts at trying to stitch the party up. The attempted coup that wasn't failed because key PLP organisers were oblivious to a wider party beyond the green benches. The bureaucratic attempt to keep Jeremy off the leadership ballot, the court case that was absolutely nothing to do with them, the sudden and unexpected imposition of the six month rule and the £25 charge for supporter status available for two days only, and the disgraceful ban on all party meetings beyond leadership nominations are stark and very public manifestations of the party's historic culture of backroom chicanery. Everyone knows a story of a stitched shortlist here, an administrative suspension there, the "losing" of documents, the mysterious "dropping off" from party mailing lists, and a good proportion of long-term activists have either been party to them or copped it at the receiving end. To see this go on in a leadership contest as if there isn't a huge media spotlight beating down is as unconscionable as it is outrageous.

There are people who pretend that to care about the proper, democratic, and transparent functioning of the Labour Party is an illegitimate obsession. Especially when every spare hour should be spent campaigning and winning votes. Never mind that good internal democracy is the best way of giving intelligent and talented people whose skills go beyond back scratching a chance. The opposition to taking internal matters seriously is but a cynical veneer. They are even more obsessed with party management and factional advantage. The growing numbers of reluctant Corbynists know this, which makes their protest even more determined and a crushing victory for Jeremy more likely.

There are more reasons why I'm supporting Jeremy this time, but for the majority of reluctant Corbynism, an uncaring, selfish, stupid, and anti-democratic culture is enough for most to revolt. And to think, it could all have been very different had Jeremy's opponents eschewed smear, character assassination, and stitch-ups and gone down the route of political debate instead. Professional politicians indeed.

35 comments:

Dave Cohen said...

Well I am a little bit surprised. To me the coup was ham fisted proof, as if I still needed it, that when it comes to ruthless axe wielding we are not as good as the Tories, thank god. The coup was shambolic because despite everything many MPs still wanted the JC experiment to work, and it took days to effect. Then it took more days to work out how to take him on. Depressed as I am yet again that we failed to nominate a woman,i felt Owen was least bad option.

Phil said...

It's so stupid and unnecessary. I don't think Corbyn is the best leader Labour could possibly have, and I do think there need to be changes in the way the parliamentary party runs - but these geniuses have just made achieving those changes twice as hard. If they'd just got the disappointment and outrage out of their system and then acknowledged that Corbyn (and not Dan Jarvis or Chuka Umunna) was the duly elected leader - and spent the next nine months raising their concerns diplomatically and behind the scenes - we could have had a succession plan agreed by now.

pewartstoat said...

Precisely, Phil. I have to say, I've never seen anything quite like it in 30 odd years of following progressive politics. That they have the nerve to talk about bullying beggars belief. Corbyn has been subjected to the most sustained campaign of bullying and smears in living memory.

Stewart Ellinson said...

To me the so called coup just exposed how bloody minded JC is and how our party processes allow this farce to go on. A leader who doesn't command the support of the PLP is no leader at all. We are now in a huge hole with a leader who's out of touch with the electorate and a party that seems condemned to spend the next ten years in opposotion. To me, much current politics is about a desperate quest for authenticity, be it real socialism, the real British or whatever. It seems a retreat from the chaos and uncertainty of the postmodern world. It also seems doomed to failure.

Tony Walley said...

So from Yvette to Jeremy in under a year? Way to go Phil - jaw dropping given that you penned the words "I just don't fancy our chances if we go to the country with him at the helm."

Dave Cohen said...

It was his incompetence that forced their hand. Even McDonnell and Abbott accept that he is incapable of management and leadership.

StreetArt said...

Or what about this for an idea? Jeremy Corbyn is the breath of fresh air, with real socialist principles the Labour Party needs - maybe the majority of Labour members should be allowed to have the leader they chose?

Anonymous said...

Well, some of us voted for JC - and will do again - because we actually like his policies. Owen doesn't have any(Corbyn-lite?)and no one else is taking on neoliberalism. So it isn't all about the chicanery, it's about the bankruptcy of what we have, the focus on elites and tolerance of inequality, austerity, the undermining of the fabric of public life, the valuing of the concept of public good..... and this is not just a UK movement.

Mathias Alexander said...

Corbyn won by not being any of the other candidates. Not being associated with light touch bank regulation, doing nothing about tax avoidance, PFI, civil liberties etc.

On an unrelated topic did you know that Bing lists you as a site that is a possible security threat?

pewartstoat said...

Today's vote has inspired me to write a self-help book for the PLP: 'Whining Ugly'.

MikeB said...

What the coup-plotters don't seem to get is the utter pissed-off-ness of people generally, with the sense that politics has become an entirely hermetic process; that MPs operate within a privileged and enclosed world, and that they are actually all great mates who will always look after each other before the rest of us; that they are entirely without principle.

That the 'new social movement' (such as it is) has accreted around the specific figure of JC is due to the perception that he stands outside of this rather than his personal policy positions. This is why, despite adopting rather left-sounding positions, Owen has failed to mobilise grass roots support. He is so clearly operating from within the kind of insider-dealing, opportunistic, manipulative processes that people have been reacting against.

Blissex said...

«I know folks who voted Andy, Yvette, and Liz last time who are all hitting the Corbyn button on this occasion.»

But my opinion of A Burnham has improved a lot since last year. In all this New Labour madness I appreciate two of the biggest assets Labour has after J Corbyn, and they are J McDonnell and A Burnham in the shadow cabinet. So far all three have behaved with remarkable calm, equanimity and determination after what were often provocations.

And whether he is doing it out of personal character and/or playing the long game, A Burnham has been admirable given his past leanings. He voted for tory policies, but he did say (at the time and not later), that he was doing it only because of party discipline. Perhaps a convenient choice, but it was a choice between two bad situations.

https://twitter.com/andyburnhammp/status/747037387465826304

Both J Corbyn and J McDonnell are obviously a bit old if still in good shape, and the demands of even shadow office are exhausting. They are holding well now, but perhaps they think their main role is to keep things together now and then hand over to someone else. That A Burnham is still there with them probably means that he has taken a different path from the Progress people, and that may count in the future. After all he seems to be a brownite ("aspirational socialism"), not a mandelsonian (aspirational quasi-conservatism).

Blissex said...

«the gross, but so far failed, attempts at trying to stitch the party up.»

These have been going on since during the previous leadership election, for example when it appeared that J Corbyn was likely to win:

www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/16/gordon-brown-warning-against-jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership
«It was reported on Sunday night that Peter Mandelson tried unsuccessfully to get the three frontbench candidates to quit in an effort to force the party to suspend the election.»

«the sudden and unexpected imposition of the six month rule and the £25 charge for supporter status available for two days only,»

Apparently that was done as a little tail to a meeting after J Corbyn had left. Very plausible style.

Blissex said...

«had Jeremy's opponents eschewed smear, character assassination, and stitch-ups and gone down the route of political debate instead»

You can see that I have taken a linking to A Burham, so I'll quote what he said during the previous leadership contest:

«The shadow health secretary will also offer to work with Corbyn if he wins, promising to “involve Jeremy and his team in rebuilding our party from the bottom up”.»

He lost, but so far he has kept that promise. As A Burnham stands by J Corbyn, and A Burnham seems a cautious "brownite" centrist, that shows how absurd the more delusional attacks on J Corbyn are.

Blissex said...

«The coup was shambolic because [ ... ] and it took days to effect»

As several commentators pointed out, the staggered schedule of resignations etc. seemed designed by a "spin doctor" to make as much damage as possible for as long as possible. Quite plausibly it was staggered and dragged on to distract attention as much as possible from the release of the Chilcot report. It has also being reported that the schedule organized by people working for a well connected PR/lobbying company.

www.thecanary.co/2016/06/28/truth-behind-labour-coup-really-began-manufactured-exclusive/

Ju said...

He may not be the best leader Labour could possibly have but had the rest of the MPs respected their membership, they might have stayed to work with him and if they felt the need, to moderate his 'extremism'. As an outsider who would never have voted for the Labour Party with Blair, it's had to fathom the real reasons why genuine Labour supporters could have such an issue with a left stance. What has a right-centre Labour Party got that any of the other parties haven't?

Anonymous said...

Corbyn seems to me as a novice in this to be an ordinary kind of man with genuine convictions.I don't want any super slick super smart charismatic twat Thankyou.Been there and done it.Integrity honesty and perhaps a capacity to take ordinary people like me with him is what makes Corbyn sadly unique .We need politics done differently in the Uk...perhaps this might be the first small step!

Anonymous said...

Great article. The chicanery you speak of, the party as "machine" rather than "movement", speaks to my impression also. I feel there's a collective culture gone badly wrong in Labour, and even if it were to regain power in this state, I doubt it would be capable of putting country before party in any meaningful sense.

Ultimately, given that the coming boundary changes make electoral success next time next to impossible anyway, I cannot help but conclude that an attempt to fix the internal culture of the party is the long term fix the party needs. Stories like this help, in a small but incredibly meaningful way.

Good job.

mryashin said...

I came into the summer regarding Corbyn as thick and incompetent but ultimately a sort of benign idiot who was doing the best he could having been promoted beyond his ability. A real life Chance the gardener.

But the antics of the last few months have left me disgusted with him. It is clear that he has no sense of honour, no respect for parliament or for the Labour Party (the Labour 'movement' is another matter), and will happily break a great political institution on the rocks of his own vanity and outmoded ideology.

Bruce Meredeen said...

Spot on

Anonymous said...

They could have shored up his weaknesses instead of just trying to undermine him at all opportunities.
They could have given him "enough rope to hang himself".

Above all they could have not picked the single best chance in 40 years to enjoy the tories in disarray as the time to completely wreck the party even knowing they weren't going to be able to win.
The only chance they ever had of dislodging JC was to keep him off the ballot which would have outright killed the party anyway.

Anonymous said...

Baffled me during the last Leadership Election that the two women who claimed to just want Corbyn not to win didn't stand down then in favour of Burnham when clearly some of his support would go to Corbyn if he was knocked out first (not that it would have mattered).

..well actually it doesn't baffle me at all, it just proved they we more interested in their own ambition than their perception of the good of the party.

Anonymous said...

On those rare occasions we actually get to hear him speak rather than getting second- or third-hand reports, he sounds pretty good to me.

If you can look at the last few weeks and think Corbyn is the one to have behaved badly then there really is no hope for you.

Speedy said...

You talk often of Tory decadence but this is surely Left decadence - to ignore the fact that the party exists to win power in a parliamentary democracy and will not with JC at the helm. That's the long and short of it - a conscious choice to not participate in the struggle for power and a complete negation of the purpose the Labour Party was created to serve. Post-Corbyn, ten years down the line, the dead hand of Momentum will be such that the parliamentary party, what is left of it, will remain out of power for many years to come. Meanwhile the supposedly "declining" Tories will have had free rein for decades. It goes without saying this is a betrayal of the working class, etc. Visions of Hitler in his bunker as Berlin collapsed around him ranting the Germans had got what they deserved for not bring Aryan enough. The Labour Party will become just that - a party for self-righteous lefties to rail against iniquities while doing absolutely nothing to prevent them. And you still won't get why ordinary people think you are irrelevant.

The Mullett Falcon said...

You're a hundred percent right. This endless, ridiculous politicking in plain sight has made them look like complete fools. Even, hey, I'm going to say the word! UNELECTABLE.

Their willingness to act in that way and bring such negative attention onto themselves as a whole has given the lie to what may well have been a valid criticism of Corbyn.

John Denver said...

What on earth is Hitler in his bunker doing in the middle of your piece?

John Denver said...

Really excellent piece outlining the shenanigans of labour. Anyone who has seen the iron discipline & repeated procedural stitch ups of progress run councils of Southwark & Lambeth merrily closing libraries evicting small businesses & decanting council tenants as they make south London a paradise for property developers to know what we have in store.

Blair at least had charisma. And to begin with anyway a recognition of the need to change. Now that need is much greater. The fiddles and avoiding difficult questions exemplified by PFI & right to buy don't work any more. The Labour generation following blair & brown are people who rose by Doing as they were told - The people who got the safe seat your friend was denied a chance at.

Most of them are a poisonous combination of entitled charmless unimaginative scheming and often with a mean bullying streak. Those after all are the qualities that got them their seats in the first place.

Phil said...

Thanks for the heads up, Mathias. I've had another check and it seems fine now. Most curious ...

Emy said...

Myashin - your comments strangely invert he truth. It's the coup plotters who have no respect for the Labour Party. They can be replaced with those more reflective of the party's true values.

Lidl_Janus said...

"when it comes to ruthless axe wielding we are not as good as the Tories, thank god"

Actually, I'd say this is the one positive quality about the Tory party, and precisely what makes them effective - they don't tolerate ineffectiveness, where "ineffectiveness" is anything which doesn't further execution of policy. There was always talk of getting rid of Cameron, but it never happened until the referendum because all polling and evidence suggested his was more popular, nationally, than the Tories as a whole. Similarly, once Andrea Leadsom became regarded as a Tory Corbyn, she ceased to be viable as a candidate for leadership. Even if she gave members everything they wanted, she was too much of a risk in 2016, and even she knew it (hence her dropping out). Maybe after another 10 years of Tory government, with the landscape nudging further rightwards over said decade, someone like her will assume leadership - but even if this doesn't happen, perhaps the Labour PM will be someone akin to Liz Kendall - and so, even in opposition, the Tories won't lose out too badly.

It's one of the baffling ironies of British politics that the left (especially so the far-left) demonstrates the chaos of individualism, with everyone yanking to get their way and about fifty thousand equally ineffective far-left parties standing each election, and yet the right, year after year, largely demonstrates what compromising for the collective struggle can achieve.

Speedy said...

Oh, Hitler. Point being that the Left does not really give a toss about the people the Labour Party was created to serve, and as harsher and harsher Tory policies apply it will howl that "our people" deserve it for not recognising the ideological purity of Corbyn's Labour. The evolving strategy will, of course, be to track further to the left - point being that they will convince themselves the people will one day have enough of the Tories. Just like they did in the 1980s. Tragedy/ farce in spades. Except this time it is different. The economy is forecast to lose 4 per cent GDP by the time the dust settles in post-Brexit Britain (which JC did much to facilitate, incidentally) and so there will be no New Labour spending splurge, just the death of the Left (which will become as eccentric and sad as a Communist in America) and a kind of Democrat opposition whose policies will be as about as ambitious as Obama's today.

During the greatest peacetime crisis the UK has experienced, there has been no Labour voice and when it is over there will be no parliamentary Labour Party.

Phil said...

Here's an old something about Hitler and the sociology of social movements. I didn't want to put it in the piece above lest someone got it into their heads I was comparing Jeremy Corbyn with him.

Blissex said...

«The fiddles and avoiding difficult questions exemplified by PFI & right to buy don't work any more.»

Those were only possible because of the scottish oil revenue, flattering both the tax take and exports, allowing a much looser credit policy than previously.

That's just about come to an end, this is the most important graph in the history of UK economy and politics 1980 onwards:

mazamascience.com/OilExport/output_en/Exports_BP_2016_oil_bbl_GB_MZM_NONE_auto_M.png

T Blair wrote very persuasively about this in 1987, well before turning into a committed mandelsonian:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v09/n19/tony-blair/diary
««Mrs Thatcher has enjoyed two advantages over any other post-war premier. First, her arrival in Downing Street coincided with North Sea oil. The importance of this windfall to the Government’s political survival is incalculable.» etc.

Currently the UK has replaced exporting oil with exporting titles to London property and this too can't go on forever.

PS "coincidentally" T Blair handed over the PM job to G Brown more or less the month UK turned from an oil exporter to an oil importer :-).

Anonymous said...

Think of Jez Corbyn as the official reciever. The Labour party is in administration until such time as the "Progress" stops.

Phil said...

A reply to the piece above from Geedon Bruce.