All this, I'm afraid to say, is in spite of Jeremy. I would be lying to say I was enamoured with him before last summer, and since taking up residence in the leader's office my scepticism grew over into disappointment and, on occasion, got tinged with despair. The greatest opportunity the Labour left, indeed the left as a whole has had in modern times, and it was in danger of fucking up because of unforced errors and daft decisions. Yes, the PLP and media have been arseholes, but that would happen if Jeremy or similar sweated trough-loads of charisma, or was Competent McCompetentface, the honourable member for Competent Central. And what else has stirred my pot of disappointment is, well, Jeremy isn't exactly a newbie. As a MP of over 30 years and a lifelong labour movement activist, on the very basic details - organisation, messaging, discipline, competence - the sad truth is Jeremy has been found surprisingly wanting and occasionally naive. It is frustrating, sometimes embarrassing, and time after time given opponents and enemies targets so large they scarcely had to aim to hit them. Even worse, despite acknowledging mistakes and recognising he needs to do better, it still goes on. On the long awaited day Jez finally triumphed at Prime Minister's Questions, leaving Theresa May looking wooden and out of sorts, who thought it would be a good idea to write down a "hit list" of recalcitrant MPs, let alone leak it? Unconscionable amateurism.
"There is nothing socialist about incompetence", as one of my comrades put it recently. And he voted Jeremy last year. Like many other members who've repented their previous support, it's these issues that are the killer. And, crucially, they are for the wider electorate too. The party may be chaotic, but if the leader at the centre of it gives the impression of not coping well, then despite all their other talents and qualities this is fatal to our election chances, and imperils the relationship between our party and the new people flooding in and rejuvenating our politics. Simply put, Jeremy must up his game because, otherwise and eventually, his opponents will get the upper hand and win and the episode of his leadership will come to nought. This time, they were clueless, foolish enough to take constitutional phantasms for real relationships, and failed to understand their own party. They won't make the same mistake twice.
Luckily for Jeremy and everyone who's placed their hopes in his leadership, the situation is salvageable. The opportunity to fundamentally change politics and the country remains open. His being confirmed in position this coming Saturday will underline that, and it's likely another wave of new members will pour into the party. Some old hands are going to leave to spend more time with their bitter tweeting, and others could get under the duvet with the LibDems, but the losses are sure to be more than outweighed by the gains. To consolidate this and have a hope of winning over even more people, enough to carry the party back to power, we have no choice but to marry the impulse toward being a social movement relevant to the lives of ordinary people with the vision, ideas, and competence of a government in waiting. That's the challenge Jeremy's leadership must meet, but with a split parliamentary party and all the other problems unlikely to disappear it's going to be tough. Nevertheless, there are things he and his team can do to steady the party's course and set it on an even keel. Some are managerial and technical, some political, and while not guaranteed to magic bullet every difficulty away, they could make a positive difference.
Firstly, it's time for a tighter ship. This doesn't require the employ of a Malcolm Tucker of the left (though my rates are reasonable) or a Tom Watson to growl "traitor" at MPs walking through the wrong lobby. At the most basic level of organising the office, there has to be a grid and one Jeremy and team should single-mindedly stick to. There can be no more embarrassments like the leader undermining the party's day of action on transport, and therefore alienating good honest party people like Lilian Greenwood. With the exception of emergencies, the plan must always be adhered to. The method mostly served Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell well, and it could us too. Related to this is a problem oft-highlighted by former front benchers. This was how Jez would listen, promise to act on their suggestions/concerns, and then do nothing. I'm a bugger for this sort of behaviour too, especially when it comes to washing the pots. But there is a difference between a few dirty dishes and the political direction of our party and movement. If Jeremy is boss, he's got to start acting like one. Whether he pulls his own finger out, or has an empowered office manager that ensures meeting outcomes are implemented, it doesn't matter, as long as it gets done. Simple, basic stuff.
Then there's the biggest difficulty - re-winning the confidence of enough of the PLP so front bench functions can be maintained. The recent spat over shadow cabinet elections was so much factional jostling bound to end in zero agreement. But even with elections, there are some MPs who are lost forever. Over the coming year, it is to be hoped they will attend more to constituency matters instead of courting their own deselection. Meanwhile, there are just enough MPs who, for the good of the party, are willing to give a stint in Jeremy's cabinet another try. It behooves Jez to make this work. One way it might pique the interests of some is by offering them de facto autonomy in their briefs, which would mean freedom to develop policy provided it's consistent with the overall direction of the party (sorry Liz, no more business penetration of public services, ta muchly). This could prove attractive because it's the very opposite of how Ed Miliband used to run things. Shadow ministers frequently complained about micromanagement and interference with their briefs, and were weary of running every dot and comma of every press release and speech by his office, and especially the irritating insertion of the compulsory "as Ed Miliband says/thinks/has shown" line, Kim Jong-un style. Provided it is managed well and communication flows properly, giving shadcab members much more room allows for the emergence of something Jeremy very definitely believes in: collective leadership. If local authority Labour groups, whether governing or in opposition can manage it, there's no reason why our leading lights, the party's crème de la crème cannot.
As we know, former "A-listers" are seeking out powerful committee positions and there's the persistent rumour of that shadow shadow cabinet set to provide "proper" opposition to the Tories. To be honest, I have no problem with our Rachel Reevess and Michael Dughers tearing the Tories a new one from the back benches. It would be an improvement on what they did in office. But there are very significant policy challenges coming down the line that require the application of talent and intellect. As this wing of the party aren't short of wonky brains, and I mean that in the nicest possible way, they would do the party and themselves a service by heading policy commissions (as mandated by the leader's office). These should lead and feed from the hitherto moribund National Policy Forum process. It's not as though there aren't problems to be discussed. Climate change, refugees, Brexit, the new economy, electoral and constitutional reform, automation and the future of work, life long learning, care and the ageing society, the NHS, and so on. We often hear there's unanimity on the Labour benches around domestic policy issues, so let's see this in action. Because if we're ever going to win, we need distinctive definitions, understandings, and strategies for addressing these politically contested problems.
Jez has to do politics better. His performance last week at PMQs show he can galvanise and unify the party on the right issues. But sometimes, it is necessary to make compromises too, of realising there are big fights to concentrate on and causes one should not die in a ditch for. One of these, as far as I'm concerned, is Trident and nuclear weapons. I fundamentally agree with Paul Mason on this issue. Nukes may be repugnant and Trident a waste of money, but if accepting their renewal smooths the path to power it's a price the party should be willing to pay. Not least because nuclear power status feeds into a complex of security anxieties. To put it simply, there are a lot of otherwise sensible voters who would not support Labour if they think our party is going to make them less safe. Jez doesn't have to hug a warhead, not least because it would be entirely inauthentic. Instead, all he needs do is signal that settled party policy stays settled. There is absolutely nothing to be gained from stirring up the party even more about an issue the public don't care about, unless it is made an issue. Magnifying division is never a clever move. Far more helpful would be concentrating on matters the party can rally around and where the Tories are weak, like education, the economy, health, housing, and Brexit. These are the grounds on which the next election, whenever that is, will be fought and won, so we need to make that terrain ours by relentlessly attacking them and their record on it.
Not an exhaustive list, but something for comrades to think about. In his long interview with Gary Younge, Jez reflected that people wanted him to be tougher, but added that it's not his style. No, we don't need him to be tougher. We need him to be smarter. With the support of good, close comrades and with the goodwill of most of the party behind him, Jeremy can rise to the challenge. Politics doesn't often give out second chances, but it has this time. Don't waste it.