Friday 12 June 2015

What is Jeremy Corbyn Playing At?

The Labour leadership contest rumbles on. At the moment it's not so much 'who's going to win?' and more 'who will be on the ballot paper?'. With this in mind, that was something today a comrade espied and told me about, and that something raises some questions about Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy. But before we go there, let's do some comparisons.

First off, Twitter.

Andy Burnham, 76.8k followers
Yvette Cooper, 66.9k followers
Jeremy Corbyn, 33.6k followers
Mary Creagh, 18.3k followers
Liz Kendall, 32.3k followers

How about their leadership campaigns on the Facebook?

Andy Burnham, 4,485 likes
Yvette Cooper, 12k likes
Jeremy Corbyn, 17k likes
Mary Creagh, 2,863 likes
Liz Kendall, 2,427 likes

What about the LabourList leadership survey? 1,912 people took part.

Andy Burnham - 13%
Yvette Cooper - 9%
Jeremy Corbyn - 47%
Mary Creagh - 3%
Liz Kendall - 11%
DK/NOA - 17%

And lastly, how are things shaping up on the MPs nominations front?

Andy Burnham – 65
Yvette Cooper – 56
Jeremy Corbyn – 17
Mary Creagh – 8
Liz Kendall – 40

Overall, Jeremy isn't doing too badly. If social media is the measure of such things, it at least suggests he has the best-organised grassroots. It's the MP nominations that count, and luckily for him Andy has come out and said he would use his surplus nominations to ensure others get on the leadership ballot. After all, Burnham himself stayed in the 2010 contest thanks to David Miliband sharing the love with him and Diane Abbott. But not John McDonnell.

Clearly, it is in the interests of our party and our movement for Jez to make the final cut, whatever you might think of his politics. And again, no one doubts that he works hard for his constituents and the causes he promotes. But then this was tweeted my the honorable for Eltham earlier today:

One could read so much into this, so I'm going to do just that. If Jeremy is serious about his leadership campaign, how has this happened? Being on the left of the party he should surely know that to win or to maximise your impact, you need to organise. If we take this instance of Jeremy's reticence to pick up the dog and bone and speak to a colleague, what could it mean. It suggests to me three possible things.

1. Jeremy is completely hapless at organising and won't do the work necessary to mount a serious challenge, which says far more about him than Labour's alleged hostility to left wing social democratic politics.

2. Everyone knows he's not going to win. So rather than see matters strategically in terms of shifting political discussion inside the party and in the country, he's sitting on his hands. If you're not going to get anywhere, why make the effort?

3. Is Jeremy channelling his inner Machiavelli? By not making the final cut, Jeremy and his comrades can play the martyrs card from here on in. As some depart for barren political pastures, Jeremy consolidates his position as chief champion of lost causes. There's another hard-done-to myth that can be dined out on for years to come.

The question is going begged. What is Jeremy Corbyn playing at? 

10:20pm Update So it turns out that Jeremy is not going to accept transfers from other MPs. Apparently, he only wants nominations that are freely made. Pitiful. Is his candidacy incompetent, unserious, and cynical? Yes, it is. 

8:40am Update I've been reliably informed there is no cynicism here, nor is Jeremy's position on nominations as self-defeating as it appears to be. He prefers that they be freely made. In that case, I humbly suggest that Jeremy begins canvassing the undecideds - if he hasn't already.


asquith said...

Burnham can "boast" of having Smeeth in his column. And Hunt, in what may be the least surprising move of all time, endorses Kendall.

I'm going to that thing at Emma Bridgewater tomorrow, I'm listening to William Dalrymple. Perhaps I will see Hunt there, who's to say?

Phil said...

Ruth is backing Yvette Cooper ...

Anonymous said...

I was puzzled when I saw this tweet earlier today too. I think your first suggestion is closest to the mark, but put a little uncharitably.

My understanding is that Jeremy had no intention to run until activists petitioned for an anti-austerity candidate to stand. Hence, why he didn't announce his candidacy until some time after the other four.

Since then, he has been very active in communicating his message on TV, radio and in the newspapers. He's also maintained his own activism, e.g. speaking at the National Gallery picket.

My guess is he simply hasn't had the opportunity to contact each of the potential nominators individually. As Efford's tweet makes clear, Jeremy's grassroots supporters have been very active in campaigning on his behalf!

I do hope that Jeremy gets onto the ballot and has the opportunity to participate in the debates as a genuine anti-austerity candidate.

asquith said...

Yes, I was mistaken in my earlier comment. :(

asquith said...

Presumably all concerned have seen the relevant figures.

BTW, has anyone heard of this?

Looks like a right job :)

Boffy said...

I've known Jeremy Corbyn for nearly 40 years, from way back in the day of the SCLV, and when my regular Sunday activity was a drive down to County Hall. He is one of the nicest unassuming people I met during that time.

I tend to agree with Paul's comments over at TCF, that the left is in danger of once again fetishising leaders, or investing an inordinate amount of time on trying to win elections and get resolutions passed rather than actually building a movement, bringing about real material changes, and changing workers' consciousness.

I do not, of course, deny the importance of any of the former in also achieving the latter. As Lenin put it, "from above as well as below". But, its necessary to understand what has the primary role in this dialectical interchange, otherwise you end up in the kind of situation that many left leaders - be they parliamentary, revolutionary or trade union leaders - have found themselves in in the past, and which Syriza may be facing currently, that even if you win a position of leadership, unless the material conditions exist to bring about the changes you seek, and unless you actually do have the full backing of workers behind you, rather than that they have put you there, as the best of a bad bunch, or because they continue to have a faith in the power of leaders, it will end in disaster, as Engels described in "The Peasant War in Germany".

I understand the point of Jeremy standing, because its necessary to have a real discussion about why Labour lost, rather than allow the Blairites and the Tory media to once more create the narrative that will then hog tie Labour for the next five years. Jeremy has already been able to use that to an extent by his appearance on The Daily Politics and so on.

But, Paul is right that what we really need is to rebuild the Labour Movement from the ground up, not just at LP Branch level, but within in each local community. It would be good if we could build something like exists in the US, where they have "block committees", of activists at the level of each housing block, and street. The basis of that could be the building of tenants and residents committees. Another idea, as the trades unions rationalise into "One Big Union", would also be to go back to the arrangement the Pottery Union had in the 19th century, of having its lodges organised on the basis of where members lived rather than on where they worked.

That would facilitate the rebuilding of Trades Councils as a Trades Union Council at an area level, more like the kind of arrangement that existed with Soviets, but it would also facilitate incorporating the tenants and residents committees representatives as well as incorporating delegates from LP Branches, so as to go back to the situation at the early 20th century of having Trades and Labour Councils.

As paul says, it would also be a useful way of rejuvenating Co-ops of all forms, and drawing them into such Councils.

If Jeremy's or any other nomination for leader helped to raise these ideas, and build a movement around them for the rejuvenation of the Labour Movement then it would be useful. But, its the building of the movement, the winning of workers to socialist ideas, and as part of that process, the transformation of material conditions that must come first.

jim mclean said...

The main problem with community politics is that the Left emerged from communities that no longer exist. Communities built around the pit, the shipyards and factories, houses owned by the employers or controlled by Labour, the employers provided transport from the "schemes" the the workplace, Labour were in control of the allocation of houses and services, the Unions and the employers often had a role in providing leasure places, social clubs, the miners Goths. Today local councillors have little more relevance than the elected dog catchers here in Scotland they have been stripped of power by Labour and then the SNP. Then we have the main problem, the Left (in my area at least) move into communities with a know all attitude, they approach community activists and workers who have decades of combined experiance and lecture them, they call for united community action where the local activists are at times dealing with divisions based on "race" creed and colour and vendettas, drink and drugs. The Left seem to think they are dealing with activists and workers who live in a political vacuum. They fail to take into accound they are dealing with highly trained professional,imbibed with the theories of Paulo Freire,dealing with the third world within. It was quite a shock for me when I returned to education in my 50's and found out I have been missing a whole alternative take on things, and a valid one at that. There is no place to win the workers to Socialist ideas simply because there is no place where we can have a face to face interaction with the workers, the only organised workplaces, the Public and Civil services, the schools the colleges, are in the eyes of many part of the oppresive regime and the many see the left as part of the few. Local NGO's may be one way but as I have said while the traditional left have been yakking a new left has been at work in the communities from the 60's and they have little faith in traditional politics. Labour must be prepared to adapt to the changes.

mat said...

I've no doubt Jezza is a lovely bloke and an excellent constituency MP - however his rejection of nomination spreading and his failure to organise effectively among the people he needs to nominate him demonstrates that he is as much a part of the reason for the collapse of the left as anyone on the further left.

Until people who believe in progressive, radical, social change are willing to reach out to others who could be convinced to work with them around areas of common interest - while not sharing all their beliefs - then pragmatists with different ideas will.

Citizen of a declining empire said...

“demonstrates that he is as much a part of the reason for the collapse of the left as anyone on the further left.”

I would say both have played a very minor role in the collapse of the left. The failure of the Soviet Union, the success of capitalism to continually overcome its contradictions, the development of labour saving technology and the relocation of production have all been more important factors in the collapse.

Oh and not forgetting consumerism, which is probably a result of some of the above. It wasn’t the Stalinist left that defeated us, it was the 2 weeks in the sun and the mobile phone delivered the nail in the coffin.

Hegel was wrong; the irrational will not wither and die. Socialism is a dead idea, prepare for the journey into barbarism!

Barman, another beer please.

Boffy said...


I agree with most of what you say Jim, but its for those reasons I suggest the Left via the LP at this Branch or block level has to build the kind of structures I suggested.

There are still "community" issues, even if there are not traditional communities of the kind you describe. The point is to build the "community" around the issues. Take the campaigns over gentrification, for example, and tenants be they council, social or private, continually have issues that can only be resolved collectively.

The point is to resolve those problems by workers themselves changing the material conditions, building worker owned co-operative housing as an alternative form to the existing provision, for example; building worker owned co-operative construction companies to build the housing, carry out maintenance, and train unemployed workers to do the work.

Similarly, local community facilities should be reclaimed by the community to provide workers education and training, taking it out of the control of the capitalist state. Schools in particular re left empty for much of the day and year, when they could be a centre for alternative education, and community organisation and entertainment.

Changing the material conditions in this way, changes the conditions under which labour confronts capital, redressing some of the power imbalance, but in the process it also creates new structures within which workers can organise, as well as helping develop the concept of workers self-organisation and self liberation, leading to what marx describes, workers self government.

Anonymous said...

"We must take Liz Kendal on her word- she is a fearless defender of the unions"

"Jeremy Corbyn may be trying to split the Labour Party and become the champion of lost causes by running a desperate campaign for labour leader- his hidden Machiavellian intentions are clear"

I paraphrase, but you get the point. The slimy ladder of the Labour Party is your motive I suppose?