Tuesday 1 December 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Syria Crisis

1. The media's reduction of the drive to bomb Syria to a crisis in the Labour Party says a great deal about their desire to do Jeremy Corbyn in. That, however, doesn't mean the party isn't in crisis.

2. Even if Jeremy had a team of super canny Malcolm Tuckers around him and ran a smooth media operation with nary a hitch, questions of peace and war were always going to present his leadership with serious difficulties. In normal times with a "mainstream" leader, significant divisions among the party are normal. With an avowed anti-war campaigner at the helm, military-minded MPs were destined to have a tough time going along with Jeremy's brand of pacifism.

3. In the summer, I suggested that the mass ranks of radicalised members would be a means to hold a recalcitrant PLP in check. You might argue that the sound and the fury of recent weeks suggests the thesis is bunk. Au contraire, were it not for the brooding majority of - still - largely unorganised Jeremy supporters, a lot more than the gnashing of teeth would have taken place. The calls for coups last weekend would have materialised as an actual putsch were the balance of forces in the party any different. Of course, while weak in his own shadow cabinet, let alone the PLP, Jeremy and his team know this is their trump card.

4. The weekend's email out to members irked a good number of MPs because this was a shot across the bow, a reminder that Jeremy is far stronger among the grass roots than they. It was crude, sure, but effective. The 75,000 emails (apparently) received in return backing the leader's stance would not have passed muster where polling science is concerned, but it was a blunt instrument reminding some wavering MPs who the boss is. I've seen some denounce this as outrageous, but that's what happens when the membership in membership organisations assert themselves. The only way around this is to recruit more like-minded people.

5. Ah, recruitment. The pro-Jeremy faction is strong in the party, and arguably getting stronger. Members in the centre and on the right are starting to trickle away. Celebs like Matt Forde (who?) and Robert Webb have disappeared. Soft celebrity types are one thing, but when relatively well-known activists like ex-NUS president Gemma Tumelty (not known as a 4.5%'er, incidentally) are off, then things are a-shifting. Meanwhile, the member ticker keeps going up - and I doubt those new arrivals are being recruited to dilute Corbynism.

6. Nevertheless, Jeremy has attracted some brickbats from the left for not imposing a whipped vote. Whether this would have been possible without majority support of the shadow cabinet is a matter for the rule book geeks, the point is it could have got very ugly and, as hard as it might seem, have caused even more damage to the party and stored up more trouble for the future. Whatever you think of Jeremy, he sees himself as a party person and will do all he can to avoid a SDP-style split.

7. This isn't to say Jeremy couldn't have played his hand better. As a student of political manoeuvres and strategising, in my opinion rank amateurism remains the hallmark of his tenure so far. Dear old Ed Miliband made me wince from time to time, but at the moment it's multiple times every week. There is a certain reticence to Jeremy, which I noted in the leadership's pre-election period, a reluctance to lead from the front. All last week for example it was Ken Livingstone, when not causing controversies of his own, who was going around putting the alternative to Dave's phony war plans - that is targeted air strikes combined with a multi-national force under the UN umbrella. One can assume Jeremy is sympathetic to the plan as Ken wouldn't have been wheeled out to punt for it. Had the leader made that case as a more serious alternative to the Prime Minister's vacuous scheme, then some of the shouting and division might have been avoided.

8. This isn't because Jeremy is lacking backbone, it's a question of culture. As Len McCluskey observed in a criticism from the right, he's still in campaigner as opposed to Leader of the Opposition mode. That can have some strengths and populist pull, but in other respects it's a major disadvantage. The amateurism and awkward associations, opposing this but not being forthright on that. What Jeremy is lacking so far and, unfortunately for him, shows no signs of demonstrating is the need to build a hegemonic project over the PLP and then the electorate. While the former may be out of step with the party, their views as a rule are not out of step with the country. Win them over in sufficient numbers, then the rest of the country can be conquered. Reliance on browbeating them with effective deselection via the boundary review demonstrates the distance between the party now and where it needs to be to win.

9. Last but not least, Jeremy isn't going anywhere for now. Do I think he'll be there in 2020? No, but that's for another post.


Speedy said...

Most of the activist, formerly working, lower-middle class members of Labour (who are now more or less middle class) I know have basically given up. For people like us, for whom its really about class and bread and butter issues, rather than all this intersectional lark, the party is no longer fit for purpose - it is not about "the labour movement" but about the Left, with its whiggish, bourgeois concerns. Really, things have gone full circle.

I think its telling that the recent analysis of the Oldham electorate suggests that Labour will rely on Asian "postal votes" and Tory voters to stay in, having utterly lost traditional working class voters.

What's needed is a new movement for the working class. Unfortunately only UKIP currently fit the bill, and they are hardly their champions. The thing is, most Leftists actually loathe the working class, which is why it has to come from within its ranks, which doesn't seem very likely. Tommy Robinson, anyone?

What this means in reality is Tory hegemony. Really, we're back to the 19th Century, and most of the "new" Labour supporters wouldn't have it any other way.

Igor Belanov said...

Criticising Corbyn for 'amateurishness' is below the belt and somewhat pointless. He didn't pose as some kind of PR figure or machiavellian manipulator during his election campaign, and the entire source of his appeal was that he represented what you patronisingly regard as 'amateurishness' against the more tarnished image of politicians that his opponents do so much to confirm.

I can certainly think of ways to criticise aspects of Corbyn's leadership, but to question why a 66-year old MP who represents the complete antithesis of a 'career politician' should suddenly morph into some kind of slick image-obsessed operator is just daft.

The real question is how the 'traditional' professional politicians got it so badly wrong that some one like Corbyn was overwhelmingly elected, and also why they are so determined to deny or ignore that there is a problem.

John Edwards said...

In paragraph 4 surely you mean "a shot across the bow" not bough

Speedy said...

Wow. This is almost exactly what i was saying, even down to the "UKIP is like the new Labour, innit."


Anonymous said...


Sorry but if you're now "more or less middle class" you have no special claim to be part of "the labour movement". My call centre colleagues and my former colleagues in contract packing factories would love to discuss sometime - incidentally, a high proportion of them are female or of an ethnic minority, so your reasoning about intersectionality is off the mark too.
Basically you're wrong, twice.

BCFG said...

To speedy the working have nothing more to offer humanity other than, send the natives back to where they came from. Beyond shitting and eating this is all their little minds can muster.

To speedy the working class are unable to rise above the level of the incoherent idiot and any party dedicated to the working class must reflect this fact.

It is a very Middle Class view of the working class. So it is speedy who really hates the working class. Either that or he wants a working class in his image, i.e. incoherent idiot.

asquith said...

My opposition to Jezza is no secret, but I'm actually becoming grateful to Ed Miliband for preventing Camoron doing his Anthony Eden tribute act, and now for this:

I don't trust the reasoning Jezza has used, but the question is about how best to rid the world of Islamic State, and it's not the Cast-Iron Dave way.

Daily I am troubled by our "alliance" to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Who is it that decided Assad is haraam but the Saudi actions in Yemen are fine by "our" government?

As an ex-Catholic (sometimes feeling more Catholic than ex, even though I don't think god exists) I am considering an excellent piece of wisdom:

"When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation."

And who's to say that the Saudi-sponsored "moderates" won't do rancid things of their own, worse than Assad? He and Saddam Hussein were demons but we can all imagine seven jihadist demons.

The thing is, the old-line secular dictators are probably less bad than what came after, but in the long-term they couldn't sustain themselves. Even without America, the Hosni Mubaraks of this world couldn't deal with a large and growing population, many unmarriageable young men (always lethal, that) whose "choices" were unemployment or the army.

All of this of course made worse by climate change, the desertification and famines making every problem even worse than it would have been, which is why I support the efforts under way in Paris, which of course the Holy Father has given his blessing to.

There is no certainty in these times but I have offered my statement as to why this isn't what should be done.

Speedy said...

Anonymous. As Joe Orton said: I'm from the gutter, and don't you forget that because I never will.

Having a degree and a decent job certainly makes me middle class but not so most of my family and friends, which is precisely why I support the workers party. It says much of the impoverishment of your vision for the working class that you cannot conceive it is acceptable for them to improve their lot.

It is those from a bourgeois background who cannot conceive of class inequality who do not get this. As the Manics said: Libaries gave us power.

Phil said...

"Amateurishness" in this context is about political tactics. And on this score you can't say he's played a blinder.

Igor Belanov said...

He doesn't seem to have much of a plan, no. But your objection seems to be the fact that he doesn't follow the same rules of presentation, spin and insincerity that his leadership campaign rejected.

For me Corbyn crippled himself from the beginning by
1)refusing to take the risk of splitting the party, which has basically caused his enemies to take the piss in the knowledge that he'll always look to compromise to hold the party together;
2)holding the opinion that the 2020 election is the be all and end all, and therefore forgetting longer term objectives in favour of 'traditional' moderate electioneering demands that don't capture the attention;
3)either apologising for anti-establishment principles or insisting on them as 'issues of conscience' rather than political issues, therefore diluting part of his appeal as a genuine challenge to the political status quo.

His pitch has been very moderate and conciliatory, which makes all the vitriol he has received even sadder. I fear he will go out with a whimper.