Sunday 26 June 2016

Against the Corbyn Coup

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. The United Kingdom stands on the precipice, politics is thrown into turmoil, and the inevitable coup against Jeremy Corbyn is under way. This is a mistake. A very grave mistake, and I'm going to explain why.

There are plenty of things to criticise Jeremy's leadership for, and as a left Corbyn sceptic who didn't vote for him, I've shared a few on this very blog. And I can understand the position of the coup plotters too. While most of them have never reconciled themselves to Jeremy's politics, they want a "credible" leader who can unite the party, offer a compelling vision, and scoop up enough swing voters to carry us into government. After all, winning elections and winning power is what Labour's about, right? That's the most important thing, the only thing, surely?

Actually, there is something more important than the leadership and winning a general election in the Autumn (which may never happen - a coalition/national government is another option, as will be fleshed out in a future post). And that is the continued existence of the Labour Party. I'm afraid to say, a contest - which is happening now - imperils it. Splitting and disintegration is now a very real possibility.

The first thing to point out is despite our membership being the largest since Tony Blair was at the peak of his powers and winning the largest political party in Britain trophy by a country mile, the party's roots are shallower than they once were. This isn't because it's gone middle class or some such nonsense. Partly it has to do with long-term economic and cultural changes that are eating away at the social groups that previously and unquestioningly lent their votes to Labour by the tonnage. Unfortunately, Labour under Blair and Brown pushed policies that broke up our party's constituency even further. It's worth noting you never see the Tories set about punishing their own people. As a result of this erosion, in constituency after constituency outside London the views of (pro-Remain) Labour MPs amounted to very little. There's little mileage in blaming them for not carrying their constituencies and/or mobilising the Labour vote in greater numbers, just as there is no justification in blaming Jeremy for not making inroads into the stubbornly eurosceptic one-third of our vote. Our voice, our authority counts for very little. On non-party political questions, far fewer look to the Labour Party for leadership than was once the case.

The second point is Labour are not going to be able to reconnect with a leader who is less radical than Jeremy, and is willing to pander to anti-immigrant and welfare scrounger sentiment. "I understand people's very real concerns about immigration" smacks of insincerity and a desperate attempt at fishing for votes, and is a line that won't be bitten as other parties can bash immigrants without the fluffy caveats a centre left party must festoon its position with. But not just because of this. As Liz Kendall demonstrated in her campaign last year, she and the majority of the PLP have no conception or understanding of the crisis afflicting our support and what can be done to turn it around. They think - ironically like the Trots they despise - that the correct leadership will short circuit all the problems and land us in a better place. It won't.

The third point is the trade unions. Too many in the PLP see them as a cash dispenser they'd rather do without. They prefer unions that stump up the readies come what may without any expectations or returns. Yet, and it's a good job I never tire of saying this, unions are organisations of working people. That's all they are. They're not perfect but they remain the largest, most democratic, and potentially the most powerful collectives in civil society. So if anyone in Labour, anyone has little or no time for trade unions, then effectively they have no time for the aspirations of our people. It's as simple as that. But we've gone beyond that now. 12 union general secretaries have signed a letter in support of Jeremy Corbyn, and this worries me. I'm worried because the removal of Jeremy puts into question their backing for the party. Think about it. A Labour leader with policies and values largely aligned to those favoured by most unions is ousted by a coterie of MPs who, when in power, at best ignored and at worst attacked workers; why should a union carry on giving money and logistical support to a party where such a thing can happen? The nightmare of a split forever locking the labour movement out of power thanks to the electoral system is a possibility. I won't walk if Jeremy goes, but I and the bulk of the Labour Party would if the unions decided to start again.

Of course, there is another possibility of a split and potential extinction, and that's what happens when the coup against Jeremy fails. Despite some conveniently leaked claims,  last I heard the party membership today are pretty much the same party membership of a week ago. As Jeremy's opponents haven't spent the last nine months recruiting "moderate" voters to counter the surge for Corbynism, how then do they expect to win a leadership contest? Some might have been disappointed by Jeremy during the EU campaign (though, it should be noted, a number of PLP folks urged him to take a backseat - people now criticising him for not leading from the front), but I would wager these numbers would be swamped by party members who weren't and aren't Jez fans disgusted at their attempt to turn over a democratic election after months of constant sniping and destabilisation. And deep down the coup plotters know this, which is why no one is rushing to identify themselves as the anti-Jeremy. So what happens when they lose and Jeremy is returned as leader? A retread to attacking him for every fart and grocer's apostrophe? Shut up and bide their time while facing a hostile membership and deselections? Or form a breakaway party?

And so, this is where we are. The annoying thing about all this is while there was little movement in the polls, the work the party needs to do to strengthen itself and rebuild our position among our support was starting to happen. The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliated. For the first time, the PCS are considering it. The British Medical Association has moved closer to the labour movement. There is some evidence that Labour were slowly but surely eating into UKIP's support in local by-elections. And considering the move from three to four-party politics since 2012, the party held its position. The process of recomposition was under way, and the response to Thursday's defeat should be reaching out to the remain voters and going out on the doorsteps to listen to what our people are saying. I plan on doing that regardless, but for the party's leading lights they have abandoned what needs to be done. It's down to the members who are more interested in facing outwards to take leadership and speak to our people than MPs threatening to rip the party apart and bury it.

The choice forced on us is this. We must choose between a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, warts and all, and disintegration under someone else. I know what I'm going to vote for.


BCFG said...

The Blairites should just join the Liberal democrats or form their own party.

That wouldn't upset me in the slightest, it is exactly what we need to happen. They simply cannot accept a reasoned Social Democratic position, and have done everything to undermine it.

Corbyn's EU campaign made perfect sense, we are better in on almost every count but the EU is in drastic need of reform and we shold fight with other progressive forces to ensure it happens. What is it about that simple idea that so many people find so confusing? Seriously, WTF is it?

Throughout Europe the left centre parties are disintegrating, this is a wonderful wonderful development. In the UK the left centre party has moved left, this is its only chance for survival. If any of the Blairite careerist spin merchants replace Corbyn Labour will die and it will be good riddance.

Fee said...

The problem for me is that a Blairite labour Party was not one I would have joined. I joined because I liked the things that Jeremy Corbyn stood for, and as a Green Party member previously, I thought the best hope for social justice, the best hope for protection of the environment, and the best hope for the future renationalization of the railways and a return of the NHS and social welfare was under Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. Old-style Labour. I'm not alone, dozens of others on Social Media are saying the same. If they succeed in ousting Jeremy Corbyn I foresee those people migrating to the Green Party.

John said...

Given that so many of our heartlands voted leave, how you could say that we have eaten into UKIP's vote, as for this four party politics I have seen nobody else but you make this claim. As for union leaders in private there a lot more skeptical and quite frankly Len McCluskey has granted us tow dud leaders so he couldn't pick a winner in a one horse race.

asquith said...

tim farron for leadr

Chris said...

I didn't even vote for Corbyn, but I'd vote for him now.

He's not perfect (he shouldn't have let them suspend Ken Livingstone), but for the first time in many years we have an honest Labour leader.

I imagine the Blairites want Labour to move into the Cameronite space the Tories are now vacating. That's not what I joined for and that's not what this party was founded to do.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, that

John Boadle said...

The PCS isn't remotely considering affiliation to the Labour Party. Motions suggesting anything of the sort were thrashed at PCS conference a few weeks ago.

chocolatewig said...

I'm with Fee.
Jeremy offers honest reasoned politics, and for me dialogue. The only thing he doesn't have is a crack team of political pr monkeys telling him the sound bites.
What is wrong is that so many think he needs charisma, when it's charisma that has fooled so many..
He was right not to share a platform with Tory Remain, his reasons for remain were very different from Cameron.
I feel whatever he did it would have been wrong, whatever he said was not covered like the charisma group. I trust this guy, and that is what the bottom line is with the electorate. IMHO I'm hoping for a party split rather than demise.

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

A good piece Phil. A couple of points:

1. The unions will not walk away from having 230 MPs in the Commons who are, at least in theory, more sympathetic to their agenda than the Tories. The unions don't have the kind of political resolve and determination to 'begin again.'

2. There are many sincere socialists in the Labour Party who believe that the party can be a vehicle for building a progressive/socialist movement in the UK. History offers little support for this view. But this episode demonstrates, yet again, that a party steeped in the ideology and practice of electoralism cannot be such a vehicle. Ralph Miliband made this point many years ago. Unfortunately many refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

Attempting to build such a movement in a context defined by the priorities and rhythms of elections will always place a minority Left on the defensive, under constant pressure to unify around the priorities of the Right. The defeat of Corbyn, in whatever form it takes, will be interpreted as yet another decisive setback for what remains of the British Left.

All those who indulged the notion that having Corbyn lead the PLP could prove an effective basis for re-building the British Left should reflect on their utter stupidity.

Yes, you - Jon Lansman, Simon Fletcher, Seumus Milne, Dave Osler etc. The results of your labourist naivety will further demoralise the Left for years to come.


Boffy said...


I think you have it the wrong way round in saying "you will not walk if Jeremy goes." There is no question of Jeremy going. He has just been elected with a huge majority, and as you say the union leaders have immediately backed him. Their members will insist on continued support, and come any new Leadership election, Jeremy will win an even bigger mandate.

A split of the PLP, because that is all we are really talking about NOT a split of the party, would actually be very healthy. The majority of MP's and some of the highly paid Council Leaders owe their positions solely to the control of the party machine that the Blairites previously had, which enabled theme to impose candidates on local parties. We've seen that locally.

Those Blairites are completely out of alignment with the party they are supposed to represent. They should go, as even the SDP had the principle to do. But, they will not go voluntarily, because they know it would be to commit political suicide.

The SDP had the benefit of the times in which they split, and they had the Liberals to link up with. Even so both the SDP and Liberals have gone down the plughole of history. They will not return. And the political dynamic now is not the same as in the early 1980's. The political centre has collapsed for very real material reason stemming from changes in the global economy.

Dianne Abbot said that the Blairite MP's should just set up their own Parliamentary Party, give it a name and go off into the sunset. They won't do it voluntarily so we should give them a very good incentive. Its time to start a process of national deselections, and for party members to apply continual pressure at a local level for Blairite MP's to realise they are just causing a bad smell that is lingering in the party.

Igor Belanov said...

Sorry Boffy, but unfortunately Corbyn will not win a follow-up leadership election. As Mike suggests above, conventional party politics dictates that short-term electoral considerations such as image, media support and party unity take priority, thus privileging the professional career politicians. These careerists have the sort of power we are seeing now, where they can blackmail the rest of the party by fear of the electoral consequences. Corbyn can barely get enough MPs to fill his shadow cabinet, and his opponents will point this out with glee in any leadership contest. In the interests of 'the party' (in effect the PLP) enough members will vote against Corbyn and turf him out.

The PLP basically see voters as a potential bank to be manipulated for the benefit of their political careers. They are not interested in representing people or principles. They have failed miserably in the past 10 years, but they will plough on, and plenty will support them as the 'lesser-evil'.

As Mike says, it is vital that socialists (and even principled liberals) break with this logic and break with the small clique of careerists.

Organized Rage. said...

Perhaps we are coming at this from the wrong end, could it be this reactionary rump intend to walk away and hope to do so by leaving LP in chaos. No one has stepped forward as a leadership candidate why, because they know the overall membership would not howl them down, but roar with laughter. There is no one amongst them with leadership qualities which has a hope in hell of gaining mass support from working class people.

And they know it.

If the moment comes better to get a leadership contest over and then slap them down hard, and if they don't already have it give them a reason to go by making reselection compulsory for all MP's. The SNP already does this, every MP and MSP must seek reselection as the candidate for every election. Why should a Labour MP expect a job for life when the Blairites have made it clear most of us cannot expect that? Policies is a tough old game it's time for Jeremy to remove kid gloves. Fuck the Mr Nice guy crap by stirring the shite at this time, of all times, these renegades deserve all they get.

Anonymous said...

I joined the Labour Party four months ago and am already preparing to leave it because the ideals and philosophy Corbyn embodies are those I agree with.Sadly I have very little trust in other politicians generally and the current situation supports this cynicism.I am appalled that after Joe Cox's murder and all that we have been through in the last few days the Labour supposed elite should behave in such a way.I don,t know the rules but quite frankly deselection is too good for them.Such self obsessed arrogance betrays any claim to higher motives.We are now in a battle and we don't want folk like that on our side anywhere!

BCFG said...

I suspect what these traitors really fear, more than anything else, is a Corbyn win should an general election be called.

They cannot afford to take that risk so they will do everything , including destroying the party, to ensure that could never happen.

MikeB said...

What an opportunity has gone - again. A profoundly reactionary, stupid, Brexit campaign that should have been toast for any left wing party truly engaged with its membership and with the working class; an opportunity that could have brought together young people, non-aligned environmentalists, BME communities, and especially all those struggling on the margins of predatory capitalist business.

How can anyone still believe that the LP is either able or willing to initiate or catalyse radical or anti-capitalist action? At best, the Party responds reluctantly to external, radical movements which act independently of its own moribund electoralism.

Where is the concrete evidence that the Party will revolutionise itself now? Or is it just hopes and wishes - again?

Gary Elsby said...

Vote Jeremy and then tell me when it happens again so I can say, Vote Jeremy again.

Unknown said...

I think everyone really needs to understand what is going on with this 'coup' and it's 'seemingly illogical?' timing just before the Chilcot Report..

Anonymous said...

Not one of the 127 coupers Voted against austerity if winning an election comes at the expense of the most vulnerable and needy in our society then we are not fit to govern.Most of them if not all,voted persistently for war in Iraq then voted persistently against an inquiry into the War in Iraq? Chilcot Report is due then we get this shocking coup.Jeremy Corbyn simply reflects how the working classes are feeling the coupers have accepted austerity they are not opposing the opposition and as a result of the horrifying treatment of the poor and the vulnerable,the secret arms deals fueling endless war which leads to the refugee crisis which adds to immigration,all for profit.They preach austerity while they frit away our hard earned tax,they stash theirs in tax havens and we get to pay the offset hence the invention of austerity.People have had enough,the coupers offer more of the same JeremyCorbyn represents the changes we demand.