Friday 5 July 2019

Woe, Jeremy Corbyn?

Party like it's March 2017! Everyone's got it in for the Labour leader these days. The same people are making the same whingeing noises we heard in 2015, 2016, and early 2017, coincidentally. Corbyn's weak, Corbyn's indecisive, Corbyn's incoherent, Corbyn should be 20 points ahead in the polls. Politics may change, but the script never wavers. This week, the Graun have three entries in the genre. Rafael Behr reckons Corbyn is proving to be a drag on Corbynism in all sorts of areas. For Polly Toynbee, Labour are tanking because it has spent too much time fretting about its Brexit position. And to put the boot in, Corbz didn't do Glastonbury this year because he'd get booed. Who knew his 2017 one off came with the expectation of a residency?

Of course, matters at the moment are less than ideal. If history was guided by reason, the Tory vote would have splintered under the impact of their Brexit crisis while Labour enjoys a commanding lead, comfortably ahead thanks to the powerful coalition of voters built at the last general election. But because we don't inhabit a fantasy world, criticisms of Corbyn - of which Behr and Toynbee's are typical - take issue with the fact we don't. Sometimes, you could be forgiven for thinking the only people who believe the magic grandpa stuff are his detractors. Meanwhile, the vote shares of the main parties have collapsed and politics resembles something like the first round of French presidential elections, with four viable contenders duking it out. The question is could Labour have avoided this by moving its Brexit position?

Possibly. There is a conspiracy theory in some centrist and left wing circles that Corbyn is either a secret Brexiteer, or is imprisoned by a shadowy cabal of lexit-loving Stalinists. If they didn't have any influence then all would be good. As here as per all conspiracy theories, reality is somewhat more complex. The two stubborn facts that just won't go away are a) remain lost the EU referendum and, by a narrow margin, the electorate voted to leave, b) a third of Labour's support Brexit. The conclusion flowing from this is since socialism and democracy are inseparable, setting aside the referendum result is anti-democratic and can store up big trouble for political legitimacy later on. The position of Corbynism in government when it faces the inevitable opposition from capital is more secure if democracy is on its side. Therefore the reason why Labour's default position is for a Brexit deal is principled and practical, and would also be the case if someone else was leading the party right now, whether they were planning on a transformative programme or the tepid miserablism of meagre amelioration. Labour, like all parties, make certain adaptations to political realities: there's no need for idiotic conspiracism to explain its positioning.

And so there has been a change and Labour's position has shifted. This year Corbyn has either sponsored or supported four Commons votes on avoiding no deal, avoiding May's damaging deal, and backing a final say referendum on any deal. Either the leadership are trying very hard to conceal their Lexit preferences, or their position is shifting as the facts change. However, the reason why we're at this four-party impasse is because of an over stress on the politics of 2017 - that were possible because Brexit was temporarily negated as an issue - were found wanting once the Brexit process entered its most acute, crisis phase. We entered the EU elections as if we were approaching a general election. The responsibility for this lies with the leadership, but the reason why it failed has a number of other authors.

Back in October, I got some stick for suggesting the so-called People's Vote marches constituted a bourgeois social movement. Not because they were "inauthentic" or astroturf, but because they were organised and run by elites who determined the speakers and the political colouration of the campaign. Seriously, who but a Westminster insider with no life beyond SW1A thought Alastair Campbell fronting it up would be a good idea? Within these elite circles there were some for whom their Europeanism was a handy for driving a wedge between Jeremy Corbyn and the remain sympathies of the Corbynist base. Some Labour MPs, some of them on the left, campaigned away for a second referendum or their remain and reform position, and others did so entirely cynically. How curious it is to find the party's deputy leader keeping the attrition of the cold coup (© @CatherineBuca) going with a sudden found enthusiasm not for a second referendum, but for a hard remain position. Nevertheless, renegades are gonna renege, and useful idiots will idiot, so perhaps the aftermath of that march was the point to stress the final say aspect of Labour's conference position. It would have looked like the party was bowing to popular pressure, and might even have offered some opportunities to not appear bloody minded about going for a deal first. Because we didn't, hard remain was allowed to fester in the party's ranks and support without a political answer. And, by accident and design, helped work that wedge in by opposing Labour to a final say, and effectively conniving with the Tory right and Nigel Farage to ensure Brexit is the only issue that matters.

The consequences of political actors can only go so far explaining the apparent disintegration of Labour's vote. Tom Watson does not have super powers. The other problem is the demobilisation of the vote. Corbynism is a movement that's most vital when it's in motion. 2015 and 2016 did the business of building and consolidating the base, and 2017 was its successful and audacious bid to hegemonise millions of people, which is what it did. But movements don't last forever, and mobilisation is never permanent. It settles down and life goes on until next time. Since the election, and despite the burst of creativity and activism around it, Corbynism in the main has settled into an abeyance of sorts. Despite attempts at pushing outwards into community organising, the support are mostly quiet and are spectators as parliamentary shenanigans and the endless anti-semitism scandal play out. Internal elections and mobilising for mandatory reselection in 2018, and upcoming selections will excite some members, but it's not the stuff out of which mass mobilisation is made. And without the coherence conferred by focus, collectives tend toward disaggregation and dispersal. Therefore Brexit politics, which lends itself to simple pro/anti- positioning, offers a point of attraction from the humdrum of commons manoeuvres and the dispiriting, energy sapping rumbling of racism.

It is difficult to see how this could have been avoided. The problem of political education is largely unaddressed, and while vitally necessary its impact on demobilisation would have mainly had party proper rather than periphery (voter) effects. Likewise, even if the narcissistic left had put the collective good before themselves, and not spent the last year baiting other lefts, we'd still be in the same position - albeit with a little less online rancour and not as much of a stain on the party's character. However, the core component of Corbynism - the activist membership - would be more united and, dare I say it, more cheerful, and better able to cope with these challenging circumstances.

However, politics moves quickly. If the Labour vote can apparently disintegrate in the face of a second order election, can it reassemble just as rapidly? Yes. The relationship between voters and parties are more transactional than was previously the case. The days of triangulating because your core has nowhere to go are done, and that applies just as much to the Tories as it does Labour. Once a general election is in play, other issues grow in salience, but while Brexit becomes one (albeit strong) issue among a handful of others, Labour's recovery is not a foregone conclusion. Yet neither is its failure.

This brings us back to the ostensible star of this piece. Oh Jeremy Corbyn, or woe Jeremy Corbyn? He's been written off more times than Boris Johnson's debts, but those who obsess over his flaws forget his appeal. Corbyn wasn't put at the top of the Labour Party twice and got more votes in 50 years than any Labour leader save Tony Blair in 1997 because of a cult-like following or messianic appeal, but because he personified a set of suppressed but attractive values, and had the policies to back them up. Despite the best efforts of his PLP and press enemies, that remains the case. And at the next general election, which is likely to be very dirty indeed, we will be reminded that Corbyn the campaigner is a very potent focal point for the movement that bears his name.


Karl Greenall said...

Thanks Phil, this needed to be said. The only show in town at the moment is the Tory leadership campaign, and when the victor is revealed on Tuesday the 23rd, a new political reality asserts itself. This is no time for those without patience.

Boffy said...

Corbyn is not weak. It takes great strength to stand in opposition to 90% of your own members, and more than 70% of Labour voters, and even more so to do that having claimed that one of the points you have in your favour is to build a member led party and to listen to the voices of the members. It takes even more strength to do that, when the ridiculous reactionary policy on Brexit you have been pursuing has so clearly failed, and is reducing Labour to a state of irrelevance in the opinion polls.

Even more does it take strength, when that same failed and reactionary policy is likely to see Labour shredded even further when Johnson rallies all of the pro-Brexit forces behind a hard right-Tory party, that will be headed for a large majority in a General Election facing a divided opposition, and the only clear anti- Brexit party in England will be the Liberals, and in Scotland will be the SNP, so that Labour's vote deserts it in droves, allowing the FPTP electoral system to turn against a Labour Party trailing in third place in the polls behind the Liberals, and destroyed in Scotland.

Corbyn is not weak and being led by the Stalinists in his inner circle, he is fully complicit in the disastrous reactionary nationalist course they have inflicted on the party, just as he is complicit in having failed to take on the Labour Right and Blair-Rights over their attacks on him and the Left in the Party over the last three years, including over anti-Semitism etc., the last disgraceful example being the collapse in allowing right-wing pressure to force the re-suspension of Chris Williamson.

Its not weakness and confusion that Corbyn is guilty of, just bad politics.

Dialectician1 said...

'The problem of political education is largely unaddressed'.

Many people who would consider themselves politically literate often simply repeat what they've just read in newspapers or heard from mainstream news programmes. Rarely does their interest in politics stretch beyond a set of opinions on a narrow range of ‘issues of the day’. Or else they are easily distracted by the tittle tattle coming from Westminster village hall. Many people form fierce allegiances with political parties but when challenged often fail to articulate a political perspective.

However, I'm amazed at how many people I now meet are suddenly experts on tariffs and international trading regulations. They are also miraculously clued up on EU regulations, the British constitution and parliamentary procedures. Just a few years ago, they would have struggled to describe to me the UKs relationship with Europe but now they have a firm understanding of the 'control' element that Britain is going to wrestle back from the Brussels bureaucrats.

And it this perceived relationship with bureaucracy which triggers much anger and contempt from people of all political persuasions. Having bought into the neoliberal agenda (the market is 'God'), any intermediaries who are involved in the exchange of goods & services (be they officials, administrators, inspectors, consultants, advisers etc) are viewed collectively as parasitic. Bureaucracy is inherently bad. With the demise of local authorities, the EU now takes up this mantle of bureaucratic bogeyman.

As articulated by Ann Widdecome’s hyperbole about slavery, this perception lies is at the heart of much of the discourse driving the Brexit agenda. Of course, there is plenty post-Empire bereavement going on and smatterings of nationalistic ‘plucky islanders’ standing alone, blah blah…..but the reality is people feel more intensely alienated and immiserated than before and seek a monolithic enemy upon which to vent their spleen.

Of course, as Max Weber was keen to point out, bureaucracy is a rational expression of capitalist organisation, which is ultimately dehumanising. It is a symptom of capitalistic production & exchange and for him there was no going back. Today, the word bureaucracy is used as a pejorative, rather than as a description of how most (all) organisations manage & administer their affairs.

Brexit is about good old fashioned capitalist alienation but (conveniently) it's the bureaucrats regulating the system who get the blame.

DFTM said...

Hasn’t Boffy joined his hero Chuka in the Liberal democrats yet? This is his natural home given his arch pro imperialism and neo liberal ‘Marxism’. He was always destined to fall out of love with a genuine progressive, it was literally only a matter of time, if it hadn’t been this it would have been something else.

Same goes for degenerates like Denham who this minute is probably preparing Geobellian propaganda in favour of the destruction of Iran! And a degenerate like Boffy will cheer on with talk of clerical fascism. Blah Blah Blah, war war war.

The Blairites and permanent state have thrown everything at Corbyn, and it all failed. So what did they try next? They attempted to create a wedge between the members and Corbyn. Boffy joins in on this latest tactic.

Corbyn is used to being against his own party by now, and going up against the entire resources of the establishment, from its state officials, it’s army of propagandists in the written press (called laughably journalists)and it’s army of pro imperialist degenerates on the web. What a tower of strength and decency he has been.

He has been fighting his own MP’s since he became leader, who have fought the dirtiest and most despicable campaign against him and the members in living memory.

I mean the Blairites have literally become Palestinian-baiters, thing is no one seems to care about that!

It isn’t Corbyn’s fault that the Tories unleashed this idiocy on us. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the entire unfree media stand with the Tories and Blairite’s then the Tories would have taken the blame for this act of gross incompetence but the outcome has been that Labour are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Again Corbyn has shown great strength in the face of this disgusting barrage by the corporate media.

Jim Denham said...

On Europe Corbyn is not so much week as simply reactionary.

His policy now seems to amount to rolling back the film of EU development over the last near-half-century, to a mere Common Market, cutting loose from the structures of European political union. This is both reactionary and profoundly undemocratic. The idea that the 2016 referendum vote to leave, by a very ill-informed electorate inflamed against Europe by fears about immigration, precludes later, better-informed reconsideration is shamefully undemocratic. It is a one-shot automatic-pilot conception of democracy, locking us into a mechanical trajectory on the authority of a referendum already three years in the past. Except that automatic-pilot systems do not rule out reassertion of direct human control.

Corbyn and his associates do. On the EU, the Corbyn Labour Party is on the side of reaction and regression. The argument in terms of democratic righteousness by Corbyn and his colleagues counterposes one-shot and then automatic-pilot against living, ongoing democracy. Here the hegemony of the conventional left in the party brings with it no real left-wing politics, but nationalist politics that properly belong to the right and the old Stalinists.

Boffy said...

Having failed to illicit a response using his "Anonymous" tag, our old troll now thinks he will perhaps have more luck using his DFTM tag. Perhaps his BCFG, CAAC, Sentinel and Chris persona are on holiday, but no doubt he will dust them off for use having failed with these other persona to provoke any response to his stupid comments.