Tuesday 25 February 2020

Why I'm Voting for Rebecca Long-Bailey

Despite the recent guest posts making the case for the three leadership candidates, it will come as no surprise to readers that I'm supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey. But let's start off with a conciliatory tone. The truth of the matter is whoever wins the contest, they could win a general election in 2024, which is why I find the overwrought concerns about electability based on what happened in December a bit puzzling. The power of the right wing press as a means of cohering older voters will have declined five years hence. Brexit as an issue will be dead and buried (well, we'll see), the polarisation we see around class cohort lines expressed as a generational war is not disappearing anywhere fast, and with the consequences of decades of climate inaction becoming increasingly obvious, all three Labour contenders are electable. Which is why this leadership contest is so important.

As far as I'm concerned, Lisa Nandy is a non-starter. There's the equivocation over backing workers against bullying bosses - you know, one of the reasons why the labour movement was set up in the first place. Her slippery approach to political commitments, like simultaneously arguing for and against the abolition of tuition fees. The "friends" who have gathered around her campaign, among whom number the very worst of Labour MPs, recent past and present. And then there is the small matter of habitual dishonesty. To face a liar with an inveterate fibber of our own is just stirring up trouble. This is a real shame, because Lisa is not without commendable qualities. During the campaign she has occasionally offered thoughtful positions, such as this on BBC reform and refloating the notion of the foundational economy. And she's undoubtedly an accomplished media performer. Her supporters are right to laud her interview with Andrew Neil - she breezed through it. Nevertheless, a Lisa Nandy-led Labour Party would be a huge step backward. On party democracy, on understanding the relationship between it and the wider labour movement (and movements beyond that), hers is a recipe for insulating Labour from the currents in society that nourish it, look to it, and expect it to act in their interests. The shiftiness of her campaign and her unease with politics outside of Westminster is a brew from which a new, grey managerialism can emerge. One that could be enough to win an election, but not face up to the challenges that cannot be ducked.

And as we're talking about elections, we have the frontrunner who is, apparently, uniquely electable. What exactly this "electable" is supposed to consist of I'm waiting for an answer except, of all Labour's recent leaders, Keir Starmer resembles Tony Blair the most in coiffure and style. When we examine some of the reasons, two others immediately crop up: an ability to be the unity candidate or, if you're feeling ungenerous, the all-things-to-all-people pick. Corbyn supporters love him, as do the soft left, as do the less unhinged members of the Labour right. With a membership weary of almost five years of non-stop internal warfare, you can understand why his appeal, well, appeals. The second strand is continuity remainism. As well as not pushing for mandatory reselection when he was at the peak of his powers, Jeremy Corbyn's second big mistake was not using his authority to push hard for an acceptance of a (soft) Brexit in Labour's ranks. Instead, remain ran riot - abetted by the likes of Keir, Tom Watson and, I'm afraid, other senior shadcab members on the left like John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. The cultivation of remainism means there's now a ready constituency for the ploughman-in-chief, and they can project whatever they want on to him, whether it's a (sensible) close post-Brexit relationship with the EU to the completely daft desire to campaign to rejoin. Unfortunately, both these impulses are inherently conservative - rather than forge something new, for many Keir promises to wind the clock back to pre-referendum times. Rather than consolidate the Corbyn revolution, for many Keir offers a respite from having to fight new and unpleasant battles, even if ultimately it means folding everything in on itself. The policy platform Keir offers appears superficially attractive, but one question his advocates have failed to answer is if he was so radical, why as Director of Public Prosecutions did he advocate for banging up those convicted of benefit fraud for 10 years? Or getting in the way into queries about the activities of undercover cops in protest movements? Or announcing MI5 and MI6 agents will have no case to answer if they were found to be involved in extraordinary rendition or torture during the Iraq War? The appalling errors made during the John Worboys case? The ludicrous attempt at prosecuting someone who joked about blowing up an airport on Twitter? There is no explanation for any of these unnecessary or baffling decisions, and given how lukewarm Keir has showed himself on matters democratic inside the party, there are not sufficient grounds to believe his position taking in this election is sincere or will resist pressures coming from the right. Perhaps this is where Keir's really stood politically all these years. But then why is he happy to talk about stuff from decades ago, including past Trottery, and not what's happened between the years of 2008 and 2013? Such reticence does not bode well for the coming years for Labour, in or out of office.

And there is Rebecca Long-Bailey. Variously criticised for not announcing until late in the day, punting controversial pitches, getting attacked for Stalinist/Vatican influences, and not, it seems, suddenly emerging from nowhere and repeating an inspiring insurgency as if it was the summer of 2015 all over again. All while simultaneously getting ruled out for being continuity Corbyn. There are fair and there are unfair criticisms, and it's clear to tell which from which. But there are three very good reasons to support her candidacy. The first, on the terrain of conventional politics, is charisma. She might not be a sharp as Lisa Nandy in an interview, or have the Blairish eminence conferred upon Keir Starmer, but RLB is more relatable than both. She comes across as warm, funny, but competent and on top of her brief. And as we have years before the election, she doesn't need to be over-polished from the off. There is room for her to grow into the role of leader, and having been tempered in the ridiculous failed coup of 2016 and the vicious infighting since she has the requisite ruthlessness Corbyn lacked. A RLB-led Labour Party won't have its energy sapped because the scorched earth tendency in the parliamentary party will find themselves squashed - if they don't recuse themselves first. And also, while the Tories and their friends will try pinning the continuity Corbyn tag on her it's much more difficult to do. Some comrades might not like her positioning on nuclear weapons, the royalty, and anti-semitism but she's moved quickly to stop these lines of attack from being amplified. It won't stop them of course, but this and a distinct lack of a Corbyn-style baggage caravan might prevent such stories running away and running amok.

The second, which we haven't seen enough of, is thinking about the leadership pitches in terms of class politics. Alone among the candidates, RLB understands not just the party's relationship to the labour movement, but the wider relationship it must have with the emergent new working class. Nowhere does she demonstrate this better than in her taking up mandatory reselection. If the party is to grow more and become embedded in the lives and communities of our class again, the barriers of entry and participation have to be lowered and its role as organiser, educator, articulator, and servant emphasised. This road begins with the thoroughgoing democratisation of the party, the subordination of the parliamentary party and council groups to the membership, the devolution of policy making. The effective de-institutionalisation of Labour as an instrument that stands over our people and condescends to its electorate every so often - the model favoured by the Blairite die-hards and implicit to the pitches of Lisa and Keir - has to be the aim, a party that is the movement of movements that understands politics to be much more than Westminster, and be a means of capturing all aspects of life in its rich molecularity so we can collectively swarm over and swarm out opponents. This isn't just a nice way of organising. To quote Keir Starmer's wonkish mantra, we have to model the behaviour we wish to see. The party then is a microcosm of the kind of society we're working towards, and RLB pre-empts this much better than either of her opponents.

And there is the programme. No ifs, no buts, the climate emergency has to be front and centre. RLB and her support have said enough times she was the one who literally wrote the Green New Deal - now sensibly restyled as the Green Industrial Revolution - and Lisa and Keir both have tried annexing it to their pitches. But the GIR is not some stand alone piece of work, it was embedded in Labour's 2019 programme for renationalising and democratising the utilities and public transport, increasing the economic footprint of the state, renovating public services, and tackling poverty, insecurity and low pay, building enough houses to meet demand, and so much more. Again, this propsectus is not good because ideological reasons but because it meets the requirements of Labour's base: the desire for a good, unhurried, and fulfilling life and a habitable planet to enjoy. RLB's vision builds on the currents of hope Corbynism stirred up, and provides a means of realising them.

As I said atop this post, this election isn't about picking an election winner. All three candidates are capable of winning in 2024 and having the pleasure of seeing off Boris Johnson. But it is about who is most likely to win, and what they do once they get there. I'm sure Lisa or Keir would prove to be perfectly competent leaders and Prime Ministers in their own terms, but their programmes fall short of what needs to be done and don't think about politics outside of vote-catching. This means the pair of them are unlikely to bed down the possibility not just of future Labour victories but throw away the possibility of the party's utter dominance of the 21st century. This does not apply to Rebecca Long-Bailey. She wins the Labour leadership, we all win. And when she takes Number 10, we all go through the door with her. Why should we and all those our party speaks for settle for anything less?


Dipper said...

As a Tory, this is all going swimmingly well. An absolute pasting at the polls has been largely forgotten about. The notion that demographics is going to save you - you just have to wait until all the Tory support dies off and No 10 will be yours -is the epitome of complacency. The decision to fight the leadership campaign on rights for that tiny portion of the population who have transitioned from male to female but still wish to dominate natal women, and hence identify radical feminists as enemy #1 is an absolute sure fire election loser. Yes, its RLB all the way for me!

Phil said...

If you're representative of a typical Tory, it pleases me that you fundamentally misrecognise the left's strategy after the election.

1729torus said...

@Dipper maybe you could contribute a guest blogpost on what you personally think Labour should do? What would a coherent critique of RLB from the right look like?

(By coherent, I mean that your proposals have to be sensible for leftwing party to implement. If you think Labour should get rid of the state for example, that's fine, but you better have a good plan for converting all of the FTSE 100 into worker-owned cooperatives.)

I'm going to sound like a sycophant, but I think the author and RLB have done a decent job of critiquing Social Democracy's tendency towards top-down authoritarianism for example. It doesn't look like that RLB is going to neglect bread-and-butter issues either.

Dipper said...

Phil . please do enlighten me on what the actual strategy is. Is it that famous Anti-austerity "If I had lots of money I'd spend it on this, and this, and that, and some more on this" strategy that lots of working class people looked at and saw through instantly as the kind of wishful thinking their 10-year-olds do?

Alan Story said...

A spectre is haunting the Labour leadership race:

Under the current wretched electoral system, there may never again be a majority Labour government.



Shai Masot said...

I'd like to see Keir's doners. I bet they're big.

Boffy said...

"Brexit as an issue will be dead and buried (well, we'll see), the polarisation we see around class cohort lines expressed as a generational war is not disappearing anywhere fast"

There is not a chance that Brexit is going away as an issue. Those that supported leaving the EEC in 1975 were a small minority, but continued to campaign on the issue, with Labour itself committed to leaving right up until 1987. Notably, the Leavers in Labour at that point had no qualms about disrespecting the 1975 referendum result that was 2:1 for staying in, but proposed that a Labour government should just come out anyway, much as the Liberals argued in the other direction last year.

But, today, its again the Leavers who are in a minority of around 55:45, so why on Earth would Remainers not follow their example and continue to demand that Brexit be scrapped? Indeed, it would be stupid for Labour not to put as much distance as possible between it and the Tory Brexit, as its effects begin to be manifest.

Already the economy has flatlined, and looks set for recession. We have growing problems with recruitment of nurses, care workers and so on, as well as Brexit having provoked a carnival of reaction with the Tories new immigration laws, and as Paul mason related it giving cover for racists to come out and demand that anyone foreign, men women and children be rounded up and sent home - as indeed the Tories are doing with Windrush 2.

All of this was predictable as a consequence of Brexit, and this is just the start. If labour fails to distance itself from Brexit, and begin to put forward an internationalist solution, geared to a rejoining of the EU, it will cut itself adrift from the progressive young voters it needs to win any future election, and deservedly so.

That class war manifest around generational lines is precisely a manifestation of the fact that Brexit was a struggle between two great class camps, and that is not going anywhere. On the contrary, as the effects of brexit become increasingly manifest it will only intensify.

Boffy said...

"I'd like to see Keir's doners. I bet they're big."

Sounds a lot like "Lenin was an agent of imperialism, and got German gold", kind of argument, or ore correctly, non-argument.

Boffy said...

" As well as not pushing for mandatory reselection when he was at the peak of his powers, Jeremy Corbyn's second big mistake was not using his authority to push hard for an acceptance of a (soft) Brexit in Labour's ranks."

That's the same pro-Brexit nonsense that Susan Watkins has put forward. The two points are not unrelated. Corbyn couldn't push a soft-Brexit position more than he already was, because 80% of labour members and voters oppose Brexit! Corbyn WAS promoting his own soft Brexit, a Labour "Jobs First brexit" that everyone knew was nonsense, other than apparently Corbyn and his Stalinist backers. Had Corbyn tried to push that line harder, by for example giving nationalist, craven MP's a right to vote for May's deal, as Watkins proposes, he would have faced an outright rebellion.

And, that is also why Corbyn did NOT push for democratisation of the party, and mandatory reselection, because he and his Stalinist backers knew that if they did the rank and file would get shot of a load of those Brexit supporting MP's. Its why Corbyn never made any attempt to build a social movement as promised, because any such concept is totally alien to the ideas of the Staliists and bureaucrats upon whose position Corbyn rested.

Jim Denham said...

So Corbyn should have "pushed for a soft Brexit"?

The only *rational* version of the "after June 2016, Labour had to back Brexit, even if we didn't like it" policy was to vote for Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement. No further negotiation was likely to get a "better" (or "softer") WA. Voting for the WA would not have stopped Labour trying to amend (etc.) the "political declaration" on arrangements after the transition period.

But only three maverick Labour MPs - John Mann, Ian Austin, and Kevin Barron - voted for the WA. Do you really think they were correct?

Jimbo said...

I think commentators should remember that this is just one person's view, and end the vociferous attacks.

This is a good article, thank you for sharing.

Dipper said...

limited by words but ... I went on the RLB page here and there's a reference to " the Eton-educated racist"

We know what that refers to. A single article he wrote years ago in which he used racist descriptions of Africans in a satirical way. Somehow you think that means he can never hold office. And as he sits today in Parliament surrounded by three ministers of Indian origin, those jibes miss the point. So in no particular order.

1. Orwell's 1984 is meant to be a prediction of an horrific future, so stop using it as a text book on how to organise your party. If Labour had spent the last few years listening to its core voters instead of organising a mob to conduct 15 minutes of hate against opponents, you might have got somewhere. So stop hating people, respect your opponents, and respect the voters. No-one is going to vote for a party they feel is looking for an opportunity to throw them in prison.

2. Labour screwed up Brexit. I don't know whether the UK will be better off or worse off outside the EU, whether in ten years leaving will be revealed to be a mistake, but hysterically screaming that we will all die if we leave the EU is just ridiculous. All working people know you have to back yourself, and take risks to make the most of yourself. Labours religious devotion to the EU as an all seeing all wise deity whom we must obey or be sent to the fires of hell is absolutely pathetic. Life outside the EU is clearly feasible, so better to accept the vote and plan for that. Labour didn't do that. Accept it and rule out rejoining in the next term.

3. Scotland. It is highly unlikely Labour can form a majority government so will look to the SNP for support, and that will drive English voters away in droves (as per 2015). So cut Scottish Labour loose to be an independent party, to speak for Scotland as a separate nation in the union, with policies for Scotland, a kind of unionist SNP, and look to form a coalition with them.

4. Austerity. Labour's core voters take pride in earning a living and standing on their own feet. If your view is that money isn't something valuable people work for but instead can be just printed and thrown around wherever you feel, many working people find that offensive, belittling their own efforts. So treat money with respect, and respect those who earn it.

Robert's reflections said...

Well, you were losing me until the Green New Deal point, because much as I agree with (most) of your comments on the others, I was struggling to see Long-Bailey very clearly in the picture you were painting of her.... something a bit wonky around the mouth... a touch Rolf Harris on the Queen's portrait. Clearly, the green agenda must be the central plank of our approach to the electorate, because it's the defining issue of our times in a way that Brexit and all that surrounds it is not. Get it wrong, and there'll be working class or any other class to worry about.

But you could have that approach with Long-Bailey in the shadow cabinet, not just as Leader. And at her age, she could build on that with a view to a longer-term crack at the job. So - I remain unconvinced by her this time around. I suppose the issue is, though, whether either of the other two would so smother party democracy that any later pitch would be effectively queered, while the membership was pushed ever further from the levers of power.

One thing for those who see R B-L as the Corbyn continuity candidate: under JC, the party apparatus didn't reform, it got more and more ossified, authoritarian, and remote - just in marginally different ways. It has also become hugely less competent - so a touch of managerialism at the bureaucratic heights is called for, in the sense that it needs to be fundamentally reformed or the present post-holders need to be thanked for their services but told to move on. Any new leader is going to need to do that, and show the decisiveness which Corbyn was too trusting to bring to that part of the job (and in fairness, had too little time and opportunity to address it).

DFTM said...

The Labour party is finished as far as left wing politics go, what we are witnessing is Labour being brought back into the bourgeois fold. The same forces that undermined Corbyn (i.e. the centre left and so called liberals) are doing everything in their power to wreck Bernie Sanders campaign in the USA. The labour party is back in the hands of the enemy and anyone who stays in the Labour party is in the enemy camp. Simple as that.

“getting attacked for Stalinist/Vatican”

Yes but the sort of people who are throwing around Stalinist insults have been mentally damaged by too many years infected with left sectism, possibly more dangerous than the coronavirus.
And moreover Stalinism was the opposite of socialism in one country; Stalin brought state after state under the sphere of the Soviet Union and actually developed a union of State Capitalist/Authoritarian worker states. Socialism in one country never actually happened, though some fools continue to peddle it.

The EU should not let Britain simply rejoin the union without setting preconditions. The last thing the EU need is Britain back inside the tent undermining everything and threatening to leave again. The EU should insist that if Britain did rejoin it would not try to hamper deeper and further integration. In fact every UK citizen should be forced to sign a piece of paper promising such commitment to the project. If less than 60% of people sign the pledge then the EU slams the door shut.

Boffy said:

"I'd like to see Keir's doners. I bet they're big."
“Sounds a lot like "Lenin was an agent of imperialism, and got German gold", kind of argument, or ore correctly, non-argument.”

Boffy, in a Nancy Pelosi moment, was claiming that the Tories were funded by Russian Oligarchs (he wasn’t worried about all the other Oligarchs just the Russian ones) and seemed to think this was pertinent, yet for reasons beyond anyone’s guess asking about Keir Starmers doners is a non argument.

This is how Boffy operates, he makes arguments and then when someone makes an argument on the exact same basis that Boffy used he says it’s a non argument. One of the most dishonest and disingenuous people you could ever hope to end up in debate with.

Anonymous said...

Trouble is, lad, she's riding the same horse that just lost two elections - including the one the Tories were trying to hand you a place so you had to deal with the poisoned chalice of Brexit. I mean who on earth could be so bloody useless they couldn't beat 'scapegoat May'? "It were dead close". Richard Gere's hamster couldve beaten bllody May. Fred West coud have beaten May. But at least you got all the nutters to swell death's waiting room's numbers. Half a million? I never see em knocking on doors.

So then they came out with bruiser Boris and Labour still had... Clive bloody Dunn.

Trouble with the left of the party is that its all posh lads do-gooding their way through life who might hug the odd disaster victim here and there but haven't a clue who the working class are any more or what we want. And that lass with the perma-surprised eyebrows isnt it. I hear either she or that fat lad whose going for deputy is getting tips from someone who managed to lose one of Labours safest seats (one of the other professional nortehrners that was favoured for her unstinting loyalty to der leader, I forget her name). And you think Labour will win back any votes with that lot? Your either dreaming or up to something.

Oh aye, I just remembered from yer twitter profile your writing a book on the tories. I think i see it now - your already planning the sequel. 'Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the parliament. Boris II: The Second Term'