Friday 21 August 2020

John McDonnell: Be Nice to Keir

The ever awful Daily Express were crowing Friday morning about "Corbynistas at war" because ... John McDonnell had said nice things about Keir Starmer. Speaking on Times Radio, Big John said the Labour leader has got his approach to the government during the crisis "exactly right". Taking a constructive tone to opposition while pointing out Tory failure is helpful for getting "much wider leeway" in the media. "We’re on the same page. Sometimes I’ll want the party to be a bit more vociferous on some of these things, but that’s a matter of style. As long as we get the point across." If only the so-called rebels of the last five years were as graceful when they had the chance, eh?

What to make of this? Capitulation? Selling out? From his long-time reputation as the hard bastard of the parliamentary left, in recent years John has affected a more emollient figure. Last October, John became a magnet for criticism as he sat down with Alastair Campbell to talk politics. An attempt at olive branching and bridging the fissures after years of infighting and scabbing, it was entirely understandable and, in my view, supportable. Especially with an election in view. Then again, I think we should take an instrumentalist approach if opponents offer the left and Labour an opening, as The Mail on Sunday did last weekend for Keir Starmer.

We can't begin to think about it in isolation from the strategic direction of the Labour left after our greatest triumph and biggest defeat. After leading the party, changing the direction of political travel in this country and even, as John rightly said, supplying the Tories with the policies (albeit subsequently watered down) that has kept most people going during the crisis, where does the Labour left go from here? Trying again outside of Labour is a non-starter for the bulk of the Labour left, though I can understand why some hold out hope of building something. Seeing Rebecca Long-Bailey getting shafted and grovelling in court to a bunch of toerags is hard to stomach, and then there are the issues with Keir himself. Yet this is nothing. The Miliband years were markedly worse and before that, well, it was somewhat south of awful. This isn't to fetishise staying power as a virtue, but to gain a sense of proportion. Despite everything, the left are still much stronger in the party now than at any time between the early 80s and 2015. The question is what do we do with it, how should the left build influence, push its agenda and carry on struggling to get the party back and the Tories out.

Shouting about Keir Starmer on Twitter might be cathartic but it's not going to build the left. Bearing in mind a lot of Corbyn supporters voted for Keir in the first place, winning internal elections and getting more leftwingers selected for local government, the devolved administrations, and Westminster, and making sure we win the policy arguments itself partly relies on building soft power. When you look at what John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have done since leaving the leadership, they have concentrated on attacking the government from the left. This is not picked up by mainstream outlets or comprises talking points on Newsnight any more, but they are still listened to by Labour's membership and can find tens, if not hundred of thousands of sympathetic ears there. In other words, this is an attempt to build a constant pressure on the leader's office - if the party can be bounced from the right, the same happening from the left is a live possibility - especially when on a raft of issues the left is closer to where the electorate are at than centrism and right wing Labour. If the left are engaging constructively with "Starmerism", and are seeing to be doing so, the thinking goes it puts the left in a stronger position to defend the policy heritage it bequeathed the party. Again, it's worth remembering a lot of former Corbyn supporters voted Keir in the hope he would offer some sort of Corbynism without Corbyn, and winning them over in the future is something that cannot be avoided.

Comrades might disagree with how John and Jeremy are positioning the Socialist Campaign Group. Their overtures to Keir do run the risk of letting the Labour leadership off the hook - Keir's preoccupation of returning kids to school and people to work even though Covid-19 carries on its debilitating and deadly work needs criticising openly, for example. Or does Labour want to cede these concerns to the Liberal Democrats? Yet their thinking is strategic and has the position of the Labour left now and in the immediate future in mind. If there are alternative strategies for taking back the party or building an alternative, let's hear them.


Shai Masot said...

Also John McDonnell:

"If you've left Labour, re-join before midnight tomorrow night (23/8) to vote in crucial elections for the NEC, Labour's governing body and to vote for
@future_we_need candidates. If your friends or family have left or aren't yet members, get them to join too."

Wise words.

Alan Story said...

Care about the whole country and care about a way to care to get out the Tories.

If we had had PR in 2019, the Tories would now have 77 less seats.


Anonymous said...

Well, I think you are wrong about this. I agree Labour is the only show in town, not least because it is the only trade union party. Where I think you are wrong, and where I therefore think John is wrong, is to characterise Starmer as centre. I see no evidence whatsoever to indicate he is not hard right. Words are easy...the pledges to retain basic policies of the party manifesto. I don't see a single policy proposal which could be characterised as left. The left have been cleared out of the shadow cabinet and the witch hunt of members gathers pace while the alleged crimes of the right (leaked document) are kicked into the long grass.

Richard Hall said...

So you think it important to join the party so you can vote. How about supporting the policies and principles of the Labour Party. Are they not more important than one vote.

Anonymous said...

Folks get on with your own lives. Use your vote but don't spend lots of time - its yours don't give it away. MPs look after their own interests.

Boffy said...

McDonnell and Corbyn made the mistake after 2015 of being nice to the right and soft left. Its part of their delusional belief in the Popular Front, as promoted by the Stalinists which has repeatedly led to disaster for the working-class.

They have learned nothing from Marx's analysis of 1848. It ws Corbyn and McDonnell's continual appeasement of the right, continual abandonment of positions of principle that led to the Right and Soft Left remaining in position and being able to organise coups against them. It was Corbyn's adoption of that other Stalinist shibboleth, economic nationalism and reactionary pro-brexit nationalism that undermined their support amongst the large majority of the party they needed to defeat the Right and Soft Left.

So, if you are going to appease the Right and soft Left during all that time, why wouldn't you be nice to Keir now, as he does a Kerensky and removes the Left Shadow Cabinet Ministers and floods it out with Capitalist Shadow Ministers?

TB said...

I do agree with Boffy - they were too appeasing to the rightist. Starmer has in contrast been ruthless.

I have to say I joined the labour party because of John McDonnell not Corbyn. I'm only staying because I read some of the comments on here reminding me that what we want, progress, is a struggle.

Blissex said...

«Taking a constructive tone to opposition while pointing out Tory failure is helpful»

Ah the usual delusion that "tone" matters, while instead it is interests that matter. The tone of B Johnson is, as he claimed, "imbecilio" rather than "constructive" or "forensic", but everybody knows that his current opportunism is to stand for higher rents, lower wages and brexit, and vote accordingly.

«for getting "much wider leeway" in the media»

The media are hardcore thatcherite, so they only give any leeway to thatcherite propaganda. Tone does not matter one bit. They were ferociously anti-Corbyn not because he had a bellowing tone of strident advocacy of the extermination of the kulaks and the genocide of some minorities. but because despite the avuncular tone of a mild mannered vicar, he meekly proposed some minor social-democratic deviancy from thatcherism. Even Ed Miliband was portrayed as a trot and an antisemite for daring to voice the faintest signs of weaker commitments to thatcherite and Likud politics. I have previously provided quotes of the attacks by the Mandelson Tendency against Gordon Brown for being a dreaming leftie.

«take an instrumentalist approach if opponents offer the left and Labour an opening, as The Mail on Sunday did last weekend for Keir Starmer.»

The thatcherite press have always had token/pet "Labour" opinion writers, but because of the above they only really treat with respect thatcherite opinions.

Ultimately the questions are always the same, always the same:

* Assuming that 10% of Conservative and LibDem voters could be switched to vote Labour, would they do by being persuaded that Labour politics are better for their interests, or because "Labour" offered them some thatcherite policies but better managed?

* If they switched because "Labour" has offered them some thatcherite policies but better managd, would that mean that a coalition of 90% Labour voters and 10% thatcherite ones would have 90% Labour politics and 10% thatcherite, or 90% thatcherite and 10% Labour?

* If it were 90% thatcherite politics and 10% Labour, what would be the point? Just getting some a bit less awful, “quasi-Conservative” politics? Then why not just vote LibDem (which is I think the point the Mandelson Tendency entrysts implicitly make).

Blissex said...

«Just getting some a bit less awful, “quasi-Conservative” politics? Then why not just vote LibDem»
«If we had had PR in 2019, the Tories would now have 77 less seats.»

The main consequences would be to make the LibDem the permanent king-makers and split both Conservatives and Labour into 2-3 parties each, with the prospect of centre-left, "northern socialdemocratic" policies not happening for the next 40 years; but then they have not happened for the past 40 years, and arguably the malice against Corbyn shows that they are outside the boundaries of our "limited democracy".

My astonishment continues at the extreme stupidity of the LibDems: botched horribly the 2011 opportunity and then switched to reverting the 2016 referendum as their main (and nearly only) electoral cause, instead of campaigning solely and constantly for PR. To the point that the "Morning Star" is doing it instead of them.

Blissex said...

«I joined the labour party because of John McDonnell not Corbyn.»

He stood for leadership in 2010 and went nowhere, in part because OMOV was not yet fully adopted. But J Corbyn won in 2015 and still had a much larger share of the OMOV vote in 2020, if he had been a candidate, I think because ironically he has a much better record of moderation, of sensibleness, of being a mild social-democrat without the rhetoric, a safe pair of hands for the centre-left.

Blissex said...

«there are the issues with Keir himself. Yet this is nothing. The Miliband years were markedly worse»

Perhaps I look at my memories with rose tinted glasses, but E Miliband (as opposed to D Miliband) seemed to be rather more social-democratic than K Starmer and indeed he was treated by the thatcherite press with much worse than K Starmer. That is in general what I think of the Brownista component of New Labour, which I think is still part of the Labour movement, while I regard the Mandelson Tendency (incorrectly called "Blairites") as entrysts.
Consider the difference between A Burnham and J Ashworth, core Brownistas: while K Starmer participated in the first shameful coup against J Corbyn, they remained in the shadow cabinet and A Burnham even expressed public outrage.

«and before that, well, it was somewhat south of awful»

We had a whig government with mostly whig and tory policies plus some labour-like ones, the Osborne governments that followed were much worse. As R Hattersley wrote there was the “The certain knowledge that the Conservative Party would be a worse government than [New] Labour”.

Unknown said...

McDonnell's first step to the house of Lords.
Abbot next?

Anonymous said...

Mates supporting mates in Westminster that is all... who you know ... such is politics.

Alan Story said...

Hey Blissex ( of the rose tinted glasses)

For Labour to win a majority at the next election means an increase of 60% in current number of MPs and winning 124 more seats ( and not losing any). Do you really think that is possible?

mike said...

Sorry John no way I can support Sir Kier. Not until I see some action taken in the racist, bullies and sabotaging from the senior management team. Until that happens labour is not my party.

Blissex said...

«If there are alternative strategies for taking back the party»

For taking back the party the bad reality is that a majority of members seem to have decided that since in our "limited democracy" mild northern-european style centre-left politics are not allowed, "quasi-Conservative" mild thatcherism is the only feasible alternative to far-right thatcherism. Hopefully they will soon realize that turning Labour into a LibDem clone is not going to work.

«or building an alternative, let's hear them»

As to building an alternative, let's ignore for the sake of argument the "limited democracy" aspect: Labour is the party of the economic interests of workers, and it needs to build a majority coalition around those interests and groups with interests not opposed to those of workers. Since workers are a majority of voters that should be easy, but it happens that many workers have become also rentiers, and believing themselves to be have stronger interests as rentiers than workers, they vote accordingly.

The mandelsonian solution is to shift the party to be yet another rentier party. The better solution is to realize that only part of the workers who are rentiers actually have interests more aligned with other rentiers than with other workers; in particular worker-rentiers who are looking to upgrade to a bigger property in the south-east or own a property outside the south-east have a bigger interest in higher wages and better social insurance.
Workers in general have also an interest in lower housing costs, and rentiers don't, but that's a difference that should be minimized. Labour cannot be just the party of renters, it needs to include disadvantaged rentiers (upgraders, outside the south-east) but it should not be the party of privileged rentiers either.

Blissex said...

«rose tinted glasses) For Labour to win a majority at the next election [...] that is possible?»

With a mild rose-tint or even without it is *possible*: just 2 years ago the party got 40% of the vote and deprived the Conservatives of their absolute majority by gaining 30 seats, despite relentless attacks from New Labour and Conservatives and their media. In 2019 there was the confluence of Starmer's "2nd ref" strategy and of one final push by New Labour to get rid of Corbyn to save thatcherism. Also the Conservatives have lost at the end of 2019 the brexit card, as brexit has happened.

But it is not plausible in current circumstances: the current strategy is to present New, New Labour as a nicer "quasi-Conservative" party, but english voters don't switch from a party that is delivering "competent" economic management (which means higher property prices) to one that promises the same plus being nicer, they just won't take the risk. Otherwise they would have been switching between Conservatives and LibDems. On the other hand centre-left voters will switch to abstentions or to the LibDems when Labour turns into a quasi-Conservative party, as they did by the millions (also because of Tony Blair's electoral toxicity) between 1997 and 2005.

So the mandelsonian strategy is entirely predicated, as it was in 1997, 2001, 2005, on winning by default, on winning because the Conservatives screw up house prices and it takes at least a decade for the distrust and resentment of affluent propertied voters to fade.

But the Conservatives have learned well the lessons of the 1997 and 2010 elections, and will do whatever extremities they have to resort to in order to prevent a house price crash before the 2024 elections, and will continue to do so as long as cramming-down everybody but finance and property can continue, and the BoE can supply "liquidity" to finance and property, and we are perhaps a decade away from either being no longer possible. On the other hand their current leadership quality is low, so they may yet do some gigantic mistakes, and K Starmer gets lucky.

Blissex said...

Sometimes J McDonnell is weird:

«John McDonnell, the sharpest strategic mind on the Labour left, has praised Starmer’s approach. McDonnell believes that the moment Labour lost the 2019 election came in March 2018, when Jeremy Corbyn failed to decisively and rapidly back Theresa May’s actions against Russia following the poisoning of the Skripals.»

Amazing that so many Conservative gains were in brexit areas, coincided with UKIP losses, and happened after their campaign theme became "Get Brexit Done", they must have cared a lot more about the Skripal poisoning instead.

«During a crisis, voters expect the opposition to rally behind the government, not to oppose it.»

Fortunately Change UK and the LibDems did “back Theresa May’s actions against Russia following the poisoning of the Skripals” and they have got a huge electoral success from that, thanks to this Early Day Motion:
That this House unequivocally accepts the Russian state's culpability for the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal in Salisbury using the illegal novichok nerve agent

Signed by: 1 DUP, 1 Conservative, 3 SNP, 9 LibDems, 36 New Labour.

tommy said...

Let's face facts the LP is done... while Blairism ,Mandolism,Starmerism, is at the core of a so called socialist political party.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't wash with me. The left rubbing shoulders with centralism? Politics is a dirty game, but something doesn't sit right here.

Ken said...

On Brexit, I don’t read the Mail, so I wouldn’t have noticed. This is from the tax campaigner and MMT economist , Richard Murphy.
“ That risk of shortages will be accompanied by substantial short term food price inflation in all likelihood as panic buying commences. People will also appreciate that come what may, food prices will, because of tariffs, be more in January than they were in December. And they won’t be happy. And then, just to add to matters, as the peak demand for NHS services happens there will be maximum disruption in NHS labour supplies. On top of which there are also likely to be medicine shortages. And there will not need to be many for the Daily Mail to get very angry.

Talking of which, the Mail is already very angry. And it has very clearly already switched sides on Brexit, to which it is now very obviously opposed.”
WTF? That’s me.

Blissex said...

«For Labour to win a majority at the next election means [...] that is possible?»

Also let's note (as a commenter on "The Guardian" has done) that in 2009 Cameron/Osborne's conservatives had 198 seats and 8.8m votes in 2005, and yet they went into government in 2010 with 306 seats and 10.7m votes. Labour in 2019 had done rather better than the Conservatives in 2005, having got 202 seats and 10.3m votes (compared to 232 seats and 9.3m votes in 2015 and 258 seats and 8.6m votes in 2010).

There is a chance for New, New Labour in 2024, but it does not depend on the careful "nice thatcherite" positioning: if the Conservatives screw up house prices like New Labour did in 2008, the opposition will win by default, like in 1997 and 2010.