Thursday 8 October 2020

The Rise and Fall of Corbynism

Here's Owen Jones talking about things so I don't have to write about things tonight. In his discussion with Novara's Ash Sarkar, Owen chats about his new book, This Land, on how the Corbyn movement took off and why the opposition from without and the contradictions within gave us last December's painful outcome.


Dialectician1 said...

Yes, I watched this video the other day. It’s a bit long and loquacious but I enjoyed it despite disagreeing with a few points Owen Jones makes. I quite like the historical context that Jones adds to the debate about the rise and fall of Corbynism. He and Ash Sarak discuss the notion of ‘Corbyn incompetence’, which they agree was inevitable because of the hostility towards Corbyn within the PLP and the media but also because the Labour Party bureaucracy is an inherently dysfunctional organisation, anyway. What Jones says was missing, once Corbyn had grasped the reigns of leadership, was ‘the lost generation’. This was the generation of the Left in the 1990s and the 2000s who went missing. What Corbyn had on side was an energetic army of radicalised young people waking up to the injustices of neoliberalism and also a few old battle-scarred Lefties from the 1970s and 80s - but what was missing was people with recent political and organisational experience, to hold the Corbyn project together. It was this mismatch in the age divide between the membership of the Labour Party and its electorate that eventually became its undoing in December 2019.

Jones examines the roles of Seamus Milne and John McDonnell during this period. I found this section interesting but not explanatory. Both are viewed as intellectually superior to Corbyn providing the theory and the policies that underpinned the movement but both proved to be flawed in their ability to respond to the double whammy of Brexit and the antisemitism crisis. I was not convinced that Jones fully understands properly why a critique of Israel is not antisemitic. He focuses on a meeting between Corbyn, Milne and the Board of Deputies, in which he thinks Corbyn should have agreed to accede to them the principle of Zionism. The fact that Corbyn stood his ground, was for Jones, the reason why the antisemitism issue became a rumbling problem in the Labour party. This conclusion is naïve and ahistorical. A quick word with Michael Rosen, for example, might have enlightened him somewhat.

What jones does get right is the existential crisis now facing Labour. A brand new feature of the current political landscape is the generational divide. Older people (the boomers) have good ontological reasons for not voting Labour. Their material conditions have massively improved with the triple-lock protection of their pensions; most of them have benefitted massively from home ownership, many becoming landlords; with the Tories best reflecting their social conservatism and patriotic tendencies. Younger people are more socially progressive but many work within insecure employment with collapsed career trajectories and saw Labour as reflecting their concerns. This generational phenomenon crosses the class divide. But because Labour abandoned the rhetoric of class back in the Blair years and it never really felt comfortable talking about class, even throughout the Corbyn period, it is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the Party to offer anything to either group across this generational divide.

Unknown said...

Is class really a goer at the moment? Surely if Corbyn had banged on about class he would have lost even more voters? To what degree does the concept of class play a part in our everyday culture?

John Smithee said...

Why 700,000 former Labour voters voted for an Eton toff:

The figure of 38,423 is etched on my brain. This is the number of vote my Tory MP Steve Barclay received in the December 2019 general election. With a majority of 29,993 it makes North East Cambridgeshire the eighth safest Tory seat in England.

Whilst North East Cambridgeshire, more commonly known as Fenland, is not located in the Midlands or the North of England, it does have some similarities with the 56 so-called “Red Wall” seats which voted for Eton-toff Boris Johnson. In Fenland the working-class gave up on the Labour Party during the era of Tony Blair’s New Labour. It is several years since Labour had any town, parish, district, or county council seats in Fenland, which is composed of four market towns – Wisbech, March, Chatteris, and Whittlesey.

To give me an idea why so many working-class people continue to vote Tory in Fenland, I have recently read two books about the collapse in the Labour vote in the 56 Red Wall seats and the 700,000 former lifelong Labour voters in these seats who voted Tory for the first time in December 2019. The two books are: The Fall of the Red Wall: 'The Labour Party no longer represents people like us' by Steve Rayson and Beyond the Red Wall: Why Labour Lost, How the Conservatives Won and What Will Happen Next? by Deborah Mattinson

The former book is written by a budding academic and includes a wide-ranging investigation of research into the December 2019 general election. The latter book concentrates on post-election focus groups in the six months following the election which were carried out by Deborah Mattinson’s own Britain Thinks in Accrington, Darlington, and Stoke. Both books conclude that Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn were not the cause of 700,000 people voting for the party led by Eton-toff for the first time in December 2019, but were a symptom of a great malaise at work going back to the late 1970s starting with the election of Mrs Thatcher in 1979.

Both books fail to note the ineffectiveness of the 13 years of New Labour government in doing nothing for the economies of the Red Wall seats apart from the building of warehouses for companies and call centres, the latter being mostly zero-hours minimum wage jobs. At the same time, the two authors fail to note the effect of the failure of Labour councils to oppose cuts in the grant given by central government to local government since 2010.

The conclusion from both books is that Labour needs a new Tony Blair – Sir Keir Starmer? And that Labour needs to be more patriotic and anti-migrant by campaigning for a points-based immigration system. The former has already been taken up by Keir Starmer and it is only time before he descends into anti-migrant rhetoric. In Deborah Mattinson’s focus groups it came up time and time again that the Labour Party does not look like or represent working-class people anymore. Interestingly one participant said that Labour MPs should live on a worker’s wage with realistic expenses in order that they understand what it means to have to make ends meet every week. I can’t see Labour agreeing to this.

Only buy these two books if you are really interested in why 700,000 former Labour voters in these 56 Red Wall seats decided to vote for a party led by Eton-toff Boris Johnson. Otherwise, just check out the numerous reviews of the two books on Amazon.

John Smithee

Dialectician1 said...

@ Unknown

'Is class really a goer at the moment?'

'To what degree does the concept of class play a part in our everyday culture?'

Really, the question should be, when did class stop beings a 'goer'?

If you accept that we live in a capitalist society - which most people do - this is predicated on the principle that one class exploits another in order to accumulate wealth. What is most surprising, is that during this current period when the quantum wealth accumulated by the super rich has led to a massive and unprecedented class polarisation, nobody wants to talk about class.

The Labour Party stopped talking about class around about the same time that academia started talking about 'postmodern society' instead of a 'capitalist society'. Since then, 'culture has gone upstream' to quote Bannon)and continues to define (or frames the narrative) in most debates about power or politics. Class has become demoted and is now seen as an just another 'identity' (competing with a range of other identities) rather than a fundamental historical process brought about by the systematic exploitation of labour.

While the Labour Party continues to run shy of class (or even using it as a rhetorical device)it leaves itself open to ongoing internecine cultural wars, where one identity will claim dominance over another identity. The recent spats between trans groups and the feminist movement is one example of this....or when antisemitism trumps islamophobia....or when race trumps class.....etc etc.

For the Tories, the culture wars are a dream come true. They will continue to stoke the fires and stir up outrage over 'political correctness' while hand-wringing liberals will continue to tie themselves in knots about the competing injustices of each specified identity. This leaves the door wide open for the right to dominate the discourse using the language of economic nationalism to explain why the working class are currently being shafted.

Anonymous said...

"Is class really a goer at the moment?"

Is money still a thing, or private property? Do some people still have a lot more of it than others? Do some people work for other people? Is there still such things as "rich" and "poor" in the world?

Anonymous said...

Did you not read Rayson's comments upon the long - term decline of Labour within ' traditional ' labour seats . Pre-datung Corbyn . In short Labour has for too long been a middle class party which has ignored many people outside not just London but cities .