Sunday 1 November 2020

Jeremy Corbyn's Ridiculous Suspension

Talk about throwing paraffin on the fire. Jeremy Corbyn's suspension was wrong, unjustifiable and he should be reinstated immediately. And with seven general secretaries saying the same, kicking this into the long grass is going to be difficult. Without following due process, a point the party was criticised for in the EHRC report and with David Evans, the new general secretary, unable to explain his position to Friday's NEC meeting, there might be more trouble on the horizon.

The statement put out by the party noting the removal of the whip says the suspension was because of comments made Jeremy refused to retract. Okay, let's consider this for a moment.

In his statement, Corbyn wrote:

"One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated."

This appears to contradict what Keir Starmer said:

"And if after all the pain, all the grief, and all the evidence in this report, there are still those who think there’s no problem with antisemitism in the Labour Party. That it’s all exaggerated, or a factional attack ... Then, frankly, you are part of the problem too. And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either."

Time for some lawyerly forensic skills. The key phrase in Keir's declaration is antisemism is "all exaggerated, or a factional attack." Corbyn does not say that, he is simply stating the truth. Antisemitism was and is a problem in the Labour Party. There were comrades on the left who were blind to it, and there were people employed by the people who prolonged the pain by refusing to investigate complaints for factional reasons. This is now a matter of record. There were politicians and activists who saw in antisemitism not a problem to be addressed and eradicated, but an opportunity to damage the left, and we saw media commentators and Tories acting likewise. Zero shits were given for the pain and fear British Jews felt, all that mattered was ramping up their anxiety for grubby political points. Indeed, resisting a proper accounting with antisemitism in the party in terms of how deeply it penetrated, the numbers involved, and who did what - which Starmer's statement appears to rule out - is itself a nakedly factional move.

There is a debate to be had about whether Corbyn was right to challenge the perception of Labour Party antisemitism in the immediate aftermath of publication, but this doesn't particulary interest me. What does is what the Labour leadership were trying to achieve. On Andrew Marr on Sunday morning, Keir Starmer said he didn't want to initiate another round of bilious Labour infighting, but given this is exactly what he stoked it's worth asking why he thought the risk, which would inevitably be seen as a provocation, was worth it. First things first is the issue of authority. In the leadership campaign Keir stressed the necessity for unity, an appealing enough pitch for members fed up of four years of red-on-red faction fighting. Unity, however, isn't something to be declared, it's a process and not a condition. Befitting his grey, technocratic style of jumping on process issues and absenting the politics he has simply expected everyone in the party to fall into line. When up against dissent over the likes of the spycops bill, for instance, persuasion and patient explanation is out the window and instead we find dark suggestions to the press about how this is going to count against sitting MPs when reselection time comes round.

The issue of Jeremy's statement was similarly approached as an operational as opposed to a political issue. Keir Starmer trotted out a line designed to pander to the press, emphasise how sorry he was to the Jewish community, and then make the issue go away. If he didn't anticipate political fall out, then he's more of a naif than I dared suspect. This said, in the short term the consequences do favour the Labour leader. It aids the decomposition of the left in the Labour Party, which is quite handy while elections to the National Executive Committee are ongoing. It makes the left case for staying in more difficult for waverers (needless to say, folks should stay). Fewer socialists makes life easier for Keir and the Labour right. Second, as rightwingers haven't been shy shouting about, there is the perception removing the whip from Corbyn signals to the establishment the welcome return of capitalism's B team is back: once again Labour is in safe hands, and all the socialism stuff goes back into the loft for the next few decades. This means more nice press for Keir and a media focus on Tory failings.

Bourgeois respectability is one thing, but winning an election is another. Two more polls this weekend posted modest leads for Labour, but the danger is by attacking the left the Starmerist alliance unwittingly works to disaggregate the party's support. One cannot simply dismiss Black Lives Matter, abstain on matters of principle, and light mindedly suspend the last Labour leader without courting terrible consequences. By repelling significant sections of the left, those voters will simply go elsewhere. The Greens, the nationalist parties, the staying-at-home party, alln stand to benefit, and when we live in polarised political times when the next election is likely to be another contest dependent on who turns the most supporters out, throwing away hundreds of thousands of core party supporters who will make a difference in the marginals is bad politics bordering on the reckless.

Plenty of people like sneering at Jeremy Corbyn, and there's still grifts to be fuelled from obsessing about him, but as far as the left are concerned his leadership demonstrated two things: the path to defeat when Labour decides to ignore a section of its electorate. And what the party needs to do to win. The voter coalition assembled in 2017 points out the direction of future success when polarisation is in effect but, at present, Keir Starmer is acting like victory will simply fall into his lap. "A New Leadership", yes, and one charting its way to defeat.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

When Labour was behind in the polls, victory was just around the corner, now it's ahead, defeat is just around the corner.

2017 was a chimaera, a high-water mark before Corbyn had been exposed to the full heat of the media, and when many of his supporters hoped he might turn around Brexit. The shitshow that followed - not least the damage done by the perception of antisemitism - saw this melt away, while the Tories seized the 'patriotic' working class.

You don't get it, do you - voters in the 'Red Wall' hated Corbyn even though he was pro-Brexit. They saw him as unpatriotic, they hated everything he stood for. They saw him as anti-army, pro-immigrant etc, everything that your section of the Left continues to position itself as (in their eyes). Nothing will change that.

Keir seems to be doing a decent job. As a genuine child of the working class, he perhaps grasps the reality, rather than the delusional magical thinking of the bourgeois Left that prefers posturing over real politics. Good luck to him.

David said...

Let's hope you are wrong Phil but it is all very worrying. This country is heading down a very dangerous road and there are very few voices opposing what this government is doing.

If only Corbyn could have kept his mouth shut for .. an hour .. a day? He really cannot see an elephant trap without diving in mouth first. Ever more he is dooming himself to irrelevance.

John said...

But why should Jeremy have kept quiet? the issue has been overstated. Surely the question is why didn't the leadership just ignore him, or better still concentrate on the parts of his statement that said the recommendations should be implemented in full, thus uniting the party.

The advice being given to Starmer is that now (four years from an election) is the time to take on the left. The advice wil say it will be a few months or at most a year of bitter infighting, but all the time you'll be portrayed as the saviour of the party. Once the left have been defeated, you'll have two years to roll back the 2017/19 manifestoes without any opposition. You'll then be able to run an election campaign that'll be perceived as sensible and the voters will come flooding back.

Meanwhile in the real world membership in the party will decline, those that stay will have very little enthusiasm to actually go out and work and the coalition of voters that supported us in 2017 will just fragment and will not be replaced by disaffected Tory voters (Ex labour voters who voted Tory in the Red Wall seats will just stay at home). The election in 2024 will see a decline in Tory votes & seats (not enough to lose power though), Labours vote may increase and it will gain some seats, but the biggest gainers will be the fringe parties, although given the FPTP not enough to actually gain any seats.

The alternative is for members to stay in the party, fight to get Jeremy's suspension lifted (even if this fatally damages Starmer as leader) and continue to argue for the polices that so nearly won us power in 2017.

Anonymous said...

Corbyn had to speak up for the 10 million plus who voted Labour. They did not vote for an institutionally anti-semitic party, as the report made clear. They are not tarnished by association - except this is of course how this is being framed and spun.

Dialectician1 said...

"You don't get it, do you - voters in the 'Red Wall' hated Corbyn even though he was pro-Brexit."

What's really interesting here is the word 'hate' and process of the vilification of Corbyn between 2017 and 2019. As I watched on TV the election results coming in on 8th June 2017 showing an extraordinary late surge for Labour, the look of horror on the faces of the presenters & pundits - who included Alistair Campbell and Laura Knuennsberg - was palpable. It was clear, nothing like this would ever be allowed to happen again. Thus began the relentless campaign to defame and revile a man, who stood for nothing more than a moderate old fashioned programme of social democracy.

BTW, the so-called 'Red Wall' had already disengaged with Labour long before Corbyn. You would be better served looking the changing demographics of these constituencies and the long-term trend in the decline of the Labour vote in northern deindustrialised areas from the late 1990s onward.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

From Anonymous' post I am led to believe that "red wall" (hate that term) voters are a homogenous mass who:
1. Hated Corbyn
2. Love the military (not so keen on the Police)
3. Hate immigrants
4. Love Brexit
5. Love their country (apart from the foreign bits, like Wales, or Scotland, or London)
I'm guessing that you could add
6. Love the NHS (but not paying for it)
7. Hate intellectuals and experts (and think all science is a conspiracy)
8. Hate anyone on benefits (they are all malingerers or cheats)
9. Dislike the nanny state (unless it's helping them, but they worked for that, and paid their dues, so their entitled)
and from that it follows they
10. Think Socialism is for losers

Given all that, it's difficult to see why they ever voted labour, or will now ever change from either Farage's latest fantasy party, or the Tories. Needless to say, I don't for one minute believe that the majority of people in those areas think like that (I suspect that is a projection by Anonymous of their own views). In which case, a lot could change over the next few years.

Anonymous said...

Zoltan, apart from 8,9, and 10 that is about right for the northern white working class. there are exceptions, obviously, but there is a reason they voted brexit.

8,9 and 10 tend to apply to the southern white working class, incidentally.

yes, times change, demographics especially, but they're ignored (as Labour sought to do from 1997 on)at your peril.

if you don't know why they voted Labour in the past, then you don't know very much about UK history or culture.

Blissex said...

«From Anonymous' post I am led to believe that "red wall" (hate that term) voters are a homogenous mass who: [... are tories ...]»

It is not just "red wall" voters, it is Keir Starmer's (that is, Peter Mandelson's and Tony Blair's) electoral strategy: to get tory votes by offering the same policies as the Conservatives but managed more competently (and perhaps a little less brutally).

It is based on the idea that winning elections is the only thing that matters for the careers of Labour MPs, the Conservatives win elections with tory policies, therefore to win elections New Labour must become a quasi-Conservative party with tory policies.

Tony Blair himself exemplified with the "Sierra man" story:
“I was canvassing in the Midlands on an ordinary suburban estate. I met a man polishing his Ford Sierra, self-employed electrician, Dad always voted Labour. He used to vote Labour, he said, but he bought his own home, he had set up his own business, he was doing quite nicely, so he said I’ve become a Tory.”

The underlying assumption is that as many traditional Labour voters have become thatcherites because their interests have changed (in the case of "Sierra man" from employee and renter to employer and proprietor), the party has to follow them and become thatcherite too, that is the party vote is based on tribal attachment rather than shared interests, which is the traditional recipe for PASOKification.

But then the "leftoids" response to that is simply to pretend that mass rentierism has not happened, and to utterly ignore Tony Blair's point that:

“Post-war Britain has seen two big changes. First, and partly as a result of reforming Labour governments, there are many more healthy, wealthy and well-educated people than before. In addition, employment has switched from traditional manufacturing industries to a more white-collar, service-based economy. The inevitable result has been that class identity has fragmented.
Only about a third of the population now regard themselves as ‘working-class’. Of course it is possible still to analyse Britain in terms of a strict Marxist definition of class: but it is not very helpful to our understanding of how the country thinks and votes. In fact, of that third, many are likely not to be ‘working’ at all: these are the unemployed, pensioners, single parents – in other words, the poor.
A party that restricts its appeal to the traditional working class will not win an election. That doesn’t entail a rejection of socialism’s traditional values: but it does mean that its appeal, and hence its policies, must address a much wider range of interests.”

That “address a much wider range of interests” then in practice became "address almost only the range of tory interests because those with labour interests have nowhere else to go".

«I don't for one minute believe that the majority of people in those areas think like that»

What matters electorally is whether a sufficient minority has changed so the seat swings away from a Labour majority, or whether some new constituency can replace them in the Labour coalition.

Blissex said...

A bit belatedly, there is a point that expands on the summary of our blogger: that the EHRC report not only gives evidence of a small problem with antisemitism among Labour members and party procedures, it also pretty much exonerates Corbyn from accusations of antisemitism, as if the EHRC had found after extensive investigations that there was any evidence of his antisemitism, Keir Starmer would have frog marched Jeremy Corbyn out of the party, instead of merely suspending him for pointing out that the report confirmed that the antisemitism issue had been rather exaggerated. Indeed the comments on the EHRC report have been themselves exaggerated.

That no disciplinary action against Jeremy Corbyn could could be based on the results of the EHRC investigation is a pretty significant vindication of both the Labour party and his personal leadership.