Wednesday 29 March 2023

The Prospects of a Corbyn-Led Left Party

And so Jeremy Corbyn has now been formally banned from standing as a Labour candidate. What a pathetic state of affairs. For Keir Starmer, this is as much about excising the influence of the left from the party as it is telling the rest of the establishment that he can be relied on to punch left (and down) when occasion demands. What next? John McDonnell has called for a campaign for his reinstatement across constituency parties which, to put matters euphemistically, is not terribly likely to succeed. Therefore, the ball is now in Corbyn's court. Is he going to stand as an independent, despite the urgings of allies like Jon Lansman and Barry Gardiner not to? Probably. But how about a new party?

Long time readers know I'm sceptical about the prospects of new parties from the left. Indeed, we specifically addressed the possibility of a new Corbyn-led left party just over a year ago. The fundamentals remain the same. No sitting Labour politician is going to defect, and no existing trade union affiliates are likely to bid adios to the party - though it might attract some support from unaffiliated unions like the Bakers' Union and the RMT (who, after all, indulged the notoriously ineffective TUSC for over a decade). Acting as big drags would be sections of the far left who would undertake entry jobs and inevitably get caught up in recruitment turf wars with one another. Imagine the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal duking it out in branches across the country. Scintillating stuff. And the undisciplined rabble of self-promoting narcissists - the George Galloways, Chris Williamsons, Tommy Sheridans and the dozens of activists who "accidentally" indulge antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories on their social media feeds - will ensure a new left party would become a toxic swamp very quickly. And there's the small matter of the election system, of which more in a moment.

Yet, there is a kernal of potential. There are tens of thousands of leftists who are looking for a new political home, and would sign up in a heart beat if Corbyn declared for a new party. A Corbyn party could attract wider layers as well. For example, the other day Sebastian Payne was wittering in The Times about how Keir Starmer lacks any big ideas, which makes him vulnerable to the competence (lol) affected by Rishi Sunak re: the Northern Ireland Protocol and the other policy deliverables. It's unlikely Labour have much to fear from this direction, and is part of the relentless effort of the Tory press to keep Starmer tacking right. The Tories might be staring defeat in their face, but their politics don't have to be vanquished. But Payne is right to scent a danger, albeit it's wafting in from the left. At the moment, most left wing voters - and there were over 10 million of them in 2019 - are supporting Starmer's Labour because they want the Tories out, and there's no credible alternative. But if there was ...

It's worth remembering why Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election and then the support of millions. There was no Magic Grandpa nonsense. Corbyn simply stated that cutting public services was a bad idea because it hurt the most vulnerable, he talked about the housing crisis, was against shovelling public money into private pockets, and believed, to channel the popular meme, that society can and should be improved somewhat. Millions responded to this not because Corbyn was a messianic figure, but because he tapped into the hopes, aspirations, and interests that had long been neglected by establishment politics of the right and the left. It was a return of the repressed, and since the near death experience of 2017 the hallmark of "grown up politics" is to shove this back down into the hole. A new Corbyn-fronted party could open this up again and make politics more interesting.

But there is the historical record to contend with. The electoral system has proven an insurmountable barrier for the left outside of Labour, and challenges from this direction have only been episodically successful. The most high profile examples being Ken Livingstone winning the London mayoralty in 2000, and Galloway taking Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and Bradford West in 2012. A personality-centred challenge can work, and I have no doubt Corbyn would win Islington North either as an independent or at the head of the hypothetical party. Beyond that, victories elsewhere are unlikely. But it might not matter. The real potency for a Corbyn-led left party, provided it's not strangled by the wrecking left, is as blackmail potential. Before 2015 and in 2019, Nigel Farage was able to leverage the potential threat UKIP and the Brexit Party presented the Tories to achieve his aims: a referendum on EU membership, and then ensuring a hard Brexit was the only kind of EU exit the Tories could win an election on. The Starmerism-by-default position of millions of left voters could be thrown into question, and force Labour to attend to its natural support. If only a Corbyn-led party managed modest single figure polls, consistent numbers above five per cent would be enough to worry the more strategically savvy people in Starmer's office and force them to tack left. This could take the form of "rediscovering" the 10 leadership pledges, deciding "common ownership" means nationalising utilities after all, or emphasising policies already on the books, like the potentially transformative commitment to workers' rights.

True, the omens aren't good for a Corbyn-led party. But the potential to disrupt is there, and with politics still in a febrile state, despite the best efforts of government and opposition to calm things down post-Johnson/Truss and post-Corbyn, it could catalyse enough discontent that isn't to the liking of any wing of the political establishment.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

interested as to why the greens don't even deserve a mention in all of this?

Simon Reynell said...

Sadly I agree with the first half of this (IE that a Corbyn-led party would likely become a marginalised squib with toxic edges), but not the second (that it might become a leftist force with UKIP-like influence on UK politics). UKIP's policies received a lot of support in the press; Corbyn's wouldn't & the press would have a field day further smearing & vilifying him. With the Labour Party effectively sealed from leftist influence, our best hope remains a hung parliament, and then the smaller parties forcing Starmer to adopt PR, which he would only do extremely reluctantly, but which could lead to a general reset of UK politics. But even that remains unlikely, sadly.

Phil said...

I haven't mentioned the Greens because I think it's very unlikely Corbyn would join them!

Shai Masot said...

Lansman gets away with murder... again.

Anonymous said...

indeed, but it's also very unlikely he'd start a successful new party for the reasons you've indicated. at least the idea of him joining the greens has a single problem (maybe two if you include whether the greens would have him) and a much more interesting potential outcome.

for a start it would certainly help with the "wreckers" - i tend to refer to them as the "uncompromising left" - not least because they tend to have the most against the greens. it would certainly be more successful than a new party, and with the greens being a democratic party, the support corbyn would bring with him would also push the greens more towards small-l labour politics.

Anonymous said...

i mean, i'm sympathetic to corbyn obviously being far more attached to the labour party than me, but that doesn't mean that rejecting the greens out of hand isn't just tribalism above effective politics

Anonymous said...

Because the so-called Green Party were part of the coalition that brought Corbyn's Labour down via the People's Vote campaign? Corbyn wouldn't join them and they've been pretty ineffectual so let's start something new that actually reflects our values.

Old Trot said...

Phil quite correctly didn't mention The Greens I think. The morphing of the German Greens into the uber warmongering party of Europe (as well as their regular support for Austerity whenever in coalition/power, including Brighton council under councillor Kitkat of course ) should be yet more evidence that the Green parties have nothing but opportunism to offer.

Sadly , as Phil rightly states early in his article, the UK 'radical Left' nowadays is packed full of irrelevant (to most folks) marginalised ideas and peculiar obsessive factionalists who can never build a mass base amongst the working class , or even most of the more Left-oriented middle classes. As those of us unfortunate enough to experience numerous radical Left projects like The Left Alliance, Respect, or Left Unity, found out .

If Jeremy really wants to make an impact, rather than serving out his time as a marginalised old Leftie in the Commons for 5 more years (if he won as an Independent) , why doesn't he stand for Mayor of London , as per Ken Livingstone ? He could very well win, and the opportunity to do something significant for poorer Londonners would be considerable.

tempestteacup said...

Perhaps I am giving the Hammer of the Left LARPers of the Labour Right more credit than they deserve, but if I were them, I'd welcome Corbyn running as an independent in Islington North. Not only that - I'd prepare the ground for it to happen.

Having already made it abundantly clear that they will blacklist those who publicly support Corbyn, preventing his selection and then encouraging or forcing him to run as an independent creates a neat opportunity to further entrap whatever remains of the Labour left. Anyone - member or elected representative - who actively endorses, promotes or supports Corbyn's candidacy can be expelled from the party. Those who remain silent, or endorse whoever is chosen to run against him with a Labour rosette, is tarnished by standing by and allowing it to happen.

In one move, you force the remaining left to either abandon a comrade or expose themselves to expulsion. Choose a particularly noxious right winger to run as Labour candidate in the constituency and you make the dilemma even nastier. And then, if/when Corbyn is returned as MP, he would still be a mostly reliable vote for Labour in the HoC over anything but foreign policy/civil liberties, where you can rely on the Tories with whom you mostly walk in lock-step anyway.

Seeing the reaction to Lansman's predictable scabbing on behalf of Starmer's decision to nobble Corbyn's selection, anticipating the near-inevitable wind-twisting of ccommentators like Owen Jones, this issue is already set fair to further demoralise and fracture what passes for the Labour left. Whether or not they choose to act immediately and expel members who support his candidacy, they will always have the option should they later on fancy a fresh trawl through social media in service of yet another purge.

Perhaps hubris will bring them down, but for the time being I'm pretty sure the Labour leadership is confident any general election victory will not be contingent on retaining the support of the left they've spent the last years denigrating. Likewise, I'm sure that the loss or retention of Islington North is not part of their planning. Their strategy is already decided: they win or fall by persuading the bourgeoisie to give them a go on the joystick of the state, and they do that by proving they can be trusted to defend or advance its agenda.

The performative humiliation of the left has not just been a delightful means to settle scores from the Corbyn interregnum - it has been a vital means to prove fealty to the reactionary agenda of the British ruling class. Encouraging him to run as an independent against a Labour candidate in a seat with a gargantuan Labour majority is yet another ready-made opportunity to force the remaining left into an impossible bind: abandon one of their own, or expose themselves in such a way that colludes in their own expulsion.

AJ2 said...

At this stage I don't think either Corbyn or the Greens have anything to gain from him joining them. If he decides to stand as an independent he already has more than enough election workers including those with lots of experience at running them. The Greens would attract a huge amount of media attention and attacks which I'm not sure they are ready for. The JLM is already effectively accusing them of Anti semitism and it would just become a total shitstorm if he joined them. Of course its likely to happen further down the road anyway if the Greens start seriously challenging Labour.

If Corbyn does stand and win then I think he would be better off growing an embryonic party organically by endorsing other indepedent socialists initially at council level. No membership so no problems with Trots or Gobshites.

As for the Greens. Well I'm not a member and I have no intention of joining them but their programme is way to the left of Labour and they are already a nationaly organised party with an MP and hundreds of Cllrs. A growing Green vote ( no sign of it yet at national level) would certainly put Labour in panic mode and possibly force them leftwards. The ideal scenario would be a hung HoC or a small labour majority in which the smaller parties including Corbyn and what remains of left wing labour mps could extract concessions on PR etc etc. Not likely but I live in hope because there is no hope left in Labour

Anonymous said...

It interesting how much crap is talked by some on these comment pages. Practically everything said about the Greens is nonsense. Of course Corbyn wouldn't join them, and they wouldn't have him if he tried. Why? A lot of his followers would be disruptive, and the bad publicity would outweigh any gains from those who were not.

The ridiculous pretence that Corbyn was entirely a victim of nefarious back-stabbing is dangerous delusion. Corbyn has many qualities, and seems a decent, caring and genuine bloke. What he is not is any sort of leader. It was relatively easy for those who wished to undermine him because he never seemed to realise that he needed to consolidate control of the party. Of course, in an ideal world he wouldn't have needed to, but we are talking about the notoriously scheming Labour Party. Anyone could have told him that he needed to oust those within the party administration who would actively agitate and work against him. His failure to do this meant his downfall was inevitable. While it would be unfair to say he only had himself to blame, he was partially culpable. Among his supporters were too many loose cannons and excitable airheads who believed that a socialist utopia was but a vote away. They also failed him by not working to rebuild the PLP into a genuinely left of centre party. They didn't because they imagined that simply having Corbyn as a sort of Messiah was enough. They thought everyone would come to believe and that provided you wished hard enough, it would come true.

The Greens are not responsible for the failure of Corbyn to win in 2017. Only someone living in a fantasy world would imagine that. Speaking as someone with Green sympathies, I voted, as I always have done, tactically, to try to prevent a Tory government. In my area that would have been for Corbyn's labour had they any chance. They didn't, so it wasn't. Tactical voting on the progressive side of politics was aimed at stopping the Tories. All Greens are progressive, so all would have voted to this aim.

Robert Dyson said...

I don’t know to what extent Corbyn has thought through options and it seems impertinent to make suggestions. It does seem to me that the best honourable thing he can do is stand as independent for a last period as MP; he will be free to say things as they are. Of course he is like all of us a human with failings, but overall a good, honest man. I am outraged by what has happened to him. Starting a new party will embroil him in a very messy future. Even were he elected as London Mayor he would be thwarted in every way possible by whatever party in government, and he may not have the skills for the job. Probably Labour will form the next government but I am not totally sure of that. Starmer has been deceitful and that must have resonated painfully with many. Hell has no fury like a supporter scorned. We are long past the era of two and a bit party politics; with FPTP funny things can happen. Better to face the wolf than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Blissex said...

«attract a huge amount of media attention and attacks which I'm not sure they are ready for. [...] a total shitstorm if he joined them.»

We have already seen how narrow are the "guardrails" of permitted politics, with the ferocious anti-Johnson and anti-Truss campaigns of recent months. The permitted political range is Blair-to-Cameron, from progressive yet authoritarian thatcherite to conservative and authoritarian thatcherite (or from Sunak on the moderate-kipper "centre-left" to Starmer on the ultra-kipper "centre-right"). As to Corbyn the FT gave away the story:
2019-11-15 “The Thatcher revolution is coming under threat

"There Is No Alternative" is a command that must be obeyed.

«Of course its likely to happen further down the road anyway if the Greens start seriously challenging Labour.»

No problem as long as the Greens don't challenge the core of thatcherism (booming property rents and labour market reform, or as in Peter Mandelson's wonderfully pithy summary “in the urgent need to remove rigidities and incorporate flexibility in capital, product and labour markets, we are all Thatcherites now”).

I cannot see what is incompatible with thatcherism in the culture and politics of so many Greens, and their anti-growth 18th-century wing is nearly as tory as J Rees-Mogg :-).

The main hope for "the left" is a the long slog of rebuilding the movement behind the party, hindered at every turn by blacklistings, distracted by difficult job situations and desperate housing market conditions. The "immaterial labour" workers connected by social networks might be the seed for that as our blogger hopes.

The other not so good hope for "the left" is that the long and frankly quite insane financial spivery of the past decades finally overloads the ability of the present system to absorb shocks, the elites escape to their safe palaces on private islands and operetta kingdoms, and "the left" inherits its ruins.

Blissex said...

«a decent, caring and genuine bloke. What he is not is any sort of leader. It was relatively easy for those who wished to undermine him because he never seemed to realise that he needed to consolidate control of the party.»

My guess is quite different:

* Corbyn knew that there is only one possible party of the "left", and for him maintaining party unity and avoiding PASOKification was the overriding consideration in the long term, whatever the cost.

* For the Militant Mandelsoncy party unity does not matter, and pushing away "trot" supporters and voters is fine, because what they really care about is thatcherism and there are already another two major thatcherite parties, so the PASOKification of New New Labour is either a small regret or a positive, thatcherism will continue. See Chuka Umunna as the manifestation.

I am not saying that Corbyn was right about party unity, whatever the cost, but that if that was his motivation it was a plausible reason to avoid pushing away supporters and voters from the right of the party.

Anonymous said...

Well it's just stereotyping nonsense to say, "What he (Corbyn) is not is any sort of leader" when he led the Labour Party to 41% of the votes which is a darn sight more than Blair acheived in 2005 or Brown in 2010. The Blairites are renowned for saying Corbyn was not a leader but there's no need to replicate their tropes. Admittedly a personality politics-led Left Party would appear to have intrinsic weaknesses. But at the same time anybody casually browsing Twitter or other social media used by the left will know that there's a powder-keg made up of unco-ordinated activists out there waiting for something to happen to light the fuse. Who knows what that might be?

McIntosh said...

Well, he could just retire. he will be 75 at the next election and 80 when it finishes.

Retirement would enable him to write articles for various publications, do speaking tours, write his memoirs and cultivate his allotment. it could also enable the constituency party to select a younger, continuity candidate.

AJ2 said...

His CLP will not be allowed to select a left wing PPC. Neither would any other CLP. Which is why I suspect some MPs who would have retired like John mc are hanging on

JN said...

Clearly, we need a party of the left. So is it more improbable to found a new party (particularly if it had a few established political figures and some backing from major trade unions, etc...) or to dream of somehow reclaiming the Labour Party again? It's impossible to know. But currently we seem to have no real plan to do either.

Corbyn opened a door for the left into mainstream electoral politics, and Starmer has slammed it shut again. We should at least be clear on that.

Unknown said...

The Green New Deal Party

• Sitting socialist MP’s who have resigned the Labour whip.
• The affiliation of several large Trade Unions.
• 100’000’s of ordinary members in communities all over the country.
• A fully democratic constitution with mandatory open selection and OMOV.
• A membership driven inclusive manifesto focused on climate and social justice with a just transition to zero carbon leaving no region and no one behind.

Why bother with a new party at all?
Don’t they all just fail in the end?
Why don’t we work with what we already have?

Though many of us would prefer that the Labour Party could/would be the vehicle to empower ordinary working people to have a real say in how politics is done it is now abundantly and irrefutably clear that will not happen. Every day and by a variety of means party democracy and socialism are further marginalised and power is concentrated ever more in an anti democratic, right wing authoritarian centre. That power is willfully & consistently abused leading to proscriptions, suspensions and expulsions being out of control. Even sitting and long serving office holders are excluded from candidate selection processes if they have any tendency towards party democracy and/or socialism. How many sitting democratic socialist MP’s and councilors will be barred from standing for the Labour Party at future elections? At least one certainly and very likely several or even dozens more!
In short the Labour party is now firmly and irretrievably in the grip of a political class that care more for their own power and cosy niche within the status quo than about democracy or socialism and are emphatically - even religiously - opposed to ordinary working people aspiring to have a say in how politics is done.

Even if the Labour Party were elected to government tomorrow it would owe far more to wealthy donors, big corps and the billionaire owned media than to those who actually voted for it. The best we would get is a few more crumbs from the table but the direction of travel would remain the same. We have been here before. How many times do we have to bang our heads against the “least worst option” brick wall because as Mandelson infamously put it “we have nowhere else to go”.

Well, for good or ill, Scotland and the Red Wall put paid to that patronising and toxic notion and did indeed find somewhere else to go.

Reality check: It is pretty evident that the above scenario is not really gonna happen – I know that, we all know that - but with luck we might get the next best option which would be a hung parliament where minority parties had enough clout to force the Labour party into a coalition in return for PR.
Nothing will ever change if we cannot rid the country of the FPTP duopoly for good!