Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues
I’m not supporting Corbyn. There I said it. It’s been coming for a while, since the Brexit vote if I’m honest.
I supported Corbyn, I campaigned for Corbyn, I canvassed for Corbyn. I spent a lot of time and energy convincing friends and acquaintances to join the Labour party, to vote for Corbyn and to support him. Friends and acquaintances who were disillusioned with politics and unlikely to vote.
I found the snobbery of people like Chukka telling people like me that we don’t know what we’re doing infuriating. I found the press assault despicable and I found the behavior of our MP’s utterly indefensible.
That hasn’t changed. I’m appalled by the likes of Hilary Benn for the way he’s conducted himself, appalled at the shadowy cabal at the backbenches who have constantly undermined the front bench, appalled at the total lack of anything even resembling objectivity by our nations sources of news.
Yet. I’m finding myself increasingly appalled by Jeremy’s behaviour.
Before you start shouting I’m a blarite and whats not. Let me explain why. I started supporting Jeremy because he shared my ideals, of a prosperous yet fair Britain, of a confident yet just nation, of one where we didn’t stomp on the poor to entice the rich.
I felt impassioned by the drive towards building a new economics, I felt spurred on by the release of documents during the leadership campaign and I felt delighted over the hiring of the economic advisers.
However, my support was always conditional, as it should always be. I have never put my faith completely in a person irrespective of their actions, I never will. My vote for Jeremy was part of a movement that wants, needs change. I hoped he would be the vehicle for that change, yet he has shown that he isn’t. The conditions were always the same, get in the leadership, hire a top team, run out the problems of his lack of experience, get gunning at the Tories, force an early election, win the election and start reversing the coalitions crap.
I expected there to be wrinkles. I expected there to be problems, afterall, I knew better than most the sort of press assault Jeremy would be facing. I knew it’d be brutal, bordering on hysterical. I knew the PLP wouldn’t like it. I knew that the Tories would likely go on the assault.
I expected all of that and I gave Jeremy time because of it. But from the off, I was put off. He took an age getting out the gate, he took an age to recruit a team, he took an age to start attacking the Tories.
Any seasoned observer of politics will tell you the same thing. The immediate reaction is crucial. Where was Jeremy? Nowhere to be found, now I know, it was an exhausting campaign and he’s not exactly young. It was going to be more hard fighting, but his absences just allowed our detractors to attack us ever more feverently without reply.
I’ve never witnessed anything like the assault we faced in the first week. The articles, the interviews and the despicable behavior of number 10. It was horrifying and it was invigorating. The reasoning was if Murdoch, if Rothermere and the big press barons didn’t like it, if Cameron didn’t like it, we were on the right track.
Ideologically, we were set, I’d say most of the Labour MP’s don’t have a problem with Jeremy’s domestic ideals, if you put those ideals independent of party and personal tags to the electorate, you’re likely coming out with an absolute majority of the country agreeing.
The importance then, becomes communicating those ideals in a way that people can understand, emphasize and most importantly, vote for.
Despite all the bad of Tony Blair, and there is plenty, he managed to communicate that more effectively than any prime minister in the post war period. Trudeau in Canada was a particular blueprint for how we could go about it. The wildfire of Sanders campaign (at that time) seemed also another method.
And that was just a campaign blueprint, never mind the stirring rhetoric that people from all persuasions could employ. Trickle down economics never made sense, but Ronald Reagan could make it sound like gold. Nye Bevan always managed to communicate Labours goals in a stirring yet down to earth manner. The Kennedy brothers managed to make our hearts soar, our consciences weep and instill within us the firm conviction that action must be taken, that we must change things.
Now I wasn’t expecting any rhetoric like that, Corbyn has been a backbencher for his life, he’s no stirring orator, he’s not trained in communications like Blair, he doesn’t have the natural ability of JFK. What I was expecting was Corbyn to straightforwardly come out, state not only what Labour were against, but what Labour was for and begin the arduous task of convincing people who voted Tory at the last election to vote for Labour this time.
That’s important and I’ve said it in that particular way for a reason. People who voted Tory. That doesn’t mean they’re Tories, that doesn’t mean they’re card carrying members of the Conservative party, that doesn’t mean they’re the devil incarnate.
Who they are, are people on your street across the country who despite it being against their interests, decided for one reason or another to vote Tory in the last election. People like Michelle Dorrell who would have been better served by a Labour government, but voted Tory because she thought the Tories were in her corner. Save the crowing and the self-righteous judgement, we don’t need that. What we need to is figure out how we’re going to get those voters to vote for us.
Now I’ve spent a lot of time talking to fellow Corbyn supporters and fellow LP members. The big plan so far is to increase voter turnout and gutting the Green’s support and pulling out as many voters as we can. But here’s a newsflash, electoral math doesn’t lie. In many of the marginals we need to win bringing out all the non-voters (who aren’t guaranteed to vote Labour anyway) still will not hand us a majority.
Nor does it matter if we hemorrhage votes elsewhere that costs us seats up and down the country, as current, reliable and reputable polling shows that we will.
If you don’t think that part isn’t important, it is. We need a Labour government. Many of my friends can’t afford another Tory government. Many of my acquaintances can’t afford another Tory government. This country can’t afford another Tory government. This is as much personal for me as it is political.
But still, that doesn’t answer why I’m not supporting Jeremy anymore, sure he was absent those first few weeks. Sure there was a shambles of hiring a staff, for example, no director of communications until months after. And the choice of that was Seamus Milne who I believe is to a horrible person for this job, ineffectual, blinded by ideological fervour and completely unable to shape any form of narrative.
If you don’t think having a good director of communications matters, ask yourselves why the Tories campaign manager, who coordinated their message during the 2015 GE received a knighthood. It wasn’t because he was well liked, it was because he stamped early and fast what the Tories were for and what they would do and repeated that message so much you could not move without hearing it. And it worked. People heard that message, they understood it and they voted for it. Because from Ed, good guy as he is, didn’t have that message, people didn’t know what we were for.
That same mistake is being made under Corbyn. Sure we’re against austerity, but what are we for? What we are we going to do? How are we going to pay for it? How are we going to make it work?
All of these questions have to be answered for every single policy plan we have, for every single aim. Every single one of those policy ideas has to have their own speech, their own research, and their own legwork by the responsible portfolio holder in the shadow cabinet. None of that has happened. In the 12 months since he was elected, until the coup came out, there has been barely a word on solid policies. Now I don’t mean vague statements, but actual concrete policy we would be supporting. The few vague things that were articulated, screwed up existing policy for the shadow ministers responsible. They were announced by the wrong people with the office not even being informed half the time. If you don’t think that’s important, watch BBC Parliament and watch some of the shadow ministers debating with the government. They have to know their stuff, they have to be able to hold the government to account and they have to be able to set out a Labour alternative. They can’t do that if they’re not informed of policy. Before someone shouts out that its Blairite rubbish, read the resignation letters. It’s not just Blarities, its not just MP’s caught in the middle, its also MP’s on the left saying such things. MP’s with no incentive to oust Corbyn.
Lets look at how we respond to the press, we’re absent. John McDonnell goes everywhere and talks to everyone, but where is Jeremy? He’s at a rally with a few hundred, maybe a thousand people. That’s not what we need. We need him on the morning shows, we need him in the press, we need him doing interviews. And it’s pretty simple why. Communication. We have to get it out there that we’re not some lunatic band of lefties seeking to turn this country into a new Soviet Union, but we’re ordinary people who have a view of economics that favours restructuring the economy to bring good jobs to places where good jobs have been missing for a generation. We’re in favour of cracking down on bad employers who pay low and expect the tax payer to cover the difference, in favour of cracking down on appalling working conditions (yes, I’m looking at you Sports Direct). We’re in favour of supporting local business to take the reliance off multinationals and of building a new backbone of community business up and down the country. Prosperous, fair and forward thinking.
Our economic policy forum has fallen apart with nearly all members leaving, complaining about their ideas are not being listened to. I know what those ideas are because I’ve been listening to some of those before Labour hired them. Professor Mazzucato is an absolute gem and someone we should really be using, but we’re not.
Our foreign policy is a mess, how a Labour leader can ever advocate leaving NATO or not at the very least honouring our commitments is beyond me. We’re talking about a prospective Prime Minister here refusing to honour a commitment to protect another NATO member when they’re under attack. Never mind the shambles over Trident. The membership voted at conference to keep Trident, the leader has to follow that, even if he wants to persuade us otherwise.
We’re deficient in every area except shouting at the top of our voice that we’re anti-austerity. What does that mean? What does anti-austerity do? What policies will we follow? These things are all missing from Corbyn’s communications.
Now lets turn to the spirit of the Labour party. It’s turned rotten and its gone nasty. I remember right back in the early days of the Corbyn campaign when nobody gave us a hope in hell of getting on the ballot, never mind winning. It was positive, It was dynamic and above all, it was respectful. There was very little personal abuse.
Contrast that with now. The groupthink is frightening and the level of muck thrown around is horrifying. The misogyny, the anti-semitism and the conspiracy theories that are flying around have rendered what began as a hopeful movement, a movement of despair. Now I’m not saying that everyone is doing it, because they’re not. It’d be silly to tar the thousands of Labour members with that brush, I know quite a few Corbyn supporters who I am friends with, I’ve seen nothing from them in the past 12 months that’d resemble the level of abuse MP’s have been getting. But it’s there and people are being put off by it. It’s despicable and its ignoring one of the principle tenants of being on the left (as far as I’m concerned its one of the principle tenants). That is respect for people’s views. You have a right to dissent, we always have a right to dissent, but we also have to go about it respectfully. Hurling abuse is just not on. Its not what we’re about, its now what the Labour party is about and it’s not what we as people can be about.
Even if our passions are inflamed, we simply can’t descend into mudslinging and calling people Tories because they disagree with us. Ideologically, I haven’t changed my view from last year. I still identify as a democratic socialist. I still believe in getting a form of neo-Keynsianism back into Labour’s manifesto. I still believe in all the things that made Corbyn’s domestic policy indications right for me. Yet I’ve been called a Blairite, I’ve been a troll. I’ve been called a Tory.
Dissent is the womb of progress. I’ve said that often over the past few years. Yet every time I’ve dissented something with people who arduously support Corbyn, I’ve been accused of all manner of things. We can’t move forward if we don’t have dissent, and the space to dissent. Without it our ideas grow stale and squalid, stuck in a miserable past, frozen to a society that has since moved on and beyond.
In all of this, Jeremy has repeated his line of not endorsing abuse. But its happening in front of him and he stands there and does, nothing.
If there’s one truth of the past 12 months, its been a story about Jeremy’s inaction as much as anything. There’ve been precious few policy ideas, there have been precious few genuine attempts to reach out, and there have been precious few attempts to get anything done.
I like Jeremy, I still do, despite a few reservations about his beliefs on Russia, on Iran and on Trident, I still like him and I still like much of his domestic vision for the UK. It’s why I want him to step down, because I want to give the country a chance to experience that vision. We’re not going to get a chance to experience that vision with Jeremy at the helm because we’re going to be battered by the Tories.
I said it earlier, we need a Labour government. We don’t get one with Jeremy at the helm, that’s the sad truth of it, he’s looked out of his depth in controlling the vast machine that is the Labour party. He’s looked unable to come to term with his responsibilities and he’s been unable to reconcile his personal principles with his duty as Labour leader. It’s not a slight against him to say that, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Same thing with Ed Miliband. Same thing with Michael Foot. Same thing with Callaghan. They had the right ideas, but for one reason or another, it just doesn’t work for them on a personal level.
Yet, we have this messianic cult of personality developing, I don’t care that Jeremy sits on the floor during a train ride, I want his policies for the train network. I don’t care that he said some nice things to a rally, I want his policies for defence. I don’t care that he’s a euroskeptic at heart, I want to know how he’s going to resolve the mess that is Brexit. Yet to ask these questions is to rouse anger and have insults thrown at you.
I’m sick and tired of the insults being thrown, I want an honest discussion about where Labour goes from here, and we’re not getting that properly. Too many times people who support Corbyn boo Owen Smith without really listening to what he says, they conveniently ignore Corbyn’s own tenuous past and play up Owen Smith’s. They boo without really listening and then complain about Owen Smith’s supporters. They turn on people at lightening speeds without really considering what they’re saying. Case in point, Sadiq Khan. He’s the model of what we want in society, a poor working class lad ascending high on the rung because the Labour Party offered him the chance to do so. Yet he’s been called a Tory, a traitor because he spoke out against Corbyn.
Too often I see tenuous news sources, like the Canary being used to support positions, ignoring that the Canary is like a crazier left wing version of the Daily Mail. Coming with appalling hiring and employee practices, from a nominally left wing paper, that’s just ridiculous. We who are for workers rights use as our ‘news’ a paper that doesn’t respect them.
I often see people who see talk of a split and say “good, let them go!” Do they not realize that even if they should leave the Labour Party, Labour doesn’t have a right to a by-election until the next election is called? Do they not realize that If we have to fight a third party in all of our safe seats, it steals already scarce resources away from marginal we could have won? Do they not realize that we already played this game and it broke Britain by letting Thatcher carry on her reign of terror.
Then we have the people who say that if Corbyn goes, so will they. I don’t like the way the PLP have carried this out, but I am still committed to seeing a Labour government win the next election, whether Corbyn is leader or not, if he goes, abandoning the party doesn’t get anything done. All it means is that you were there for Corbyn, not for the aims of the Labour party. A party Jeremy would still be a part of, still be a MP for and still be on the ballot for in the coming election.
That builds up to a broader point about my experience of the left. I’ve read a lot about politics, I’ve watched a lot about politics. Sad as it may sound, by and large, my life has been all about politics. I’m also an ardent leftie and have been for some time. In all the politics I’ve read, there’s one moment that stands out in particular. 1945. That was to my mind, the only time in British history that the left managed to do anything and it’s because of the relentless focus of Clem. He built a team, unified them, kept them on message and went after the common ills plaguing the country, our story of the second world war is never complete unless it includes the post war rebuild by the Attlee government.
Since then, every single time the left wing of the Labour party have tried anything, it has descended into a farce of accusations, navel gazing and constant infighting and splinter groups. I think Tony Benn said it best, we have a socialist workers party, a workers party for socialism, a socialist party and a multitude of others. We don’t need that. They take votes from each other. Ideological purity of that sort is for academics who have the space to discuss these things. We’re not academics, we’re a political party.
As a leftie, I want all of those things to happen that most other lefties too, I want big money muzzled, I want Westminster to be more accountable, I want a government that guarantees good jobs everywhere. But I also recognize that those aims mean nothing without politicians helping people understand our vision.
We all agree on the broad aims, even the Labour Party MP’s on the very edge of the party’s right wing have the same broad aim as Dennis Skinner. A more prosperous and fairer Britain. How we go about that is where we disagree and that disagreement is good, as I said earlier, it leads to innovative new policies and it creates a newer consensus.
And we do need a new consensus, just as we had a post-war consensus and just as that was replaced by the Thatcherite consensus the crash of 2008 and the lackluster growth since, have demonstrated the failings of trickle down economics, the failings of Thatcherism and the failings of neoliberal economics. So we need a new consensus, but these consensuses all have one important thing in common, they are established by the party in office. Above all things, labour is a political party who’s aim is to win the election. We cannot affect the change we want if we have no way to bring that change forward. There are a great many things I would like to happen politically, I would like to spend every penny in the world to eradicate homelessness, but unless I have power, I cannot do that. I would like to turn schools into great palaces of education, with libraries stocked as they never have been in the history of mankind, but unless I have power, I cannot do that. I would like to make it so that my children can look at me and ask “what was it like when there were people who didn’t have enough to eat?” But I cannot do that unless I have power.
Unless Labour are in government, we cannot forge the times ahead. Instead the Tories are doing that and they’re ruining it. They are condemning an entire generation, my generation, to a life of low paid exploitative work. They are condemning the noughties kids to even worse by destroying their education. Chances are there’ll be an election within the next two years.
We need a government that will reverse these problems, a government that will bring down the deficit through investment, not through drastic cuts. But we only get that government if we can win the election and Corbyn is hemorrhaging our support. For every vote we’re picking up off the Greens, we’re losing ten in key marginals. We just saw how a huge slice of Labour voters prefer the near fascist Theresa May over Corbyn. We simply cannot continue on with numbers like that.
Is Owen Smith my ideal candidate? No, I want fire, I want rhetoric that makes me fly and I want someone who can charm the country. Can Owen do all of that? Maybe he can, maybe he can’t. But I know that Jeremy can’t. He’s the gamble we took that failed, we gambled that he’d be like Clem, quiet and uncharismatic, but relentlessly brilliant at keeping the party unified and focused, moving uncompromisingly forward with organisational genius. But that isn’t Corbyn. It hasn’t been the Corbyn on offer these past 12 months.
It’s why I’m voting Smith, its because in the debates, he’s offered more reasoned policy platforms in 5 minutes than Corbyn has in 12 months. It’s because I think there is more of a chance of Smith winning the election than there is of Corbyn. It’s because I think the board has changed and the situation that we elected Corbyn in 12 months ago, no longer exists. It’s why for the good of my party, for the good of my country, I’m voting for Owen Smith and so should you.