Thursday, June 30, 2016

On Corbyn

So, my official position on the insurgency against Jeremy Corbyn from his own cabinet. As, so often these days, in the form of a Quora answer to the question : Are people calling for Jeremy Corbyn to step down after Brexit delusional?

Un-fucking-believably idiotically delusional.

I am … flabbergasted … that the Labour party has decided to commit suicide today. (Sunday 27 June, 2016).

Hilary Benn and friends have basically just declared that they want Nigel Farage to be Prime Minister.

It takes stupendous incompetence to make Nigel Farage into the most successful and competent party leader in England. But right now, that’s what he is. A leader who actually leads his party. And achieves the things he sets out to do.

Welcome to the age of stupid.

So … what happened is this. We are out of Europe because Cameron did a rash thing that backfired. And a lot of traditional working-class Labour voters were sold a simplistic story by the far-right, that immigrants were the reason for all the things that were wrong in their lives and the economy. (Rather than, say, the 2008 crash, and Cameron and George Osborne’s austerity policies over the last 6 years)

So, the anti-Corbyn faction have spun that into the idea that it’s Labour’s fault that the referendum went Brexit. And, in particular, those who have beef with Corbyn, have decided to jump on the bandwagon and claim that it’s particularly Corbyn’s fault for being lukewarm on European membership; a reluctant Remain. It’s Corbyn wot lost it.

Well, guess what. While a majority of Labour voted to remain, a sizeable chunk of Labour voted to leave. Labour IS conflicted over Europe; the working class haven’t seen much of the benefit of membership. And even remainers are sceptical. In other words, Corbyn’s lukewarm attitude to Europe far more accurately reflects the opinion of Labour membership and its traditional voters than any enthusiastic Europhilia does.

Now most of Corbyn’s enemies are from the right of Labour. The Blairite or New Labour side. Those who strongly believe that to win, Labour needs to recapture the political centre and the middle-class.

Maybe. But meanwhile, Labour is STILL haemorrhaging its actual, real (as opposed to potential) support among the working class. The SNP have taken its voters away from it in Scotland. UKIP is now taking working class voters away from it in the rest of England.But according to today’s plotters, Labour must orient itself yet further towards the interest of the urban elites; be louder and more dedicated in espousing them.

Except, simultaneously, it needs to also listen to the “real concerns” that labour voters have about immigration. And, ironically, Corbyn is both accused of bringing up questions like the TTIP which are allegedly “irrelevant” to people on the doorstep (despite being one of the most fundamental changes in legislation that Europe was bringing to the UK) AND of “lack of leadership” (ie. not just pandering to the crowd and media talking points)

He’s damned when he does reflect Labour voters (ie. is lukewarm) and damned when he doesn’t (ie. tries to talk about bigger issues, defends immigration)

(As a comparison, imagine this was an uprising by pro-Brexit Labour MPs, led by Kate Huey, claiming that Corbyn had backed the wrong horse and was out of step with supporters. At least that argument would have the benefit of coherence.)

The real delusion is this :

The Labour Party is being torn apart by historical forces that are far bigger than Jeremy Corbyn and his enemies. It serves multiple constituencies whose interests (economic, political and ideological) are diverging alarmingly. It finds it harder and harder to find positions that appeal to all these constituencies and whenever it speaks up for one, it alienates the others just a little bit more. (Perhaps Labour in any real sense, as the coalition of working class economic interest and middle-class liberal cultural interests is finished. Along with the second-wave industrial economy that spawned that alliance.)

And Corbyn’s critics are right. With his fusty old beliefs and principles, perhaps he can’t reunite these different factions.

But the reason they’re delusional is that neither can anyone else.

Corbyn’s critics, who blame him personally him for this, are fantasizing about a unicorn politician, someone who can magically be on everyone’s side at the same time : pro-Europe, pro-market, pro globalization, low taxing, liked by the right-wing media, and also pro-working class, protecting them from the competition that immigrants and globalization bring, offering more services etc. etc.In other words, they want a Trump-like, post-truth politician with the ability to tell everyone what they want to hear while not getting caught out. Basically, they’re hoping for their very own Boris Johnson. Blair with added xenophobia. 

But even if you passionately believe in unicorns, and think Corbyn needs to be replaced by one. You still ought to wait for the unicorn to arrive. Not just make a unicorn-shaped hole in the hope that one will turn up to fill it.

Let’s consider a couple of things :

1) The space of being right-wing of the Labour party while being nicer than the Tories, is already occupied by the Liberal Democrats. And they have long found very meagre pickings in that zone. They have to content themselves to just playing the “we’re the opposite of whoever you don’t like” game at the local level.

The only time the LibDems did well, was as a way for left-wingers to protest against Blair’s support for the Iraq War. The moment they went back to pitching themselves as “saner Tories”, they were wiped out. This is a common delusion but there is no “there, there” in the centre of British politics. If there was, the LibDems would have ruled the country for decades.

2) why did Corbyn win the leadership of the Labour Party in the first place? The utter lack of plausible alternatives. Everyone else in the campaign couldn’t articulate any position beyond “tell me who you want me to be”. And that went down like a lead balloon.

Things are no better now. If Corbyn goes, we know there are no unicorn populists in the Labour Party who are waiting to fill that vacuum. There’s no one with that magical ability to appeal to everyone. We know this because if there were such a politician in Labour today, then we’d have already heard from him (or her). They’d have already been prominent within the Remain campaign. They’d have been out there with Alan Johnson winning hearts and making headlines. Corbyn wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have stopped that (despite his enemies trying to talk up a story of “sabotage”). Any of today’s shadow cabinet resigners could have been out there making a name for themselves saying brilliant things if they had it in them to do it.

In practice, Labour was collectively lacklustre. It was collectively lacklustre because it really is between a rock and a hard place. The ONLY people who can argue that you can have the economic liberalism of the EU AND protectionist anti immigration policies are barefaced liars like Johnson and Farage. And, to their credit, Labour wasn’t shameless enough to try to promise that. Even if the cost was saying very little of consequence.

So, Labour had big problems in the referendum. But Corbyn is a symptom, not a cause, of them.

This week, David Cameron, the great Tory “success” of recent years, has been humiliated , revealed as making a spectacular error of judgement and has fallen. Meanwhile Boris Johnson is getting revealed as spectacularly dishonest. The entire tissue of lies that is the Brexit campaign is unravelling. The financial markets are in free-fall.

This is ALL the fault of right-wing incompetence.If Labour went on holiday for a month, they should be 10 points ahead when they came back.

Instead, a bunch of self-indulgent MPs, blinded by their own anger, confusion and frustration at Brexit and panic over a near election, have decided this would be an ideal week to turn in on themselves and break the Labour Party. Possibly for good.

In the run up to an early general election (if it comes within the next 12 months) the story coming out of Labour should be ALL about how allegedly “safe” Conservative hands clumsily dropped and broke the economy while UKIP were telling outrageous porkies.

Instead the message will be a confusing internal squabble about whether, in this party that almost entirely supported remain, the leadership was enthusiastic enough in its support for Europe. Despite that position being an overall vote-loser.


Instead of recognizing the fundamental challenges that the 21st century presents to centre-left politics and parties : global capitalism, high-speed finance, mass automation threatening most traditional employment, mass movements of people due to continual unrest and wars, climate change, social media, cryptography, blockchains etc. etc. MPs in the “shadow cabinet”, the aspiring government in waiting, are trying to personalize everything as Corbyn’s fault, and fantasize that by getting rid of the hated leader, their unicorn saviour will magically appear and heal the contradictions in the party, reunite them and make everything OK with the electorate.

Now THAT is delusional.

If Labour spends the next 6 months infighting, as other lacklustre non-entities demand their turn to wilt in the spotlight of leadership, then the beneficiary will be UKIP, whose pitch to the working-class will be “we know what we stand for, we get things done (though we still haven’t managed to purge ourselves of these immigrants because of Tory prevarication)”. They’ll take an even bigger slice of working-class voters from Labour, perhaps finally winning enough seats to force the Tories into coalition.

Anyone who believes a “nationalist” party can’t take the working class away from Labour should look to Scotland. And the rise of far right parties in the rest of Europe.

Farage has already pwned the Tory party, by spooking Cameron into giving him the referendum that he can now claim credit for winning. He’s actually had Tory leavers dancing to the tune of his propaganda campaigns. Now imagine a coalition government with, say, Theresa May as notional prime-minister and Farage as deputy. It wouldn’t take long for him to grab the oxygen and become its public face (and perhaps driving force).

What stands between us and that future is a united Labour party. Letter after letter of shadow cabinet resigners stress that and say that Corbyn can’t unite Labour. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s they who have decided to refuse to be united under Corbyn.

When they say that he failed because he failed to stop Brexit, they aren’t speaking for the 52% of the country that voted FOR Brexit. They aren’t speaking for the membership of the Labour Party that overwhelmingly voted Corbyn. They aren’t speaking for the working class that was ambivalent about the benefits of the EU and tempted to take a punt on something different. They’re just publicly broadcasting their own cluelessness about the contradictions within the Labour Party. And their willingness to try to pin the blame on someone else.

It won’t end well. Corbyn has a mandate from Labour members and supporters. He’s always put his principle over toeing the party line, even when it made him unpopular. He has no reason to think that this upswing against him has any more principle behind it than naked fear and ambition.

So I think he’ll fight it. And we’ll see Labour collapse into an angry, bad tempered leadership contest, with no obviously strong / charismatic alternative to Corbyn coming forward.

Either Corbyn wins it leaving his detractors smouldering with resentment and denuding the front-bench of even their meagre talents. Or someone else comes through, who MPs like better but proves equally incapable of solving the fundamental contradictions that Labour faces, but does drive away the enthusiastic supporters who came on-board for and with Corbyn.

Most likely you’ll see a very ugly competition where some candidates espouse anti-immigration policies direct from UKIP, scaring away liberal London, while Europhile Blairites tell a tired Polyannaish story about the benefits of globalization that reinforces their out-of-touchness with Labour voters in post-industrial regions.

Labour was falling apart anyway, due to historical trends. But this coup is like trying to arrest that process by hitting it with a big hammer. All it will do is accelerate the fragmentation.


Oli said...

Well, I think the PLP position is actually along the lines of:

*) Even Corbyn couldn't bring the working class disillusioned with him so we're fools to think that we can get them back without just aping UKIP - and the PLP don't want to do that. They believe in progressive, *multicultural*, internationalism - they're probably resigned to giving up the 'little Englander' voters to another party.

*) Corbyn's refusal to engage with the media may work as a slow, long term approach to building very strong support among a few core supporters, but it means he's been completely absent from the national dialog during the most important constitutional issue in a generation.

*) Many 'progressive' voters who were in favor of remain (like me) will hold Corbyn at least partly responsible for this absurd and very disturbing mess that we're in. Not because he asked for it, but because in the national conversation he was largely absent. There's a huge conversation that can be had about why he was absent, but we need to have a strong progressive voice being heard within the national debate. This was the test that Corbyn has failed for me. The PLP want to be that voice - Corbyn cannot.

*) Finally I think the PLP recognise that the Labour party as existed 1.5 weeks ago is no longer viable and a split is inevitable. They want Corbyn to split off and go elsewhere - otherwise I think they will.

IMHO both (all) parties have failed us dismally and it's time not just for new politics but for new parties.

Oli said...

... actually my last bullet point is maybe overstating it. It seems that PLP are trying to do everything they can to not split the party, but to my view it's not possible to 'overthrow' Corbyn without losing the support of many of his supporters. So, 100,000's of Labour members will be looking to go elsewhere (Socialist Workers Party is most likely) if Corbyn is forced out.

But I think the calculation is that losing 100,000s of Corbyn supporters now is the necessary price in order for Labour to have a chance of attracting the millions of voters that they will need in order to win substantial power at the next election.

Either way, Labour is essentially a spent force :(

I was also convinced that Tories were a spent force too ... but there's a small possibility that they'll actually come together behind May. However that might turn out to be a temporary truce as the reality of Brexit slowly unravels ... along with the Tory party.

This mess isn't over by a long way. It's just beginning :(

Oli said...

Well, Angela Eagle speaks louder and more confidently that Corbyn, but unfortunately in the few interviews I've seen so far she doesn't give the impression that she knows what she's doing except for 'unifying' the party :(

... and this video seems to embarrassingly capture the growing irrelevance of the Labour party:

The centrist 'rebels' should have been much bolder and gone for someone like Chuka Umunna who has great presence, passion and gives a good impression of knowing what he's talking about.

It's a mess.

Composing said...

The phrase "damp squib" springs to mind.

I believe Chuka Umanna ruled himself out of the leadership competition last year, saying he didn't want to subject his family to the level of media intrusion it would entail.

As, is often the case, The Guardian's Gary Younge, is extremely insightful and coherent here : (The other commentators are good too.)