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On the madness of Alan Johnson invoking Keir Hardie to attack Jeremy Corbyn

Alan Johnson militant moderateAlan Johnson begins his pitch for the support of Yvette Cooper (Guardian, 4th August) with a reference to Keir Hardie. The problem is that his reference is wholly misleading. He claims that Hardie “believed in achieving power through the ballot box, eschewing class warfare …”. Johnson continues “He forged a Labour party rooted in the decency and moderation of working-class communities who wanted nothing to do with intolerant ideology. Inspired by Methodism more than Marxism“. Unlike Johnson, Hardie had no problem understanding that class struggle and the electoral battles are not mutually exclusive. As he put it:

The modern socialist movement is but a continuation of the fight for freedom which the disinherited have been waging since long ere yet history carries any record of man’s doings. Sociology – a science still in its infancy – leaves us in no doubt as to the process by which the mass of the people have been brought under subjection by the few. … The slave dreams of emancipation; the emancipated workman of citizenship; the enfranchised citizen of Socialism, the Socialist of Communism. It is hopeless to expect that a people … will be content to continue for ever in a state of industrial servitude. Socialism represents the same principle in industry which Republicanism represents in politics – Equality. … When the modern industrial movement reaches fruition, land, capital, and the State itself shall all be owned by the useful classes … And now, in the International Socialist movement we are at last in the presence of a force which is gathering unto itself the Rebel spirits of all lands and uniting them into a mighty host to do battle … for the overthrow of a system which has filled the world with want and woe. Workers of the world unite, wrote Karl Marx; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”

That doesn’t sound much like Alan Johnson’s Keir Hardie! In fact Hardie spoke in terms that Alan Johnson would clearly class as “extremist rhetoric“. And just for good measure here is another quote from the same source:

No law can give freedom to a people which is dependent upon some power or authority outside themselves for the necessaries of life. The owners of the means of life can dictate the terms upon which all who are not owners are to be permitted to live. This is the great new fact which Socialists are bringing to the front. Socialism says to the worker, It is not the State that holds you in bondage, it is the private monopoly of those means of life without which you cannot live, and until you make these means of life the common property and inheritance of all you can never hope to escape from your bondage.”

Alan Johnson goes on to list a series of advances secured by Labour governments that few people, certainly not Jeremy Corbyn, would dispute. His next step in his lead up to support for Yvette cooper is to present Jeremy Corbyn as “cheerfully disloyal to every Labour leader he’s ever served under“.

He says that’s okay “so long as members understand that it’s the loyalty and discipline of the rest of us that created the NHS … and all the other achievements …”. He clearly feels that toeing the line over such things as the invasion of Iraq, or declining to oppose a  welfare bill which makes the poorest worse off is a condition for supporting such things as the creation of the NHS. Can he be serious?

Alan Johnson says that he will vote for Yvette Cooper because not only is it time for Labour to have a woman leader but also because she:

  1. has the intellect, experience and inner steel required;
  2. developed a successful strategy to reduce teenage pregnancies;
  3. has poise and command of her brief as Shadow Home Secretary;
  4. has good ideas on tackling inequality and child poverty;
  5. has good ideas for a programme of radical devolution;
  6. defended Labour’s economic record against the lie that Labour caused the global financial meltdown;
  7. understands that the deficit cannot be ignored but must be reduced in a way that doesn’t choke off the economy.

He ends with “Let’s end the madness and elect her“. We are presumably meant to understand by “madness” support for Jeremy Corbyn. So, how does Jeremy Corbyn compare?

It is true that Corbyn is a male but even Johnson concedes that the choice of leader requires a lot more than gender check:

He clearly is not lacking in intellect. His lack of ministerial experience is not an insuperable obstacle. (It was not a notable problem for Tony Blair as PM.)

His ideas on inequality and child poverty are much more developed than Cooper’s and stand more chance of success since his anti-austerity position means that he would be better able to provide the boost required to lift the economy.

Not only is Jeremy Corbyn a supporter of devolution but his position on the left would make him much more attractive to those many one-time Labour voters who migrated from Labour to the SNP. Also, unlike Yvette Cooper, he is opposed to Trident renewal and that would help Labour north of the border as well.

Another difference is his strong interest in foreign affairs, a key issue for a PM. Corbyn like Cooper has argued that the economic crisis which started in 2008 was not the result of excessive government spending. However, unlike her, he also has a critique of the Labour government’s form of quantitative easing which he argues increased inequality. Finally, his economic plan shows that he has far more detailed ideas than Yvette how to revive the economy and unlike her he is not committed to austerity measures that choke off economic growth.

Alan Johnson’s attempt to dismiss support for Jeremy Corbyn as “madness” doesn’t do very well. His references to policy matters are as unreliable as his reference to the views of Keir Hardie. His comments on policy are all hand-waving stuff and he doesn’t, in a single case, compare the policies of Cooper and Corbyn. The best antidote to his claims is to go to the campaign websites of both Cooper and Corbyn and make up your own mind who has the best programme for economic revival, social change, a vibrant democracy, Britain’s involvement in the world and reining in the hold of the very rich over the rest of society.

23 Comments

  1. James Martin says:

    Hardie is indeed a great inspirational figure, and unlike Johnson stayed true to his socialist and trade unionist beliefs to the end – which included trying to organise a European-wide general strike to stop the First World War and being regularly attacked for his anti-war stance. Unlike Johnson of course who not only backed the illegal Iraq war, but then voted to try and stop the subsequent enquiries into it and Blair.

  2. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Excellent riposte of one of yesterdays men.

    Alan Johnson is weak, shallow and has had too many comfortable evenings cuddling up to Portillo on that week in politics couch.

  3. David Ellis says:

    It is a bit late to be a supporter of devolution. Devolution is now exposed as Westminster’s last gasp effort at divide and rule and now they are proposing to balkanise England so that they can keep their corrupt grip over Britain and blame the locals for austerity. No, time to take a principled position which is to replace the Norman Westminster Union with a Federation of Sovereign Nations. Westminster Lords and Commons should be turned into a museum for the entertainment of tourists or perhaps London’s biggest Wetherspoons which some say it already is.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Devolution means many different things at many different levels and on the lips of different people.

      I don’t think that it makes much sense to be for or against devolution in general. It all depends on what devolution and for what purpose. The angel/devil is definitely in the detail.

    2. James Martin says:

      David E – why do you persist in peddling the English Democrats programme on here?

      1. David Pavett says:

        What?

      2. David Pavett says:

        Sorry, just realised your comment was directed to David E, not me.

      3. David Ellis says:

        I don’t.

  4. David Ellis says:

    A comment reposted from elsewhere on the Johnson intervention:

    and we should listen to blairs favourite trades unionist why. sorry mr johnson the new labour insanity is over. scotland should tell you that. you launched and illegal war and sold the country to the banks who destroyed it. you were screwed by your own no more boom and bust hubris. you are electorally toxic. if labour sits behind any of the three blairite or new labour clones opposing corbyn for the next five years offering zero opposition to this vilest of tory government it will be as wiped out in england and wales in the next few years as it is now in scotland. it will join the tory collaborating lib dems in the dustbin of history. its corbyn or destruction for labour and every single new labour idiot he appoints to his shadow cabinet will cost labour seats every time they open their mouths so it would be a good idea not to appoint any. new labour have bought the labour party to the brink of extinction in only twenty shorty years and made it practically unelectable. for god s sake go.

  5. swatantra says:

    I’m not too bothered about what AJ has to say; goes in one ear and out the other.

  6. gerry says:

    Forget Keir Hardie: the level of debate in this leadership contest is predictably abysmal, and Alan Johnson’s comments are another silly low, to add to those by Dave Ward, Neil Kinnock, John McTernan and Tony Blair. Pointless, infantile, name-calling outbursts – temper tantrums by any other name. One side is: mad, extreme, delusional, entryist, Stalinist, trotskyite, in need of therapy…the other side is: torylite, neoliberal, redtory, a virus, corrupt, war criminal.

    Jeremy Corbyn’s stated policies are definitely more thought out and coherent than Yvette Cooper’s, but the real context as always, is this: can left or Centre-Left ideas and policies really win in 2020 UK? And Jeremy’s ideas are mainstream left ideas all of which post war social democratic parties everywhere believed between 1945 and 1979. Can these ideas win again?

    Luke Akehurst on Labour list contributed to this debate recently by referring to recent YouGov research that:

    3% of UK adults see themselves as “very left wing”

    12% as “left wing”

    14% as “left of centre”

    A total of 29% of all adults (we got 30% in the 2015 election).

    Another 20% saw themselves as ” centrists”. The other 51% were self described as centre-right, rightwing, far right or other.

    Alan Johnson et al need to stop the silly abuse and comparisons, and get back to really debating our policies, and how best we can appeal to the real UK voter, as they define themselves.

    1. Robert says:

      I really do not care much at this time labour is unelectable at this time and if they get one of the right wingers elected then I’m sure we will see the smiling face of Blair. Or is it wind , IBS more then likely.

      Johnson should be gone retire call it a day.

    2. David Pavett says:

      I think there is a problem with the idea that our task is “how best we can appeal to the real UK voter, as they define themselves”.

      Everyone who has ever taken political debate seriously has had the experience of changing their views as a result of interacting with others.

      The current (diverse) views of the public are obviously a starting point. What they should not be is a limit to the political ideas that we advocate. If they were then new ideas would never get off the ground. What is forgotten in that approach is the idea of engaging with people to develop their knowledge and understanding. That is something that Labour forgot about quite a long time ago and I would hope would change with a Corbyn leadership – or even the enhanced role of the left within Labour which should result from this leadership process whichever way it goes.

      1. gerry says:

        I agree that public views en masse can be radically changed – the yes referendum Scotland campaign is proof of that. And Barack Obama, quoted by Corbyn, did “expand the electorate” quite a bit in 2008 to achieve his amazing result, unthinkable even a few years before. So it can be done, but “engagement” works best when you really understand where masses of voters are currently at, and then systematically neutralise their negatives about you…and this is what historically Labour and other self-described left or centre left parties have evidentially failed to do.

        So it is not only about “offering hope” or ” offering a real alternative” …..election results, attitude surveys, and this YouGov survey give us crucial current real political information: we ignore them at our peril.

        1. David Pavett says:

          gerry,I agree with what you say and only want to add that polls should be received critically and not accepted at face value. A case in point is the recent Cruddas poll in which questions were put in a way that determined its misleading outcomes.

          Also there is an enormous golf between those (like Cruddas) who use poll results to constrain even long-term aims i.e. to block radical ideas and those who see them as providing a base from which to work towards achieving shert, medium and long-term objectives.

      2. Tim Barlow says:

        First on the list in “engaging with people to develop their knowledge and understanding” is to explain to people (the apparently sacred “public opinion”) exactly how, and why, they were so grievously conned by Tory economic propaganda.
        It seems a lot of this public now consider themselves to be experts in economics, an area where widespread public ignorance on the subject was cynically exploited by the Tories, who inserted their own narrative into this void.
        I don’t doubt for a moment that people won’t like to be told this unpalatable truth and that the deficit isn’t that important, that there’s difference between deficit and debt, and that, as issuers of our own currency, we cannot go bankrupt.
        Also, we need people to realise the extent to which the worst human emotions towards their fellow man have been aroused in them by this govt in order to create a fertile ground for their abhorrent agenda. And then to feel duly ashamed.
        It’ll be a tough slog, but once achieved, the widespread public outrage that follows will turn the tide against this vile government.

  7. Robert says:

    I can see it now Blair, Johnson and the right wing Kendall saying I’m the women which is more like Thatcher. But even she is heading for the left now, and Burnham is now going to nationalize railways he says like Miliband, Miliband said he was going to nationalize the railways? , just like we were going to get a living wage, only he dropped it.

    This is now becoming a farce with Blair and Kinnock all going for the soft right away from Kendall who is looking more and more like a loser, it’s time for a real leader of labour and not one willing to bend a knee to the Progress right who is now starting to struggle, the three right wingers are fast moving to the left to try and win before moving back to the right once they are in.

    None of these right wingers are able to lead a p*ss up in brewery if the beer is free.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Maybe they all drink Guinness?

  8. David Ellis says:

    New Labour is unelectable. Completely unelectable. Put any one of those three clones up and the Labour Party is over. It will have in 2020 as many seats in England and Wales as the Tory collaborating Lib Dems do now after five years of zero opposition to this most vicious Tory government. It will be as obliterated in the rest of Britain as it is now in Scotland. People are not stupid. They can see how New Labour fucked an entire nation by piggy backing on the Bankers’s Ponzi Scam and then unbelievably bailing them out and how they funnelled public money into private pockets via public services and created a vast underclass. They are corrupt and hated. Hated with a passion. They have bought the party to the brink of destruction in only 20 short years. Corbyn will be elected because the left, who have been in hiding for those twenty years, realise that if they don’t do something they will end up in the dustbin of history with New Labour. None will be spared however left talking they are as Scotland again proved. But of course the closer to power the left get the more `realistic’ they get. The `good life’ or socialist bit of their programme slowly evaporates to be replaced by `costed’ sensible policies because they know that to reverse austerity will require the ousting of capitalism. It is the job of the serious left to make sure that the Corbyn Campaign does not yield to those pressures but develops a programme for working class power and the transition to socialism. Every New Labour clone Corbyn appoints to his shadow cabinet will not only indicate a watering down of the campaign’s radicalism but will cost Labour tens of thousands of votes. Realism, cynical realism, will kill Labour.

    1. gerry says:

      David – we know you really hate the Labour party, be it New Labour or the rest of us socialists, social democrats, reformists, fabians, old style labourites in it, we get that. What I want to know is: do you also hate?
      – the 11 million people who voted Tory
      – the 4 million who voted UKIP
      – the 2 million who voted Lib Dem
      – the 1 million who voted Green
      – the 13 million who didn’t vote at all when they could have voted TUSC, or Respect, or any of the other non Labour left groups? Or indeed joined revolutionary groups who want an end to capitalism once and for all?

      That’s 31 million people, a helluva lotta “false consciousness” about isn’t there? Do you hate all of them too? Just asking.

      1. David Ellis says:

        I don’t think you do get it. I don’t hate anybody who votes Labour. I vote Labour myself and will be voting for Corbyn.

        Your anti Marxist jibe about false consciousness is misguided. There is not a politician alive from fascist to far left that doesn’t believe in false consciousness otherwise they wouldn’t bother campaigning to change people’s minds.

      2. John P Reid says:

        Well said

  9. notimetom says:

    It’s time Jonno and his neoliberal ilk realise that Jeremy Corbyn is not hard left, it’s just that the so called ‘Labour’ party have moved to the extreme right.

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