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What if Jeremy Corbyn wins? What then?

what nextThe likely election of Jeremy Corbyn is an exciting prospect. The thought of a break with the years of dull mental acquiescence to the dominant ideology cannot but give immense pleasure to all us lefties. But when the wave of nice thoughts has subsided I am left with a more sombre thought: are we up to it?

We all know that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would face unprecedented levels of media hostility and that factional moves within the Party would be almost inevitable at some point. The challenge for Corbyn himself would be immense. He well understands the task has to be tackled democratically through a team approach. As he says, he is standing as party leader not party dictator. But where is that team to come from and what will it look like? Corbyn rightly says that he would be inclusive and try to incorporate all the talents but that is, in itself, a massive problem. There are issues on which differences can be accommodated and compromises found (e.g. Housing, NHS). But there are others on which left and right take mutually incompatible stances (e.g. austerity, Trident, education). Handling that will be no picnic.

Assembling a Front Bench team will be hard enough but that would be just the tip of the iceberg. The broader and deeper problem would be the current state of the left within the Labour Party.

Everyone active on the left knows that it is weak and fragmented. It has no cohesive centre and no clearly defined ideology. It doesn’t even have a way of sorting out the differences that exist within it. The Labour left is divided into many different tendencies all of which are kept going by a tiny number of dedicated activists.

Question. Where does the left stand on the EU, economic policy, immigration, electoral reform and, more broadly, the extent to which the aim is a restoration of social democracy or taking steps towards socialism? Answer. All over the place.

Given the media hostility that he would face Corbyn would only be as strong as the party behind him. For that strength to be provided we would need a vastly higher level of political debate and understanding throughout the party than is currently the norm, including on the left. The best organised and most directed discussion is still with the right of the party in the shape of the Progress website and magazine – and, before anyone says it, that is not essentially a question of resources/money. (Mercifully, that organisation has not done Progress a lot of good with respect to its backing for Liz Kendall.)

If we take stock of the discussion on left-Labour websites it soon appears that only a handful of people contribute to discussion. The same names occur again and again. Of that small number a significant proportion use the articles they ostensibly comment on as a mere peg on which to hang whatever it is that they want to say. It is virtually impossible to get any substantial discussion on issues such as the economy. Writers generally do not seem to think it appropriate to respond to discussion of what they write and for the most part articles are very short.

Such things add up to one massive fact: the Labour Party lacks an authentic democratic culture. That is not something that can be created overnight. If Corbyn is elected he will need to be sustained through the inevitable problems that will arise. How will that be achieved? The spontaneous surge of support around his leadership candidacy will not keep going by itself. Our ability to give strong, unified critical support to a Corbyn team would be measure of whether we are up to the task of supporting a left leadership or not. We need to start talking about a wide range of possible approaches: a clearing house for left-wing websites to join debates across and between them, a discussion journal for the Labour Party, developing a culture of informed debate (including responding to discussion) and much else besides.

In my experience, along with general reading and discussion, it seems many on the left (and not only them) confuse democracy with winning votes, packing meetings, organising electoral slates. All activists know the truth of this. They should also know how hollow these victories can be when they only involve a tiny proportion of the membership. Most of us have put motions through our branches and CLPs on issues (like TTIP) which the bulk of the members have never heard of, let alone care about. The ability to do that is a firm foundation for nothing.

The same applies to the idea of a large-scale round of de-selection of councillors and MPs. It is not that many do not need to be replaced. Rather it is to say that we should not take the exclusionist approach that is so often applied to us. Corbyn is right, all sections and opinions have the right to be heard. There should be no systematic effort to remove from positions held everyone we disagree with. We should want to see positions filled in a manner that is roughly proportionate to views held by Party members. A genuine culture of democracy is not the same thing as removing those who disagree with us from every position we can remove them from. We must be seen to operate according to the high standards of decency, honesty, fairness and openness that we so often accuse the right of lacking.

Neither should we be starry-eyed about some mythical past when the Labour Party was true to its roots or imagine that the age of TU block votes at Annual Conference was a golden age of Party democracy. It wasn’t.

There is a lot for the left to think about if we are to give a Corbyn leadership the most solid backing that the Party can provide. Are we up to it?

Image credit: Banksy

26 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    I was fearful about assuming a Corbyn victory. So for the moment I am assuming a close run second place, particularly as the same arguments are relevant or even more important. I welcome the idea of some coordination /order/ rationalisation of Left websites. Many contributions are of the ‘letting off-steam’, ‘flying kites’ type contributors – and we need these sometimes, don’t we? Spontaneous contributions can lead us up garden paths but some of us may need that to explore thoughts as well. So we should existing sites as having a valuable place. Unfortunately there appears to be higher number of rather negative/mildly annoying inputs/tit for tat responses and these do distract from challenging arguments. I suspect only self discipline can be employed here.

    I also think we need to raise the level of debate whilst not eliminating the short sharp feedback responses. But it is the raising of the level of contributions that is so much needed, particularly as I suspect we probably need subject area specialisations to avoid superficial repetitions and advancement of thought. We need to advance debate beyond the initial contribution/response and contribute ideas that may eventually arrive at consensus and feed into policy options. For that we need some strong topic areas established (with ideally some coordinating leadership) that can also become lively, e.g. UK economy, the EU are two that immediately come to mind.

    I also agree that sites are quite variable in the level of debates. Surprising to me is that lower level of bitterness and higher level of debate on some Tory sites. Both the Financial Times and Progress have more thoughtful and valuable contributions and some mimicking of the style of these for the Left would be an asset.

    One big problem I anticipate is that having exhausted everyone’s thoughts on a topic to its limit at that time, then what? At the moment debate is stored or dies or become available for individual contributors to pursue in their own particular organisational settings. In my opinion one organisational form that could link these on the Left both within and beyond the Labour Party is the Labour Representation Committee. It has the advantage of being firmly embedded within Labour but does not limit itself only to Labour members only. It some ways it is the precursor of the Labour Supporters Register. It also has areas of local networks of potential activists. John McDonnell has opened up the discussion on appropriate organisational forms and the value of local networks.

  2. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Jeremy stresses the need to create a movement not just to rely on a leader, it is the movement that will create the essential policies and will also be incumbent upon them to promote and support them.

    Iceland has shown the world what the meaning of democracy is, the corporates are taking over and ordinary people need to wise up and take their own actions to defend it.

    http://guardianlv.com/2013/12/icelanders-overthrow-government-and-rewrite-constitution-after-banking-fraud-no-word-from-us-media/

    Please watch this amazing video at the bottom of the article.

  3. Syzygy says:

    There are a group of us discussing the economy. A public meeting was organised in London last week (by two of us, together with the NHA) at which Prof. Bill Mitchell, the internationally recognised post-keynesian/MMT economists discussed ‘Reframing the Debate: Economics for a Progressive Politics’ with Richard Murphy (one of the originators of Corbynomics) and Ann Pettifor.

    Bill Mitchell’s concern is that just by referring to the Debt and Deficit, left wingers are buying into the neoliberal framing of economics which bears no relation to how the economy actually works. Our website, Think Left has published ten or more posts in just the last couple of weeks on heterodox economics … largely MMT.

    For example http://think-left.org/2015/08/16/the-riddle-of-the-deficit-or-deficits-for-dummies/ explains why a deficit puts money into the economy rather than being a drain.. and conversely, a surplus takes money away. Jeremy and the left need to get their heads around the fact that the UK as the issuer of its own currency can never run out of money; a fiscal surplus is recessionary; the national debt is corporate welfare and we are wasting a huge wealth creating resource in not having full employment

    1. David Pavett says:

      It is good that your group is discussing economics but I went to your website and was not clear what the ten or more articles on economics were. Anyway, I read a couple of them. I see that you are committed to the so-called modern monetary theory.

      I couldn’t get to the meeting you mention (it was fully booked like so many meetings of the Corbyn campaign). I had wanted to go because the topic was, in part at least, MMT. I wanted ask about the wisdom of Corbyn’s team putting all its eggs in that basket, if that is what they are doing. MMT is a controversial view. It critics include a number of left-wing economists, particularly Marxist ones. Also its proponents often take a far from socialist view of our economic problems and talk as if the solution was a merely technical matter and as if their technical solution would produce crisis free capitalism. I would put Ann Pettifor in that group. Not only that but some leading MMTers are very dogmatic insisting that their ideas are a matter of “simple facts” and that those who don’t agree a dense (e.g Steven Hail).

      So, my view is that we should discuss MMT but only if this is done within a broad framework of a critical examination of economic theory as a whole. I think it would be a big mistake for a resurgent left in the Labour Party to attach itself to a particular approach to economics without seeing the bigger picture.

      MMTers should read critics of MMT like Bob Jessop and Cullen Roche and argue their corner in the light of such criticisms rather than just spelling out the ABCs of MMT.

      1. Syzygy says:

        The meeting was not actually part of the Corbyn campaign, although inspired by it. I’m sorry that you were unable to obtain a ticket as I’m sure that you would have found it stimulating.

        Corbynomics is the same idea as Nef’s New Green Deal and is not MMT as such.

        In fact, Professor Mitchell was critical of Jeremy Corbyn’s engaging with the notions of deficit reduction and aiming for producing a balanced budget. So I have no doubt that he would endorse your suggestion that there be a critical examination of economic theory.

        ‘Also its proponents often take a far from socialist view of our economic problems and talk as if the solution was a merely technical matter and as if their technical solution would produce crisis free capitalism.’

        MMT is technical, in the sense that it politically neutral. However, MMT-ers such Michael Hudson and Bill Black would be amused by the idea of a ‘crisis free capitalism’ – there is far too much profit to be made out of a crisis!

        Thank you for your reading recommendations. I hope that any difficult personal interactions will not prejudice you with regard to what I believe to be a useful and internally consistent approach… and one which owes much to Marx, Minsky and Kalecki.

        1. David Pavett says:

          Thanks for the reply. There is clearly a lot to discuss. I would want to start by questioning the idea that a theory of economics that treats its basic economic categories as social relations can be politically neutral.

          Secondly, I would want to ask where people, like the ones you cite, who believe that capitalist crises are inevitable, get their idea of such crises if not from their economics. If it does indeed come from their economics then how can that economics be politically neutral?

          Thirdly, I would want to ask about MMTs concept of money which, in what I have read so far, seems to be something of a non-concept reflecting MMTs Chartelist origins (i.e. money is whatever government will use to collect taxes and pay bills).

          I could go on, for example, I would question whether MMT has anything to do with Marx. Insofar as it has a concept of value at all (not always clear) it seems to go back to Ricardo and to ignore Marx’s critique of him.

          Ann Petiffor, who is advising Jeremy Corbyn, believes that the real conflict in society is not between labour and capital but rather between industrial/commercial capital plus labour on one side and finance capital on the other. She holds that if that is sorted then no fundamental change of society is required. (Oswald Mosely advocated similar ideas in the 1920s and 30s.) She says that the problems are of a purely technical nature and that the knowledge required to solve them has been around for centuries. It worries me a lot that Corbyn may be about to hitch his wagon to such ideas. I sincerely hope that there are others around him who are warning against that

          Lots to discuss and the sooner a broad discussion about economic theories, not just MMT, gets going on the left the better.

          P.S. I have had no “difficult personal interactions” with MMTers. On the contrary those I have come across are keen to politely and patiently explain MMT to those of us who have not yet seen the light.

          1. Syzygy says:

            I do not want to abuse the hospitality of this site by continuing for much longer with a fascinating debate about issues which I consider fundamental. However, I have now read some of Cullen Roche’s work and find that his difficulty with MMT seem to revolve around the proposal for a Job’s Guarantee and little else. Like MMT, Cullen Roche locates the value of or acceptance of ‘money’ in the fact that it is whatever government will accept as payment of taxes.

            Essentially, MMT is accounting-consistent, ‘ground in operational realities that pertain to the modern fiat monetary system. MMT provides unique insights by detailing the way the system actually functions rather than an ideological wash of how we might like it be (which is essentially the mainstream textbook approach)’. http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=15842

            As for the influence of Marxism, I will leave you with this quote from Bill Mitchell’s blog but I would recommend reading the whole piece:

            ‘Capital has never like full employment. Marx knew that. The last thirty years or so has seen the gains made by workers and their unions over a century of struggle eroded away by the relentless attack on their rights and conditions….The class struggle is alive and dominant this crisis.’

            http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=15854

          2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            I appreciate that this a serious if somewhat academic discussion; but does it matter, since the current neoliberal world order is largely being dictated to us and to almost everyone else by US foreign policy and because the UK seems no longer to have either the autonomy or the political independence to chose a different course for the UK, (we’ve just seen one such attempt to do just that collapse horribly in Greece,) even if we wanted to and because too many of the same people, (Mandleson, Blair,) who brought us to this pass, still command extensive resources, influence and even, (in some quarters at least,) prestige.

            It’s going to hard enough to achieve some sort of stable consensus among the people who are willing to support JC about what needs to be done, what will be even harder still; will be how we would undertake to do it, particularly in world where I somehow find myself, (more than just nominally,) supporting a political party whose former leaders and whose record in government I largely abhor.

            Supporting Labour after Blair is not a morally comfortable or painless decision for many people, nor have we forgotten how people like, for example, Clare Short were used simply as political accessories.

            It going to a mine field for everyone.

    2. David Pavett says:

      I agree with you that we have taken this a far a it can go in the context of this discussion on this website. I remain unconvinced about Chartalism, Keynesianism, and MMT and I think that you have not answered several of my questions.

      Others on the left have made substantial criticisms of MMT. I therefore return to my original point: we need a proper debate about all the main theories in contention and it would be a big mistake for team Corbyn, and the left in general, to attach itself to MMT without such a debate.

      1. Syzygy says:

        I thought that you would be interested in a recording of the meeting you missed:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4OVAROe3gW4&feature=youtu.be

        (PS. I should re-emphasise that I am not aware that team Corbyn has any knowledge of MMT, let alone become attached to it! I have also already acknowledged that I haven’t responded fully because this is not an appropriate forum.)

        1. David Pavett says:

          Thanks for the link. I shall watch the video with interest.

        2. Mervyn Hyde says:

          I have come to this debate a little late, been busy these last couple of days, Firstly Syzygy I am a supporter of both MMT and agree with your analysis of it, but also meet with Positive Money members in Cheltenham, Positive money differs with MMT and although I think there is little difference between them, they are as David says at odds with each other. MMT I think are brilliant because they give the facts as they are, they do not dictate whether the government or the private sector should use the money created for public purpose, only that it should happen.

          Clearly; speaking personally, I see no place for the private sector, they already use money created out of thin air and issue it as debt, and it’s not working and never will, therefore the sooner we take democratic control of money, the sooner we can put money into the economy where it’s needed not as it is now under the private banks.

          The deficit as Syzygy explained has been propagated as myth not fact, MMT explain it from a factual point of view, but it is difficult to comprehend what they actually mean because we have all been brainwashed since Thatcher to accepting her kitchen sink analogy. The way I would interpret what MMT are saying when they say deficits are essential to get growth, what I think they are saying; is that the government has got to first spend the money into the economy, in order to create economic activity, (Keynes) and it doesn’t matter about the deficit, control of the economy is regulated by tax and interest rates, that being the case, money is created out of thin air and destroyed by taxation.

          What MMT would also say is that there is no need to talk in terms of QE, as that would by necessity include the private banks, Jeremy’s PQE should in fact circumvent the private banks, and the Bank of England can issue that money directly to the treasury as the government does not have to borrow it’s own money.

          My personal view is that we should nationalise the whole banking system, because they will always create the conditions that undermine government as they want to maximise profits for personal gain, not the public good.

  4. Bazza says:

    If Jeremy wins.
    Perhaps we all need to contribute our ideas as democratic socialist independent critical thinkers. Then let democracy in the Labour Party decide.

    1. Indeed. Corbyn has made that clear. The writer of the article need to be told that too.

      1. David Pavett says:

        I think that you if you read what I wrote sufficiently carefully you will find that I explicitly recognised Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to an open and intelligent Party democracy. I have a concern, however, that not all of his supporters share his inclusive and democratic inclinations.

  5. Patrick says:

    Building a mass movement and empowering people and communities will remain the top priority. The establishment will seek to cut Corbyn away from his base; a tried and tested tactic; and that must be preempted by an alert, extra parliamentary democratic force. Corbynites must start by energising their local CLP; reforming the Party constitution and establishing the sovereignty of conference; using social media should be central to this; we should move to e-voting as soon as possible as a means to build the mandate for Corbyn’s leadership.

  6. Peter Rowlands says:

    A thoughtful piece from David, with which I agree. While any attempted coup ( almost invited by Mandelson ) would have to be firmly dealt with, an approach based on ‘those who are not with us are against us’ is bound to fail, even if the positions taken by various individuals and factions on the left were more coherent and unified than in fact they are. A Corbyn led party must promote an open debate, while the left must seek to clarify where it stands on a number of issues, most urgently, because of the impending referendum, the EU, about which division has grown recently. Oh, and there are some important elections next May. Hang on to your hats!

    1. David Pavett says:

      Thanks Peter. I strongly agree that an “if you are not with us, you are against us” approach would ruinous. I would go further and say to people on the right “Okay, you are against us. Please explain carefully why that is so that we can debate our differences”.

      I do not imagine that changing people’s minds is easy but if we don’t believe that it is possible what are we in politics for? People absorb right-wing views from the ideological air that our society provides. The are often right-wing by default because the are unaware of the left alternative, or have only come across inadequate examples of it. We badly need to get intelligent debate going – and that would look NOTHING like Labour’s so-called Policy Review under Jon Cruddas.

      1. Mervyn Hyde says:

        David: You are indeed a thoughtful person and the difficulty for a lot of people on the left is we have seen all too often, even as I look back to the eighties where right wingers would use delaying tactics to stop radical proposals from going forward, but we have so much pent up frustration that anger and fury seem the only resort, that means those that have deceived over the last thirty years are bound to feel the force. I do agree we should all try to be calm and seek to resolve issues in a proper manner, but those on the right are just as prone to stoke up hate so that they can exploit it as those on left that rise to the bait.

        A little piece of anecdotal experience happened to me yesterday, a long standing friend of mine and I went out for the day down to South Dorset, during our 3 hour journey we always talk politics the question of Jeremy Corbyn’s electability came up. This friend was a young socialist in the 1960s and came from a radical left wing family, during the eighties he became a self employed service engineer and used to tell me I should stop fighting the system and join them, over the years he would describe the world in terms of self interest and scepticism, which though I dismissed and replaced with reasoned argument backed up by evidence, he remained permanently sceptical.

        Yesterday he made the well worn cliché that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable, and I said why did he think that ? As usual the same old quotes, “doesn’t look the part, nobody is going to vote for left wing views, then he said Andy Burnham would stand a better chance of winning,” I then asked him, as I had always assumed he was a reluctant Labour voter, as he always said “the Labour Party was the better party for the working man,” but to my shock he told me he voted for David Cameron, So I then asked, “would he then vote for Andy Burnham,” to which he prevaricated, saying “he might,” I then said that “I was unconvinced with his answer and that it told me that no matter who represented Labour, he would still vote Tory,” to which he did not reply.

        This of course is not a scientific analysis of any substance and can’t be extrapolated as concrete evidence that all people like this think like this, but it does show me that after years of providing evidence to explain to people that are close to you, doesn’t necessarily win them over.

        In this instance my energies will be to steadily erode and counter the negative impression these people purvey as opinion. That does mean destroying their arguments with evidence, but I will never assume that I will convince them, and as I always do anyway, use debate against people to convince the others around it, rather than convincing an individual.

        That said, there is a case for deselecting people like Chuka Umunna who clearly are not Labour and have even quoted “that we are all capitalists now;” anyone that thinks people like this that have also been associated with Goldman Sachs are serving our interests, in my view, are very naïve.

  7. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Once again; the wrong kind of supporters contributing the wrong kinds of comments to the wrong kind of discussion ?

    I think the fact that only 3 people even bothered to contribute to Micheal Meacher’s damming article of a couple of days ago, about the ever vile IDS, is probably a fairly clear indicator that most people feel they have better and more interesting things to do; or possibly that such debate and discussion as is going on is being conducted on Facebook or Twitter and not here.

    But since UK economic policy is now being largely determined directly or indirectly according to a neoliberal standard model; by the World Bank and the IMF, executed by largely American banks, (their alumni ,) and corporations and because parliament has little power left, (even less under TTIP & TAFTa etc,) to influence anything, (how many times has G4S been caught with it’s fingers in the till? ) and this quite apart from seemingly endemic levels of personal and institutional corruption with in our broken political system and beyond.

    I’m prepared to give Corbyn a chance and my vote and to see what he has to offer, but given the nature post Blair British politics my skepticism about the long term future of the Labor party remains robust.

    What comes across most strongly in all these comments, is a Labor party that is so far up it’s own rectum that it hasn’t seen daylight for a decade and which remains completely comfortable with that situation.

    Such arrogance combined with that kind of complacency are seldom a winning combination as the results of the last general election demonstrated.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Once again; the wrong kind of supporters contributing the wrong kinds of comments to the wrong kind of discussion ? …

      I’m prepared to give Corbyn a chance and my vote and to see what he has to offer, but … my skepticism about the long term future of the Labor party remains robust.

      What comes across most strongly in all these comments, is a Labor party that is so far up it’s own rectum that it hasn’t seen daylight for a decade …

      All rather unhelpful and unproductive. How about dealing with the specifics of the debate rather than sweeping dismissals? That’s just too easy.

      P.S. You need to switch to a UK English spell-checker.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        I do?

        1. David Pavett says:

          Labor/Labour

  8. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    I also can’t help but note how far the various contributors here, (for all their indignation,) have strayed off topic, (not necessarily a crime,) the title of article was, “What if Jeremy Corbyn wins? What then?” and not what would be the best economic policy for him to adopt as Labor’s response to neolibralism and it contains almost nothing at all about the kind economic arcana, (too many of them sound like the economic equivalent of String Theory,) being discussed so eruditely by all the usual suspects, who clearly prefer to engage only in the debate they want rather than in the far far more interesting one that was being suggested by the article above.

    For we are all just so much wiser than you are; after all we won the last general election with such a comfortable majority ?

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      But more seriously, even this, although sometimes deficient; is still better than no discussion at all or, non “discussion,” conducted via focus group, think tank or sampling etc..

      But as you rightly pointed out, we all get so preoccupied with pushing our own points, that we often, (too often,) fail to listen properly and with an open mind but particularly not to those people perceived as being of lower educational achievement or social standing, (Gordon Brown, illustrates this perfectly with his infamous, “bigoted women,” quote,) to, “ourselves.”

      “when we want you’re opinion on anything, we”ll let you know what it is,” so to speak ?

  9. […] Corbyn now faces massive opposition from within the Labour Parliamentary Party – that won’t go away, even though they’re likely to keep quiet about it for now […]

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