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Understanding Corbynmania

corbynmaniaIt’s not the key factor explaining why Labour aren’t doing spectacularly well at the moment, but the never ending tit-for-tat in the press, on the telly, on the internet isn’t helping much. It is a truism that divided parties don’t win elections, after all.

Then there were these polling figures of Labour Party members. Some 65% of them think Jeremy is doing well as party leader, while only 38% of those polled believe he’ll ever make Number 10, and, controversially, 56% say taking a principled line is the correct way to do politics, even if it means losing elections. You can imagine that caused a few feathers to be spat down Portcullis House.

There’s no use pretending there aren’t divisions. And divisions, I’m afraid, are inevitable in large parties. Not because we’re full on ornery b’stards who factionalise for kicks, but because both the big Britain-wide parties are agglomerates of different interests.

The Tories aren’t simply the party of business and Labour the party of workers, both are sectionalised by occasional tension, occasional competition between types of business, industrial sectors, professions, status, occupational groups. Behind each set of ideas or policy agendas duking it out in committee rooms and association bars are interests they correspond to.

It’s not that shadowy cabals sit around and think up stuff that helps them (though, of course, this happens too, which is why a lot of corporates and super rich sugardaddies flood think tanks with cash), but rather at some point down the line an idea is caught up with or pushes against certain interests that structure British politics.

For example, Liam Byrne’s economics appear neutral and technocratic, but implementing them would meet stiff resistance by sections of business, despite offering a programme that business-as-a-whole stands to benefit from. I digress. The divisions we see between Jeremy and his majority, and the PLP and their minority in the party likewise map onto those competing interests, and they’re not going to go away. The job for the leadership – any leadership – is to manage them, and for any challengers to be aware of how they balance out and ride them when they feel it’s opportune.

This in mind, how then are the (for want of a better phrase) Corbynites to be understood? I think, more or less, there are two broad groups. There were the members and long-time supporters that voted Jeremy in the leadership campaign. These are ‘party people’, comrades who are Labour to their marrow, folks who understand the party’s culture, understand the party is a coalition, and understand that if we’re going to get anywhere we have to pull together as a collective and pool our talents as well as our energies. Everyone who supported Jeremy that I know in real life come from this group.

The second group, and the real topic of this post, are the more visible and more “enthusiastic” Corbyn supporters. The ones who enjoy trolling the likes of Mike Gapes and other standard bearers of the ancien regime. The ones who launch change.org petitions against recalcitrant MPs, and festoon their social media with markers of Corbyn authenticity. There’s a lot of them, and a good chunk have joined the party. Yet in the main, their Labour support begins and ends with Jeremy.

I see the “if Jeremy is toppled I’m leaving the party” refrain everyday, give or take. The party and the movement isn’t the repository of progressive social change, a single man is. Ironic considering this ‘great man’ approach is a million miles away from Jeremy’s own politics. They swell constituency membership lists, but tend not to get involved in meetings or campaigns, preferring to keep their activism, such as it is, online.

As a whole, they tend to be raw and new to politics – hence why they share analogous characteristics with cybernats and UKIP supporters one tends to bump into online: a black and white view of the world, faith in one or two leading figures, scathing responses to naysayers, and dare I also say an assumed victimhood?

It’s the latter group, of course, that attract the headlines and the moaning in the papers, as if sending a few nasty tweets was akin to getting a midnight visit from the GPU. Yet it is entirely explicable and, perhaps, avoidable.

Let’s have another lesson from history. Political radicalism, of whatever stripe, takes root and puts on mass weight when large numbers of people are excluded from political process. Hamas, for example, owes its support amongst the imprisoned population of Gaza because, whatever you think of them, they portray themselves and have a record of being Israel’s most implacable foe. That wouldn’t be possible without Israel sitting on them.

Why did the Provos assume a republican socialist character in Northern Ireland? Because militancy and armed struggle was perceived by the Catholic minority to be the only language the British state understood.

Why did the early mass workers’ parties of Western Europe adopt Marxist and revolutionary politics? Had the exclusion from official politics of the proletarian mass have something to do with it?

Corbynmania finds its ultimate source not in the whiz-bang campaigning skills of Jeremy’s leadership team, but the exclusion of members and the perceived interests of working class people from having any meaningful influence over the direction of the party since at least His Blairness took over in 1994.

For example, trade union exec after trade union exec lined up behind Jeremy because they remember being taken for cash cows and little else at best, or potential enemies at worst. The truth of the matter is Blair’s centralisation of the party institutionalised an organised distrust of the members. It was the PLP who had the nation’s pulse, not the activists who, being “real people” themselves, presumably mix with “real people” daily.

And as lines for directing policy from the constituencies were shut down, and candidate selections were manipulated and circumvented for the benefit of favoured folk, and, let’s be honest, right-wing policies adopted on grounds of supposed electoral expediency, a resentment built in the party and the trade union movement against all of this. The initial offerings in the Labour leadership contest, followed by the cack-handed debacle of the tax credit vote catalysed the resentment and burst open the repressive bonds that had hitherto held it in check. We know the rest. In hindsight, is it any surprise Jeremy trounced all-comers?

This brings us back to the poll. These numbers are being fed by a perception that, despite winning the leadership, there are plenty in the PLP carrying on in the old way, of trying to exclude and thwart the newly empowered membership. The more certain MPs carry on, the more they’re making a rod for their own back.

That resentment that took 20 years to fester is still there, and many Corbynites feel it keenly. And it’s not a battle our PLP refuseniks can win. I know what the calculation is. Many couldn’t give two hoots if tens of thousands of new party members decamped if they manage to toss Jeremy out of a window. They suppose that the potential for deselection is lessened. True, but it is also a possibility – one that had grown increasingly probable thanks to the foundation of Momentum – that many raw Corbynites are integrated into the party and become “proper” party people.

On the one hand they’re not going to look too kindly upon MPs seeking reselection in redrawn constituencies if they’ve been vocal in their opposition or seen to have undermined Jeremy. And second, by virtue of their behaviour, a stab-in-the-back myth could be persuasively powerful in mobilising a winning majority behind a leftist successor. No wonder there are those on the centre and right of the party who keep their mutterings to themselves and think active opposition is most unwise.

11 Comments

  1. Jon Lansman says:

    In what is generally a very good piece, I must disagree with a too simplistic, I feel, analysis of the type of “Corbynites” (I prefer Corbynistas) that are out there. I am happy with the distinction between “party people” and the “enthusiastic” Corbyn supporters but the latter group is much more complex, I think, than Phil describes.

    Firstly, I think that the majority of them are not into trolling or petitioning those who are most hostile to Jeremy, though there is certainly a majority who do. Of the large proportion that have joined the party, I think plenty are not the cultish Jeremy worshippers you describe. Many are willing to engage in some party activities although they may well prefer doing other things (as most party members always have). Though the “if Jeremy is toppled I’m leaving the party” refrain is often heard, I find the bigger problem to be those who haven’t yet cottoned on to the reality of the threat that such a thing may happen to someone who now clearly has the backing of the party membership as it is now.

    I think it would be fairer to regard this group simply as non-tribal Labour.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      An intelligent and realist comment, but the people who matter aren’t even the 160,000 recalcitrant and often embittered former Labour supports, (many of us,) who have given Labour another chance as it where; but the all the people who looked at Blair, Milliband and co and who turned away in disgust and disbelief, people who didn’t vote for anyone at all, but who would have liked to.

  2. John Penney says:

    A slippery article, as so many of yours are ,Phil. The real purpose of this apparently at firstb sight straightforward “analysis” of the new entrants to the Labour Party, appears actually to be to embed yet again two ideas or narratives which simply assist the Right in the Party.

    Why, in a number of your articles do you keep trying to support the complete illusion that the reheated , slippery , completely neoliberal old garbage that Liam Byrne has served up recently as a ” thoughtful step away from Blairism and neoliberalism” , is any such thing ? You keep saying it in your articles, and it is quite simply nonsense – Byrne and co will and do change the presentation of their slippery rhetoric to try to distance their ideas from the 4.5% trouncing that their representative , Liz Kendal, got in the Leadership election, but its still the same old neoliberal guff which seduced Labour to the Dark Side for 30 years, nevertheless.

    Equally this deeply patronising article about the huge influx of socialists into the Labour Party around the Jeremy Corbyn Campaign is simply feeding off and reinforcing (on a website supposedly of the Labour Left) the Blairite Right and their mass media megaphone message that the new socialist mass entrants to Labour are merely ideologically naïve, flighty “Corbynista” – entranced with the shallow temporary enthusiasm akin to the ever shifting fandom of the popular music scene – and all too prone to hysterical and abusive interventions on the internet.

    You are quite obviously pursuing an agenda with all too many of your articles, Phil , and it certainly isn’t an agenda which has any respect for accurately portraying the still toxic nature of the neoliberal politics of Byrne and his co-thinkers in the Labour Right .

    Your attempt to reinforce the Right’s contemptuous “Corbynista” concept to the hundreds of thousands of , often quite old, and politically experienced (many, many of us are in our 50’s and 60’s – and have been round the political block more than you comrade) returning and new Labour Party influx, is also very unhelpful.

    Your “analysis” , with its conciliatory message, also has no understanding of the harsh reality, which a majority, I suspect , of the new socialist recruits to Labour understand only too well, namely that the Labour Right will never stop actively wrecking the electoral chances of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour party – until they are finally unceremoniously thrown out the door by the majority of the membership. They will NEVER compromise with a socialist led Labour Party – and so we cannot afford to compromise with them.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I largely agree with your points. In particular, I agree that the tone of the comments aboutbnew members is patronising and, as Jon Lansman says, simplistic.

      Phil BC’s constant promoting of Liam Byrne’s “entrepreneurial socialism” (=”progressive capitalism”) without showing any sign of having examined it carefully is becoming really annoying.

      Lastly, the discussion about the alleged “great man” approach of those who say that they will leave the Party if Corbyn is toppled is extremely superficial. That view does not imply a “great man” approach. It means simply a recognition that if Corbyn is toppled this will result in the capture of the Party by the the likes of Umunna, Hunt and Jarvis. Without any hint of a “geat man” view many will feel, and that could well include me”, that they have better things to do with their time.

      P.S. I also find the attitude of writers who are unwilling to answer questions and criticisms about their articles elitist. What is needed is discussion and not seemingly authoritative views.

  3. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    An interesting piece, that to my mind one sums up exactly why Labour have faltered, stalled and failed at the very moment that should have been romping home to victory at poles.

    PB-C states, ” Everyone who supported Jeremy that I know in real life come from this group.”

    And I’m quite sure that’s true.

    I’ve pointed out previously that people, (aspiring journalist and bored academics and a few local government middle managers, in some capacity or other,) contributing articles to Left Futures are representative only of the closed, narrow and incestuous world of Labour politics and not of at all the wider British electorate and are united only by the massive chip they all seem to have on their shoulder.

    Not about the Tories, but about the million or so former Labour voter who have abandoned Labour as a lost cause and more with every step it takes to the right.

    I strongly suspect that there may still be a real Labour majority in this country, certainly among the people I know who voted for JC, but that it’s now almost entirely outside the Labour party who seem determined to keep it there at all costs.

  4. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    It’s just a thought in passing; but when the UK was a manufacturing and not a service economy, based on low pay and exploitation, “tribal Labour,” were mostly people who working factories and in industry and who, in the words of one woman I used to work with, “spend more time here with each other than we do with our families,” and that arguably was one plank of traditional Labour solidarity.

    New labour are a bunch of predominately white middle class, (teachers, social workers, academics, middle management, etc,) who would lie, cheat, steal or even kill, to make absolutely sure that neither they nor their children would ever have to do that kind of work in those conditions for those kinds of employers.

    Whilst in the same time indulging in exactly the kind of
    disingenuous and hypocritical hang wringing about the loss of the British Steel Industry, (actually long gone,) and those jobs that so characterizes their equally saccharine concern for, for example, the Palestinians and to as little effect.

    People whose socialism didn’t survive first contact with for example, any unemployed, alcoholic, Glaswegian former shipyard worker or similar let alone having to share a seat with one on the bus.

  5. Mukkinese says:

    There is “active opposition” within the party and the deliberate damaging of the party for cheap political points.

    I am not a Corbynite, clearly he is not a “great leader”, but I’m appalled at the “sour grapes” faction who will not accept the elected leader and are determined to remove him no matter the cost to the party or country.

    It is not just a perception that the PLP has centralised power and decision making, it is a fact. The resentment runs deep, not just in Corbynites, but ordinary members who are being used and dictated too and feel what they say or want is ignored by “professional” M.P.’s more interested in their careers than doing what is right.

    The party is a mess and for the first time I can see the possibility of a future split. Until we all, and especially many in the PLP, start acting like a democratic party again, and standing by democratic processes, I cannot see this situation resolving itself in any good way…

  6. David Ellis says:

    Middle class commentators and New Labour MPs are condemning working class people for electing Corbyn and thereby making Labour unelectable. Believe me for someone on tax credits or the dole or sick or disabled or young or old or poor electing someone who does not oppose Tory policy or opposes it a little bit is pointless. Their situation is desparate. New Labour made Labour unelectable. Its thirteen years of corruption in power means it lost the last two elections to the most vicious Tory governments in history and in Scotland it was obliterated. Yes idiots obliterated. If anybody but Corbyn had won that leadership election the Labour Party’s fate would have been sealed. It would be looking at electoral wipe out. As it is that fate is still hanging in the balance as Corbyn and McDonnell are failing to offer the unequivocal opposition that is needed to mobilize and beat the Tories in deference to party unity with the toxic right wing.

    1. Jim says:

      Working class people certainly didn’t elect Corbyn in my constituency. Judging from the “Bro-mentum” meeting I attended (making my excuses early to leave), it was fundamentally public service workers in relatively well paid (and threatened?) jobs who voted him in. Nice to see a few old Trots and Militants there as well.

      Momentum is the equivalent of the Iranian revolutionary Guards, once the bright eyed and bushy tailed newbies have been bored witless by old comrades, it will do nothing but snipe and snide from the side lines.

      We really are in trouble.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Momentum Ltd is a commercial enterprise and not a grassroots movement, it’s seedy limited company designed primarily to cash in on Labour support and to make a profit for it’s shareholder and directors from whoring out what’s left of the Labour machine to anyone who will pay them.

        Pretty much exactly the same as Progress in fact.

        1. John Walsh says:

          J.P., I can only speak about my involvement with Momentum at a local level (there may or may not be organisational issues at a national level – I have no idea but have not heard of any problems).

          In contrast to Jim’s ‘Bro-mentum’ experience, where I live Momentum is forming as a grassroots movement which, initially, is involved in the types of activities that the People’s Assembly are involved in. This reflects the kind of person who has bothered to come to meetings. Very broadly, it’s working class people without a voice who want to be politically active and who are enthused by positive actions. Most members are Labour people and my hope is that, eventually, Momentum can be part of trying to encourage local CLPs to adjust to the new reality that Labour Party members are now predominantly, overwhelmingly in many cases, inspired and supportive of Corbyn and his ‘new kind of politics’. In short, despite any national issues (if there are any – can you provide details?), at the local level the sun is shining and we have momentum.

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