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Why the establishment doesn’t get Corbynism

JC with ordinary folkSpare a thought for the poor hacks paid to write about the Labour Party. Your job is to throw down boiler plate with a semi-original angle, while making a conscious effort not think about it unless you’re employed for that express purpose. Making matters trickier is that last year’s silly season saw every seam strip mined to throw dirt at Jeremy Corbyn. With little else left to be excavated we see a churn of pretty much the same stuff. This then has led to the new journalistic sub-genre of the anti-Corbyn missive, and their recycled insights come in two flavours. The first are attacks on the leader’s character, of which the tedious Traingate non-story is an example. And the second goes after his support, which typically entails questioning the intelligence of those who back him.

Of the second type is Euan McColm’s piece in The Scotsman. Reading like a desperate bid to get the thousand words necessary to hit pay dirt, Euan’s piece is at turns insulting, at turns patronising, and is nothing we haven’t read already. But what it does do is condense the common sense among plenty of journalists and politicians. And because it so often persists that Jeremy supporters are mendacious or brainwashed or thick or naive, we have to ask why it is the view is so widespread.

First up is the worldview of most media and politics people. Politics, as in big P politics, is a tightly circumscribed field. It’s all about parties winning elections and forming governments. The province proper to political thinking and commentary therefore are the personalities (and occasionally, the policies) that grip the legislature of one’s choice, be it Westminster, Holyrood, or the council chamber. Analysis, though mediated to greater or lesser degrees, is determined by electoral calculus in the last instance. Hence the motif of electability goes forever unchallenged. This is more than an ideology of politics, it is how it is practiced, reinforced by the repetitive actions of generations of politicians, journalists, and activists. This has two consequences for the reception of politics that cannot be assimilated to the vote-catching/vote-winning merry-go-round.

There is an expectation that everyone knows the rules of the game. Hence genuine bewilderment as to why Jeremy’s support remains so stubborn in light of awful polling, a parliamentary party in revolt, and reports about the leader’s incompetence. Yet from the point of view of Corbynism, it’s the unquestioning adherence to the rules that have been Labour’s undoing. A Labour government is always a lesser evil to what the Tories have on offer, but for two goes on the trot our party have lost while playing it by the book. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, you can begin to see why Corbynism might want to try something else. As it happens, I believe Labour can win a general election by adopting a different approach, but as there’s a campaign on and it requires a thorough critique of Jeremy’s leadership, that’s something you can look forward to reading after the polls have closed.

The second is the perception of political activity. For those wedded to the conventional view, elections are the be-all and end-all. Hence campaigning for a party with a view to winning an election and voting are the standard means of doing politics. Other forms, such as internet activism, protesting, going on demonstrations, holding rallies are, at best, tolerated and at worst viewed with some suspicion, and seen as distractions from “proper” politics. But in the main, the allotted role of the mass is to participate at set intervals and go home again once the polling stations call time.

Given their walk-on, walk-off part the sudden eruption of huge numbers into the Labour Party at the behest of Jeremy Corbyn of all people makes no sense. Lacking a sociological imagination and not appreciating how social and political change are intertwined, it can’t be anything other than the agitations of sundry Trots, or their being cultists predisposed to hero worship, or so-called “virtue signallers”, or the utterly deluded. Without a sense of what’s happening and assuming Corbynism is one or all of these things, there is little realisation that calling this constituency – which is now a large majority of the party – thick, brainwashed, etc. will only swell their ranks and firm their resolve. And if recent years should have taught us anything, establishment finger wagging benefits anyone but the establishment.

The sad thing is Jeremy’s opponents in the party and wider society have now had over a year to understand Corbynism, and with very few exceptions, they haven’t. It’s not like they’re incapable – sociological analysis isn’t voodoo, after all. It’s as if they don’t want to.

52 Comments

  1. Barry Hearth says:

    I believe that the Scottish independence vote was the catalyst for all that’s gone on since. It showed that ORDINARY people could make a difference.
    That was confirmed by the Brexit vote, one not understood or even accepted buy the P political elite.
    By taking politics down the route of careerism, it has resulted in our representatives becoming one dimensional and timid, scared of doing the “wrong thing”, unable to think independently and terrified of “new ideas”.
    Or, I’m totally wrong and they are all in hock to global enterprises, and thus dance to their tunes and not ours.

  2. for someone who talks about the sociological imagination, and is an academic, Phil Burton-Cartlidge misses two points which predate internet politics. One is the enduring tradition of anti-establishment politics, which means hundreds of thousands of people give their lives to political movements that have no chance of winning. The CPGB recruited me in the 1960s but I turned the down in favour of the Young Liberals, neither party having any chance of winning and the YLs being more active up to the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign. After than I grew up and joined Labour to get a party in government.

    The second is the lack of political analysis on the British left, rather worse now than the Tories who have better think tanks and an official research department. The Labour Party is essentially a protest party reflecting its roots in the trade unions- who nevertheless do have research departments for the most part. They have to deliver for their members on bread and butter issues 24-7. Labour does not, as it is fixated on Westminster. That is not wrong, and putting up an opposition between principle and power is wrong – corbynism is veering dangerously toward the former.

    But it does mean that the Party has to think through its strategies all the time. Neither the New Labour nor the Corbyn tendency do this, they are two sides of the same coin. Burton-Cartledge is right that New Labour is now trapped in a failed paradigm. But the attraction of corbyn to the protest contingent is that he represents an old politics. The task of thinking through a new radical politics is beyond the Corbynistas, and this is patently obvious. There is no major text of Corbynism, it is a cult of personality, unlike say the CPGB at its best. And it cannot win power. GIven this, the only way to view it is as a religious phenomenon.

    Trevor Fisher

    1. Phil BC says:

      You are right on both those counts of anti-establishment politics and the lack of theoretical clout on the left. Unfortunately, you can’t cram absolutely everything into a short missive. But if you’re interested, there’s a huge archive on this kind of stuff over at my blog.

    2. John Penney says:

      Dearie, Me…”cult of personality”…. “protest Party”….”putting up an opposition between principle and power is wrong”. And on it goes, Trevor Fisher. How many turgid , dishonest, memes of the Labour Right/Owen Smith’s anti Corbyn narrative and their mass media supporters can you cram into one short post ?

      I think most of us on the radical Left recognise the so far unfortunate lack of detail policy behind the broad brush Left “direction of travel” represented by Jeremy’s Leadership. This does not of course mean the left isn’t perfectly capable of putting detail policy “meat” on these outline policies in the next phase of Jeremy’s Leadership.

      That you doggedly repeat the currently dominant mass media narrative that the Left mass political movement represented by the election
      of Jeremy as Labour Leader is akin to a “cult” , demonstrates that you are simply trolling on this site – to support the Right’s superficial and condescending narrative and intention to dismiss the politics behind “Corbynism” without a having to actually address them at all. Because opf course the Labour Right have NO critique of the broad brush Left oriented policies of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters – other than the same old neoliberal guff.

      The election of Jeremy last year was a fluke arising from the hubris of the Labour Right in adopting OMOV. But “Corbynism” itself is merely the UK manifestation of the Europe-wide Left surge of recent years – that elsewhere produced Syriza, Podemos and Die Linke, etc. A response to the ever greater obvious failure of neoliberal politics – and in the UK, Labour’s full embrace of this narrative for decades .

      Trying to write off the “Corbyn Surge” by insulting the hundreds of thousands of people who have entered, and re-entered active politics in its wake as “cultists”, merely reveals your position on the status quo, pro-neoliberal, right, Fisher. Don’t waste our time with your tiresome repetition of every one of the tiresome anti Corbyn memes of the mass media.

      1. David Pavett says:

        John, I am sure that you are right about the lack of detail backing the “direction of travail” represented by support for Corbyn as leader. I agree also that in the “next phase” of this leadership the left will have have to put flesh on the bones of the declared policy objectives. What we desperately need is some ideas about how that will be done and some indication of willingness to contribute to the process.

        That policy development will not however be easy and it is made far less easier than it would otherwise be by the assumption that anyone who criticises the current leadership is a purveyor of “turgid , dishonest, memes of the Labour Right”.

        The immediate assumption of dishonesty is not based on any evidence and rests only on the view that someone asking such questions MUST be be dishonest. This, I’m afraid, is good evidence of the “religious” mode of thought pointed to by Trevor Fisher. When to question and criticise immediately invites the charge of dishonest then we are in the territory of heresy hunting.

        On the issue of playing the ball rather than the man I am in complete agreement with Jeremy Corbyn. It would be a real advance if everyone supporting him would take that point fully on board.

  3. Doug says:

    Trevor Fisher repeats one of the deluded accusations about Corbyn supporters. A personality cult is precisely what it isn’t. Many of us have realised the failure of following ‘charismatic’ Lefties. No more Galloways or Sheridans or anyone else with feet of clay.

    1. What could easily be missed by the experts is I suspect the major reason why Corbyn won the leadership, and hopefully will do so again.

      It’s not so much who Corbyn is, it’s more who he isn’t. He definitely isn’t Burnham, Cooper or Kendall with their cries of ‘business friendly’ and ‘aspiration’ which pretty well finished them almost before the contest had started.

      Their problem is who they are, that is middle class New Labour functionaries. This part of our political class socializes with the media luvvies so it is no surprise that the rise of Corbyn caught them both totally unaware. They just didn’t realize quite how disliked they were by the majority of the public which has now contaminated the party membership with ideas above its station, at least that which New Labour had relegated them to.

      Maybe they are learning by having Owen Smith spout left wing policies, but I suspect even that is too little too late. Nobody believes them any more. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s J.K. Rowling, Eddie Izzard or Janet Street Porter because their support just helps to reinforce the dislike many already have of our politicians. Nothing works anymore, what will they do?

  4. I accept that phil has written about the two key issues and others could be added – there is a lot of material on the web particularly on the lack of theory. E P THompson’s wrote well about this in the 1960s and 1970s. But it is the institutions that matter. Labour has never had a reseach department and a theoretical journal only for about 5 years in the late 1970s.

    I stopped looking at the material coming from the Labour Representation Committee and Spokesman a long time ago. Spokesman used to be very interesting at the time I was in the Institute of WOrkers Control, but once Ken Coates was no longer influential it lost its impetus.

    As for the Fabian Society, Sidney and Beatrice Webb were on the empirical wing of thinking but they must be crying with rage from Valhalla looking at what the society produces nowadays.

    Trevor Fisher

  5. there are two dialogues going on here one trying to understand the Corbyn upsurge and its ability to tap into anti establishment feeling, and another trying to put all thinking into an old New Labour versus principled thinking straitjacket. The only beneficiaries from the latter are the Tory Party. Tories for Corbyn undoubtedly existed, though they are not responsible for the phenomenon. While the old chequer board thinking of the corbyn left is maintained, look forward to a long period of reaction. The reality is Corbynism helps the right and trying to pretend anyone who disagrees with you is on the right benefits the right. And no one else.

    Try the old, but valid CP theory used against the trots that this is objectively counter revolutionary. And before the Tories win a third term in office.

    Trevor Fisher.

  6. Richard MacKinnon says:

    How wrong can you be? Journalists cannot believe their luck. Corbyn and the Labour Party are the gift that keeps on giving. The dripping roast of British politics. They don’t have to make up stories. Fact is greater than fiction with Labour. JC, mass resignations, leadership coups, Dianne, Glastonbury, and let us not forget Owen (Jones not Smith). Surely the ultimate in scoops; “I used to be a sinner but now I’ve seen the light”. Hallelujah!

    1. John Penney says:

      And your point is ?

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        My point is the author is talking garbage. Note first sentence.
        “Spare a thought for the poor hacks paid to write about the Labour Party”. That is so far from reality it is standing behind you laughing.

      2. John Walsh says:

        As you’ve probably worked out John, RM is another waste-of-space Tory troll whose sole purpose is trying to ‘cleverly’ waste our time – kind of amusing that that’s it from that lot.

        1. Richard MacKinnon says:

          john,
          I’ve never voted Tory in my life. But I feel it is my mission in life to shine a light on hypocrisy and twisted logic.

        2. Richard MacKinnon says:

          John,
          I thought you wernae talking to me?

  7. Susan O'Neill says:

    Here we go again. It seems that insult and belittling or demeaning those with a view one does not share seems to be the context for argument against that thinking. It’s the same old tactics of insinuating that people who follow a political ideology based around a massive support base united by common circumstance is to be dismissed because they are not capable of linked thought processes. Arrogance and contempt are no substitute for coherent argument.
    ” But the attraction of corbyn to the protest contingent is that he represents an old politics. The task of thinking through a new radical politics is beyond the Corbynistas, and this is patently obvious. There is no major text of Corbynism, it is a cult of personality, unlike say the CPGB at its best.”
    Save it for the power hungry elitists who bend and twist and turn rather than follow a policy agenda tailored to suit the needs of the many rather than just the few.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Excellent points Susan, well said. Totally agree with you. And excellent article again from Phil. Really got my fingers crossed for a Corbyn victory and if he does win again, I’m hoping he’ll crack down on the red Tories this time.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Wow! The mix of ultra-right venom and sheer moronic stupidity of the Scottish Labour leadership really is quite breathtaking.

          McTernan, Murphy, and now this revolting homophobic Daily Mail reptile…thank God we don’t need Scotland for a Labour victory.

  8. Bazza says:

    There is still hope for Labour in Scotland if Corbyn supporters can become the majority and dislodge the useless Right who ran from social democracy into the arms of New Labourism and oblivion!
    Then the fake SNP stole the social democratic clothes as ‘Born Again Social Democrats’ but if Labour in Scotland can join us and become Left Wing Democratic Socialist then they can crush the SNP; it’s the only route.
    Real beats fake anytime!
    The Snake National Party in Scotland also showed their true colours as opportunists when instead of offering support to Corbyn (a Progressive) when he was under attack in Parliament they tried to take advantage of the situation by trying to become the official opposition.
    As for our Right and timid centrists in Labour what this about is them trying to re-assert themselves as The Great Men and Women of history as though WE NEED THEM?
    When it could be argued they haven’t got an original idea in their heads but the genie is out of the bottle.
    This is about grassroots, bottom up, democratic power and Jeremy is in tune with this.
    People are sick to death of top down!
    And perhaps all grassroots left wing democratic socialists need is each other.
    The first thing the Tories did in power (hoodwinking the Lib Dems) was to protect their class from austerity – tax cuts for millionaires, corporation tax cuts, £145m tax cuts for Hedge Funds (who gave £50m to the Tories), tax cuts for private landlords with multiple properties, inheritance tax cuts, no cuts for Tory Councils etc. whilst its austerity for evertone else and food banks, welfare cuts for the poor, plus wage freezes (cuts really) whilst the upper class welfare state booms.
    The Tories are now pretending with May that they are the party of working people and rule for all WHEN THEY RULE FOR THE RICH!
    If we can beat our Right Wing irritants we can then focus on exposing May’s Masque of Pandora.
    Left wing democratic socialists just need to fight for left wing democratic socialist policies and choose left wing democratic socialist representatives at all levels.
    Solidarity!

  9. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    Why worry about the media and it’s antics, just concentrate on rebuttals from every word they utter.

    Scotland will only come back to Labour when they feel they have a real Labour Party to come back to.

    There are massive issues in Scotland as there are here, we need to address those here in order to prove our worth, sadly we need our representatives north of the border to inspire the Scots with a real vision of what Labour actually means.

  10. Karl Stewart says:

    Right now, we need to be focussing completely on achieving a Corbyn victory.

    If Corbyn can see off the coup challenger, then there needs to be a real crackdown on the Red Tory right in all localities.

    We need Corbyn-supporting candidates to replace the 170 ‘no-confidence’ MPs, and Corbyn-supporting leaderships in all the devolved areas.

    In Scotland, what would be perhaps a good way forward, might be perhaps a leadership challenge to Dugdale from Katy Clark.

  11. Andrew Pratley says:

    Not sure if the left has much of a future since they appear collectively resolutely to be stuck in the past. Yes, there are diehards out there. Left wing politics also has an appeal for the young, the disillusioned & the disappointed but it is difficult to imagine how middle class surburban voters will ever likely go for Corbyn never mind understand him. Over the weekend he was described as a rather dim third rater who is not even nice. Personally, I see Corbyn as a rather old fashioned figure. He was old hat in the 1970’s in the days when I was a politics student. Today, he seems to be like a left wing Colonel Blimp figure lamenting the present & wishing dreamily for the good old days.

  12. David Pavett says:

    I agree with PB_C’a point that general media commentary is Corbyn is argued on the narrow basis that winning elections is the substance of politics rather than its expression. This explains the trivial nature of most journalistic efforts on Labour’s current problems.

    I am not so sure that a “sociological imagination” (whatever that is) is required to see through this stuff. Do we really need that in order to understand that the social and the political are “intertwined”? And what exactly is the “sociological analysis” required to understand the Corbyn phenomenon?

    Rather that being told that I need to acquire a “sociological imagination” to carry out a “sociological analysis” to understand Corbynism I would like to read an actual analysis. I didn’t find that in this article.

    And yet elements of the required analysis exist in terms of data on the social strata from which the Corbyn supporters come, the areas from where the support comes, the activities of Momentum, successes and failures of the leadership, the extent of the involvement of union members, the extent of involvement of new members in Labour Party activity, and many other things besides. Those of us who voted for him first and second time round have our (diverse) ideas and those are reflected in debates and disputes on sites such as this. Are these not the materials on which the required imagination should get to work?

    1. C MacMackin says:

      I saw a nice infographic from the YouGov poll yesterday. Unfortunately, I can’t find said graphic, but can link to the published results (https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/0cpa7iw5l7/TimesResults_160830_LabourSelectorate.pdf). One thing to note is that a very large majority of members pre-May 2015 are voting Smith. The Facebook post where I saw the infographic was making a lot out of this, saying how the party has been taken over, etc. (as well as the insightful statement that they’re idiots about to reelect an “aging dimwit”). Of course, given that the membership has more than doubled and there are clearly big divides between new and old members, there is more than a grain of truth in this. While obviously this is not a case of the far left seizing control, as many journalists would have us believe (there are probably only about 10 000 people on the far left in the entire country), the Corbynite turn has essentially been an attempt to take an existing party and transform it into a vehicle for the radical Left (although it hasn’t proven to be particularly good at this). Were it not for first past the post, I highly doubt this would have happened–an alternative Left party would probably have formed.

      Something else that stood out to me in the polling data was the relatively even support for Corbyn across demographics. This means it isn’t just the “naive young people” or those who didn’t live through the 70s who’ve been joining and supporting Corbyn. It would also suggest that some portion (I don’t know how large) of the new members are former members who left under Blair. That would give us somewhat of a defence against charges of a takeover although, from what I’ve seen of party membership trends, this could only be quite a small minority of new members.

      Another interesting split is in the EU vote. Overall, both remainers and leavers back Corbyn, but the leavers much more strongly. So I’d say that at least some of the remainers do blame Corbyn for the outcome–or else there are enough Bennites around skewing the leave side.

      PS: From what I remember of the sociology class I took in my first year of university, the Sociological Imagination essentially refers to the ability to connect seemingly isolated experiences in people’s daily lives to the workings of society at large. Interpret the usefulness of the concept as you will.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Thanks for the response and the info. There does indeed appear to be a large gap between those who joined after the GE in 2015 and those who were already members. Support for Corbyn from the two groups (according to YouGov) is 68% and 32% respectively. If, as seems likely Corby is re-elected and if this leads to a drawn out war of attrition then this is something that will need to be considered in terms of levels of activity in the Party and staying power.

        My query about the “sociological imagination” was not really genuine. I was reacting to Phil B-C’s claims, and by extension those of C Wright Mills, which seem very unconvincing to me. Mills lumps together such people as Auguste Comte and Karl Marx as examples of of the exercise of this imagination. In other words he seemed to think that there is something called “the sociological imagination” which operates independently of fundamental theoretical incompatibilities. I don’t agree.

        I also think that the premiss of the article is wrong. The ruling class are not failing to understand Corbynism because they lack something called a sociological imagination because they are too lazy to study sociology. They understand what they need to understand and that is that an attempt at a radical breakout of the rut into which social democracy has become stuck is a potential threat to them. Hence the instant high gear campaign to denigrate Corbyn and his supporters right from the start. There is a “class intelligence” in operation in such things. It might provide a momentary comfort to see one’s enemies as stupid but it is never a good policy.

        So I am inclined to say that the response to Corbynism shows that those who would have most to lose from radical social change “get it” very clearly. The same goes for the right of the Labour Party the leaders of which have so clearly nailed their flag to the mast of modern capitalism as the only basis for a modern economy (albeit with a role for the state to stop the system from destroying itself). And then there is a whole mass of members (and MPs) somewhere in the middle who are not convinced that radical change is possible in the face of resistance from global capitalism. And the thing is that Corbyn and McDonnell haven’t actually proposed much by way of a truly radical programme. It is just the merest whiff that the movement which has coalesced around them might want to move on to more radical positions which is ringing alarm bells. Yes, I am convinced that the establishment really does “get it”.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Oh, I don’t deny that they get that this is a threat. Nor was I meaning to defend (or criticise) the concept of the sociological imagination.

          What I think is true, however, is that they haven’t taken much time to try to understand the appeal of Corbynism. Or, at any rate, that many journalists haven’t. While this is the case, they aren’t going to be able to prevent the rise of left-populist figures. This isn’t a problem for them inasmuch as they can still try (and quite possibly–even probably–succeed) to attack Corbyn so as to ensure he loses a general election. So, in practical terms, it is certainly true that we shouldnt underestimate them.

          The two priorities after this leadership election must be:
          1) Getting new members actively involved in the party (and I’m guilty here too)
          2) Democratising the party so that member involvement is actually meaningful
          3) Policy! As you say, what we do have so far is quite vague and not very radical.

          On the last one, I am still working on a policy discussion website–it’s just taking longer than I’d anticipated (as such projects often do) and I’ve also been busy with my studies. Hopefully I’ll have a basic version up by the end of the weekend though. Whether anyone will use it will be another question…

        2. John Penney says:

          Some good points, David. I wouldn’t however take the claimed survey results you quote as necessarily reliable, ie, that 68% of newer members support Corbyn, but only 32% of longer standing members do. Firstly the sample size was, if I recall, only around 1,400 people – and the claimed outcome is suspiciously identical to the long promoted Right wing meme that all Corbynistas are fly by night fanboys/girls of a temporary “Corbynista” cult phenomenum.

          As to the apparent (and undoubtedly actual), so far inactivity of much of the new members . In my own CLP, the two branches still only meet QUARTERLY and are trivial business filled dull as ditchwater affairs. The new Left inflow’s regular attempts to introduce political discussion into meetings has been as popular with the old guard as a fart at a solemn mass. Every attempt to get branch officers to organise motivational public meetings have failed. The only ,massively successful, public meeting, a showing of “Spirit of 45” , was organised by ordinary members – to the evident disapproval of the branch and CLP officers . Oh, and our CLP NEVER meets on an all member basis – just the Right dominated Management Committee. The only “activity” the old guard want or understand is the odd bit of canvassing for local elections.

          So a pretty dull environment to get newer members motivated to get involved so far – BUT , importantly, a lot is actually happening to change this , slowly, eg, – I am our CLP Conference Delegate ; branch and CLP officer positions are being taken by the new Left inflow, local Momentum groups are slowly growing, and working links are being built with campaigning groups locally on issues like the NHS. Political debate is being forced into branch meetings.

          It takes a lot of effort, and quite a lot of time, to redirect the “oil tanker” of a neoliberal Labour Party from its established voyage track – to the Left. This Labour Conference still won’t reflect this slow sea change – but the next one will.

          Basing ones conclusions on “Corbynism” on the first year alone is a real mistake. One thing is clear, the Labour Right and their Big Business backers fully realise the threat the “Corbynist counter narrative” even on its own, holds for their ideological hegemony. But they have played their anti Corbyn strategy with lead footed clumsiness so far. And the “Corbynist ” Left have squandered opportunities to build detail policies, and democratise the Momentum mass movement. Next year the Right might make less mistakes. We will have to do so too.

          1. David Pavett says:

            John, I agree that there is room for doubt about the YouGov poll. That is why I used the word “appear” and said “according to YouGov”.

            I also agree with your other points about the problems of LP meetings and (lack of) activities. This is very varied and your CLP makes mine sound quite vibrant.

            It is true too that the task of turning the Labour ship around is immense and is not a short-term project. Even so, as you know, I think key opportunities have been missed. I won’t repeat those points now but I think some substantial changes in leadership style and substance are going to be essential to the success of the chance to make Labour into a genuinely radical party.

      2. Peter Rowlands says:

        There is another interesting survey of post 2015 members, here:
        http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/items/178403.html
        Key points from this are;
        The average age is 51, the same as forprevious members.
        40% of those over 50 were previous members.
        17% voted Green in 2015.
        10% are members of Momentum.
        Only 15% have engaged in any activity.
        61% have never attended a meeting.
        78% are middle class ( A,B or C1), more than the older membership at 70%
        It would appear then that the new membership is no more inclined to be active than the older membership, and as the bulk of those who hold offices at branch or CLP level come from the latter, where only a minority support Corbyn, it is fair to assume deselections would not necessarily be easy.

        1. John Walsh says:

          I agree that low levels of activity by new members means that deselections won’t be easy. However, a possible problem with the wider conclusion about new members not wanting to be active is the types of political activities their activity is measured against. The membership rhetoric in the 2015 contest (e.g. from Watson) promised new types of activity that suited the new skills that new members brought to the Party. Obviously, this hasn’t happened (partly as Corbyn has an anachronistic view of members and leaders) but if there were efforts to develop ‘social movement’ activism then the appetite for involvement by new members could be better gauged.

        2. C MacMackin says:

          Another important issue around new member involvement, is that because things are so heated and venomous right now, getting involved is not an attractive prospect. A friend of mine who was a Labour member before Corbyn came along (and did vote for him) was planning to get involved in the university Labour Club, but was so disgusted by the rhetoric on the Facebook group (from both sides, it must be said) that she never did. Some people enjoy those sorts of argumentative, polarised atmospheres, but most do not.

          1. John Walsh says:

            Good point CM. Having naively become involved in politics attracted by the idea of a grassroots movement, I’ve seen first-hand how seemingly OK people (and not people at the sharp-end of austerity) can become nasty, lying, Machiavellian types when involved in the shenanigans that surround, for example, local internal elections. I’ve come to the opinion that some people (and often not a minority at meetings) use political meetings to vent what would otherwise be un-social, unacceptable emotions. As you say, it’s not what you’d expect and is very off-putting. This is one reason why I’m trying to pursue the notion of ‘social movement’ activism given that developing alternatives to traditional forms of activism can help to develop alternative political cultures.

          2. David Pavett says:

            I agree. I have come to the view that large numbers of people on the left (it’s no doubt true of the right too but that’s not my first concern) genuinely do not understand the difference between venting anger against policies/individuals and making a careful political argument. We see repeated examples of this even in these columns. In other words political debate is at an extremely low level.

            This is a serious problem and needs much more airing that it has so far had in left circles. While discourse is littered with “Blairite scum”, “backstabber” and the like and while it is regarded as acceptable on the left to assume dishonest and underhand motives of those who raise critical questions, we are never going to engage in a mature way with the many difficult problems which need to be addressed. The norms of debate are definitely not a trivial matter.

          3. Mervyn Hyde says:

            What I have noticed is that as soon as people on the left make robust rebuttals, detractors start referring to the language they use, whilst some could perhaps have chosen more sophisticated vocabulary, at what point do we call a spade a spade and a liar a liar.

          4. David Pavett says:

            Mervyn, it is not clear what you mean by “robust”. Some people use this as a euphemism for “with strong/offensive language” but a properly robust rebuttal needs neither of those things.

            There are plenty of robust, i.e. well argued and well supported, arguments in these columns, and elsewhere, which bring no complaints about the language in which they are expressed. There is no need for that when they are expressed clearly but respectfully.

            The problem arises with people who have difficulty expressing disagreements without imputing bad faith to those they disagree with and who attack the person rather than, or as well as, what they say. This should always be regarded as unacceptable.

            This approach not only reduces debate to a shouting match but it is fundamentally anti-democratic because it discourages participation from people who do not want to find themselves on the receiving end of unpleasant accusations.

            In these columns I have been called a liar, a backstabber and a coward. I am none of those things and those accusations have been made on no basis at all. I am an old hand in such debates and have learned to expect this nonsense. It is neither reasonable nor sensible to expect newcomers to debate to put up with such treatment. I believe that it also discriminates against groups with lower rates of participation in politics.

            … at what point do we call a spade a spade and a liar a liar.

            Good question, here’s my answer.

            If you think someone’s contribution is foolish you should not say “You are a fool” you should patiently explain what in your view is missing in their argument so that others can decide for themselves whether it is foolish. If you think someone is lying then you should explain the basis for thinking that without making a direct accusation so that, again, others can judge for themselves.

            Keeping to the norms of debate in this way requires an effort. I often have to rewrite things to achieve this. Despite that I probably don’t always reach the standards I aim for. It is a necessary effort if we are to play the ball and not the person. If we fail to do this we set ourselves up as judge and jury over what is going on in someone else’s head. What appears as foolish may be the result of sincere, if misguided, effort. What appears to be a lie may be the result of confusion or ignorance rather than dishonesty.

            The golden rule, I suggest, should be always to assume the best possible motives of those we wish to argue against. If we assume the worst motives we gain easy victories, in our own eyes at least, but convince no one not already convinced of what we want to say.

            The norms of respect and politeness are fundamental to democracy.

  13. david is obviously right that the left has a real problem with respecting other people’s views. It is historical in nature and predates the Labour Party, as anyone who has studied the Social Democrat Federation under Hyndman knows. It goes along with the worship of leaders, which Hyndman milked to keep control of his party.

    In a well run organization differences can be constructively debated partly through rules but ultimately through a respect for others. However on the sectarian left the belief that ultimate truth is with whoever holds it and everyone else lies and manipulates has a history of its own. While the Trotskyist left and the history of 57 varieties speaks for itself, its a legacy of all varieties of leftism. The right does not have the same problem as it does not believe in ultimate solutions. The worst of the left does, and as someone who was in the ILP for many years it was something that the organization never forgot that in the Spanish Civil War they sent people to fight the fascists and were shot down by the communists.

    That was an extreme example, but the belief that the enemy is within has always been a major trait of the European left, with severe consequences.

    Trevor FIsher,.

    1. John Penney says:

      Your criticism of the Left’s tendency to elevate political theory into semi religious belief is solidly based, Trevor.

      However, The idea that the Labour Right, or indeed the Tory Party has a purely pragmatic , flexible belief system, could well be said to have been true (within the strict boundary limits of being solidly pro capitalist and nationalist) during the long “Butskellite consensus” post 1945 to the 1970’s. But today ? That claim is certainly very far off the mark, since the establishment of the extreme free enterprise ideology , we on the Left call “neoliberalism” hegemonically from the 1980’s onwards.

      Today the Labour Right, (OK, often for often purely personal financial gain/careerist, reasons), hold solidly to a completely bogus, highly ideological, world view , in which unfettered private enterprise, governed by the “self correcting, benefit maximising invisible hand of the Market” is seen as the ONLY way to run an economy and a society. This despite all the evidence to the contrary, including the ruinous 2008 Crash, and the ever greater wealth and income gap , and growing collapse of the Welfare State, penalising the natural voter supporter base of these Labour politicians.

      So spare us the very inaccurate contrast between the ” ideological Left” and the “Right pragmatists” please. it’s garbage.

      1. John Penney says:

        And for Trevor Fisher to have the sheer temerity to create a “Straw Man” contrast between the supposed inveterate sectarian Purgers of the Left and, by implication, the supposedly much more ” unideological open democrats” of the Right, is simply risible.

        Have you not noticed ,Trevor – TODAY the Labour Right have excluded 130,000 newer members from voting, and have purged, on the flimsiest of evidence, many thousands more Left wingers – and are now trying to get rid of OMOV, purely for their own sectarian objective of keeping a firm grip on what they consider to be THEIR personal Party property.

        We on the Left are constantly described by the Right, across their Press allies, as “lunatics, “Nazi Stormtroopers”, “Cultists”, etc,etc. Anything to avoid addressing the POLITICS of the Left which is so clearly winning the argument with our members.

        In other words, Trevor , the Right are exhibiting exactly the intolerant “stalinoid” attitudes to alternative political viewpoints that you accuse the Left of.

        Your biased selectivity with fact , clearly demonstrates that you are on this site merely to troll for the Right.

        1. David Pavett says:

          John, I agree that any contrast between the ideological left and the pragmatic right would be false but I don’t see where Trevor says any such thing. You put phrases in quotes which makes it look as if Trevor has used them when he has not done so. I think you are criticising him for what you think he wants to say rather than for what he actually says.

          On the issue of being ideological we also should, in my view, recognise an asymmetry between the right and the left. The right can imagine that it does without theory because it does not aspire to change society in any fundamental way. It’s ideas and concepts therefore reflect the “common sense” of existing society the norms of which are uncritically absorbed. The left, on the other hand, needs to make a critique of these views to show what is wrong with them and how they can be replaced as a result of that critique. That means that the left needs to operate at a higher level of theoretical consciousness than the right if it is to make progress. We need to ask ourselves if it is in fact doing so. Half-baked theorising is a greater danger to the left than the right which can always fall back on received wisdom aka the dominant ideas in society (i.e. the ideas of the ruling class).

  14. Barry Hearth says:

    lot of chatter about how real political debate is at a low level within the Labour Party.
    But why should anyone be surprised, I was a member for many years through to the late 80’s leaving due to Kinnock’s authoritarian style of rule.
    The branch meetings I attended became less and less “political” more about dog mess, street lighting , housing issues and parks. Very worthy, but never inspiring, and unless it’s changed dramatically, young newly enrolled members will get put off by that kind of activity. They want the immediacy of response, just like they get on their laptops, tablets and phones, and if the Labour party doesn’t answer this then many of them will inevitably drift away.
    however, I’m certain that Jeremy Corbyn already understands this and it’s why he stands so popular amongst those who “surf”.
    But if the Labour party is anything it’s a community, a community of like minded people, who may sometimes disagree, but mostly agree on matters of principle, and it’s they/us who have to ensure that all that young vibrant talent really does get a chance to make the difference that they crave. If they don’t and the dominators succeed in their determination to wrest back control, then a generation can kiss democracy goodbye.

  15. it will be a great day when the left stops putting words into other people’s mouths. I did not talk about the Labour right – in current terms the New Labour right as the old social democrat right is dead – as it was not the point that David Pavett was making.

    If the wider issue of dogmatism within the political culture is on the agenda, New Labour has just proved it by providing the gift that keeps on giving by failing to notice that the paradigm of triangulation has failed. As was predicted at the start of the 1990s by the comrades in the Chartist tendency, who were calling for a third road between the old left and the new right.

    Please don’t imply any attitude towards my views on the New Labour project and its failures. I do not accept your perspective on my analysis as it did not mention the New Labour Project, nor does it show any knowledge of the Labour Reform Group and Save the Labour Party organisations which were in struggle against New Labour under Blair, and of which I was an active member. The current political struggle is not a battle of black and white and any future based on an attempt to split the Labour Party is doomed to be disasterous.

    Trevor Fisher.

    1. John Penney says:

      Methinks Trevor Fisher (and David Pavett) doth protest far, far, to much . Trevor’s constant theme thoughout all his posts can be summed up by his disgraceful , Right narrative reinforcing, statement in his first post on this thread:

      “The task of thinking through a new radical politics is beyond the Corbynistas, and this is patently obvious. There is no major text of Corbynism, it is a cult of personality, unlike say the CPGB at its best. And it cannot win power. Given this, the only way to view it is as a religious phenomenon.”

      There is of course no homogenous “Corbynista” grouping – it is a shorthand for a very, very, diverse massive inflow of Left oriented people into Labour since last September. This is not a UK special phenomenum , but merely the UK component of the huge , post 2008 Crash, upsurge in Leftism which across Europe has spawned a revival in , often new, socialist organisations.

      This is very early days for the almost overnight emergence of a UK wide new mass Left movement to start writing it off, and sneering at its inevitable initial theoretical ineptness and naivete. Or indeed to mistake the actually hard realism of most of the people conveniently caricatured as “Corbynistas” that Jeremy’s Leadership tactically is our ONLY current toehold within the viciously neoliberal Party machine, and if he falls, then the entire Left surge will be defeated too.

      There is no excuse for reinforcing the carefully honed memes of the Labour Right, with the “Corbyn cult” nonsense , or focussing alone on the undoubted ideological weaknesses of the Left, or our unfortunate tendancy to sectarianism. and I’m afraid that selectivity is in today’s context of internal Party civil war, highly political, and intentionally or unintentionally, reinforcing the Right’s anti Left (aka Anti Corbyn) narrative.

      So spare me the defensive outrage, Trevor, your repeated selectively anti Corbyn Left posting narrative is simply supporting the Labour right, not assisting the Left to improve our game.

      1. David Pavett says:

        John, I have never said that thinking through a new radical politics is beyond those supporting Corbyn (I am, after all, one if them). On the contrary I have tried to encourage debate for exactly that purpose, here and elswhere. I concerns me that so far policy developments from the Corbyn side are so thin on the ground. The Momentum national website is something of a monument to this non-development of policy.

        I agree that it is early days and that we have to work to ensure that the present toe-hold become more than that.

        I have attended sufficient pro-Corbyn meetings to find it difficult to agree with you that there is no such thing as a Corbyn cult. When policy development is so weak it is inevitable that issues become personalised and that is what has happened. We should frankly recognise that to be a problem. When a Corbyn supporter at a pro-Corbyn meeting described Corbyn as a “Messiah” I said to him that a Messiah is the last thing we need on the left and the last thing needed by the Labour Party. He looked at me blankly not seeing the point that what we need is informed democratic debate not magical leaders.

      2. C MacMackin says:

        I think one of the issues here is that “cult” is such an evocative word. It brings to mind Scientology, communes in the middle of the forest, or mass suicides. Personality cult brings to mind Stalin or Lenin or Mao (or, for that matter, Chavez). Such personality cults are usually deliberately constructed too, which I don’t think is the case around Corbyn. So while there are undoubtedly people out there who seem to have bound up all of their political identity with Corbyn, I can understand why John Penny bristles at the use of the word cult.

        We also run into the issue of what exactly is a “Corbynista/Corbynite”. I certainly wouldn’t identify myself as such, nor I think would most of the commenters on here. What’s more, I think most of us on here could not be said to be engaged in cult-like behaviour or to have personalised our politics. However, according to the media narrative, we would definitely all be Corbynites. As John Penny says, Corbyn’s support comes from a diverse group of people. Thus, it does seem unfair to paint all of them with the “cult” brush.

        That said, David is absolutely right about politics being replaced by support for an individual for some people. You see this sometimes with Momentum and with social media accounts like JC4PM. This is extremely unhealthy and we must say as much. But perhaps we should use a word that’s not so evocative or likely to cause consternation as “cult”.

        1. David Pavett says:

          You are right. We need a better word. Perhaps just better to talk about “excessive personalisation” while making it clear that this is the result of the lack of policy development and involvement of members in that process. I will avoid using “cult”.

          1. Mervyn Hyde says:

            Could we just remind ourselves when talking about personalisation, that we are in the middle of an election between two individuals, which of course is a complete distraction from the party engaging in constructive dialog and by it’s very nature involves directly supporting one person or the other.

            With all the column inches you have spent debating the nuances between support of Jeremy and denigration of outspokenness, perhaps you could lead the debate more constructively into what policies you think we should devising.

            That at least would be the start of a real debate.

          2. David Pavett says:

            Mervyn, (1) if you look you will see that the great majority of my contributions to this website (in both comments and articles) are about the policies I think we should be devising. (2) Aggressive language and uncomradely assumptions get in the way of policy debate and should not be tolerated. (3) We should be voting for given people only insofar as they stand for policies which we think will enable us to get to the roots of our problems.

          3. Mervyn Hyde says:

            Agreed David, lets start doing that right now, I suggest we look at ways and means of supporting the Junior doctors in their fight to expose this government’s ill intent of destroying our NHS.

            We could spell out how money enters the economy and how that means our country can never ever go broke.

            We could outline how capitalism is closing down society and blighting the futures of generations to come.

            Just a few to start with.

  16. Doug says:

    On the subject of people not being able to vote when they’re entitled to, what is happening about this? I applied for a vote in early August, registering as an affiliated supporter through my union Unite. I contacted the Labour Party again on September 1st and still had no response. I know I’m not alone in this!

    1. Mervyn Hyde says:

      Doug: Ring this number now 03450922299 it is the office dealing with lost ballots, listen to the automatic answering system and press 5 to speak directly to an individual.

      They will need your membership number, Union or Labour Party and so make sure you have it when you call. They will then tell you if you are eligible to vote, I am still waiting for mine also but have been assured that it will come.

    2. John P Reid says:

      Union affiliates ar normally the last to b contacted, but yes phone because hey can at least tell you if you’ve got one

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