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Why I switched to Corbyn in this year’s leadership election

CorbynIn last year’s Labour leadership contest and after much shilly-shallying, my vote went to Yvette Cooper. This year there was no hesitation: I duly ticked the box for Jeremy Corbyn. The passage from the poster woman for “sensible” managerial politics to Corbynism might be puzzling for some, so here are my reasons.

First off, it’s partly a protest. Partly. Over the last year, my dismay has grown over into disgust at the behaviour of the PLP. Of course, it’s not all of the PLP. A minority are doing the behind doors briefing, and complaining loudly every time Jeremy so much as picks his nose. But it is also a collective problem because no one is reining our brave souls in. Far from it. For every Jamie Reed, Jess Phillips, and Wes Streeting there are five, six, many MPs egging them on. They say Jeremy’s leadership is a clapped out old banger, and to prove it they’re puncturing his tyres and pouring sand (and scorn) into the petrol tank. Do they genuinely, honestly, really believe their moanin’ and sabotagin’ is helping the party? Because I can tell you, the number of people in realworldland sat there thinking ‘good on Mike Gapes for socking it to Corbyn, at least someone in Labour has their head screwed on’ is precisely zero. Quite independently of Jeremy, they’re making our party look like a shower of shit and inflicting incredible damage to its name.

There’s a second string to my protest bow. If the behaviour of the PLP isn’t disgraceful enough, there’s the litany of incompetent shenanigans. The failed coup is an abject lessonin how not to go about one. And as we know, this was but the beginning of a glorious summer that ranged over efforts to remove Jeremy from the leadership ballot, the collapse of an arm’s length court case designed to accomplish the same, the shock re-imposition of the six month eligibility rule for new members after having taken a holiday for six years, increasing the supporters’ fee to £25 and allowing only a 48 hour window for registration, and now the farce of new members getting turfed out for retweeting an opposition MP, or for previously voting Green in 1911. These awful, outrageous moves to try and stitch the party up have happened in full view of the public, and it is disgusting. But, unfortunately, not surprising given its inglorious history of favouritism, cronyism, and subverting its own process. A vote for Jeremy is a vote against this rotten culture. It’s a vote for a cleaned up party machine, democratic policy making, and a culture where people go places because of their talents and not who their friends and/or parents are. So no to fixed shortlists. No to nobbled selections. No to malicious expulsions. And yes to the party being the property of its membership.

I also voted against the Owen Smith campaign. At the Westminster disco, few have thrown so many shapes in so short a space of time. From bland Milibandism to hard Bevanism to Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown, them’s quite some moves. I don’t dislike Owen, but the summer campaign has absolutely shown he’s not the anti-Corbyn the anti-Corbyns are hoping for. First off, to use an unfashionable splash of NuLabspeak, his challenge wasn’t fit for purpose. From the off it has never been a serious affair. His is a front for timid ‘A-listers’ who would move to dispose of an Owen leadership within 12 to 18 months of his unlikely victory. Your Chukas and Stella Creasys, the Caroline Flints and Dan Jarvises are all conspicuously absent, or being seen to do anything but help the campaign. The second major problem is the politics. There’s the usual observation – Jeremy’s campaign articulates the interests of our movement and constituency more clearly than any Labour leader since, well, ever. Meanwhile, like every other past leader and would-be leader, Owen’s politics fall short – his out-of-hand dismissal of the basic income being yet another example. Yet much more seriously, Owen is recklessly and foolishly pushing a politics that poses an existential threat to our party. His repeated nonsense about a second referendum, which is designed to keep Britain in the EU by hook and by crook puts us on a collision course with a substantial chunk of our loyal support. UKIP are in decline, yet it appears Owen wants to throw them a life line – incredible. After the disaster of Scotland, of ignoring what our people were saying for years it is unconscionable that a leadership candidate is determined to repeat the cataclysm.

This brings me to my fourth reason: the ruin of the Labour Party isn’t a province Owen rules over alone. Repeated time and again is the mantra that elections are the be-all and end-all, nothing can be done without holding office, and therefore Jeremy must go. Actually, there is something more important than winning a general election and that is our party’s continued existence. The default of Owen Smith and his quiet friends is managerial politics and opinion poll chasing because, after all, that worked for His Majestic Tonyness. They lack an understanding of Labour as a conduit of interests in a political field structured and reconfigured by competing and antagonistic interests. As such they pursue and have a history of implementing policies that strike at the social position of our constituencies – a rookie error the Tories are careful never to make. This isn’t solely down to a failure of intellect, though. As a class system in which the the owners of capital have the whip hand, running capitalism against capital is like using a whisk to mix cement. Matters aren’t helped by the 30 year estrangement of establishment politics from popular aspirations either. Here you will find the roots of the Scottish collapse and the implosion of centre left parties elsewhere in Europe. Yet, despite this many friends and comrades, good Labour people, stick to this approach because an alternative cannot possibly be imagined. Elections are won on the centre ground, the party has to appear as a competent government-in-waiting, and putting forward anything too social democratic will kill our chances. And so Labour is in a bind. It either submits to the logic of centre ground electioneering and find itself rudderless and buffeted by the political weather until the howling winds blow us apart, or try and do something different.

The members have decided they want to try something different and the minority need to work with it, just as the left have under the right’s near uninterrupted dominance since the party’s inception. Of course, I understand the problems with Jeremy and his strategy as it stands. There are the well-publicised complaints about his competence, which I’ll talk about after the contest is done. And there is the appalling opinion polling. It does Jeremy’s case no favours to pretend everything would be hunky dory if the PLP struck a helpful note and the media were kinder. Yet, despite everything, in Jeremy’s campaign, in the movement that is coalescing and feeding into the Labour Party, there is a germ of both the party’s continued existence and possible future general election victories. Neither of those things can be said, alas, about the approach favoured by Jeremy’s opponents.

This is the positive reason why I voted for Jeremy. British politics is undergoing a process of realignment, where the previously established relationships between parties and constituencies of people are thrown out of kilter and settle down into new relationships. The mushrooming of Labour to its gargantuan size, and which is set to get even bigger should Jeremy win, come after the rise and fall of the LibDems, the rise (and fall?) of UKIP, the slow burn growth of the Greens, and the supremacy of the SNP. If what was happening to Labour was a few Trots and middle-aged lefties reliving their youth, similar things wouldn’t be happening to different parties in this country or elsewhere in the world. That something making itself felt is another periodic crisis of capitalism and the state. Sociologically speaking, the people joining and finding collective purpose with us are results of long-term trends too. In the main, they are drawn from the emerging occupations – the knowledge worker, the care worker, the precarious worker, forms of labour that are mostly concerned with the provision of a service in some way, work that has the production of social relations at its heart. Now this, of course, is nothing new. Sociologists of the left and the right have been talking about the shift in this direction since the early 1970s. It’s happened, it’s happening, and now those people, atomised by 30 years of neoliberal economics and governance, are making their weight felt on our politics.

This lends itself to two political conclusions. This section of people who have to sell their labour power in return for a wage or salary are a rising group. Just as the industrial worker was the “hegemonic” form of work and the left’s preferred political agent of the past, so the networked worker (for want of a better phrase) is the increasingly dominant constituency in all the advanced countries. It’s slowly waking up, therefore it is vital for the future health of our party that we be its party of choice. Should we choose to ignore it, then it will find political expression elsewhere – we only have to look at Scotland to see what fate awaits. It follows that the party has to stretch every sinew, exert every effort to recruit, recruit, recruit. As they pour into politics, we have to be their vessel. A million, two million, perhaps three, that is not beyond the realms of possibility. And if the party is of that size, very strange things start happening to politics. It isn’t just that we have more leafleters and canvassers than ever before, but the party becomes an electoral factor itself beyond campaigning. A millions-strong party will have multiple members in every workplace, at every school gate, in all the further and higher education institutions in the land. Down your street, in the pub, at the summer fete or community centre, and all across every social media platform. It can become a self-organising machine that counteracts the media barrage through the sheer weight and breadth of the party, which is precisely what has happened to the SNP despite its rather staid, steady-as-she-goes leadership. The physicality, the familiarity of everyone knowing someone who is a party member is the most potent electoral weapon Labour could have at its disposal. It may have attracted scorn from the cognoscenti, but the online rebuttal work already being done around #wearehismedia shows this in digital embryo.

This is why I voted for Jeremy. In the end, the behaviour of the PLP, the shenanigans, and Owen Smith’s campaign is almost incidental. Jeremy’s campaign has opened politics up. It’s not just the best way to secure Labour’s long-term future and win again, it’s the only way.

17 Comments

  1. John Walsh says:

    P B-C – a query where you allude to the “process of realignment” in British politics including a realignment (or expansion) of what constitutes political activism (i.e. activism understood as activity which directly or indirectly influences how people vote). You say: “It isn’t just that we have more leafleters and canvassers than ever before, but the party becomes an electoral factor itself beyond campaigning … It can become a self-organising machine that counteracts the media barrage through the sheer weight and breadth of the party”.

    From what I see, the Party’s political culture is deeply rooted in valuing traditional forms of activism to the exclusion of what might be termed ‘social movement activism’. At ground level, even within Momentum updating what counts as activism is proving to be a difficult and slow process. Also, there are fears that, as Paul Mason argues, “Corbyn comes from a wing of the left that sees social movements as adjuncts to radical leaders”. Arguably, these are real obstacles which are preventing (or at least, slowing) the ‘organic’ emergence of a social movement.

    I just wonder if it’s wishful thinking that change will somehow happen – can “self-organising” really happen given the obstacles? At ground level, what will the catalysts for change be?

    On a pedantic note, when you say “running capitalism against capital is like using a whisk to mix cement”, surely you mean concrete – as any builder will point out, cement can be readily whisked (e.g. some cement-based tile adhesives) whereas concrete is the stuff requiring a shovel (or a mixer).

  2. Barry Hearth says:

    I believe that the PLP, or least those who want rid off Corbyn at any price, and Smith is the price they’ll pay, really do have another candidate for leader. I suspect that candidate to be David Miliband, not an elected PLP,er YET, but he will be found a safe seat for him to cast his magic from. With the second coming of Miliband, the party will magically rise from the ashes that is Corbynism, and take it’s rightful place at the top table once again.
    But will it be a party without members?

    1. Bazza says:

      Good points but the problem with David Milliband is he is more timid than weak Ed and couldn’t even beat him.
      But yes they are hoping for the great man (probably will be a man) of history who ‘looks the part’ but really stands for nothing; but they hope the media may be friendlier to him afterall he poses no threat to the power of the rich and powerful.
      On a bright note we have a membership now of 500,000 plus who want radical change and hopefully we will be standing for power for the grassroots and for great ideas of history!

  3. John Penney says:

    Generally good article. Though Phil’s apparent belief that the currently fashionable amongst middle class liberal radicals, policy , (borrowed entirely from extreme Right Wing Libertarianism’s “the citizen as atomised , individualist consumer” ideology), of “Guaranteed Citizen’s Income” has anything to offer the left, does cast doubt on his political understanding.

    The disaster that their ill-thought out Citizen’s Income policy brought on the Greens in the 2015 General Election wasn’t just because their Leader couldn’t explain it to a hectoring Andrew Neil on Daily Politics. It is because it is an unworkable fantasy as a policy option for the Left, operationally wasteful and unworkable, and actually detrimental for the poorest and neediest, – and a distraction from , no substitute for, a well funded from general taxation, fully functioning, humanely run , inclusive, Welfare State.

    1. David Pavett says:

      John, I agree about the Universal Basic Income or Citizen’s Income issue. McDonnell has now adopted this as a long term aim but where are the arguments? All I am aware of is the Compass booklet and the book by Rutger Bergman (Utopia for Realists). No doubt there is a lot of other stuff but the proposal has started to pop up in Labour debates without, as far as I am aware, anyone arguing the case or pointing out where they think the case has been satisfactorily made. Compass and Bergman seem to work on the basis that capitalism is here to stay with its increasingly precarious employment practices so the state can step in to alleviate its effects. This seems to me like a proposal to build a utopia while leaving the real cause of our social problems intact. Where are the arguments that have convinced McDonnell? I would love to know.

      But I think that Phil B-C also makes a couple of points that it would be good to discuss further.

      1. It is important to see the change and upheavals of Labour in a broader long-term context. Phil B-C notes of the new members “In the main, they are drawn from the emerging occupations – the knowledge worker, the care worker, the precarious worker, forms of labour that are mostly concerned with the provision of a service in some way, work that has the production of social relations at its heart.”

      2. It is possible that with a democratised party (we still need a clear idea of what this means in practice) with large further increases in membership could introduce a qualitative change in the working of politics. As Phil B-C says a hugely enlarged party could actually transform the political dynamic becoming itself a direct factor in the electoral process by sheer weight of numbers (presence in each community, a guaranteed electoral base …).

    2. C MacMackin says:

      On the topic of the UBI, I think it is important to note one of the reasons why it is seen as attractive. The old welfare state was often paternalistic and invasive (as pointed out by those on the Left at the time), something which eroded its popularity and made it easier to roll back and also something which does not fit well with the libertarian tendencies (be they of the left or right) common today. This is something which we must take very seriously when designing a new welfare state.

      I’m not actually too worried about McDonnell inadvertently implementing a UBI scheme which would end up hurting the poor. I suspect that such effects would become clear before it was actually rolled out and thus spell its end (much as the Greens did back away from it after analysis showed it to be regressive). The much bigger risk is that, before a Left government can be elected, campaigning for a UBI could result in it being implemented by a party less committed to the welfare of the poor and resulting in the further evisceration of the welfare state. We might be seeing something like this in Canada, actually, with the (neo-)Liberal federal and Ontario governments expressing interest in such a scheme (fortunately, I doubt it will actually happen). Finland and Greece actually do look set to push ahead with such a scheme. Mercifully, there doesn’t seem to be too much momentum around the UBI in neoliberal circles in the UK.

      On the second point David flagged up, I think this is very important. We’re already reaching a point where this may be significant–a back of the envelope calculation would suggest there is one party member for every ~80 voters, suggesting that most people will know at least one party member. This could provide an incredible resource through which to make contact with voters and to come to understand their concerns. Ideally we could be we’d be developing the capacity to be able to support people in their daily struggles and make use of the concerns they mention when drafting policy. Obviously we’re a long way away from that, but it’s something we should be keeping in mind.

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes we have to democratise Labour and have a culture of involvement which includes harnessing new technology and on-line contributions.
    I think we also need to crush the old bourgeois ways of getting on in politics via the greasy pole – the horrible wheeling and dealing and back me on this and I will back you on that rubbish and replace it with HONESTY and choose people on their ideas.
    Why can’t potential candidates post a 1,000 word statement on-line of their ideas which can be sent to members so they can make informed choices for shortlists.
    Decisions at some meetings in the past could be made by 10 people and why not for major issues send a copy of agendas with the resolution on so people can contribute on-line (not everyone can get to meetings) and comments and how people would vote could be printed on a spreadsheet and brought to meetings.
    Of course at meetings you can bounce ideas off each other and 80% of communication is non-verbal which on-line will be missed but certainly we could explore all of this and nominations for MPs could still be made.
    I would like us to explore having every CLP with an MP to also have a Senate Rep (new elected Lords Rep) and we could have one male and one female (top of a ballot the MP, top of ballot of opposite gender Senate -if they want to).
    So if we have 300 MPs, 300 Senate Reps 300 would be male and 300 would be female.
    But we need good socialists – even a Momentum survey asked me amongst other things if I would be interested in a career in politics to which I relied “possibly but it would not be a career it would be a calling!”
    Plus members OMOV (from 1,000 word statements from interested candidates) choose 6 for husting meeting (and non-attendees can vote on-line) and perhaps 2 should be working class (occupation parent/s), at least 2 female and at least 1 BME/LGBT/Disabled.
    So embed a culture of involvement, harness and include new technology and have a revolution of honesty in Labour where we select people on their ideas.
    We also need the courage to stand for what we believe in, argue for this on the doorstep and in leaflets and e flyers but also fundamentally for those who feel up to it and have the confidence we need to get out onto the estates knocking on doors (if you are confident enough) or just leaflet to get anti-austerity left wing democratic socialist messages over but we need to allow and encourage members to help when and how they can.
    Voted Corbyn – Solidarity!

  5. Bazza says:

    Oh an here’s some further food for thought.
    I said at a recent meeting of Momentum that we should all get a copy of Labour’s Rules for 2016 and study them – we the Left are great on socialist policy and vision but useless on the boring stuff whilst the Right are useless on vision but red hot on the boring stuff!
    So I did – just Google ‘Labour Party Rules 2016’ and go on Wikipedia then scroll to the bottom and they are there.
    They make interesting reading and I now feel empowered – I think we should all study them and print them off and take them to meetings with us.
    Perhaps Momentum could get conferences organised where we split into small groups to look at chapters each to suggest changes (are about 7 at 10 pages each) then report back in a plenary and further changes can be suggested and we can have a plethora of ideas for transforming Labour into being more democratic and embedding a culture of involvement.
    So we have plenty of vision, add organisation and we can win! Solidarity!

    1. David Pavett says:

      How I wish it were true that “we the Left are great on socialist policy and vision”. I wonder where you would direct someone who asked “Where can I find socialist policies on how to overcome the power of the global corporations?’ or “Where can I read about the socialist vision of an economy driven by the satisafaction of needs rather than the drive for profit!?”. The economic questions are admittedly hard but even if we turn to a “softer” topic like education I wonder where you would direct someone asking for information on socialist policy and vision.

      My view is that, on the contrary, it is the lack of socialist policies and vision that is the Achilles heel of the left. And, again contrary to what you say, it is far easier to find people on the left who can argue abour LP rules than to find people who can get beyond a few slogans when it comes to policy and vision.

    2. Bazza says:

      Footnote for example one third of affiliates to a CLP can call a Special Meeting ie Leader Nomination meeting and an EC must enforce this rule. From my experience many on the left have ideas and passion, some have vision but we do tend to be weak on things like rules when we need to be strong in all areas. I have posted many times on hopefully if JC is re-elected on Momentum focussing on organising AND buiding policy from below!

  6. Tony says:

    I voted for Corbyn. Having watched the latest debate, I thought that Smith was even more of an embarrassment than he normally is.

    To take just one example, he falsely claimed that Labour was behind in the opinion polls before the coup started.

    1. john Reid says:

      we were ,but by only 5 percent

    2. john Reid says:

      http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ an average of 5% tory lead ,19th May to 5th July

    3. Bazza says:

      I saw a great graph on a Momentum Discussion Group Facebook page and it showed the first 10 months of JCs leadership and at times Labour was level with the Tories, at times ahead and at times just behind but then since the deliberate Right wing Coup they have unsurprisingly plummeted and Smith doesn’t help constantly being negative and talking Labour’s chances down.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Is this a joke, momentum, aren’t exactly un bias

        1. Verity says:

          Everyone involved in politics is biased since we have a point of view but that does not mean we invent graphs for which there is no validity.

        2. Bazza says:

          The graph was based on evidence.

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