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Is the Corbyn moment over?

CorbynRallyThe seisometers are registering something. Is it a tremor triggered by the usual grumbles, or are the plates storing up a major event? This is the problem when it comes to analysing the travails of the Labour leadership. With the irreconcilables tactically and temporarily reconciled to the present state of affairs, the cracks are feeling their way across the Corbynist edifice. Clive Lewis had to resign his business brief after defying the three line whip to support the triggering of Article 50. Diane Abbott’s migraines were the stuff of Westminster gossip. Owen Jones has cast doubt on whether he would vote for Jeremy Corbyn again, while doing his bit to big up our Clive. There is (unserious) speculation about another leadership challenge, and the papers recently are stuffed with grumblings – including leaked focus group findings checking out the viability of Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long-Bailey as heirs to Jeremy. Is this yet another episodic difficulty, or a sign the Corbyn era, barely 18 months old, is drawing to a close?

The precipitating factor behind the latest round of chuntering was the aforementioned Article 50 vote and the deep splits that cleaved into the Parliamentary Labour Party. As it happens, I believe Jeremy Corbyn absolutely made the right choice, and I’m sure any leader would have done the same in his position. Plebiscites and referenda are regressive and a step back from representative democracy, let alone the more substantive forms of democracy we should be aiming for. Nevertheless, we have to deal with the outcome of Dave’s gamble because we – the parties, the campaigns, the voters – all signed up to it, and woe betide the political consequences for any of the big parties should they seek to defy the result.

The problem is, from the standpoint of Corbynism and its watchers, is while the enthusiastic uprising of hundreds of thousands of new members put their man in the leader’s office, they themselves were overwhelmingly pro-EU while Jez was, by repute, historically opposed. And since the referendum there has been a strand, in and outside the party, that has tried tying the responsibility for Remain’s loss to him. Never mind that the Prime Minister of the day only persuaded fewer than half of his party’s voters to support his case. Nevertheless, this notion that Jez was/is a secret Brexiteer has persisted and that his actions during the last fortnight should be read in these terms. Pure poppycock, but it has certainly knocked the stuffing out of sections of his support. Is this the beginning of the end?

Firstly, no. There is not going to be a leadership challenge. There is no appetite in the party, and the PLP remain mindful about what happened last year. As the boundary review and battle over merged seats lies ahead, no one is in the mood to upset the party membership. I don’t think shock losses in in Copeland and sunny Stoke-on-Trent Central make that any more likely, either. Nor is anything going to come from the unions. They are very concerned about the poor polling figures, but cannot be seen and will not make the first move to oust Corbyn, especially as it would sow serious division between them. Two years hence the situation might be different, but not now.

All that said, how long can Corbynism go on for if it’s feeling the pinch of real division and failing to gain traction in the country at large? The answer to whether the moment is over is … not yet. Labour is in a dark place, but we should be wary of treating politics as if everything is fixed and ordered in advance. Look out the window and everything is all over the place. In Britain, the dynamic that fed UKIP is dissipating and the LibDems are making an unlikely comeback. Brexit so far has kept the Tories together, but as negotiations get underway it will surely be impossible to keep a lid on things. And with the danger of talks collapsing completely which, thanks to May’s complacency and the arrogance of her lieutenants, cannot be completely ruled out the possibility is the roughest, most frightening part of the road to travel may still lie ahead. And then there is the small matter of Donald Trump’s innumerable idiocies and the government’s evident desire to act as his bag carriers. To go all Rumsfeldian for a moment, these are the known unknowns. Even without them, British politics is still wracked by uncertainty. These problems, insecurity, precarity, fatalism, frustrated aspiration, have not gone away and the government is set to do little about them. These will find expression in some way – indeed, Corbynism is a symptom of it. The spectre of the unknown unknown is abroad.

Is the Corbyn moment over? If we understand it as a consequence of the flux and pulse of political crisis, probably not. It might in fact just be starting.

24 Comments

  1. Eleanor Firman says:

    I wish people would stop challenging Corbyn from the so-called left.
    Its great there are younger left MPs getting cabinet experience – something to genuinely celebrate – but honestly, I thought focus groups went out with Blair.
    As if there aren’t more important things to get on with – like saving the wonderful NHS, campaigning against zero hours etc.

    There are too many egoists and pundits on the left who treat politics as a horse race instead of organising.

  2. John Penney says:

    What is the “Corbyn Moment”. It was and still is the UK manifestation of the ongoing disintegration of the neoliberal status quo political structures across Europe (and the USA) . Across Europe this “end of a specific neoliberal political era” , brought about via the shock of the 2008 Great Crash, has produced a host of new political formations , on radical Right and radical Left, from Golden Dawn to the National Front, to Syriza , Die Linke and Podemos. In the UK, partly because of FPTP, and partly because of the complete fluke of Jeremy Corbyn accidentally sneaking onto the Labour Party leadership ballot in 2015, the “UK Left Surge” happened in the Labour Party.

    It should be quite clear by now that the high , unrealistic, hopes of the 300,000 or so attracted to join the Labour Party around the Corbyn insurgency and two victories, that Labour could be quickly converted from a dying, internally corrupt, careerist ridden, neoliberal, actually centre right, party, to a radical Left of Centre party , were fundamentally misplaced.

    The Party Machine, PLP, and local government councillors, are still entirely controlled by the , often profoundly corrupt, neoliberal status quo, austerity implementing Right and Centre Right. The PLP and Party machine, after their brutal 2016 continuous sabotage and highly damaging second Leadership Campaign, now have Corbyn and his tiny circle completely boxed in and cowed. Once again , despite the huge size of the “Corbynista membership influx” it is the Left which is sacrificing all hope of a new radical policy direction for Labour to keep the PLP majority acquiescent “inside the tent”.

    No wonder the Right/Centre majority aren’t too bothered about a new leadership challenge just now (though if Copeland and/or Stoke ae lost, watch this space !) . They think they can just use their dominance of local CLP management committees, and the Party machine, and the NEC and NPF, and PLP/Shadow Cabinet, to ensure that there is no serious Left shift in Labour’s policy offer, and future Manifesto, from the offer which lost Labour two General Elections, and Scotland in its entirety!

    Its actually an electorally suicidal “strategy” for the Labour Right and Centre – but their gross arrogance, and unbreakable personal connections with the “revolving door” of big business paybacks, guarantees that , despite the “Corbyn Surge” Labour is unlikely to shift significantly leftwards – not before Jeremy retires , either shortly before, or after, what (entirely due to the Right’s constant sabotage and intransigence), is guaranteed to be a VERY bad General Election result for Labour.

    Once Jeremy retires, a “compromise” faux Leftish new leader will no doubt be elect – in a desperate attempt to fake Left and retain the bulk of the 300,00 new membership (step up Clive Lewis – an obvious faux Leftish poseur if ever there was one ?). Though how many of the new membership will still be on board by 2020 is a moot point. So far the iron grip of the Right on the Party has ensured that not a single Leftish new policy has been adopted by the Party, and not a single even vaguely “Corbynist” candidate has been stood in a single by-election !

    “Corbynism”, if carried through to creating a Left transformed Labour Party, was the only hope for Labour to avoid the dire fate of all of the now terminally declining neoliberal social democratic parties across Europe. It was always a flukey “wild card” development – based on the extraordinary hubris of the Labour Right/Centre in letting Jeremy on the ballot paper in 2015.

    The “Corbyn Wave” isn’t over quite yet, but the now quite obvious political weakness, and cowardice, of the tiny, isolated Corbyn Team , their deliberate destruction of Momentum as a vital weapon to fight the Right, the willingness of the Right to destroy the Party rather than see it turn Leftwards, and the confused, Left Liberal, rather than socialist, politics of most of the 300,000 “Corbyn influx”, almost guarantees that in the future the Corbyn Insurgency” will be seen as the last spasms of a now dying social democratic Party of the hopelessly internally corrupt, entirely status quo supporting, Old School, rather than the manifestation of long term political rebirth.

    For radical socialists , the Labour Party is for the moment still the vehicle for the political /electoral dimension of the UK class struggle – but it is clearly not the long term political vehicle for this aspect of that struggle.

    1. Imran Khan says:

      This is a parody of Private Eye, isn’t it?

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        I don’t think so Imran. I think John Penney is serious. He is by far my favourite contributor. But like all things, it cant last forever.
        Personally I will be gutted when Corbyn goes. He has brought so much joy to so many people. Remember when JC goes it will mean John and Dianne are gone as well. The world will be a sadder place without them. Hopefully they can hang around for a few months, but I have always said he will resign on the 24 of this month after Stoke and Copeland results. But who knows, if Labour hang on to one of them he might just take of a sign of his own indefatigabilty.

        1. John Penney says:

          Two Right Wing Trolls without a useful idea in their heads in a row. Just one more of our regulars to go and we’ve got the full, time-wasting set.

          1. Danny Nicol says:

            John Penney’s stance is surely confirmed by the fact that there hasn’t actually been any shift to the left either on any substantial matter of policy, or any substantial improvement in party democracy, since Corbyn became leader. When he leaves there will be nothing to show for it. Given this fact, I don’t think “Corbynism” exists, unless as a euphemism for appeasement of the Labour Party status quo.

            What John says about the left-liberal nature of the Corbyn membership influx is equally the case with regard to the “left” leadership. They have sadly turned out to be a socialism-free zone with no-one arguing for the replacement of capitalism, not even in the long term, with any degree of persistence.

            Yet quite frankly they have not even made a decent fist of being left-liberals. Lloyd George and Churchill did a better job in 1906. Corbyn and McDonnell may have been hemmed in over Trident and the EU by MPs determined to vote their own way, but they had far greater freedom to fashion an economic policy, particularly now that the entrenched neoliberalism of the EU will be a thing of the past. However, rather than create a dynamic and comprehensive economic policy based on a massive programme of public works, which might have been something by which to inspire the electorate, we’ve merely had the odd statement or soundbite on economic matters, a few bits and bobs, sometimes contradictory – entirely uninspiring and demotivating. What a disappointment.

          2. john P reid says:

            just because someone doesn’t think labour is doing well ,doens’t make them right wing

  3. Greg says:

    I’m sticking with Jeremy. I don’t want another leadership contest, and I don’t want Labour to be Tory-lite again.

  4. Bill says:

    My main concern is to keep the 300,000 together as a political force rather than they dissipate due to disillusionment and frustration.This might not be possible as some joined to fight a campaign to remain in the E.U.

    It might be entirely the case that the Labour Party cannot be reformed or that such reformation is too difficult.

    I have consistently argued, as have others on left futures, that what might be termed ‘left wing’ or ‘radical’ policies cannot be accomplished in a party that still tries to be all things to all people. That assumes that Labour Party members will campaign for people who are opposed to to the principles and policies they hold dear.

    There is space for political party that has clear policies it can articulate rather than muddle and compromise leading to meaningless sound bites. That is why we need to keep the 300,00 united if at all possible.

    The best course for the party would be an amicable divorce, Support by both parties for fair voting and an acceptance of multi party politics. That way both can present their policies and see what the voters verdict is.

    Over two election campaigns for Labour Leader we have heard in postings on social media and various media appearences that if the ‘right’ don’t get their way and members continue to support Jeremy Corbyn they will form their own party. When invited to do so they don’t. Chiefly I believe because this mythical centre party would be un-electable.

  5. John Howley says:

    It really is surprising what you can learn from history. Especially modern history.
    Did you know that Clement Attlee, you know, the (socialist)Labour prime minister who gave the UK the NHS, and various other gifts, despite having a multi billion debt to the USA, was subject to attempts to undermine his leadership by some established members of the Labour Party, before he took office?

    The ‘Attlee’ moment lasted for 6 years and I for one hope that the Corbyn moment can last at least that long and similarly rescue the UK from its current mess.

    Can we learn from history and promote the development of future phases of the NHS or are we destined to roll over and allow ourself to be forever hagridden by the futures pushed by the established leeches.

  6. jeffrey davies says:

    far too many left has of blair now we have a labour man at the head they dont like it the greedie ones who will loose it all has they wont change even so if the party isnt behind corbyn then this partys dead has of it blairites are just waiting abidding their time

  7. Rob Green says:

    It is highly unlikely that Labour can win in 2020 unless it goes full socialist. In fact it is likely to be down to about 40-50 MPs but the good news is that those MPs should be of the left persuasion and that will end the right’s sabotage via its dominance of the PLP. We can rebuild from there if the party then adopts socialism as its political outlook.

    1. Bill says:

      I think it might not be that bad , but sadly it is possible this may well be the case.

  8. Bazza says:

    I would argue that there were two possible difficult frameworks for transforming Europe (and the World) in a Left direction (a) via the EC or (b) via individual nation states and cooperation.
    I was initially for (a) and campaigned and voted for this (although I saw potential in both) but other Remainers too have to step back, reflect as socialists, and recognise that we lost the argument (although I would have made it stronger but like JC only gave the Neo Liberal EC 7/10) but now we must focus on (b).
    I don’t think JC is finished and I and many still support him but sadly Momentum should have always been Labour Momentum so we could focus on being a pressure group in Labour like Progress et al are the Right in Labour.
    So we could focus on reforming conference to give party members more say, winning positions in the party, on the NEC, CAC and progressive policy, plus getting diverse left wing democratic socialist candidates at all levels.
    The 10 policy statements from JC should have been built on with 10-12 simple bullet points on policy measures on each of these then these could have been sent out to CLPs etc. to take to communities in community conferences by topic such as housing, education, the economy etc. for people to discuss and amend plus add to and this could have been quite exciting.
    It could still be done and I remain an optimist but you need to know what you want our society (and the World) to be like, and what your vision is, and how are we going to get there!
    It took Right wing Neo Liberal think tanks 20 years or so to prepare and share ideas and to capture the Tory Party (and New Labour) and the Republicans in the US (and the Democrats) and in Europe etc.
    Corbyn’s victory was a surprise (although very welcome) but with the attacks from the Right (the ‘Great men and women of history with no ideas in their heads) and the media etc. we never seem to have had the time to prepare and plan; we were always having to be defensive and reactive.
    I believe I have always had a coherent set of left wing ideas built around a grassroots, bottom up, participatory left wing democratic socialist aproach but if our left wing leaders (who are surrounded by lightweights who are surrounded by masses of Labour members) don’t seize the moment then the moment could fade.
    My ideas will live on but JC ET AL (AND ALL OF US ON THE LEFT) MUST SEIZE THE DAY!

  9. Over 20 years the Blairites fundamentally undermined democracy in our Party.It will take some 10 years of hard struggle to get it back.Partly this is because the TUs don’t like too many changes at once.But at Liverpool at least the TUs voted for one CLPD rule change,the CLPs voted for none.The Hard Right are employing staff to keep the balance their way.We can beat them,but only if everyone works flat out.Action speaks a lot louder than hot air.When I hear that the wingers on LFs have actually made progress in their CLPs,then they would carry some weight.Until then they are mouths and no trousers.JC can do little on his own.This weekend he needs us all in Copeland/Stoke.In Stoke I will be looking out for wingers.I will be more likely to see a Dodo.

    1. John P Reid says:

      but Blair’s been gone 10 years in 2monthS

      1. Bazza says:

        Poor John R seems to believe in ‘The Great Man of History Thesis’ when it is about ideas and movements.
        It could be argued Blair et al carried on with Neo-Liberalism after Thatcher & her movement although New Labour’s had the fig leaf of a bit of a human face (oh and Right Wing Think Tanks only captured the Tories including Thatcher after about 20 years of groundwork and it now has a monopoly in the Tory Party today) but it could also be argued that Neo-Liberalism may be still be significant in parts of Labour because of the crony Labour MPs brought in by the Blairites.
        They represent yesterday and nothing and with JC plus the movement behind him we are trying to build a better tomorrow!

    2. peter willsman says:

      Sorry!!
      wingers=whingers

  10. Bill says:

    To be fair I would say when CLPs have candidates representing the Corbyn surge then LF contributers would be enthused to campaigning for them.

    I hope despite everything that we win Stoke but if we lose or only just win it will be no reflection on Jeremy Corbyn and he should definitely not resign.

    Any blame should be directed to the local party and an unsuitable local candidate.

  11. Verity says:

    I suspect that we all had far too much expectations of what a Corbyn’s leadership victory could deliver. It was surely more of a negative reaction to the past Blairite approach to Party and policy rather than any positive move to the future. The Party had deteriorated in so many ways in the period corresponding to the last four leaders that it was unrealistic to expect that just one change of one leader would lead to much reversal. The mass recruitment of the enthusiastic but (largely politically inexperienced) members was a reaction against the former top – down manipulations, not a positive commitment to a Socialist advance. Indeed the newly recruited show little grasp of any Socialist understanding at all, but is deeply committed to individual liberty, humanitarian compassion, concerns for the environment, high ethical standards and idealist visions for a future completely devoid of any strategy for achieving it. Their devotion to the ‘ultimate idealism’ in the form EU is the clearest demonstration of this.

    Socialists are not born they are made through the lessons and experiences of politically activity along with the mistakes. The new members are getting plenty of that activity, but lessons take time to become absorbed and integrated with a grasp for the need for strategy. The timings are unfortunate in that the needed changes in those new recruits will not likely appear during a likely Corbyn rein. Corbyn et al. are completely occupied with government and preparation of government matters – we have ben too dependent upon them for providing a lead to the Left as well. we needed a Socialist lead on issues over and above Corbyn and McDonnell. They cannot do everything.

    All this was so obviously likely given the loss of socialist understanding and members in the Labour Party over the last 20 or so years. In my opinion the new revisions to Momentum are correct ones and should have been introduced at the outset. Only the intervening prevarication and manoeuvres produced the mess. In general, the new recruits are not Socialists and will not become socialists in the short term, but they are important allies for radical change. The attempt to make Momentum something it is not i.e. a socialist organisation would just kill it off from being anything at all. Disappointed Momentum members should join the CLPD and Labour Representation Committee to pursue their higher ambitions instead of piggybacking on something that is so completely different from their preferences. If a new organisation is set up with a radical but not a Socialist agenda then it should not be savaged by Socialists desperate for new faces whose own organisation has failed to inspire mass support. We should not conflate any opposition political force to the only ones we might consider the most long term more appropriate opposition.

    What should we do now? Continue committed support for Corbyn; continue to extend our grasp of the necessary strategy through whatever Socialist organisation we attach ourselves to; continue to encourage other radicals to extend their challenges to the Status Quo’ers in and out of Labour; continue to support every challenge to the establishment since out of these activities new generations of Socialists may emerge.

    My hope would be that it could happen in Corbyn/McDonnell’s period, but worthwhile even if not.

  12. Charlie Mansell says:

    Verity’s analysis above is spot on.

    In answer to Phil the measure of the current state of politics is surely to use some metrics based on actual voting.

    Of the 313,000 who voted for JC, 292,000 are not in Momentum and 21,000 are. Momentum has held two ballots. One on Europe when it had around 11,000 members and 3,000 voted (28% turnout) https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/momentum-members-vote-to-back-remain-campaign/

    and the survey in January which had 8,100 vote out of 21,000 (39% turnout). https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/momentum/pages/939/attachments/original/1484068264/Momentum_members_survey_16-17.pdf?1484068264

    In two days the results of the first Momentum NCG ballot will be out and I’m guessing turnout is likely to be somewhere between the 28% and 39% figures above. I’m also going to guess that the Opening Momentum slate will beat the Grassroots Momentum one plus the Independents quite comfortably which is significant because it is likely to provide metrics to confirm Verity’s points above

  13. David Pavett says:

    I broadly agree with John Penney. Socialist, Social Democrat and Labour parties are in long term decline across Europe. Having long ago given up any pretence of believing in socialism as anything other than capitalism with some moderation of of some of its harsher features and, having embraced neoliberal nostrums, they undermined their own raison d’etre. This has led to a dramatic decline in their electoral standing and to successful challenges from new parties of the left. The difference in the UK has been that the revolt against the old so-called centrist politics has taken place within the Labour Party rather than against it. The problem with that revolt is that it has occurred without a critique of Labour’s long-established political culture in which political change is thought of almost entirely in terms of individuals winning positions and securing those positions rather than in terms of developing a raft of new radical policies and winning the support of the party members for those policies.

    The result of this approach has been a heavy emphasis on personality to the detriment of generating understanding of new policies. Policy development has been so feeble that slogans or headlines have been confused with policies. Thus saying that Labour is “anti-austerity” has been taken to mean that Labour has abandoned past economic policies and doctrines as if it were possible to do that without a thorough-going critique of those doctrines and policies. Such a critique does not exist except at the most superficial level and Labour has no explicit economic theory beyond being vaguely Keynesian.

    Even in a much easier area for Labour such as education there has been only the feeblest of opposition to Tory fragmentation of the school system and the growth of privatising measures. Labour has not even been able to finally rouse itself to outright oppostion to grammar schools. Labour’s has no programme for the restablishment of a local democratic framework for education, no critique of our system of testing and examination. The failure of the left leadership to make anything substantial out of the headline aim of a “national education service” has been total.

    The failure of the left leadership regarding defence policy has been similar to that in education but, what is worse, it buried a promising opening to a party-wide debate with no explanation and abandoned left opposition to Trident on the basis of backroom deals. This was old-style Labour politics without even a cover of left-rhetoric.

    Many of us have said from the beginning that a left leadership can only stand a chance of facing up to the immence challenges facing it if it starts by using existing party channels to present members with clear alternative policies and involves them in the development of those policies while working at the same time for democratic reform of the party’s policy making machinery. Without such work on clearly articulated left policies raising the involvement and understanding of the members a left-wing leadership is bound to be ultimately unsustainable. The unwillingness of leading left-wingers supported by Left Futures to participate in discussion in these columns of significant initiatives to develop party policy highlights the problem of a political culture which leaves virtually no room for meaningfull political debate and does nothing to encourage the view that the left is able to identify and tackle this fundamental weakness.

  14. John Walsh says:

    An example of the summer 2015 membership rhetoric:

    “We must work out what membership means in a digital age. I know it means members talking to each other, not just being broadcast to by party HQ. I know it means members instigating, contributing to and leading the formulation of policy, not just being asked to comment or ‘consult’. I know it means doing more to understand the skills our members have, and finding out how to engage them in specific tasks relevant to their skills”.

    That’s from p14 of “A Strong Voice For You”, the deputy leader election pamphlet from none other than Tom Watson. Significantly, this was published at the time when Corbyn made the ballot and obviously was written before there was any hint of a ‘Corbyn surge’.

    It does pose the question of whether there has been less member involvement after Corbyn’s victory than was planned, that because of the fear of the ‘Hard Left’, plans to open up policy making were shelved. If true, how ironic that the man standing as the standard bearer for the left unwittingly became the one who prevented member involvement.

  15. Mervyn Hyde says:

    Jeremy Corbyn has been hemmed in by a party organisation that does not represent the body of the movement.

    They are the ones creating despair and disillusion, we need to concentrate on putting people on the NEC that represent the large majority of party members, once we control the party machinery we can start formulating our ideas for government, I have heard through local members that they have sent motions to the NEC and conference only to find that they have not been receipted and say they have not been received, via email ?????

    The simple rules of the game are keep it simple and consistent.

    What do we want?

    What are we telling people?

    Why did people believe the Tory lies about the so called deficit?

    Why have successive governments continued to sell private housing when public sector built council houses could provide cheap housing at a quarter of the cost?

    Where is the money coming from to fund government expenditure when we run monthly trade deficits at £4 billion a month?

    How are we paying for all those imports?

    How do we generate income ?

    Just few things that matter politically, and need explaining.

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