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Reluctant Corbynism, or why people are switching to Jeremy

unnamedI’m going to tell you a story. A friend of my went for a selection in an ostensibly safe constituency. The long and short listing exercise was observed, and my comrade made it to the final three. Not wanting to mess about, the prospective prospective parliamentary candidate got the members’ details and visited the first house on the list. They introduced themselves, and was told politely but firmly to save their patter. Why? Because they’d returned their voting papers by post the previous week, several full days before the shortlisting for the ballot was officially finalised. Knowing the selection was blatantly stitched for a favoured son of the party machinery, my comrade refused to participate in the farce, packed their bags, and went home.

I offer this story because something important is missing from Helen Lewis’s largely okay analysis of Jeremy Corbyn’s support. Part myth-buster, part explanation of what’s driving ‘enthusiastic Corbynism’ (for want of a better phrase) Helen has performed a service for a Westminster-focused readership who range from critical to actively hostile toward all things Jez. And they need it because some of the establishment explanations of Corbynism doing the rounds would embarrass a 9/11 truth’er for their crudity and incredulity. What Helen’s piece doesn’t include (but doesn’t, in principle, really exclude) is a sociological understanding of the movement and the social dynamics in play. Nor does it consider a fully thought through account of grievances.

The one group of members overlooked in nearly all dissections of Corbynism are the existing members switching from whoever they supported in 2015 to Jeremy. We’re not talking people who joined to vote last summer and have stayed, but comrades who’ve knocked about the block ( as well as a few doors) and have served the party in various capacities. I know this party constituency exists because, a) I’m one of those people, and b) so are nearly all my comrades. I know folks who voted Andy, Yvette, and Liz last time who are all hitting the Corbyn button on this occasion. It’s not that Jez has so much won them over, but rather the behaviour of his opponents have driven their support into the arms of his campaign. Jeremy hasn’t attracted them – the political geniuses of core group hostile, you know, the people supposedly specialising in reaching out beyond bases and comfort zones, lost them.

It’s not just the constant undermining and anonymous briefing in the press, though that has been disgraceful enough since day one. Nor is it necessarily even the most petty, pathetic, and mind-bendingly desperate criticisms ever to have gained circulation in the modern history of British political discourse. Nor the high-handed and haughty dismissal of members’ views by MPs – you know who you are – stupidly and blindly inviting their own deselection. No, what has turned previous Corbyn-sceptics into people voting and supporting him is a protest against the gross, but so far failed, attempts at trying to stitch the party up.

The attempted coup that wasn’t because key PLP organisers were oblivious to a wider party beyond the green benches, the bureaucratic attempt to keep Jeremy off the leadership ballot, the court case that was absolutely nothing to do with them, the sudden and unexpected imposition of the six month rule and the £25 charge for supporter status available for two days only, and the disgraceful ban on all party meetings beyond leadership nominations are stark and very public manifestations of the party’s historic culture of backroom chicanery.

Everyone knows a story of a stitched shortlist here, an administrative suspension there, the “losing” of documents, the mysterious “dropping off” from party mailing lists, and a good proportion of long-term activists may have been party to them or been on the receiving end of them themselves. To see this go on in a leadership contest as if there isn’t a huge media spotlight beating down is as unconscionable as it is outrageous.

There are people who pretend that to care about the proper, democratic, and transparent functioning of the Labour Party is an illegitimate obsession. Especially when every spare hour should be spent campaigning and winning votes. Never mind that good internal democracy is the best way of giving intelligent and talented people whose skills go beyond back scratching a chance. The opposition to taking internal matters seriously, however, is but a cynical veneer. They are even more obsessed with party management and factional advantage. The growing numbers of reluctant Corbynists know this, which makes their protest even more determined and a crushing victory for Jeremy more likely.

There are more reasons why I’m supporting Jeremy this time, but for the majority of reluctant Corbynism, an uncaring, selfish, stupid, and anti-democratic culture is enough for most to revolt. And to think, it could all have been very different had Jeremy’s opponents eschewed smear, character assassination, and stitch-ups and gone down the route of political debate instead. Professional politicians indeed.


  1. John Penney says:

    They couldn’t have :”gone down the route of political debate instead “, Phil, because the Labour Right haven’t got a “product offer” , to complete with the actually only mildly Left Keynsian, but also undoubtedly anti austerity, anti privatisation, pro NHS, inspiring but not frighteningly “extreme”, political offer of “Corbynism”. Their neoliberal torch bearer, Liz Kendal got under 5% in 2015. Hence putting up the faux “Bevanite socialist” Owen Smith alongside an unprecedented campaign of dirty tricks, gerrymandering, and mass media vilification.

    The neoliberal promise of mass personal advancement and prosperity via “self effort” has proved itself illusory right across Europe and the USA , hence the “Left surge” of Syriza, Podemos, Die Linke, Bernie Sanders, and of course Labour’s “Corbyn Insurgency”. Since the Labour Right have no credible alternative political “offer, to mislead and demobilize the growing popular revolt that “Corbynism” represents, UK politics is going to get very, very, dirty from now on.

  2. Karl Stewart says:

    Great article Phil, and brilliant that you’re voting for Corbs!

  3. John says:

    How can the voting process be supervised, what chances could there be to fiddle it. I think they will try everything to get rid of him.

  4. David Pavett says:

    I am pleased to hear that people Phil B-C’s CLP who didn’t vote for Jeremy last time are switching to him this time round as a reaction to the attempts to manipulate the party into replacing him by any available method however underhand. I would be interested to have an idea of the numbers involved and whether others are seeing something similar. I attended my CLP nomination meeting (we nominated Corbyn by 2 to 1) and spoke to quite a few people there and all I can say is that I have come across no examples such switching to Corbyn myself. It would be great if there were indeed “… growing numbers of reluctant Corbynists …” in reaction to the nature and methods of the alternative offer.

    The other thing which I would like to be pushing people in the direction of supporting Corbyn is the patent insincerity of the Owen Smith’s left stance. Paul Mason has painted a clear picture of Smith as a willing dupe of the right in this essay.

    1. Gary Elsby says:

      Stoke Central has supported Jeremy by about 90%, which in my view, as a the former ‘retired’ (expelled) CLP Secretary, sounds about right for the last 30 years+.
      So how did Stoke Central, an engine of Labour party openness and transparency if ever there was one, come to employ Dr. Tristram as its spokesman and representative?
      Here’s the clue:
      Stoke-on-Trent opted for the negotiated option (granted by Labour’s Government) to have a 2nd referendum on the ‘Progress’ idea of an Elected Mayoral system, so flawed, that no other City in the UK can employ it.
      Did you see how it was done?
      No, neither can I.
      The moral of this lesson is very clear.
      When openness and transparency are actually employed by the majority and you disallow cheats from cheating, they automatically lose.
      And that is what has happened in Stoke-on-Trent, a just cause worthy of a hat-trick of de-selections of which I heartily commend to the Country.

    2. Christopher Rogers says:

      David Sir,

      Regards from the ‘RebeccaRiots’, your input as ever is both concise and thoughtful – do keep it up and hope to catch you on The Guardian boards again, well that’s if we are allowed to Comment, which becomes more infrequent by the month.

  5. Barry Hearth says:

    Phil, your experience matches that of my own, but only in a few respects, I never was a prospective, prospective candidate.
    The PLP HAVE behaved very badly, one could almost call it criminal, but those pounding the ears of the media have been very careful to couch their words of destruction not to break laws.
    But for ordinary members, it has been a massive turn off because they’ve set the tone of THEM and US. And US are only needed when “THEM” want us.

  6. Verity says:

    It is of course a sign of the Left’s weakness that it is the irreconcilables’ ‘mess up’ that is so important for a Corbyn victory, rather than a huge positive that could and should have been consolidated during the last year. So for example going for an election against Corbyn in the absence of a coup would have given considerably more credibility. The Right are of course masters of ‘managed’ political engagements and they do have new plans.

    There is a proposal that the PLP majority should now become entryists to the Co-op Party, later choosing to disaffiliate from Labour when and if they gain a larger number of MPs than the remaining Labour and then seeking the Speaker’s permission to form the official opposition and the resources that go with it. If they were to get large support it would make sense from their point of view. This would be difficult but not impossible and may be their best option. It would not seem to be the final split as they could have a strategy to return if the climate was to change (in their favour).

    The reason of course that administrative measures are given priority over political debate is that the ‘irreconcilables’ are even more split amongst themselves and the political discourse would expose this. Just imagine if you were a true Blair supporter you must be livid about the language that Owen Smith has employed- he might even mean some of it.

  7. Jenny Smith says:

    when I was interviewed many years back for Woodspring, when the decision as to who went first during the selection took place, one of the pieces of paper fell on the floor. A candidate instantly picked it up, and it turned out to be the fourth place to speak. I warned another person about this who was going for interview and they came back and said the same thing happened. Speaking last is an advantage.
    I was also asked a question about what would I do to ensure my children were ok if I got selected in Bristol west. I pointed out that this was a question that should never be asked as you would never ask a man that question. Needless to say I did not get shortlisted by that branch.

  8. Sue Hagerty says:

    I haven’t met any of these “reluctant Corbynists” at party meetings, but it doesn’t mean they don’t exist in significant numbers – a reluctant supporter is less likely to be vocal than a committed one.

    What I have met, on two separate occasions, are long-term party members who have changed their allegiance to Corbyn after voting for another candidate last time around. The reason given in both cases – “he’s reminded me why I joined Labour in the first place”

  9. Mick Costello says:

    As a Labour supporter I would like to receive posts to add to my keeping abreast of developments within the labour and trade union movement

  10. The stitching up of Parliamentary candidate selections has happened on an industrial scale since Blair became Party Leader. I was a victim at last 20 times-by being removed from PPC shortlists by the contemporary NEC Organisation Committee between 1994 and 2002. I have also researched the issue extensively and the results will be found in my book “New Labour; was the gain worth the continuing pain?” To be published soon on Kindle. Gaye Johnston, Chair Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.

  11. Christopher Rogers says:

    Phil Sir,

    Your article very much hits the nail on the head, that is, its focuses squarely on the very undemocratic nature of the Labour Party, epitomised by a large section of the PLP and the NEC itself.

    As a former longstanding Labour Party member and lifelong voter, I resigned myself to the fact that Traditional Labour was lost for eternity in 2010 and subsequently engaged as a member of the Green Party in February 2015, which I’ve now left sadly and re-joined Labour. I re-joined the Party because Corbyn believes fervently in democratising the Party structure, a democratisation process that will end the days of ‘corruption’ and gerrymandering in Labour’s heartlands in South Wales, the North and indeed Scotland.

    For this, we have Corbyn to thank and the many thousands who have flocked to the Party since his elevation last July to the election front-running and subsequent leadership itself.

    Of course I have many issues with Corbyn, I do not idolise him, and will air my differences openly, but deny democracy and democratic outcomes I shall not. So its Corbyn for now, and when he decides to stand down i hope to vote for someone else who follows in his footsteps and respects the Party membership, its wishes and its aspirations for the Party and for our nation.

  12. Barry Hearth says:

    Three Labour MP’s being investigated for possible electoral fraud, not the headlines wanted by the PLP.
    But maybe it is ONE reason why so many Labour voters deserted.

  13. Richard Tiffin says:

    I have often disagreed with you Phil, for a variety of reasons, but mostly over your positions against Corbyn. For my money you are spot on with this article and publicly changing your position like this takes character.

  14. Gary Elsby says:

    50,500 votes declined as of 26/08/2016?
    I’m told one woman has been discounted because she voted Green.
    Are we that bad?
    Surely these stories are false.

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