Time for a bit of politics.
A few days before the General Election earlier this year, I joined the Labour Party. I had been convinced that Ed Miliband had a chance of reforming the party back onto its left-wing principles and that, at last, my voice might mean more inside than outside the party. And if the worst came to the worst (which it did), then I would be in a position to help direct the party towards the left-wing principles that give it purpose.
For a while, it looked as though there wasn’t going to be a candidate I could vote for in the Labour leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn stepped up at last to ensure there would be a “debate”, and fill that left-wing position on the ballot paper.
And now, people are voting for him.
Through the week I saw “scare” stories about how senior Labour Party figures are panicking that Corbyn might actually win. The i Paper reported during the week first that there had been secret polls conducted by other candidates showing him in the lead; and that he had in fact won as many constituency party nominations as Andy Burnham, one of the other candidates, which parliamentary party members described as “threatening to split the party”. (As if it wasn’t the rightward lurch that really presented such a threat.) Everywhere, it is treated as a huge surprise that a candidate of the left could possibly garner grassroots support in a party that is supposed to represent the left in this country.
There has been, at least since the mid-80s, a tendency that whenever Labour feel threatened electorally, they run rightwards towards “the centre” (which correspondingly moves farther right), while when the Tories feel under pressure at the polls, run towards their roots, and the right. This presumably is down to the Michael Foot election of 1983, an unmitigated disaster for Labour and fought on left-wing policies. Perhaps people see in Corbyn another Foot (and sadly, given that my understanding is that Foot didn’t want the leadership but stepped up to fill a role he was called on to do, Corbyn has initially approached this leadership election with similar rhetoric). But if 1983 was a disaster, then so was 2015, and only Blairites (and the Tory press) think Labour were left-wing in 2015.
It then transpired, via the Independent again, that Labour MPs are plotting to mount a coup against Jeremy Corbyn should he be elected in “the most democratic leadership election the Labour Party has held”. The Telegraph reports that some of those MPs who nominated Corbyn “to ensure there’s a debate” are now upset that people aren’t just debating, they’re also voting.
This is the language of dictators, tyrants and despots. Certainly since Oliver Cromwell’s revolution, and used by such leaders as Napoleon, Lenin (or it may have been Trotsky), and so on. Others better versed in political history may well be able to point to other examples from farther back in time.
“The people cannot be trusted to vote properly; therefore we must prevent their votes from counting.” It’s not only despots, of course. This was the avowed purpose of the bicameral system and the “balance of powers” of the three branches of government in the US Constitution. It is also the plot of the novel (and TV mini series) “A Very British Coup”, although in that story it was the rightwing establishment in Britain when a socialist Prime Minister was elected that set out to destroy the new leader, it wasn’t the Labour Party doing it for them.
It also shows just how out of touch with their own party, and with the people of Britain, the Parliamentary Labour Party have become. They genuinely appear to believe they have their positions by divine right, and that we, the members of their party, should be loyal followers blithely accepting every neoliberal lie we are fed and obediently doing our bit. The idea that we could upset their comfortable little oligarchy by choosing someone not of their kind to be our leader is astonishing and, it seems, in their eyes rocks the firmament on which the world rests no less than did the revolts against the monarchy of the barons, the “peasant” middle class, and of course Cromwell’s New Model Army. (In each case, of course, the idea of a monarch or ruling elite was not opposed by the leaders of the revolts, although the Levellers and such in Cromwell’s time did.) The “natural order” of things seems ready to crumble.
But their pronouncements about what “the people” want, and statements like John Mann’s (quoted in the Telegraph) that support for Corbyn shows a “desire never to win again”, show just how little they understand about the world outside their elite, London, environment. The party members (including me!) are saying unequivocally to the leadership, “Your policies fucked us over in the last election, we need to try something different.”
The other point I see is that people wanted an end to austerity. After Nicola Sturgeon’s performance on the UK-wide debate English people were saying they wanted to vote for her and her anti-austerity message. The SNP are the big winners out of the election (although now we have a Tory majority, their wins mean nothing). The Labour message of “yes, we will make some cuts, but not as much as the Conservatives” just wasn’t different enough, distinctive enough, or attractive enough to win votes.
And added, “Labour needs to have the courage to be The Labour Party.” In discussing how Labour needs to woo voters, I quoted dating advice: “An attractive man [party] … will stick to these opinions when challenged or disagreed with; and he will take the lead.”
In 2010, there was a chance that a Lab-Lib coalition could have been formed. Some old-school Labour MPs balked at the idea (and even suggested that a period out of power was a necessary wake-up) and that screwed any chance of a workable majority for such a coalition. We all know how that ended up.
Now we see the same thing again. Corbyn, and his support in the party, aren’t threatening to sink our future election hopes or tear it apart. It’s the people who are making those predictions. They are literally saying, “We would rather lose than work with this man to create a strong party with the left wing policies our members want.” It is in their minds worse to admit they do not know everything or have any God-given right to lead, than to sabotage their own party – my party, since I’m a paying member of Labour now – and tear it apart.
Above all, the attitude demonstrated in reaction to this show of democracy within their own party, is what makes Labour an ineffective and desperately weak party, and loses elections.