‪#‎FridayThread‬ – Corbyn’s networks as a modern digital ecclesia?

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By Matt Hack of @hackcartoons. Originally published in @tribunemagazine

Newsnight had a fascinating conversation (with not a little tension) between Charles Moore (the conscience of the British right, let’s call him) and Matthew Parris (ferociously bright and pragmatic) over the elevation of a Remainer to the head of a Brexit government.

Moore bemoaned the fact that in an age which the voters warm each time to a message of change, the new Prime Minister does not fit the bill of those looking for that change to become tangible.

The only visible change candidate on the Market is the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. His gut instinct was apparently with the Leavers but politically he tied his horse to the Remain camp. Now, Labour is experiencing the worst of both worlds.

Although I am no fan of Corbyn’s democratic centerist machine (whatever they say in public the shutting down of branch meetings indicates a brutal and ruthless internal culture is at play), the mass movement it has spawned has been fascinating to watch.

The Labour resistence (172 MPs and counting) have not been able to tap into the discontent within their own constituencies to produce a coherent counter message to insurgents (who like all good Leninists) who have focused on taking control of the machinery of power.

In addition to these machinists is a large scale movement who are motivated by the whole idea of change. As Steve Richards’ excellent series on BBC Radio Four highlights this is experienced by its adherents as something close to religious.

As my colleague John Kellden notes, this is in part a characteristic of how social media works

“In a network, in our 21st Century, our emotions are increasingly under siege, being used as and turned into, social media channels.”

He goes on to list a whole plethora of characteristics of the human networks which form on social media (rather than that of the actual technology), some which fit the Corbyn movement perfectly (highlighted), along with a few which don’t.

– live, life is short
remember, dreams can come true
believe in bigger things happening
– remember, you matter, we matter
rediscover overlooked essentials
embrace unexpected twists
stay curious, everything tells a story
– walk along a journey, your unfolding evolutionary trajectory
– inspire yourself and others to action
remain open to what makes you and others laugh
remain strong and vulnerable enough to embrace and cherish what makes you and others cry
– explore, the universe now and zen provides glimpses of secrets
realize the value in what surprises us
persevere, never give up
– become your own best, unique version of yourself
– remember, there’s always more
confirm assumptions
– challenge assumptions
learn, adapt, play, participate
draw inspiration from as many others as possible
– remain openminded
– appreciate fresh points of view about common things [emphasis added]

Remember this is a shift in form, which is disrupting the historic Labour Party, not the actual content. How an old fashioned British Stalinist managed to attract an ecclesia of such power and magnitude is another related but separate question.

But the power of his network is beyond all doubt. Many, including myself, are judging from the effectiveness of Corbyn’s network in motivating people to act collectively and effectively rather than just click a ‘Like’ button.

Return on engagement has been its own reward. But the success of its call to join the Labour Party and change it is the key appeal. Mainstream Labour, which itself began out of a strongly felt need to organise to level up against large elites, is clearly stumped.

As we have seen from the Tory party this week, it is not always necessary to be ‘netted up’ to retain or gain power. Story trumps money and resources, even on the mainstream media.

Everywhere citizens (and in wartime, civilians) are rushing the field. The mainstream will either have to give them a proper place – and more importantly proper voice – if they are going to survive, never mind prosper, in the world ahead.

The real test of the Corbyn project will be whether it can turn it’s powerful and enthusiastic networks into something positive and sustainable, or like Nato in Libya just turn what remains valuable into mush?

Further thoughts from yesterday’s SluggerReport…


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  • kensei

    Corbyn didn’t shut down the branch meetings. the NEC did. And that, once again, is much more to do with preventing the membership form passing no confidence, reselection or other negative motions votes against the MPs. The Labour Left on my Twitter feed is *fuming* over it.

    Unless you have some further information you’d care to share?

  • chrisjones2

    Surely the model for what can possibly be achieved is the SNP in Scotland?

    Or as a friend there – a lifelong liberal, Labour voter said to me – “the problem is that the Neds have taken over, Give the voters 3 or 4 years and they will see the problem”

  • mickfealty

    Erm, who’s the leader?

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Here’s an intriguing thought:

    Just heard of a CLP, where the officers are curious about a recent, regular “observer” at local meetings.

    Seems a “security”/police connection implied.

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

  • MalcolmRedfellow

    Some of us may not have “3 or 4 years” to offer. That’d take us beyond the next General Election.

    We want our Party back, and decency restored, in our lifetime.

  • Zig70

    I had heard the restrictions on meetings was to stop the deselection of Eagle with a petition of 14k to remove her. The people are calling an end to plastic career politician. The elites have spent their whole lives training to be media friendly plastic, with a self interest that is inherently right wing and now attack the guy that has been thrust in to represent that angst. Corbyn is a symptom not the answer but he is the closest thing I see to an honest man in Westminster. All this talk of Marxist factions is balls, they are too few, it is a public kick back at the austerity that still bites outside the London bubble. The Iraq war, trident supporting, poor failure at deputy leader, Eagle is such the wrong challenger to harness the public mood, more she is the leader of the London cuckoos sitting in Northern seats and I look forward to her deselection. Social media? Not sure it has played a huge part, 38degrees and change.org maybe for making people feel they had some leverage on matters like tipp.

  • kensei

    Corbyn. Does he control the decisions of the NEC?

  • chrisjones2

    so then hes not the leader as noone trusts him

  • chrisjones2

    I mean this in a kindly sense but your only hope is to start the process in that timescale. Its a 15 year job

  • chrisjones2

    Off topic i know, but every time i type Corbyn into a document MS Spell Check offers to change it to Corncob

    I could easily fix this but it just seems so appropriate and makes me smile so I dont

  • chrisjones2

    “he is the closest thing I see to an honest man in Westminster.”

    …. in that he believes what he says but so did Mao, Chavez, etc etc. All ideologues. All wrong.

  • Zig70

    That is a ridiculous comparison.