The problem of originality and building a movement inside a rigid political party…

Right, I’ve been away for a few days. What did I miss? Well, Jeremy Corbyn’s speech for one. Oh, and this revealing commentary from Alex Massie, in which he reveals that the new Labour leader has been reading blogs (or at least one blog), and in effect re-cycled a speech written originally for (and rejected by) Ed Milliband.

It probably shows a real lack of capacity in the former back-bencher’s toolkit as much as anything else. In fact much of the speech is consists of the very things Mr Corbyn has always cared passionately about, human rights and housing amongst them.

All good stuff, but a long way from the transformation of the Labour party requires to turn it into a credible alternative government.

Anthony Barrett, argues that Open Labourism is the only alternative to what he calls the Blatcherism and the managerialist conceit which took the Labour party into such a profound state of ‘unknowing’ about the future.

Anthony’s notes:

“Many who would not (certainly, not yet) dream of voting for him are delighting in his challenge to the managerial conceit of the status quo. Furthermore, the uprising is not confined to the unwashed. The narrowness of the London political-financial class will contribute to its undoing just as much as its venality; what has happened in Scotland being the proof of this.”

On the other hand, Janan Ganesh in the FT (and IT) yesterday argued that:

Nobody who asks for “authenticity” in politicians understands how decadent this sounds. Most people in most societies for most of history would have made do with administrative competence, incorruptibility and a disinclination to plunder citizens or conscript them as war fodder. Mid-20th century Britons dreamt of low inflation and heated homes before they caressed hopes of conviction politics.

A country with the leisure to take umbrage at scripted interviews and bloodless technocracy is doing fine. The modern distaste for spin, which makes heroes of plain- speakers such as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party, is like the campaign against obesity: warranted, but also a mark of how far we have come. There are worse problems to have and we had them not long ago.

None of the people I know of who have flocked to the Corbyn cause are particularly badly off. Ganesh, again…

A Corbyn rally is not a band of desperate workers fighting to improve their circumstances. Instead, it is a communion of comfortable people working their way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They have physical health and security; they crave belonging and self-actualisation. They are in politics for the dopamine squirt that comes with total belief and immersion in like- minded company.

There is no disgrace in this, but nor is there any residue of Labour’s worldly origins, as a party devoted to the amelioration of working conditions through parliamentary means. And if Corbynites really think they are following in the lineage of the Jarrow marchers, the Tolpuddle martyrs and other working- class rebellions of lore, it is hard not to admire their shimmering brass necks.

From a very different angle, Ludovica Rogers argues that the mistake the Corbynites are making is to building their ‘movement’ inside the political party (and it’s internal partnerships, and not in wider society. She offers this as an example of what’s likely to happen further down the line:

“In its 6 months in power Syriza has betrayed each and every promise towards the social movements […] But, worst of all, it has helped convince the bulk of the population that “There Is No Alternative” to the measures of neoliberal restructuring.”

There are big big issues that remain to be resolved, and most of them are going begging by a political system in the UK which is too inturned to see much outside the M25.

  • Robin Keogh

    You cant say with any certainty at this point that Corbyns speech and his belief in social justice, caring politics and human rights is not the ticket that might improve Labours chances. He is hardly a wet day in the job and his speech – whoever wrote it and wherever it came from – reflects the man, and at least it is not full of spin and vacuous platitudes we have become accustomed to from traditional British party leaders. I note that a recent poll has shown a five point increase in labours popularity in Wales. Should that be repeated in England and Scotland, we might be looking at Corbyn in a very different light. His first real test will be the elections in Scotland Wales and regions of England next year. While the entire British media have lined up against him ( not for the good of the people sadly but protection for their self interested media masters in the main) the rest of us who are genuinely interested in honesty, integrity and genuine representational politics should hold our fire until such time as those results provide the info in terms of public opinion. His task within labour is far smaller than his battle against a corrupt and disengenous media infected with the sincerity of a plague riddled rat. Similar to Syriza’s recent challenge, Corbyn and labour will have to get their message to the public through a firewall of smear, lies and scare mongering.

  • Redstar

    Very intelligent compassionate decent honest and forthright politician- not many ( none!!) with those attributes amongst the trough feeders on the hill.

  • gendjinn

    Sanders is getting the media blackout treatment here. There have been several tv/newspaper bits where the pundits discuss the Democratic primary – Clinton, Biden, O’Malley. Not a single mention of Sanders. And Biden isn’t even officially running!

    Thing is the TradMedia dealt itself a grievous blow with it’s coverage of the Iraq war justifications. It gave birth to the rise of the left wing blogosphere. 12 years on and they are again telling the left that they are not for them. The result – cable cutting is exceeding the number of new subscribers, circulation of newspapers is collapsing, the left are getting their analysis from blogs.

    Sanders is showing that you don’t need the big donors (superpacs) or the traditional media to win a political campaign. If he can do it, Corbyn certainly will.

  • Sharpie

    The treatment of Corbyn in the press has led me to seek out other sources of news with a different take and largely on line. The sky interview by our own Eamonn Holmes was embarrassing, the headlines in the Guardian about him plagiarising a speech that Milliband rejected, the outright contempt of the right wing press are now all parody. They have lost the ability to offer anything but partisanship.

    Even if the Corbyn thing fails – it has exposed something very distasteful. To me he represents the way people want to be engaged, included in debate and decision making, and treated as if they know a thing or two. The media’s reaction shows how they cannot cope with this – as if it was always their job to reflect (shape) the public mood and act as translator in both directions, of ideas through opinion pieces.

    So for the next while Corbyn needs to keep this message more than any other – that he is trying to reach directly to the person on the ground, that he won’t make decisions until he has heard them. That way he can continue to play the media by gently reflecting it’s image onto the public and letting everyone see the underbelly. he has already been able to do this – mostly because broadcast media can’t stop broadcasting him.

    If he gets a network of conversations going on some of the issues he introduced yesterday then he has momentum.

  • Robin Keogh

    Genn can u recommend some good left blog sites?

  • James7e

    “To me he represents the way people want to be engaged, included in debate and decision making, and treated as if they know a thing or two.”

    To be honest, I doubt if many working class people, supposedly Labour’s bread and butter, really feel any affinity with his first-year,-middle-class-university-student-going-through-that-rebellious-phase-prior-to-becoming-a-hereditary-banker/accountant/doctor grasp of political issues, from immigration, to the Middle East, to the wearing or not wearing of a poppy.

  • Ernekid

    What Jeremy Corbyn has displayed clearly is just how right wing and locked into the Neoliberal mindset much of British media is. The Guardian has clearly displayed its prejudices over Corbyn they totally backed the wrong horse by backing Yvette Cooper. Alex Massie was featured on the Irish Times World Politics Podcast recently discussing Corbyn. I found his analysis deeply simplistic and locking into a predetermined mindset. I have been deeply disappointed by the Economist, Im an onlne subscriber as I enjoy their articles about World Politics and Business but their analysis of Corbyn was trite, prejudicial and failed to engage with any of his proposed policies (Which in a European context are quite centrist Social Democratic Policies that are espoused by the likes of the German SPD).

    There is a genuine Media bubble that Corbyn is challenging. The real changes to debate and political analysis are happening on message boards and blogs just like this website. The establishment media is losing its monopoly and it doesn;t know how to deal with it. As print media becomes little more than an anachronistic novelty in the next 20 years, the establishment Media will have to adapt to the new nature of media and content consumption or die,

  • gendjinn

    dailykos would be the biggest one in the US, cedar lounge revolution & an sionnach fionn are good Irish ones. atrios & digby are my other US gotos and generally have links to good articles in a lot of other less prolific blogs (echidne of the snakes for example). Of course there’s the rude pundit for those in need of a more scatalogical and profane commentary.

    If you think the pie fights between Ns & Us is bad here you should wander into a Sanders or Clinton diary on dailykos – makes you really grateful for Fealty enforcing the ball not man rules!

  • Barneyt

    Corbyn will survive as long as he can remain unprovoked. How may more times can he withstand being chased down the street for a headline. That will be a test and how he responds to this may shape him. He will have to look at other mechanisms for protection as this, quite literally, man of the street attitude does leave him exposed. Life will change for him and he must respond to that in some way. They will hound him like an estranged princess if they get a chance.

    The greatest opposition is faces, is not directly related to his ideas, but because many are so entrenched and influenced to believe his approach will and cannot work. Ok, to allow his world to take hold, all parts of society and the country he wants to lead will have to move together. Clearly there will be some grit in the cogs and there won’t be too many waiting with the axle grease.

    It matters little to me if he did use existing material. The worst offence is that Milliband rejected it, which demonstrates that he has strayed away from who he is and who his script writers also thought he was.

    Mick, are you prepared to make a call on his future?

    As much as I would like to see him succeed without compromising his beliefs too much, I feel he will have to to some degree or at least convince the public that his more radical ideas can be shelved and will only be activated by consensus.

    I don’t trust Hilliary Benn. I wouldn’t trust Watson. I see Watson as a game-keeper with his sights trained above him, paving the way in the future for perhaps a David. Milliband crowning before 2016 is out.

  • Ernekid

    As an addendum here’s a great article about how the Guardian has shown its true colours regarding Corbyn.

  • gendjinn

    No room for the left to participate, except to support those with views they abhor.

  • eamoncorbett

    Neoliberal restructuring , what a grandiose way to describe savage cuts to poor peoples living standards , i dont think anybody would object to savings being made in the public sector if the less well off are protected in a foolproof fashion , but alas in Tory Britain (and it looks like it may be for some time to come) the priority is to protect the few , the few that have wealth . Cameron has changed since he jilted the LDs he is in complete charge now going around the world like Thatcher used to ,pretending he can wield power like a dictator . He must have got a shock at the weekend when he was sidelined by the big two Obama and Putin who stamped their authority on world affairs in no uncertain fashion.

  • gendjinn

    “As much as I would like to see him succeed without compromising his beliefs too much, I feel he will have to to some degree or at least convince the public that his more radical ideas can be shelved and will only be activated by consensus.”

    I hope you are wrong. Compromise would be his downfall.

    It’s odd that there’s never a “hard right” in charge only a “hard left”. The right never needs to compromise on its beliefs, only the left. Sod that for a game of tiddly winks, Corbyn should stick hard to his principles because his policies are the correct ones.

  • gendjinn

    I’m sure they consoled him with a few bacon wrapped sausages.

  • eamoncorbett

    Everyone in Sky news must adhere to the Murdoch line , failure to do so could have consequences , Fox news call this “fair and balanced” need i say more.

  • eamoncorbett

    Whilst i agree with your analysis , i fear that media is in itself big business with an agenda ,political and otherwise which tries to shape public thinking rather than report on it.

  • mickfealty

    Interesting that no one has picked up the point of the blog, which is one, to what extent is it a healthy sign that a major political leader rips off whole sections of a blog for his speech and two the same on building a movement inside a rigid party system?

  • gendjinn

    “Mr Heller has been offering his speech to various Labour leaders since the days of Neil Kinnock… So Heller posted his words on his website, a well of leftie rhetoric free to anyone who may want to use it.”

    “rips off”?

  • James7e

    “The treatment of Corbyn in the press has led me to seek out other sources of news”

    Respectfully, I think it kinda defeats the purpose of reading if you only want to read things you already agree with.

  • Sharpie

    Do you believe that leaders write their own speeches? I know you don’t. It may seem a bit strange that it wasn’t an insider who knew that his words would be used, but lets not be overly faux innocent here.

  • Sharpie

    I am certain that lots of people read incendiary papers to get themselves outraged as witnessed by most BTL comments which are mostly unreadable any more – decency has gone. However rather than looking for pieces that confirm what I say I am looking for acknowledgement – not consensus. With that I am looking for objectivity, not opinion dressed as fact. Which mainstream media do you believe offers a balanced, evidenced, and credibly argued perspective on current affairs?

  • mickfealty

    That’s really not the problem. He ripped it without the writer knowing anything about, and without synthesising it.

  • Sharpie

    Why would you put the term “working class” and “bread and butter” together?

    Why do you see this as being the basis of Labour’s support. Wouldn’t that mean that anyone who is middle class (lower or upper) are natural Tories? Crap. UK is diverse. The diversity is hidden from view. Diversity of circumstance, aspiration, education – conservative on some things, progressive on others. You and all of us are forced into simple categories and sold a heap of policies that do not reflect our own ideal at all. But hey – you made the choice so now you had better defend it because your friends and chosen media partner tell you what is good and what is evil.
    Is it beyond you to desire for a nuanced politic where you can make looser choices rather than buy the infantile, school uniform, one size fits all mantra that you have chosen to be a Tory or Red and everything each stands for?

  • Ernekid

    You know Richard Heller gave permission for the Labour Party to use his words and was happy they did?

  • mickfealty

    Yes. Again, that’s not really the problem.

  • James7e

    Funnily enough, that is a very simplistic b&w reading of what I actually wrote.

  • Sharpie

    must have been written in black and white then. Aside from your dismissal of the Corbyn movement, which is blunt and rude, you implied some fairly simplistic stereotypes in your comment.

  • 23×7

    Lazy analysis there raising the non-issue of the speech when there was so much more to analyse.

  • James7e

    “..working class people, supposedly Labour’s bread and butter” is what I wrote exactly.

    You infer from this that I think all working class people vote Labour, and all middle class people vote Tory. Quite a breath-taking misrepresentation of what I wrote (no less inaccurate in fact than if you had tried to claim that I actually said all working class people eat, exclusively, bread and butter or some such). And that is exactly the kind of primary colour, simplistic way of seeing complex realities that I dismissed Corbyn for.

    My dismissal of ‘the Corbyn movement’ probably is both “blunt and rude”, I will grant you, but I am fairly comfortable in its accuracy.

  • chrisjones2

    “Well, Jeremy Corbyn’s speech for one.”

    Which you could have heard any time since 1979 or read on a website for the last 4 years so you didn’t miss much. As you say the history of the speech was much more interesting and illuminating than the content. Above all this episode exposed the lack of senior capacity in Labour. And now they have lost the intellectual argument on the core economy – despite the Marxist rhetoric and faux nationalization plans – it will be difficult for them to gain credibility or attack talent while he remains leader. Noone want to be associated with losers with no hope of power

    The point on ” a communion of comfortable people working their way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” is just so appoiste and so so accurate. All terribly well meaning in their desire to help the poor but rarely venturing North of Watford lest “there be dragons” Indeed, thats also very descriptive of the senior civil service in England so Team Jeremy is at least guaranteed some friends – until he starts to tax them

  • chrisjones2


  • chrisjones2

    But if Jeremy did what he promised the first victim would be the Guardian which is utterly dependent on the tax avoiding Scott Trust

  • chrisjones2

    “Compromise would be his downfall.”

    Non Compromise will also be his down fall

    So what is the outcome?

  • chrisjones2

    “The treatment of Corbyn in the press has led me to seek out other sources of news with a different take and largely on line”

    I am a man of principles …and if you don’t like them I have others

  • Reader

    Ernekid: The Guardian has clearly displayed its prejudices over Corbyn they totally backed the wrong horse by backing Yvette Cooper.
    The Guardian isn’t a punter in a betting shop; and they almost certainly still think they backed the right candidate. Time will tell.

  • Sharpie

    What is the point you are making? I don’t understand but would like to.

  • Sharpie

    I didn’t infer that as much as you inferred that I inferred it. You said what you said and left it fairly clear to the reader what your opinion is of what Corbyn stands for. I think you have a simplistic view of what he stands for and rather than read personality based attacks (the very thing the media is being criticised for) I am interested in genuinely hearing why you think this is a bad way to do politics. I am not someone of the far left but yet I am drawn to the message of the Corbyn movement as one that offers to raise debate above the confrontational didactic style towards something that can be seen as evolution. People have moved onto this ground because it is the direction of travel, not just here but in many democracies.

    i think we are playing catch up here in the UK, never mind in Northern Ireland, and the scale and complexity of global issues can only be dealt with through more intelligent and “open” agreements. The split won’t be the traditional left right and this for me is a marker that is starting to explore how people sense leadership needs to be for our times.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Even reading the mauling my wife occasionally gets on the “Guardian” threads has made me grateful for Mick “enforcing the ball not man rules!” The standard of “debate” sinks rapidly without such moderation.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I do get annoyed too about calls for “authenticity” – the search for the truly authentic is a like searching for the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow, I agree. And if you do find it, it’s a crock of sh**. But not for the first time, I take serious issue with the rather glib Ganesh.

    2 criticisms of Ganesh’s reference to Maslow’s pyramid here – one of them taking Maslow’s pyramid as a given, and one challenging him with the best (I’m told by psychologist colleagues) recent revision to the Maslow’s pyramid model.

    1. He characterises support for Corbyn as all about the insubstantial needs of people at the top of Maslow’s pyramid – “self-actualisation”. Perhaps the search for authenticity is; but that’s not the same as what motivates Corbyn supporters. I’m not one, but it seems to me they are motivated not by their own top-of-the-pyramid needs at all but by the needs of people they want to help who are at or near the bottom of the pyramid. The bottom two rungs in the Maslow hierarchy are physiological needs and safety. The scandal of benefits being cut to the extent that working people need to resort to food banks talks to the very base of the pyramid, not the top. It’s the long overdue need to address the worst of the effects of poverty – something laissez-faire Osbornomics is happy to leave to market forces (therefore continue) – that motivates Corbyn supporters as much as anything.

    2. An influential 2013 book “The Rational Animal”, by psychology academics Doug Kendrick and Vladas Griskevicius, challenges and updates the Maslow way of looking at a hierarchy of needs. They talk instead of there being 7 human “sub-selves”, each of which takes charge at different points in our day. As a nod to Maslow, they order them bottom to top a la Maslow, but theirs is not so much a hierarchy as a timeline of the order in which we acquire and develop each subself through our early life. Really they are all present all of the time and which one is dominant at any one time comes down to circumstantial necessity. They are*:
    Disease avoidance
    Mate Acquisition
    Mate Retention
    Kin Care
    In terms of Corbyn’s supporters, I’d say a lot of the motivation derives from the needs for self-protection, affiliation and kin care – as with a lot of core Labour supporters over the decades. I’m not sure where that gets us. But it’s certainly not down to the kind of selfish, disconnected frivolity Ganesh accuses them of. If anything, it’s a case of “physician, heal thyself”, as that’s exactly what many on the left think characterises the right these days. Perhaps Ganesh was projecting there.

    * Kendrick and Griskevicius don’t see self-actualisation as a free-standing need:
    “We do not deny that human beings are motivated to be creative and artistic. But a desire to self-actualise is not detached from our social goals …”
    They think a lot of self-actualisation is really deeper down about gaining a form of social status and also can be closely tied in to mate acquisition. Not to make us sound too much like bonobos, but we are. Their analysis is basically taking the findings of behavoural economists like Kahneman a stage further and identifying underlying evolutionarily-advantaged impulses that explain why we are so “irrational”. They think actually we’re not so irrational after all, just locked into behaviours that helped our ancestors survive and thrive.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It’s fine, even good, to take inspiration from lots of sources. But good practice for the sake of transparency to acknowledge them. I find academic levels of referencing tedious to be quite honest, and he doesn’t have to go that far – but you’d have thought in his position, he can have someone in his team responsible for listing the sources used, so that reasonable enquiries about Corbyn’s words can be answered and there is transparency. Otherwise it looks like he’s trying to pass off someone else’s words as his own.

    There is nothing wrong with borrowing ideas and even words – he shouldn’t be hiding it. But acknowledge the source you’re quoting, if not in the speech then in published acknowledgements accompanying the speech.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I disagree with the Syriza interview, the alternative of baby demagoguing doesn’t really fix anything and the Greek people know it doesn’t fix anything. I listened to Tsprias in the EU Parliament and he struck me as a man of great personal conviction and restraint. The fact he was reelected as an interim government in an election he was not forced to make shows the very people most knowledgable of the Greek crisis, the country’s own electorate still respect him after making tough choices.

    I ask what was to be the non-neo-liberal solution to this … Leave the Euro, watch Greece’s credit rating fall down, banks collapse, leave the EU and then fully internalise the economic crisis. Try to will the IMF away by the use of bad language. Hating a bad situation is not a solution in of itself.

  • Barneyt

    Fair points Gendjinn. For me, I just feel he may have to bend a little towards the system and yes you are right, those to the left immediately are viewed as dangerous or mad and seldom do the right suffer. The right tend to play to the lower common denominator however.

    The mask slipped a tad in the US with regard to trickle down economics, but in the UK, everyone seems to believe that by protecting those at the top, they are by extension also at the top. Its delusion.

    But he’ll drive the wealthy from the UK and they will set up elsewhere I hear? Oh that old chestnut. Its a different world now and Corbyn might find an appetite in the US for any tax avoidanceevasion measures (chiefly corporate) that he may push for.

  • Sliothar

    CounterPunch is another vg left-leaning US blog.

  • gendjinn

    Compromise with the system has been tried many times – how about a bit of Harry Perkins strident socialism.

    The Tories only got 36% of the vote when Labour was trying to be Tory-lite. We have the same problem in the US, when voters have the choice between a Republican and a Democrat peddling Republican policies, they’ll choose the genuine article. Give them a real alternative and they’ll take it. So long as Corbyn doesn’t compromise on the issues that won him the leadership contest he will be the UK PM.

    Same here – Sanders – it’s going to be a bit of a nail biter, especially on Super Tuesday in March. If he makes it through that and be within striking distance of Clinton he’s winning the nomination, and then the GE in a landslide that will retake the Senate and maybe even the House (that’s a really long shot though).

    35 years of right wing failure has sickened the electorate plus the lead & mercury poisoning they relied on to create their voters is finally working it’s way out of the environment.

  • gendjinn

    Name 3 politicians in the past 100 years that have acknowledged all of the speech writers that contributed to a speech, in that speech.

  • MainlandUlsterman


  • gendjinn

    Double standards, hypocrisy? It’s not Biden stealing Kinnock’s speech. This “criticism” of Corbyn is one that never applied previously but suddenly applies to an individual you disagree with. Not a position replete with robust intellectual consistency, now is it?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    did you miss my last sentence perhaps? I said “But acknowledge the source you’re quoting, if not in the speech then in published acknowledgements accompanying the speech.”
    So I expressly said it didn’t have to be in the speech itself.