Strong piece from Polly Toynbee at the Labour Party conference today, where she’s been fielding puzzled inquiries from fervent Corbyn-ites as to why she’s anti-Jeremy Corbyn when both she and he stand for roughly the same things. It’s more than a decent and comprehensive response.
Corbyn could apply a little balm to the great gash in his party. If he meant peace and unity, he could stop dead all talk of deselecting MPs, and protect MPs such as Walthamstow’s Stella Creasy and Brighton’s Peter Kyle, threatened by bullies acting in his name. He could just say no, but he doesn’t.
When he says “the vast majority” won’t be deselected that’s an unveiled threat. When he says it’s down to the democratic decision of local parties, he makes “democracy” sound like a nuclear weapon – an idea borrowed from his mentor Tony Benn’s Campaign for Labour Party Democracy.
If unity were his mission, he could return to the 2011 rule giving MPs a vote for shadow cabinet places. He can and does ignore the shadow cabinet’s views – but they would get three crucial places on the NEC, and that’s why he refuses.
The key rule change he wants from the NEC is to reduce the votes of MPs and MEPs needed to put a candidate on the ballot in future leadership elections from 15% to 5%: that ensures one of his own on the list, and the present party membership would then be able to select a successor in Corbyn’s image.
And makes the comment:
How shortsighted not to make minor concessions that would put opponents in his debt. All this Machiavellian back-room manoeuvring is out of keeping with his benign, almost devotional image. The few iron-fisted organisers bent on deselections are well hidden from the great wave of sincere followers.
Here’s one dilemma:
Look at John McDonnell’s strong speech on the economy, which does promise so much I would support, and little in principle I would disagree with – from a higher minimum wage, to taxing the avoiders and investing in industry. So why not?
My answers sound cynical, worldly and unworthy in the face of this surge of belief. Why not? Because Corbyn and McDonnell, burdened by their history, will never ever earn the trust of enough voters to make any plans happen. After George Osborne’s lethally successful branding of Labour as irresponsible, debt-ridden, magic-money-tree feckless borrowers, it will take heavy spadework of reassurance to win back trust. All McDonnell’s plans are popular, but he offers nothing to allay the voters’ fear that Labour doesn’t do “tough choices”.
Okay, so that might get finessed over time. Even if the Tory party is preparing for a neat triangulating swing to the left, the other problem is the nature of the new recruits. In this regard, they share the same problem as Trump in the US election> they have little or no interest in GOTV.
A solid old councillor from Sunderland spoke up emotionally at one meeting about his experience, week in and week out, on the doorstep. His local party has doubled in size – though none join the small bunch of doughty old canvassers. He finds half the old Labour voters on his patch turning away: not Labour any more, not while Corbyn’s the leader, they say.
We saw as much in the Brexit Referendum. In any referendum constituency work is a notoriously haphazard affair. But where I was out on the ground, there were no Corbynistas rushing to knock doors, or trying to persuade their sceptical neighbours to preserve the link with EU.
Most responded to a clever digital campaign which harvested contact addresses at the first contact and used them to build a movement (later known as Momentum) of their own. Since many joined digitally, they prefer to fight their battles that way too.
The other issue is Corbyn himself. His successes have come when he’s closest to a mainstream (dare I say it Blairite) line such as resisting the expansion of Grammar schools. It feeds off a pre-existing consensus which chimes across the whole pre-existing Labour movement.
His larger differences, like for instance over Trident, can be jarring….
— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) September 27, 2016
Yet, not unlike Trump, no one who supports him really cares that much. It’s the man rather than the party which they’ve invested in. His nondescript blandness is the perfect, anti-charisma meme, “capable of carrying any signal, without becoming identified with any of them”.
It is in effect, an #OccupyLabour project. As such it has been more successful than any of the original Occupy Movements, which quickly fell in on themselves over their (pun unintended) lack of momentum. The point was to simply to occupy a space, there was no to plan to move it on from there.
Like the GOP in the US, the vulnerability of the Labour party to such a bottom-up revolution speaks directly to the weakness of each of the historic projects concerned. And in neither case are their respective establishments laughing.
Corbyn and Momentum have the advantage of attacking the centre from the unregarded edges. The disconnect between the centre and the edge (often the most real outworking of what’s commonly referred to as ‘neoliberalism’) has left political elites vulnerable to disruption.
This disconnect is the real problem looking for a solution. The trouble is that real solutions (rather than confected internet only solutions) need long-term vision and planning, trade-offs, and tough choices in tandem with real engagement with the wisdom of ordinary citizens.
As trail-blazer Momentum is a degree on from Occupy (which everybody should try to learn from). But as Joe Brewer notes, the real challenge is both deeper and longer than just being against stuff…
Culture is key! Quality of ideas less important than quality of group process for alignment around intentions, vision, and goals. 😉 https://t.co/5FMwGFJwqA
— Joe Brewer (@cognitivepolicy) September 25, 2016
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty