Since Corbynistas joined @UKLabour digitally, it looks like they prefer to fight their battles that way too.

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.

She adds:

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.

Polly again:

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….

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…

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

  • hgreen

    Knocking on doors is such a cliche. We are in the digital age now. We get our information on political parties from a wide variety sources.

    As for deselection. Ken Loach made an interesting point; do any of us in our jobs today have job security for a year let alone five? Why should MPs be any different? If they are out of step with their local constituency they need to deal with it.

  • terence patrick hewett

    What Polly says to Jeremy and Tristram. But the axis of the world is shifting: a few tsunamis ahead.

  • mickfealty

    Some do Hugh. SF had a viewership of one of their FB vids just before Feb election of 1 million. That’s way above any other Irish party, I’d guess. The transfer rate into seats however still disappointing, since it’s created primarily to motivate the core believers more than those with weak preferences…

  • hgreen

    That’s not surprising. Business ROI from social media marketing is also very poor. I’d expect similar poor performance for political “marketing”.

  • mac tire

    Progress (the flip side to Momentum) has also been a party within a party. We hear much of the latter, seldom of the former.

    Polly claims to want the “same things” as Corbyn – just not Corbyn. Fair enough. But who is it within Labour she will support that will give her the “same things” as Corbyn?

    She supported Yvette Cooper in the first leadership election. In the second she supported Owen Smith. Neither of these two wanted the same things as Corbyn.

    Last July she refused to believe that Corbyn could be ahead in the first leadership race. She stated that he would not win. He did. She continued to write articles against him, ramping it up when the second leadership contest was called. She backed the wrong horse again.

    It’s akin to refusing to believe that Brexit might win (I say this as someone who voted Remain). When they did win, it’s like Polly refusing to accept it and lobbying for, and getting, another referendum and losing that too. Would she be looking a third referendum in that scenario?

    If Polly really wants the same things as Corbyn she should get behind him – or at least stop constantly complaining about him – and turn the fight on the Tories.

    Corbyn has won the leadership of his party twice. She and all the rest of us have to accept that and move on.

  • Katyusha

    Well yes, with specific exceptions, social media is just as weak as knocking on doors. Really the two can be grouped under “social networks”, the only difference being that the young net activists communicate online rather than face-to-face.

    Advertising and control of the media is where the power to influence opinion lies. The Tories don’t have much of a grass-roots presence, but they’re incredibly capable at getting their message across, maintaining their image, setting the terms of debate, and destroying the credibility of their opponents.

    For all the digital-era hype around social media, the old fashioned MSM is still king.

  • woodkerne

    Toynbee has moved significantly to the left since the 1980s when she was one of those who created the SDP in doctrinal opposition to Bennism, the English Socialist faction from which Corbyn and McDonnell continue to take their political and ideological bearings. Not many of the Momentum membership surge, by contrast, are old enough to remember the 1980s or the deeply sectarian vibe that resulted in a schism which gave rise to a 17 year period of Tory government. For them, Corbyn appears refreshingly at odds with the supine centrism that has dominated Labour since the mid-90s and he gets especial credit for being a dissident during the New Labour years – notably in opposing neoliberal economics under Blair-Brown and Blair’s atlanticist adventures.

    As the virulence of this morning’s ostensibly proceduralist exchanges over the NEC membership rule change revealed, the Corbyn faction is determined to maximise their current tactical advantage and opportunity to capture COMPLETE control of the party machine and the party policy agenda, reflecting the left-wing disposition undoubtedly prevailing among the vastly swollen Labour Party selectorate that Corbyn’s candidacy has galvanised. And because they’re winning most of the battles it is highly unlikely that the Corbyn/Momo faction will let up on persecution of their opponents in Labour until the war is won.

    For all the talk of unity, it’s unity without concessions that’s on offer, which is to say no offer of accommodation at all. As the leading faction, among the ‘broad church’ of factions hitherto comprising the Labour coalition, Corbyn/Momo are clearly determined to monopolise party power. The leader’s rejection of PR and talk of coalitions underline the historic continuity with Bennite strategy under first past the post of aiming to capture state power from an electoral base as low as 40 percent or lower. Such a strategem is doomed to failure for sure and this, I think, is Toynbee’s underlying objection. In the meantime, the Corbyn/McDonnell pursuit of internal domination may very well disqualify the party from winning state power. That was the London mayor’s none too subtly stated point and it is where Toynbee and many other of us on the non-sectarian left find ourselves unable to embrace the Corbyn/McDonnell demarche.

  • mickfealty

    Agree with most of this Kat. What door knocking does get you is closer personal contact with the electorate than the self selection of the social media. And exposure to real stories.

    It doesn’t always warn you when you are about to kicked out off office. But early enough in the cycle, you might fend off disaster by demonstrating an ability to listen and respond to your voters.

  • mickfealty

    It won’t always stay that poor, which is why the mainstream need to get over their flagrant contempt of the bearded one.

  • hgreen

    The plp are the faction. There is no monopolisation of power. Corbyn has earned the right to appoint his own shadow cabinet and having had his fingers burned will quite rightly select those who agree with him on policy. Corbyn has also now earned the right to contest the next election as labour leader. The MPs have a choice, go into that election divided and they risk their own positions, go in united and they have a better chance of staying in a job. The concessions need to come from the utterly incompetent PLP.

  • woodkerne

    Hardly anyone is defending the PLP. I’m certainly not. They’re not though uniformly or utterly incompetent and the damnation of the whole of the PLP by supporters and zealots of the emergent leading-faction is symptomatic of the objection Toynbee and others have raised on the non-sectarian left to the crusading praise-or-blame mentality of so many MoMo online zealots. To be sure, the ideological disposition of current Labour MPs naturally reflects the residual locus of power in the party – Labour Neoliberalism. In the normal course of things, that’d shift incrementally and over time in accord with the new spirit of the times. That is, as the zeitgeist shifts in corresponding relation to macro forces and relations.

    The serendipitous source of the MoMo surge from which Corbyn benefitted originates, first, in the 2007/8 crash that dispossessed a generation of future ABC1s and, second, in disaffected response to the manifest failure of Miliband Labour to distance the party sufficiently from the sins of Blair and Brown. Corbyn’s great good fortune has been to be an unintended beneficiary of membership rule changes brought in under Miliband,,designed to diminish trade union influence (though he was a beneficiary of same in beating his brother to the job). One year on, and aided by the cackhanded plotting of parliamentary opponents who fear wipe-out under Corbyn – in fair reflection of the wishes of a vastly inflated selectorate – the Corbyn/McDonnell faction are close to capturing complete control of the party machine. The knife edge vote/procedural manoeuvre granting extra seats on the NEC to Scottish and Welsh parties (and thus checking the pro-Corbyn bloc), is a setback. But all the evidence of the equivocal utterances, acutely parsed by Toynbee, of Corbyn and McDonnell is that they remain determined to capitalise on their tactical advantage to monopolise their authority over the policy agenda, party machine and shaping of the PLP to their worldview and if that means driving out infidels, so be it.

    For sure Corbyn is triumphant. His triumph, I suspect, will likely lead to the obliteration of the PLP in 2020 – whether purged of dissidents by then or not – resulting thus in a manner analogous to the 1980s, to a walkover for theTories. At this distance, it seems likely too that electoral defeat may not be enough to convince Corbyn that his Social Movement strategy still isn’t the right one, such that not even electoral defeat will be sufficent to end his millenialist tenure. In a fashion analogous to the echo chamber effect of social media, such are the doctrinal certainties of the Benn revanchists, whose greatest weakness, as I see it, is listening only to themselves.

  • hgreen

    Why are supporters of Corbyn labelled as zealots? These are ordinary people like myself who’ve become interested in politics as a result of Labour becoming a socialist party once again.

    As for your final paragraph. You have no evidence that Corbyn would not resign, as he should, if Labour suffer electoral defeat.

  • woodkerne

    Not all Corbyn supporters are zealots of course. Their swollen ranks include many old new left types, of my vintage and older, disaffected by the supine centrism of the previous period and genuinely enthused by the return of a socialist policy agenda. But we’ve this before under Michael Foot. An unapologetically socialist Labour Party may yet surprise us and win perhaps 30 percent in a national poll and in Left-bloc coalition with Greens, Welsh and Scottish nationalists, that’d surely be enough to lock the Tories out. One of mine and others objections, is Corbyn’s refusal to countenance talk of ‘progressive alliance’ or proportional representation in pursuit of the fantasy of a transformative socialist government at some point in the future.

    The millenialist reference is to Momentum’s long-haul ‘2025 at the earliest’ strategy. And you’re right of course Corbyn may depart the scene upon a general election defeat. The current shadow-defence spokesman has been mooted, for example, and one hopes the Surfer Not the Wave scenario may indeed hold in those circumstances.

    By then, however, it may be too late for the Labour Party. The catastrophe may already have occurred. My own view is that a full reconfiguration of social democratic politics in the UK is needed and that towards that goal UKLabour is increasingly part of the problem rather than part of the solution whose final act to the future may be to contribute to an epochal reformation.

  • hgreen

    Talking about a progressive alliance now is the managerial equivalent of being happy with a draw or narrow defeat before the game.

  • woodkerne

    You may be right for indeed a win is a win and draw is better than another defeat.

  • Theelk11

    Its deja vu all over again from about 1981.
    I remember Neil kinnocks electrifying speech and Hatton shouting rubbish, his mullet swinging in anger. ( some socialist he turned out), my earliest memory of political theatre.

    Except this is worse

    Corbyn is irrelevant, this is a movement, it doesn’t really matter who leads it.
    The Labour Party is an instrument of power not a movement. It has just as powerful a role in opposition when it must use the talents of the PLP to scrutinise the government.
    Every opinion poll and analysis predicts that in its current configuration labour will never form a government. If you are not seen as an alternative government you lack credibility to scrutinise the current one, especially when as a sitting MP your leader refuses to deny your fear that he is going to take away your seat.
    I await next years probable election when labour is hockeyed into oblivion by nationalists and fear-mongers preying on the issues that the movement dismisses as base and beneath them.
    Whatever’s the result the movement still will think they are right and will curse the entire country especially ex labour voters as class traitors or whatever the latest insult is.
    A split is inevitable and should happen as soon as possible.