In which Zoe Williams, repentant Corbynite, offers some useful advice to @UKLabour…

Zoe Williams offers some good advice to UK Labour in this mornings Guardian: 

The extent of the electoral loss in Copeland is a dead end: it was an open-and-shut disaster. There is no media conspiracy to make it seem worse than it was, no historical or psephological reading that can mitigate the loss, nor any mileage in balancing it against Stoke and calling it quits. But the hyena-like circling of the carcass of Corbyn’s plan is morbid; the delight of making his allies account for the defeat, then laughing at their wild answers, merely feeds the stubbornness and sense of siege that is keeping Project Corbyn alive.

Even for a journalist who has perfected the snear as weapon par excellence, it’s still a sound line of argument, and very much in line with the logic of George Lakoff’s advice to drowning US in our latest Friday thread:

Criticising Donald Trump is likely saying “don’t think of an elephant” (I wrote a book called Don’t think of an Elephant) where Nixon said “I am not a crook”. You negate something and it makes people think of it. It strengthens the people you are arguing against.

When Labour cannot think of how useless their current leader is, or how dangerous it might be to replace him with a Blairite, every other consideration goes out the window:

 As magnetic as they are, the downside of these debates is that they obliterate the agenda, leaving nothing on it but one irreconcilable item. We have a government that can talk about nothing but Europe, and an opposition that can talk about nothing but Tony Blair. If you wanted a Labour party that was not just united and electable, but also creative and generative, where would your attention be?

Some Constituency Labour Parties (CLP) are now doing workshops on placard making. The political party founded to contend for power with the British establishment is now reduced to a protest movement, negating the very purpose for which it was founded.  This retreat from seriousness is a contributing factor in the Copeland defeat (‘it was a marginal’ says McDonell), and the too narrow escape in Stoke (which by the deputy leaders own logic has now been rendered marginal).

Williams pinpoints the key weakness identifying only failure in the Blair era (when Labour was shipping historically numbers of votes in Copeland): 

What does Blairite even mean any more, in this party? His worst errors – Iraq, PFI, financial deregulation – are repudiated now by everybody, give or take Peter Mandelson, and his successes nobody will talk about, for fear of being allied to the failures. Since there is no such thing as a Blairite, it would be better to judge likely successors by what they say and do, whereupon you’d worry more about how close Umunna’s views are to those of George Osborne, you’d notice that Jarvis says and does almost nothing, and you’d recognise a lot of issues on which Starmer is actually to the left of Lewis – and hopefully then question how useful this shorthand is.

The contrast with how Fianna Fáil handled their own contemparenious catastrophic failures in government could not be starker. Apart from apologising for his party’s poor helmsmanship, Michael Martin kept his own counsel for 18 months aware as one senior party source told Slugger at the time ‘no one wanted to hear from them’. 

That period of contrition coupled with a subsequent series of government missteps has allowed FF to reconnect with its past achievements in a way that Corbyn’s short and catastrophic period as leader makes profoundly more difficult for U.K. Labour.

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

  • Lex.Butler

    The curious thing about blaming the the ‘media’ is that Trump received eighteen months of constant vilification from the media and still won. Like it or not, he had a clear set of messages (Build The Wall, Lock Her up, Make America Great) which cut through. If Labour can sort out a clear set of messages (the much maligned pledge card worked first time out), it can connect to the electorate again. Corbyn will go as soon as a viable left wing successor emerges, but not before.

  • woodkerne

    Blair’s latest unhelpful speaking-out on brexit (the effect of which will almost certainly be to shore-up the forces he purports to seek to overturn) serves again to underline the irredeemably deep unpopularity of the former PM with Labour members and supporters and in the country at large. He won’t be forgiven for the subaltern attachment of the ‘Yookay’ to Bush’s vendetta against Saddam and must take his share of the blame for the frightful ramifications, including the rise of sunni extremism across the region and the resulting exodus of refugees from it.

    One can only wonder at the hubris of a figure as narcissistic as Blair – deaf to criticism and blind to culpability in past errors. Corbyn too has his issues with narcissism. Indeed both men may yet be defined in the history of Labour as leaders who refused to depart the scene when their respective time was manifestly up. Corbyn’s self-deception takes the form of a certain moral superiority which he shares with the members of his retro-Bennite faction, support for which since 2015 includes the fresh influx of anti-austerity Momentum activists. It was the collective anger and disaffection of the mass of party members at the Miliband-interregnum leadership’s refusal to distance Labour from neoliberalism and atlanticism of the BrownBlair era that produced Corbyn’s candidacy, extraordinary coronation and re-election against the prevailing interests.

    Corbyn’s tragedy is that he fails to understand his historic part in the drama as a transitional rather than transformational figure (i.e., ‘the surfer not the wave’) and that he and McDonnell et al labour under the mistaken belief that the capturing of power equates to the exercise of hegemony, where it plainly doesn’t. Strategically and temperamentally ill-equipped to lead, it is surely perfectly clear by now that the party and movement which has always been a coalition of traditional working class labourism and ethical socialism of the Left (the latter allied to the progressive sections of the professional middle classes), cannot be successfully led by an evangelical leftist faction, especially one whose instincts and policies are past their use-by date.

    Defiant in denial of the causes of the present calamity, the Corbynist crusaders for the doctrinal truth that only they possess, declare themselves blameless for the party’s parlous condition. They do so on the tautological grounds that disloyalty to the/ir leadership by BogeyBlair & the PLP is wholly responsible for the catastrophic state of affairs. On this diehard reasoning, the faction around the leader not only refuse to accede to the dire truth of things as they really are, but looking beyond 2020, assert an absolute naive-faith in the inevitability of vindication in 2025.

    To be sure, Blairites and Corbynistas are not the only protagonists in the existential argument over UKLabour’s identity and fate, and it would be much too simple to reduce the crisis to these terms. Moreover, the plight of Labour is not at all comparable with the basis of recent revival of Fianna Fail’s fortunes following the Irish banking crash. (The reduced state of the Irish Labour Party bears interesting comparison, however.) We’ll know more in a week’s time about how the parallel century-long political drama in Ireland may develop, whether brexit is the mechanism that quickens an all-island outcome (or at least, as Kenny suggests, inserts a caveat permitting post-brexit absorption of the north within a superordinate Ireland-in-EU enclosure).

    Renewal of the social purpose of the Labour Party in Britain is surely overdue and in the short to medium term, immediately post-Brexit, out of the current farce, a progressive rallying point for anti-Tory opposition is sorely needed. But a century on from first competing for parliamentary power, the Labour Party’s best contribution may be to die (or implode) in order to permit emergence of a popular New Left bloc in electoral politics that includes greens and civic nationalists as well as social liberals and socialists around a popular programme of anti-populist neokeynesian economics (i.e., of demand-led growth through investment in infrastructural projects and reinvigoration of the fabric of state and civil society) and an optimistic political credo of belief in modern multiethnic social democracy.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Indeed the antipathy doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing if his party put the work in.

    Trump and the Republican party marketed better and canvassed better (in the key states anyway) to get The Donald to the White House.

    Many in his own party despised Trump more than the sternest Blairite could Jeremy but winning elections are a team game.

  • Barneyt

    Had labour taken a leave stance on the EU,at least Corbyn could have aligned the labour strategy with his long time EU scepticism of the union. Of course he could never have taken his party with him… and the youthful wing that secured and resecured his leadership are not inward looking enough to opt for brexit. On that basis he’s a bad labour fit, notwithstanding the fact he’s in the wrong political era too. He’s in clear personal conflict and as a consequence could never own the remain case. I like the man and see principle and belief in him, despite his EU compromise. He does however now have to bow out. But who will take his place? What will they inherit and hope to achieve as an opposition when brexit is nailed on? its too late for a pro EU candidate so perhaps Jeremy is presently more able to argue from a position of EU isolation? I can’t see how labour and any new leader can campaign on a ticket that states they will make brexit work. So there is no urgency to fix the opposition presently other than to potentially save a few political careers.

  • Barneyt

    Yeh. Torys need to run their present course as does labour as they are. In time there will be post brexit pain as deals fail to materialise and there will be calls to return to the EU fold. If Corbyn is allowed to lead labour into the next election we won’t see a labour recovery until 2028. Is that the timeframe you see?

  • the Moor

    On 5 year cycles (following edict in last parliament), it’ll be 2025 and then 2030. Which isn’t to say, however, taking account of currently unforeseen special circumstances arising in relation to the negotiation of brexit terms that May mightn’t yet call a GE out of cycle.

  • leoinlisbon

    The attention given to the Blairites and the Corbynistas distracts from the real problem facing Labour; the collapse of the Brownites.
    This happened first in Scotland and, later, at Westminister.
    After Blair was forced out as Prime Minister, the Blairite ascendancy was over.
    Brown’s credibility was lost in the economic collapse of 2008.
    When Brown quit in 2010, his followers, Ed Milliband, Balls and Cooper, became the dominant figures. Unfortunately, the all proved to be politically inept. (Blair’s proteges were no better.) It is from this vacuum that the Labour Party’s present troubles have come.

  • mickfealty

    Spot on. This is far toonlittle acknowledged, and is at the epicentre of Labour’s trouble. Brown was a superb technocrat (to whom the UK likely owes a deep debt of gratitude), but awful at the other two key skills a successful politician requires: opportunism and populism.