Owen Jones has written an article this week in the Guardian calling on Jeremy Corbyn to stand down. I take what Jones says seriously but I think he is wrong.
Some may dismiss what Jones says by attacking the man and not the argument. Jones himself anticipates this – “The party’s warring factions now refuse to accept that differing opinions are expressed in good faith – there have to be ulterior motives, ranging from careerism to self-aggrandisement to “virtue signalling””.
I completely accept that Jones writes in good faith. Equally, I do so too. Jones and I passionately want the same two things – to defeat this destructive Tory government and to elect a decent, progressive Labour government. The argument is not about the ends but the means.
Jones calls for “an agreement to be struck where Corbyn can stand down in exchange for the guarantee of an MP from the new generation on the ballot paper who is committed to the policies that Inspired Corbyn’s supporters in the first place.”
There are two issues here – the policy and the leader.
I agree with Jones that Corbyn’s policies are more likely to win an election than those of his Labour Party opponents. As he says correctly of those opponents – “They had no compelling or coherent alternative (to Corbyn).” He writes that the “more perceptive among the ranks of the opponents recognise this. The less perceptive have become embittered nihilists, defined almost exclusively by hostility to the left.”
It is a lazy and too common assumption that the Labour Party would be doing OK if only it had more centrist or right wing policies. This seems to be based on the example of Tony Blair. However, 2017 is not 1997. In particular, there have been two General Elections since the 2008 Crash and Labour has lost both of them. Labour’s underlying problems pre-date Corbyn. Labour lost almost 5 million votes between 1997 and 2010 (going from 13.5 million to 8.6 million). It was not Corbyn’s policies that led to a wipe-out in Scotland.
If Owen Smith had been leader would he have even held Stoke?
Corbyn’s opponents fundamental claim is that they are the grown-ups, the sensible ones who know how to win elections. Yet they launched the shambolic, destructive and pointless coup last year just at the time when the Tories were on the ropes, which led to a disastrous plunging in Labour’s poll ratings which have never recovered since.
Since becoming leader, Corbyn has inspired hundreds of thousands to join the Labour party. Given the low level of political engagement in the UK, it is depressing how far from welcoming this, some sneer and belittle the fact.
Jones’ criticism of Corbyn is not about his policies but about his leadership qualities. He says Corbyn is ineffective and wants him replaced with a younger, more effective communicator (unnamed).
I have no problem with Jones’ idea in principle – (but I have two problems in practice). I support Corbyn not because of the man – although I admire him – but because of his policies. If someone else really could make them more likely to be implemented then it would make sense to support them.
However – unless we are to have a dramatic announcement by a group of Labour MPs – Jones’ swap idea appears to be nothing more than pie in the sky dreaming. All the signs are to date that Labour MPs are doing everything in their power to ensure that a candidate with Corbyn’s policies will never be allowed to go on to the leadership ballot to be voted on by the membership.
The second problem with the swap idea is that it underestimates the power of the UK elite, in particular through its control of the media. We don’t know who Jones new, improved Corbynite leader would be. However, even if they had the political skills of an Abraham Lincoln or a FDR and the looks of Justin Trudeau, as long as they put forward policies that threatened the UK’s elite they would face the same tsunami of bile and distortion that Corbyn has had to endure and the same blocking of their positive message.
The elite don’t need anything substantive to destroy a politician. The day before the 2015 General Election, John Humphries on BBC radio 4 Today merrily described the Sun’s front page, it was the picture of Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich. I remember this because when I heard it, I felt a literal pain in my stomach. I know how this kind of subliminal messaging is very effective – that’s why the advertisers spend billions of pounds on it.
There is only one way for a Labour leader to achieve anything approaching fair coverage in the UK media. That is to make it clear to the UK elite that they are no threat to them. That is what Tony Blair did. He actually made an explicit deal with Rupert Murdoch.
The UK elite are trying to crush Corbyn and would try and crush any successor with the same policies. Do we take a stand or do we allow the word “electable” to mean “acceptable to Murdoch and Dacre and the rest of the elite”?
The road to social justice and a decent society is hard. Like the road to the vote and to human rights.
Corbyn needs help with his communications. So, let’s help him. Let’s stand and fight together, Owen.