I’d rather live with Jeremy Corbyn’s gentle dithering in pursuit of a better world than give May a mandate to destroy what remains of British decency
Where are the nose-pegs this time? Those who tolerated anything the Labour party did under Blair tolerate nothing under Corbyn. Those who insisted that we should vote Labour at any cost turn their backs as it seeks to recover its principles.
They proclaimed undying loyalty when the party stood for the creeping privatisation of the NHS, the abandonment of the biggest corruption case in British history, the collapse of Britain’s social housing programme, bans on peaceful protest, detention without trial, the kidnap and torture of innocent people and an illegal war in which hundreds of thousands died. They proclaim disenchantment now that it calls for the protection of the poor, the containment of the rich and the peaceful resolution of conflict.
Those who insisted that William Hague, Michael Howard and David Cameron presented an existential threat remain silent as Labour confronts a Conservative leader who makes her predecessors look like socialists.
Blair himself, forgiven so often by the party he treated as both ladder and obstacle to his own ambition, repays the favour by suggesting that some should vote for Conservatives who seek a softer Brexit. He appears to believe that the enhanced majority this would deliver to Theresa May might weaken her. So much for the great tactician.
Yes, Jeremy Corbyn is disappointing. Yes, his leadership has been marked by missed opportunities, weakness in opposition and (until recently) incoherence in proposition, as well as strategic and organisational failure. It would be foolish to deny or minimise these flaws. But it would be more foolish still to use them as a reason for granting May a mandate to destroy what remains of British decency and moderation, or for refusing to see the good that a government implementing Corbyn’s policies could do.
Of course I fear a repeat of 1983. But the popularity of Corbyn’s recent policy announcements emboldens me to believe he has a chance, albeit slight, of turning this around. His pledge to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour is supported by 71% of people, according to a ComRes poll; raising the top rate of tax is endorsed by 62%.
Labour’s 10 pledges could, if they formed the core of its manifesto, appeal to almost everyone. They promote a theme that should resonate widely in these precarious times: security. They promise secure employment rights, secure access to housing, secure public services, a secure living world. Contrast this to what the Conservatives offer: the “fantastic insecurity” anticipated by the major funder of the Brexit campaign, the billionaire Peter Hargreaves.
Could people be induced to see past the ineptitudes of Labour leadership to the underlying policies? I would argue that the record of recent decades suggests that the quality of competence in politics is overrated.
Blair’s powers of persuasion led to the Iraq war. Gordon Brown’s reputation for prudence blinded people to the financial disaster he was helping to engineer, through the confidence he vested in the banks. Cameron’s smooth assurance caused the greatest national crisis since the second world war. May’s calculating tenacity is likely to exacerbate it. After 38 years of shrill certainties presented as strength, Britain could do with some hesitation and self-doubt from a prime minister.
Corbyn’s team has been hopeless at handling the media and managing his public image. This is a massive liability, but it also reflects a noble disregard for presentation and spin. Shouldn’t we embrace it? This was the licence granted to Gordon Brown, whose inept performances on television and radio as prime minister were attributed initially to his “authenticity” and “integrity”. Never mind that he had financed the Iraq war and championed the private finance initiative, which as several of us predicted is now ripping the NHS and other public services apart. Never mind that he stood back as the banks designed exotic financial instruments. He had the confidence of the City and the billionaire press. This ensured that his ineptitude was treated as a blessing, while Corbyn’s is a curse.
I would love to elect a government led by someone both competent and humane, but this option will not be on the ballot paper. The choice today is between brutal efficiency in pursuit of a disastrous agenda, and gentle inefficiency in pursuit of a better world. I know which I favour.
There is much that Labour, despite its limitations, could do better in the next six weeks. It is halfway towards spelling out an inspiring vision for the future; now it needs to complete the process. It must hammer home its vision for a post-European settlement, clarifying whether or not it wants to remain within the single market (its continued equivocation on this point is another missed opportunity) and emphasising the difference between its position and the extremism, uncertainty and chaos the Conservative version of Brexit could unleash.
It should embrace the offer of a tactical alliance with other parties. The Greens have already stood aside in Ealing Central and Acton, to help the Labour MP there defend her seat. Labour should reciprocate by withdrawing from Caroline Lucas’s constituency of Brighton Pavilion. Such deals could be made all over the country: as the thinktank Compass shows, they enhance the chances of knocking the Tories out of government.
Labour’s use of new organising technologies is promising, but it should go much further. No one on the left should design their election strategy without first reading the book Rules for Revolutionaries, by two of Bernie Sanders’ campaigners. It shows how a complete outsider almost scooped the Democratic nomination, and how the same tactics could be applied with greater effect now that they have been refined. And anyone who fears what a new Conservative government might do should rally behind Labour’s unlikely figurehead to enhance his distant prospects.
The choice before us is as follows: a party that, through strong leadership and iron discipline, allows three million children to go hungry while hedge fund bosses stash their money in the Caribbean and a party that hopes, however untidily, to make this a kinder, more equal, more inclusive nation. I will vote Labour on 8 June, and I will not hold my nose. I urge you to do the same.
My favourite political image among the protests and street activism that has marked the first three months of 2017 is a banner held on the St Patrick’s Day parade. It proclaimed:”More Blacks! More dogs! More Irish!” – mocking the daily racism of the 1960s when people looking for homes were confronted by openly discriminatory window signs rejecting applicants from these categories. The first Race Relations Act of 1968 finally knocked that appalling behaviour on the head, but not the sentiments behind it. It took another 20 years of grassroots campaigns led by victims of racism, finally aided by another layer of government, to normalise anti-racism and explicitly promote multiculturalism.
That layer of government was the Greater London Council (GLC). Under a visionary Left Labour leadership from 1981 it railed against continuing inequalities and discriminatory practices and the mindset supporting them – whether it was racist, sexist, homophobic or disablist. Through a generous grants programme it gave grassroots campaigners including Caribbean, African, South Asian, Irish and Jewish groups, the resources to make their voices count. The GLC also brought those groups and campaigns together through its Ethnic Minorities Unit, whose activities dovetailed with those of the GLC’s Women’s Committee. These policies were denounced at the time as “loony left” by the right-wing press. Maggie Thatcher felt so threatened by this equalities agenda that she dictatorially closed down the GLC.
The imagination and determination to push this agenda through was rightly identified very strongly with the GLC’s leader – one Ken Livingstone. In place of the old paternalistic grants policy which mainly favoured rather conservative existing groups, the GLC under Livingstone developed a grassroots strategy whereby innovative groups without resources were encouraged to identify a need in London, make a plan for addressing it and ask the GLC to fund it.
I was a beneficiary, appointed as sole worker for the Jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project, a Jewish Socialists’ Group initiative funded by the GLC. Our two years of funding came to an end through Maggie’s act of destruction. But I remember a delicious moment one year in, when our project grant came up for renewal. Alongside other groups we were invited to the public gallery. Labour had a solid majority on the council, so at the meeting confirming renewal Ken Livingstone read through a list of groups that the grants committee had approved. The Tories could express their objection but they had no power to stop any of the approved grants going through. Most did so without objection but every so often – a lesbian project, or an Irish project – the Tory would say “We object!”. Livingstone read out “Jewish Socialists’ Group” in a manner which suggested he enjoyed the particular combination of those words as much as we did. The Tory rose: “We object”. Livingstone retorted, smiling, “You don’t like the name!”
How can it be that three decades on, the person who played such a pivotal role in the fight for equality came within a hairsbreadth of expulsion by the Labour Party for bringing the party in to disrepute over the issue of anti-Jewish racism, having made dubious comments about Hitler and Zionism; and for defending another MP’s comments, which she herself apologised for, after she recognised they had crossed a line into antisemitism?
The knee-jerk reaction of many left wingers, tired of cynical, manufactured and distorted accusations of antisemitism was to leap to his defence, Others who harboured doubts about the veracity of Livingstone’s comments and his tact were more reticent. He claimed that the real reasons he was threatened with expulsion were his support for Palestine and for Jeremy Corbyn. As someone who admired his earlier work, I’m not convinced. I believe that his controversial and completely unnecessary intervention – based on a very poor quality source – undermined Jeremy Corbyn and was detrimental to the Palestinian cause. It was also a free gift to right wingers in both the Labour and Conservative parties, and to pro-Zionist and pro-Conservative elements in the Jewish community determined to do Labour and Corbyn down.
They have been having a field day denouncing Labour for not expelling him, claiming that it proves that the Labour Party is not serious about tackling antisemitism, that the Jewish community has been let down by Labour’s disciplinary process and so on. Why pro-Conservative elements such as Jewish Board of Deputies president Jonathan Arkush, who rushed to congratulate Trump on winning the US election, or Chief Rabbi Mirvis who penned a vicious attack on Labour on the front page of the Daily Telegraph the day before London’s mayoral election while saying nothing about the Tories openly Islamopbhobic campaign against Sadiq Khan, feel they have the right to comment on Labour’s internal disciplinary processes is beyond me.
The bad blood between Livingstone and self-proclaimed Jewish leaders, however, goes back a long way. It is nothing to do with Israel/Palestine or Nazis, and it shows those “leaders” in a poor light. I will say more on that further down.
But those of us in the left and centre left of the Labour Party, who certainly do have the right to comment on those procedures, have every reason to be cynical about those individuals put in place under Tony Blair who still dominate the bodies enacting these disciplinary procedures. While they act against loose cannons such as Livingstone, who unfortunately has form when it comes to speaking first and engaging his brain second, they completely ignore the daily acts of Labour right-wingers, which bring the party into disrepute and harm its electoral chances. I am talking here of the likes of Mandelson, Blair, Wes Streeting, Michael Dugher and Ruth Smeeth, who deliberately and repeatedly insult, demean and seek to undermine a Labour leader overwhelmingly elected twice to lead the party by its members. And they often take to the columns of the anti-Labour right-wing press to do so. They are surely the people who deserve to be at the front of any queue of those who might be legitimately charged with bringing the party into disrepute. In that context I am glad Livingstone was not expelled. And, indeed, rather than suspend him for a further year, maybe, as other Jewish left-wingers have suggested, he should be challenged to go for a year without mentioning Hitler.
But what is the real story with Livingstone and the Jewish community? What are the merits of what he has said, and the “academic” source he based them on? Did the timing of his intervention help or undermine Jeremy Corbyn at a time when Labour was being assailed with charges of antisemitism? Has it helped or hindered the Palestinian cause?
Livingstone took power in the GLC in 1981 at the same time as the Jewish Board of Deputies (BoD) was increasingly falling in with Thatcher’s government and its reactionary norms. Thatcher was extremely hostile to the GLC’s anti-racist agenda. Nevertheless the BoD initially co-operated with the GLC’s Ethnic Minorities Unit.
As Livingstone democratised and revolutionised the GLC’s grants procedures, a range of politically independent groups among both secular and religious Jews, including dissident and marginalised groups, applied for funding for their projects. The BoD, which saw itself as the sole legitimate political representative of Jews in Britain, wrote to Livingstone insisting on its right to vet any applications to the GLC for funding by Jewish groups. Livingstone quite rightly refused, on democratic grounds, and was never forgiven. As well as being involved with the Jewish Socialists’ Group’s (JSG) application, I was also part of a small group of four people called the Jewish Employment Action Group, which was taking up cases of antisemitism in the workplace. One of the four was a maverick member of the Board of Deputies. We asked for and received a grant of £220 (that’s all!). That maverick BoD member was hauled over the coals by the BoD’s paranoid leaders. Whenever the BoD got a hint that a particular Jewish group was applying for funds, it sent in unsolicited “references” to try to dissuade Livingstone’s GLC from funding them. I was shown the unsolicited “reference ” on the JSG, by the Grants Officer dealing with our application. It was a filthy document, full of lies and unfounded smears and allegations linking us to organisations described as “terrorist”. Fortunately the GLC disregarded it, but it revealed the BoD’s methods.
In 1983 the Board suspended its participation in the work of the GLC’s Ethnic Minorities Unit, an entity that was developing an imaginative, inclusive agenda for tackling all forms of racism in London and actively promoting multiculturalism. I have a leaked copy of the internal minutes from the BoD’s Defence Committee which agreed this action. It sets out five charges against the GLC, listed a to e, including: “The use of County Hall by pro-PLO factions and by terrorist representative groups”.
In 1983 the GLC’s County Hall had indeed hosted the first public meeting in Britain in which an Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, shared a platform with a leading PLO representative, Issam Sartawi. I was among the organisers of the meeting. Also in the early 1980s the GLC hosted Sinn Fein members accused of direct links withe IRA.
However the leaked minutes explained that the BoD’s decision to break off relations with the GLC Ethnic Minorities Unit was taken because of (e), “a grant to the Jewish Socialists’ Group, against the advice of the Board”.
Following the initial skirmishes which were about the GLC being able to function democratically without unwanted and unwarranted interference for the BoD, there were further clashes which related also to pro-Palestinian comments that Livingstone made in the aftermath of the Lebanon war of 1982.
In that period, Livingstone was guilty of a misdemeanour which does link directly to much more recent controversies. He was one of the editors of a left-wing newspaper called Labour Herald which published very crude denunciations of Israel and cartoons of its very right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin dressed in Nazi uniform, which drew accusations of antisemitism. It also carried a review by one Harry Mullin of three publications alleging Zionist-Nazi collaboration. This review crossed a line from anti-Zionism to antisemitism. I was co-writer of a letter from the JSG, showing how this line had been crossed, and how it also served to diminish Nazi responsiblity for the Holocaust. Our letter demanded an apology from Labour Herald for publishing this review. The letter was published but no apology was made. In a private letter Livingstone remarked that Harry Mullin was a respected labour movement writer. It was no great surprise to me to learn that a few years down the line Harry Mullin had found his more natural home in the fascist British National Party, through which he increasingly peddled Holocaust denial. Perhaps this was an early hint of – at best – Livingstone’s lack of sophisticated judgement in this area.
During the recent controversy, when Livingstone was pressed for the source of his claims that Hitler “was supporting Zionism… before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”, he told the Evening Standard, “Everything I said… was true and I will be presenting the academic book about that to the Labour Party inquiry.”. That “academic” source was Zionism in the Age of the Dictators, written in the early 1980s by Lenni Brenner, an American freelance journalist. Brenner’s book reads much more like tabloid journalism than any serious academic study. It makes crude allegations of Zionist-Nazi collaboration, treats the actions of some Zionists as representing all Zionists, and utterly distorts the power relations between Zionists and Nazis.
In truth, there were attempts by some Jews in Germany to make deals with the Nazi dictatorship that was hostile and repressive towards all Jews. In Germany’s case these were Zionists (an ideological minority among German Jews), who were criticised by other Zionists and other Jews for doing so. Further attempts to make deals with Nazi rulers were made by some Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, but these attempts do not break down on simple Zionist/anti-Zionist lines. Some bourgeois Jews who were not Zionists also attempted to extract concessions from their oppressors, to save some lives through such deals. On the other hand, many left-wing Zionists participated in the anti-Nazi resistance, especially in the ghettoes. But, whatever deals were attempted in Germany after Hitler came to power, Hitler had already made crystal clear his absolutely poisonous hatred towards all Jews when he published Mein Kampf in 1925, and a second edition in 1926.
When Lenni Brenner came to London in 1983/84 to promote his book the Jewish Socialists’ Group was unimpressed with the publicity but nevertheless invited him to speak to one of our meetings about it. He was terrible. He gave an extremely crude analysis which tried to make facts fit very thin pre-ordained theories. When he was challenged on his “analysis” he reacted with aggression. When audience members argued that his comments were antisemitic he flew into a further rage and told us that he could not be racist or antisemitic because his wife was Black. That, I’m afraid, is the calibre of Livingstone’s prime source.
Of course, if you do serious research you can find many examples that would show that in terms of combating antisemitism and fascism, whether in Germany or, for example, in Poland Europe’s largest Jewish community pre-war, the 1930s and ’40s were not Zionism’s finest hour. And the willingness of Zionists to seek cooperation with the most reactionary regimes towards its goals has a long pedigree that stretches as far back as Theodor Herzl’s meeting with Plehve, a minister in Tsarist Russia, a representative of the murderous oppressors of Jews, radicals and revolutionaries. Herzl promised Plehve, on no authority at all, that Jewish radicals and revolutionaries would cease their struggles against Tsarism for 15 years if he would give a charter for Palestine. Nothing came of it, but not for want of trying.
However, this whole effort to try to find evidence of Zionists behaving badly in the 1930s in order to expose the way Zionism behaves today, is such a poor way of supporting the Palestinians and their just demands. It rests on too many crude generalisations. You do not have to go back to Hitler and the 1930s in order to expose and challenge the oppression of Palestinians by Zionist ideology and practice today. As Shami Chakrabarti rightly pointed out in her report, from the Inquiry that followed in the weeks after Livingstone’s remarks, critics of Israeli policy could “use the modern universal language of human rights, be it of dispossession, discrimination, segregation, occupation, persecution and … leave Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust out of it”. I agree with her wholeheartedly. The case against Israel’s occupation and ill-treatment of the Palestinians is unanswerable. Trying to base that case on what some Zionists did in Germany in the 1930s will always end up diverting the argument towards accusations of antisemitism, and ultimately lets both the Israeli government and the Zionist movement in 2017 off the hook.
Livingstone was also apprehended for his defence of tweets made by Bradford Labour MP Naz Shah, which were considered by Jewish “leaders” such as the BoD as offensive. The BoD apparently believes it has the sole right to define, on behalf of the community, what is offensive to all Jews. It does not have that right. One of Shah’s tweets recycled an innocuous old joke suggesting that Israel should solve its problems by relocating to America. It pokes fun at the mutually sycophantic relationship between Israeli and American governments over the last few decades in which Israel has served the interests of that superpower very well. My friend, the Jewish comedian Ivor Dembina, pokes fun similarly when he says in his shows, “I think Israel should give back the Occupied territories… but keep New York!” That is edgy but not antisemitic.
The only actually offensive, indeed antisemitic, tweet by Shah was in relation to an online poll regarding Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014, when she tweeted that “the Jews are rallying”. Not “Zionists”, not “supporters of Israel”, but “Jews”. That is antisemitic, and she rightly apologised.
The day after she did so, Ken Livingstone appeared on Vanessa Feltz’s radio show, of his own volition, to discuss this matter. The timing is crucial and tells us much again about Livingstone’s lack of judgment and his apparent desire for notoriety, whatever the cost to those whose causes he claims to be promoting. The London mayoral elections were approaching and the Tories were running an Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. If Livingstone had had the nous, he would have simply noted Shah’s acknowledgement that she had crossed a line into antisemitism, welcomed her apology and then used all the weight of his background in anti-racism in London to utterly condemn the Tories for their thoroughly racist campaign against Khan. That could, and should, have been the story. Instead he tried to excuse Shah’s tweets as “completely over the top but … not antisemitic”. Immediately after this came his infamous remarks about Hitler and Zionism.
Livingstone’s claims that he is being targeted partly because he supports Jeremy Corbyn don’t stack up well. Corbyn was under massive pressure on this issue from an unholy alliance of Blairites, the mainstream media, Jewish community “leaders” and Tories. A spokesperson for Corbyn had already welcomed Shah’s apology. Livingstone’s intervention further undermined Corbyn. And some who know him well have suggested that this was deliberate – whether for reasons of jealousy or some petty sectarianism.
I do not believe Livingstone is antisemitic. Nor do I believe that right-wing Jews whom the media treats as spokespersons have any right to define what is offensive to all Jews. I respect the integrity of the longstanding socialist and Labour Jewish activists who gave supportive testimony at Livingstone’s hearing, several of whom I know personally. However I do believe that Livingstone deliberately invites controversy and notoriety, that his judgement on these issues is very poor, that he has set back the Palestinian cause by his utterances, and made life more difficult for the embattled left-wing Labour leadership.
I hope that those of us fighting for justice for the Palestinians, fighting racism in all its forms, including antisemitism, and fighting to strengthen Labour’s progressive leadership will reflect on this episode and ensure that we are directing our fire on our enemies in ways that are both principled and effective.
Jeremy Corbyn has come in as Labour members’ second favourite leader of the party in its history, according to polling.
The poll asked members to choose up to three of Labour’s leaders as their favourite. Clement Attlee came in top with 45 per cent of the vote but only 5 per cent behind him was the party’s current leader on 40 per cent. John Smith was third with 31 and Harold Wilson fourth on 28 per cent.
Tony Blair came in at number six with 21 per cent and Ed Miliband was at number 10 with 11 per cent.
The poll, conducted by YouGov, also asked members which type of voters they think Labour should “mainly target in future general election campaigns”. Some 24 per cent said Conservative and UKIP voters and 68 per cent said people who for other parties and those who do not normally vote .
Asked about how Labour should approach Brexit at the next general election 41% of people said the party should promise to go ahead with Brexit, but look to negotiate a close relationship with the rest of the EU. A position that is most similar to Labour’s current stance. Just under a third, 30 per cent, wanted the party to promise to hold a second referendum on whether Britain should go ahead with Brexit or remain in the EU after all and a minority, 11 per cent, said Labour should promise to stop Brexit and keep Britain inside the EU.
Members ranked their top four overall issues Labour should prioritise as health (66 per cent), housing (43 per cent), Britain leaving the EU (43 per cent) and the economy (37 per cent).
More than half, 56 per cent, of those asked also said they had more loyalty towards the party than Jeremy Corbyn, whereas 19 per cent said loyalty to Corbyn outranked loyalty to the party. Six per cent said neither and 17 per cent said they had loyalty to both equally.
So, the final reading – before it’s passed up to the Lords for review – of the government’s bill to trigger Article 50 takes place today, with a vote expected around 8pm.
So far, indications are that Labour MPs will still be under a ‘3-line whip’, but the issue is being wildly misrepresented by Corbyn’s opponents in the Labour party – and by the media, in particular BBC News.
Jeremy Corbyn told this writer last weekend that he was not going to ‘approve the bill no matter what’ but would take a view on the bill’s final form and act accordingly. Labour First’s ‘National Organiser’, Matt Pound, has already been trying to taunt the SKWAWKBOX over Corbyn’s statement, even though the bill is still being debated and its ‘final form’ is unknown:
The assumptions Pound is leaping to are huge. As Shadow Brexit Minister Matthew Pennycook told the BBC’s Ben Brown today, Labour has achieved not one, but two huge concessions from the government, so there are no grounds to suggest that Corbyn is simply waving through May’s bill.
Labour played it very cleverly in Parliament yesterday by letting backbencher Chris Leslie’s amendment lead, calling for a binding Parliamentary vote on any deal. Because it wasn’t the official Labour amendment, it was easier for Tories to rebel – and seven did, even after the government’s concessions.
The amendment was defeated – it would have take a major Tory rebellion to get it through – but because of Labour’s intelligent manoeuvres the government was sufficiently afraid that enough might rebel for them to offer two concessions.
Parliament will be given a vote on the final deal negotiated with the EU – but also a vote on the draft agreement before it goes to the final discussions with the EU. The fact that the government later tried to claim these were not concessions was the line pushed by the BBC and other media, but even Tory MPs found this jarring:
while some of the more honest journalists were frank about it being, indeed, a definite concession by the government:
So it’s all still to play for today and this evening and Corbyn can still change his mind about the whip if he doesn’t like how the bill looks – or, if he decides it’s the best that can be done at the moment, he may decide not to lift the whip, so that Labour does not appear to be disdaining those who voted to leave, knowing that there are still two more battlegrounds to fight on.
Thanks to the concessions, the onus is now on the Tories to craft a deal that will win the approval of Parliament, because their ‘take it or leave it’ approach means they will be held responsible for Britain leaving the EU with no deal if they don’t.
But you’d never guess this if you listen to the BBC or read the bleatings or crowings in the press. They are determined to make this Labour’s problem – and, of course, specifically Corbyn’s problem. Just as the worst of the Labour right is, such as Labour First and their Mr Pound.
So, as you watch today’s events unfold and listen to the commentariat pontificate, the real question in your mind shouldn’t be whether Corbyn should be imposing the Labour whip. It should be which billionaires and Tory/red Tory editors are whipping the media into spinning such a misleading narrative – AKA ‘fake news’.
And whether they should be whipped for doing it.
Whatever happens this evening, Corbyn has never said he won’t whip support for the bill – just that he’ll take a view on its final form.
Given that he can’t overturn it anyway – without a large number of Tory rebels at least – his first responsibility is still to position Labour for least harm and best way forward after the vote, so the people of this country can get rid of a parasitic Tory government and start to recover its economic justice and its humanity.
Though the Establishment has amassed its forces against us, we are many and they are few. JOHN McDONNELL says it’s time for Labour to mobilise
ANYBODY who thought electing a socialist leader of the Labour Party would be an easy ride now knows that was never going to be the case.
Winning the internal party election for the leadership was the relatively easy part. The coup was also totally predictable and could be planned for. Therefore the second leadership election was arduous, but with determination and hard work was eminently winnable.
We have now reached the toughest period so far. The euphoria of winning a greater mandate in the second leadership election, despite every trick in the bureaucratic textbook used against us, has given way to a serious appreciation of the challenge we now face.
The character of our politics is to be straightforward and honest with people. So let’s be straight about this. This is the toughest of times we have experienced so far and it is not only also absolutely predictable and understandable but also something we can completely deal with.
It does mean though that we need to understand fully what we are up against and what we have to deal with.
We are currently facing exactly what we predicted but many didn’t fully appreciate. The full forces of the Establishment are being thrown against us.
In no way will the elite Establishment tolerate the popular election of a socialist leader without a bitter fight.
One of the key fundamental problems we face is not a lack of political analysis, policies, direction, courage, determination or leadership.
It is the critical question of how we can communicate a narrative about our objectives and policies in a way that can cut through the bilious, cynical distortion of every aspect of the traditional media.
Any criticism of media bias by the left is always distorted as whining.
The various independent reports have proved conclusively that we are witnessing a level of media bias that certainly most have never seen on this scale before.
The evidence demonstrates that it ranges from the Sun and the Mail to the Guardian and the BBC.
This daily grinding out of distortion and attack can undoubtedly have its effect on our standing in the polls and in turn on the morale of some of our supporters, who are not always close to the action and may not be experienced in past trade union or political campaigns.
So we need to explain both what we are up against and how we can overcome this.
This is the time for determination in the face of whatever they throw against us. The best form of defence is attack.
Politically that means using the one resource that we have which the other side doesn’t. It’s true that we are the many, they are the few.
Mobilising our large base of support in the Labour Party, the trade unions, progressive campaigns and the wider community is the way to win.
How we do that is the key to our success. First, it means ensuring that our supporters and potential supporters have the opportunity to engage in the exploration, discussion, debate and determination of political analysis and policymaking.
That’s why we are going on the stomp around the country with a series of regional and national economic conferences to develop our economic thinking and planning from the grassroots up.
Similar exercises are planned in several other policy areas, including how we can decarbonise our economy based upon local initiatives facilitated by creative national policymaking.
New creative initiatives to enable large-scale involvement in digital democracy will facilitate and energise the discussion of politics and policy in and beyond our party.
Second, it means mobilising around consistent campaigning, setting up or using existing structures to co-ordinate our campaigning at local and national levels.
People are becoming increasingly angry at the Tories’ attacks on our public services and more workers are willing to take action to protect their jobs and their living standards.
We need to lead in mobilising support and solidarity with these campaigns. It will require the increasingly effective use of social media to communicate ideas and to assist mobilisation.
Third, it also means gearing up and training our members to give them the confidence and motivation to access the party’s structures and engage in the vital routine work that is needed to ensure the political direction of the party and deliver the votes that we need in elections over the coming years.
The message therefore is that the times may be tough and may get tougher — but it is the mobilisation of our committed, inspired and enthusiastic members that will see us through to success.
- John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor of the exchequer. This article first appeared on Labour Briefing: labourbriefing.squarespace.com.
by Kevin Meagher
If you think it’s cold wherever in the country you are reading this, just imagine how cold it is running a by-election campaign in Copeland in West Cumbria in the winter.
For those unfamiliar with the area, the answer is, of course, bloody cold. Not a place, certainly, to find yourself at this time of year, trudging the highways and byways, in the teeth of an icy Cumbrian gust.
Nevertheless, this is the lot of Andrew Gwynne for the foreseeable future.
The intrepid shadow minister without portfolio, has be despatched this week to run Labour’s by-election campaign to hold onto the seat Jamie Reed is set to vacate and stop the Tories overturning his slender 2,564 majority.
It’s a tough gig.
Lots of jobs reliant on Sellafield. And a suspicion, no doubt, that Labour is not particularly enamoured with the very industry that pays the wages of thousands of Copeland’s voters.
Joining Gwynne up there to kick start the campaign the other day was Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.
He was visiting West Cumberland Hospital to campaign against the downgrading of its services, which will see consultant-led maternity services moved 40 miles up the road to Carlisle.
This was a smart spot. A solid, resonant local issue to base a campaign around that helpfully plays to Labour’s strongest card.
After that, Ashworth hit the knocker with local activists in a show of determination to hold a seat in difficult times. Grafting on the frontline with ordinary activists.
Both men spring to mind when I think of the term ‘party loyalty’. It’s a concept that’s got lost, somewhere, as Labour has turned on itself these past couple of years.
Loyalty is not the same thing as blind faith. The swivel-eyed compliance of leadership followers (be they Corbynite or Blairite) is not true loyalty.
Nor is loyalty the same thing as discipline, per se. Clearly a political party needs coherence and the means to instil it, but real loyalty transcends individual leaders. It’s about duty. The greater good. The long game.
It is unconditional. Tribal. Instinctive. A simple acceptance that in the life of a political party, there will be periods of elation and victory and bouts of darkness and despondencey. But you stick with your team, regardless of their form. That a party has abiding values and purpose. That it means something.
I should say, too, that party loyalty is not solely the preserve of figures on the right of the party like Ashworth and Gwynne.
The same party loyalty has often been exhibited by figures on the Left like Michael Meacher, who, despite his Bennite politics, was an effective and respected environment minister under Tony Blair, (and with whom, I am sure, he had next to nothing in common).
Of course, political parties are always run by leaders and their controlling cliques, but they still need to the loyalty and support of those who do not always share their politics in order to survive. This is what we classically understand by the term ‘broad church’.
Parties need grown-ups who are willing to put aside differences to get the job done, in bad times as well as good. It is thanks to displays of loyalty like Gwynne’s and Ashworth’s that Labour will endure and shake loose from its current malaise. Eventually.
All the more important after this week’s devastating report by the Fabian Society showing that Labour could find itself reduced down to 150 MPs if it carries on losing support at the current rate of attrition.
Some on the Right of the party view this as Jeremy Corby’s just desserts. ‘You broke it’, they tell him, ‘so you pay for it.’
But it’s in no-one’s interest to see Labour crash into a wall in 2020.
Still, a growing band of would-be future leaders stand back, afraid to get their shoes wet in the swamp of real politics and help to prevent that from happening.
They assume, falsely, that they will remain unsullied by the Corbyn years and that a hard dose of electoral reality will be enough to restore the party to its previous condition, whereupon they will take the helm.
It is a fantasy.
There is no prospect of winning back control of the party be default, hoping that a short sharp collision with the electoral brick wall will play to their advantage.
Either the left will remain in control and blame the idleness of those who could have helped but didn’t for defeat – or all that will be left to inherit will be a heap of smouldering rubble.
No, 2017 is the year the adults need to get back involved.
Corbyn’s insurgency, so unexpected by the man himself, has plainly lost momentum. Who knows, there may even be a chance of establishing a modus vivendi across the various shades of party opinion behind a synthesised policy platform that grounds the left’s dreamers in reality and emboldens the right’s managerialists?
So now is the time for the mopers on the backbenches to get their shoes wet.
And what better place to do that than in the streets footpaths of West Cumbria in the winter.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and author of ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification is Inevitable and How It Will Come About,’ published by Biteback