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Corbyn and after? January 3, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Talking to a range of people recently I was surprised to hear some disquiet expressed over the Corbyn leadership and how it wasn’t really catching fire. These weren’t people who would be anti-Corbyn, anything but. Nor were they of the further left of the BLP or in any sense Blairite or Labour right. But their analysis was that Corbyn was in some trouble and hadn’t managed to move beyond his core support area and that while deeply respected there was a growing sense he might not be the man for the long haul. Names offered included John McDonnell.

I wasn’t sceptical of these views, or the analysis – I like Corbyn, and like McDonnell even more, but clearly the project isn’t taking in the way that had been hoped for beyond the LP and those who have joined. And that’s no small thing. There may be an election this year or next. Not a lot of time to shift forward. And – clearly – Brexit has changed matters considerably. Depressing to read the number of Labour worthies, and not just those on the right of the party, openly discussing immigration controls and so on. Thankfully the leadership has, so far at least, fended those calls off.

Still, this is telling, is it not, Len McCluskey arguing that:

Jeremy Corbyn should consider his position as Labour leader if the party’s opinion poll ratings do not improve in the run-up to the next general election, the leader of the Unite union has said.

Len McCluskey, who has been one of Corbyn’s strongest supporters, said the Labour leader and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, were “not egomaniacs” and would not want to keep their roles if there was no hope of victory.

It certainly adds credence to the views I heard just before Christmas. And just on immigration, I see Gerard Coyne who is challenging McCluskey for leadership of Unite is making ‘immigration control’ noises, which McCluskey is sort of echoing albeit in a much less pointed way. Again, depressing to see this dynamic taking effect.

Meanwhile, here’s more stirs to keep the pot on the boil… Still, note this which is not unimportant… from the Fabians who have their own agenda, almost needless to say:

But using projections based on recent polls, it says that even if either Ukip or the Lib Dems could tie with Labour on 20%, the electoral system would mean neither would win more than 20 seats, with Labour remaining at 140 to 150.

And there’s this little problem.

The Fabians’ report identifies a coherent response to Brexit as one of the main obstacles facing Labour. Using YouGov data, it calculates that the party has lost a net 400,000 votes since the last election among pro-leave electors, and 100,000 among those who backed remain, making its backing more strongly pro-remain than before.

And:

This poses a “Brexit dilemma”, the study says, pointing out that Labour needs to somehow appeal more to leave voters without alienating existing supporters who opposed Brexit.

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1. Paddy Healy - January 3, 2017

I am glad that this discussion has been opened. The Fate of the Corbyn Leadership and oF the British Labour Party itself is of great importance for the Irish and British working class.
The focus of Len McCloskey(UNITE) on polls is both bureaucraticand misplaced. UNITE has a large number of members in the 32-counties. What is really needed is for Corbyn and the UNITE leadership to lead a major mobilisation of the working class in industry and on the streets against the pro-rich policies of the British government. The working class voters who are fooled by UKIP must be shown a political way forward in a left-wing direction. This can not be done simply by policy development, electoralism and speeches. United mass action is required. Let us not forget that Hitler called his party the National Socialist Workers Party and mobilised mass actions o a reactionary nature on the streets.
The fundamental issue is whether Corbyn and McCloskey can go beyond social democracy and risk destabilising British capitalism.

The British left which is in a dreadul state of disfunction must examine itself and CHANGE. The inlux of huge numbers of new members into the Labour Party is a very positive development. It must not be wasted through sectarin competition for recruits and neglect of the direction of movement of hundreds of thousands of workers springing into political life as the crisis of British capitalism reaches heights not seen for decades.

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2. FergusD - January 3, 2017

Sadly, in my experience, the influx of new BLP members hasn’t translated into those members being involved. Maybe many think “job done” with Corbyn’s re-election, others may think the Twittersphere is politics, I don’t know. I think the issue now is the struggle for ideas, despite Corbyn and his 10 points that struggle still doesn’t seem to have happened in the BLP. There has to be a “vision” of what sort of society we want and a strategy to translate that to activity, electoral and of course wider than that. This needs to be done pronto, although I recognise it will be an ongoing development.

Attendance at my LP branch has dwindled again, Momentum has lost momentum. The Mommentum “leadership” clearly saw the group (or whatever it is) as their creation, basically a Corbyn support group and the bigger struggle for democracy in the BLP seems to be draining away. Some parts of the UK have seen big Momentum meetings (2-4000 members in Bristol apparently, 100s at meetings) but still there seems no direction. I can’t help but think it is lack of political direction that is the issue.

Corbyn is decent but I don’t think he has the determination to take on the BLP officals and the PLP that is necessary for the BLP to transform itself. We will have to deselect MPs and he doesn’t seem up for that.

I am not sure if UKIP can really capitalise on the stasis in the BLP, but their new leader has talked about an alliance between small capital and sections of the working class, all with a nationalist ideology. What does that remind you of? Some growing together of UKIP (the ideology) and the likes of Britain First (the street fighters) could see a very dangeous development.

It’s not too late but the development of the BLP as a vehicle for a socialist reponse (even if temporary) seems to have ground to halt somehow.

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sonofstan - January 3, 2017

+1
To all of that. My labour branch has a paper membership of more than 200, a 400% increase year on year, and there were 8 at the last branch meeting, comprising 4 councillors, 3 officers plus me, who promptly got elected to a vacant slot. All male, mostly middle- aged.
For me, and people my age and with previous experience of party membership, this is what we understand being ‘active’ to be; clearly for others, this isn’t so. I’m at a loss to know how to square this though.

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CMK - January 3, 2017

Corbyn clearly hasn’t got what it takes to push through a confrontation with the PLP and the Labour machine. That latter contains groteseques like John McTernan (check out his twitter feed!!) among hundreds/thousands of others who hate Corbyn with a passion and have no qualms about undermining their party if they can get rid of him.

The Corbyn phenomenon is a good example of the extreme limitations of ‘online activism’ in political struggles. It’s clear many who were enthused by Corbyn didn’t really realise that they were committing themselves to a long term struggle. The various attacks on ‘the Trots’ indicate that the Labour machine knows who its enemy is as in those who would have the bottle for a long term struggle. The pre-Christmas belly-aching from Owen Jones and others about ‘Trotskyite infiltration’ of Momentum turning new activists off – as in, these activists would blanch at the first exposure to a vigorous debate where clear positions had to be taken – shows, to me anyway, that there is very little of substance to the Corbyn wave. I’m open to correction on that.

Sadly, I think for the PLP and the machine it’s now just a matter of waiting Corbyn out; waiting for his union backers to lose heart (starting to happen already with Len McCluskey) it would appear; wait for the hundreds of thousands who joined to get disillusioned and disheartened; keep the anti-Corbyn media campaign going on a consistent basis and keep control of the machinery and they will emerge victorious by default.

Had Corbyn engaged in an immediate policy of mandatory re-selection when he was first elected in 2015 he might have been able to stamp some authority on the PLP. He didn’t and I think he will pay the price for that. Of course, the idea that a ‘business as usual’ Blairite candidate will rescue Labour is very far-fetched.

A link up between UKIP and the Britain First elements could, as Fergus points out, pose real problems.

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3. Ed - January 4, 2017

You wouldn’t be at all influenced by the SPEW’s line on Corbynism, would you CMK? 🙂 The bid by certain SP members to join Labour towards the end of last year kind of reminded me of Tuco’s line from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly: ‘You wanna shoot somebody, just shoot—don’t talk about it!’

Seriously, I think there’s often a tendency to psychologize the issues here, as if it was a question of personal character on Corbyn’s part, how strong or weak he is, as opposed to the more important structural questions involved. There are two basic problems at the heart of this: 1) How do you lead and transform a party whose main centre of gravity lies in parliament when the majority of its MPs are hostile to you personally and to the politics you represent, and in many cases would much rather lose their seats than win under a socialist programme? And how do you do that while preserving some kind of minimal electoral viability? 2) How do you transform a mass membership on paper into something resembling a campaigning social movement, when you’re working through organizational structures that have been specifically designed to exclude membership participation?

1) alone puts Corbyn and his allies in an impossible position; it may well prove to be literally impossible, there may be no way of squaring that particular circle (especially not after the Brexit referendum and the attempted leadership heave which brought the split between leader and PLP to a head in the most public and emphatic way possible). There’s no easy way out of it; an approach that removes some problems just raises others. Frankly I think the idea that Corbyn could have come into the leadership in September 2015 and immediately announced mandatory re-selection of all MPs is fantasy; quite apart from the fact that it would have meant immediate, full-scale civil war, he didn’t have a clear mandate for that from the membership (which at the time didn’t include the big influx of supporters that came after Corbyn’s victory). It’s a fantasy in the same way as the idea that Corbyn could have led the Brexit campaign was a fantasy; in both cases, it ignores the fact that he wasn’t elected on a platform for either leaving the EU or imposing mandatory reselection, he was elected on a general anti-austerity, anti-war platform, not especially radical, although a clear break with Blairism.

You could make a stronger case that he should have put mandatory reselection on the table after the second leadership election, after the membership and trade unions had seen all the deliberate sabotage by much of the PLP over the previous twelve months. Even in that case, it doesn’t solve the immediate problem of right-wing Labour MPs dominating the stage at Westminster: the earliest time you can get rid of any of them is 2020 (or sooner if the election comes before then). The idea of a SDP-style breakaway was being floated over the summer if Corbyn won the second election; there would have been a lot more flesh put on those bones if Labour MPs were facing the axe in the next two or three years. So announcing mandatory reselection might solve one, internal problem, but at the same time create an external one (a rival party running against Labour candidates, no doubt with enormous media support, presenting itself as the true heir to the Labour tradition, against a bunch of far-left usurpers). There really is no easy solution to this dilemma, and there may well be no solution at all.

2) is an issue for some of the reasons given above, the difficulty in converting online activism into real-world activity, but also because the structures of the Labour Party are not designed to encourage membership participation in decision-making, and certainly not designed to facilitate engagement with society as a campaigning party; quite the contrary. Since joining, the new members have been relentlessly traduced by a whole swathe of Labour MPs, presented as thugs, criminals and anti-semitic bully-boys in the national media, threatened with disciplinary action for saying things infinitely milder than what anti-Corbyn Labour MPs say in public every day of the week, and for several months of 2016 were even told that branch meetings had to be cancelled in case the barbaric hordes of Corbyn-supporting members came along and tore their opponents limb from limb before it was time for AOB. It’s not entirely surprising if some of them may have found that a bit off-putting in terms of getting active; if they did go along to branch meetings, often they would run into a phalanx of long-time party hacks trying to bore them to death with procedural wrangling.

Momentum was meant to serve as some kind of corrective to that, but they’ve had to put everything together on the hoof and unsurprisingly made their fair share of mistakes. They’ve also had groups like the AWL playing a deeply unhelpful role; I was irritated by that intervention by Owen Jones in Momentum’s internal dispute, I find Jones to be a colossal pain-in-the-ass at the best of times and I’ve never seen him use the same language of vituperation against the Labour right that he used against people like Nick Wrack. But all the same, I think the Trotskyists in Momentum (mostly the AWL and a few members) are dead wrong in trying to impose a structure that would make it a sort of parallel party (and they know perfectly well that a structure like that would give a strong advantage to well-organized groups of people with the stamina to spend a lot of time in meetings getting their agenda adopted).

So I think all of that counts for a lot more than Corbyn’s personal qualities. When people suggest that he’s not tough enough for the job, I would say this: he has taken an enormous amount of personalised abuse and pressure over the last eighteen months, in particular during the period after the Brexit poll, and hasn’t bowed down. There was a period of about two weeks after the referendum when the only thing keeping this window of opportunity alive was his unwillingness to capitulate to all the demands for his resignation; it’s not about one person, sure, but he was the one taking all that shit, not me or anyone else on the British left, so I’m inclined to give him a bit of credit for toughness on that account. One area where I think his character is a real liability is this: for all the ludicrous comparisons of Corbyn to Trump or Farage or Le Pen, he’s anything but a populist demagogue, his rhetorical style is very calm, measured, a bit dour and dogged, and it’s hard to see him giving voice to populist anger in the way some politicians do. Over the last couple of months, Labour have been putting forward an argument that Brexit, Trump etc. shows that people are angry with the political establishment across the western world, and if the left doesn’t articulate their anger, it will be left to charlatans like Trump and Farage to do it, offering false solutions to real problems. That’s a very good argument, but I don’t think Corbyn is the best person to make it.

I also think the relentless sniping, bitching, jeering and undermining that he’s had to deal with from much of the PLP since 2015 was bound to be toxic for the public image of any politician, and the damage may be irreversible in the long run (especially after the no-confidence vote, which is something any Tory politician can brandish as a killer argument: ‘his own MPs think he’s not fit to lead their party, never mind lead this country!’). I doubt many Corbyn supporters care more about the personnel than the politics of the man (or woman) who’s in charge, so the idea of a leadership change is not something that would worry me if it was likely to help things; I don’t think McCluskey’s comments on the subject were at all shocking or surprising (and predictably the Guardian was trying to blow them up into something more significant than they actually were).

The question is, who? If it’s McDonnell, you can be sure he’ll face the same media onslaught as Corbyn (‘terrorist sympathiser’, ‘IRA lover’, ‘communist’ etc.). Maybe he could weather it better; who knows? There are some younger Labour MPs now in the shadow cabinet who have rallied behind Corbyn and are being spoken of as future leadership material; but none of them has been around for as long as Corbyn or McDonnell and shown their consistency over a long period of time, so I’d worry about their willingness to tack right under pressure (Owen Jones has been transparently pushing the idea of Clive Lewis taking over for months now, and that alone is enough to make me suspicious of Lewis, since Jones has been consistently applying pressure on the current leadership to move to the right and compromise on policy positions, especially defence and foreign policy). Above all, any new leader is going to face the very same dilemma as Corbyn, facing an ideologically hostile PLP with the capacity to do a lot of damage to any leader that won’t bend to their will.

Anyway, I’m just after moving to a new area, so I’ll be attending my first meetings for new Labour and Momentum branches soon; maybe I’ll hear a few answers to these questions to report back.

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WorldbyStorm - January 4, 2017

Thanks for that Ed, yours and the other contributions on this thread are very very useful in terms of giving a sense of where matters lie. In a way the best thing that could happen is a couple of years of stability in relation to the leadership to consolidate the shift leftwards. Whether broader events will allow for that remains to be seen. But just to +1 your thoughts re Corbyn himself. He’s done better given the circumstances than anyone had any reason to expect.

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