Nine months ago I wrote that Labour’s decline was in part due an obtuse allegiance of its members and hardcore voters to the party name. Well, to quote his Bobness ‘things have changed’.
A schism has formed. Broadly speaking there are accusations from the left and its commentariat that the cravenness of the neo-liberal Blairites has demolished Labour’s credibility and corrupted its traditional values. The Blairites claim Jeremy Corbyn, with his pseudo-socialist manifesto, to be unelectable, meanwhile the predominantly right wing press is getting to have its cake and eat it. Corbyn, as a figure, is a gift to them. As much of the media belong to a corporate monopoly that benefits from maintaining the right-wing political status-quo, it has every incentive to demonise Corbyn for what he represents – change.
Even better for the corporate media, if, as I suspect, it turns out that the parliamentary Labour party ultimately rejects Corbynism and defies the wishes of many of its members to change course, it will have helped influence an entirely different change – to leave the left without any affiliation to a mainstream party.
You suspect that the left, whether it be the trots or the unions, know that this is their last chance to reclaim a significant influence within the party. So the fight for what the Labour party is, should be and who and what ‘holds the party’s values’ has become woven into the narrative of Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘surprising success’. The result is his bid for leader has become the battleground where a disingenuous and destructively polarising debate between two extreme affectations of Old and Nu Labour is taking place.
Forgotten in all this is everyone else, be it Green voters, UKIP voters, SNP voters, those that didn’t vote, the elusive floating voter, or better yet those lifelong Labour voters who could be described as social democrats. You know, folks who silently conflate aspiration and altruism and are surely the largest demographic that are or could become Labour members and voters. What do they think of all this?
They’re watching and they’re unlikely to be impressed by it. I’m certainly not. What’s interesting is that both extreme positions within the party are the party’s faith based endeavours.
The Blairites see appealing to Thatcherite modes of aspiration and maintaining society’s grotesque economic hierarchies and elitism, views they’re convinced are held by the wider electorate because it reinforces their own lofty stations, as more important and necessary than prioritising social welfare, or ‘justice’, to quote the spin. Plus, that social justice ‘stuff’ can be done surreptitiously when in power, or something. And yeah, it’s hard not to guffaw at the real hypocrisy of Blairites claiming that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable only months after Labour’s disastrous election performance was predicated on a campaign of diluted Cameronism.
The motivations of the Corbyn acolytes are no better or any less self-immolating to enhancing the party’s appeal. The entryists believe that purity in opposition is better than any forms of compromise that ensures power. So they’re certain to ignore his rather odd dalliances throughout his years of back-bench obscurity with holocaust deniers, some shady fundamentalist people and organisations, a sketchy foreign policy based on encouraging dialogue (just how to do you negotiate with ISIS Jez?), and his proposal for People’s Quantitative Easing, which is really a euphemism for inflation. That last one sounds as if it was conjured with the aid of a damp Costa Coffee napkin, or whatever trendy coffee house affluent socialists drink at. Mainly, you suspect, because his supporters will lap it up at his tour of schools, community centres and town halls.
More interesting, and telling, is that the other leadership candidates are all lagging behind Corbyn. That most of his proposals; to renationalise the railways and power, scrap trident, to properly police corporate tax evasion, and to abolish tuition fees is being met with such enthusiasm shows us that the parliamentary arm of the party has stopped thinking, innovating, and, if I can put it crudely, has simply lost touch with the wider electorate and understanding what they want.
So it’s no surprise that they’ve failed to find some commonality and ultimately an identity with policies that clearly diverged from the Tories. Say, the kind that could resonate with a broad spectrum of voters, such as Yvette Cooper’s pledge to reinvigorate the Sure Start scheme. Instead they were, and some still are, pre-occupied with living in and inflating their own bubbles of self-gratification, be it unveiling a fucking cenotaph of pledges, making tea cups with derogatory slogans about immigration, indulging in stereotypical middle English class rhetoric about ‘working families’, or using lies that anyone able to use Google could debunk. The campaign came over as dishonest at worst, clueless at best.
But lessons haven’t been learned. Now they’re barring members from voting on the suspicion they may have voted and or campaigned for another party, you know, the kind they should be trying to win back. It gives yet more ammunition to the Tories and the media to attack the party, and it’s reinforced the paranoia of the Corbynites, who believe this to be a nefarious attempt by the nebulous Westminster elite to fix the leadership election.
Internal backlashes and attempts to apportion blame were inevitable in the wake of the Tories gaining a surprising majority. While Corbynism is an effective conduit for antagonism to be aimed at the political classes, the Labour party leadership election also offers the dismayed Labour voter an immediate platform to punish the party for what they see as its ideological capitulation and betrayal.
Best of all this impending chaos was fuelled by intentions that have become highly ironic. Jeremy Corbyn was initially placed on the ballot as a phoney attempt to appease the left in the party. The act patronising, its message equally so – that you still matter, or rather that your votes do. We know you’ll vote for us because you always have done, or you feel you have no choice but to. But for the first time in eons the left within the party were able to align the means with the motivation. Now marginalised and with nothing left to lose, they feel they can exercise their choice without the fear of it costing Labour an election victory. Regardless of whoever is voted leader, Labour’s chances of winning in 2020 appear slim.
This resentment towards the parliamentary Labour party from swathes of its supporters has been building for a while. Whether it be for revoking clause four, the Iraq war, being wedded to needless privatisation, the piousness and fawning establishmentarianism that characterised the Blair premiership, or the recent and craven tendency to adopt many Tory policy positions and rhetoric to ‘compete for votes’ yet losing millions of them and ultimately power in the process.
Today, tomorrow, or next Tuesday most Labour voters will walk past a church, the community centre or go to their local supermarket and they’ll see posters asking for foodbank donations. It’s a grotesque form of emotional blackmail when the second poorest demographic in society is asked to help the poorest by supplementing the shrinking welfare state.
Then they’ll go home and watch the news, invariably they’ll be presented with polished Blairites who use the platitudes and clichés synonymous with the Blair/Campbell/Brown apparatus. Their incessant insistence that austerity is necessary is one. It smacks of conforming to the political class consensus and that reeks of a sense of entitlement, that they’d be doing us a favour by ‘balancing the books’. People know that once elected MPs have access to significant sources of wealth, but they’re unaffected by austerity, and as the expenses scandal showed, they simply don’t suffer the consequences either.
Combine those two dipartites and it’s hard not to be angered and disillusioned. Even if I understand why Labour MPs are saying austerity is necessary, and that their mass abstention on voting against the disgraceful Tory welfare reforms made no difference to the outcome, folks who believe in the party name are invariably less capable of reconciling these facts with their now jaundiced perceptions of Nu Labour’s effectiveness.
The least Labour MP’s could’ve done is turn up to vote against the Tory welfare ‘reforms’. Put forwards a motion to amend the bill later? Fine, but, if you’re truly against the welfare bill, at least produce an act that shows a modicum of solidarity with people who are forced to use foodbanks, are being sanctioned by the DWP for missed meetings at the job centre when they’re attending job interviews or worse, the seriously incapacitated having their benefits stripped for non-attendance, or fined £350 for stealing Mars bars worth 75p because they were skint due to having their benefits cut and therefore starving.
Sustained exposure to poverty and forms of imposed degradation will invariably foment extremist thoughts, and if possible responses.
So it’s no surprise that, in this context, when someone bases their leadership bid on impassioned egalitarianism, the kind that is perceived to be the antithesis of the current results of the Westminster conglomerate’s political values, and in Labour’s case illogical strategising, that people will migrate towards that person.
For the sake of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn needs to win the leadership election and the Labour party needs to unify and see how his leadership plays out. Not doing so risks losing a section of its core support to irrevocable apathy at best. After all fighting for votes on the centre right terrain on many issues and policies hasn’t worked, and it’s a myth that it will for Labour. At least by trying a different approach, one tinged with radicalism, and seeing what comes of it, maybe Labour can finally purge all their current delusions that the sanctimonious attitudes its loyal voters, members and elected MPs espouse, and their tendencies to indulge in varying extremes of self-interest and ideology, and the inevitable mediocrity it encourages, aren’t the causes of its failing.
Will Self recently said that “Labour is too broad a church”. I suspect he’ll soon be proven right, and it’s all because Labour and its members can’t decide what denomination it should be.