TCM 7 – Why we fight

Some final thoughts on the Corbyn campaign and why I support it, based on a comment (my own!) on this interesting CT thread.

It hasn’t been much of a battle, this campaign; more like an unopposed run with hecklers. I suppose that’s easy to say now, but it’s been the case since quite early on; it’s as if we’re watching some bizarrely slanted TV debate, in which Corbyn is given five minutes to expound his policies followed by ten seconds from each of the other candidates, who can only blurt out a disapproving one-liner – “Ooh, no!” “Don’t think so!” “Don’t listen to him!” “I’ll tell you what he really thinks!” – before their mike gets cut. Of course, the other four candidates have had just as much time as Corbyn to set out their policies, and a much friendlier media environment – so it’s curious, to say no more than that, that the debate has been so limited, and the other candidates’ interventions so light on content.

For Corbyn sympathisers there’s been a lot of tutting and hooting to deal with, and it has been a bit trying. Two of the more irritating lines, from my perspective, have been the charges that Corbyn’s supporters have only just heard of him and that his policies are somehow reactionary, a throwback to the 1970s and 80s. I voted in the 1979 election, as it goes, and I’ve been aware of Corbyn for a good long time; I’ve always thought he was pretty much a good thing – very reliable on security & counter-terrorism issues – but a bit of a Campaign Group type, quiet, earnest variety (probably the best variety of CG type). As for going back to the 1970s, I think there’s a category error here, which we can see if we ask the question does everything always change for the better? Some things are worth going back to; come to that, some things are worth keeping as they are, rather than changing (or breaking) them in an endless quest for ‘modernity’ or ‘reform’. (Ask any teacher.)

So I was pleased he got on the ballot, in the spirit of flying the flag for the Labour Left; I didn’t think of him as the next Labour leader at that stage, and I very much doubt he did either. To begin with I was delighted at the way his campaign started to take off, but also surprised and, if I’m honest, slightly amused – poor old Jeremy, bet he wasn’t expecting this… I signed up, though, and bunged the Corbyn campaign a fiver when they asked; it seemed like a good idea to keep up the momentum.

Then something happened; it was called the welfare vote, together with Harman’s awful, craven line about listening to the British people. I think that was the biggest boost Corbyn could have asked for; it wasn’t just the fact that he was the only candidate willing to oppose a vicious and mean policy, but something deeper: a sense of if not now, when? Let’s not forget that the welfare bill rolls back New Labour policies – we’re not talking about collective ownership of the means of production here. So the decision to abstain, however clever it may have been in the world of parliamentary eleven-dimensional chess, was met with anger, incredulity and impatience: if Labour doesn’t oppose that, what’s it for?

And then there’s this vote that they’ve seen fit to give us. Well then. They want to know what we want? Now, they want to know what we want? Shall we tell them?

So that’s part of it: I support Corbyn because (a) I’m an old leftie anyway and more importantly (b) when it comes to pushing for Labour to move to the Left, I really feel the time for holding back has gone. Another really important element is (c) the reforms to the party, and the party’s policy-making structures, that Corbyn’s advocating (and will continue to advocate even if he loses): a party that makes policy from the membership up could do a lot to revitalise British political life, which could do with a bit of revitalising (see previous post, and earlier comments on the importance of turnout).

We’re now into a third stage: the stage where it actually looks as if Corbyn’s going to win. Can I see him as a party leader? Yes; I think he and Tom Watson, in particular, could make rather a good team. (I’ve seen John McTernan’s bizarre conspiracy theory – or rather, conspiracy proposal – involving the immediate defenestration of Corbyn followed by a “Watson interregnum”. I share John Prescott’s view of John McTernan.) Would Corbyn get crucified by the press? I guess so, but I have to say they’ve been remarkably forbearing up to now; it may be that they’re saving the good stuff till later, but I think it may just be that they’re not quite sure what to do with him. Would he have trouble with the parliamentary party? Indubitably – which is why I’m voting for Tom Watson. Could he win the next election? If the party doesn’t tear itself apart, and if the mobilisation continues, and if opposition – genuine opposition – becomes a way of life for the Labour Party, I wouldn’t rule it out (and neither would Kenneth Clarke). Even if Labour didn’t win under Corbyn in 2020, I don’t believe they could win under Burnham or Cooper – and I’d much rather they spent the next five years shifting the political spectrum to the Left than acquiescing in Osborne & co shifting it to the Right. As I say, I really think the time for holding back is gone.

I don’t know how far it’s going to go; I don’t know if Corbyn can become party leader, or if he’ll be allowed to stay party leader, or how well he’ll handle PMQs and Paxman, or how big a bomb the friends of Israel and hunters of anti-semitism are going to manage to put under him, or what state the party will be in by 2020, or anything. But I can see hope for Labour in one direction and nothing but decline and irrelevance in the other. I’m voting for hope.

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6 Comments

  1. Guano
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 10:39 | Permalink | Reply

    John Prescott’s view of John McTernan – “Who the heck is John McTernan?” A good question, and Prescott fails to mention that McTernan was part of the team that set Scottish Labour off down the slippery slope 5 years ago.

  2. Igor Belanov
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 10:50 | Permalink | Reply

    “Of course, the other four candidates have had just as much time as Corbyn to set out their policies, and a much friendlier media environment – so it’s curious, to say no more than that, that the debate has been so limited, and the other candidates’ interventions so light on content.”

    Not curious when you think about it. They’ve grown up within a political trajectory that insists that ideas and opinions are only likely to offend people, and the best way to approach politics is to hope that your opponent says and/or does something that embarrasses them or offends others.

    • Phil
      Posted 14 August 2015 at 11:03 | Permalink | Reply

      And replying to Corbyn with nothing but variants on “you can’t say *that*!” fits right in to that way of thinking. Deeply depressing, particularly thinking of how ingrained into the Labour mainstream it is now. But then, that’s why we fight – pessimism of the intellect and all that.

    • metatone
      Posted 14 August 2015 at 13:18 | Permalink | Reply

      1997 in epitome – wait for the rotten carcass of Tory government to cave in on itself.
      Said it before, but it’s not going to work in 2020, not enough time for the Tories to cave in (Europe aside – but Cameron may yet navigate through those waters). Further, 1997 was with Murdoch onside – no sign of that being acknowledged by any of the “strategists” for the Pygmy Three.

  3. metatone
    Posted 14 August 2015 at 13:40 | Permalink | Reply

    I said it on the CT thread, but I’m furious with the Pygmy Three (as I’ve now just christened them in a rangy kind of way.)
    I like many of Corbyn’s positions, but I’ve generally suspected I’m to the left of the electorate, so I wasn’t necessarily looking to get him as leader.
    However, the pygmies have (as you say) failed to provide much substance to the debate.

    They have also failed to throw real bones to other wings of the party. (Although Burnham belatedly realised it might be an idea…) Compare to Blair in 1994. He had Prescott as Deputy – a signal to the older generation and Brown as Shadow Chancellor (who at the time was perceived to really care about about traditional Labour concerns in a way that maybe people were less sure about Blair.) Where is that kind of tactical nous from the pygmies? And then they have the gall to tell me that I should vote for them on grounds of competence and electability?

    I said to Hopi Sen on his blog – I fault him and others for not coming up with some kind of signature policy for Kendall that makes her seem something more than a trimmer. For me that’s the big pygmy failure here, no real attempt to address some real problems. No signature policies that could mark out the party, policies that Osborne would find it hard to steal. To go further with Kendall as an example, she made a great statement about works councils – but there’s no substance and hence no reason to believe it wouldn’t be dropped like a hot potato when the Sun said “Red Liz wants to put a Red Commissar in charge of your workplace.”

    Cooper probably has the bones of a workable campaign buried in her website policy section, but she’s spent much more time attacking Corbyn than putting her ideas across. Some kind of narrative would have made a big difference. I think again part of the problem here is that I’m being required to sew her ideas together into something meaningful – and trust that she sees which bits are crucial. That’s no way to win an election…

  4. Posted 16 August 2015 at 16:10 | Permalink | Reply

    Of course, the other four candidates

    Eh?

    parliamentary eleven-dimensional chess

    Eh?

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