Well, I got that wrong. The Labour Party isn’t voting on its leadership on Monday 18th July, it’s only the start of that. Today (Monday 18th) is about the nominations being put forward, with the window for that open until Wednesday 20th – oh good grief, get a move on, can’t you? You see now how much slower Labour is than the Tory Party. This is agony to watch.
(Btw, for those of you reading this outside the UK the term Tory existed long before the Conservative party originating in the Cavalier faction of the English Civil War, and generally stood for a belief in God, King and Country. The Conservative party itself emerged at the end of the 18th Century from the fusion of the Whig economic values and Tory values.)
Anyway, just like the Referendum I know only what I know about the candidates for leadership of the Labour party from the media, and that’s such a good source of information, isn’t it? So in this piece I’m going to look at what I know about each candidate. I’ll also have my say about the processes in the Labour Party and then, attempt to look at what is happening, which, btw, I’ll say here and now, is a populist uprising that no-one within the Westminster Labour hierarchy has the faintest idea what to do with.
So who is being nominated, and without looking at anything – no research, no digging. I give you what I know of the three candidates.
Angela Eagle – a workhorse and an old New Labour type, steady but uninspiring with no leadership and media skills. Witness her launch – painful. ‘Any questions’, she asked? To a silent and absent audience. Overall verdict, a good egg of sorts.
Owen Smith – who? Unknown newbie (elected 2010). Smart and Welsh who has somewhat compromised his chances with the Left by being a spokesperson and lobbyist for Pzifer (drug company) and pushing suspect changes to the NHS. Hands off, you bastard.
Jeremy Corbyn (the current leader) – a dry old academic and latter day saint professing to be the socialist’s wet dream. In reality, a hard-left socialist to the core and a stubborn old curmudgeon who on the one hand everyone loves and everyone hates, who commands respect, who does not command respect, who leads, who does not lead. As I said in another post, he is the epitome of Schrodinger’s cat as he’s both overwhelmingly elected and overwhelmingly unelectable.
However, one thing first. When I say Corbyn is consistently misrepresented in our media, that is a fact, and not just because I read the Guardian. A recent study by the LSE that analysed months of news articles found that in the first few months of Corbyn’s leadership three quarters of newspapers either distorted or failed to represent his views. In 52% of articles about Corbyn his views were not included at all and in a further 22% were distorted and out of context. Let’s think about this. I refer you back to two of my posts that mentioned the term neo-liberalism; the absolute bed-rock of our society, which is, amongst other things, all about the enhancement of the private sector. If you happen to be against that, as Corbyn is, do you think for one moment the billionaire press barons will allow Corbyn to be a success? No, he will be made to look a fool and incapable of leading the country.
Whether there’s an element of truth in any of the media’s hounding of Corbyn is another matter, as forgetting what ordinary people outside the Westminster bubble think, within the Parliamentary Labour Party he has lost what little support he had in the first place. A vote of no-confidence was passed by 172 of Labour MPs against 40 supporting him. So, are all these 172 MPs awful right-wing Blairites? Yes, some of them must be, but not all. Seriously? All of them! You see, there has to be something about Corbyn’s lack of brio and authority when he talks and debates in Parliament. Which some have said is an asset. Or maybe there’s something about his lack of management skills? Look, he sat on the back-benches of Parliament for 30-years being a difficult, some would say, disloyal outsider. And yes, his followers love him for that, and especially so when they hear him speak at the myriad of meetings out there in the constituencies. But there’s more to leadership than a meeting in a Town Hall. Corbyn has to lead his MPs in Parliament and become ‘not-the-difficult-outsider’ and he has patently not done that. So now these 172 MPs have become the ‘outsiders’. These 172 MPs are now the vilified of the Labour Party, the ones who are pulling him down, who must be de-selected, who can leave if they want to.
Well, here we are and the nomination process for leader of the Labour party isn’t finished until the end of Wednesday. How has it come to pass that the Labour Party has such laborious democratic processes? Well, remember Tony Benn (bless him) the revered elder statesman loved by all? I remember him as a young left-wing firebrand, and he was always banging on about the membership of the party having more power, as in equal power with the MPs and unions. It’s democratic, after all. So in March 2014 Ed Miliband proposed some Labour Party reforms (which were passed with a large majority) and amongst the reforms the membership was given equal say with the unions and the MPs in who should become leader of the Labour Party. People must have thought it a good idea at the time.
You know, I help run a film society, and we are as open and democratic as can be; we invite our audience to give us ideas about new films to watch and we get as many people as possible to vote on them. But the film society executive always has the final say – because we’re not going to show any old film, are we? Did people think this through, this change in the rules? Why have a representative democracy if the representatives are not in charge of who leads them?
Representative democracy or populism. What do we want? People propelled into power by a populist vote. And do ask yourself who are these 4-500,000 new members. No, they’re not all ‘entryists’, that’s ridiculous. No, the majority are ordinary people who do really, really want a change from the same old, be-suited Tory-lite types. But will these new members go out and about and actually do the politics – or is it about attending inspiring meetings? In reality politics at the local level is, and has always been dreadfully dull – I know, I’ve been there. A very long time ago (in the 70s) I was an active member of the Labour Party, the secretary of my local ward and a rep who attended the monthly constituency party meetings. I even stood as a local councillor and I remember being dedicated, I remember others being dedicated, but I also remember how tediously dull it all was. People were always saying ‘on a point of order Mr Chairman’, because everything was exceedingly rule bound with a lot of old-timers who saw local party activity as the manifestation of the rule-book and precedence and Conference composites (don’t ask, would take too long!).
If that’s changed, or changing, that’s good. I’m not active in the Labour Party now, so what do I know, but the Labour Party does seem to be very rule and process bound, and especially so with this long-winded and potentially fatal leadership battle which no one can win.
And what do I mean no one can win? Because even if one out of the two challengers withdraws, even with just one candidate against him, Corbyn will win, because of the overwhelming numbers within the membership of the Labour Party who support him. And then what?
OK, it’s Tuesday afternoon, and STOP PRESS and listen up, Angela Eagle has withdrawn her challenge, so it’s just Owen Smith (such a newbie) up against Corbyn. Well, it still won’t solve anything, Corbyn will win.
If like Brexit, this is a popular uprising of people who reject the elite in Westminster – is this the future? Best to get to grips with it, Labour, up there in Westminster. And down at constituency level, where will this uprising get you? Because is Corbyn electable? That for me is the key question. Being popular with 500,000 new members is not quite the same as winning an election.
Furthermore, crunch the numbers – with the loss of all those Labour MPs in Scotland will Labour ever get into government again? Ask yourself, new member, where is this all going? Is it worth it? If you don’t want the middle ground, if you put your principles and Corbyn first, deal with no power for decades. And power matters. I’m going to say something now that will alienate me from some of my friends, but I think a middle to right-wing Labour government is still miles better than a Tory government. You only have to look at what Blair achieved in his time as PM – increased spending on health and education; Sure Start; a reduction in child and pensioner poverty; the Good Friday agreement; national minimum wage and much more. But of course, all that legacy ruined and negated by Blair’s feeble bro-act with Bush and the iniquitous Iraq war; a decision which will surely follow him into his grave as his worst error, and just possibly one of the worst errors any of our Prime Ministers have ever made (but not that I think it’s a good thing to say it was this one person that made it all happen – that’s too easy).
OK, you must have gathered I don’t like either Smith (who?) or Corbyn, who I did like and welcomed when he was first elected. I like and warm to Corbyn’s policies but he is not ‘the one’. Because he is causing mayhem. When (not if) he wins the leadership election the Labour party may well split. And maybe this has to happen and we end up with a far-left Labour party and a middle-ground Labour party. And then what? Well, what I would be quite interested in is if any one of these two smaller ‘Labour’ parties could compromise and regroup with other parties such as the Greens, the Lib Dems, the SNP? Now that would be interesting.
I could be wrong and the Labour Party staggers on as the broad church it always professes to be, but these days, post-Brexit, I believe that the only certainty is that the script has been torn up, the wheels on the waggon are coming off. Just rake those scales off your eyes. Be aware out there.
Penny Kocher 9.30am Wednesday 20th July 2016