And for my fortnightly look at UK politics, what do I have to report? You’d think it would be all about Labour – as they’re the ones constantly in the media. But the Tory party is sure to be having some fearsome fisticuffs right now. You absolutely bet it is. There are deep schisms between the one-nation Tories and their far-right, and then there are the Leavers and the Remainers, of which do not forget Theresa May is one, a Remainer, that is. (She never said much throughout the campaign – very wise) But the discussions and arguments within the Tory party are all behind closed doors. Apart that is, from a little peak behind the curtain when we saw the ‘naughty boys’ having a spat.
You may remember that Cersie Lannister May put three departments in change of Brexit with the three most outspoken leaders for Leave at the head of them. As well as the Foreign Office (Boris) we have the new Department for Exiting the European Union (commonly known as the DExEU and headed by David Davis) and the new Department for International Trade (Liam Fox). So new are they that at one point on Monday (22nd August) I was reading an article that said that the DExEU had no offices and was holding meetings in Starbucks. This was later clarified as yes, they do have offices and no, they don’t meet in cafés.
Actually, what they don’t have is the staff. The DExEU has apparently hired 150 of its expected 300 staff and the Department of International Trade has hired around 10% of the trade negotiators it needs. And as the Civil Service has been cut to the bone many of these new civil servants are expected to be recruited or seconded from the private sector at rates of around £5000 a day. I quote from a briefing that Brexit may take over 10 years to achieve, involve over 10,000 people with an overall administrative cost of £5bn.
Furthermore, there still is no plan and while the departments squabble over who does what and scramble for staff we are in a right fine mess, because it’s not that we are wavering between a variety of options, as in, staying in the single market but outside the EU like Norway (Norway doesn’t want us btw), moving towards a Swiss model (not a good one that as Switzerland has a difficult relationship with Brussels and is trying to limit immigration whilst staying in the single market, hmm sounds familiar) or crashing out of the market with nothing other than tariffs à la WTO (that means getting approval from 164 countries) it is that the people in charge have no idea which way they’re going. At. All. I quote again, “It is staggering, said one top UK official, “they have not even got to base one in terms of knowledge.” So, who’d have thought it? It’s all a lot more complicated than they let on. Did they ever think? But, there again, why would they? Because of course, Boris didn’t expect to win – what a farce.
You see, I’m trying, really trying to get to grips with this momentous decision that we have made thanks to Cameron’s Referendum, and all I ask from our politicians is that they use something called judgement. Instead we have posturing politicians acting like no-nothing naughty boys. So, if you only hear of the woes of the Labour party in your particular newspaper or television news just take note that there are serious turf wars going on in the Tory party, a party that is in charge of the “biggest transformational project a UK government has ever taken.”
And the Labour Party – what is it doing at this precise moment? Well, as I write ballot papers are going out to those who can vote for the leadership of the Labour Party: that’s 350,000 members, plus 129,000 people who paid £25 to be a registered supporter and 168,000 from unions and other organisations. And if you’ve stumbled across this blog and wonder why people are voting for a leader when Labour has already got one in Jeremy Corbyn – the contest is because the bulk of the Labour MPs (172 against 40) passed a vote of no-confidence in the man. The deadline for votes to be returned is 21st September and the vote will be announced on 24th September.
Consequently, in the media there are many articles of which most are stating, if not the demise of Labour, a certain disapproval and disparagement of Labour’s intense internal war. Because that is what is happening. There’s a war going on for the soul of the Labour party and all of it being fought totally and transparently in public. You have to admire the Labour party – it washes itself and its dirty linen in full view of an incredulous and, more likely, indifferent audience. Not that that’s how it’s seen within the inner membership, but more of that below.
So, on the one side you have people like the deputy leader of the Labour party who says a large number of the new members are Trotyskists (which has to be a bit of an exaggeration) and Corbyn is unelectable so therefore we must have another leader, and on the other you have those who see Corbyn as, if not the messiah, certainly a wise old Obi-wan Kenobi.
But, it should be acknowledged that there is a whole swathe of MPs within the Labour party who see Labour as electable only if it sits around the ‘centre’ of UK politics. They seem to have forgotten that while this won elections for Blair, sitting in the middle of the UK politics spectrum, avowing all policies that support austerity, and being in every sense of the word Tory-lite, lost the election for Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. These are the MPs who simply cannot cope with Corbyn. And forget that Corbyn is a hopeless manager, and some MPs have genuine concerns whether he can run a Cabinet let alone a country. Of course, Corbyn’s a hopeless manager. Throughout his 30 years as a back-bencher Corybn’s had no experience whatsoever of either leadership or management. But he has attracted the largest surge in membership in any party. Why is that?
Corbyn offers a genuine alternative to both Tory policies and the Tory-lite Labour policies of favouring business, the wealthy, and austerity through cuts to welfare. Amongst other things Corbyn wants to end austerity not through cuts but by introducing higher taxes for the rich. He whole-heartedly rejects neo-liberalism and wants to re-nationalise the railways and invest in infrastructure to create jobs. He also aims to curb tax avoidance, tax evasion and tax breaks for companies. Hmm, you can just see why those billionaire media moguls would want to publish everything negative they can possibly find about the man.
These views are attractive to many though, hence the rise in membership of the Labour party and the enthusiasm of those who attend the many meetings around the country with Corbyn as the main speaker. So why are the Labour MPs, who can’t abide this shift of emphasis away from the centre, putting forward Owen Smith to challenge the leadership which Corbyn will undoubtedly win – you just have to crunch the numbers. Smith is not only a nonentity (and not all that popular either. Contrast the numbers at his hustings to that of Corbyn’s meetings) he’s a ‘stalking horse’. He’s the figure-head for the challenge, and there are quite a number of MPs in the background waiting for the result. The question is what will they do?
Before I answer that question – can I say that I don’t approve of Owen Smith who is an absolute newbie (elected in 2010) who I know nothing about apart from his time in Pfizer. So, is Corbyn a good choice as leader of the Labour party? Well yes, as long as everyone is aware that he is probably unelectable come the election in 2020.
I can just hear the shouts of ‘no way’ and ‘look at his policies which are genuine alternative to the failed Labour policies of Ed Milliband’, and that’s a yes, they are. Look, I whooped with joy when Corbyn was elected – at last I said, we’re not getting these be-suited Westminster types who don’t think beyond their noses. And then they’ll say ‘look at the rise in membership and see how popular he’s become’. Ah well, that’s a yes, he is popular and no, he is not popular.
For a start, of course he’s popular amongst the new members and, possibly, many more around the country. Of course he has large appreciative audiences at his many meetings. But this popularity is dangerous, it’s a bubble of enthusiastic and admiring followers. The key question is what is the feeling in the rest of the country and critically will the non-enthusiasts elect him as the next Prime Minister?
What do the polls tell us? A meta-analysis of poll data recommends caution when looking at political polls, as Corbyn’s opponents like to pick up on any tiny part of a poll that suggests he’s doing badly and, likewise, Corbyn’s supporters pounce on anything that might suggest he’s doing well including winning a recent Parish Council election in Thanet. The overall analysis is that Labour’s position is poor rather than disastrous, although it does say that while oppositions that win usually open up leads in mid-term polls at no point have the polls this year ever shown a consistent lead for Labour. On who would make the best PM Theresa May (but don’t forget she’s having a honeymoon bounce!) leads Jeremy Corbyn by 58% to 12% and MORI’s long term approval puts Corbyn’s net approval rating at minus 41 (Ed went down to minus 44). The author concludes that polls are mere snapshots in time, and things could get better for Labour or they could get worse, ending with a ‘what if’ on Labour’s internal war – what if the split widens after the vote, what if there are defections and deselections? Indeed.
So, my feeling that things are not exactly going well for Labour with Corbyn at its head remain. Not that you’d think that things are going badly when you hear the praise heaped upon the man – who I don’t dislike, who is promulgating all the right policies, who is attracting enthusiastic new followers. But, is he the person to lead the Labour party to the next election? Actually, no. And he should realise this. Personally, I think the adulation has gone to his head. And this is why my enthusiasm for Corbyn has cooled. Power, which was so suddenly and unexpectedly gained by him in last year’s leadership election, doesn’t always lead to rational behaviour.
I’ve read one blogger who argues that Corbyn’s followers are in the grip of a ‘Corbynite false consciousness’. Wow, that’s a bit extreme. I mean I’ve always gone along with the idea of Gramsci’s ‘false consciousness’ because it makes sense that the ruling elite persuades other classes to adopt its own moral and political values, manifest perhaps, in the common-sense view that austerity has to be brought about by cuts, that taxes really shouldn’t be all that high, that there shouldn’t be much in the way of regulating business, that there should be only a small state, and that all people on welfare are scroungers. It’s not I think that people totally believe all of the ruling class’s values and opinions, it’s just that these views are accepted as the ‘way of the world’. No, Corbyn’s followers are not gripped by a ‘false consciousness’, instead they’re in a ‘bubble’ of, if not exactly adulation, certainly an acceptance and approval of the man.
The thing is I think Corbyn should have sufficient political nous to realise that he cannot win the next election, and that he should hand the leadership to someone else who is more electable.
But that, I think, is not going to happen. And that is a pity. Because it really matters who takes control of our government and rules our country – forget Brexit, just watch for what happens as Theresa Cersei May moves on into her leadership.
So after September 24th what should Labour do? It could grasp the moment. The MPs could rally behind Corbyn, the local constituencies could move beyond the membership attending meetings and thinking up composites (you’d know what I mean if you attended Labour party meetings like I have in the past) it could be a genuine mass social movement.
Or, it could split and, possibly has already. I will return to this in another post. But if the Labour party splits I think a smaller, genuinely left Labour party, disseminating all those policies that Corbyn believes in, could make an alliance with other smaller parties on the left, including the Greens. Now that might be another way for Labour to return to its roots and become the radical party it should be.
Penny Kocher 24th August 2016