Scary Warnings of C21 Unlikely Moderniser Part 1 : Jeremy Corbyn

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The Corbyn Phenomenon which has taken the political world by surprise, was inevitable as the political pendulum began to swing back again. Were it not for the insular bubble of Westminster, and the staged party conferences, feedback from the ordinary people and grassroots in the party, would have been heard, and listened to. This welcome change in the selection process, following a defeat in May has opened up an honest and open debate which should have been heard long ago. Had politicians listened, they would realise the urgency by which people want a change,  from a Labour Party which has become entrenched not in the Left or Centre-Left but on the Right. The time is long overdue.

Cllr. Lesley Brennan, (East End Ward, Dundee  City Council)  explains why she is giving her support to Jeremy Corbyn in his campaign to become the next Leader of the Labour Party.

lesleynew2015 The Scary Warnings of the 21st. Century Moderniser. (Part1))

Previously published here  from @LesleyEastEnd

Over the last month, I have been truly gobsmacked by the some of the assertions made relating to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters, particularly the hysteria of the last week.

I am a Labour councillor in Dundee and an economist.

In the 2010 leadership election, I supported Andy Burnham; however, I now believe Jeremy has the vision and characteristics that a majority of the electorate will vote for. I worked in academia before entering the world of consultancy.

I consider myself as neither ‘hard left’ nor a moron. I have been reflecting and questioning my values and decision to vote for Jeremy, given the furore. Anyway, I was curious to explore these assertions. I have jotted down my thoughts and findings, but as the piece became longer and longer, I decided to split it. So, here’s Part I.

Fear over Facts: Bothersome Blairite Bluster

Jeremy’s detractors – chiefly Blairites and obviously Blair himself – have stated that if he wins, the Labour Party is destined to electoral failure in 2020. Psychologists recognise that a ‘fear appeal’ is a persuasive message that aims to arouse fear in order to promote self-protection action (Maddux and Rogers, 1983).

So, claims that Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘hard-left’ candidate; his supporters are ‘morons’; the Party under his leadership will never a general election; and ‘there are the three mainstream candidates and Jeremy’ are all stated to cause alarm and fear, in order to persuade undecided members and registered supporters not to vote for him.

Fear has two dimensions: perceived likelihood of the threat and the expected level of harm associated with the threat (ibid.). In this situation, the perceived threat is a Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn as leader will not win the 2020 general election, and the expected level of harm associated with this is another five years of a Tory government. I am supporting Jeremy because I consider his leadership and policies to be attractive to a broad range of voters, and he has the best chance to win in 2020.

With respect to the latter point, the new Tory majority government has clearly signalled its intention to reduce the size of the state, and, continued agenda of penalising children whose parents and carers earn low incomes, or that cannot find or unable to work. This harm is not simply perceived, it is real. This harm is causing anger and discontent. This harm was not sufficiently recognised by the Parliamentary Labour Party which has caused further anger according to analysis of social media data. In the presence of anger, fear is suppressed (Goodwin, Jasper & Polletta, 2009).

But more importantly, the reality is that for many Labour members and supporters, there is no fear associated with a Jeremy Corbyn leadership, as there is a hunger for transformational change within the Party. There is a significant number of members that question the relevance of a democratic socialist party that does not robustly challenge economic injustices, such as the Welfare Bill.

The Labour Party is – and always has been – a wide coalition of viewpoints that want a socially just society through cooperation and fellowship. The tensions arise within the Party regarding the route to the prize given the diversity of views and experiences. However, the tensions have existed since the Party was formed (Miliband, 1983). In 1993, John Smith spoke of the sniping by ‘parliamentary prima donnas’ (Stuart, 2005:307); thus, comments from disagreeing MPs, ex-MPs and former advisors are not new. Tolerance and diversity are essential for a healthy party.

The Labour Party has evolved and adapted as society has. The transformations in the 1990s were not easy. Having lost four consecutive general elections, the majority of members wanted to avoid a fifth defeat even ‘if that meant pandering to right wing attitudes’ (Fyfe, 2014: 117).

The members on the centre and left of the Party reluctantly accepted what was deemed necessary to win in order to implement Labour policies. Whilst many commentators and followers of Blair state the shift to the right was necessary to secure the 1997 election, the re-positioning may have helped the Party to gain the massive majority but perhaps, it may not have been necessary. The outgoing Conservative government had, after all, been the most unpopular government in the history of opinion polling in Britain and it entered the election still in the electoral doldrums (Norris 1997).

New Labour vacated the ‘left of centre position of British politics, and occupied a political vacuum on the right of centre …, [but] it didn’t fill that vacuum with any defining ideology’ (Stuart, 2005:411). Thus, many people now ask, what does the current Labour Party stand for?

My understanding of the revitalized Labour Party under Jeremy’s leadership aims to follow the form Miliband (1983:107) outlined ‘is above all concerned with the advancement of concrete demands of immediate advantage to the working class and organised labour: wages and conditions of work; trade-union rights; the better provision of services and benefits in the field of health, education, housing, transport, family allowances, unemployment benefits, pensions and so on’, which is ‘bound by the capitalist environment’. Thus, this vision is not ‘hard-left’ but to the centre of the traditional Labour Party.

I agree with Luke Akehurst’s assertion, “Any centre-left party not anchored in the working class and its interests via the union link is about as much long-term use as a chocolate teapot” (2012). But I do not agree with Akehurst’s recent statement that Jeremy “represents the most serious threat of a Hard Left victory”, an analysis of Jeremy’s economic plan demonstrates he is not ‘hard left’ but in the centre ground.

Fractured Facts I: It will be 1983 all over again

The 1983 result for the Labour Party was a disaster due to a number of reasons. The key factors in order of importance were: the perception that the Tories were competent running the economy ‘played a highly significant role in determining the outcome of the election’ (Whiteley, 1984); Thatcher’s ‘Falklands factor’ (Sanders et al, 1987); the growth of consumerism and individualism (Miliband, 1983); bitter infighting within Labour Party even after the SDP split (Morgan, 1987); and, the Party was perceived as being out of step with the public, for example selling off council properties to tenants with a large discount. The 1983 Manifesto stated a Labour government would repeal policy but it was a popular policy with tenants (King, 2010:106), especially as the Tory government was forcing up rents rapidly. Also, the Labour Party was perceived as being too left of centre (Castles & Mair, 1984).

The UK has radically changed since 1983: owner occupation is the dominate tenure whereas in 1983 most folk rented from either their council or Scottish Special Housing Association (Scottish Government, 2011); financial liberalisation has led to high levels of personal debt (Barba & Pivetti,2009); the labour market is very flexible for employers and insecure for workers, which is characterised by zero hour contracts and low pay (Brinkley, 2013); many young people, who enter university leave with tens of thousands of debt and weak job opportunities (Bachan, 2014); universities are being hollowed-out and losing their social role (Cribb & Gewirtz, 2013); and, the pinnacle of the neoliberal restructuring: the major privatisations programmes, including those of airports, steel, water, electricity, coal and the railways (Parker, 2013). So, the UK is structurally different as is the Labour Party.

There are however lessons that ought to be learned: the need to be perceived as economically competent; be loyal and supportive of the leader; and, occupy a broad political space to have sufficient appeal to attract enough voters to win. Jeremy’s plan An Economy for 2020 is economically credible and has broad appeal as across the political spectrum people support the public ownership of energy companies and transport (YouGov, 2013).

Fractured Facts II: We need to focus on people who vote

The only definites regarding previous elections are the outcomes and the turnout. The reasons for the success or defeat are challenged, as are the reasons for turnout. But everyone can agree that the turnout in Scotland in May returned to the 1997 level, as figure 1 depicts. Elsewhere in the UK, turnout was between 8% and 15% less than the 1997 level.

People in Scotland were strongly motivated to vote. Unfortunately, the majority did not vote for the Labour Party. The Scottish Labour Party lost 18% of its vote share (BBC, 2015). Thus, given the scale of the challenge ahead, a structural shift in policy is needed to overcome downward trend in electoral success. Similarly, some suggest the lower turnout in 1997 and 2001 was because relatively few saw important policy differences between the parties (Pattie & Johnston, 2001). So, the Labour Party needs a distinct inspiring vision to give people a reason to vote Labour. Jeremy’s plan is creating a real buzz and excitement about the Labour Party.

Figure : Electoral Turnout 1983-2015

graph turnpout
Source: House of Commons Research Papers 01/37, 01/54, 05/33 & 10/36

Fractured Facts III: Jeremy Corbyn is hard left.

Political parties – and importantly their perceived political position – shift over time along the left-right spectrum within certain accepted parameters dependent on a number of factors.

Simply put, the ‘hard left’ world, the government is responsible for everything and people are reliant on the state for everything, and, in the ‘hard right’, individuals are completely self-reliant.

Being a trained economist, I view the world through a market framework not through these loaded terms. So, the extremes of the political spectrum are: a command economy where the government owns, plans and delivers everything, and capitalism where the free markets dominate economy with a very little government involvement except perhaps to ensure property rights are enforced.

Mainstream politics in the UK operates in the centre ground: ensuring merit and public goods are provided, such as health, education, social services, roads and street lighting; and intervening when markets fail (e.g. housing market not providing affordable accommodation, labour market not providing enough work, and, environmental degradation). I consider political debates ought to be centred on when and how to intervene in failing markets; how much merit and public goods ought to be provided; and, how to fund these. Jeremy Corbyn is addressing these core centre-ground issues with a sensible credible plan. Thus, it is nonsense to suggest Jeremy’s leadership is ‘hard left’.

The evidence indicates that the fear appeals are simply tactics from his opponents’ supporters; Jeremy Corbyn is not aiming to restructure the UK into a command economy; comparisons with the 1983 election are spurious but there are lessons to be learned; if you give people a reason to vote they will; and, Jeremy Corbyn is not ‘hard left’.

In part 2, I analyse where we are as a Party and how we arrived here, and moving forward.

Download part 1 of Lesley’s article >>>

References

Recommendations for your Ballot Paper #Corbyn4Leader #JezWeCan

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Vote for Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle

Ballot papers for all the elections – leader, deputy leader, CAC, NPF, and also London Mayoral candidate – will go out on 14 August 2015, and ballots will close on 10 September. CLPD recommends:

Jeremy Corbyn for Leader

Angela Eagle for Deputy Leader, second preference Tom Watson

Katy Clark and Jon Lansman for CAC

Diane Abbott for London mayoral candidate, second preference Sadiq Khan

ballot paper

NPF: for CLPD supported candidates in your Region/Scotland/Wales please contact us 01865 244459 or info@clpd.org.uk

Why a vote for Corbyn is a vote for electability

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Why a Vote for Corbyn is a Vote for Electability

From Neil Schofield, Previously published here

Three days before the 1983 election, I attended a rally in Oxford Town Hall. It was in the days when it was still possible to come in off the street to a Labour leader’s rally, and the speaker was Michael Foot. The atmosphere was revivalist, a packed hall cheering on their much-loved leader.  How could Labour possibly lose in the face of such enthusiasm?  But of course the result is history.

More than thirty years on, I found myself attending Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign rally in Cardiff – according to media coverage one of the largest political gatherings in Wales since the Miners’ Strike.  The atmosphere was incredible – more than a thousand people crowded into the hall, standing room only, people with decades of Labour activism behind them, others coming to politics for the first time.  At its heart, a speech by Jeremy Corbyn that was passionate and powerful – but also detailed; this was not rabble-rousing but thoughtful and argued through.  He was given a massive ovation by an eclectic audience.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses a rally in Cardiff, 11 August 2015

And I reflected – could we be deceiving ourselves in the same way that we were in 1983?  Was this just an audience of the converted, wanting to be enthused, oblivious to the harsh political realities outside?

But this time the fundamentals feel very different.

In 1983 the Thatcher myth was at its most potent. A year beforehand, the Task Force was still steaming south to the Falklands. The Labour Party had been split by the defections to the SDP. More importantly, the intellectual tide was flowing overwhelmingly in Thatcher’s direction; these were the halcyon days of neoliberalism, with the economy emerging from deep recession and the sale of council houses proceeding apace. Only weeks after a crushing electoral defeat, the situation for Labour, although obviously extremely difficult, is different in a way that Corbyn’s critics – especially those within Labour claiming he is unelectable – appear not to have understood.

To understand why you need to think about the wider political background.  In Britain – as in much of the Western world – the set of ideas that is often lumped together under the name “neoliberalism” has a near complete hegemony in Government.  Policies are being pursued – especially following the economic crisis of 2007/8 – that involve reducing public expenditure, shrinking the non-coercive state,  on the promise that this is the only way to engineer a sustainable economic recovery.

But that recovery is palpably not happening.  Faced with continuing and swingeing falls in living standards, increased Government deficits in the face of shrinking economies; increasingly insecure and short-term employment; continued asset price bubbles, especially in housing, to the point where the essentials of life are becoming increasingly unaffordable; and, most of all, globally increasing inequality to levels not seen for more than a century, it’s obvious there is a huge problem.  It’s perhaps best exemplified by the fact that, in Britain at least, the number of people in full-time work who are falling into poverty is rising substiantially; the basic deal behind market capitalism, that a worker can achieve a decent standard of living by selling their labour, increasingly does not hold. Morevoer, as a strategy for reducing the deficit, it has failed spectacularly.

At the same time, the social democratic parties that presided over the welfare capitalism of the 1950s and 1960s are in deep existential crisis.  In Britain, despite the cruelties of the coalition, Labour suffered a crushing defeat in the 2015 election.  It was wiped out in Scotland, once its heartland.  The official reaction to this defeat has been to assume that Labour can only win by moving its policies closer to the Tory government – on social security, on immigration, above all on deficit reduction.  In other words, the ground over which mainstream political debate is conducted is being narrowed, while increasingly those excluded from that debate are bearing the brunt of the politics of austerity.

There is a comment usually ascribed to Karl Rove about the politics of the liberal social democratic opposition to neoliberalism: “when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.  We’re history’s actors …. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”  Change that last “study” to “follow” and you have New Labour’s dilemma expressed with brutal clarity – it’s still fighting a war when the battlefront is elsewhere.  And people can see that; its language no longer inspires because reality has moved on.  Talk of “electability” is two elections out of date; it has nothing to say in particular to those who have walked away from political engagement in bewilderment and, quite often, disgust. In 2015 the Conservative Party gained a Parliamentary majority with 24% of the electorate; Labour was wiped out in its Scottish heartland by a party offering the appearance (if certainly not the reality) of being anti-austerity; but its leadership still says that electoral success lies in adopting the language and framing that wooed barely a quarter of the electorate, while millions of the young, the poor, the most vulnerable stayed at home – or voted SNP, Green or (especially in Labour’s traditional heartlands) in despair for UKIP.  Labour held millions of conversations, but, it appears, at no more than the most superficial level. Labour activists and organisers talk about the doorstep; but often seem to me to be afraid to have real conversations that offer challenge and hope.

What the Labour leadership election has done is blown that open.  In previous elections, candidates from the left have stood – and even encouraged from the Right to stand – in order to ensure a “debate”, after which the inevitable win for a centrist candidate has ensured that Westminster usiness as usual can be carried on with an apparent mandate.  Corbyn’s candidacy – apparently conceived in the same vein, as the means to a debate – has changed everything and brought people flooding into the Party.

Why? Because, for the first time in decades, a candidacy in a Labour leadership campaign has connected with intellectual, political and social currents outside the immediate Labour Party – something far bigger than the Labour Party has in recent years become, but – I’d argue – something much closer to the purpose for which Labour was founded.  It’s not about Corbyn as an individual – decent and principled though he undoubtedly is – but about the values he espouses, and most of all about the fact that he articulates a challenge to the politics and economics of austerity, in a way that reaches out to a far bigger audience than existing mainstream politics.  This is about taking control of the political narrative; about offering, not a reaction to neoliberalism but an alternative to it.  Corbyn has tapped into value systems that have remained confined to the fringes or expressed quietly by Labour members in defiance of their Westminster masters; a value system that found expression in the vote for the SNP in Scotland.

And it won’t do to talk about entryism – it’s just not credible.  Michael Crick of Channel 4 News has offered a fine and useful analysis – summed up in a sentence, there just aren’t that many Trots.  This is something bigger, to which the Labour mainstream appears to have no response whatsoever.

There is a narrative that states, Tony Blair won three elections for Labour. We can therefore only be electable from the centre.  That first of all misunderstands the nature of triangulation – it was about the use of conservative language to provide space for progressive political measures; something that New Labour achieved significantly in its pre-Iraq phase.  But more importantly it misunderstands the fact that the economic fundamentals have changed.  New Labour was based on harnessing growth from a largely functioning economic system to pay for moderate redistribution; but, after the 2007-8 crash that option has not been available – the extent to which market capitalism is broken is much more obvious. Real wages have fallen to the point where in-work poverty is rampant (making talk of being “the party of work” basically frivolous).  There is, in the UK, an effective investment strike in which capital stock is not even being renewed.  Given that the UK has a sovereign currency, all of these issues are far more significant than the deficit; yet Blair’s successors seem unable to move beyond that.  Their mindset is in the mid-1990s, unable to come to terms with what has happened since then.

Electability comes down, in the end, to relevance.  Corbyn’s insurgency, going way beyond the mainstream Labour party, has connected with trends and thinking that lies completely outside the Westminster bubble.  Above all, it has been founded in hope – a belief that things can be different and that the Labour Party can be, once again, the vehicle to make that change. In the meantime, conventional social democracy is, throughout Europe, in crisis because it cannot break out of the neoliberal framing of economics and politics – it allows itself to be defined by its opponents.

That brings huge challenges.  To win elections, form governments and effect change you need structures and discpline.   The Green Party’s disastrous track record in Brighton shows what happens when you have neither; Green councillors, faced with tough decisions, either threw a strop or threw in the towel.  Labour is a party of Government – its unique genius has been to bring together a broad progressive group of often diverse people and to build on that diversity to deliver in office – and has to do so much better than that, and the need to take tough decisions in the face of conflicts and trade-offs is going to require discipline from supporters and, from its leaders, a commitment to openness and accountability a world away from New Labour’s top-down institutional authoritarianism.

But the possibility is there.  For Labour, this looks like a choice between a high-risk vote for a leader who can lead its adaptation to a very different world to that faced by Tony Blair twenty years ago, and who can help it to lead the debate, and electing a leader who cannot see the changes going on outside the Westminster bubble and offers no real alternative to the neoliberal value system.  For me, the latter is simply a guarantee of further decline; it is the former that offers the way to move the debate away from neoliberal territory and to reconnect with the voters who have in their millions turned against a political system that simply doesn’t offer an alternative.

Obviously I do not know what the outcome of the election will be, and I suspect it will be a much closer affair than the media currently suggest.  But whoever is Labour leader will have to face some fundamental decisions; the genie cannot be rebottled.  The choice seems to me to be simple – a choice between harnessing and leading the surge in support that has brought hundreds of thousands into the Party – high risk but with the possibility of effecting real change –  or a turning away back inside the Westminster bubble and a slow but inevitable decline.  I want to see the Labour Party as a force that can deliver real change, and which does not accept austerity as inevitable; which can react to the fundamental changes in political discourse the Corbyn surge exemplifies.  And that’s why I’m backing Jeremy Corbyn as the electable candidate.