Dialogue with an Anti-Corbyn Labour supporter

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(Published now, rather than when it was written because it lost relevance when…  given the convenient coincidence of Article 50 and two tricky by-elections…. a second coup looked all too likely.  This threat has fizzled out for the moment, although another attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn may well materialise if Labour loses in Stoke and/or Copeland.  Posting now was also prompted by John McDonnell’s warning  ‘This daily grinding out of distortion and attack can undoubtedly have its effect on our standing in the polls and in turn on the morale of some of our supporters, who are not always close to the action and may not be experienced in past trade union or political campaigns’.)

Dear Person,

We met the other day, and you told me that you had only joined the LP to vote against Jeremy Corbyn,

I asked you if you had actually seen any of Jeremy’s speeches or the debates in the leadership contest?

You did have the grace to look shamefaced as you shook your head… Then you countered:

“But, but I do read the ‘good’ newspapers, the leftwing papers like the Guardian and the i”

Rendered speechless at the idea that the Guardian or the i were leftwing, I stuttered:

“Did you really think Owen Smith was more electable… a man who makes penis jokes??”

But what I should have said was:

Reporting in the MSM is largely without reference to context or history… and typified by criticisms such as Corbyn’s lack of success in winning back Scottish votes. This is reductive to the point of misleading but not new. However, there have been a number of recent academic led studies which have looked at media bias and concluded that the coverage of previous Labour leaders were ‘nowhere near as destructive, as vicious and as antagonistic as is the case now with Corbyn’. One such study indicated that 75% of press coverage misrepresented him and expressed serious concern for its impact on the democratic process.

Furthermore, many of these stories have been fed to the media by hostile members of the LP elite who are rabidly anti-Corbyn, and acting against the expressed wishes of the overwhelming majority of the LP membership.

They justify their behaviour by arguing that Corbyn is unelectable and not a good leader. However, this is hardly convincing when it is clear that they will fight tooth and nail to make it impossible for another more (in their view) ‘plausible’ but similarly leftwing candidate to replace Corbyn. For example, they could agree to reduce the number of nominations required from the PLP to stand for the leadership, from the current 35 to 5.

But they won’t do that because, just like Hilary Clinton, they believe that ‘it’s their turn’ and that the LP can return to being two shades left of the Conservatives and it will suddenly be electable.

This is the complacency and out of touchness that led to Donald Trump being elected. And a fact, that Peter Mandelson acknowledged when he blamed three terms of New Labour for Brexit and a majority rejecting globalization.

But in any event, the undue focus on Corbyn also ignores the plight of neoliberal social democratic parties globally.  As Stephen Bush wrote in the New Statesman:

Across the continent, just two centre-left parties regularly outpoll Corbyn’s Labour: the Portuguese Socialists and the Italian Democrats, the latter of which averages 30 per cent on a good day. And of the two politicians held up as examples by Corbyn’s internal opponents – Matteo Renzi of Italy and Manuel Valls of France – one suffered a self-inflicted defeat in 2016 and the other looks likely to join him in 2017.

Labour’s Corbynsceptics have not yet accepted that the party’s problems do not start or end with the leader. They describe him as an insurmountable obstacle to victory in 2020, but the bigger problem for them is that he has also proved an insurmountable obstacle to their thinking about the party’s long-term future.

http://www.newstatesman.com/2017/01/jeremy-corbyns-internal-critics-have-compelling-diagnosis-they-dont-have-cure

 

It’s not that I have an uncritical relationship with the current Labour leadership but I’m not going to jettison Corbyn and co with all their really good points and policies when there is no comparable candidate who would get the nominations required.   Furthermore, I have no doubt that JC is staying on for the same reason. I don’t know how on earth he stands the constant twisting of facts, delegitimisation and misrepresentation.

Then you would have replied:

172 MPs passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn!

And I would have suggested that you read this review of Gaye Johnson’s book with its introduction by the late Michael Meacher:

A systematic analysis of the biggest internal coup d’etat in the history of the Labour Party. It contains a wealth of hitherto unreported material of how this was achieved. The Blairite machine gathered and fostered its own panel of ultra-reliable potential candidates (often special advisers of existing MPs) and helped to train and prepare them for the day when winnable seats might become available, exactly as the Blairite ‘Progress’ faction continues to do within the party to this very day.

And the legacy of this takeover remains. The leader may be Jeremy Corbyn, but the MPs, party officials, leaders in local government and many more remain the excrescence of a bygone era. Party employees especially have a long history of right-wing bias and working against left-wing candidates. A former Party Director of Communications openly boasted in 1998 of how he had worked to label the Grassroots Alliance slate for the NEC as “hard left”. Party staff are known to grade Conference delegates according to their loyalty to the leadership and harass delegates about how to vote. Staff themselves were pressured to behave in a certain way by the increased use of short-term contracts.

Many of the powers of the NEC were delegated to hand-picked subcommittees in the New Labour era. Labyrinthine policy filtering mechanisms were introduced, undermining the sovereignty of Party Conference.

http://www.organizedrage.com/2016/12/book-review-new-labour-was-gain-worth.html

 

Then I could have said:

The pivotal moment was the PLP coup when the rebel MPs revealed their true colours, either politically or indeed in moral cowardice.  It was much more important for the prime movers to remove the leftwing leadership than it was to hold Cameron and Osborne to account for their gross irresponsibility and hubris.  It said it all.

At that point, many in the LP membership realised that these rebels MPs were not on the same side as themselves and that being elected on another neoliberal, New Labour platform was worse than useless.

Blair, Brown, Mandelson and the rest, were able to do things that the Tories would not have been able to do and we let them because they did increase funding public services  but in reality it was not enough… and the door was left wide open for the Tories to walk through in 2010 and defund, sell-off and privatise.

As for Jeremy Corbyn’s electability, a friend wrote to me:

Most people want a more equitable distribution of income and sourcing of tax, adequate funding of the NHS, increased public sector funding and management of social care, and investment in services and job creation, support for the integration of migrants and prevention of their exploitation, and that a Labour Government would deliver them. None of these measures is ideological, and the people supporting them within the party or in the population are not ideologues. They are ordinary people, and they rather like Jeremy Corbyn because so is he.

I agree.  And thank you to the Person who I met the other day, who told me that they had only joined the LP to vote against Jeremy Corbyn.  You showed me how unerring George Orwell and Chomsky were in recognising that the propaganda of the elite is contained in the quality press, aimed squarely at the educated middle classes.  Needless to say I think there are a lot of people out there who need to take their blinkers off.

https://www.lse.ac.uk/media@lse/research/pdf/JeremyCorbyn/Cobyn-Report-FINAL.pdf

 

 

 

 

Labour can only win with Jeremy Corbyn

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Previously published here

By Aaron Bastini

Labour’s long decline can only be ended by an insurgent movement. And Corbyn is the candidate of that movement.

Take note Labour: this is how you win an election. Jeremy Corbyn phone bank filling up 6 entire rooms pic.twitter.com/B18RV06jBc
— Charles B. Anthony (@CharlesBAnthony) August 19, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn is no ordinary politician. For his supporters that is his unique selling point, for his critics a terminal flaw. The former claim his leadership can offer a break with the current system, the latter that he is unable to even compete within the confines of the present one. What both sides do agree on is that Corbyn doesn’t look, or sound, like a prime minister. Were some future Hollywood blockbuster to include a British PM, it could foreseeably be David Cameron or Teresa May. ‘JC’? Well, that’s a little harder to imagine.

And it is that difficulty which has meant Corbyn’s tenure as leader of his party is now associated, among his detractors at least, with a single word: electability. For them, and this is a default presumption among liberal-left opinion (broadly the only kind permitted in the mainstream): Labour will never form a government – whether majority, minority or in coalition – with the member for Islington North in the top job.

During last summer’s leadership race, when the proposition of prime minister Corbyn was more abstract than real, the problem was his politics. That’s why, when he won, the membership was blamed as much as the man himself. The base, we were told, had lazily chosen its comfort zone and a return to the 1980s over the challenges of government. For Corbyn read Michael Foot. The next general election? A repeat of 1983.

And yet claims of Corbyn’s policies being out of kilter with the public have fallen away, particularly since Brexit. When former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb made a tilt for the Tory leadership recently – winning thirty four nominations in the first round – he did so on the promise of a £100 billion stimulus to the economy, in the process arguing for greater economic interventionism than Ed Miliband and the majority of the parliamentary Labour party. A fortnight later, and it seems almost certain that Theresa May’s government, given the likely recession Brexit will cause, will now pursue a program of fiscal and/or monetary stimulus over the coming months. The promise to eliminate the deficit by 2020, the bedrock of the Osborne/Cameron years, was quietly discarded on a cold and rainy weekday when most lobby journalists were only capable of asking – or tweeting – whether Labour’s leader would resign. The biggest story since Brexit? That the raison d’etre of Cameron’s two governments was effectively bullshit. Not that you would know it from reading the dailies.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Credit: Jonathan Brady / PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.

The economic debate has moved with impressive speed. Theresa May will have to significantly break Osborne’s budget forecasts to implement an industrial strategy worthy of the name. That reality is why Owen Smith recently included a £200 billion stimulus as part of his leadership offer, something utterly unthinkable to Corbyn’s rivals last summer – and almost certainly Smith himself.

So the politics has changed, and it’s clear that with deficit elimination gone, and deficit reduction of little importance, Corbyn’s politics – interventionist, radical, socialist – have a real opportunity to challenge the mainstream. It’s probably unsurprising, then, that the criticisms now levelled against him aren’t about his policies – their time has almost certainly come – but his competence.

Now let’s be fair to Corbyn’s critics. The MP for Islington North is not ‘slick’ (although he appears all the more resilient for it). What is more, he certainly never viewed himself before last summer as a potential Labour leader. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the team assembled less than a year ago initially struggled, although it has improved tremendously in recent months. The Labour left simply didn’t have the resources or pool of experienced people on which to draw to prepare for potential government. After all, their function in the party was more ornamental than real for the best part of three decades.

Big mistakes were also made in regard to the shadow cabinet, foremost among them trying to include MPs who wanted Corbyn to fail from the very beginning, something few leaders would survive. More than incompetence, Corbyn’s original sin was generosity. Lisa Nandy, a standard bearer of the parliamentary party’s ‘soft left’, recently spoke of how the right and the left of the party were at war with one another. That simply isn’t true, at least not at the beginning. From day one Corbyn tried to assemble a broad cabinet. His reward? Political inertia, punishment, and almost ritualised humiliation, of which the ‘Chicken coup’ is only the most recent chapter.

In addition to various problems of personnel, ill-preparation and misplaced kindness, politics at the top is always a messy affair. The decade of the Blair-Brown supremacy was marked by ceaseless conflict within Labour’s front ranks. You only need to read anything by Andrew Rawnsley to know as much. The same was true in the final Thatcher years and nearly all of John Major’s premiership. Despite the easy ride he got from the British media, David Cameron’s position during the Andy Coulson revelations was more fragile than seemed apparent. In retrospect what made the coalition all the more stable was that the constant sniping – a perennial feature of statecraft – could be put down to two parties having to govern together. Just a year after he delivered the Tories their first majority since 1992, a historic achievement, David Cameron resigned – his legacy as poor as any of his predecessors since the Second World War. He would almost certainly still inhabit Number Ten had there been a second coalition government.

So politics at the top is cut-throat. All the more so in an age of social media. All the more so when many of your own colleagues want you to fail from the start. All the more so when the mainstream media treats you with a contempt, from the off, that has been reserved for no other politician in modern Britain. That, taken with the fact that the radical left was far from prepared to seize the initiative, and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership looks all the more impressive.

What is more, and it is important to remember this, Corbyn does have considerable victories to his name including by-election wins, a massively growing membership (Labour are now bigger than at any point since the Second World War), and major u-turns from the government – particularly around welfare reform. More than all those however, which were accompanied by middling election results in May, Corbyn’s ten months as leader has significantly framed the space that Theresa May’s government is about to step into. The Overton Window has moved. The question is how far it is yet to go.

The devil is in the details
Yet it’s also clear that there is much that Corbyn can personally improve on. Self-improvement gurus often say that the solution to a big problem is the smallest tweak consistently applied over time. Similarly, the attitude of England’s rugby union team in the early 2000s was improving one hundred things by one percent. Constantly. In regard to issues of competency and daily media management that is my view with Corbyn: what is needed is an attitude of constant iterative improvement. The leadership is most certainly improving, and the team around Corbyn is now much stronger than before. Is there a desire for this? After the last month I really believe there is.

But as important as the belief that Corbyn is improving – and that issues of media management can be further rectified – his potential challengers have shown themselves to be utterly shambolic in the last few weeks. Even their supporters, in their heart of hearts, can’t think they have the answers.

The genesis of what became the Chicken Coup was devious, manipulative and short-sighted. Corbyn’s foes wanted him to resign without standing a challenger; then they wanted to keep him off the ballot altogether; then the rules for those able to vote were, quite frankly, gerry-mandered (that didn’t stop nearly 185,000 joining as registered supporters). Angela Eagle, originally put up to run by the likes of Hilary Benn (much of Eagle’s campaign team were ex-Benn staffers) pulled out last Tuesday to give Owen Smith a free run. Her actions have angered her local party in Wallasey who, having passed a motion of confidence in Jeremy Corbyn a few weeks ago, have now been suspended. It seems likely they would have passed a motion of no confidence in Eagle.

Before its timely expiration, Eagle’s candidacy was an exercise in farce. Its poor launch was preceded by two weeks of collective dithering – calling on Corbyn to resign while failing to make the next move. When the launch did finally happen, the essentials were lacking. The defining moment for that came when Eagle invited specific journalists to ask questions of her who weren’t even present in the room. For a candidate criticising Corbyn’s competence it was calamitous to watch.

What is more, Eagle – originally intended as a unity candidate by the right of the party who initiated the coup – was a politically strange choice. She had voted for war in Iraq and against an investigation, doubly problematic given events kicked off a fortnight before the release of the Chilcot Report. In terms of her position and voting record on austerity, Eagle was no different to the rivals Corbyn had stunningly defeated the previous summer.

So when the former cabinet minister stood aside on Tuesday, former Pfizer lobbyist Owen Smith became the last hope for those who wanted a new leader. And yet, as with Eagle, basic issues were obvious from the off. Smith, who has seemingly found a vein of political radicalism in his soul after five years of lobbying in the pharmaceutical industry, has clearly moved left to appeal to a very different party membership to even a few years ago. Nevertheless, his views on PFI, privatisation in the NHS and, only last year, reducing welfare spending, is plainly at odds with what the membership wants. Smith – we now know – is also prone to gaffes, making two major ones in the first few days of his leadership bid.

Social Democracy is in crisis: Owen Smith is no answer
But more than the individual flaws of any specific candidate, what is most concerning with Smith (who is now trying to pitch himself as a more electable left-winger) is that the politics he champions, and the direction he would like to take the party in – along with the likes of Ed Miliband – has no winning model in Europe. Centre-left politics – across the continent – is mired in defeat and inertia. Whether it be the SDP polling at 25% in Germany, the PSOE winning 22% in the recent Spanish General Election, or French president Francois Hollande polling at 13%, there are no real bright spots. The only arguable exception is Italy’s Partito Democratico, led by Matteo Renzi. Yet even there Renzi is PM having never contested a general election, and his predecessor but one – Pierluigi Bersani – led the Democrats to only 27% in the 2013 election (the coalition they headed won just under 30%). Last month the 5 Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi won the Rome mayoralty from the PD. Even with Europe’s best performing party of the centre-left, the story is one of managed decline.

The crisis of social democracy has been a topic of conversation for years. That has been turbo-charged by the fact that the centre-right has benefitted most from the global financial crisis of 2008. Ed Miliband and Labour’s electoral defeat in 2015 was testimony to that, with Labour winning only 9.3 million votes. Perhaps most concerning however, was how Labour lost votes to both their left, and their right. Were Owen Smith to be Labour leader for the next general election I think he would struggle to even get Miliband numbers: Greens would be less likely to switch to Labour, his vague offer of a second referendum on EU membership would almost certainly land UKIP a number of Labour seats in the north, and the Lib Dems, probably regardless of who leads the two major parties, will make a minor comeback.

Labour’s problems reflect those of both the British establishment and European social democracy, and to my mind Owen Smith isn’t a solution (nor indeed is any individual). While you can point to Corbyn’s low personal approval ratings – for what it’s worth I think any politician’s would be as bad given what he has uniquely faced – the Labour party he wants, and more importantly the one now under construction, arguably does. You see it’s not just about Corbyn, it’s about a party of a million members, grassroots organising and a generational break with a broken centre-left politics adrift across the continent. Labour now needs to invent its future. It has no choice.

Understanding Labour’s long decline
The obstacles Jeremy Corbyn will now have to surmount in order to become prime minister and oversee precisely that are unprecedented. Some of the parliamentary party will simply refuse to work with him if he wins again. Tom Watson will likely resign as deputy leader after any second Corbyn victory to exert maximum dramatic effect. Senior Labour MPs are seriously talking about annual leadership elections until Corbyn goes. On the bright side any split, which should be avoided at all costs, would likely only include the right of the party – led by the Blairite MPs named and shamed by John Prescott in a recent Sunday Mirror. Most, however, understand that any new party of the centre would face a very inhospitable set of circumstances: the historic social base of the SDP, progressives in metropolitan areas, are now a hotbed of Corbyn support. What is more, there are few examples of successful centrist projects worldwide right now – with the exception of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in Canada. What is more, the Labour right clearly lacks a politician of that calibre. If they did, she or he would be standing against Corbyn, not Owen Smith.

In addition to the hostility Corbyn Mk. 2 will now face from many of his own MPs, and as many MPs on the soft-left need to be won round in the next few months as possible, the Labour party machine is nowhere near good enough to win a general election. That is true at both local and national levels. Half-a-dozen people have described to me how the party HQ is set up to win an election in 2005 rather than 2020, with problems going a long way back. After all, before Corbyn’s rise last summer, the party hadn’t won a general election since 2005. Even then it lost forty-six seats to Michael Howard’s Tories. Indeed Labour has lost seats at every single general election since 1997, almost two decades ago.

In terms of actual votes, Labour lost five million between 1997 and 2010. Ed Miliband’s brand of heavily triangulated, frequently contradicting soft-left politics won back fewer than a million of them last year. For my money that is the ceiling on the party’s vote with his brand of politics and its present organising structure. In other words, Owen Smith.

Looking back, the rise of Blair – and his historic election win in 1997 – was as much one of Tory decimation as Labour ascendancy. The mid-1990s were a unique cycle in global capitalism since the early 1970s, with GDP, employment and real wages all rising. The factors behind that – the doubling of the global labour market foremost among them – aren’t going to be repeated again. But alongside the bigger economic picture, the Tories were also in chaos. Winning the 1992 General Election was the worst thing that ever happened to them. Within twelve months the party needed the votes of Ulster Unionists to pass legislation, and Major’s second term was permanently furnished in crisis. No Labour leader, before, since or likely ever again, will be offered that kind of opportunity. The dynamics behind 1997, as much about Tory collapse as Labour supremacy, effectively carried on for a decade, with Labour’s vote steadily decreasing but the Tories incapable of taking advantage. Thus even at its zenith, the Labour machine was a never particularly impressive one. Those on the Labour right who talk of imitating the US Democrats have shown neither the skill nor foresight over the last two decades to come good on their lofty ambitions. Given they have controlled much of the party’s formal infrastructure during that period, especially at Victoria Street, it’s fair to say it isn’t going to happen.

A different kind of leadership; a member-based party
Jeremy Corbyn is not a generic political leader. But perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as some think. Twenty-First Century leadership takes many forms with it not only being about attracting supporters – but more importantly – creating more leaders too.

While he will never look like a Hollywood impersonation of a PM, what Corbyn can do – and is doing – is give rise to a movement. As Paul Mason says, he is a placeholder. That phrase needs to be more than rhetoric however, it must inform an organising strategy by which Labour comes to have more than a million members and can feasibly form a government after the next general election.

But before explaining how that happens, it’s important to clarify why Labour’s growing membership is such a game changer. Well, the Conservative party dominated British politics for much of the 20th Century because they had significant resources that others did not: three million members (yes, really); influence among opinion-makers and the mainstream media; and wealthy supporters. Labour’s greatest hour came in 1945 when, to the astonishment of many, Winston Churchill was replaced by Clement Atlee. The basis of that was a popular movement, a uniquely changed political context and a vision for a different kind of country. Labour only wins as a movement.

As I hope to have made clear, the major exception to that – 1997-2005 – was as much a story of Tory decline as Labour success. What is more, that project was in decline almost immediately after its high point. The Conservative leaders of the early 21st Century, William Hague and Iain Duncan-Smith, even Michael Howard, were at the time harder to imagine as prime minister than Jeremy Corbyn is now. That was without kamikaze elements within their own party and the collective force of the entire mainstream media arrayed against them.

So if the Tories (almost always) win because they have more money and media influence – the members have long since gone – what does Labour have? During Labour’s great exception at the end of the twentieth century, the view was they had to ‘spin’ better than the Tories while converging with them in key policy areas, particularly wages, housing and industrial policy (i.e. not having one). That led, in the long-term, to the decline I’ve already identified: the party’s working class heartland being taken for granted to win swing voters in marginals elsewhere. That strategy is now a busted flush, not least because Scotland has now gone and those industrial and former mining areas no longer look quite so impregnable. Over the same period the party neglected member-based democracy, local organisation and effective ground campaigning.

Rather than spin, or a hotline to Rebekah Brooks or Paul Dacre, the biggest resource the Labour party can now possibly have is its membership. That membership can, potentially, serve to do several things. Firstly, it provides the party with a much sturdier financial base (the party, rather than rely on wealthy backers, would have been long bankrupt without affiliated trade unions and loans); it creates a large base of advocates who can informally persuade their own social networks and formally campaign among strangers; and, with social media, it creates a huge network for the self-broadcasting of Labour’s ideas, policies and events. None of this is inevitable with the rise of a mass membership, and appropriate organisational choices have to be made, but it is a pre-condition for it. Again, I believe none of this happens with Owen Smith as leader.

My contribution here is this: among that million plus membership, the party will need 100,000 change advocates to make significant inroads. These are people who are trained to campaign in local areas as well as reaching out and getting even more people to join the party. While Momentum could oversee such an undertaking, it may well require a well-resourced and committed organisation, equivalent perhaps to the American New Organising Institute (albeit with adaptations for the British context). These 100,000 activists would be a major part in winning any ground campaign against the Tories and building even wider circles of local support on a constituency-by-constituency basis, starting in marginals. Were the future selection of parliamentary candidates to be undertaken through local primaries, something I inclined towards, registered supporters would also be able to participate.

The electorate should thus be seen as an ever larger set of concentric circles: at the heart are these change advocates, then members, then registered supporters, then Labour voters, then potential Labour voters. If organised properly this would be a very competitive force during elections. As much as persuading strangers, activists would be mobilising pre-existing affinity groups of friends, families and colleagues to not only vote for candidates, but campaign for them as well. Additionally they would interface with extant efforts around things like food banks as well as beginning initaitives like literacy groups and breakfast clubs. How would this be funded? The party would build something that integrated Act Blue and JustGiving to enable dis-intermediated financing of these projects by members as well as the general public. That Labour was able to raise £4.5 million in just 48 hours in the recent registration of supporters, is testimony to the good will and resources out there. Charitable giving in the United Kingdom is significant, that culture should be channeled within any modern mass-membership party that aims at systemic change.

As much as building the party membership, and crafting it into a force capable of persuading the general public and even engaging in social reproduction, any campaign that sees Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10 will have to exhibit features of a movement assemblage rather than a political party. That assemblage will engage in personalised campaign practices.

Now I know what you are thinking – an assemblage? Personalisation?

Until very recently general election campaigns have been hybrids of professionalised party efforts which incorporate large numbers of volunteers. The volunteer efforts were almost entirely for offline ‘ground’ campaigning, while professionalised elements included public relations, media and fundraising. That has dramatically changed in recent years through the emergence of social media and crowdfunding. Additionally, the last decade has seen a move to ‘personalised political communication’, especially in the United States. This kind of campaigning places an emphasis on ‘ground war’ practices such as door-to-door canvassing and phone banking, both pursued with the help of allied groups, volunteers, and paid part-time employees. This kind of communication is ‘personalised’ in the sense that people, and not television or websites, serve as the primary media for messages (Kleis Nielsen 2013). All of which means that media and mobilisation functions are now fusing into one another. In the English context, one saw this for the first time in Corbyn’s campaign last summer – especially in phonebanking efforts that deployed the ‘Canvassing’ app – the Corbyn campaign found scale through the personal media networks and efforts of tens of thousands of advocates – and how this interacted with legacy media – rather than simply the old ‘one-to-many’ channels. This explains, to a significant extent, how Corbyn can currently enjoy a 32% lead over Smith among the membership despite little to no support from the mainstream media.

Survey research demonstrates that tens of millions of citizens are contacted in person or by phone by parties and candidates each cycle in the US, and experimental research in political science suggests that it works (Kleis Nielsen 2013). Corbyn’s first campaign for Labour leader brought that model to the UK – and his second one will likely improve on it.

So the first aspect of Labour as a campaigning assemblage is to acknowledge this model of campaigning, its relative absence in the UK, its potential effectiveness, and use its large, growing membership accordingly. Again, I don’t think anyone believes this happens with Smith. Without such an approach, at least until Labour wins the wholesale backing of the print media and the financing of oligarchs, Labour simply have no other route to power.

But as well as channeling this new kind of personalised campaigning through an ever-larger membership, Labour also needs to embody both collective, and connective logics of action.

In their recent, groundbreaking work, Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg distinguish between the traditional logic of collective action that has been accepted within much of the social sciences for decades, and observably different logics of connective action which have recently emerged in the digital environment. As a result they offer a three-fold typology of large-scale action networks, with one representing the brokered networks characterised by the logic of collective action (Olson 1965) and the other two exhibiting the newer logics of connective action. These are as follows:

Traditionally most formal political efforts – from voter registration campaigns, to protests and elections – have relied on the first kind of action. That necessitated hierarchy, incentives for participants to not free-ride (often paid jobs or status) and a highly centralised operation. Fundamentally, it presumes higher costs for information than is, in reality, now the case. So while one might think of politics, until recently, as being about top-down, organisationally brokered collective action, it isn’t. In the recent referendum on membership of the European Union, the ‘Leave’ campaign more closely resembled organisationally-enabled connective action than ‘Remain’. We also saw it in the nomination campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States. While Clinton, with a more classically vertical campaign did ultimately prevail, Sanders picked up an astonishing thirteen million votes. The reality is that in the contemporary media environment the choice isn’t between hierarchy and networks but between more collective or connective strategies. Both require organisation and leadership, just different kinds. Because of a relative lack of resources my view is that Labour can never compete through collective action strategies, hence the importance of the Corbyn project, member-based democracy and organisational renewal.
Bernie Sanders supporters, image: the Bernie Sanders campaign.

The major reason why Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership so convincingly last year was because elements of all three logics were evident in his campaign. His triumph was powered by old-fashioned politics – such as winning trade union support – but also by a groundswell of grassroots support which managed to achieve tangible things: remote phonebanking, events organising, social media campaigning and, most importantly, getting new members to join. Much of how this was achieved was through crowd and organisationally-enabled connective action which fosters much higher levels of personalised communication. That was expedited through organisational forms, both formal and informal, that one would not typically associate with British electoral politics.

Had Corbyn’s campaign tried to win through old-school collective action they would have lost, quite simply because they lacked the resources – primarily money and media exposure – of the other candidates. Its important to remember that while Corbyn may be naturally open to this kind of approach, one where formal efforts easily interface with what feels like a social movement and an amorphous body of support, his campaign also had high incentives to adopt it, or at least be comfortable with it.

Sadly, once Corbyn did win, that approach was dispensed with. There was the general presumption, ultimately misguided, that such efforts could be easily channeled into the Labour party. But modern action – at its most powerful – doesn’t work like that. For Corbyn’s Labour to be highly competitive there needs to be the recognition that both collective and connective action logics are necessary, and that these will be mobilised across a range of actors which enjoy distinct organisational features. That means a great deal of autonomy to local activists to organise with an emphasis on personalised communication; strong levels of access to media that is beyond the mainstream; content created by Labour, Corbyn’s office and others that is not aimed at their supporters but is, instead, intended to be re-broadcast by them; and a general approach that seeks to choreograph events rather than lead them. It requires more than simply telling supporters it is their movement, but to build things so they experience and produce it as their movement, daily.

Much of this may sound like new management speak, but these were the precise organisational dynamics which saw Corbyn win last summer, as documented by digital campaigner Ben Sellers. Such an approach will not only mean Labour exerts more media influence, but will also mean higher levels of mobilisation (such as door-knocking, leafletting and ‘get out the vote’ campaigns) and more resources (not only through membership subs but also crowdfunding efforts). Again, none of this seems to be on offer with an Owen Smith leadership. Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps surprisingly, appears to offer the only path to a Twenty-First Century party in Britain.

In the following months, in the knowledge that personalised communication, campaigning assemblages and connective as well as collective action are all integral to a successful Labour ‘machine’ (one that actually goes beyond the party) I would suggest that several things begin to happen.

Firstly there needs to be a discussion about the ecology which would exert media influence and mobilise activists. In regard to the former the leading channels the Corbyn leadership wants to operate through need to be identified, particularly with television (beyond current affairs shows) and new media. Additionally, influencers need to identified. I’m circumspect as to how much they can change minds – after all, David Beckham’s intervention on Brexit went down like a lead balloon – but they undoubtedly extend reach, especially with specific, targeted demographics. This is especially important in regard to the coalition of voters that Corbyn’s Labour must now build. In regard to mobilisation, I would imagine something equivalent to the NOI should be set up. It would offer not only training, skills and experience for 100,000 organisers, but certification too. These organisers would advocate the new politics, but also add new members. They would also be the basis by which party activists begin to engage in local community organising beyond electoralism. As mentioned, in terms of funding those projects the party needs its own equivalent of Act Blue to fund local campaigns and initiatives. The problem, with a national membership of over half-a-million, is not raising resources, but effectively channeling them to where they are most needed. If Labour HQ is too short-sighted to create these two institutions, others should. They will be crucial in the assemblage that makes Labour a serious electoral force.

Labour needs to identify and build its coalition of voters
Alongside creating the right ecology through which it can flourish as both a campaigning movement and electoral force, Labour needs to understand the coalition it must build to win. Again, I think that Corbyn – and more importantly the changed Labour party he will lead – offers much more promise here than Owen Smith.

While Labour must remain rooted in the trade union movement, one thing it can learn from the US Democratic party is how to build a social majority which beats ‘Middle England’. In both 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won the White House despite being relatively unpopular with what is presented as the deciding force in politics: white men. While Britain does not have the same ethnic composition as the US, Jeremy Corbyn – or indeed any potential Labour prime minister – will have to do something pretty similar. Obama’s ‘coalition’ was women, the young, and BME voters. In terms of who joined Labour during and immediately after Corbyn’s campaign last summer, something similar happened with the party’s 150,000 new members, with joiners tending to be younger and female.

Labour actually won the last election among under-45s. A primary task for Corbyn, then, would be to generate a considerable increase in turnout among that demographic, as in fact happened in the recent referendum on membership of the European Union. This is low hanging fruit, and should be a central aspect of Labour’s electoral strategy.

In fact Labour needs a considerable increase in overall turnout just to stay where they are after boundary changes. Again, I don’t think Smith can do that. The difference between Al Gore in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008 was a 7% increase in turnout for the latter. Labour now needs a similar trend in England and Wales just to stay competitive.

In addition to more people powering a higher turnout, particularly among the young, Labour also needs to win a majority among women and BME voters. Nowadays women are more likely to vote Labour then men – although in last year’s general election it appears almost certain that most women voted Tory. Labour did however have a big advantage among women under 50, enjoying a six-point lead. Along with increasing turnout among that vote – far more likely to vote Labour anyway – Corbyn also needs to win a majority of women next time round. Against a second woman as Tory prime minister – Theresa May – that would appear difficult, but anti-austerity policies, as well as big offers on pay discrimination, social housing and care (adult, child and for those with disabilities) would be very popular. As already mentioned, a national base of activists – mobilising around issues of social reproduction – would be a major difference here.

Corbyn’s Labour will also need to win the BME vote, something Labour historically does anyway. In 2015 Labour won 65% of BME votes, an increase of 5% on five years earlier. Again, as with younger voters the aim must be to get far more of this demographic to not only vote but to actively campaign for Labour. That will go hand-in-hand with Labour becoming an effective organisation for anti-racist activism in the years ahead – something crucially necessary given the growth of xenophobia and racist violence in the aftermath of Brexit. Can Smith do that? It’s unlikely given his comments on immigration in his recent Newsnight interview.

But along with Obama’s coalition, the big ask for Corbyn is how you win such a ‘social majority’ while maintaining the party’s historic heartlands in former mining and industrial areas. On a range of issues, from Europe to migration, such areas express diverging attitudes with Labour’s metropolitan core. If just this balancing act can be achieved, in the process seeing away the challenge of UKIP, Corbyn would enjoy a much more successful general election than Ed Miliband a year ago. With Owen Smith, given his lobbyist history, his offer of a second EU referendum and his pro-austerity policies, something similar seems unlikely. For me, Labour wins those areas, and handsomely, with a big offer on industrial strategy, jobs, housing and a new kind of economy. This will go hand-in-hand with critiquing a failing model of globalisation, but insisting the solutions are economic and around issues of labour reform, rather than immigration. There can be no doubt about it, this will take years, but it is absolutely crucial.

So in terms of who is more likely to win, or even compete, at a general election between Corbyn and Smith I would suggest Smith can’t build the necessary coalition that Corbyn can. Yes, Smith might look a lot more appetising to southern swing voters, but when you zoom out, that is less important than it looks.

What is more, Corbyn offers Labour a path to reinvention. The centre-left is dying across Europe, and I’d suggest Owen Smith would take Labour in a similar direction. Can Corbyn become the next prime minister? It’s possible, but it depends both on the growing movement that now surrounds him and how his leadership interacts with it. Most importantly, his leadership can feasibly change Labour, at both a local and national level, into a party fit for the modern era. As important as winning elections and modernising the Labour party, is how a mass, active membership can not only re-define party politics, but Britain. We need change in Westminster but also across civil society. Only Corbyn offers that.

Published under Creative Commons   Attribution 4 Non Commercial International Licence

Corbyn’s excellent unreported Speech

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Yet again, there has been an almost total lack of reporting on Jeremy Corbyn’s response to this most slippery of rightwing governments.   Yet again, only the Morning Star has fulfilled the role of the media.  Yet again, for the rest (and don’t mention Labour List!) the only aspects of interest were:

Jeremy Corbyn refusing to chat to Cameron en route to the House of Lords (they said how silly and rude – what?)

Jeremy Corbyn refusing to take interventions in his ’41 minute speech’ (actually 29 minutes and another Cameron ‘mispeak’)

Jeremy Corbyn being drowned out by non-stop Tory yelling (they said JC should have allowed interventions – why?)

This is not journalism.  It is trivialisation of the highest order given the seriousness of this government’s policies and intents.  Democracy requires accountability.  We get none from this Conservative Government and our mainstream media colludes in ignoring its own responsibility to report the words and policies of Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition LP.

 

Fortunately, RT has filled a gap by allowing us to hear Corbyn’s speech in its entirety (and to feel the disgust at the behaviour of the Tory MPs – how would anyone know that its the speaker’s role intervene).

The Morning Star’s report can be read here:

‘… Mr Corbyn said the government’s vague promises will do nothing to “create a more equal society, an economy that works for everyone and a society in which there is opportunity for all.

“Still this government does not seem to understand that cuts have their consequences,” he blasted.

“This austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity, and it’s a wrong choice for our country made by a government with the wrong priorities — and it’s women that have been hit hardest by these cuts.”

 

The other reasons why Labour lost in 2015

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For the most part, Margaret Beckett has managed to avoid the firing line for her 35 page report as to why Labour lost the 2015 GE.  Essentially, the report (which can be read here) does not fit easily into the Labour Right’s or the media’s frame of reference… vague or bland was the best they could come up with.  The press tried to whip up some excitement about ‘the suppression of a secret report’ about focus group findings but the task of blaming Jeremy Corbyn for Labour’s defeat in 2015 eventually proved too convoluted.  However, Jamie Reed MP did his best in a valiant effort for Progress:

Any Labour leader who refuses to listen to the country and who prizes the views of Labour members above Labour voters and former Labour voters will likely find that although they may secure the Labour crown, they will lose the Labour kingdom.’

In other words, the lesson from 2015 is that ‘the LP has the wrong membership’.. which reminds me of an old joke about the wrong electorate (but repetition of the word ‘Labour’ 6x in one sentence must be worth a mention).

 

Coming from the Left, I thought that the Beckett report was fair enough but that there were plenty of things left unsaid, that might have been usefully included.

But first, let’s be absolutely clear, the Tories won a majority because the Liberal Democrats imploded (-15.2%).  

Given that in most LD held seats, the Conservatives were in second place, it was unsurprisingly that they took LD constituencies.  Conservatives replaced 27 LD MPs, and now represent virtually the whole of Devon and Cornwall, coast to coast.  Those constituencies alone provided the Tory majority.

The unasked question is ‘Why were Labour in third place (gaining only a few thousand votes) in constituencies which have high levels of poverty, high unemployment, high self-employment, high housing costs, inadequate transport/infrastructure and a historical lack of investment?’

That blame cannot be laid on the 2015 campaign.  The fact is that New Labour governments never focused on addressing the problems of rural Britain… and there certainly are big problems in rural areas, all across the UK.  Although, to be fair, Huw Irranca-Davies MP did try his best to highlight them at the Labour Party Conference 2014.

So Scotland … what a tragedy for a few great Labour MPs, like Katy Clark and others, but the truth is that many, if not most, Scottish Labour-held seats were profoundly neglected by their Blairite MPs.  Their constituents really were ‘taken for granted’.  As Ben Margulies puts it, ‘the SNP won by defeating the “rotten structures of Scottish Labour”

Again, this cannot fairly be laid at Ed Miliband’s feet.

Ian Williams in Tribune describes the birth of New Labour:

‘Clinton set the model for New Labour – ostentatiously disavowing calumniated “special interest groups”, while pandering to the right…..  Unlike Clinton, the Blair administration did a lot of good work – but party bosses did not want anyone boasting about it, in case it alienated the financiers whom they hoped would replace the unions as bankrollers for the party.

In both cases, the plan was to hollow out the popular base of the parties, denying members effective input on policy or candidates, to reduce it to a PO box for corporate donations. As we saw in the Labour Party, it became a self-perpetuating career escalator for machine politicians that eventually ruthlessly weeded out any signs of dissent and any ties with the unions apart from topping up the collection box.

And nowhere was this model more surely adopted than by Scottish New Labour MPs.

Yes, the tipping point in Scotland was the referendum … and it was Ed Miliband’s fault for supporting the idea …. But who in their right minds thought it was a good idea for Labour to join forces with the Tories in the No campaign!!?

The idea is surely repugnant to any left-winger but yet again the transatlantacist right of the LP were seduced by US fantasy politics which promotes ‘bipartisanship’ as a high ideal to which they should aspire. Perhaps, if they had actually been in touch with their membership, they might have realised sooner that it wasn’t an aspiration shared by their fellow Scots who saw it as further evidence of ‘Red Tories’… and the dissipating Labour vote (ignored from 2007 onward) finally rotted away.

Anyway, the collapse of the LD vote and the loss of 40 Scottish MPs might have been mitigated, had Labour not made another fatal mistake.

What on earth possessed them to oppose the EU Referendum?

Was this ‘Hell yeah’ politics, toughing it out, holding the line?  Even pro-EU voters were invited to feel patronized.  Talk about handing a majority to the Tories.

ComRes opinion polling (post-election) found that 17% of Conservative and LD voters, and 33% of Ukip voters would have considered voting Labour, if Labour had been in support of a referendum on the EU.  In terms of MPs, that alone would have deprived the Tories of their majority.  ComRes estimated that Labour would have gained 8 seats leaving the Conservatives with 323, 3 short of a majority.

The amazing thing is that in spite of losing 40 Scottish MPs, and 27 LD seats going straight to the Tories, Labour still increased its vote in England and Wales by 1.5m in 2015 whereas the Tories only gained 500k.  But unfortunately, Labour largely built up its vote in unwinnable and safe seats, and although, there were 22 gains, the loss of 48 meant that Labour ended up with only 232 MPs.

In fact, the British Election Study team found that

‘Miliband was seen as having a more successful campaign than Cameron, perhaps against low expectations. This rating of who ‘performed best in the campaign’ switched in Cameron’s favour shortly before the election’

 

It also seems that the Ed Miliband team made the false assumption that the Tories would lose votes to Ukip, and disillusioned LDs would switch to Labour.  In the event, Labour probably only gained about 8% of the 2010 LD vote, former LDs being more than prepared to vote Conservative.  (Amazingly a lot of LD votes must have gone to Ukip – only half of Ukip’s 3.8m votes seem to have been taken from former Con or Lab voters )

The final cutting irony was that the collapse of the LD vote meant that the Tories gained a further 7 MPs because Labour supporters (and others) withdrew their tactical votes for the LD MP.  For example in Lewes constituency which was considered to be a safe LD seat, Norman Baker MP lost 7925 votes which split fourways between Ukip, Labour, Greens and Conservatives.  The new Tory MP was elected with only 805 votes above the 2010 losing result.

In the final analysis, Mark Doel of Sheffield sums it up…it was the UK electoral system that won it for the Tories. Not since universal suffrage has any party with less than 37% of the popular vote gained an absolute majority in the UK parliament. In fact, the swing to Labour (1.5%) was almost twice that to the Conservatives (0.8%) ….

Talk of David Cameron “sweeping to victory” adds wind to the sails of a government that acts as though it has a massive mandate when, by any account, a 12-seat majority is tiny, especially as it is built on the fluke distribution of an historically small proportion of votes. We must stop allowing the Tories to present this result as “a convincing victory”.

Charles Cronin of London adds:

‘…Lynton Crosby’s seeming effortless success in promoting the Tory party’s domination of the media could only have succeeded with the editorial support of the media. The BBC, as it must, covered and followed the press agenda. Don’t give too much praise to the creator of the message: it was the messengers that swung it.’

 

However, I cannot finish without pin-pointing the role of the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, in Ed Miliband’s failure to win the 2015 GE.  This is of overwhelming significance for the electability of Jeremy Corbyn in 2020.

Professor Eunice Goes‘ assessment of the 2015 campaign was that:

Ed Miliband was a flawed leader but the responsibility for the Labour’s colossal defeat on May 7 does not rest solely on his shoulders. Party divisions, plots, constant media attacks paralysed the party, in particular its policy development process. When the electoral manifesto was finally approved last spring the proposals that came out were confusing, unconvincing and uninspiring as Miliband tried to cater to all factions and ended up pleasing none….

And writing before his election as leader, her contention was that Jeremy Corbyn will not be allowed to lead the LP:

‘.. he will be de facto prevented from leading the Labour Party. The weekly duels in the House Commons with the Prime Minister David Cameron will be the least of Corbyn’s worries. He will be torn apart by his parliamentary party and the media. He will not be able to develop a single policy proposal, as he will be spending most of his time and energy explaining and justifying every single word he uttered during his long parliamentary career about Europe, Trident, coal mines, people’s quantitative easing or Israeli oranges. In other words, his leadership will collapse under pressure from opposition and resistance from all fronts.

But when this will happen the right of the party will have few reasons to rejoice as there is no greater electoral turn-off than to see – as we’ve witnessed in the past weeks – the spectacle of Labour apparatchiks treating the party’s membership and their democratic choices with such contempt.’

 

The experience of the last 4 months bears ample witness to Eunice Goes’ prediction… and yet, there is still room for hope.  I am not alone in feeling reassured that the Corbyn/ McDonnell team is much more experienced and streetwise, than Ed Miliband’s.  In addition, the membership have been exposed to the Labour Establishment’s contempt for democracy.

Let’s hope that the ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it’ mentality from the Labour Right eventually fades away, even if it is only out of self-interest.

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/295975145 /Learning-the-Lessons-from-Defeat-Taskforce-Report

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2016/01/23/all-my-sons/

http://www.huwirranca-davies.org.uk/what-can-labour-do-to-win-the-rural-vote/

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/53094-2/

http://www.tribunemagazine.org/2016/01/letter-from-america-ian-williams-3/

http://www.britishelectionstudy.com/bes-impact/learning-the-right-lessons-from-labours-2015-defeat/#.VqzyKuk27oA

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/24/lynton-crosbys-role-in-the-tory-election-victory

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/even-if-he-wins-jeremy-corbyn-will-never-be-able-to-lead-the-labour-party/

https://think-left.org/2015/08/30/what-the-labour-establishment-didnt-really-want-us-to-know/