(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’.)
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.
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.
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.