Rope a Dope with Jezza
Jeremy Corbyn is at the centre of a very public political coup d’etat led by the PLP, sections of the media and the Blairite rearguard. Some have the best intentions, most do not. Labour is in civil war and Corbyn is the Winter Soldier.
While you can get consumed in the spectacle of the Laura Kuennsberg media-cabal in operation, or watching Alistair Campbell knifing people on autopilot, the reality is that the conspirators lack three things necessary to succeed: a mandate from within the Labour Party membership, an alternative coherent platform, or a viable candidate. Their project is based on two things, personal attacks and ‘Anyone But Jeremy’. I’ve read nothing which has deflected from the suspicion that the Blairites’ Corbyn coup is motivated with one eye on the Brexit turmoil and another on next week’s Chilcot Inquiry. While the plotters plot the irony overload klaxon sounds with Campbell – creator of Tony Blair Inc – talking about decency and ‘it’s becoming like a personality cult’ (sic).
The disconnect between the Parliamentary Labour Party and its membership is now so huge it is two entities operating under one name. This is creating a Psycho Party with Norman Bates and Mother appearing in public dialogue but private grief. It’s time to go down to the fruit cellar.
But for all the incessant media glare, 24 News cycle hostility, the last polling found that a significant 64 per cent of members would vote for Mr Corbyn in a leadership ballot triggered by an attempted coup. Crucially Corbyn still has the support of Unite and other unions with Len McCluskey last night saying: “The extraordinary behaviour of Labour MPs has achieved nothing beyond diverting attention from a Tory government in crisis.”
Leadership and Charisma
Corbyn’s personal manner is under a hail of attack and has been ever since he was elected. Male politicians are expected to be decisive, smooth and charismatic, and Corbyn certainly fails on all fronts. I like that he doesn’t care at all. He is relentlessly uncertain, collegiate, a team-player in a one player game.
He is not an Alpha Male and this causes complete cognitive dissonance for most of the commentariat.
The question is not has Corbyn failed. Of course he’s failed. He’s failed because he could not succeed under the terms set-out about masculinity, political leadership and economic orthodoxy. The question is not has Corbyn failed, the question is what you would replace him with, and what you will do when they come for you? How will you manage to break from your own party, and reject the tens of thousands of grassroots members motivated by a new left ideal?
This isn’t just a battle for the soul of the Labour Party, it’s a battle for how you do politics. The media class believe in themselves. The story goes like this. What you need is a slick PR machine around you, simplified and coordinated messaging, triangulation and seizing the fabled ‘centre ground’. It’s Lynton Crosby still or crash.
Anything else will fail.
The problem with that is that’s exactly what they had with Ed Miliband and it was a dire and dismal flop, and it’s a model that’s been overwhelmingly rejected by the Labour Party members. It goes against the grain that the anti-politics is driven by people completely sick of this anodyne artificial politics.
Any incoming post-Corbyn leader can ignore all of this if they want but they are likely to fail.
It’s not one individual who has ‘failed’ it is the Labour Party that has failed, and it’s not just over the last six or twelve months. Steve Topple writing in the Canary:
“If there was ever a time for the phrase “head in the sand” to be used, it is now. Either these members of factions like “Labour First”, “Blue Labour” and “Progress” are so utterly detached from the public they cannot see the wood for the trees, or they are so rabidly self-interested they do not care.Whichever it is, the working class sent a clear message to them with the EU referendum on Friday. And, in their usual, obtuse manner, they are choosing to ignore it. Middlesbrough, in the North East of England, voted to leave the EU by 65.5% – making it one of the stronger Brexit areas in the UK. But the bizarre thing is that this is a Labour stronghold. So why did they ignore the party’s Remain message en masse?
The town was ranked as the most deprived in England in 2015, based on the number of areas it has that are considered to be impoverished. Over half its neighbourhoods were living in deprivation; an increase on 2010 statistics, and the town has been in the top ten since 2004. Middlesbrough ranked third in the “Employment Deprivation” index; that is, the number of people who are on Job Seekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, or Severe Disablement Allowance. Furthermore, a quarter of the population are considered to be living in “Income Deprivation“, which is, in layman’s terms, families who are staggeringly poor.
The child poverty rate is 37% in the town, with the ward of Thorntree having the highest level, at a shocking 61% – which means 1,288 children are affected. Overall, these figures mean that more than 9,000 children live in poverty in Middlesbrough. Other key statistics are:
- One in five children die as infants in Middlesbrough who would not have died elsewhere;
- The average lifespan for a boy is two-and-a-half years less than the national average;
- More than 10% of babies have a low birth weight compared with just over 7% nationally, which has been linked to the rising incidence of children with complex needs;
- The number of Child Protection Plans in place in Middlesbrough is double the national average with the number of looked-after children 88% higher than the national average.
This all paints a sadly disturbing picture of one of the North East’s largest towns. But it is also a damning indictment of an area which has always been a Labour stronghold.”
There’s no Northern Powerhouse. That was just spin.
For those citing the remarkable spontaneous show of support for Corbyn yesterday, there is though a warning. Political activists aren’t representative of the electorate, and, as we’ve seen here in recent years, it’s easy to delude yourself from within the bubble that ‘the movement’ or the moment you’re experiencing is hat everyone else is experiencing. It isn’t.
Even Corbyn’s most fervent supporters are realising this. Owen Jones has written::
“The Labour leadership has never achieved the poll lead Ed Miliband (who went on to lose) had at this stage in the cycle, and that can only be partly explained by the loss of Scotland. The Tories — and the country — are in crisis and their prime minister a lameduck, but today a poll gave them a 4 point lead. Yesterday a poll put Labour neck-and-neck with the Tories, but read the smallprint: 53% of people who voted Labour in 2015 want Jeremy Corbyn to resign. The Tories are set to elect Boris Johnson — whether we like it or not, one of the country’s most popular politicians — as their leader, riding a wave of post-referendum euphoria on the part of the majority who voted to leave the European Union. Yes, Labour won mayoral elections in London and Bristol, and I expect it would do relatively well in a general election in major urban centres, particularly among the minority of younger people who can currently be mobilised to vote, not least in diverse communities. Elsewhere looks to be different. In smaller working-class towns, the danger of a re-energised UKIP ‘doing an SNP’ and storming Labour heartlands is a very obviously clear danger. The prospects of winning support in Scotland in a few months are nil.”
Yes, Labour won mayoral elections in London and Bristol, and I expect it would do relatively well in a general election in major urban centres, particularly among the minority of younger people who can currently be mobilised to vote, not least in diverse communities. Elsewhere looks to be different. In smaller working-class towns, the danger of a re-energised UKIP ‘doing an SNP’ and storming Labour heartlands is a very obviously clear danger. The prospects of winning support in Scotland in a few months are nil.
Political Ju Jitsu
Of the likely candidates Angela Eagle and Tom Watson are current favourites, with Alan Johnson and Hillary Benn lurking in the wings. But what is the political task? Is it to paper over the cracks and ‘save the party’? Is it to pretend these fundamental differences don’t exist? Is it to win the next election over Boris Johnston?
The reality is that a ‘unity candidate’ in Watson would be a very short-term prospect, a new centrist party would split the vote and confuse the ‘brand’, and an entrenched Corbyn Labour can’t win.
Labour England Britain
Why does any of this matter in Scotland?
Because Labour’s crisis remains at the fault-line of the British constitutional crisis and at the heart of English cultural identity. If Labour can’t articulate an alternative then someone else will. And, even if we have watched the collapse of Scottish Labour, it still survives on in the folk-memory of the broadcaster.
Yesterday Incoherent Annie intimated her support for ousting her leader. Laura Kuennsberg tweeted enthusiastically: “Breaking – Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, says ‘if I had lost support of 80pc of my MSPs I could not do my job’.
Dugdale is most senior elected Labour figure to suggest Corbyns position is impossible
— Laura Kuenssberg (@bbclaurak) June 28, 2016
It matters because this crisis has broken Britain but something else has to emerge. As Anthony Barnett writes:
“The country can no longer be “Great Britain”, thanks to Scotland – if only by default, but nonetheless all the more definitive because of this. It can still be a federal Britain should the Scots agree. But not a Britain ruled thoughtlessly by English supremacists. If we wish to be European, then progressives in England whether socialist, liberal, green, Labourist, pluralist, or Varoufakis, have to speak for England, from England, as English. Otherwise we are a bygone. Brexit was an English call. If we wish to reverse its polarity from negative to positive we have to embrace the source of its energy as our own.”
Reversing the Labour crisis from negative to positive seems unlikely but it is closely tied to questions of English identity which have lain unexamined for too long.