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On Labour being taken over by Lefties

August 2, 2015

It really has been quite extraordinary declaring myself as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. I have been subjected to what I can only describe as a consistent, concerted and aggressive campaign of intimidation.

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Everything from people just swearing at me, to supporters of other candidates trawling through my past tweets and blogs in order to misinterpret some criticism of the Labour Party as “treason” and alert HQ to it, to MPs sending me private message calling me disgusting for saying that ad hominem attacks are counterproductive.

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This hysteria boils down to three basic issues:

1. The fervent belief that moving the party to the left will mean electoral oblivion.
2. The notion that the only thing worth being is “in power”, regardless of what you do to get there.
3. A narrow view of the Labour grassroots movement as some private members-only club.

Does Labour moving to the left equal electoral oblivion?

Central to this claim is the juxtaposition of Tony Blair’s “golden years” versus Ed Miliband “move to the left” costing Labour the last election. Both elements of this argument are simply fictitious.

Tony Blair’s victory was as much a product of the previous few elections as it was of the 1997 campaign. Labour had consistently improved its position since its low point in 1983 (27.6% to 30.8% to 34.4% to 43.2%). Remember that before John Smith’s untimely death, Labour was widely predicted to win the election, having established an ostensibly unassailable 23 point lead over the Tories. A week before he passed away, the Conservatives suffered a spectacular defeat in Council elections.

From the point of Blair’s election onwards Labour’s share of the vote began to steadily decline (43.2% to 40.7% to 35.2% to 29%) and actually rallied a little under Miliband to 30.4%, despite being obliterated in Scotland. You can see all the figures here. The facts, then, are that Labour was a party ascendant since 1983 and declining since 1997. You may not like it, but that is the only cogent conclusion.

It is also worth noting that Ed Miliband’s peaks in the polls coincided with the moments in which he stood up to the Murdoch press, committed to price regulation and reform of the energy market and promised to control rents and abolish the nondom tax status. And it was moments during which this message was confused with pink vans, immigration mugs, Sun photo ops and Edstones that his popularity dipped.

I’m not saying that Blair’s policies did not help him to get initially elected. They did. But they were also deeply unpopular while in government – the decision to go to war with Iraq saw the biggest exodus of Labour Party members, seeing membership dip to levels not recorded since the 1930s. It is also worth noting that Blair was not just positioning himself in order to win. He genuinely believed in his programme and could orate on it with authenticity and passion.

Personalities and style are important, too. There is little doubt in my mind that Miliband offering precisely the programme Blair did in 1997 may not have been elected and a young unknown Blair, offering Miliband’s policies in 2010 may have. Although, this is clearly imponderable.

It is also bizarre to exclude from the equation the demise of Thatcher, Black Wednesday and allegations of sleaze from the 1997 election result. As bizarre as it is to exclude allowing Tories free rein to establish a narrative of Labour being responsible for the global financial crisis from the result in 2010.

In short, Blair’s success as much as Miliband’s failure are down to an immensely complex nexus of circumstances. To reduce them to “move to the right = winning” versus “move to the left = losing” is a profoundly cynical move by those who want the party to move to the right regardless.

We can’t do any good, unless we’re in power

The political landscape is shaped by all political forces. Labour are currently ignoring their role as Opposition in a maniacal dash to calibrate and triangulate their position aiming for electoral victory in 2020. Not only is this unbelievably daft, because it is far too soon and there will be immense, game-changing events in between, some of which we know about (Referendum on European membership) and most of which we don’t, but also because it ignores a distinct, tangible and inexorable panEuropean shift of popular movements towards anti-austerity politics.

Absconding from the job of Opposition is an unforgivable snub to the nine million people who voted for Labour and gave it the second most important position in British politics. It is being observed, it will be prominent in voters’ minds and it will further weaken Labour’s voting base (the main challengers in the North will be UKIP, who will be able to say “look, they’re all the same”, mark my words).

One only needs to look at how the SNP has progressed or how Nigel Farage has forced a referendum to understand the long term value of having a clear, unwavering message in a landscape of shifting values and disenfranchisement. The apter question, in my mind, is this: If Labour shift their policies to the extent of not offering a clear alternative to the Conservatives, (a) what good are they to working people, whether in power or not; and (b) why would anyone vote for them instead of the real Tories?

The Labour Party as a private members’ club

It is indicative that in the last few days I have been attacked as a “three quid socialist”, a Marxist entryist, a clicktivist, a hipster fair-weather fan etc. etc. It is indicative of the mindset within established Labour circles. Three quid for someone like me – and millions of others – means food for as much as a couple of days. It is not an insignificant amount.

Any other party would cheer hundreds of thousands of people suddenly becoming inspired by one of the leadership candidates and joining the movement. They would instantly think “Maybe this guy has something that is attractive to voters”. But no, not Labour. Labour is proving itself to be the ultimate authoritarian, establishment structure in which seniority and rank are the only things which render one’s opinion worthwhile.

Consumed by conspiracy theories, this is a party membership unable to argue for any of “their” candidates’ policies. I have genuinely not had a single tweet clearly stating “I am voting for X, because A, B, and C policy will be great for the country”. It is a party looking inwards and to the past. Asking only “What is good for the party?”, instead of “What is good for the country?” They still think Blairism – now over twenty years old – is a modernising concept; not the thing that was tried and didn’t work. The gap between rich and poor has widened consistently for the last thirty years. They think that they can rerun the 1997 election and win, as if nothing has changed in the intervening years. Everything has changed.

“You voted for the Greens at the Euro elections”, accuses one. Yes, I did so specifically and publicly for the first time in my life, because I felt that Labour had drifted too much to the right. I now see an opportunity to reclaim my place in the party. Hundreds of thousands see the same to a sufficient extent to part with money – even if only three quid. I note that, when I campaigned vocally for my local Labour candidate in May, nobody asked me to show them a membership card. Anyone can join, it seems, as long as they toe the line. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Labour voter all your life, the “worthy” will find a way to discredit you as disloyal to the party.

This is why Labour lost the last election. And why it will probably lose the next one and the one after that. Because it sees anyone not voting for it as either cruel or stupid, anyone critical of its policies as disloyal, and feels absolutely entitled to electoral success. The Pasokification of the party will continue apace unless it understands that this is not so.

By all means, continue accusing progressive people from the left political space of being infiltrators, while lifting your skirts to show your neoliberal ankle to a handful of voters in Tory marginals and shouting “Oranges! Oranges!” The result of sharing the “austerity platform” with your opponents will be as inevitable as sharing the “No platform” was in Scotland: complete obliteration.

It is just very, very sad for those of us who understand what is happening to watch.

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44 Comments leave one →
  1. Rose permalink
    August 2, 2015 1:15 pm

    Wish I could pay my three quid! Despite being on electoral roll and speaking with Labour staff to confirm this, I’m still turned away. Wonder if it’s because I said I wanted to vote for Corbyn? I’ll keep trying, although we’re into double figures now.

    • August 2, 2015 1:16 pm

      Many are having similar trouble. Is there a local office you can go to?

  2. August 2, 2015 1:25 pm

    I joined online, via the online payment portal.

    • August 2, 2015 6:48 pm

      Yup me too, they’ve got my money they’ll have to take my vote……For JC.

  3. August 2, 2015 1:28 pm

    This is an excellent post, Alex. Thank you.

  4. patrickgraham58 permalink
    August 2, 2015 1:43 pm

    An excellent eloquent summary Alex,
    – of what I have been feeling and experiencing as a Green, (left Labour due to Iraq and NHS privatisation that Tony Blair did a hypocritical U-turn on). Apparently my enthusiasm for the policies and approach Corbyn represents makes me a “useless snide scumbag” who should “leave well alone”.

    Just the attitude of that elite club (exSpad sums it up) is enough to put me off rejoining the Labour party – their approach is so self-defeating as to be almost hilarious…

    Nye Bevan would turning Green in his grave…

  5. patrickgraham58 permalink
    August 2, 2015 1:48 pm

    Reblogged this on blog and commented:
    “Sturdy” Alex Andreou writes eloquently on a topic I’ve been arguing with many people.
    Particularly noteworthy is the simple analysis of Blair being the start of the decline of Labour, whereas its growth (that put him in No. 10) could be attributed to others who went before him.

  6. August 2, 2015 2:07 pm

    Lookig back people seem to like to over-simplify. Thatcher won OT because of her innate popularity but because of the circumstances surrounding her: Falklands/Miners/split opposition.

    The same was true of Blair except that even Iraq was not enough for him to lose power [just votes] against such a rubbish opposition.

    As for E.M. – it was not his policies that caused him to lose but his personality and inability to make any consistents sense: part of that was the stupid idea that, in a major economy, every spending initative has to be precisely costed against some mythical saving elsewhere.

    Its actually much more complex than that but everybody is frightened to say so.

  7. August 2, 2015 5:18 pm

    Brilliant article going straight to Face book.
    Jeremy Corbyn may not be elected, may not make it to the next election but I’m bloody glad he is here now. And that we are able to have this debate. I am fed up with the arrogance and hubris of the current labour party and the other candidates who are empty vessels, issuing humid dank air only and if they are the best Labour can provide we are indeed doomed. I am sure some of them are very nice people so my attack is on their negative attitudes and Me Me Me attitude. Finally am sick and tired of the attitude of those in the Labour Party and the media who treat Corbyn supporters as mad bad and dangerous. Barak Obama didn’t expect to get to the White House but he had a bloody good try and as we know was successful So who knows what will happen but at least lets have a respectful and compassionate debate about the needs of our country not just the wants of the monied.

  8. August 2, 2015 5:37 pm

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

  9. August 2, 2015 6:20 pm

    Thank you for being the first “known” writer I’ve seen to point out in a blog or article that Labour MPs actually have a job to do and are paid quite a lot of money to do it. They have to represent their actual constituents, not worry about climbing the greasy pole in five years. In most jobs it would be completely unacceptable to neglect (or redefine) your responsibilities so shamelessly.

  10. August 2, 2015 6:22 pm

    “I can’t believe you don’t think my chance of having a good career is more important than your right to feed your family or yourself while battling MS” – senior Labour figures everywhere

  11. August 2, 2015 6:36 pm

    Labour was 23% ahead in the polls before John smiths death one polla year earlier had 13% after black Wednesday,y baring in mind polls were bias to labour and a poll a week before Smiths drag labour were 1% ahead,and the council election victory was after smiths death Just before Blair becoming leader

    As for member leaving,yes but there an extra 250,000 who joined in the first place

    Regarding Bliar and Ed Miliband Blair worse victory 9.6m in 2005 compared to Ed getting 9.3 plus ,yes labours vote/percentage did go up from 8.4m and 27.4% in 1983 so losing most of those votes under BlIr brown doesn’t reflect the fact they still did better than Foot,and Corbyn is too the left of foot

  12. Matthew Cole permalink
    August 2, 2015 9:06 pm

    There is a fair amount here I sympathise with and a lot I would challenge. However, I’ll limit myself to addressing the idea of Labour as a closed circle, hostile to outsiders.

    You write:

    “Any other party would cheer hundreds of thousands of people suddenly becoming inspired by one of the leadership candidates and joining the movement.”

    I can only speak for myself and not other Labour members (and the sneering attitude of some isn’t helpful, I concede) but I have looked on with increasing horror this summer as my party stampedes towards a cliff edge. The fact that some of those doing the stampeding have joined very recently (perhaps from other parties), and expressly to take part in the stampede, does make it worse, yes. It is a bit like seeing a family member fall under the sway of a cult.

    Because here’s the thing: I am absolutely clear in my mind that Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster for the popularity of the Labour Party. And as I’m absolutely clear in my mind about that, the imminent prospect of a Corbyn victory makes me desperate, sad, and pretty bloody angry. The sneering, the vitriol, the insults? I understand it completely.

    I would really love you to be right. I would love there to be a hidden left-wing cohort out there, nestling quietly in all those Tory-Labour marginals we’ll need to win in 2020, just waiting for the second coming of Tony Benn to wake them from their slumbers. (Sorry, that possibly qualifies as a sneer, doesn’t it?)

    I would quite genuinely be delighted. But I’m willing to bet that if I return to this article in twelve months time, ten and a half months on from a Corbyn victory, things will look very different indeed. The optimism will have vanished. Labour will be languishing in the low 20s in the polls. Corbyn will be gone or very nearly. And the real fight, the fight to save Labour as a viable major party in the 21st century, will begin.

    • August 2, 2015 9:40 pm

      Matt,

      The thing is, though, that the Labour Party is not your family member. It is a movement with a very specific purpose and past. (If it truly does belong to anyone then that someone is the unionism movement – and it has behaved atrociously to it.) In the context it being a movement, there to help the working class, it belongs as much to me as it does to you. In any case, how do you explain his endorsement by most local constituency associations, if this is all about entryists?

      It is clear to me that, increasingly, electorates don’t see themselves as right-left, but as socially progressive/regressive and economically for state intervention or not. In that framework, the navel gazing of the party is what is destructive.

      That Corbyn has captured something out there is undeniable. All your fears aside, where are the thousands rushing to join in order to support Cooper or Burnham? Does their complete absence not tell you something?

      The things we say are not tangential to the narrative. They shape the narrative. If half the Labour Party are already putting out the story that Corbyn will be a disaster and that they will do anything they can undermine him, it will be come a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you genuinely “hope” that those voters are out there, why not take a punt? Why not be positive and trust the democratic judgment of the majority of the party and get behind the leader that is elected?

      • Matthew Cole permalink
        August 2, 2015 11:33 pm

        Alex,

        It’s clearly not all entryism. And I recognise I have no unique ownership of the Labour Party.

        However, I was offering an insight into why some of those not in the Corbyn camp might be feeling a bit cheesed off about what’s happening. I think it is unfair to characterise the frustrations of those who fear the party is embracing catastrophe as “Labour… proving itself to be the ultimate authoritarian, establishment structure.”

        Clearly, Corbyn has captured something within the selectorate of the leadership contest. I highly doubt that will translate into broad popular appeal amongst the (far less ideological) British electorate, but we shall see.

        Why not take a punt, you ask? Perhaps because I’m more pessimistic than you are. I think Labour’s in a pretty parlous state right now. A reputation for economic incompetence, however undeserved, can destroy political parties. There is no law that says Labour must survive and no certainty about what might replace it. There is no law that says a party of the working class must be progressive. There is no law that says the principal opposition to the Conservatives in this country must be social democratic.

        Even discounting the more apocalyptic scenarios, a bad result in 2020 could put back the end of Conservative government a further ten years. It is also much harder to oppose a government if they have no realistic expectation of being defeated (if Labour are running at 21% in the polls, for instance).

        And you admit yourself that “personalities and style are important.” Three months ago the British public considered our leader a laughable prospect as PM. Jeremy Corbyn, as lovely and decent a man as he may be, makes Ed Miliband look like Eisenhower. He doesn’t even really want to lead the party, let alone become Prime Minister! The party would be a national laughing stock and I fear that whatever good things Corbyn might have to say would be drowned out by a chorus of derision in the media. It could make it even harder for left-wing ideas to get a hearing in the future.

        But look, if he gets elected I won’t do anything drastic like leaving the party. It will certainly be interesting to watch what happens.

        But I’ll be watching from behind the sofa and between my fingers.

      • August 3, 2015 12:53 am

        You forgot to mention whom you will be supporting and why you think their policies are great for the country.

        That is the debate in total. Finger-wagging and articulating reason upon reason of why Corbyn will be a disaster. No positive case for the others. No positive case for the country. We’d rather keep schtumm, nod along to every cap, abstain on every cut, accept their budgets and their philosophy, even though we know they are terrible for the country, because it might be good for the party.

        That is what the party has become – a tepid, neoliberal, establishment tool that gives not a shit about the working people who need it – and that is why it needs Corbyn.

  13. Sheila permalink
    August 3, 2015 7:30 am

    I wish you would be candidate for Labor ‘ s new leader. You’d get at the very last my vote!

  14. August 3, 2015 8:06 am

    Reblogged this on nearlydead.

  15. Rekeiji permalink
    August 3, 2015 8:11 am

    Spot on. Labour is so busy insulting new members and getting offended at being called Tories that they cant be botheed to ask why.

    I dont care about winning the next GE, thats 5 years of utter dystopian misery away. I want the Opposition to try opposing things. The bloody SNP know how to do it and if only theyd drop the fossilised Nationalits angle and come south I’d vote for them.

  16. August 3, 2015 8:22 am

    There seems to be a total refusal by Labour to acknowledge he influence the right-wing press has on political debate. It’s not as simplistic as the idea they tell their readers how go vote (the strawman argument always dismissed by people who don’t want to talk about it). The press strongly influence what is talked about, decide the language that will be used, are the judges of who’s “winning”… they dominate HOW politics is conducted. Don’t forget how often “journalists” are used as commentators on the major political TV shows, they have a virtual monopoly when it comes to opinions broadcast on mass media.

    The left need to confront the right-wing press head-on, instead of trying to appease them. And when I say confront, I don’t mean just mention their ownership everyso often, I mean challenge them publicly for being corrupt mouthpieces of Tory sponsors, attack their behaviour, relentlessly question their motives, point-blank refuse to accept their language when talking about politics. Stuff it, organise some undercover stings against the “journalists” and editors, get *them* on camera doing coke, hold out some juicy story about a Labour MP having an affair or behaving badly and secretly film what *they* say at the meetings.

  17. August 3, 2015 8:23 am

    Thank you! You have clearly expressed what I feel. I am voting Corbyn and I’m telling everyone I know why – for all the reasons you have so eloquently stated.

  18. August 3, 2015 11:26 am

    Your perspective and insights are alway so well reasoned, thank you. I delight in the enthusiasm both positive and negative for this leadership campaign, it’s clearly making people define their own position. For some it seems to be solely about being in power again to hell with actually challenging the party in power or in fact having some principles. It’s not enough merely to show that Labour is sufficiently economically competent to be elected. In fact that has never been the issue other than with Tory/media trashing it and spinning downright lies. I read in another Blog that Corbyn wasn’t a Messiah, I thank god for that, but he has passion and principles and I for one am grateful for that. The thought that any of the other 3 candidates might succeed fills me with despair and is much more likely to cast Labour into the wilderness of un-electability for years to come, and I consider myself to be fairly moderate. No Marxist, no Trotskyist me.

  19. Bertthebold permalink
    August 3, 2015 4:35 pm

    Welcome to the world of the shy online Tory. Leading into the election on my Twitter world anyone offering up anything other blind support for Ed Miliband was quickly and aggressively vilified; the Internet was rife with “why Labour voters are altogether better people than…” type articles as the campaign became increasingly tribal – and it was very much a one way street. Standing in my polling booth, ballot paper in hand deciding who to accord my all important vote I couldn’t bring myself to vote Labour – too much arrogance and anger, and that just for starters.

    My general view is that Socialism is only acceptable if administered with some level of humility. No party can look inwardly with conceit, or outwardly with contempt; we’re all in this together and most of us will have at least some empathy for our fellow countrymen of differing political persuasion.

    I think the blog is a great and incisive read: I think that in a better world Corbyn could be an excellent leader; but there, for me, is the rub.

  20. August 3, 2015 5:46 pm

    Excellent post. It also accurately describes what is happening on this side of the pond. U. S. Democrats should be reading this post and taking it to heart. Republican lite is ultimately a losing position, but Wall Street loves it.

    >

  21. August 3, 2015 11:30 pm

    Great piece Alex!

  22. August 4, 2015 2:40 am

    Many are having problems registering as supporters.

  23. Jason permalink
    August 5, 2015 10:54 am

    Brilliant article Alex. I feel exactly the same way.

  24. August 6, 2015 7:09 am

    It’s very trendy to bash Blair. Had it not been for the tragedy of the Iraq adventure, I would rate theBlair-Brown government as the best of my 57 yearlifetime. It is the only government which made life better for almost everyone, and it rescued our crumbling school and health infrastructure. And saved the world when the crash came. What’s not to like? Oh yes, Iraq. And the surveillance state. Still, many good things. And they won the argument for social democracy, to the point where the Tories had to become Labor light (NOT the other way round, as many seem to believe) and have relied upon Austerianism to roll back to their comfort zone. Incidentally, my spellchecker just gave me Satanism. As so often, it is wise.

    It is amazing just how quickly we have redrafted our view of Miliband as a useless no hoper. He was a courageous and effective opposition leader, scoring more direct hits than any I can remember. In particular, taking on Murdoch which no one else has had the guts for in thirty years. And winning. Even if that did cost is the election, it was a price worth paying. If you actually look at his policies and messages, they weren’t quite so Austerian as he painted them. A little too clever, perhaps?

    But the central point is right. Were desperately need a clear narrative. Perhaps Corbyn can provide that. If he can mould his instinct for the right side of individual issues into a coherent strategy. The papers think not. But what do they know?

  25. Rebekah Hirsch permalink
    August 6, 2015 9:43 am

    Good article. I did not vote for a decade after Blair took us into Iraq. In the last couple of years I’ve started despondently voting Green. Corbyn has given me hope. At last here is something/someone I actually WANT to vote FOR! Yes, for many years the Labour party has become deluded into seeking nothing but electoral success, at all costs. This is a reflection of the collapse of a humane value system that has overtaken all our politics and invaded our culture where our only measure of success is money and power. Jeremy Corbyn is the first potential Labour leader in decades to stand for real social values. AND he seems to have a credible plan! If he wins this election I will very happily get back to my roots and join the Labour party.

  26. August 8, 2015 10:05 pm

    Reblogged this on markcatlin3695's Blog.

  27. August 13, 2015 3:59 am

    Reblogged this on Oso Sabio Reblogs.

  28. August 13, 2015 4:24 am

    Brilliant article. I feel my own views echoed in many ways. Have a look at my take on the leadership contest if you get a chance – https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/new-labour-is-right-wing-but-corbyn-could-change-that/

  29. September 14, 2015 3:01 am

    ok i’m commenting late but hope you read anyway: Re your point, ‘A week before he [John Smith] passed away, the Conservatives suffered a spectacular defeat in Council elections’:Local government politics frequently present as the mirror opposite of national politics, so I wouldn’t be too quick to ascribe causality of national developments to local developments or as showing some snowball or generalising effect. Frequently the one represents a kick against the other. e.g. Labour Party branches in Tory controlled constituencies and unitary councils areas are far more left wing than in Labour controlled constituencies/ areas. This is key to understanding the difference between social democracy and socialism eg whether representative democracy is used by the elected few to maintain their position as policy makers (e.g. triangulate rightwards under pressure) or to involve and redistribute decision-making to the wider electorate.

Trackbacks

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