Conference: separation, rather than unity
There’s been a lot of talk about the surprising pleasantness of Labour conference. And it’s true. Far from the fist fights, and excluding some obscene and quickly shut down exemptions on the fringe, conference was a thoroughly enjoyable and happy affair. It usually is, even if as masochists we walk in expecting and even being there to observe some royal shitshow.
But, at the risk of bursting bubbles and being the cynic, I don’t think unity was much more than rhetorical.
The fringes were full of wonderful and motivating speakers pointing out just how united we were. And on the fringes -and maybe after three glasses of some really gross white wine- it is very easy to believe. Attending events on brexit, poverty, inequality, metro mayors. We, as a party, are incredibly united. This is reflected in much of the PLP too, despite popular myth.
Talking to Louise Haigh, she was clearly sincere when she told me her dissent agains the leadership was without a doubt one based on incompetence. So when Conference ended on a far better speech by Corbyn than he delivered in 2015, I am assured that much of the PLP and wider party felt a resurgence of loyalty and faith.
But, however sincere in rhetoric, there was an important characteristic to this odd affair: something felt very familiar about this conference.
I knew everyone.
The fables of insurgencies at the grassroots, indeed that which I’ve seen in the two CLPs I have gotten to know since Corbyn’s first election, was not reflected at conference. And if it was, it was in no corner that I managed to reach. And I spent much of my time wondering around aimlessly the exhibition floor.
No, for me, it was the feel of a school reunion. More than that, the school reunion of my predecessors. You may sincerely believe the party, however transformed, can coalesce and unite in such a way as to cheer Tom Watson’s speech calling for the defence of Blair. But I’m not sure I buy it. What I do buy is that the people I saw during my 3 hazy days on that exhibition floor -not so much the Right, but veterans who I recognised from the halcyon days of Ed Miliband- would absolutely cheer such a speech. But those that would not were simply absent at that time. Tom Watson’s enemies have not evaporated into thin air. They chose not to be present in any potential battlefield. It was that absence that made that hall in the speeches by both Sadiq and Tom feel thoroughly 2009.
Either that TWT was held elsewhere, and I hear it was very harmonious, or that we existed by the fringes, events and gatherings we attended (something I opted to do in place of perching myself on the balcony), or that more than just factional, there was a genuine generational impact on those that opted to attend. What it felt like to me was a trend of self-selection. And by implication a highly, autonomously and mutually managed event.
And this management was by obvious implication and assumption. The Fabian events were a moderate affair. LabourList that of older members, albeit not exclusively. And without needing to say, those organised at TWT would have given an implicitly exclusive space to their opposites. But the basic trend was that there was little shared ground to fight over. And no intent to change that.
Certainly, talking to people from the Right to the Soft Left to Corbynites, the mood was generally that of emotional and physical exhaustion, a hangover, or both. For the former two, the sense of powerlessness, of letting things slide for the four days and enjoying said four days as a bender or a chance to meet up with like-minded allies for a collective bender. For the latter, a sense it could be celebrated elsewhere, at TWT or in the fringe, where attention and anger wouldn’t be attracted. But both refused conference as a place to start or re-start hostilities, despite a few exemptions. Thanks, Max, and to Liam Young for his laughably melodramatic tweet that I read while watching members clap as the infamous guide dog Natalie navigate her obstacle course.
This wasn’t to say this divide and separation was even between Corbynites and his critics. But, as said, generationally more than anything else. The hall cheering Tom felt 2009 because it was 2009.
The few surprise unifiers that defy my presumptions are the rising stars: Clive Lewis and Angela Rayner, and the likes of Ed Miliband, Lisa Nandy, John Healey, and others, who developed followings and adorations on both sides of the party (or was that just me?). Their fringes, as with many, it goes without saying, were laden with Corbynites and critics alike. And when on the issues we all care about, the commonalities would shine through. And that was nice.
But beyond that, the peace felt rhetorical. The two sides were happy mostly to exist in parallel, coming together occasionally and without fuss. Both tribal. Both committed. But perhaps not quite there yet to sing D:Ream in harmony together. Unless I truly misread the composition of the crowd I was with at the Animal Welfare karaoke. I hope I did.
Brainwashed by Blairites #JustGirlyThings
Among other observations at my tumultuous CLP nomination meeting last night, I stumbled upon a strange phenomenon.
Sitting with two other Labour women, both of whom opposed Jeremy Corbyn, we found ourselves all discussing having been called ‘brainwashed’ for our views, often times repeatedly, online, by men on the Left.
‘Brainwashing’ and false consciousness are, of course, running themes on the Left, assigned to those with whom we disagree. Beyond gender, such a slur is often proscribed to working class people who do not fulfil the activists’ idealistic mould of what a working class person should be. A clear and recent example would be the backlash to GMB members voting to endorse Smith: so the story goes that they are too stupid to understand why Jeremy is better for them, or they all have Trident on the brain (God forbid they work to save their jobs, of course).
This well-tread narrative works as a comfort blanket for a Left that would rather engage its fantasies about people than the real deal. It has become increasingly pronounced by those that justify Corbyn’s bad standing among the public. While divided parties are infamously unpopular in history, the increasingly malign pointing of fingers at the PLP as the primary or only source of unpopularity suggests a logic that paints voters as resoundingly influenced by a shady elite, with no control over their own opinions of Jeremy Corbyn in isolation.
As such, ‘brainwashing’ and ‘brainwashed by Blairites’ have become a central motif in Corbyn’s Labour.
But in recent times, in the Corbyn era, it has also become heavily gendered.
I have had this repeatedly chucked at me, both online and in person, that I am a ‘young girl’ who will eventually ‘get it’. I had been ‘seduced by sinister forces’, in other words.
An early instance was being told in a pub debate that I had been brainwashed by Blairites because I thought effective opposition required of us to appear like a government-in-waiting. I just didn’t understand that we were a social movement now, see. I didn’t get the new politics. I didn’t get it at all.
But actually, it started even before that. I was interviewed by Channel 4 News with 3 other women -all intelligent, all articulate, all worthy of being there and having their views heard. In the comments, the Liz Kendall supporter, Yvette Cooper supporter, and myself as an Andy Burnham supporter were accused of being fed lines, reading from scripts, not having anything independent to say. Only the Corbynite girl spoke eloquently and from the heart.
But I hadn’t noticed a trend until after I had the audacity to introduce Owen Smith on stage in July. My friend Abby Tomlinson -an incredibly talented, intelligent and independent woman- had introduced him a week earlier. Ever since, there have been a select few trolls who constantly tweet us with references to us being ‘young girls’ who are naive, not idealistic enough, with one even blocking me promising to unblock me in 30 years time when I would hopefully have matured into the good little Corbynite I should be.
Since that audacious moment, we have both been, effectively, told we are being influenced from the “Blairite high powers”, as put sarcastically by Abby. Manipulated beyond our control. Despite both being on the soft left, we were malleable, and we didn’t even know it. As with the GMB voters, a shadowy elite was to blame for our corruption. And it is because we are ‘young girls’ that we are such easy targets. Nay, that is, apparently, why we were allowed the platform.
This isn’t a straw man, it is a constant. Something that, having picked up on it among peers, seems to be a common experience for women on the ‘wrong’ side of the argument. It is an easy go to for shutting down debate. This is both online and in person. And it is almost always men.
It creates a dangerous precedent for any women that wish to speak independently. Never taken seriously, we will be accused of already being spoken for. The result is that independent and fiery women -from Abby to Jess Phillips- have the air sucker-punched out of them, desist from a politics that does not tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion. To be ‘outspoken’ – a word, a friend pointed out, that is only ever used to describe women- is sinful. Only Jeremy can have principles. All who disagree are stupid, brainwashed, or -as Owen Jones noticed in his blog- supposedly doing it in bad faith. Either way, it is women who have to face the brunt of this. And not only do my values get questioned, but so too does my intelligence and independence of thought – something that I hold tremendously dear in politics, as I am sure all women do.
Misogyny in the Labour Party has become a central experience for many women on the Left. Our gender is hurled at us as a weapon. Now, it’s being used as a barometer for intelligence.
Women, as with working class voters, know what it feels like to be patronised. We’ve dealt with it for a millennia. We never thought, however, that we would have to deal with it from the Labour Party.
Vote for hope
We all live in our own bubbles.
Most Labour people that I socialize with are not voting for Jeremy Corbyn. But, at the end of the day, if we are at all the party we claim to be, it won’t be our friends in the Labour membership that we listen to, regardless of their views on Corbyn, but the people in our lives outside the party. That is our duty.
I live in a very Labour area. Also a traditionally working class area. Outside of my university and Labour circles, everyone in my older circles come from a working class background. They are a part of a minority that still vote Labour instinctively. I have been, and still am, influenced by these people more than anyone else. Growing up discovering injustice, and being lucky enough to climb the ladder to University, I have evolved into what my council estate mum and dad always were: a Labour voter. And tribal at that. But I was of an even smaller minority to actively join the party, in the hope I could contribute to it winning in 2015. That prospect kept me excited about politics, faithful in its power to change our lives.
But for me, voting Labour was not really a choice more than it was a necessity, or so I was always told. The Labour party, for friends and family, were always there at every election, a hope to keep or vote the Tories out, the latter of whom were our tribal, mortal enemies.
So, if we were to judge a leader’s and the party’s performance, it is these people that would account for the first hurdle for judgement. The people with whom I grew up not only account for Labour’s rapidly receding core vote, but more importantly, they need and deserve a Labour government, and they -we- have always truly feared the alternative.
Fear of Toryism doesn’t seem to be deeply entrenched in some of the Party’s membership. I would avoid caricatures, but there is nothing more deeply upsetting -coming from where I am from- than seeing fellow members belittle what ‘Tory’ means when they refer to other members and MPs as ‘Red Tories’. Especially those that cannot even nearly be described as Blairite, but have simply determined that Corbyn is too calamitous, too incompetent, to win. They do not fear losing.
Fear drives a lot of communities we seek to serve, but not, it would seem, a lot of members. The fear of Corbyn losing, as all the evidence suggests, a general election is not enough to deter supporters voting for him a second time round. They vote for hope instead. A very valuable thing.
Hope is something we as a party aspire to inspire. It is not unlikely or wrong that many members voted Corbyn in 2015 because he offered them hope. His programme was simply more inspirational and hopeful than his opponents, who offered little more than managing a increasingly malign status quo. Corbyn offered change. Corbyn offered hope. That motive was noble. It is something we should aim to inspire in others.
9 months later, communities like mine do not share in that hope.
Corbyn can no longer claim to be the candidate of hope. If he claims to be the ‘people’s’ candidate, it is no people I recognise.
Corbyn cannot claim these easy, appealing tag lines -for that is all they are- because, 9 months later, it is clear Corbyn cannot win, and Corbyn thus cannot inspire hope. All we have left is fear.
I know this because I ask people around me. When I ask the friends I’ve grown up with, they want Jeremy to go. My mum, for the first time in a leadership contest, will vote via her union affiliation for Owen Smith. For her, it is merely ‘obvious’, common sense, that he cannot win an election. Apparently, her staff room thinks so too. I got a chance to speak to her friend the other day, and the same sentiment is evoked.
This sounds made up, or probably does for those that would like to remain believing the contrary. But the evidence backs me up.
My circle cannot represent everyone. I get this enough when I write on this matter. “I’m working class and I voted Corbyn!”. That’s fine. But my community, rather than them, are reflected more accurately in both canvassing and polling. Not only does polling have the Tories in the lead among C2DE voters, and in every single region bar the North East; not only does Theresa May poll 30 points ahead of her rival; not only has Corbyn got a -40 approval rating; not only does he even poll negatively, by 60:30, among trade union members – but I’ve never quite experienced canvassing as bad as I do now.
In deeply deprived wards, I get people telling me that for the first time in their lives, they cannot vote Labour. It doesn’t offer them hope anymore.
It’d be easier to dismiss our opponents saying this as ‘Red Tories’, except these are the people whom we claim to speak on behalf of. It isn’t a game. They are not careerist MPs with a fetish for extreme Blairism. That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? These are our people, or at least, the people we claim as ours. It’s imperative we listen.
And for those listening, it is quite surprising that anyone that simply has the chance to speak to people outside our circles -either in their social lives or while canvassing- would still have faith in Jeremy Corbyn.
By Corbyn’s own standards -to inspire the poor and disenfranchised- he has failed. He has failed to offer them hope. His mission has failed.
It is no secret that I am voting for Owen Smith, as a consequence of the last 9 months and because I have held a torch for him and his politics for a while. But I am also voting for hope, and for hope’s restoration. For the hope that drew me to the party in the first place. Merely getting rid of a leader that only inspires fear -fear of the other side, of a perma-Tory government- will inspire more hope than we have now.
But it is more than that. For Owen simply represents our communities better than Corbyn. There is hope in a man who has feared Tories himself, because the imperative to beat them is stronger. Growing up experiencing the miners’ strike, and the repercussions of the tumultuous 1980s. The desperation of seeking a next Labour government.
A Labour government is both more likely under Smith and would -if his words are anything to go by- deliver the homes and jobs that our communities need. It would be radical in office rather than merely in Parliament Square. Real, genuine hope for real, genuine change.
I urge you all to vote for hope. Not the abstract hope that inspires Corbyn rallies, the ones that many neighbours will not share, but for real hope of a Labour government. For people we seek to serve. Please listen. Recognise the fear, recognise hope has been all but erased, and that soaring rhetoric does not mask the dread. Real hope is that which can genuinely offer the belief that, in the near future, there will be an end to the Tories seemingly perpetual rule. The first step to believing that is voting for Owen Smith.
The soft left needs to be a player, now more than ever
People keep asking me and those associated with it,” what is the soft left and what does it stand for?”. They ask, “what is the alternative to Corbyn?”. Many consider the only alternative to this clusterf*ck of a leadership is ‘neoliberal orthodoxy’. Yes, the only thing standing in the way of decades more of Thatcherism is a man who refused to attack Iain Duncan Smith.
You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel very much defended by the Labour leadership. You’d have to excuse me if I cry at the thought of the only thing standing between me and unfettered global markets is Jeremy Corbyn.
It’s simply not a reality. There is an alternative. It doesn’t have to be Full Blairism.
So, what does the soft left stand for?
Kinnock, regardless of where you’d think to place him on the party spectrum, summarised it at last night’s PLP meeting in two words: parliamentary socialism.
In those two words, it distinguishes itself from the hard left’s revolutionary socialism, one that begrudges Parliament and the Labour party’s mobilisation for the establishment of a parliamentarian presence; and Blair’s ‘social-ism’ and European social democracy that abandoned trade unionism.
It is, and has always been, the champion of parliamentary socialism. I suppose, really, you can also add the Old Right to that, too.
But for me, the soft left is about achieving the representation of its people in Parliament via the recognition that with a good leadership and strong priorities, you can be far more radical than when you wear it on your sleeve. I see it as the John Smith or Bank Manager theory, Clement Attlee’s complete lack of grandeur, Wilson’s smoking pipe. You don’t have to wave placards to be a radical, or call for -in abstractions or dogmas that are, as they say, “irrelevant to the real needs”- the end of capitalism as boldly as so.
That does not exclude the attendance of rallies, but it does not revolve around them either. It distinguishes a social movement and a party; arm in arm but working for parliamentary representation of its people.
And it achieves that by basing economically transformative policy in the everyday lives of people. To be the radicalism of the workers.
We can talk about economic overhaul without talking about Trident. We can talk about council housing and wage suppression and rent control without the Falklands. We can talk about a sensible foreign policy without flirting with Stop the War. We can even, maybe, outline what exactly ‘anti-austerity’ means beyond its sloganisation.
Really, just being boring and sensible and British but transformative without being techoncratic or managerialist or abandoning commitment to an economy that works for everyone and our on-the-ground mobilization of the people via a partnership with the trade unions. This, the most British of socialisms, is where I think most of the British public are. It’s also where decades of soft leftism has always been -from Compass to Tribune, the Bevanites (the language of priorities is the religion of socialism) to Smith.
My belligerence against Corbyn is not socialism -I am a socialist- it is his adherence to believing he is above British politics and British socialism, that our morals are infinitely superior to both the public and our Labour descendants’ presumptions about the public, and people will one day become conscious of that and ignore the centuries-old British small ‘c’ conservatism regarding leadership and join those rallies on Parliament Square.
To recognise Britishness and Parliament is not to abandon our principles; it is to embrace everything that is and always was the Labour Party.
When we have, to our left, rallies shouting obscenities at Parliamentarians; and to our right, some that are ready to lunge and call for a break with the trade unions, it is the soft left that has to step up and defend what the Labour Party is and what it was and always will be.
Whether that is through a growing Open Labour in the style of Tribune mobilizing itself and those that may come to find an allegiance to it, that solid majority of the PLP that finds themselves neither in Progress or the Socialism Campaign Group, or members and voters who simply feel politically homeless in Labour right now. Those voices need to have the courage to clearly define where we are, and to put forward a third alternative. That being, parliamentary socialism.
If the soft left does not find courage now, if it is not definitive and strong enough to stand on its own two feet, Labour will be doomed.
British politics versus being human
A lot of vocal, determinedly anti-politics people demand two things from their representatives: they want ordinary people not ‘in it for themselves’, and they want people who are honest and speak the truth. Except they don’t want the first. When politicians act human they are considered a walking gaffe and, if vying for the highest office in the land, un-priministerial. And the latter is often a euphemism used by racists demanding politicians speak a universal truth about migrant hordes.
Thus, it seems, our politicians cannot be normal; but by not being a certain definition of normal, and speaking personally and openly, they are hated. And thus a cycle of anti-politics has been in motion.
For me, I have since the election considered this impossible trade-off to be an absolute truth you have to oblige by and somehow master. I have caught myself speaking not for myself, but for the Labour party. Or more specifically, the shadow cabinet member reading focus groups, head in hands, trying to work out how the hell to reconcile Labour to the public’s increasingly rightward shift on issues like welfare and immigration. Instead of offering my opinion on immigration, I offer to be the devil’s advocate so Labour can win. I have caught myself losing my once deeply held principles as I desperately try to ponder where Labour went wrong. Because when Labour lost (and if we vote Brexit), it meant all my values had lost as well. Surely I am wrong, I pondered. The public are always right. The guy telling me about Turks taking over is right, I justify to my Turkish self.
I can’t do it anymore.
I sometimes worry, often feel guilt, when I catch myself changing my own personal positions, particularly on welfare and immigration, two issues I am passionately pro for. Why do I feel this need for devil’s advocacy?
I presume, by being pro-welfare and pro-immigration, I am the metropolitan elite. A few years back, I’d shrug at use of such a phrase, see it as something euphemistic, racist and even a bit classist (because working class people can’t be socially liberal, see*). But in the past year I have used it sincerely and genuinely. To the point I am scaring myself.
(*this is also linked to the patronizing idea that working class expression of patriotism is inherently based in blood and soil, or that social conservatism about queen, flag and country is the same social conservatism that always gives fuel to this bigotry -the first is wrong and the second is overly simplistic.)
I understand in not indulging in certain principles to see your party succeed. I get that. Socialism is the language of priorities. What your priorities are is a value judgement. Though in the case of a Bennite is seems sort of obvious. I still get angry at Jeremy when he talks about Trident or the Falklands or whatever. But on issues like immigration? The line between morals and electoral necessity are beginning to be drawn more deeply in the sand. It feels dichotomous. It feels like our culture has become so aggressively xenophobic, driven by fear and hate, far now beyond pragmatic, rational grievances with immigration and conditions, that it is becoming impossible for a social democrat or socialist to keep up with the rightward shift in debate. I can’t keep up. I don’t want to keep up.
I cannot lend my credence to virulent anti-immigration voices truthfully or sincerely. As I said, I don’t want to. I can’t.
The more I do, the less true to myself I become. It is not my job, and frankly – it shouldn’t be anyone’s job. It is not my job because, while I like to commentate all grown-up on how Labour can win and how it must do XYZ to do so, I am not burdened as a politician and I never intend to be burdened as a politician as it is now. Certainly not like this. I do not aspire to any office if, as I have been warned, my views on here -from welfare to private schools- will be screenshotted and vetted by The Sun and carried in a story decrying them as making me unfit for said office. I cannot function in a world wherein my, for me (this is selfish, for sure, but personal un-aired views are always “for me”, that is individual freedom that knows no constituency), rational and decent views on issues at the core of who I am and that I prioritise as necessary for a just society are used against me and my very election would depend on me keeping my mouth shut when trying to defend the stigmatised.
This is not my being elitist, my being a metropolitan elite not understanding the concerns of immigration. Mine are principles from an ~urban~ place, sure. But it isn’t about that. Our politics has become all or nothing. The mainstream is becoming hardline. Dissent by defending migrants, even refugees, is legitimately met with gasps. You see politicians defend immigration and you fear for the backlash against their respective parties. I can’t keep up. I don’t want to.
I used to want to be an MP.
When I was in secondary school, we had to do this creative writing task. I chose to write an article on how MPs don’t care about the poor and live in mansions outside their (poor) constituencies. Like most of the population today, I thought politicians were ‘in it for themselves’, that they didn’t care for us. You have to know that this was at a particularly awful moment in life where financial realities were dropped on a teenager far too early. I get it. I get the post-crash world. I see the backlash against globalisation and I understand. I took it out on my representatives and the ‘elite’. I had no faith in our politics to change my world. That could have been preyed upon, in another context, by the likes of Farage.
That was until I got involved, only briefly, in Movement for Change, and through that saw the work Stella Creasy, my local MP, was doing regarding payday loans -the very predators that had preyed on my own household at our time of need. A few various good deeds later, And I had a sudden faith in politics beyond scapegoating to irrevocably impact our fates and fortunes. As did my mum, as did my brother. I became involved. Inspired.
Then this happened. This blog post. Everything in it. The growing despair that I would have to become something I am not to become something. British politics’ way of turning you into a machine with an ‘off-switch’ for emotions and empathy.
There are a lot of ‘I’s in this blog, from a blogger all too aware she has preached about the need for compromise of the personal for political gain for the gain of the many. But this isn’t about me. The worst part is the wider effect it has, these culture wars, this rightward shift. There are going to be so fewer normal, outspoken champions of those without voices and with few advocates wanting to stand for office. Not just now. Our culture, one that permits only ever more vitriolic, antagonist, anti-immigrant views and rhetoric is becoming a place where but two sets of people can thrive: One, the racist that genuinely believes and has conviction in what they are saying; and two, those who are trained to say it anyway.
That is why I have so much respect for outspoken (especially female) MPs who continue on, battling for what they believe to be true. They are the last defendants of Britain’s most vulnerable and most hated. Even with consequences as horrific as this.
But this is at the same time I feel belligerence toward the leadership for saying contentious things that jeopardize the party’s chances of winning in this increasingly toxic country. That paradox is impossible to mend.
My fear is that others who should be in Parliament and in Cabinet and Prime Minister, fighting against the grain, will have to make a choice between being true and being effective, and will understandably choose to remain the people they are. The effect will be that fewer and fewer voices will exist for those with none.
I hope British politics can one day be a place where decency can prevail openly and without threat once more. It’ll take a platform of powerful voices to change an entire consensus, to find that balance between the realities of opposition and the infamous shift in the Overton window, a thing I’m not entirely sure is actually a thing in its purest sense. I know something like it has happened before, from suffragettes to civil rights to the LGBT+ movement. I stand with the people with guts carrying that fight to change and challenge Britain’s increasing xenophobia forward, ones that can find a place between being true and being effective, so we can one day win to govern by our truth and build that better world. To change an entire culture to get there. To fight Jo’s fight.
Her fight has certainly reminded me to be true and good and courageous. To be human. And to fight for other humans.
It’s not in the left’s interest to pretend this week was great
I made the same mistake. I would dismiss warning signs leading up to 2015. Because it made me feel safe and good. I would see bad by-elections and hear worrying reports, but I shrugged it off out of suggestion it was mere doom-mongering. Until the exit poll. Today, I see it happening again.
The Left trying to claim the loss of more than 20 councillors -regardless of exceeded expectations- does it no favours. The Left trying to suggest that the first Opposition to go backwards since the abyss of the 80s is a victory and suggestion Jeremy will bloody be PM is delusional at best and catastrophic at worst. Not just for the Party, but for its own wing. If we continue to define ourselves and the Left by awfully bad standards, saying we beat hilariously shit expectations, then expect nothing other than ridicule.
Jeremy faces a bullish PLP and critics with no answer, that much is true. He defied them. But when we lose in 2020 because of this spectacular complacency, you will defy no-one. When they are proven right, you will defy no-one.
Worse, by defining a loss as a victory, you are betraying the very people you claim to fight for. No, defying them too. No working class person benefits from a Labour clearly headed for defeat (yes, yes it is.). You poking fingers in your ears is a betrayal. It is thoroughly middle class. As well as the art of winning, you risk handing the claim to working class representation over to Corbyn’s critics, too. And rightly.
But there are lessons too for Corbyn’s critics: if you set a low expectation, the Party will overcome it. Politics is an expectation game and even Seamus can spin this.
Thus, a total failure by most accounts – and without a doubt a clear sign of wipeout in 2020- has been rewritten into a win for Team Corbyn. Against the interest of the Party and certainly the interests of the Labour Left.
London was different, because our candidate did not play by the Party’s tactics. Sadiq’s victory is despite of the Party, not because of it. One clear example is that not only were journalists mocking the ‘son of a bus driver’ line, but we were having it parroted back to us on the doorstep – just like the Tories had in May. Sadiq locked down exceptional message discipline that I always wished for from the Leader’s office. Sadiq learnt from the mistakes of May in a way the Party leadership have failed to do. They believe they are above convention. Sadiq molded it to his favour. Sadiq, from the soft-left, proved that you can win on a leftish platform so long as you manage your rhetoric. It is the ‘bank manager’ theory. It is one John Smith exemplified and George Osborne prior to his misgivings exceeded at. The Left elsewhere in the Labour Party fails to grasp this obviously successful strategy that pushed Sadiq well over the line. He is now in a position – for the first time in my Labour membership- to make a tangible difference to the lives of millions. You are not.
It is in the interests of the Left of this Party to look back over these results with nuance. We did badly in England, ok in Wales, and awful in Scotland. Absolutely nothing suggests we will be catapulted to the highest office in the land in 2020. Only Sadiq’s campaign truly represented a winning formula, with or without its exceptional circumstances of being in a Labour city. The Left can’t cannibalise this exceptional result, it has to learn from it. And it has to learn that its triumphalism is completely misguided on both that count and in claiming victory elsewhere.
I go back to where I was under Ed: despite me shrugging off the mistakes of the Party, I was fearful that should we lose, the Right of the Party would claim moral victory and safely and easily usurp him. The Left should fear that today, too. By handing electability over to your internal enemies, you expose an incredible feat of self-defeat. By being triumphant now, in the face of bleakness, you are setting yourselves up for a very, very loud “I told you so.”
I’ve always wanted my part of the Party, the soft-left, to be more ambitious. Always the interim and never the winner, we have let ourselves be defined as a bridge to true success, “just one loss left!”. I want to see us be more than this, and I reckon Sadiq is the answer. The wider Left should have an election-winning ambition, too. It shouldn’t let other wings decide what it takes for the Party to win. It shouldn’t dismiss them on the basis of a ‘mandate’ that, should we (and we will) lose in 2020, will mean diddly-squat. Start having ambition, start self-reflection, self-criticising, and stop making yourselves look like complete revisionist fools. It is not in your interest to lose. It is not in your interest to make out these council elections were nothing more than awful.
A Sadiq victory would be a victory for the Labour I joined
It’s little surprise that Corbyn’s Labour does not enthrall me. I have been half-hearted in my campaigning, increasingly uncomfortable getting told on the doorstep by working class voters that Labour has lost its way, and constantly banging my head against a wall at the Leader’s Office. I feel well and truly on the opposite side of people that I want to stand up for. On the contrary, I feel like Labour as it is are as far from the ‘People’s Party’ as we have ever been.
Except for in London.
Posting my ballot for Sadiq Khan was the first sincere action I have taken since last Summer. Because I was voting for the Party I joined.
Everyone has their own version of Labour. I am in no position (not that that will stop me…) to de-legitimise any one version. But Labour today is not mine. I cannot recognise it. I cannot recognise or ally myself with a Party that dismisses genuine concerns as ‘smears’ against a leadership that has developed a cult of personality around it. It’s an exclusive party that is becoming increasingly toxic and self-absorbed. It refuses to engage with the people outside the hall.
Fair, my version failed to win the general election. I have my diagnoses just as everyone else has theirs. But Sadiq encapsulates everything that I thought Labour was supposed to stand for, without the rough edges that have come to define Corbyn’s leadership.
He is radical on housing without talking about the Falklands; he is for affordable transport without the obsession with Trident; he is a champion of the Living Wage without an inability to handle antisemitism. He is good at the media; indeed, he has overcame bias in a paper with a circulation of 900,000 without a hint of complaint on his behalf. He did so because he is a good candidate; he is a far, far better candidate than his rival.
London is different from the rest of the country, I know that. It voted by about 45 to 32 for Labour in the general election. Its demographics are favourable for Labour. It is a city where I feel most at home and need not worry too much about being in a bubble.
But we must not forget what Sadiq has faced and what he has successfully fought. This has been a racially-charged campaign against a convert to islamophobia. He has faced the Conservative machine. His campaign and his candidacy was simply superior. I do not believe for a second that Corbyn’s version of Labour could have beat it. Sadiq is a serial-winner. His version of Labour wins.
His candidacy has been superior because he has confronted issues that matter to London and to the vast majority of people. He encapsulates Labour at its most competent and its most in-touch. A left-wing progressive who talks bread and butter. Who talks inequality and housing with not a squeak of the gesture politics and distractions of the leadership. It is not an ideological difference more than it is a difference in priority. And what it has berthed is a vision for an alternative Labour administration that gets down to the grit. I am proud to campaign for it.
The best part is, I see a Labour administration under Sadiq in City Hall that is responsive to the needs of the public: and he will be the first Labour ‘leader’, as it were, in quite a while with not just a mandate from the narrower and narrower party but from the people. His victory will mean a victory for what I always presumed was what a ‘people’s party’ should look like. It is the party I joined and the party I joined for again.
I am not complacent; I am aware of the error of polls in the past. But for once I believe in this version of Labour. I believe it can win. I believe in it.
An expectant opposition
It’s been a busy few days, with many a Commons and Twitter spat.
With the backlash to the Budget, the resignation of IDS, and the complete disintegration of the welfare agenda, the Tories’ modernisation process, and Osborne himself, this should be a joyous occasion whereupon we bask in the realisation of the 92′-97′ folklore that many of us young ‘uns were promised would happen again.
I admitted that I was wrong on a few grounds; I thought we’d have to be careful navigating welfare, though never did I agree to agreeing with welfare cuts. I now think we should go full throttle against welfare cuts; and that we should ensure that we build our anti-austerity case and hammer this home. Maya Goodfellow wrote a great article today in LabourList about using this opportunity to build a narrative; and a competent party definitely could. I’d be really excited about this, and I’ve waited for years for an opportunity to arise that could dismantle the IDS welfare agenda.
I dug in myself on this, writing an Open Labour piece on how Iain Duncan Smith’s letter ought to be exploited, should the Leadership ever want the ostentatious advice of a twenty-something undergrad. Waving the letter across the despatch box as efficiently as the Tories did for Liam Byrne’s feels like common sense to me. This opportunity should be ours to exploit; we should give ourselves no excuses for tripping up. In fairness, a lot of the shadow frontbench have done very well; and for once the PLP forged a united front – for a while.
Nevertheless, to be joyous without reflection or critical thinking is something we should never do. Any veteran of Omnishambles will tell you as such. So I committed the unfortunate crime of questioning our triumphalism; our insistence upon patting ourselves on the back: I tweeted that Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation was not down to Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech. Que the horror; que the shock.
So, needless to say, there was backlash on Twitter.
This time, it was quite exceptional. I was accused of being a traitor and placating to the Tories because I was hesitant to praise the Leader on high for single-handedly bringing down the Tory empire. I have no intent to name/link the tweeter, considering said tweeter wrote a blog about it that made me uncomfortable and I intend not to pay back such a ridiculous favour, or revel in hypocrisy. Nevertheless, the logic is astounding enough that it helps build a case for something that’s been very noticeable for a while, beyond any one Twitter spat – a curious phenomena that haunts the Labour Party:
The idea that parliamentary Opposition is merely disagreement.
It’s a phenomena which made itself known during the Summer of Discontent. Undoubtedly, Andy, Yvette and Liz made a very poor choice over the welfare vote, and that added fuel to the fire. The membership demanded ‘strong opposition’, which is entirely fair and barely disagreeable. I became perplexed, then, now that the leadership fails to land any blows, why people still believed then and now that this is what we are. We make excuses, time and time again, for easy slip-ups and bad Commons performances.
I believe the reason many of us still believe we offer ‘strong opposition’ is because we as a membership seem to define opposition as ‘not in our name’ rather than actually committing to change. It is an act for feeling good about disagreeing with Toryism, which we all love to do, but not making any impact, while claiming any impact is ours alone. In fairness, placating past leaders and contenders have infuriated members and fueled a fair demand for us to be principled and oppose austerity; so of course we would be happy with a leader like Jeremy who is unequivocally and without hesitation willing to stand and fight. I get that mentality. I facepalmed plenty of times when we gave in to welfare cuts last Parliament, shouting at my TV. But, still, disagreement simply does not equate to a strong Opposition on its own.
That isn’t an Opposition. Disagreeing is a part of it: I disagree with the Tories on most things; I’m sure you do, too. The need to express that disagreement is powerful. But that’s not all that Parliament is about. Sure, a good Commons speech can change a debate. But what is more important is that the person making that speech could one day sit on a government bench. Opposition is primarily about being an alternative to the government; not just in terms of ideology but in terms of actually looking like they could one day be a government. This is not just for the goal of eventual power -far from it: it’s about scaring the government, with just a majority of 12, into acting with hesitancy should public opinion turn away from them and toward us. It prevents the excesses of Toryism. In order to make Osborne think twice, beyond his Tory rebels, you have to make him fear us as a government-in-waiting, with the ability to unseat him and his Party.
And why would he? We lost PMQs today over that ruddy list, for Christ’s sake. It managed to overshadow the torment faced by over 600,000 disabled people. We shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back any time soon; we should be banging our heads on a brick wall.
Okay, I hear you chanting, “that one-point lead on YouGov tho”, a lead that could well extend for sure. But, as always, it does not cover our butts on the deficits we have with leadership and the economy; far greater indicators of impending electoral victory. We can cheer and cheer -as I did in 2010-15- that the Tories are losing their lead, but that isn’t the same as us gaining on them, as George Eaton has written. We expect victory to fall into our hands by default, and so become idle. Instead we become a repository of protest that is inherently weak and will fall when voters are given a ballot. We may think we are strong, but we are not. Osborne knows that; so while he may fear his chances of becoming Tory leader have depleted, he does not have to fear us. He is free, at least from Labour, to do as he pleases. As his successor will be.
We have had numerous successes: Tax Credit cuts, this budget. We should aim to build on them. But the extent to which those victories can be claimed by our side rather than the Lords or Tory rebels is highly questionable, and it seems odd that questioning those claims would be controversial.
The truth is, I cannot bask in the 92′-97′ folklore coming true. I thought I’d enjoy it. I’ve been waiting for it for six torturous years. Hoping, expecting, as anyone suffering at the hands of Tories would be. But now, as Osborne and the Tories and the general public all know; there is no Labour victory at the end of it, at least not as things stand. We are not a government-in-waiting just because we disagree. So the hopeful and joyous occasion of a Tory civil war cannot be enjoyed by those of us who have waited for it for so long. By many of us that so need it.
You can blame this on disunity, fine. That’s a factor. I think the PLP and party should very much unite around an anti-austerity agenda. But there is an incompetence to this party and a devout commitment to the philosophy of disagreement rather than true parliamentary Opposition. That won’t be erased with unity. We cheer because we disagree, because our names are not tainted, but we only let Tory rebels do our job for us; to bring down legislation that wouldn’t exist in the first place if Tories weren’t so comfortable in their throne.
We won’t dethrone them with self-congratulation. This shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say if we care at all about helping people I, and we, care about.
the labourite belief in false inevitability
There’s a similarity between the Corbynite Left and Right of the Labour party; both have a tendency to utter the words “they’ll come around in the end.” For the left, they refer to the general electorate; to the Right, the Labour selectorate.
“You’ll come around eventually.”
Those words sum up the arrogance of past hegemons or current hegemons. When an audience is not receptive to an argument you consider, it’s tempting to consider your audience stupid.
[Note: this blog for the very nature of pointing out trends I have noticed, is rather strawman: not everyone on either side is guilty of this, but enough are to validate this blog entry]
On the face of it, and from a rational perspective of policy appeal, poor poll ratings make no sense. Labour’s new social and economic programme is popular: cracking down on the excesses of the City, public ownership of the railways, an alternative to austerity, backing junior doctors and defending the NHS – all are vote winners. The problem is that popular policies are barely visible in the public eye, amidst a maelstrom of relentless press hostility, calculated backbench (and frontbench) indiscipline, and –worse than any tabloid red baiting – the manufacturing of a perception of shambles in the leadership. (x)
If you don’t think that passage is problematic as heck, you’re a massive part of the problem. Accusing dissenters of irrationality, blaming the usual culprits -the press, the PLP- for brainwashing the voters, the implication no less being working class voters, it’s all very tedious, isn’t it? It’s elitist, it’s classist, and we’ll never win with such an awful and undignified outlook.
But it will continue: if we just get these damn manufacturers of consent out the way, the public will inevitably come to see Labour as saviours.
I’ve written enough about this, as have others, but I doubt much it will change. As our poll ratings drop to lower and lower depths, anxious voices continue to be shut out. As so, anxious voices become even more anxious; powerless and homeless in their own party that, by and large, seems not to care about working class people at all, not really. Anxious voices will have to mobilize themselves, find platforms, ask for decency and kindness, and exhaustively repeat “I’m not a Blairite, but…I do happen to believe in empirical evidence.”
The end of history. The idea that there is an end to everything, and that all that comes or came before is just a process to that end. For Blairism, insistent it is the end of a process, it is the product of a cycle. As with the 80s, we go from hard left to soft left to, finally, the winning combination that is Blairism. For anti-statists, it has ironically became statist; a fixed point in time, a dogma; the latter of which it shares with the very people on the left . We are currently at the start of a cycle, a Kinnock will prevail, before the final victor succeeds. The Kinnockites will become Blairites, the idealistic will have the wind knocked out of them and cynicism will turn to ‘pragmatism’.
The insistence that there is a diversity of thought within Labour, and that one other strand may eventually win the change to put Labour on the path to governance, is often met with cackling from moderates. The soft left is a pesky annoyance that must be tolerated to secure victory in the end. The hard left is the enemy to overcome, but one that will eventually see the light.
As my mate said, “Golden rule: whenever anyone announces the end of history, they’re wrong.” The Right believing it is the inevitable end and that all others will come to realise this is every bit as bad as Corbynites assuming the same of voters.
Both sides insist upon an impending enlightenment. Some Corbynites believe that the general public, working class voters, will become enlightened once they just see what is good for them. It is, as always, a devotion to the Ragged Trousered Philanphropist.
Some Blairites insist that the rest of the Party, those foolish enough to believe in anything but orthodox Blairism, will eventually be enlightened. We are part of a process, and there is an ironic determinism there.
…that will never come
Both sides have to realise that they will not win over their supposed opponents by calling them stupid, by assuming an inevitability, that they will come around eventually because we are right and they are wrong. How could they be so stupid, so irrational? They are to blame for our failings.
We will never win an election with this attitude but vis a vis the moderates -the true ‘believers in winning’- will never win round the membership. It goes without saying that I have my frustrations with the membership, too -read above- but convincing people around to a cause requires nuance. I can write and moan and blog and moan and blog about the diagnosis, but until we have an imaginative narrative to present to others, nothing will happen. The Right are currently devoid of that imaginative narrative.
Undoubtedly, there is a sizable rump of members who don’t really want to win, and are devoted to Corbyn come what may. But there are also members who want to win, but see no alternatives. The ‘I voted Corbyn because none of the others would win either’. If moderates care about winning so much, they’ll have to present their case to these members. And if not them, then they will have to stop patronizing the soft left and learn to realise they are as legitimate as anyone else.
As for Corbynites? I can only advise they talk to working class voters and to stop refusing the existence of their own agency.
Hit by both sides, I am stupid to the Right for being soft left and stupid to the Corbynite Left for being working class and/or not having unquestionable devotion to our Leader. The party is inhospitable on both accounts.
I leave University a cynic
This whole…blog, is a pretty cynical one. Alright, a very cynical one. A self-indulgently, self-destructive one. A place that I’ve come to rant about how awful everything is. I might have argued that this malignant cynicism began at that exit poll. Maybe not then, because I was drunk as hell and didn’t quite believe it. Maybe it set in when I woke up the next day to one particular text message: “Ed Balls :(“. It was a very personal loss, one that reminded me that the past five years of wage stagnation and crippling debt would continue for me and my family. But I don’t actually think that was the moment I became a cynic. It was two years earlier.
I think optimism either comes from ignorance or privilege. A bold claim, yes, but let me justify it. I was an optimistic kid. You know, the annoying one that put up their hand, finished their work early, joined the Scouts as the first girl of the pack, you know, that crap that comes with years of ego-inflation from stickers, pats on the back, being chosen to hand in the register, and having your name on the gifted and talented list. But besides all of that, I was ignorant as heck. Ignorant as all kids are. We all grow up in our micro-worlds with the same peers for years on end. We don’t think about the outside world. It makes our radical dreams local. I retained this statism all the way up to sixth form, one that at the secondary level had a catchment area, one that my house was not in. But it really began when I had the audacity to pick up a prospectus for Durham University.
What a wonderful place, truly. I remember the day I got off the train. I looked up at that castle perched atop the hill, a monument to the prestige of the place. The Wear meanders in such a way that there is an island untouched by time, as though it stopped at its banks. I walked through the cobbled streets enamored and utterly grateful that I could play the Hogwarts student for three years. I walked past Klute where I’d soon be singing S Club till 2am, Paddy’s Pizza which would be the home of many regrets. This place is wonderful.
It’s also a timely reminder of my innocence about the world being punched repeatedly in the face. The succession of moments in which I realised meritocracy was as real as unicorns.
In the three years before University, I saw EMA abolished, tuition fees trebled, riots, my whole household situation changed drastically for the worst, and then a little bit better, and the politicisation of everything I am.
In my three years at Durham University, I have seen an election lost, maintenance grants abolished as a consequence, my University increase accommodation costs to over £7000, and its grants reduced by £1000.
But more importantly, I’ve seen grant recipients be the minority.
Let’s just contextualise that. The £2000 Durham Grant (It used to be £3000) is awarded to anyone whose household income is less than £25,000. Now, growing up, £25,000 was not ‘poor’, it was normal. It was what the lucky parents earned. And well, that’s correct. The median wage in the UK is £23,000. In Durham, £25,000 is literally considered the poorest in the University. The psychological effect that has is pretty vast. Firstly, it’s made me a bit of an obsessive, almost victimised. I’ve become so aware of that fact, that it’s actually inspired my passion about class, sometimes annoyingly so, so annoying that this blog has become self-indulgent sop. Secondly, it’s had the effect of isolation. Not in the sense that I’ve had trouble making friends or a reluctance to go out drinking (oh, boy), but in the sense that I am very aware of it, and very aware that those around me come from very, very different walks of life.
Durham has given me lots of opportunities, not least my degree itself. I have changed completely as a person through my Labour Club and through my campaigning. But I still think my prospects are incredibly bleak. I have came out the end of these three years more cynical than when I started to the point it’s transformed magically into nihilism.
When I indulged in ‘reverse elitism’ in confidence to my mum, to whom I complained that Durham was the whitest, poshest place I’d ever been to, and how isolating that is, she replied “at least you’ve experienced other people”. Except, actually, I could have very much went my entire life without this, without meeting ‘the other side’. Because, while I’ve made the most wonderful friends, it hasn’t been ‘enlightening’, it’s been downright saddening. Because naively not knowing the gulf that exists would have been a whole tonne better for me than this. I see inherent privileges that I’d never considered before and never had to consider before. I’d never met private schooled kids before Durham, now almost everyone I know is from private school. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Because it’s made me aware that there are two worlds and for the past 3 years I have pretended to fit into the second. I’ve straddled between the two.
This isn’t a personal attack. I love my friends here. I hope anyone reading that paragraph doesn’t take offense. In fact, if you did, then you have to realise that is exactly the problem. Anyone that points this out, the overwhelming privilege of not just Durham, but any elite higher education institution, faces immediate backlash, as though it’s forbidden to talk about the elephant in the room.
And this in turn fits into my wider cynicism of most millennials’ prospects. I come out with this degree, and then what? Compete for low-paid, low-skilled jobs, because since the crash all of us degree-educated schmucks have been chasing jobs we’ve been overqualified for while not demanding anything better because desperation pushes us into the shallow end when it comes to wages. I’ll take anything. Except I’ll be handed nothing. There comes a point when job rejections become a norm. I get the email before breakfast. Great, have to keep trying. Go onto my bookmarked sites to apply for the next five I see in the evening. And the more I do it, the lower I set the benchmark. I started, hypothetically, applying to be an astronaut, I am currently settling for shelf stacker. On and on the spiral goes. If I can’t find anything in the short time I have, I’ll have to go on JSA to help my mum. What then? A constant visitation to the Job Centre. When I find a job, onward to renting I go. A life of insecurity, guaranteed. Not just for the ‘poorest’ of us, by the way. Most of us. But nevertheless, not a topic in Durham circles.
It becomes tiresome, thinking about graduation. Here I am, wanting to go back home, tired of this bubble, wanting to talk to my London friends about things only we can share, but also not wanting to leave at all. Because what is out there is worse.
These past years have been the most independent, privileged and fun of my life, up to the point I didn’t think too hard about stuff, but they’ve equally been the most eye-opening, and in a bad way. I was supposed to come out open-minded and ready for the world, but now I just really want to withdraw back to where I came from, with my old friends to whom I can confide about anxieties. I would really have hoped that I would grow up to be hopeful about my future, but I can’t say I have. How much does this suck?
I said that optimism was ignorant or privileged. A bold claim, one I hope I’ve justified, but one I hope you can convince me I’m wrong. Convince me to see the ‘politics of hope’ as more than the patronizing guff I see it as now.
And once again, that’s where politics comes in. I’m a firm believer in parliamentary politics. Or so I was before the exit poll. I can attend protests and take part in internal politics, but the only, only, thing that will change my mind about optimism is seeing a Labour government in my lifetime. But one radical enough to challenge, among others, private schools, Universities with abysmal records for access, inequality; the elephant in the room that has become impossible to ignore over these past three years. Talk about the elephant in the room, Labour, and win. Win so heartbroken working class kids don’t have to have this gut-wrenching feeling of a future of nothingness. If not me, then the next batch of Durham Grant students.
Oh, oh, haha, wait, nevermind, tonight’s poll has us on 27%.