The long game for Labour

He’s done it again: our naughty boy/Messiah has adopted another wayward Stalinist advisor. After the Guardian gave him Seamus Milne, Corbyn has now made Andrew Murray his campaign chief. Videos of Mr. Murray calling for the defeat of NATO at communist rallies are currently circulating on a certain anti-totalitarian political blog, as are videos of Corbyn in 2014 criticising NATO as a ‘Frankenstein’ (the monster or its creator?) of an organisation that was established to ‘promote the Cold War’, and acts as ‘an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies’.

It’s not unreasonable to question whether Corbyn’s stance has shifted much in the last three years, despite what he recently said at Chatham House. A telling detail of his speech is where he mentioned Russian activities along the ‘NATO border’, as if the countries in question aren’t individual sovereign states.

Another detail was just how reluctant he seemed to authorise the use of our nuclear deterrent now that Westminster is committed to replacing it, dodging an answer with ‘it’s an extraordinary question’. Well, it’s one a would-be future PM should be able to answer, let alone one who is vice-chairman of CND, a position which Corbyn still holds. There were also hints that he would end all deployments of UK forces abroad, ‘This is the fourth general election in a row to be held while Britain is at war and our armed forces are in action in the Middle East and beyond’. Perhaps the Kurds fighting IS in Iraq and Syria would appreciate his concern. Corbyn is certain to be getting a lot of solid PR advice right now from Murray.

Any of the assurances we can take from the Chatham House are the result of pressure from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. This includes an honouring of NATO commitments regarding military spending of 2% of GDP, which must have come with reluctance from Corbyn’s mouth given his past rhetoric. The only real assurance we can take from Corbyn himself is that he is ‘not a pacifist’, which may or may not persuade some of his detractors to stop calling him one.

British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not completely secure even with Thornberry; she said that a Labour government would defend the islands if they were attacked. This leaves possible the power-sharing deal with Argentina that Corbyn has said he would like to pursue. Thornberry dismissed this accusation (if you can call it that) as ‘bollocks’ and ‘untrue’, but she contradicted herself in saying that there needs to be an international agreement on the issue.  Corbyn’s words somewhat contradict Thornberry’s. This indicates plurality of opinions within the party more than division, but it is worrying when fringe views come from the party leader while mainstream views are held elsewhere in the party.

The issue of Trotskyist entryism was ignored by Corbyn when Tom Watson presented him with evidence. I can confirm anecdotally that it is true. The Trotskyists I know have been open about entryist strategies encouraged by Corbyn’s leadership. What this wilful ignorance on Corbyn’s part suggests is that his leadership is incompatible with Labour’s principles; the argument that ‘so was Blair’ is not a real argument. Labour acting as a big tent for all varieties of hard-left crank is probably amusing to Conservatives; we have not only Trotskyists, but Stalinists and Maoists in the party ranks and occasionally in prominent positions. I always found it absurd when Trotskyists talked about soft-Stalinist ‘tankies’ in the modern Labour Party, but now it appears they weren’t talking bollocks on this matter. Here’s the RationalWiki article on Corbyn’s new campaign chief: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Andrew_Murray .

For those on the ‘decent left’ this is just more to add to the pile, on top of Corbyn’s anti-Semitic and terrorist-appeasing links. When Corbyn won the leadership election, and then won the leadership challenge, us ‘decent’ Labour supporters were told we may never get our party back. Douglas Murray told us we’d lost: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/its-all-over-for-the-decent-left-and-they-have-only-themselves-to-blame/# He strawmans hard in that piece; vigilance around the creep of Islamic extremism is not the preserve of those to the right of social democracy,  but the gist of that article stung then, and it stings even more now.

After poring over the Labour manifesto, the Guardian coverage of said manifesto, and the Chatham House speech, I’ve been wondering what to do. I do not want a hard Brexit, a sabotaged NHS, a sadistic benefit system, an outdated education system, fox hunting or redistribution of wealth to the wealthy. I also do not want to back Liberal Democrat opportunistic shenanigans. Protest voting is as inimical as not voting in most cases, so the Greens are out. Labour economic policies are interesting and some are even costed. It would be good to know what Nick Cohen plans to do, but he’s been quiet lately—if he has retreated to his home to throw crockery at the wall, I fully understand.

Enough angst for now: whither Labour?

When I ask myself that question, a mental image of rubbish being blown across a decaying concrete walkway between towers of council flats is generated. Others of the same political persuasion will have their own bleak vision. This might become a new party game, or at least a poor imitation of a scene from JG Ballard novel. To understand the implications of this compelling political car crash, we must examine why it happened. What excites people (the media, Corbynistas, that bore in the staff room—wait, that’s me) about this disaster?

The Corbynistas seem to include a chunk of my own generation—the older section of so-called millennials born in the 1980s. I wont’ go so far as to say that Corbynism is the result of inter-generational conflict, but it does play a role. This generation were mostly depoliticised in their late teens and early twenties; the most pressing issues were the Second Gulf War and tuition fees. The student left lost on both issues, and this fostered disengagement. Austerity hit them after graduation and many of spent years working for low wages, unable to purchase a house. If they were going to engage with leftish politics, the coming of the Antiblair was needed. For those of you thinking, ‘So? Living in mouldy rented accommodation is no excuse for torching the Labour Party. Quite the opposite…’ I quite agree—but man, you had to be there.

I remember my RE teacher saying in 2001, ‘There won’t be any welfare state when you’re older. No. No NHS. No benefits. There’s won’t even be any state schools’. She said this with such grim pleasure, I expected her follow it with ‘Mwahahaha!’ Someone had brought the Communist Manifesto to the little lunchtime club she (admittedly rather kindly) held in her classroom. Having read said book the week before, I tried to argue in a bullshit fourteen-year-old way that none of what she’d said is inevitable, or even likely. What she responded with surprised me, ‘Well, if you think socialism can work, you’re going to have to persuade people of that. You might even persuade me’. I looked at her incredulously.

I gave up trying to get people to see the sense of social democracy when I figured that the next financial crisis would do it for me, otherwise potatoes gonna potate.  Now that we’ve had the financial crisis, those on the right and centre-right have either maintained their position or softened slightly, (which explains the difference between May’s old-school conservative rhetoric and Cameron’s naked Thatcherism) whereas some of those who underwent potatofication have sought a way to depotate. This has involved either right-wing or left-wing populism, Corbyn being an example of the latter. When I see people going to Momentum meetings who were previously too busy for politics, I see people who either didn’t get the chance to do this stuff as a student—or if they are of my parents’ generation (it’s not just the young), they had it knocked out of them by the Thatcher project.

Depotatofication of the under-40s and the core Labour vote is a positive development. The problem is that it’s being managed by those who never grew out of student politics. One theory is that Corbyn and his acolytes are not interested in winning this election, but instead want to build a movement of weaponised potatoes, and then wait for the Conservatives to struggle with Brexit and a possible repeat financial crisis. This argues that Momentum is craftier than is often assumed, and that they are playing the long game.

If this is true, I don’t think it’ll work for them. Most Corbynistas cannot countenance Labour losing this election. This can be tested by saying to them ‘Labour will lose’ and observing their reaction, which is similar to watching your cat trying to suss out what that other cat in the mirror is playing at. My hunch is that Corbyn will lose much of his mass support when he loses the election, based on how the British public tend to respond to election losers. There is nothing unique about the mass of Corbyn supporters, even if Corbyn has a few die-hards who will support him no matter how many seats the party loses.

The gaps in opinion polls are narrowing, but polls have proven to be inaccurate during recent elections. It’s sensible to expect Labour to lose some seats, in many cases in its heartland. The mass of Labour voters not enamoured with Corbyn are not often heard in the media (who like Corbyn because he gets website clicks). The rise in party membership numbers is deceptive. There are millions of traditional Labour voters who are reluctant to vote for a Corbyn-led Labour Party. The ones who are enthusiastic about Corbyn are noisier, especially on social media, but you can hear him being slated in Wetherspoons and bingo halls across the country.

Which should encourage staff-room bores (like me) not to panic. There are enough people out there to rebuild the centre-left. It will either involve a new party, or Labour returning to work after its current sick leave. A good course of action is to vote for the person you want as your constituency MP in the coming election, and then wait. First act locally, and then think nationally. The situation is too uncertain to do anything else, but pessimism will not be productive.

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