Scenes from the Labour Party, etc
Monday August 17
So, the earth really does look as though is it about to crack open on September 12th and from it will emerge, not a naked Venus on the half-shell coyly stroking a sumptuous mane of wavy hair but Jeremy Corbyn, 66 years old, allotment owner, Gooner and intrepid vest-wearer.
I reckon many of us – Labour members – could rattle on for pages about the goings on of the past month and a bit, which have been many and so fraught with interest and excitement, pain and despair, that a lot of us, I’m sure, can hardly stand it. Or each other. One of the two.
One aspect of the battle between the candidates that has reared an ugly head is the tribalism within our ranks which has seen Corbynistas and the supporters of the New Labour old guard candidates – new guard if you want to attach that to Leicester Liz – spitting venom at each other across the divide.
Here I freely hold up my hands and say I’ve Tweeted many a 140 characters taking pot shots at the Yvette, Andy and Ms Kendall and some of their supporters. I’m a bad advert for Labour unity but frankly, seeing as the very living soul and survival of the Labour Party is at stake, I don’t give a rats. For anyone, any where cussing and tutting at such behaviour, I say, well, my old fruitee you’re one who just doesn’t understand politics and what it means. More precisely, those who support “the other three” and who have been constantly railing that a Corbyn-led party will mean electoral death – permanent in the view of David Miliband today – deserve to be on the receiving end of a bit of stick. They, of course, subscribe to the….
Actually, I have ceased to understand just what they don’t understand about why masses of Labourites have gone nuts for the politics that Jeremy espouses. Seriously, I don’t get it. For here’s the problem re. their candidates.
- Andy. I call him Plastic Andy Flip-Flop. His lurch to the left when it emerged that JC was actually packing out the halls, proved beyond all doubt that he will bend in any direction that looks likely to pitch him up somewhere on Power Island. Admittedly, once you’ve nailed your (Twitter) colours to the mast it’s probably hard to just quit on your chosen one, but you might just pipe down a bit on social media. He has energy, yes. He has ambition, yes. He dresses very nicely and looks very clean. But what might work at a job interview in private sector management is not enough in Britain’s Labour Party 2015. Andy also has the problem of my wife. A Labour member but, unlike me, far too busy to actually follow politics on television, took one look at him on ITV Nuneaton hustings six weeks ago and said, “He’s got puppy dog eyes; he’s never going to be Prime Minister.” Her gaze was so withering, I didn’t even begin to argue. Sorry, but if my spouse gives him the raspberry, then no one should bother voting for him.
He also has the problem of being – sorry – a bloody hypocrite. One day last week I’m reading meme-y Tweets telling us all he’s going to “Scrap Tuition Fees”, then this weekend I’m hearing him on the radio telling the whole nation that “no one can say they want to scrap tuition fees. Seriously. How can anyone think that a politician who will behave like this could one day win a General Election except in exceptional circumstances: e.g., the Conservative government presiding over some further national disaster of their own making? (They’ve made one, the diabolical state of the economy – they surely can’t get away with another).
- Yvette. I’m afraid there isn’t much I want to say about her. She is so underpowered, so slight, so un-present, that I just want to ignore her and forget she’s even running. The last straw was hearing one of her last-ditch speeches on the radio where she was complaining – about Jeremy, I shouldn’t wonder – that we need a leader who will change the world. Sorry, Yvette and Yvette-fans, but it would shock me if it were shown that Yvette could change a TV channel with a brand new remote. And again, worthy as some of her philosophies are, how on earth can anyone think floating voters who don’t understand politics but will actually put the ‘X’ in the Labour column in 2020 is beyond my ken.
- Liz Kendall. “I want to do a new kind of politics” she said at the start of all this on Woman’s Hour. Six weeks later I’m sure her supporters have completely forgotten she said it aside from her closest aides. She seems not to have learned anything about the art of communication in what is a very long time in politics. If she were a front runner I’d be terrified about this. Never mind that she seems to think the way forward for us all is a close embrace between the red flag/rose and big business, a Kendall Labour Party would be one led by one of the great wafflers of all-time.
So as each day passes I more and more think, “Fuck! Without Jeremy Corbyn we would be finished as a political force.” And even as I see Tweets telling me that he is 1/3 and 1/4 to win, I still get cold shivers thinking of how things might have been, or, God help us, might actually be if Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown manage to find a way to fix the result.
I wouldn’t put it past them. Don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning in the next two weeks to find the news telling you that ballot boxes have mysteriously gone missing.
Which brings us to the least attractive aspect of the – not battle, but war: New Labour dinosaurs lining up to warn that the apocalypse faces us if we vote for Corbyn. The line-up seems never ending: Blair, Straw, Kinnock, Brown, Campbell, Johnson, Hain (sort of), Mandelson, David Miliband. Even though they have beautifully ruined themselves: proving that they a) are desperate to retain their grip on their jobs, party, legacy, etc, some or all of which nourishes their bank balances and self-image. b) believed in a Labour Party without socialism. c) Don’t understand that if we don’t embrace some modern socialist values we will be left with a hollowed out husk of a political party to follow. The brilliance of Jeremy is probably this: while he looks more and more like Johnny Rotten, the New Labour grandees look like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Grateful Dead. At 66, that’s some achievement.
Tuesday, August 18
Tristram Hunt was on Newsnight last night. This revealed two problems: one for Labour and one for Jeremy Corbyn. Firstly: if this guy is the future of the Labour Party, then God help us. The Corbyn effect on me has – perhaps – an ugly downside. If Jeremy loses, or what he stands for is sidelined by some means or other after his election, then the Labour Party is finished as a force standing up to right-wing ideas and policies. It wasn’t that Tristram was completely dull and passionless – though he was to start with – it’s that as a self-confessed Kendallite, he’s going to pander to and appease the formidable free-market forces out there. Jeremy has in effect held up a mirror to these people which – for some mysterious reason – reveals them in a light they weren’t seen before. Instead of sensible, urbane, middle-class people saying dull things to nice, sensible middle-class people whose votes we need, they now appear as out of touch, privileged and irrelevant to not only the needs of Britain but to the needs of Labour in trying to win an election. The mirror also speaks: it says, “Who are you kidding: you think people like Tristan are going to win swathes of middle-class votes? Forget it.” I’m sure the mirror is right.
The second problem is the quite dreadful approach the BBC takes to presenting politics. You want a rep from right-wing Labour on? Another to speak out against Corbinist politics? Fine, But why wasn’t he debating with a Corbynista? It’s a further problem that so many people on the Corbyn side of the argument have so lost faith in the Beeb that you begin to think this bias doesn’t matter any more. But it does.
Evan Davis, the interviewer, used the occasion to frame the story in an extremely negative way for Labour, focussing entirely on the Corbyn Effect being a problem. True, the party is indeed divided at the moment as it must be when we’re all choosing a side. But all I have heard from BBC radio and TV is Jeremy presented as a negative issue. Meanwhile, he sweeps up, down and across the land bringing out huge revivalist crowds; but no, the re-energizing of Labour, the excitement that JC’s rise is bringing to Labour “activists” – for this read “in-house fanatics with nothing better to do than immerse themselves in politics”, not supporters – is not, cannot be allowed to be the story.
If Jeremy wins, expect the same negativity. He will then represent the Labour Party as a whole, and the problem will be that our national broadcaster is going to play a role, wittingly or unwittingly. in keeping floating voters coming over to Labour.
There is a danger here too for the social media practitioners. When you leave Twitter to dip your toes in the mainstream media water. they’re in danger of absorbing poison. However warm and wonderful we may feel reading Tweeted material who are on our side, outside it’s a chilly world, where, to be rather banal, there are many battles still to be won.
Harold Wilson, of course, said that a week is a long time in politics. It’s probably banal too to say that no, a day can now feel like a long time. I must remember to be grateful for what has happened since the end of June. I must try not to lose my sense of amazement that Jeremy Corbyn has allowed himself to become this remarkable lightning rod for thoughts, beliefs and feelings that I for one thought didn’t exist in so many people. To those who think that he cannot win a General Election, I say, you’re wrong. I say, you don’t know that. More positively, I can point to the Survation poll of last Thursday when a survey of the public put Jeremy ahead of the other three when the sample was shown a video clip of each of them. And I can point to the You Gov one (I think it was YG) which now has Jeremy 11 points ahead of AB in a poll of Labour voters. My extrapolation that if Labour people can be lit up by Jeremy telling us that the society we need is one where we look after and care for each other, then the wider public can be lit up by it too, is on the way to being proved right. This, I think, is what makes all the New Labour naysayers look like fossils. Whatever happens, I for one can not go back. I cannot return to the notion that party politics is about details, that it’s about apologizing, that it’s about hiding what you think in the hope that middle-class people in Oxfordshire won’t notice you, and all the rest of the New Labour rigmarole. Jeremy has reminded us that politics is about very big things. It’s about beliefs of the largest magnitude: about trying to bring about the society you want; about believing in the goodness in humanity; about believing our country to be something that we belong to and which belongs to all of us. This is what people like Tristram Hunt are trying to reduce to the madness of “a Bennite” who wants to “take Britain backwards.”
A revolution is in the process of being made, so I suppose it’s no wonder that people want to put a stop to it. New Labourites, after all, are going to lose their party. It’s just a pity they can’t at least give us all a suggestion that once upon a time they believed in the great things the Labour Party has aspired to since 1900: peace, equality, the building of the humane and moral society. Instead what are we seeing? conservatives.