Why I’m voting for Corbyn

Sunny Hundal has given his rationale for voting Owen Smith, so I thought I might give mine for voting Corbyn.

One way to cut into this is to look back at why I voted for Corbyn last time, and see whether the rationale still holds in the face of a new opponent. In September 2015, this judgment was key to my vote:

The organic development of a genuine leftwing movement, and my duty to support that in whatever way I can - currently outweighs my concern that, as and when elected, he will be surrounded by a self-regarding new Bennite elite which has little regard for the movement that got Corbyn to the leadership, and little understanding of how to empower local parties and local labour movements…..

Frankly, my suspicions that those surrounding Corbyn would make a pig’s ear of the first few months of Corbyn’s leadership have been been proven all too correct.

Aside from a couple of truly bizarre appointments to the inner circle, the decision to found Momentum, supposedly as a “forum” (their term) for activists enthused by the rise of Corbyn to engage in wider social action, has been disastrous; it has done little other than act as a mechanism to exert control over party structures, and it hasn’t even done that very well. As and when Corbyn wins again, he and his more sensible advisers would do well to encourage a voluntary disbanding, via whatever face-saving device is needed (I can think of a couple which would work).

And Momentum aside, the first year has disappointed. The early promise, in which the Tories were genuinely unsettled by the “authenticity” appeal, was never developed reflexively, in a way which might draw the wider public towards a sense that this was a “new politics” for real, or even in a way which showed an understanding of why Corbyn has won in the first place.

Perhaps as importantly, no serious attempt ever seems to have been made with Labour MPs to discuss how they might support and help foster this new approach to political discourse. Of course, to a large extent this was because most MPs are not politically aware enough to understand what was going on, and were soon happy to follow the course of discontent and grumbling set out for them by senior figures in the party who refused to accept that there were any reasons for Corbyn’s victory other than Trot entryism and a wider death wish on the part of members and supporters. Even so, it takes two to tango, and it is painfully clear that a plan for engagement with the PLP was never developed.

So I am not a fan of Corbyn’s first year, and there is a lot of ground now to make up. This needs to happen on September 14th, with a commitment by Corbyn to come out of the bunker, and to get reflexive. It will be harder this time, but it is not impossible.

All of this might suggest that I am wavering in my support for Corbyn.

I am not wavering , because I still think the instincts of those who voted him in, and who largely still support him, are correct. Politics is being rapidly transformed by social change, insecurity and risk, and the left needs a response to these new conditions that Labour moderates like Owen Smith simply show no sign of understanding, never mind doing anything about.

Last year, Liz Kendall did belatedly show some consciousness of the new world in which Labour must operate, and had she upped her game further and stood again on a refreshed platform I might have considered a vote for her. The Owen Smith campaign shows no such potential; his intervention on Brexit is shallow and deeply damaging, and his inconsistency on who should make policy is staggering.

So I’m sticking with a vote for Corbyn, because I think there’s still a chance of making Corbynism, as I envisaged it here and here a few months ago, happen. I suspect it will not happen under Corbyn’s own leadership, but that is of little consequence.

The gainsayers may of course accuse me of naive idealism, and point to the opinion polls. Some of the more vitriolic gainsayers may even accuse me of being too comfortable to have to worry about not having a Labour government — an accusation I happen to find deeply unpleasant, as I know many others do, and one which is certainly counterproductive for the Smith campaign.

To the less vitriolic gainsayers, I would say two things.

First, Smith is less likely than Miliband to win an election, not just because he is less good a politician than Miliband, but because a Smith victory would lead to an extended period of re-assumed elite control, in which triangulation and presentation are again fetishized, and in a way which utterly fails to understand the way this simply feeds into political alienation and consequent democratic deficit.

Second, there is no reason that, as Brexit recession and hardship kick in, the properly-oriented ‘second Corbynism’ I advocate should not bring with it a huge surge in popularity for a party which has stuck by its instincts for change, even in the face of narrow reactionary forces within the PLP, now succesfully re-engaged, and is now making great strides as a prospective government for a technologically accelerated and socially re-conceived 21st century, in which (reflecting Ulrich Beck) democratic institutions can no longer afford to pretend it’s the 19th century.

Those who pontificate that no party this far behind in the polls has ever won the next election show little understanding of how politics, and politicial reactions, are speeding up like everything else. Fortunately, Corbynism may do, and then act on it.

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