A Response to the Blog by Owen Jones.
To reply in kind first let me establish some parameters, I intend to give an opinion and in doing so question some of the arguments made by Mr Jones. I do not intend to attack him or anyone else personally.
Let me start with two observations, on first reading this it struck me that a lot of what was said was common sense and could be applied to almost any political party let alone a specific part of Labour. Second, and this may well be a personal failing, I found it hard to pin down any specific point he was trying to make.
The long introduction was in simple terms about Mr Jones’s credentials. Establishing the fact he had relevant experience and defending himself from the attacks he rightly new would come. This to some extent raised the question above “what is he doing this for or whom?”
There are also a couple of paragraphs talking about how the PLP and the Establishment would work together to undermine any left wing leader and that mistakes were made following Mr Corbyn’s “surprise” victory. Yes all true but I am not sure what could reasonably be expected.
The final part of the introduction points out there is a difference between cheering crowds and the wider electorate. Again I think we can agree on that. The part that we might question is that a significant number of supporters don’t get this?
Before I turn to the specific questions I would like to make two further points about the introduction. Firstly it seems heartfelt, genuine and highly emotional. I understand why and applaud the first two but would question if this is the best state of mind to do an analysis from. The second point is that when I respond to the specific questions I intend to play devil’s advocate. That is to say I will criticise the logic of some of the questions in an attempt to get to the clear and simple questions we can all get behind and try and answer.
I am not, in this piece trying to answer the questions I am merely trying to make sure we are asking the right ones.
1) How can disastrous polling be turned around.
Good question but let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of debating polling. The reality is it’s about popularity come the election. The situation may be unprecedented but that is what they say when the need to explain why the polls were not accurate. Another thing to remember is that the majority of polls are commissioned by the Main Stream Media (MSM), they phrase the questions and decide on whether to publish/broadcast. I think if we have good answers for some of the other questions this one will look after itself.
2) Where is the clear vision?
The first thing to do here is to separate a policy from a slogan that will resonate. If Mr Jones is saying we have the policies but not the slogans I agree. Let’s not knock the power of a good slogan but we also need to remember it should not frighten too many people and, if we do have some good ones, let’s not wear them out before an election when we need them most. Don’t fight tomorrow’s battle today. It is a very important question but not at this time in a leadership campaign that you look like winning.
3) How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?
I would firstly like to point out I am a dullard when it comes to procedure. I do not really know how it works but what seems simple and fair to me is:
a) Elect a Leader
b) Leader goes to membership with manifesto
c) Membership adopt manifesto
d) Manifesto put before electorate.
If this is wrong it shouldn’t be, the last thing we need is Leaders making things up on the hoof. We as the party need a clear policy on Trident, Europe et al and I don’t think we have them at the minute.
4) What’s the media strategy?
Simple answer, we need one. I disagree that most supporters on twitter don’t recognise the problem; twitter is full of people complaining about the bias of MSM. I also think care needs to be taken not to court the MSM, if The Sun is backing Labour we need to think again. There is a problem to solve and it is big and difficult. Perhaps a simpler question that we can all get behind is how do we get our message out to the electorate? Still hard but I would be very surprised if this isn’t front of mind come the time.
5) What is the strategy to win over the over 44’s?
Someone once said the older you get the more right wing you are. I like to think it’s not the case for me but recognise the logic. I think we need to be careful about pitching to specific groups not least because it isn’t fair. Should we be able to say we are the best party for poor and disadvantaged people? Yes, I don’t care how old they are. For me this question is addressed by answers to some of the others posed here.
6) What is the strategy to win over Scotland?
Personally this is not a fight we need to have in the short term; there are plenty of others that are more pressing. If at the time of the next election nothing significant has changed it makes sense to me to establish a coalition. Not for me to say but I do feel comfortable saying let’s not get into a fight we cannot win.
7) What is the strategy to win over Conservative voters?
Better policies communicated clearly. What is my strategy to win over racists form UKIP, haven’t got one let them burn in hell. My strategy for explaining evolution to creationists, haven’t got one either they can’t burn in hell because it doesn’t exist. Some people will never listen because of self interest or stupidity or brainwashing. Life is too short.
Let’s go after those who support the NHS, being part of Europe as best we can, re nationalise the railways, stop Trident, enough? They can say they are Conservative if they like as long as they vote Labour.
8) How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?
I think we need to put our foot down on this one. For me the reality is and has always been any right wing party supported by the MSM says “it’s the immigrants”. We deal with it by educating them that it is not the immigrants using up school places or filling Doctors waiting rooms, it is the waiting rooms and classrooms getting smaller. They are deliberately being reduced and the blame conveniently passed to a minority who cannot defend themselves. I would like to see Labour as the party of immigration, Let’s take on UKIP and the right wing and win the argument not because it will work but because it is the right thing to do.
9) How can mass membership be mobilised?
Nice problem to have. Yes we need to do it but if Mr Corbyn’s supporters need to ask themselves this question they might first ask how we increase it. What happened was remarkable and how it is used is valid but what if it were one million two? Make it cheap or free to be a member, we already have the biggest party in the UK why stop there?
The fact that people on the left are defensive is entirely understandable they are under siege. The membership is angry with the minority trying to dictate, there is an argument to say that this, warts and all, is already a social movement. Social movements grow organically one person at a time.
Here I think the Author reveals himself. Someone is having an existential crisis but it might be the well intentioned Mr Jones. What is the problem exactly? Labour has not been in power since 2010 and now is having a vigorous debate at its grass roots to clarify its identity.
There is little point or chance of getting elected on a manifesto of the middle. Call it what you will but I would argue people need a clear choice and they have not had that since as long ago as Michael Foot.
Finally to answer my own initial question what was Mr Jones’s objective? I’m not sure; I think his heart is in the right place. He said a lot of things that most people not just in the party can get behind but there is a hint of fear that this might all crash and burn. It might but that is not a reason not to try and whilst doing so be as pleasant to each other as possible whilst demanding high standards of professionalism.