This Isn’t a Civil War, We Are Not a Cult, We Are Labour
“And if any politician tried to do what Roy Jenkins did today, to change Britain for the better, against public opinion — we and the press would destroy them” — Adam Curtis
The rift between Jeremy Corbyn and the PLP is not something worth debating or discussing. Whether they disagree with his politics, dislike him as a person or genuinely feel he’s bad for the party — it exists. It also is not something that looks as if it will heal itself. None of the rhetoric from dissenters implies that they intend to respect any decision that results in Jeremy heading back to the leader’s office.
Now this could be them ‘playing politics’ or they could mean exactly what they aren’t saying. The fear that the party will split undoubtedly helps Owen’s campaign and the more vocal ‘senior Labour sources’ are about the subject, the more those wavering may see him as the answer. For what it’s worth I think Smith’s campaign are using the fear as a tactic, I say that not in a judgemental way — but rather to give the man some credit.
I do not think that the MPs around him are interested in a split — and realistically I don’t think splitting would result in him being prominent in a new party. If we consider this to be the death throes of New Labour, it’s pertinent to keep in mind that Owen Smith is not one of them. He has become the de facto candidate of choice for anyone who wants Corbyn removed, but he is not a Blairite.
If I’m completely honest I don’t know what Owen Smith is. He’s made some utterly stupid remarks during his campaign and some…. ‘errors in judgement’ beforehand, such as the now infamous remarks to Leanne Wood. If we were to take him at his word and assume he is genuine then his policies are not entirely disagreeable. If he genuinely means what he has said since he has risen to the rank of leadership candidate, I wouldn’t have to hold my nose to vote for Labour in a general election under him.
His offers to reintroduce Clause IV and to make Jeremy ‘President’ during ‘negotiations’, whilst not acceptable to those who firmly back Corbyn (much less the man himself), do show more willingness to engage with the direction the membership have indicated they wish to take the party. They also appear to show a certain level of respect for Jeremy, even if he was conjuring what one can only imagine would be a symbolic role from absolutely nowhere in any rulebook.
Now I understand the analysis thus far ignores a fairly central aspect to the divisions and what a great many Corbyn supporters feel; there is no reason for there to currently be a leadership contest. I would agree with this sentiment, however Owen and Angela both played by the book. They got the requisite number of nominations and challenged. Whatever other forces are at play within the party it is clear that one group will have to draw a line under what has happened thus far — and it will have to be us, because I cannot see it being them.
The vote of no confidence and resignations were massively disappointing and during that period I believe the PLP behaved terribly. They ignored their responsibilities not only to their constituents, but the country by refusing to take front bench seats. The whole affair weakened Labour in the eyes of the electorate and left the majority of Labour voters without real representation in parliament. To those of us who believe in Jeremy this felt like a betrayal and one that had been on standby until the most opportune moment. This was not it, and as such we have not only failed to form a credible opposition — but those who may be described as being part of the coup have been left looking foolish, panicked and disingenuous. This could have been avoided had Eagle and Smith both run, but as one dropped out in an effort to encourage ‘unity’ — several MPs have been left back peddling on their endorsements of Angela and now sincerely believe Owen is ‘the man’.
From what I can see that takes us pretty much up to where we are today. I am not dignifying the smears with any analysis here. I can’t think there are many people reading this who truly believe that Jeremy is the source of all the things we are told he is.
So on the face of things one could rightly be left wondering why Corbyn already has my vote before a single hustings? I can understand the temptation to refer to Corbyn as having a ‘cult of personality’, given all the statements I have just made — but I think what the PLP are missing is that there are two aspects of Jeremy that make him attractive in a way most other options aren’t.
The first is quite obviously his ideology. I say ideology and not politics because Jeremy does not ‘play the game’. He has values that are clearly issues of conscience for him. He voted against the majority of Labour MPs and party policy on Trident; something his detractors believe should diminish his popularity. More fool them.
The second was also captured wonderfully in the exact same moment; he has integrity. Not only that, but he has a proven track record of standing up for what he believes to be morally correct with no regard to personal political consequences. He is a man who does not seek to alter public perception through subtle manipulations or soundbites; he wants to have the discussion — but that does not mean he is weak. His conviction cannot be doubted and for a great many members, that is what matters now.
In terms of politics, Angus Robertson gave the best reason why the house should have voted against the motion. It did not rely on whether one believes in a ‘nuclear deterrent’, but rather questioned the bill that the house was being asked to pass. Would it have been more politically savvy for Jeremy to go down this road? Yes. Would it have meant that he could tell the party to vote against the motion, without denouncing Trident? Yes. But realistically would it have made a difference to a party determined to rebel? No. This is not Jeremy refusing to offer an olive branch, he has offered plenty of those — it is a man refusing to capitulate to pressure and cloak his true beliefs in an argument MPs may have found more agreeable. His detractors may argue that he could not have made the argument, but few of his supporters would have wanted him to knowing it would not change his standing in the party.
It is not necessarily that Owen Smith is untrustworthy, but his actions since becoming a Labour MP do not make it easy to take him at his word. Even on the most sympathetic reading of events, he lacks the demonstrable experience of not just serving in parliament — but being willing to stand up to the party on issues of conscience. I would find it difficult to fend off the argument that him standing whatsoever shows his true colours, but as mentioned earlier I do not believe this should be a civil war.
Jeremy Corbyn will receive my vote for the reasons listed above. He is the only option that demonstrates these qualities — in this race. If for you it is Corbyn or nobody, then whilst I do not wish to be the bearer of bad news — he is mortal. I think it would be far too easy for us to fall back to defensive positions and fight for our embattled leader; and please do not think I will not be doing so — but to truly show this is not a cult, we need to reach out. Especially to those MPs who are on the left.
We need to reach out to our MPs, PPCs and comrades across the country, whether they back Corbyn or not — and engage with them. I am not saying accept their narratives, I am saying they too are party members. Deselection may seem like a panacea to the woes that face Labour, but from my perspective all it would achieve is to allow the ‘civil war’ they seem intent on fighting to appear justified. It would divide the membership as well as the PLP and we are all stronger together. We need our elected officials to hear our voices, not just in a choral wall of sound or at mass rallies for Jeremy — but as individuals they can engage with.
There are not 172 MPs who wish to split the party, it is important that we each recognise them as individuals. They should not be dragged into this proxy war and forced to pick sides when they have already chosen one, Labour. So if you have a reasonable MP — write to them. If you have an unreasonable MP — write to them. If you have an MP that backs Jeremy — write to them. If they don’t — write to them. The rift we need to heal is not one between Corbyn and the PLP, but one between the PLP, individual MPs and the membership. If it is not a gap that can be bridged, it is down to individual CLPs to deselect the MPs in question. Us calling for it en masse at this point devalues and weakens our cause.
Great politicians may pass, but the greatest of them do not yearn for nor seek out the spotlight. They served us in parliament, often from the back benches and I would not see their memories tarnished. Tarnished by the idea that if you are not leader, or Prime Minister that your stewardship has been a failure. Political engagement is about inspiration and ideas, that is what Jeremy Corbyn offers that Owen Smith currently cannot. “It’s not about me, it’s about people. I prefer Jez”
The focus of this leadership election has been on the ‘cult of personality’ vs. the more sensible ‘moderates’, but the narrative is a lie. Owen Smith is moderate compared to Jeremy, but his ideas put him on the left of the party. This is a contest that is being fought because Jeremy would not abandon us by resigning, and Owen is a candidate because he managed to manoeuvre past Angela Eagle. His employment history is not of massive concern to me, nor his expenses — but his affiliation with those who would split the party, his naiveness in statements to the press and the elephant in the room regarding his views on gender do not present to me a unity candidate. They do not present me with one I believe would lead with conviction and the backing of his party. The resurgence of the left is undeniable, the level of engagement unprecedented, and the fear of the establishment is palpable. Whatever the result of the contest may be, views like Owen Smith’s (most of them at least) should be welcome in the Labour party. People who have been far further right than he is have used Labour for progressive changes that we can all still be proud of. Tony Blair stood on the shoulders of giants to achieve electoral victory, but in doing so betrayed the Labour movement by subverting the values it stands for. Gordon Brown for any faults he had at least believed in a ‘moral right’ and I will never look at him as a failure. He inherited a chalice tainted by Blairism.
To quote Roy Jenkins “An attitude of conservatism, would be very unbecoming of the Labour movement. We exist to change society.” This is a man who supported causes that were unpopular — it does not even matter he became a member of the ‘Gang of four’. It is thanks to him we no longer discuss divorce, the death penalty, abortion or the criminalisation of homosexuality as politically ‘live’ issues. They are decided. Tony Benn was one of the greatest politicians of a generation, but his success does not require polling, it is alive in all of us. The inspiration that he wished to be his legacy exists — and you can find it here or anywhere else you see people driving for real change.
The civil war was won last year and hopefully we can reinforce that message in this contest, but if we fail, if Owen Smith becomes leader — that is not the end. The fact we are all here means this is only the beginning. Long after Tony Blair is consigned to history as an unremarkable war criminal, people like Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn have already secured their legacy in ways that can never be quantified. The fact that they did not require the highest office to do this should be a source of inspiration to us all.
This is my cult; a cult of integrity — and I feel no shame in saying so. In a political landscape where weathervanes are the norm, a sign post will always stand out.
Dewi Asianab (@UnrelentingEgo)
I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank everybody who read my last piece. I thoroughly enjoyed writing it and your encouragement is what has given me the confidence to continue. Regardless of how widely circulated or whether people agree I genuinely appreciate the time you have taken out of your day to read the thoughts and opinions of someone with no particular expertise to offer.
I also realise in my last post I said I would provide sources for the effectiveness of “appeals to authority”. For anyone interested the best experiments to look at would be the famous Milgram Experiment; but the less well known variations on it are more interesting. They demonstrate the appearance of the ‘experimenter’ as well as the geographical location, place of advertising and institute where the study took place all had a dramatic effect on the willingness of participants to accept instruction.