In support of Corbyn (1st attempt)
I’ve been very taken with three things recently. This article by Kath Viner which is a good long read on the echo chambers of those who get their news from the Internet (i.e. everybody). This discussion on the New Statesman podcast about why moderates like me don’t get Corbyn’s supporters. And this attempt by David Frum, a moderate Republican entirely aghast at Trump, to imagine how Trump supporters view the situation.
They’ve made me want to do the same. A friend of mine, not involved in party politics at all, asked me why people still wanted to vote for Corbyn and I realised I couldn’t answer him in ways that weren’t perjorative. And that was clearly a fault of mine and showed I needed to better understand sections of my party.
So this is my attempt to put forward an argument for Corbyn. This is a process of understanding so I don’t want to pretend that I’m going to get it right first time. And indeed the point is to try and get Corbyn supporters to engage, tell me what they would add to my points so I feel confident I know what the strongest argument for supporting Corbyn is.
In the interest of transparency I should be clear that I don’t agree with a number of Corbyn or Smith’s key policies. I think they’re unelectable but more importantly I don’t think they’re best way to progressive ends. I believe in devolution of power and resources not centralisation. I would rather make early year provision free than higher education. I’m more interested in muncipalising buses than nationalising trains.
And I am presuming that all Corbyn supporters are looking for policy solutions closer to what is being suggested by the two candidates in this election. Anyone who doesn’t feel that includes them, please do get in touch; I would love to hear from you.
For those looking for Labour to confidently espouse traditional left wing policy ideas, the Miliband years must have felt like the worst kind of tease. In 2012 he tantalised, producing rhetoric that suggested a bold plan, genuinely standing up to press barons following the hacking scandal and marking a clear change of foreign policy (see the Syria vote). And with the government tanking and Labour sometimes in double figure leads, it genuinely felt like it was on. A traditionally left wing government was finally going to take power.
And yet three years later there was an absolute gut punch as somehow the Tories became the first governing party in god knows how long to improve its vote share and ended up with an overall majority. Labour was 100 seats from power and would need to win Kensington and Chelsea to get a majority.
And if that wasn’t enough, Labour didn’t even stand on the platform that it looked like it would in 2012. They weren’t going to reverse the cuts, many of which had already done serious damage to communities, they were going to continue to reduce the deficit and they were pushing controls on immigration. It felt like for three years Miliband had been dragged by his cabinet, the polls and the media ever further from his instincts. If he had got into No.10 he would probably have continued to be inexorably pulled towards the centre.
And when the new leadership election came it felt as if the candidates were going to follow that pattern. They weren’t inspiring or someone you felt confident could win an election. One of them was an unrepentant Blairite, although she was clearly not going to win. And while the other two might have talked left during the campaign, the strong suspicion was that willingly or unwillingly they would be dragged by political forces into a more centrist platform. And this was given stronger credence when the Shadow Cabinet decided to abstain on the first reading of the welfare bill. There may have been valid tactical justifications as they looked to make amendments before the second reading, but it was also because they were influenced by polling saying Labour needed to seem tougher on welfare in order to win back swing voters.
There was no reason to think that electing someone with a vaguely similar gameplan to Miliband was going to work this time around especially when the task was now harder. The future seemed very obvious. Talk left, drift right, lose to the Tories. Surely it would be worth trying something different.
And out of nowhere something different came along. Someone who had a very different kind of charisma. Softly spoken, not an especially dynamic speaker, but someone who always seemed comfortable in their skin and said what they felt. A man no one would ever feel was going to spend an interview trying to squirm out of a difficult question. A guy who would always share his sandwiches and take the bus. Someone who may have been in politics all his life but in no way could be held responsible for New Labour.
Perhaps most importantly Corbyn wasn’t afraid to simply state what many Labour members felt. Could he win a general election? Well it didn’t feel like the others could. So why wouldn’t you try something new? There was a genuine energy and if that could be harnessed then who knows where it could end up. The increase in membership offered the opportunity to engage more and different people and use that energy and diversity to create a manifesto that is radical but appealing. And then to have the troops on the ground to persuade people door by door.
The first 9 months of Corbyn’s leadership haven’t gone all to plan by any means. As predicted the firestorm from the right wing media has been fierce and the support from left leaning media extremely tepid. It clearly did take Corbyn a while to master some basics of the job. And no one can pretend he is good at PMQs or makes speeches with the right turns of phrase to get noticed on the TV news.
But it’s not just that it was all new to him, he was trying to do things in a different way and that is a process of experimentation. Mistakes come with the territory. And the operation has got slicker and the predicted disasters (losing Oldham, dropping 200 seats at the locals, losing London mayoralty) haven’t happened.
It’s not great. No one is pretending it is. But it is far too soon to give up on trying something new. Nine months is not a sensible length to trial a new way of appealing to the population. And to quit after the EU referendum result, leaving the party in chaos at precisely the moment that the country would have been looking to it for stability was irresponsible. It showed that the PLP did not want to give it a try.
If Corbyn loses then the people who will be happiest are people who were hoping that we would pick someone else last summer. Someone who will talk left, drift right and lose to the Tories. Bit by bit they, and worse those with strong centrist beliefs, will take back control of the machinery and push those who have more leftwing views into the margins, relying on them to rally troops and knock doors but not have real influence on the direction of the party.
Corbyn is unlikely to win an election. Especially if there is an election soon. But given another couple years, as membership continues to grow, messages continue to spread through other channels, the results might surprise you. The SNP grew into its current megalithic form through constant engagement; it didn’t show in the polls for ages and then suddenly it was there. People believed in independence and they believed in a broad range of ideas, many left wing, connected to it. And once they believed in this and saw it as important SNP’s ratings suddenly soared. That is the only alternative the left has. Otherwise it’s just elect another politician who speaks left, drifts right and loses to the Tories.
That is the strongest argument I can make for Corbyn. I would pick a lot of holes in it and come to a vigorous defence of the PLP. I’d also stress that you underestimate both Owen Smith and the power of the membership if you think he either want or be able to drift right. There are things in there I think of as highly wishful. But there is nothing in there which I consider to be a lie.
So I would ask Corbyn supporters to tell me what else you would like me to add to make it into a more robust and wholehearted argument for Corbyn.
However there is something else I’d like you to help me with. I orginally put this part at the beginning but I was worried it would come across as aggressive and stop Corbyn supporters from reading on when I really am trying to engage.
But there are two very important factors in why I’m supporting Owen Smith that I don’t know how to begin to answer from a Corbyn perspective. The reasons why even though their policies are very similar, I consider Owen Smith to be a far superior candidate.
- I don’t get how people can read the accounts of Lilian Greenwood, Sharon Hodgson or Thangam Debbonaire and think Corbyn has any idea how to manage a team and lead an opposition. To me they suggest whose leadership skills will badly let down any hope of delivering on what he wants to do.
- And I really don’t get how everyone seems to be comfortable having a leader of the party who has worked for Press TV, invited convicted anti-semites to the House of Commons and refused to condemn the IRA.
I don’t know how to see the other side on that. But I promise I’m willing to listen if you would like to present it to me.
Thank-you very much for reading and do please comment.