Have you got it yet?

Years back, I remember reading the story of the last Pink Floyd jam session involving founder member Syd Barrett.

Syd turned up with a song he entitled “have you got it yet?”, and played it to the other members of the group. They thought it to be a good number and started playing along but it quickly became apparent that every time they came close to learning it, Syd would change the time, the key, the arrangement. Each time they got close to learning it, he would pull this switcheroo and start playing the new version, all the while singing “Have you got it yet?”. In the end, they gave up, safe in the knowledge they would never learn this tune.

This has been presented as a symbol of his decline into mental illness, or an example of an idiosyncratic humour. Perhaps it’s both. But what it seems to me, with hindsight, is that it was also a tactic – Syd was deeply unhappy about being in the band, about fame, about the pressures. By making it literally impossible for the rest of the group to work with him, he made his exit that much more certain.

I’ve been reminded of this each time I see frankly bizarre and – on the surface – unexplainable behaviour from the current Labour Party leadership. Ignoring what plays well in the country, they pursue a course of mixed conspiracism and incompetence that seems destined to drive away voters and a large number of internal critics.

But to see it purely in this light is to ignore the tactical calculations behind it. In extremely basic psychology, encouraging loopy beliefs about persecution and conspiracy from your base does precisely what you – as an insecure leader – would want. It encourages a bunker mentality from your supporters whilst at the same time driving your opponents away from the main discourse of the party.

Sure, I’ve no doubt they are incompetent too. But that’s not what this is about. Have you got it yet?