Monday, September 26, 2016

To be honest, I'd prefer it if Labour split - here are my reasons

Walking last weekend I came up with twelve good reasons not just to leave the Labour Party, but to actively wish a split. I'm not leaving, because of the last point, but many good people are. 

1. It makes me sad and angry
If we were starting from scratch, there is no reason on earth right now why I would join Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. I wouldn't look at it and think - that's what I'd like to be part of, that looks exciting. It doesn't, none of it, all of Labour makes me sad and sometimes angry. So this blog is partly me thinking aloud about why I should stay or go, but it's actually not my decision that matters, but whether others lead in that direction. It's something I think about every day, I wish I didn't. I've walked away before, mainly because membership was incompatible with my work. I could take the easy option and say that as I'm now working in a politically sensitive role I ought to step away, but that's not it.

2. This cult of Jeremy makes me feel uneasy
It is sometimes said that Queen Elizabeth and her entourage must think everywhere in Britain smells of paint, such is the care and preparation invested in sprucing each place she visits. This endless leadership campaign must be like that for supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, bouncing from meetings of the like minded, a world of rallies and demonstrations. It is no surprise to discover a recent opinion poll by YouGov where 80% say they have literally no friends who would vote Tory. It's a kind of politics I utterly abhor, dogma, personality cult worship and a tin ear. Worse still, because the policy programme of the Corbyn project is so light on detail, then people tend to project onto him whatever they want him to stand for.

3. Labour has become the nasty party  I know lovely people, who I count as friends, who are firmly on the left of the party. But the promise of a kinder gentler politics was always a hollow one. To witness the Corbyn supporting mob in action on their medium of choice - social media - is a horror show of intolerance, ill tempered hostility and shallow sloganeering. The use of "vermin" is a horrible term of abuse, whether it is used on a t-shirt, or a placard. I'd never use it about anyone. Yet such is the paranoia and delusion involved now that even the authenticity of a notorious picture of an offensive t-shirt has been questioned - because the two young people who discovered it are "RWBV" themselves. As Philip Collins says in the Times, the Labour membership sees itself as morally superior to the nation that rejects it. Whether the targets are one of Britain's most respected businessmen (Richard Branson), best loved writers (JK Rowling) or anyone in the media who subjects the dear leader or his acolytes to the most basic scrutiny, the result is the same. At the Sky debate, one member of the audience spoke up for Corbyn, saying: "I'm just so angry at what the rest of the Labour party are doing to Jeremy Corbyn. I think they're cowards. They're old Blairites. Everybody hates Tony Blair."

4. Embarrassing, embarrassing, embarrassing
I want to watch the news and feel proud of my team. I want to sit down to Question Time and see my side put a good shift in against the Tories and the SNP and whichever media pundit they pick to play to the gallery. I don't though, I get angry and want to switch off. One after another they line up on TV, and in parliament, to be stripped of any pretense at competence, Emily Thornberry, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and of course Corbyn himself.

5. This is not a social movement

After the General Election last year I went to a meeting of new party members at a club in Manchester. I tried to find out why people had joined a political party, what they wanted to give, what they expected to contribute and what their motives were. I still don't think I'm any the wiser. Is it like a bowls club taking over a golf club and changing the rules and ethos? Partly. But first and foremost, Labour needs to win elections, that's what it exists for. In order to do that Labour can also become effective by building a network of social activists, something I wrote about in my report from 2015 and in this book. Momentum seems to share this ideal, but are going about it in completely the wrong way. What worries me more than anything though is how many of these new party members will survive contact with the enemy, not the "traitorous Blairite scum", but Tory voters who need to be persuaded and inspired, not shouted down. Owen Jones has clocked this too. Already the kind of seats Labour should be holding in Sheffield and Stockton are lost to the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. Only the turmoil in UKIP will spare Labour further losses.

6. The leadership supports an ideology that is wrong about everything
This, from John McDonnell, shows him welcoming the crisis in capitalism. That's the opposite of what I think. Same on Northern Ireland. Same on the Middle East, same on terrorism. And all those positions are driven by an anti-western hatred. That's not me and that's wholly incompatible with social democratic values too.

7. I wouldn't want a leftist programme, even if it was the path to victory
I subscribe firmly to the guiding principle that what matters is what works, in the words of he who is no longer allowed to be named. It is my burden. I believe in evidence, evaluation and unlike Michael Gove I haven't had enough of experts. And the very reason why every opinion poll has Jeremy Corbyn at rock bottom is precisely because the British people can see what Labour members cannot. It is this, Corbyn is a lightweight, a phoney. He advocates little beyond slogans, about peace and being anti-austerity. But his policy papers, his uncosted policies, are unworthy of serious attention. Most are like a half-baked undergraduate essay; poorly evidenced and based on anecdotal personal experience. His promise of scrapping university tuition fees is, to quote our Chancellor this week - "not an honest promise". I dare not imagine the state of the next crowdsourced election manifesto. It's a way of thinking that fails to take into account the seismic changes in society of technology, wealth, power and the future role of the state.

8. I can't be dishonest
Owen Smith's campaign played the "Labour is doomed with Jeremy Corbyn" card. It's undoubtedly true, but it has utterly soured relations in the party beyond repair. The best we can hope for is an amicable divorce. Afterall, think how those words will look on Tory posters, quoted back at every party member and MP in the thick of an election campaign where Labour activists will have to make a case for Corbyn to lead our country. How can every MP who voted for no confidence in him, if they survive a reselection process, campaign for Jeremy Corbyn to be a plausible prime minister? There will be a charm offensive that will tempt some MPs back, some will do their patriotic duty, because they think it's the right thing to do. But if you do, then you all risk treating the electorate like fools and campaigning for something you know is not in the national interest. This doomed coup and leadership election is grounds for divorce, or as Gordon Lynch optimistically calls for here, an amicable one.

9. They've won and it's the end of the world as we know it
At the Greater Manchester Mayoral hustings I got a sense of the problem for our politics. This was the Labour family. Councillors, activists, election agents, those I didn't know I recognised from those cheerful pictures on social media with the caption - "great response on the Labour doorstep in *insert as appropriate*."
There was no heckling, no chanting of their candidates name. These were committed political operatives who have delivered Labour dominance across most parts of Greater Manchester through hard graft, targeting and community work. When Andrew Russell, the chair, asked the question where the candidates stood on the leadership, there was an audible groan around the room.  For many of these people 'Labour family' means just that. It was a reminder that there is something that is going to blow all of this apart, and yet they are the glue that will actually hold it all together until the bitter end. They/we inhabit a world that is ending. They are tribally loyal to Labour, councillors I know well are angry that the leadership election took place, because it distracted from what they want more than anything, party unity. These people are the best of Labour. The heartbeat of local politics, even in the tightest of circumstances it is primarily Labour councils who have brought verve and innovation to progressive political delivery - service design, collaborative working. Labour MPs too deserve far better than the abuse they get as "traitors". How on earth will they put it back together again?

10. You don't have to pick sides 
I get taken to that place where to leave Labour makes you a Tory, where the aggressive "which side are you on?" question is put. Sometimes I find myself having to take sides, but I can't though. It isn't a binary choice. I see the worst of the Tories in the Grammar School debacle, a comfortable reminder of their narrow priorities and the hollow rhetoric of One Nation Conservatism. And for all the tribalism and power of the Labour brand, and the decency of the Labour family, pre-Corbyn, it is now tragically toxic. Millions are turned off the shallow populism that Corbynism offers. I don't subscribe to the doctrine of my party, right or wrong. The easy answers, the shouty style and coarse sloganeering turns me right off. I also don't want to have to answer for mob behaviour the next time protesters spit in the face of "Tory scum". I've always been a free-thinker, a political magpie, essentially a centrist who can see virtue in many political traditions - even the left of politics.

11. Corbyn has to truly own his defeat
One of the key moments of the last year was the Oldham by-election. Andrew Gwynne, MP for Denton and Reddish, ran a tight and focused campaign wholly based on Jim McMahon's character, record and strengths. Imagine for a moment if Chris Williamson, the former MP for Derby, had been selected and campaigned on an overtly pro-Corbyn anti-austerity platform, run by Momentum. I think he would have lost as he did in the General Election and where he forever forfeited the right to call himself an MP, except on Twitter.
Even when Labour is smashed in the polls, there will be elements of the party that will blame the Blairites. Maybe therefore this essential truth will never hit home until the idea is firmly rejected by the British people. I want them to justify to the public the existence of the magical money tree that will pay for a universal basic income, free university education, all drug research done by the NHS, a nationalised railway system, unlimited welfare, a national social housing programme, redundancy payments for defence industry workers and a disbanded army.

12. Paul Mason is right
Former journalist Paul Mason has adopted a tone of "bring it on". He sees this as a war and is in no mood for healing. He wants the old party gone and for the deselections to begin. I am absolutely certain that Corbyn and McDonnell think this too. 

13. So here's the only reason I stay...
Of course there's the devilment of supporting those brave enough to stand and fight. Not to let the left have their way. Why should they? There's also an important need to ensure progressive change in society at a local level is victorious, whether that be Andy Burnham being elected as Greater Manchester Mayor, or our local council building on recent success having so narrowly taken control of Stockport Council in May. I was proud that Richard Leese and Joe Anderson are supporting the Northern Powerhouse Partnership started by George Osborne. There has to be scrutiny of policy nationally, if not from the front bench, then from the back. Take the powerful and forensic stance against grammar schools argued by Liz Kendall last week, then there's the amendments on country by country tax reporting tabled by Caroline Flint. These Labour MPs, leaders and councillors represent the best of politics. 

For now, I stay to support them, because I'm paid up for the year. There isn't anywhere else to go. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.


Anonymous said...

Disagree with most, if not all, of that. Same with you tarring all Corbyn supporters as hard left or of being represented by that photo. Not true.

The authoritarianism and, almost at times sneering, is not helping matters between members. The best thing would have been to give Corbyn a fair go and then if, with PLP behind him, he had done badly get rid.

To advocate a split seems to be allowed from the 'progressive' wing of the party but these comments from the 'left' would be grounds for purging.

Either way, yes this is your opinion to which you are entitled. But I think it is missing some of the bigger picture.

Unknown said...

The PLP have overwhelmingly and openly expressed their view that Corbyn isn't a suitable leader. My hand was hovering over his name last year. However, he had spent 32 years refusing to tow the party line, so he has (as he's admitted) given them licence to attack him as, as predicted, they are doing.
'This is your opinion' ducks out of admitting how well argued this article is.
I agree with most of Corbyn's analysis. However, his strength as an analyst isn't evidence of suitability for leadership. Polls clearly show he isn't succeeding.

Anonymous said...

A very well written, thoughtful article. I believe that there are many non labour voters in the UK that are saddened by this whole debacle, many who believe in democracy and that a credible opposition party provides appropriate checks and balances in the governing of a moderate country.

Corbyn will never provide that opposition and should have been remained behind on the platform of the Young Socialists Conference at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial college London in November 1973. A place and a time where he and many of his followers appear never to have left.

The only possible way out of this mess for the Labour PLP majority is to split, form a new Cooperative party and assume their position as the Official opposition. It's time for some of those people to show some courage and stop hedging their political bets, like I am afraid, the would-be Labour mayor of Manchester. The Sunday Times this morning quoted a former front bench labour MP as saying that "anyone in a constituency with less than a 10,000 majority should be considering their future outside politics" So much for passion and commitment to the cause, where is all that desperation to change the lives of poor people? If you are going to do that , why not rage against the dying of the Red light?

Michael Taylor said...

Thanks for your comments. Even for the lame whataboutery and yebbutism.

I thought I went out of my way to say NOT ALL Corbyn supporters are shrill thugs. However, there is a massive tonal problem, especially on social media.

I don't buy the argument about giving Corbyn a fair go, because as I've repeatedly said, he's not up to the job. It's just a matter of time before this project crashes and burns. The Tories didn't give Andrea Leadson a crack at it, because they are serious about power. Labour, patently, is not.

I'm not "advocating" a split, I'm saying it's inevitable and if it were to occur, then I know which way I'd jump. It's a marriage that cannot work, that has too many irreconcilable differences and where both sides of it will continue to display unreasonable behaviour.