Having critically supported Corbyn in 2015 I count myself among the critics but not the supporters in 2016.
This is not to say that I thought the mass resignations were a good idea (though they did make a challenge necessary). I think there is a duty to serve as much as a right to step down, and they were a very sensationalist weapon to use when a challenge would have done.
Why object to Corbynism? I want a movement party, and a democratic one – though the looming personality focus weirds me out. I don’t think the movement party is presently doing the right stuff, because there’s no strategy at work here, sadly. I am a socialist so it’s not policy which causes me issues, bar some exceptions especially on foreign policy. I support much of Corbyn’s platform.
But I think his political strategy, management of MPs, and his presentation are all unambitious and terrible. I support a Bevanite kind of leftism which takes these things seriously as part of its socialism; and knows when to give ground or keep its mouth shut. I hate a socialism which fails to give its challenge any teeth, or does not prioritise how we get actual power for working people.
I’ll write more about what I think should happen next when the leadership election is over (I’m sure you’re really excited).
In the meantime it struck me that I’ve been complaining loads about Corbyn and the hard/neo-Bennite left, but haven’t really said much about what I think the problems have been for his critics, who themselves are a very politically diverse bunch and will have different insights among themselves as to how things have gone for them. Critics of Corbyn, diverse as they are, have problems of their own.
The problems they face:
1) Strongarm tactics against our leaders and especially one we have recently voted in are despised by members, and in this case are widely perceived as a coup against a recent vote, rather than proceeding from a fair debate and challenge in good time. You may disagree, but it’s true that most members see it this way.
2) The timing of this has been terrible and shows a disconnect from the grassroots. Resignations and a challenge happened before a critique had bedded on, and even more crucially before any viable political alternative had been built – not least one which parts of the left can legitimately trust and hold accountable. Broadly this timing was never going to work because only MPs and long time activists can see the size of the problems, or know how old and fundamental they are.
3) Smith’s policy has been good but it doesn’t sit alongside a strategy for gaining power or getting close to it – not unlike Jeremy himself. So his campaign has been defined in negative terms, and even on its key differentiator has not won the argument itself.
4) Key Labour women have played massive parts in this campaign but Smith himself needs to get woke, and should be a lot more respectful in his rhetoric. Especially given that he’s done some great work on behalf of women workers whilst at DWP, and he’s against an opponent who goes on Iranian TV. How do you not win on that?
5) the right of the party still functions as a massive albatross around the neck of the centre and the soft left. Even if Smith runs on a left platform, Corbyn’s campaign has successfully smeared him as a Blairite in some quarters, or successfully argued to more sophisticated people that he’s the first step towards it because they have had to support him. And yeah, people are still angry about the New Labour years. Sure it was a while back, but maybe that’s because they weren’t listened to by the people concerned.
6) Despite all this, the social democratic and centrist Labour right still haven’t intellectually or organisationally adapted to a post 2008 politics. And the soft left are recovering from a period of organisational retreat, without money and the necessary support in unions.
7) Even the soft left now have no reach within Unite, whose most right-wing internal personnel are now Bennite, contrary to the history and backgrounds of many unions who merged in. In addition to becoming that bit more distant from the political mainstream among voters, Unite also no longer sees itself as a key actor on the left but as the sole leader. Where Unite goes, other unions follow, and money and staff for campaigns spring up. It is essential that non-Corbynites re-engage with the union and the workers it represents.
8) there is a general feeling of a lack of democracy and participation in all parts of the party which aren’t Corbynite. This has not changed during the leadership elections. Labour right, you’re supposed to be a key part of our movement and our national life. Why are small charities better than you at involving people and making them feel empowered?
9) Due to many of the factors above, there is a crisis of trust in established Labour politicians which reaches far further than people who have a vote in this election. People aren’t listening, and even worse, they’ve got Twitter.
10) Young people coming into the party have not experienced what government or being in a position of power feel like. They also don’t fear not having power like the Young Labour leftists of my own generation do. I’m not sure how either of those things can be overcome. In addition, political centrism is far too unambiguous to deal with student debt or the housing crisis. Again, this is post-2008. Jeremy Corbyn has many faults, but he gets that. Do you?
After all these there’s also the problem of what comes next. It’s doubtful that such a diverse group of dissenters will reach a united approach. But perhaps part of their problem thus far as been to insist on a single challenger to Corbyn as leader, when actually there’s little political consensus among them.