Jeremy and me: Some thoughts on the Labour leadership election


I’ve had quite a few messages in recent weeks asking me about my thoughts on Jeremy Corbyn’s bid to become Labour leader. Most of them have basically been recruitment pleas from his supporters trying to get me to either publicly ‘declare’ for Corbyn or to sign up as a ‘three quidder’ and vote for him.

If you are following me on Twitter, you’ll appreciate that this is not an unreasonable request. I’ve been sharing a fair few pro-Corbyn pieces and sniping viciously at the other contenders in the race. I’ve also had a couple of (deserved) barbs reminding me that when the broad Labour left announced that Corbyn would be their candidate, I issued a plaintive sigh that there wasn’t anyone who felt a bit more current and relevant. I compared the Labour left to the bearded old men sitting muttering into their pints in one corner of a pub that has been gentrified all around them.

On that point I can only hold up my hands and confess the whole ‘Corbynmania’ phenomenon has startled and astonished me. I did not remotely see it coming, a failure of judgement I shared with pretty much all observers and commentators, not least Jeremy Corbyn and most of those who nominated him.

With four holiday weeks to go until the election, it now looks more likely than not that Corbyn will become the next leader of the Labour party. I will not be signing up to vote for him, but i will cheer loudly if he wins. Allow me to explain.

As I see it, our so-called parliamentary democracy is a fraud. It is not a system that allows the populace to control the mechanisms of multinational capitalism, it is a system that allows the mechanisms of multinational capitalism to control the populace. Any illusions to the contrary should have been blown away by the ideological triumph of neoliberalism in the 1980s and 90s. Margaret Thatcher seldom said a truer word than when she declared that New Labour was her greatest achievement. Since 1994 Britain, like the US, has been choosing between political options which are barely a few degrees apart on the political spectrum. I am not saying there is no difference between Labour and Tories – Labour do show a genuine compassion and concern in place of avarice and self-interest – but the key point is that neither party in any way threatens or disturbs the oligarchical power of the corporate executives, the money-changers and the moguls.

I honestly do not know if Jeremy Corbyn could ever win a general election. My gut says no, but then my gut said he could never even get close to winning the leadership, so what do I know? Where I would be certain is that if he did one day become PM, he would be unable to implement any genuinely socialist reforms. Leaving aside the ever-increasing web of international law and treaties which cement governments into neoliberal economic policies (of which the approaching TTIP is but the latest example) there is a more brutal, less subtle outcome on the horizon – the corporations, the bankers, the traders could and would simply pack up the bulk of the nation’s wealth and up sticks to a more “conducive” market and bankrupt the country in a retributive act of grand larceny.

A Corbyn-led government in 2020 would therefore be a bitter disappointment at best and economic calamity at worst – not because Corbyn would be running the country, but precisely because he wouldn’t be. And all of that is why I cannot in good conscience make myself part of an internal, Labour party leadership election, it would help to dignify a process in which I have no faith.

So why, for all that, will I cheer and celebrate wildly if Corbyn wins? It will not be because I believe in Corbyn, but because I believe in Corbynmania. The sudden outpouring of radicalism, the wave of hope, the demands for a different kind of politics all add up to one of the most inspiring moments in recent political history. With hindsight, the near-total devastation of the Labour party in Scotland three months ago was not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a much wider existential crisis within a Labour party that is now almost entirely adrift from its origins, its natural grassroots and even its very raison d’etre.

The most grotesque spectacle thrown up by the leadership race has been the cabal of ex-Blairite centrists within the media-Westminster establishment who have been openly mocking any expression of idealism, especially that of younger generationx. Owen Jones yesterday accurately described how: “Some of these commentators huddle together on social media, competing over how snarky and belittling they can be towards those oh-so-childish/unhinged/ridiculous (delete as applicable) Corbynites, unable to understand that rare thing, the birth of a genuinely grassroots political movement. And that’s the problem: this snarkiness is all some seem to have left. “

Today those people have been in near-hysterics because last night Brian Eno said, at at a Corbyn rally, that “electability isn’t the most important thing.” The condoscenti have been hooting and howling, entirely oblivious to the patent truth that it has been the cynical pursuit of electability at all costs which has made the modern Labour party all but unelectable. Just look at the pathetic platitudes spouted by Kendall, Burnham and Cooper in lieu of a policy platform, transparently terrified of actually presenting concrete policies which could perhaps be debated or disputed.

Amongst all the commentary, perhaps the most astute and incisive analysis has come not from Blairites or the Labour left but from a Tory. A couple of weeks ago, Matthew D’Ancona explained why the Conservatives should not celebrate the rise of the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn, but should be deeply fearful. Whatever Corbyn might achieve in government is a distant question, but what he might achieve in opposition is a different prospect.

As D’Ancona notes, Corbyn’s successful leadership bid and then his presence at the dispatch box and in the media would inevitably drag the whole terms of debate to the left. Assumptions which go unquestioned with a neoliberal New Labourite leading the opposition would suddenly be up for challenge, up for debate. For many years now, distinguished economists, including many Nobel-prize winners and voices of similar renown, have been pointing out the broad idiocy of austerity policies. A Corbyn leadership would surely bring those debates into the mainstream.

I genuinely do not know what a Corbyn victory in September might achieve, but I do know it would act as an earthquake under the complacency and stasis of contemporary Westminster politics. Nothing could ever be the same again. It might be the beginnings of a genuine new left movement, which would be long overdue. It could spark all kinds of rifts and schisms in the Labour party, which may well also be long overdue.

There are those who imagine the Corbyn phenomena to represent a sudden reawakening of the radical left in Britain. There’s a little bit of that, I am sure, but there is something bigger going on. This is a sudden reawakening of the democratic left. People, first in Scotland, now elsewhere, came to a collective moment of realisation that the system no longer represents them and their values. They felt alienated and detached from political power. Rallying to an alternative – whether the soft left, nationalist alternative of the SNP or the socialist alternative here – is not really an endorsement of a specific agenda or policy platform, but an assertion of democratic power. It may be ill-fated, it may be unrealistically romantic, but it is real, it is important and it is happening right now.

So I’m still not signing up to vote for Corbyn, but Corbynmaniacs? You have my unwavering support.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Ally, interesting piece.

    A week ago Corbyn’s team published a document, ‘Working With Women’:

    http://tinyurl.com/nb9g35u

    It really should have been sub-titled (Against Men) and is so full of ideologically-driven nonsense it could have been written by the Fawcett Society. If Corbyn is elected, the Labour Party may as well go the whole hog and rename itself The Feminist Party.

  2. says

    Pretty much what Ally said 100%.

    I’d switched my union membership to “affiliated” so that I could hold my nose and vote for Burnham who IIRC was the Red Terror at the start of the campaign.

    Go Team Jezzer!

    I’ve argued here abouts that Labour should stop drilling further down into the 200k “shy Tories”* in the West Midlands and start trying to inspire and attract the 30-40% who haven’t voted in an election for 30 years.

    Oh! except in Scotland of course where half of the erstwhile “apathetic”** voters turned out because, um reasons.

    *I read somewhere that that this “shyness” is more properly called conscience and your supposed to fucking listen to it.

    **In the words of Mark Steel “If Cliff Richard played a concert three doors down from my house and I didn’t go, its not apathy , its willful non-participation”.

  3. says

    Work towards universal free childcare, and offering opportunity for all through
    a National Education Service

    nope, nothing for men there then. Not even those men left to struggle as lone parents. So we will be seeing you quoted as opposing this then Mike?

    End the cuts to public services and welfare that drive more women and familiesinto poverty, including the cuts to services for ending violence against women and girls, including refuges and support for domestic violence and rape
    survivors.

    And the only people who are in “families” are women then Mike? so we will see a document from you soon championing the cuts to families welfare?

    Make companies to publish equal pay audits, and giving all workers equal protections from day one at work with no fees at employment tribunals,
    challenge discrimination in the workplace and achieving equal and higher pay
    for all.

    All workers are women eh Mike? Although hang on, all families are women as well!
    I expect to see a quote from you saying something like “women make up 50% of the work force but also do the majority of the childcare, and we want to cut their welfare and employment rights” How about making that a manifesto pledge? on the subject, how did the election night go for you?

    Invest more in skills training and high quality apprenticeships with an emphasis on challenging outdated gender stereotypes

    know what, I work in engineering and I was only thinking the other day that I hadnt seen a man around in ages, if only we’d train a few.

    Challenge everyday sexism, with Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education in schools that includes sex and relationship education

    How about if he promises a couple of minutes on false rape allegations?

    • Commit to a 50% women shadow cabinet, and work towards 50% of Labour MPs being women, if elected Labour leader

    Mike said: If Corbyn is elected, the Labour Party may as well go the whole hog and rename itself The Feminist Party.

    That last point really doesn’t need a comment, its just priceless hanging there.

  4. Ally Fogg says

    Hang up a mo, folks.

    Danny, I agree with every word you say and am also thankful for your other comment, but I would like to note that something like the previous four or five comment threads we’ve had on this blog have somehow become almost entirely about Mike Buchanan and it has really started to piss me off.

    I don’t often say nice things about Mr B, but he has got a genuine and remarkable talent for making conversations all about him, even when he has got absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    Ironically, this is perhaps the most on-topic exchange we’ve had along those lines, and I’m happy for people to discuss Corbyn’s gender politics, but the second it becomes more about Mike Buchanan than about Jeremy Corbyn, I’ll start deleting without mercy or further warning.

    Your co-operation is appreciated.

  5. Paul says

    Thanks for an interesting article Ally .

    I’ve never been a fan of Corbyn for a number of reasons.And if he wins the leadership contest i doubt he’ll be able to hold the various factions in the Labour Party together let alone win a General Election.

    It’s also come to light that like Margaret Hodge Corbyn had been informed of the child abuse that had been going on in Islington Care Homes .And like Hodge he did nothing about it.And his failure to account for that does him no favours.For untold numbers of children suffered and they shouldn’t be viewed as being expendable by those on the Left who can’t/won’t see that Corbyn isn’t fit to be leader if he won’t at least apologize for what was a serious mistake on his part.

  6. says

    it would act as an earthquake under the complacency and stasis of contemporary Westminster politics

    Let’s hope so anyway.

  7. Ally Fogg says

    Paul

    Yes, I’ve seen those allegations or whatever you want to call it.

    From what I’ve seen it is a mistake to place him in the same bracket as Hodge though and I also think there has been quite a cynical and manipulative attempt to pin that stuff on him.

    At the time he made those comments there was a widespread assumption across the entire political and media spectrum that Geoffrey Dickens was a paranoid conspiracy theorist, he was basically a figure of fun. Nobody thought the stuff he was bringing up had any merit whatsoever. That was true of politicians and media people right across the political spectrum.

    I’ve yet to see any suggestions that Corbyn had seen actual evidence about Islington Social Services, as opposed to reacting to what were assumed to be malicious smears and rumours. He was MP, which wouldn’t have given him any inside knowledge of what was going on, whereas Hodge was Council leader, and so if she didn’t know, she damned well should have.

  8. Paul says

    Ally

    I’m not interested in Geoffrey Dickens but i am interested in the claims of senior social worker Liz Davies who says she informed Corbyn of what had been going on in 1992.The same year Hodge accused the media of gutter journalism when they confronted her about her failure to act when she was informed of the child abuse going on in the late 1980’s when she was still leader of Islington Council.

    Corbyn promised Davies he would raise the matter with Virginia Bottomley but there’s no evidence that he did. In fact there’s no evidence he did anything even though Davies is on record as saying she told him what had been going on in 1992. Surely you can see why it’s important he accounts for why he seemingly didn’t act ?

    If a senior social worker informed you as journalist of a paedophile ring operating in council run childrens homes and you promised to take the matter up with Mr X and Ms Y who were contacts of yours wouldn’t you agree it would be reasonable for people to ask questions if some years later it transcribed that you’d done diddly squat ?.And even though an apparently reliable source had informed you that vulnerable children were being abused ? I don’t know you Ally but i’ve read enough of your work to wager that in the circumstances i’ve described you would have acted . The allegation against Corbyn-which is based on more than a malicious smear or rumour- is that he didn’t act.And for he needs to be called to account.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11758612/Jeremy-Corbyn-accused-of-inaction-over-paedophile-scandal.html

  9. Ally Fogg says

    I hope all of that is fully and properly investigated Paul, but at the moment those allegations are coming from John Mann MP and not only has Corbyn not given his side of the story, there is little suggestion anyone from the Telegraph or the Mail has even made a serious attempt to establish his side of the story.

    So I am more than interested in seeing how it unfolds, but the whole thing stinks of a smear to me at the moment.

  10. Paul says

    but the whole thing stinks of a smear to me at the moment.

    Ally,i fully accept that rightwing newspapers like the Mail and Telegraph have their own agenda here.But i’ve neither seen nor heard any evidence that Liz Davies is anything other than credible.And i repeat she’s on record as saying she told Corbyn of what had been going on in a meeting with him in 1992.And she says he made a commitment to her to take some action which by all accounts he failed to do.

    So now this is out in the open shouldn’t Corbyn himself be taking action to give his side of things rather than doing nothing ? For in the murky dirty world of politics the longer he leaves it the greater the likelihood it’s going to come back at him with a vengeance.For more people will start speculating that his failure to act was as part of an attempt by Margaret Hodge to cover things up and deflect from what had really happened.

    I agree with John Mann that until and unless Corbyn takes steps to clear this up he’s not fit to stand as leader of the Labour Party.Just as Margaret Hodge was never fit to serve as Minister For Children in the first Blair government but was able to do so -allegedly-because of her close friendship with the Blairs.

  11. Marduk says

    I’ve surprised myself by finding my ambivalence towards Labour is now so extreme I’m not really interested. I used to be an actual activist back in the day (90s) as well so this is no small thing for me.

    But I’d rather vote Tory than Diet Tory at this point, at least you know what you are getting and, shocking as this sounds, I have more faith in the survival and influence of the liberal left of the Tory party than I do in Labour’s centre. In practice I’d vote Green of course to the same effect.

    I do agree Corbyn would be a good opposition leader. One of the worst things about New Labour was really that they had no real opposition, we have a system that requires balance in these things or it goes crazy.

    More generally, I feel the left and right battle is effectively over at this point. But there is a lot play for on the other political axis that matters. I’m not a ‘libertarian’ or anything daft but it scares me at this point just how illiberal both the left and right really are and there is nobody to oppose them. For me that is the thing that is seldom if ever articulated in our politics these days. And there is always a jolly good reason to snoop and spy and ban that nobody will stand up to. I don’t know how Corbyn feels about these things but the ‘compassion’ of Yvette Cooper scares me quite frankly, Cameron isn’t much better but I’d rather him.

    I remain a sort of basic issue, liberal gently socialist lefty that everyone apparently was when I was growing up but it seems there isn’t anywhere to go with it these days, I feel completely disengaged from the political process in its entirety.

    Frankly, given the technocratic tendencies of both major parties (and who ever voted for a portfolio of KPIs and change management techniques?) the most merciful thing would be if we just appointed some actual skilled managers instead, like Greece did for a bit or, I believe, get appointed in bankrupt American cities.

  12. Ally Fogg says

    So now this is out in the open shouldn’t Corbyn himself be taking action to give his side of things rather than doing nothing?

    Yes, and I hope he will do soon.

    On the other hand, it is possible that the truth of the situation and the history of events are exceptionally complex and there may be accusations against individuals or legal issues involved, and it might be something that is not easily explained in a soundbite.

    If Corbyn were being in any way evasive around formal inquiries, whether police investigations or the Goddard IICSA inquiry, then I would be worried. But I don’t think he necessarily needs to dance to the tune of the right wing press, who are more than capable of creating malicious narratives out of fragments of a story.

    I’m not saying I’m confident that he is innocent of all such allegations. I’m saying I’ve not yet seen anything that would make me confident he is not.

  13. Ally Fogg says

    to add…. nor should he dance to a tune played by John Mann, who is clearly entirely politically motivated.

  14. Luther Blissett says

    The last time i noticed Mann smearing, this was the result.

    Fraser v University and College Union

    148 ….. We did not derive assistance from the two Members of Parliament who appeared before us. Both gave glib evidence, appearing supremely confident of the rightness of their positions. For Dr MacShane, it seemed that all answers lay in the MacPherson Report (the effect of which he appeared to misunderstand). Mr Mann could manage without even that assistance. He told us that the leaders of the Respondents were at fault for the way in which they conducted debates but did not enlighten us as to what they were doing wrong or what they should be doing differently. He did not claim ever to have witnessed any Congress or other UCU meeting. And when it came to antiSemitism in the context of debate about the Middle East, he announced, “It’s clear to me where the line is …” but unfortunately eschewed the opportunity to locate it for us. Both parliamentarians clearly enjoyed making speeches. Neither seemed at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking.”

  15. Paul says

    to add…. nor should he dance to a tune played by John Mann, who is clearly entirely politically motivated.

    Agreed but individual politicians right across the political spectrum are often politically motivated when pursuing whatever case/cause/agenda they’re pursuing. So putting aside the motives of the rightwing media and politicians like Mann it’s the account given by Liz Davies that Corbyn has to respond to.And until/unless he does i don’t think he’s fit to stand for the Labour leadership.

  16. WhineyM says

    Really interesting blog piece, Ally. Have to admit, the whole Corbyn thing has been quite an existential challenge for me on one level, as never before had I considered what might happen if there was someone offering my ideal type of politics in so many ways, but then went and mixed this up with some deeply unreconstructed views about gender, straight from the radical left of the 1960s/70s/80s (so like an Austin Powers in reverse.)

    But in the end, I’ve decided that Jeremy Corbyn is not like other politicians who use identity politics to gain a positional advantage or to fit in with the current vogue of the times. When he says he believes in reason and dialogue, this comes across as being in good faith; and when he voices compassion and concern for those who have fallen on hard times, this rings true to me as well. So if one does trust in this commitment of his to democracy, then it seems to me that he would be open to changing his mind – and what’s more, if someone else on the progressive left, such as Ally or Glen Poole, were to present him with some more up-to-date statistics and facts about men’s position in modern society, I think he would then consider developing some policies and investigations around these themes. This, in stark contrast to the acting ‘Fuhrerin’, who we all know would not even listen to such ideas in the first place.

    But yeah, as for this position of saying, oh well I’ll offer moral support, but not vote for him, is this not an eerily similar stance to Russell Brand in that infamous Paxman interview, before he went and backed Milliband: basically saying that the system is so strong and so powerful that there is no point in exercising the little democratic influence you do have. I mean, on this basis, Ally, even if you were able to install your dream government of all time (say, the Ally Fogg Justice-For-All Freedom Party, with cabinet ministers Owen Jones, Aditya Chakrabortty and Deborah Orr) then rather than seize this chance, you’d shrug your shoulders and say ‘oh well sod it, in the long term it will all be too hard anyway, and the bankers will wreck it, so I’ll just stick to the theorising!’

    I mean, is that not the logical conclusion to draw here, or would that be an unfair appraisal ? 😉

  17. WhineyM says

    Mind you, good job he doesn’t have the same level of political charisma as his brother, LOL 🙂

  18. Carnation says

    I think Corbyn is the Labour equivalent to Duncan Smith – the grass roots populist candidate who will be toppled sooner or later by the parliamentary parry as an electoral liability. Until then, let’s enjoy a principled man in a position of authority (I say this knowing nothing of the discussion that Ally/Paul are having).

    @ Ally

    In your opinion, as a man who knows about these things, which mainstream party is most likely to reduce gender equality (in either “direction”)?

    I recently found out that the few remaining shipyards in Scotland and Belfast have been recruiting eastern Europeans, such is the skills shortage in the UK. This tells a story of the true decline of men (and masculinity?) and who’s responsible in the UK.

  19. Luther Blissett says

    Just a little note to Paul above, Sorry if my comment was a bit offhand to you, but I greatly distrust John Mann.

    You are right to ask questions though, it’s a terrible mess, especially the situation in Jersey.

  20. Whiney says

    He he, bet you’re really regretting you don’t have a vote now huh Ally? 🙂 #FoggWeCant

  21. WhineyM. says

    Hey, Foggy-boy, tell you what, (if you can shake yourself
    out of that mood of Malcolm Tucker sulkiness which is generally your default mode in life) 🙂 ….

    What are your thoughts on this ?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3199080/Boys-shun-university-choose-apprentices-start-businesses-instead.html

    Strange thing about this is that the Daily Mail is often accused of over-hyping the concept of male underachievement (and so it is frequently implied by feminists that its politics are always in unison with MRA ones).

    Yet here we have it putting this message across of ‘don’t worry, no problem – nothing to see here’. Personally, I reckon that we shouldn’t necessarily be so surprised by this, on the basis that the newspaper is essentially completely amoral, and has always blown hot and cold on these matters (often reporting ideas straight from Harriet’s office as being the absolute gospel truth).

    But I’m also wondering what the implications might be
    for St Jeremy’s gender ideas as well, since he seems to be banging on about getting more women into skilled apprenticeships etc. compared to men. (Didn’t Nick Clegg actually boast that there were already more women in apprenticeships relative to men before the last election in any case? So like is it then true to claim that the extra numbers of young men going into apprenticeships does indeed compensate for those absent from university? (Or is ‘conservative woman’ Kathy Gyngell correct, on the other hand, in suggesting there is in truth a very worrying situation which is not made up for by such trends? )

    So yeah, don’t necessarily expect a reply, but if you could share your thoughts, I would certainly be most interested to hear your views on this matter…

  22. Lucy says

    “But I’m also wondering what the implications might be
    for St Jeremy’s gender ideas as well, since he seems to be banging on about getting more women into skilled apprenticeships etc. compared to men.”

    Cheaper women’s hairdressing? I paid £48 for a cut last week.

  23. Whine.E. says

    Yeah great, nothing like holding vocational education in high esteem, right Lucy? 😉

    But yes re: the Jeremy situation, I can’t deny that the more I think about it the more nervous I feel.

    Originally I was quite happy to give him the benefit of the doubt, in being a sort of naive Tony Benn type figure who had stayed hermetically sealed from the modern world, almost as if transported through time from a very different era.

    But the more consideration I devote to the matter, I start to wonder: is it really that easy to peddle figures and narratives on the ‘gender pay gap’ which are about 30 years out of date, without realising the situation in 2015 is slightly more complicated than this? Is it really possible to maintain a simple, straightforward belief that all gendered problems are those faced by women,
    without making a concerted effort to put your fingers in your ears? How possible is it to chant sanctimonious slogans such as
    “a woman should have exactly the same moral worth as a man”, whilst at the same time, painting all men who travel in London as evil predators, and women as saintly victims who need their own train carriages?

    You know, in the Film Lincoln, there is one of the naysayers the president visits at home to win round to his side of the argument.
    In a rare instance of honesty this guy actually says “I’m afraid I can’t help it, Mr President, for I am a prejudiced man.”

    Well that’s fine, if Jeremy were to come out with a statement to that effect, I’m sure that is something he could be aided with.
    But to press forward with completely a one-sided agenda in the name of equality and combatting anti-discrimination, well that is more difficult.

    For someone who is in a mindset of absolute denial very often cannot be helped, no matter how you try and do it.

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