Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION COMMENT: The World Turned Upside Down

In Editorial, Uncategorized on August 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The phrase used as our headline came originally out of the Civil War, and is associated with the tumult surrounding attempts by the Levellers to ensure that  the Roundhead’s victory was accompanied by real root and branch radical change.

They were heady times, and their programme of reform attracted wide public support – but was opposed by the Cromwellian old guard. One of the leaders of the Levellers, Thomas Rainsborough, an MP, was killed on October 30 1648, and his funeral turned into a mass demonstration in support of the movement.  But the Levellers were effectively crushed, there was little political change, and shortly after the death of Cromwell, Britain returned to being a monarchy. So nothing much was achieved there, then.

It would of course be invidious to compare Jeremy Corbyn with Thomas Rainsborough. Vague comparisons can be carried too far!  And today the use of the phrase “the world turned upside down” has been taken up by many in the media to describe the political (and economic?)  impact of the “Leave” victory in the EU referendum,  and the effect that it’s had on what once seemed to be so many political certainties. For us. fhis includes the impact it has had on the Labour Party in Parliament.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SOCIALISM:

corbyn_yourChoiceJeremy Corbyn promised a clear left wing agenda when he stood for the Labour leadership. It was an agenda that was supported by a clear majority of the party membership – though not of course by the majority of the party’s MPs. The bulk of them. though, however grudgingly, worked with him (apart from what might be termed a hard core of Blairites), and a functioning shadow cabinet was formed.  And during the last nine months or so Labour continued to do reasonably well electorally, including holding Michael Meacher’s old seat in Oldham. Admittedly there were no major electoral breakthroughs, but Labour held its own – and gained seats in such mayoral contests as London and Bristol.

So why on earth did those in the Parliamentary Party suddenly decide to mount a coup, via a vote of no confidence in Corbyn?  Why on earth did they choose such a time, when the Tories were in the midst of their own session  of infighting?  And were they completely oblivious to the impact on the party as a whole?  Was it some form of mass hysteria?  Was there something in the water in the House of Commons?  Or did living and working in the Westminster bubble produce a distorted vision?

The stated charge against Corbyn was that he had failed to mount a strong enough campaign in favour of staying in the EU. He had allegedly failed to persuade enough Labour voters to back the “Remain” vote when it came to polling day. In other words, Jeremy was to carry the can for the result of the referendum. There is of course no evidence to back up this charge.

So was this merely a pretext? An opportunity for the right wing to “save the Labour Party from itself”?   There certainly seemed to be elements of a coup involved. And certainly Angela Eagle (in the Daily Mirror) was on hand to declare that her leadership bid was being mounted in order to “save the Labour Party”!  From what? It had been the plotters who’d created a situation that was bound to cause  seismic shockwaves throughout the party.

As we see it, in any democratic political party , the public representatives of that party must be answerable to the membership. Members vote on who will represent them on local authorities  or in Parliament (with of course the electorate making the final decision between the competing parties). Sometimes there may be an uneasy relationship between the membership and those who represent them. That’s part of the dynamics of democracy. But to create a situation where MPs set themselves on a collision course with their members in the constituencies seems to be both irrational and foolhardy.


NB. just like in the Labour Party, not all Clarion Editorial members agreed. Tyler Chinnick of Monmouth CLP, wrote a counter-piece to our otherwise unanimously-endorsed editorial. Let’s remember The Clarion is a debating space: except here we do it politely and with argument rather than vitriol and accusation.

Counter Comment by Tyler Chinnick (Monmouth CLP)

One of the main problems facing the Labour party at the moment is the belief, widely held amongst the membership that MP’s are answerable solely to them.  That is not and has never been the case in ours or any other major party.  MP’s primary responsibility is to their constituents; only secondarily to the membership.  We are not a Leninist, democratically centrist party answerable only to party members but a representative, parliamentary party.  MP’s are and have always been representatives not delegates.  They owe us their judgement not their obedience.

The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) was on a collision course with the membership as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was nominated “for the sake of debate”.  The whole reason why MP’s must secure a certain number of nominations to get on the leadership ballot is to demonstrate support in the PLP – that provision exists specifically to prevent this kind of crisis.  Our MP’s ignored it because they didn’t think Corbyn had the proverbial snowball’s chance and now they (and we) are reaping the rewards.

I don’t subscribe to the lazy, cynical view that MP’s live in a “Westminster bubble”.  They go back to their constituencies, they meet with voters, they hold surgeries, they knock on doors.  They know that Corbyn is very unpopular.  The most recent polling revealed he had the lowest approval rating of any opposition leader in history at -41%.  The polls may be wrong but they’re not wrong by 41 percent.

The Brexit vote and the fact that we have a new Prime Minister makes an election some time in the next 10 months highly likely, so the electability of the leader has been brought into sharper focus.  The PLP fear electoral oblivion should Corbyn stay.  Possibly the end of the party itself as UKIP eat into the heartlands, the Lib-Dems and Greens make gains in metropolitan areas, the Tories wipe us out in marginals and with no recovery in Scotland imminent.  You may disagree with their assessment but it’s unfair to assume they are acting in bad faith.

One of the reasons I opposed Jeremy in the leadership election last year was because it was always obvious to me that the most rebellious MP in parliament, the man who had rebelled against every single leader he had served under (regardless of their mandate – some of which were much larger than his), the man who had previously supported coup attempts and a perpetual member of the ‘awkward squad’ would always be incapable of commanding the loyalty of his MP’s.  This was always going to be a fatal flaw and so it has proved.

The people who have now lost faith in Corbyn can’t be easily dismissed as ‘Blairites’, ‘bitterites’, ‘traitors’ or any of the other charmless insults we’ve heard all too frequently in recent weeks.  They include soft-left members of his own shadow cabinet like Lisa Nandy and Heidi Alexander, prominent Corbyn supporting commentators like Owen Jones and Zoe Williams, seasoned Bennites and old comrades like Chris Mullin and his own economic advisory forum.

Richard Murphy, the architect of what became known as “Corbynomics” and Danny Blanchflower the bulldog of anti-austerity economics have both lost faith in JC to even develop these ideas into policies let alone implement them.  If your closest supporters don’t have confidence in your ability to lead a party or even develop policy then voters aren’t going to trust you to organise a children’s birthday party let alone run the country.

John McDonnel has now taken to re-announcing ‘policies’ that were mooted in the last leadership election but have since been abandoned.  Some fear that should we ditch Corbyn the party will revert to the same people who voters found so uninspiring last year.  Owen Smith’s pitch is clearly to take the best ideas JC has highlighted but left unexplored and run with them.  I sincerely hope that he has the vision and strength of character to do that but one thing is absolutely clear, JC and JMcD do not.

The warning signs are 60 foot high and flashing, they spell electoral doom should we continue down this path and Corbyn’s only answer is “I have a mandate”. Well that isn’t good enough.

We now have a leadership election.  Nominally on the ballot paper are Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn.  But the real choice facing Labour members is between the continuation or the destruction of the Labour party.  I vote for it to continue.

 


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