Tomorrow the British Labour Party will announce the results of their second Leadership election in a year. Every expectation is that Jeremy Corbyn will win by a greater margin (60% – 40%) than he did the first time.
I am certainly going to revisit the mendacity and hubris of the Traitors at length, in depth, and repeatedly, because they illustrate so much of the Neoliberal sickness that infests our own politics but today I want to highlight the positive reasons he has won.
Jeremy Corbyn and the Problem With ‘Electability’
By ELLIE MAE O’HAGAN, The New York Times
SEPT. 22, 2016
Is the Labour Party engaging in an act of collective madness? How else to explain a rush to support a guy who can’t manage his own party, much less win a general election? To understand Mr. Corbyn’s remarkable support, you need to know the party’s recent history. What we are seeing now is a corrective to what happened during the years when Tony Blair rebranded the party as “New Labour.”
Under Mr. Blair, the party became professionalized. Activists, previously an important part of Labour’s organization, were reduced to foot soldiers with little influence on policy. Trade unions were marginalized. Members of Parliament were rewarded for obedience rather than talent.
New Labour won three elections, but its focus on spin and brand management alienated the traditional base. The leadership ignored grass-roots supporters — the people who go to local Labour Party meetings, who canvass on its behalf, who attend party conferences.
In addition to pushing the activists to the side, Mr. Blair made the party more conservative. It’s true that Mr. Blair fulfilled some progressive agenda items as prime minister, from expanding L.G.B.T. rights to introducing a minimum wage, but at the same time the party abandoned its traditional socialist values.
One of Mr. Blair’s first acts as prime minister was to introduce university tuition fees, leading to widespread student protests. His support for the Iraq war was similarly loathed by the party’s base. So was his attitude toward capitalism in a party with deep socialist roots. In 1998, his political mentor, Peter Mandelson, declared that he was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”
Mr. Corbyn wants to reverse many of these positions. He vehemently opposes foreign military intervention and says he wants to rein in income inequality. He has even said he would renationalize industries. He also wants to give party members power to help shape policy, and to elect his top team.
For most rank-and-file members, the no-confidence vote was not just a vote against Mr. Corbyn, but against this ideological sea change, an impression reinforced by the presence of Mr. Blair’s allies at the forefront of the attempts to unseat Mr. Corbyn. During the leadership campaign in 2015, Mr. Blair himself excoriated Mr. Corbyn and his supporters. In July 2015, he told Labour members that voting for Mr. Corbyn could lead to “annihilation” and said, “If your heart’s with Jeremy Corbyn, get a transplant.”
Thus, many Labour members have viewed challenges to the Corbyn leadership not as about competence, but as about ensuring the left does not gain a significant foothold in the party.
Many of Mr. Corbyn’s opponents are tearing their hair out because his supporters are sticking by him even though everyone seems to believe he is unelectable. But the concept of “electability” is fraught within the party. Members of Parliament and commentators hostile to Mr. Corbyn argue that winning elections should be the Labour Party’s primary goal. And to win elections, they say, the party must support policies that the party’s base opposes, like cutting welfare.
But the issue is not that the Labour base would rather lose elections and remain left-wing; it’s that capitulating to British voters’ more right-wing inclinations does not seem to have worked for the party. In the 2015 general election, Labour’s candidate for prime minister was Ed Miliband, a social democrat who promised “controls on immigration,” and to establish stricter welfare policies. He still lost.
So even when Labour had a moderate, allegedly electable candidate, Britain still ended up with a Conservative government. Rank-and-file members therefore started to see the electability question as a cover for moving the party to the right. Mr. Blair embodied their worst fears when, in a 2015 speech on Labour’s future, he said: “I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.”
The Labour Party has always been an uneasy coalition, and its internal factions are much more varied than simply Blairites and Corbynites. But the attempts to get rid of Mr. Corbyn have pushed Labour’s biggest ideological clash to center stage: on one side, proponents of a professionalized, media-friendly party whose role is to win elections so it can make modest social reforms; on the other, supporters of a social movement that aims to change society starting with the grass roots — but for whom winning parliamentary power is not a goal to be pursued at any cost.
Since New Labour’s first election victory in 1997, the British left has found itself virtually excommunicated from politics. These people are not stupid or crazy. In Mr. Corbyn, they have identified an opportunity to reinsert themselves into public life and to return the Labour Party to its socialist values. They recognize this may be the only chance they have. It’s entirely reasonable that they are taking it.
Get that? Your voters don’t support your policies. Your tactics lose elections. You are personally offensive and insulting to the poor souls who believed in your lies despite the many times you have betrayed them, by implying they are stupid for not blindly accepting anything you say no matter how self serving, corrupt, and contradictory.
Why Jeremy Corbyn Still Wins
By Richard Seymour, teleSur
21 September 2016
What changed? To look at politics with eyes attuned to the norm for the last 40 years, one would expect that every development in the intervening 12 months should have weakened Corbyn’s position, rather than strengthened it.
He has been lambasted in the press. A study carried out by the London School of Economics found that some 75 percent of news coverage seriously misrepresents Corbyn.
Every major news angle has been an attack, from the BBC’s false reporting of a march outside the home of anti-war MP Stella Creasy, to the inflated stories of anti-Semitism under his leadership. He has been assailed by parliamentary colleagues. Even before his election, there were briefings that he would be overthrown “within days.”
As good a place to start as any in exploring this is the recent referendum on membership of the European Union, in which just over half of the population voted for Brexit. In justifying their coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MPs often cited his supposedly ineffectual or half-hearted support for the “remain” campaign, thus blaming him for the outcome. As the psephologist John Curtice points out, the evidence suggests that the real cause of the result was a collapse in support for Remain among Conservative voters in the weeks before the referendum.
However, discounting for bad faith among Corbyn’s Labour critics, it seems likely that many of them simply don’t get why “remain” lost. Certainly, racism was a central part of the Brexit sentiment, but the function of racism was to organize an existing reservoir of anguish, resentment and bewilderment generated by the economic privation and social costs to much of the population visited by the credit crunch and its austerian sequel. John Lanchester described the “dominant note” of “bafflement, bewilderment and disorientation” in the country, the sense of having lost again and again, finally of having lost control of the country.
The “leave” campaign got this, while the government-led “remain” campaign spoke in a technocratic language, stressing the benefits of trade with Europe and security cooperation, which in no way touched on these wellsprings of resentment. Remain invoked expertise—economists, the IMF, the OECD, the ECB, and reams of studies suggesting that leaving would be a disaster. But these were the same experts who had championed globalization as an unmitigated boon while large parts of the country went into a protracted decline, and who emerged tainted after the credit crunch blew apart their credibility.
The politicians running the campaign weren’t better placed. For decades, participation in the electoral system had been in decline, a trend that accelerated in the U.K. and across powerful industrial democracies in the 2000s. Then there is the media, whose role in a representative democracy is to represent our major national political debates back to us, as if in our own voice. In fact, what we always got was a soothing establishment voice—but as long as enough of us felt “taken into account,” we continued to trust the media. But trust in politicians and journalists has been in steep decline for years, as many people are effectively excluded from the political system and ignored in the media spectacle.
Corbyn articulated varied discontents with the existing political settlement. He spoke to students, for whom the apparatus of supposed “meritocracy” had been trashed by tuition fees and marketization. He spoke to young workers, locked out of the labor market and the housing market. He spoke to trade unionists, for whom austerity is destroying their livelihoods and organizations. He spoke to trade union leaders who had watched their influence in a neoliberalized Labour Party plummet. He spoke to disenfranchised, formerly core Labour supporters who had voted with their feet under the Blair and Brown years. He spoke to users of under-funded public services and privatised utilities, who have been overcharged and underserved. It was clear by 2015, following Labour’s dismal defeat at the hands of the Conservatives, that it was simply not up to facing these problems. Something had to radically change, first in Labour, then in British society.
Corbyn often has “the moral clarity of a priest.” By putting these points in simple axiomatic statements to Labour members and the wider public, he sparked unprecedented excitement for a Labour leadership race. By contrast, his opponents, in a way that prefigured the mandarin panic of the official “remain” campaign, found their infantilized, poll-tested slogans failing, and drew a blank.
Politicians who couldn’t but see Corbyn’s victory as some sort of joke, struggled over the ensuing year to find the killer comeback, hoping for some political esprit de l’escalier. To no avail. Every zinger has fallen flat. Heckling and sabotage, briefing against him, plotting his downfall, and leaking to the press, at a time when politicians and the media are widely held in contempt, didn’t do the job.
Corbyn declined to be trolled. He shamed them, simply by continuing to articulate more convincing answers to the crisis of British politics than they were able to. Simply because he could talk persuasively on that level, whereas they—often products of a gilded generation of special advisers and technocrats—have never had to.
And he faced down their coup, because his understanding of politics is broader than theirs. They had the political and media establishment, but he understood the power of movements in even a failing democracy. He appealed to that, and in the ensuing ferment drew tens of thousands of new members and supporters into the Labour Party.
That is why, for now, Corbyn still wins.