In the years following Tony Blair’s departure the soft left made a brief return to power on the back of union votes and left activism.
This suggested to many that there was scope for an anti-austerity caucus of left and centre-left voices in Labour that could form a coalition to drown out the right. I would have put myself in that bracket, straddling the two divides on an issue by issue basis in the hope that I would never again have to listen to the likes of John Woodcock on a Labour podium.
What I and others had not reckoned in any serious way was the absolute devotion the young shock troops of Blairism would have to his doctrine of insincere nothingness. Sadly they simply will not go away, and this I am afraid is a big problem for the pursuit of a fairer politics in this land for those who need it most.
These people are not socialists, they never have been, and they have no intention of ever being so. They are for want of a better comparison West Wing junkies who think Justin Trudeau represents a sea change in global politics because he scrubs up well and is not scared of saying he is a feminist.
Before you cry hypocrite, I am well aware that I supported Andy Burnham for the leadership in 2015. I also supported Neil Findlay for the leadership in Scotland, and campaigned for Diane Abbott and Ed Miliband in 2010 simultaneously – what a bloody weirdo. I second preferenced Jeremy Corbyn last year….and voted for absolutely no one else. If you have universally supported David Miliband, Liz Kendall, and Jim Murphy then you are of course a much more principled individual than I for electing all of those people with….no principles.
How does this chime with my dissatisfaction with the self-proclaimed soft left you ask? Well the answer is twofold.
I like many others cannot exist outside the rampant media onslaught which reiterates day after day that left candidates do not win, I have made attempts to, but sometimes you find yourself desirous of a piece by Nick Cohen explaining why America is great and anti-private school sentiment is simply reverse snobbery. I had assumed quite naturally that one of Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall would mount a serious challenge for the leadership, leaving a more ‘pragmatic’ (I am growing to despise this word) Burnham led campaign in a much better position to keep the right out than Corbyn’s campaign would have managed, a campaign which I foolishly thought would go the way of Diane Abbott’s in 2010. How wrong I was.
The second reason is much more related to the point at hand, and this is where I have changed my position. The centre left, or soft left as they seem fond of calling themselves (imagine thinking ‘soft’ was an attractive political prefix…) – I had long believed to be more amenable to a leftwards latitude than seeking to return to the failed 90’s project of soft Thatcherism. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership has unfortunately proved that I was mistaken in this regard, at least among the vocal soft left.
Those who warned me that these people were irreconcilable devotees to a form of politics that values style over substance were very much correct. I am even aghast to see that the majority support Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the U.S., a politician who would not be out of place in the 1970’s Liberal Party. Their hypocrisy and short sightedness seems to know no bounds. The litany of stories and whinge pieces decrying Corbyn for doing what he is mandated to do, defend the interests of those worst off in society, has been absolutely obscene. On a very base level we could ascribe this to a distinct fear that they will lose influence, but it cannot only be this. As we know from characters like Peter Mandelson in the past, there are few as adaptable as those who lack any real political principles.
There must be something more – and I suspect we can see the seeds of this fear in Scotland.
If you think Blairism is dead you really have not spent enough time in Scotland, at least among the overly vocal membership it remains ‘the’ way to do things. There is clearly a strong left constituency here (under the new OMOV rules Neil Findlay would likely have beaten Jim Murphy) but they are not making the noises we see in parts of England.
In Glasgow it is often quipped that Labour had no ground campaign because they did not need one, when the time came to change this we engaged in delusions. I cannot personally attest to the truth of this as I live in a hardworking constituency that is well run by fairly principled individuals, but I have heard tell of it from supporters of all parties. This meant that MPs and their acolytes rarely spoke to the people they represent directly. I saw it when I arrived in 2013, there was a fear of the working class here. They knew that underneath the decades of ‘we built the NHS’ rhetoric lay a deep seated dissatisfaction with careerist politics and Westminster centrism. Now I am not claiming those are fair assumptions, but they certainly were prevalent, and they remain so.
This created a peculiar reaction when the proverbial hit the fan after the referendum, an overt and patronising “we are just like you” campaign led by Jim Murphy – that focused on football and drinking, because that’s all people do you know? This was coupled with a commitment to patriotism, which somewhat undermines your argument that nationalism is divisive and regressive. I hear the same rhetoric among online detractors of Corbyn within Labour back in England, focused on UK issues. Ideas such as:
The core theme running through all of this is simple, what the media reports is the truth, and no one will ever be convinced otherwise. Well quite frankly, bollocks to that.
This stems from a largely (though not completely) middle class pseudo-intelligentsia who feel they know what is best for working class people even if that constituency tells them otherwise.
They work for political parties, they are the most prominent journalists, and they all went to the same universities (as articulated by this wonderful twitter account). To anyone from the long since abandoned mining communities of Cornwall, or the industrial north of England for example (like me – shock horror, I am talking from experience here rather than simply espousing working class notions only for it then to transpire I went to Eton) these considerations are alien. Why should a man losing his job in Middlesbrough care about ISIS more than he cares about the safety net that should be in place to help him? The answer is obvious, that narrative is absolutely everywhere, he hears little else unless he goes out of his way to do so. Thankfully many responsible and considered people did go out of their way, and that is why we now have a socialist leading the party.
The media is able to do this online in the same way they do on television and in print because there is such an influential constituency of young activists giving them a free ride when they do so.
This is why it is so important that social media, and any sort of ‘citizen’ media becomes a critical hotbed of opposition to the Conservative Party. Enter stage right our friends from the soft left, who sadly do not understand this concept in the slightest.
In a week that has seen Iain Duncan Smith forced to resign, after endless pressure from Labour – I have read tweet after tweet completely disregarding the idea that the current leadership had anything to do with it. Two polls were released putting Labour level and one point ahead of the Tories have been denounced as nonsense. Several articles have been printed discussing who the next leader should be, and who that person’s team may well be.
All of this almost exclusively from Labour members who would describe themselves as centrist or soft left, or the mostly inane journalists who work at the New Statesman, which has come to resemble a tribute band at an office Christmas party for all of the worst people in Shoreditch.
This is an organised campaign to depose a democratically elected leader, and to wrestle control of the party from those seeking to bring it back to ordinary members and away from spin doctors at Westminster. As such it appears to me there are only two options:
1. The culprits of this fairly pathetic conspiracy can settle down, get behind the leadership, and reproduce results such as those we saw this week. This will be in the interest of both sides of the debate, and most importantly it will give the poorest in our society a shot at ousting this pernicious government. I truly hope this can be the case.
2. Recreate the SDP, or potentially migrate to the Liberal Democrats, in short….leave. I know it is completely frowned upon to suggest such action but you are quite simply in the wrong party. It happens, you made a mistake, do not blame yourself. The change that occurred in the membership after Corbyn took over is a long term trend, your style of politics needs to change or you will be ejected from every seat of power we can muster. This party has no loyalty to you, it is only loyal to the collective membership and those we seek to convince of our argument. I am not a member of Momentum but they are to my mind simply expressing a fundamental principle of democracy, you must represent the views of those who elected you. If you balk at this idea then you are more than welcome to run as an independent.
My call here is not only to those who think being ‘soft’ means actively trying to destabilise the labour movement. It also reaches out the wider left, the mass majority of this party across the UK. We must be bold and relentless in our pursuit of change in the structures of this party. There must be working class voices at every level.
The struggle begins within. Corbyn is only the first of a new generation, and with each subsequent electoral cycle the very idea of a return to Blairism should become patently ridiculous.
One place we can actively enact this change is online. Am I advocating hostility? If you are defending the approach of George Osborne, or placating it with apologism…..then yes, I am. I am advocating critical hostility without personal or private motive. Rudeness is unacceptable, but when people with a far reaching voice seek to undermine what we are working for we should critically dismantle their argument. There should be a flood of critique and open opposition. Let us make it the case that to join the Labour Party means to join a group committed to renationalisation of the railways, a group committed to ending our interventionist wars in the Middle East. You should know by intuition what this party is and who it stands for, this must be a core project of the coming four years alongside returning to power.
We should be hostile towards the argument that John McDonnell is incompetent, we should be hostile to any suggestion that austerity is necessary whatsoever, and we should be hostile to the section of this broad church that wants to keep the largest part of it silent. I saw the SNP do this with great success in Scotland. No longer can unionists (of which I am one) laugh off independence as a fantasy and be treated with any real respect. I would like to see a similar change across the UK in regards to the core principles of Labour that unfortunately were silenced during the 1980s. Austerity should become a byword for economic idiocy. I believe this is something achievable with a collective voice online and on the streets. Make them know that we create the news, we do not have it dictated to us.
This party was founded on hostility against the ruling classes, it is time we stopped being so sensitive and realised that it is only through struggle we will achieve the same heights we have in the past.
Let us set about this task.