It really has been quite extraordinary declaring myself as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. I have been subjected to what I can only describe as a consistent, concerted and aggressive campaign of intimidation.
Everything from people just swearing at me, to supporters of other candidates trawling through my past tweets and blogs in order to misinterpret some criticism of the Labour Party as “treason” and alert HQ to it, to MPs sending me private message calling me disgusting for saying that ad hominem attacks are counterproductive.
This hysteria boils down to three basic issues:
1. The fervent belief that moving the party to the left will mean electoral oblivion.
2. The notion that the only thing worth being is “in power”, regardless of what you do to get there.
3. A narrow view of the Labour grassroots movement as some private members-only club.
Does Labour moving to the left equal electoral oblivion?
Central to this claim is the juxtaposition of Tony Blair’s “golden years” versus Ed Miliband “move to the left” costing Labour the last election. Both elements of this argument are simply fictitious.
Tony Blair’s victory was as much a product of the previous few elections as it was of the 1997 campaign. Labour had consistently improved its position since its low point in 1983 (27.6% to 30.8% to 34.4% to 43.2%). Remember that before John Smith’s untimely death, Labour was widely predicted to win the election, having established an ostensibly unassailable 23 point lead over the Tories. A week before he passed away, the Conservatives suffered a spectacular defeat in Council elections.
From the point of Blair’s election onwards Labour’s share of the vote began to steadily decline (43.2% to 40.7% to 35.2% to 29%) and actually rallied a little under Miliband to 30.4%, despite being obliterated in Scotland. You can see all the figures here. The facts, then, are that Labour was a party ascendant since 1983 and declining since 1997. You may not like it, but that is the only cogent conclusion.
It is also worth noting that Ed Miliband’s peaks in the polls coincided with the moments in which he stood up to the Murdoch press, committed to price regulation and reform of the energy market and promised to control rents and abolish the nondom tax status. And it was moments during which this message was confused with pink vans, immigration mugs, Sun photo ops and Edstones that his popularity dipped.
I’m not saying that Blair’s policies did not help him to get initially elected. They did. But they were also deeply unpopular while in government – the decision to go to war with Iraq saw the biggest exodus of Labour Party members, seeing membership dip to levels not recorded since the 1930s. It is also worth noting that Blair was not just positioning himself in order to win. He genuinely believed in his programme and could orate on it with authenticity and passion.
Personalities and style are important, too. There is little doubt in my mind that Miliband offering precisely the programme Blair did in 1997 may not have been elected and a young unknown Blair, offering Miliband’s policies in 2010 may have. Although, this is clearly imponderable.
It is also bizarre to exclude from the equation the demise of Thatcher, Black Wednesday and allegations of sleaze from the 1997 election result. As bizarre as it is to exclude allowing Tories free rein to establish a narrative of Labour being responsible for the global financial crisis from the result in 2010.
In short, Blair’s success as much as Miliband’s failure are down to an immensely complex nexus of circumstances. To reduce them to “move to the right = winning” versus “move to the left = losing” is a profoundly cynical move by those who want the party to move to the right regardless.
We can’t do any good, unless we’re in power
The political landscape is shaped by all political forces. Labour are currently ignoring their role as Opposition in a maniacal dash to calibrate and triangulate their position aiming for electoral victory in 2020. Not only is this unbelievably daft, because it is far too soon and there will be immense, game-changing events in between, some of which we know about (Referendum on European membership) and most of which we don’t, but also because it ignores a distinct, tangible and inexorable panEuropean shift of popular movements towards anti-austerity politics.
Absconding from the job of Opposition is an unforgivable snub to the nine million people who voted for Labour and gave it the second most important position in British politics. It is being observed, it will be prominent in voters’ minds and it will further weaken Labour’s voting base (the main challengers in the North will be UKIP, who will be able to say “look, they’re all the same”, mark my words).
One only needs to look at how the SNP has progressed or how Nigel Farage has forced a referendum to understand the long term value of having a clear, unwavering message in a landscape of shifting values and disenfranchisement. The apter question, in my mind, is this: If Labour shift their policies to the extent of not offering a clear alternative to the Conservatives, (a) what good are they to working people, whether in power or not; and (b) why would anyone vote for them instead of the real Tories?
The Labour Party as a private members’ club
It is indicative that in the last few days I have been attacked as a “three quid socialist”, a Marxist entryist, a clicktivist, a hipster fair-weather fan etc. etc. It is indicative of the mindset within established Labour circles. Three quid for someone like me – and millions of others – means food for as much as a couple of days. It is not an insignificant amount.
Any other party would cheer hundreds of thousands of people suddenly becoming inspired by one of the leadership candidates and joining the movement. They would instantly think “Maybe this guy has something that is attractive to voters”. But no, not Labour. Labour is proving itself to be the ultimate authoritarian, establishment structure in which seniority and rank are the only things which render one’s opinion worthwhile.
Consumed by conspiracy theories, this is a party membership unable to argue for any of “their” candidates’ policies. I have genuinely not had a single tweet clearly stating “I am voting for X, because A, B, and C policy will be great for the country”. It is a party looking inwards and to the past. Asking only “What is good for the party?”, instead of “What is good for the country?” They still think Blairism – now over twenty years old – is a modernising concept; not the thing that was tried and didn’t work. The gap between rich and poor has widened consistently for the last thirty years. They think that they can rerun the 1997 election and win, as if nothing has changed in the intervening years. Everything has changed.
“You voted for the Greens at the Euro elections”, accuses one. Yes, I did so specifically and publicly for the first time in my life, because I felt that Labour had drifted too much to the right. I now see an opportunity to reclaim my place in the party. Hundreds of thousands see the same to a sufficient extent to part with money – even if only three quid. I note that, when I campaigned vocally for my local Labour candidate in May, nobody asked me to show them a membership card. Anyone can join, it seems, as long as they toe the line. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Labour voter all your life, the “worthy” will find a way to discredit you as disloyal to the party.
This is why Labour lost the last election. And why it will probably lose the next one and the one after that. Because it sees anyone not voting for it as either cruel or stupid, anyone critical of its policies as disloyal, and feels absolutely entitled to electoral success. The Pasokification of the party will continue apace unless it understands that this is not so.
By all means, continue accusing progressive people from the left political space of being infiltrators, while lifting your skirts to show your neoliberal ankle to a handful of voters in Tory marginals and shouting “Oranges! Oranges!” The result of sharing the “austerity platform” with your opponents will be as inevitable as sharing the “No platform” was in Scotland: complete obliteration.
It is just very, very sad for those of us who understand what is happening to watch.