Labour on the Brink: A Statement on the Leadership Crisis

Sep 1st, 2016 | By admin | Category: Articles, Comment, Frontpage, Lead

A statement from the ILP’s National Administrative Council on Labour’s leadership election and a call for the Party to pull together, whoever wins.

Despite its largest individual membership for many years, the Labour Party is in deep crisis. The Party and the left are teetering ‘on the brink of disaster’, as Owen Jones has argued. The second leadership election in a year is testing the resilience of Labour’s broad church to breaking point.

Attitudes are polarising at an alarming rate. The atmosphere at the official hustings has been compared to that of a football match – cheer your own side, boo the other; never doubt your own side, always doubt the motives of the other. As the anti-Corbyn MP, Peter Kyle noted in the New Statesman (19 August),

“It feels like the party has already split. It’s one of those chasms you see in the Arctic. It starts very small at the top, a dusting of snow covers it; but underneath is this enormous gap, and when somebody steps on it you fall through … the question is whether we can put it back together again, or whether it will just snap.”

Never has there been a greater need to remember Jo Cox’s maxim: there is more that unites us than drives us apart. Labour and the left can pull back from this brink, but it will take much more political sense and courage than has been on display recently.

Background

Labour has always been an awkward coalition of socialists, social democrats and reformers, trade unionists and Parliamentarians, whose early MPs drove Keir Hardie to distraction and despair. But this broad church is now under unprecedented strain. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/08 and the collapse of the Blair-Brown version of neo-liberalism, political tensions have reached a crisis point.

Leadership Corbyn SmithAs many have recognised, Corbyn’s leadership is the accidental product of the reform of Labour’s rules for leadership elections in 2014 – the abolition of the electoral college, the introduction of one member one vote (OMOV) and votes for registered supporters, plus the ‘’ actions of Labour MPs in nominating Corbyn in 2015 despite him having little support within the PLP. But it is also the product of a deep frustration with the inability of Labour, and of politics more generally, to give expression to a broad strand of left-wing opinion and effective opposition to the Tories.

The internal reforms, particularly the introduction of registered supporters, had in recent years been promoted by the Blairite pressure group Progress in order to reduce trade union influence, though both OMOV and the proposal to create a category of registered supporters have a much longer history.

The principle of OMOV had always been viewed with great suspicion by most of the left, including the Campaign Group of which Corbyn was a member. The irony of Corbyn supporters, such as former Bennite and now chair of Momentum, Jon Lansman, railing against recent NEC moves to restrict the selectorate hardly needs pointing out. In 2014, in the run-up to Labour’s adoption of the Collins reforms, Lansman found eight reasons why they should be rejected, including the dilution of trade union and members’ influence by the creation of a registered supporters category.

More or less alone on the left, the ILP has supported the principle of OMOV for many years but we were also deeply critical of giving registered supporters a vote, long before the 2015 leadership election.

However, it was dissatisfaction with Labour’s inability to articulate a strong opposition to Tory austerity, and a longer-standing rejection of the Blair-Brown formula, that meant the new rules became the route by which a transformation of the Party took place.

A key achievement of Corbyn’s first campaign was to catalyse a phenomenal increase in the number of members and supporters across a wide age range and to galvanise the enthusiasm they have demonstrated for renewing the Party. Contrary to some opinions, this is a broad left rather than just a hard left movement. Those joining the Party include many left-leaning former members and, although there are many young activists new to Labour politics, the average age of those joining since May 2015 is over 50. There are also some credible claims of hard left ‘entryism’, although the numbers involved are likely to be tiny in comparison to the size of the membership.

Organisations such as Momentum have sought to mobilise those new members. While some of this activism has been directed in support of Labour’s electoral campaigns, so far it has had its most significant impact inside the Party in support of Corbyn. It is important that Momentum continues to reflect the open spirit of this mass influx into the Party. The suggestion that Momentum should operate as a social movement parallel to Labour is highly problematic and will dilute its potential to revitalise the Party itself.

Perhaps as important as the rise in membership, Corbyn’s leadership has shifted the debate in the Party in a leftward direction. This can be seen in Owen Smith’s domestic policy proposals which, on paper at least, are a significant improvement on anything put forward by Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal in the 2015 contest. Smith has also criticised Blairism, saying that “a Party that was formed to take on the Establishment ended up sometimes being mistaken for the Establishment”.

However, none of this has done anything so far to improve Labour’s electoral prospects, its standing in the country at large nor its appeal to non-Labour voters. The current poll figures, for both the Party as a whole and Corbyn individually, are not surprising in the least but they are no less alarming for that. Indeed, rhetorically at least, the Theresa May Tory leadership is proving to be quite politically adroit on issues such as inequality, capitalising on Labour’s woes, although her government has continued to push through abolition of the last remaining maintenance grants for poor students. As the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen crowed, while the Tories continue to play chess, Labour is stuck in a game of snakes with no ladders.

While the task facing Corbyn after his victory last year was always going to be immensely difficult, and made far worse by the constant sniping and scheming of a few Blairite die-hards, his leadership nationally and within Parliament has been clumsy at best and woefully dysfunctional at worst. Claimed successes, such as the Tory retreat on tax credits and the London Mayoral victory, had little to do with his leadership (although no doubt if Sadiq Khan had lost Corbyn would have been blamed). When even allies and well-meaning supporters voice severe doubts about his leadership, it is an indication that something is not working.

Prospects

Barring a major surprise, the signs are that Corbyn is likely to win the leadership contest. In this scenario there are strong indications that some Labour MPs will establish some form of dissenting group. Most anti-Corbyn MPs appear to be shying away from a formal split of the SDP variety and it is easy to see why. United, the Party has an electoral mountain to climb; divided into competing entities, candidates from both sides would struggle even to reach the foothills.

Perhaps more likely is some kind of unofficial group within the Parliamentary Labour Party, criticising and dissenting as they see fit but without resigning the whip. Given that this is the model of the left wing Campaign Group during the Kinnock, Blair and Brown leaderships, it is hard to see how Corbyn could object to such a move. However, it is very welcome that the Co-operative Party has issued a strong statement rejecting the notion that it could be used as a vehicle for more formal Parliamentary factionalism.

The nature and size of this resistance to Corbyn will be crucial. The rebellion against him has already gone way beyond any group that can credibly be called ‘Blairite’ and involves many centrist and left-wing MPs. If a rebel Parliamentary faction is significantly bigger than just the hard core Blairites then the public damage done by the civil war that will surely follow will be immense.

Equally important will be the actions of Corbyn and his supporters in the event of a victory. Rumours of ‘vendettas’ against critics are deeply worrying and will simply perpetuate the civil war in the Party. As Owen Jones noted, “a belief that even differences of opinion on the left can’t be tolerated – well, that cannot bode well”. Historically the left has been well versed in how to win battles inside the party, and very poor at finding a language and attitude that can speak to and attract the wider public. A continued focus on internal contests and an obsession with small differences will only perpetuate this failing.

Our call

Given that many members are yet to cast their votes, the following comments are directed to both sides of the contest equally.

1. The ILP is not formally endorsing either candidate.

This is partly driven by doubts about what both candidates have to offer. More importantly it is because we agree with some of what Neal Lawson says when he points out that the crisis facing Labour goes so much deeper than the identity of the leader. Both the PLP and Corbyn’s supporters have become fixated on the question of the leadership to the exclusion of almost everything else. Whoever is leader will face major challenges, both internal to the Party and external with the wider electorate, and neither candidate has yet articulated a clear enough sense that they have answers.

2. The ILP believes that the forthcoming election result should be accepted as legitimate by all concerned.

There are deep flaws in Labour’s internal democracy and in the conduct of this election. But these need to be addressed in the round in a principled and inclusive manner after the election is concluded. Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the result, or trying to implement and interpret the rules for factional advantage – as both sides have tried to do – can serve no long-term good.

3. Whoever wins will need to work hard to rebuild the Parliamentary party into a functioning opposition.

Given that questions of leadership of the PLP are arguably more central than policy differences in the current contest, it is disappointing that neither candidate has given us more sense of how the Party can be brought together. As former MP Harry Barnes wrote in a letter to The Guardian, “Before I fill in my Labour Party ballot paper, I would like to know the candidates’ proposals as to how (if elected) they will seek to bring about peace and reconciliation within the party.”

Should Corbyn win, then – notwithstanding the profoundly unfair nature of some of the attacks upon him – he will need to make a concerted effort to rebuild bridges to as many MPs as possible. We do not underestimate the enormity of the task but it should include:

  • inviting Owen Smith and others to re-join the Shadow Cabinet, explicitly taking up some of Smith’s policy proposals
  • overhauling his management of the Shadow Cabinet and PLP – a difficult task for someone who is probably not a natural team-builder but a necessary development, all the same, if he is to minimise the number of MPs who break away
  • taking on board the points made by Owen Jones in his critique, especially in relation to media strategy.

As a quid pro quo, Smith and his supporters must respond constructively with this re-engagement process. There will of course be those who are irreconcilable, with whom any kind of rapprochement is impossible, but without some kind of stabilisation the immediate prospects look bleak indeed.

If Smith were to win then he too faces the task of providing leadership that can draw support from Corbynites as well as left and centrist MPs.

4. As a corollary to this, whoever wins also needs to work hard to overcome the rancour and distrust in the wider Party.

They could do worse than promote the aims we set out before the 2015 leadership result – for co-existence and pluralism; for mutual respect and comradeship; and for democratic participation and openness. These are essential pre-requisites to the necessary longer-term discussions on the overhaul of Labour’s internal policy making and internal election and membership rules.

5. Externally, whoever wins has the unenviable task of beginning to boost Labour’s electoral appeal and remake its political and emotional connection to the wider public.

The Party’s current standing could hardly be worse, and faces a very real prospect of the kind of annihilation it has already experienced in Scotland. Although there has been much talk since May 2015 of the need for the Party to ‘do politics differently’, little progress has been made. Nationally, regionally and locally, too much of the Party structures and culture remain stuck in the past and the influx of new members has not, so far, energised the Party in the way some hoped. Too much of the leadership contest has focussed on policy declarations by the candidates, too little on a vision for how the Party can be attractive, gain the trust and emotional commitment of the electorate, and speak and act in a way that is ‘open, optimistic, cheerful’.

Even if all of this and more is pursued with genuine conviction and vigour it may still not be enough to revive Labour’s long-term fortunes. But the alternative is ever more rancour, bitterness and personal attacks, and a downward spiral into an interminable civil war. Labour’s supporters and voters deserve something better than this grim prospect.

The ILP will lead a discussion on Labour’s future at the Rose Bowl in Leeds on Saturday 15 October. Details to be announced here in the next few weeks.

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20 comments
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  1. While I don’t agree with every detail, a timely, well-thought-out and eminently reasonable piece. Bravo ILP, and the writer(s).

  2. While points 2 to 5 of the ILP (“Our call”) list will find agreement with many and with all those who support a one-member-one-vote democracy, the conclusion (point 1) is puzzling insofar as it is at odds with key aspects of ILP policy (aka, Trident, anti-austerity, privatisation, zero contracts, a living wage, equality and social inclusion) and represents a disappointing, holier than thou (you’re all as bad as each other) cop-out. In arriving at this conclusion I’m minded that in politics, issues are rarely black & white and, being nuanced, it is often a question of choosing the least bad option.

    So while Corbyn has many deficiencies, who hasn’t? (His position on free movement is bonkers, unsustainable and completely out of sync with the views of millions of working class voters who supported Brexit in the EU referendum and who have turned their backs on Labour over recent years.) Yet he at least offers hope (no more) of a different way of doing politics and of a bottom up, membership-focused democracy.

    Owen Smith, on the other hand, is corporate spin personified, a supporter of the war in Iraq who, as a representative of Pfizer, promoted the cancerous growth NHS privatisation. He has the support of most Parliamentarians, including the Blairites and significant numbers of soft-left, centrist and careerists MPs, whose plotting, bad-mouthing and hostile media briefing against Corbyn has been shameful and an affront to democracy. These Labour politicians, when all is said and done, want nothing more than business as usual and status quo stability.

    But the status quo as far as the Labour Party is concerned looks to me, in Monty Python speak, like a dead parrot and well passed its sell-by date insofar as 175 Members of Parliament don’t like the members’ choice and while some might accept the result of a second Corbyn victory, many won’t and the plotting is likely to continue no-matter what compromises and bridge-building Jeremy and his parliamentary supporters may make.

    To my mind, this shows that the Labour Party broad church coalition is unsustainable, that there is unlikely to be a meeting of minds between the corporate-friendly free market apologists and the more social democratic membership who seem to want a more egalitarian and inclusive one-nation society and a new way of doing politics.

    In this regard, the Labour Party and its support for the FPTP voting system, the Westminster antiquity, machine politics and nepotism, need to change, and fast, or the prognosis is bad and, like the dodo, it will become irrelevant and an historical relic.

  3. Ernie: If you feel that points two to five of the ILP’s “Our Call” are basically acceptable, then why do you take such offence to the first point? The ILP are saying (point 2) let us all accept the result of the coming leadership election as being legitimate, (point 3) whoever wins should seek to build Labour into a functioning opposition, (point 4) whoever wins needs to overcome rancour and distrust within the wider Party, (point 5) whoever wins should seek to boost Labour’s electoral appeal and remake political and emotional connections to the wider public. Would it not then be rather inconsistent to pre-empt these points by saying that only a specific and favoured candidate should be asked to do these things? Or do you see signs that Jeremy (your favoured candidate) is already much closer to the above points than Owen is? It would be interesting the see the evidence.

    In point one, the ILP also expresses doubts about what the two canddiates have to offer. Not only is this clearly a view you share when it comes to Owen Smith, but you now argue that Jeremy’s views on immigration are “bonkers”. So pressing both candidates to addess particular concerns would seem to be worthwhile – something that it is difficult to do when one is firmly fixed to a specific camp. Asking serious questions is also a good prelude to making up one’s mind up.

  4. I think this is a good statement but it’s hard to see how peace can break out – people keep tipping poison into the debate and then saying they want unity! We can only try to set out the agenda of a 21st century socialism – which includes all the cultural behaviour you mention – but if people want to destroy the other side then there is little hope for Labour in the medium term – and there might not be a long term.

  5. Sorry if this seems like an excuse to go on a bit! But my thoughts turn to what would have happened to Labour if Jeremy Corbyn had not received sufficient nominations last time. The party, I fear, would have gently slipped around the u-bend of history. What sort of opposition abstains on the welfare bill.
    I fear there is such a paucity of talent in the current PLP it has lost the ability to renew itself. This is due to 30 years of the placing of Kinnockites, Blairites and Brownites in safe seats by a corrupt party machine. Safe MPs, unthreatening to the leadership. Now even the clever right wingers, like Kitty Usher and James Purnell have left for more lucrative sinecures. The party would have faded away unloved and uncared for.

    Corbyn’s victory, however imperfect a vehicle, has created an opportunity to start again with a new political settlement. Clearly that requires a swift move beyond a Corbyn fan club to create a new coalition for today, not the harking back to the1980s by both sides in the current leadership election campaign.
    I fear, however, that appeals for peace and love are too late and the task will take us way beyond the next general election.

    We do need a violent removal and replacement of large numbers of the PLP – not to replace one ite with another ite but because, like the wave of new entrants in 1945, we need new blood. The question is, of course, can that be done without it being undertaken by the electorate at a general election? There is a decay in political parties over time, especially if leaders hang around a long time. They ensure the party internally has no-one who can challenge them by keeping freethinkers out of selections. Of course, they were not universally successful at this but Blair and Brown were sufficiently good at it to create a PLP almost universally devoid of talent. It is no accident the Corbyn is prior to the control they imposed.

    There is another problem about political language. It seems to me that no one except party supporters is actually listening to us. Especially in the Midlands and north where working class people do not “hear” Jeremy Corbyn. He needs some northern working class voices around him quick.

    Meanwhile, of course, at this time the multiple crises of the British state are not going to go away. In fact, Brexit will expose its weakness in some surprising ways as we simply lack the competence to undertake such a task. The hollowing out of the state, the fragility in our economy, the climate crisis and the corruption and incompetence of the political elite will create new opportunities.

    I have always supported the ILP’s commitment to genuine democracy in the party and, like you, I believe ultimately it will rescue us. Obviously, on this new terrain, Trotskyite infiltrators do provide some skills in terms of organisation and campaigning that the Labour right have, in many places, simply forgotten how to do.

    But even if every Trot and ex-Trot in Britain joined Labour, they constitute a small proportion of the current membership. I fought Militant in the Party back in the day and, despite its absurdities, it was probably the last genuinely working class movement in Britain. I also regret that the Labour right, unable to defeat them ideologically, removed them organisationally, demonstrating their ideological vacuity in the process.

  6. Labour Party members? Who’d have them? Clearly not the 170-something Corbyn deniers in the PLP when they can’t force the members down the pre-defined path of the Parliamentarians’ choice.

    Let’s not forget that the rule changes that enabled the Corbyn leadership victory in 2015 was the right-wing’s “smart” idea to supposedly further push the trade unions to the periphery of Labour Party influence as a result of the phoney Falkirk row. And didn’t Scottish Labour pay the price for that?

    I don’t find that thumbing your nose at Jon Lansman/Momentum, who opposed the right-wing changes (as I did!), simply because he insists that the new rules be properly and fairly applied, is worthy of the ILP.

    Corbyn will win in 2016!

    Owen Smith’s campaign story has been that he supports the same policies as Corbyn but that he is more media-friendly. Just how many of the PLP Corbyn deniers genuinely support such policies?

    So what are the Corbyn deniers in the PLP going to do when Corbyn is re-elected as leader?

    I don’t know! Do you?

    I suspect that they will seek to break the Labour Party.

    I think that the ILP needs to face up to that reality and come down on the side of the Labour Party members’ choice for leader.

  7. Hi, the labour party is on the verge of irrelevance. The plp need to get a firm grip, select the front bench who can expose the goverment incompetence. The leadership want to wake up to reality and realise not everyone shares our views.

  8. Graham: When you say “I think that the ILP needs to … come down on the side of the Labour Party members’ choice for leader”, is this not covered by point 2 of their statement which is headed “The ILP believes that the forthcoming election result should be accepted as legitimate by all concerned”?

    Nick: On Militant, the ILP published a pamphlet of mine in 1982 entitled The Public Face of Militant, of which it said “Militant should retain the right to be wrong. The way for Labour to drive out their poor ideas is to use better ones.” A summarised version was then published in the Labour Party journal New Socialist which they entitled ‘Words, Not Swords’. Round about that time there was another ILP pamphlet by Eric Preston entitled Labour In Crisis. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  9. I am in total agreement with the ILP NAC statement.

    There is no way the ILP can endorse Corbyn. The ILP has always been clear that we live in a conservative culture and has been critical of the far left’s stance on a number of issues, including: the crisis of socialist economics, the decline of working class politics, its beliefs about how social change happens, failure to understand the nature of the Labour party and its nationalist sectarian position on Northern Ireland.

    Corbyn represents a traditional on the left that we have been battling against for decades because we believe it represents a dead end. When he is re-elected, it will be painful to watch him being taken to bits.

    On top of this, Corbyn is clearly incompetent and has very little grasp of policy issues. Either that or he has been deliberately fomenting a split. He has even managed to divide anti austerity economists. If he divides people at the fringes, how will he fare in the mainstream? All one contributor says about him is that he isn’t like the other lot he dislikes, before dismissing a key policy statement of his on immigration as ‘bonkers’ (actually, if Jeremy had managed to articulate it intelligently, it might not have seemed so mad, but there we go, he’s not a great communicator of left wing ideas).

    Owen Smith – well, the least said about him, the better. Neal Lawson is quite right to say that he has no apparent grasp of the crisis of social democracy. Corbyn’s election has given the ‘moderates’ in the Labour party a reason to focus on an easy target rather than facing up to their own political vacuity.

    The whole thing is a mess and the best Labour can hope for is to survive.

  10. I don’t join in the general air of pessimism – reviewing the Corbyn and Smith policy offers there is both enormous overlap and a great deal to campaign on.

    What is required is turning the party from an inward looking set of competing factions to an outward looking campaigning organisation. I do not follow the right-wing Labour line that campaigning doesn’t win votes. If we unite around a £10ph minimum wage + a maximum “living rent” + building a million council homes … I think we might win a few votes.

  11. There is a big difference between us being a ‘broad church’ and an ‘ecumenical gathering’.

  12. The Statement from the ILP’s National Administrative Council is well considered and helpful.

    The problem is that the argument for socialism has never been won beyond minority groups of active people. Historic talk of the ‘masses’ becoming committed to socialism never came to anything.

    In my opinion, the Labour Party died in April 1992. There was an unacknowledged acceptance that not only the battle had been lost, but the war had been lost. The political world had changed and the advocates of socialism had nothing left to give. There was not a popular argument for socialism, there was only a fear of the Tories winning yet another election. That fear galvanised Labour Party members and the wider public who tended to vote Labour.

    After the death of John Smith, there were no strong candidates in the Labour leadership election. The case for socialism seemed to have been lost. Given the choice available, it was almost inevitable that Tony Blair would be elected leader. He was perceived as being the one to lead to electoral victory.

    But that was the end of the Labour Party. The party and socialists were sold for a government ticket. The rejoicing at the 1997 & 2001 election victories of New Labour by Party members, I think, was mostly about keeping the Tories out. After three New Labour victories, now in 2016 we have nothing to show for it. The record of New Labour alienated socialists everywhere. No wonder that Margaret Thatcher considered Tony Blair to have been her biggest achievement.

    Now in September 2016, the same choice is before us. Do we want Labour or do we want a Party which is acceptable to the ‘Establishment’, the conservative press and media?

    In my opinion, a Labour Party which balances on a tightrope trying to accommodate the interests of the conservative press, media and ‘Establishment’, and at the same time tries to sound authentic to the Party members and natural Labour voters, is doomed to lose general elections. The leaderships of Kinnock, Brown and Miliband prove that. Blair did not have that problem, he was openly committed to the ‘Establishment’ and happy to destroy the Party and everything it stands for.

    Labour is unlikely to win the next general election whoever is the leader. But now is the time to start to re-create the Labour Party and win the argument.

    I can understand the passion of socialists in the Labour Party who support Jeremy Corbyn. He is unambiguously on the side of the Party. His leadership will give an opportunity to build up socialist education and culture. There is a grave danger though, that factionalism will exhaust all the energy for this and create mass confusion through internal Party warfare. That is why the ILP statement is timely and relevant.

    I have cast my vote for Jeremy Corbyn after giving the matter a lot of consideration. But I think that every Party member should be respected for whatever decision which they take in this ballot.

  13. I agree with Steve’s message of respect.

    I disagree strongly with his bleak assessment of the Blair/ Brown years… “we have nothing to show for it”. In my experience, Surestart is as important a development as the NHS, which helped many new parents of all backgrounds in really profound ways. For those of us who benefitted from new hospitals, the PFI schemes were a secondary consideration. I shall never forget and always appreciate the new maternity ward in Halifax general, where my daughter was born, not on a medical ward, but in a new facility controlled by midwives (both male and female). After our daughter’s birth, we enjoyed going round the museums and galleries, free of charge because of Labour. We were able to get there thanks to a well-funded public transport system.

    However, I understand why many people feel let down by those Labour governments. This was because of the change in the employment market, which hit the families of skilled workers – the bedrock of Labour support – particularly hard. For many, work increasingly became a cycle of part-time, badly paid jobs, with no way up and out.

    This change wasn’t entirely down to Labour, but they failed to develop an industrial strategy to try to counter these trends. Instead they went along with them, and rising socio economic inequality. Until, that is, the very end of the Brown government, when Peter Mandleson, of all people, put together the beginnings of a framework for state ‘industrial activism’. It was too little too late, and in my view the failure to try to help people on the sharp end of globalisation was as big a failure as the Iraq war. After all, Blair – in a speech about Jeremy Corbyn – said that the state should not be over people, but by their side in times of difficulty. I agree 100%, it’s just that he failed to deliver that aspiration.

    To diminish the achievements of the public sector during the Blair/ Brown years, in my view, just adds to the Tory narrative about profligate and pointless public spending. If public services don’t make a big difference to people’s lives, why bother? Let’s cut them.

    That’s the bleak conclusion implied by Steve’s analysis.

    I think we need a more balanced and hopeful critique of those years, that gives credit where it’s due and tackles the substantial failings in policy and political economy of the last few Labour governments.

  14. I actively opposed most of New Labour’s policies, but Jonathan is right. It only helps the Tories if, now, we continually harp on about e.g. PFI, Iraq, etc. and never mention e.g. Sure Start, minimum wage, etc.

    I think the ILP’s statement is welcome, balanced and insightful. I shall probably abstain in this leadership election, and I shall support whoever wins. Probably it will be Corbyn, and I agree with those who point out that he represents some of the worst features of the left. The priority must be unity.

    Ernie Jacques is right to criticise first-past-the-post. This country desperately needs proportional representation. Caroline Lucas and others have proposed a way in which this could be achieved, by a progressive alliance – Labour, Greens, SNP, even Lib-Dems. It’s not only Labour that has problems, but progressive politics as a whole, and Labour’s problems go well beyond the question of leadership.

  15. Dear Harry, thanks for your comment.
    I think Eric’s pamphlet was my first encounter with the modern ILP. I think it contributed to making me a truly democratic socialist.
    Never a fan of any particular leader, l found the moves by Neil Kinnock to take power away from the NEC to the leader’s office in order to take on the trots, a mistake. That process has continued under successive leaders and now it has come back to haunt them. That pamphlet contributed to giving me life-long commitment to both democracy and socialism!
    Thanks for reminding me!
    Very best wishes, Nick

  16. What’s this stuff about Shadow Cabinet elections?

    Until they were abolished in 2011 as part of Ed Miliband’s project, known as Refounding Labour, it had been the tradition for the Labour Party to hold elections every year, whenever the Party was in opposition, to the Shadow Cabinet (more properly known as the Parliamentary Committee).

    Shadow Cabinet members would be elected by the Labour MPs, usually at the beginning of a parliamentary session.

    The PLP voted to abolish Shadow Cabinet elections at a meeting on 5 July 2011. The decision was later approved by the National Executive Committee at the end of July, then at the Annual Conference in September.

    Quite a rush!

    Largely unreported (in my opinion) Labour MPs have backed a proposal to reverse Ed Miliband’s “master plan”.

    The MPs suggestion will go back to the National Executive Committee. If the NEC decide to support the PLP majority (what are the partisan numbers as at 08/09/2016?) then it could come before Annual Conference as a rule change at the end of September. I cannot predict the result of such a rule change at Annual Conference.

    It is possibly a “clever” procedural trick in the minds of by the PLP Corbyn deniers: allow Corbyn his undoubted leadership victory but then pack the Shadow Cabinet with Corbyn opponents.

    But where does that get us?

    It gets us even more hostility by the greatly expanded Labour Party membership towards the MPs who knowingly and deliberately engineered this situation.

    And the Blair and Brown “babes” and “boys” who might succeed with this third anti-Corbyn coup attempt are still short of any kind of political message to take to post-Brexit Britain.

    I at least think that Corbyn & co are trying to put that message together.

  17. So the narrative for not supporting Corbyn is that, not only do we live in a conservative culture and therefore his views don’t gel with the British public, but also that he is incompetent and useless and is unelectable.

    Jonathan is right when he says we live in a conservative culture where social democracy and ideas about balance, fairness and social inclusion are not widely supported, but that has much to do with a Labour Party that for 40 years or more has been conservative with a (not very) small c and has helped to build the me-me, casino, scam, rip-off and neoliberal Britain we live in today where the rich get richer and the working poor get shafted. And it has very little or nothing to do with a someone called Corbyn.

    If we are to accuse him of being incompetent (and he might be) how competent was it for Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Gordon Brown, John Reid, Jack Straw and Uncle-Tom-Cobley-and-all lie and scheme and take the country on an illegal and costly war that cost billions and has blown the middle east apart with human misery, loss of life and the exodus of people on an unimaginable scale (the genesis of ISIS and Brexit)? What do we put that down to – bad luck, bad timing or the law of unintended consequences, by a team of Labour politicians who did their best? Or could it be they went beyond incompetence and were a bunch of scheming, self-serving and undemocratic (serial) spin merchants. Anyone who thinks this is a bit unfair might usefully read Tom Bower’s book Broken Vows on the Blair years.

    And what to we make of former Labour defence secretary Geoff Hoon who in 2003 glibly told the British people he was willing to use nuclear weapons in Iraq. Now where did that policy come from and how competent is that? Who was incompetent over Iraq – Blair’s A Team or the those like Harry Barnes and Jeremy Corbyn who opposed this Boys’ Own foreign adventure and throw back to Empire?

    And what about Mr Competence Personified – you know ‘No More Boom and Bust’ Brown who eulogized the benefits of flexible labour markets and light touch regulation, year on year and boasted about his budget for the risk takers, entrepreneurs and investors before going into hyperbole mode with his Mansion House speech in 2007 when he told City big-wigs: “I congratulate you on these remarkable achievements, an era that history will record as the beginning of a new golden age for the City of London … I believe it will be said of this age, the first decades of the 21st century, that out of the greatest restructuring of the global economy, perhaps even greater than the industrial revolution, a new world order was created.”

    Yet within the year we had the credit crash with Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling bailing out the banks with our money and via Quantitative Easing printing billions more for the benefit of the very hedge fund, bond traders, investors, serial tax avoiders and money launders who caused the crash.

    How competent was it then, for a Labour government committed to social justice, balance and fairness to allow profits to be entirely privatised and to then bail out the risk takers when things went belly-up and for the losses to be entirely socialised? And all at the expense of the poor and vulnerable and cuts to public services. Labour leaders, at one with the Tories insofar as private is good and public bad, and who were more than happy to cut living wage public sector jobs and turn them into minimum waged, zero hour, precarious privatised contracts – aka the car crash known as health and social care.

    So while, over the years, the ILP and others have been critical of Labour on policy issues, and rightfully so, I cannot recall the charge of incompetence being levelled at leaders Blair and Brown.

    And while Corbyn might be the most disorganised and incompetent leader of all time (I don’t know) it would be hardly surprising seeing that this is supposed to be a collective enterprise but hardly anyone in Westminster Labour or on the payroll, wants to help him chart a different way forward, challenge the conservative culture, oppose the Tories and cuts, accept that he is the democratic choice of the membership and help prepare Labour for government. It’s a bit like being the captain of a football team but on kick-off finding a majority of your colleagues playing for the other side.

    No, everything that goes wrong for Labour, from Brexit, to dismal poll ratings, bricks thrown through Angela Eagle’s shared office stairwell, the death of Jo Cox, etc. are down to incompetent but well-meaning but thoroughly decent Jeremy.

    If we could only return to all-our-yesterdays, elect a strong and competent leader and get back to sensible ways of doing politics, everything would be tickety-boo. I don’t think so.

  18. Ernie: I don’t feel that Labour’s parliamentary politics in the Blair and Brown eras are as open and shut a case as you suggest. As Labour’s leading rebel over that period, Jeremy Corbyn voted 487 times against the Labour Whip between 1997 and 2010. But although he failed to vote on a total of 1,240 occasions over that entire period (covering absences and some deliberate absentions), he also voted in a non-rebellious way no less than 2,080 times – four times more often than he rebelled.

    Some of his non-rebellious votes would, however, be on unwhipped matters. For instance, Friday sessions are normally on Private Members Business and are unwhipped. But this would not have amounted to a particularly high figure – the Commons does not meet all that often on Fridays.

    It is reasonable to assume that over the above periods, some three-quarters of his delivered votes were in line with the overall Blair and Brown governments’ positions. So although much of what these governments did was unacceptable, this would not seem to have been everything – even from Jeremy’s perspective.

    There is also the fact that at the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections a vote for Corbyn in his Islington constituency was also a vote for Tony Blair to become Prime Minister. I had the same problem in 1997 and 2001. A constituent in Clay Cross who had lost his job due to the failure of Byers and Blair to agree to act in a reasonable way, said to me in 2001 “Harry, how can I vote for you without voting for Tony Blair?” I (and hence Corbyn) had no answer to that one.

    Corbyn’s record may indicate that the Blair and Brown governments had many serious failures, which roughly worsened over time, but also that there were other more favourable bits and pieces. Politics has many complexities for anyone attempting to advance their beliefs and values – even for Jeremy (who now seems to me to be moderating his stance and re-interpreting some of his past). I hope that you don’t see this as a sell-out. From my perspective it makes him look a lttle more attractive.

    You can check Jeremy’s voting record here, along with links to the complexities of categorising these details.

  19. Harry, of course politics is not black and white and involves compromise from those who join any coalition of like-minded people with differing perspectives on how to cross the road. But compromise with chalk and cheese (neoliberal careerists and social democrats) is for me a big ask when destinations are complete opposites.

    Your reference to Corbyn’s Parliamentary rebellious streak might be seen as problematic by some, especially those with Stalinist or McCarthyite tendencies and wedded to Tammy Hall machine politics. And there are plenty of those in today’s Labour Party who have climbed the greasy pole via a mix of nepotism, sycophancy, political spin, compromising basic principles and by morally questionable behaviour.

    Can you remember how enthusiastic some of us plebs were in 1997 when Blair and his A Team had us believe his political spin, fronted by his campaign theme song ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. Well they did for Tony, Peter, Gordon, Jack, Alastair and quite a few more but for many of those who put their trust in these Labour leaders, the outcome was somewhat different and beyond disappointing.

    So in truth, Harry, I’m not too interested in nitpicking Corbyn’s voting record but in trying to assess the broad thrust of his politics, his character and honesty and whether or not he is serious about social inclusion and doing politics differently based on a one-member one-vote, bottom up, democracy and without the toxic influence of corporate lobbying, big-money and gongs. And he might be.

    And when it comes to who of the two candidates scores well on the incompetence and unity tickets, last night’s leadership debate (BBC Question Time) was an eye opener insofar as it was not someone called Corbyn whose performance was abysmal and incompetent, and it was not someone named Smith who – if successful – promised to appoint a broad church Shadow Cabinet. So while one contestant passed the ILP’s five behavioural principles with flying colours the other failed miserably and was unbelievably incompetent.

    We live in hope Harry, but it takes two to tango, so I’m watching this Labour storm with interest, cos I don’t have a vote. But if I did, it wouldn’t be for someone called Smith.

  20. Ernie: The point about my nitpicking over Jeremy’s voting record in the Blair/Brown eras was to indicate that he actually conformed to their positions about four times more often than he rebelled against them – some 80% of his votes following the whips. My own record in the Blair years was even more conformist at around 92%. So whilst many things were unacceptable under New Labour (and there were many omissions which never even reached the division lobbies), was everything across the board as completely bad as you claim? This is not a defence of the many errors, some of which were major disasters.

    I am waiting until Friday to send in my vote. There is my letter to the Guardian mentioned in the ILP article above. Owen Smith sent me an early reply on 26 August and Jeremy’s Director of Communications, Strategy and Campaigns eventually promised to endeavour to get me an answer on 7 September. I would really like to compare (and publish) the two responses before voting.

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