I’m an outsider by nature – I hate party politics. Whether it’s best to fight for sanity from within or without is a lifelong poser.
Like many – possibly the majority – of the Labour Party, my active membership started when Jeremy Corbyn turned up in that leadership contest, and started speaking truth to power. At local meetings, my CLP was almost entirely made up of people like me – re-inspired, re-activated, re-joining or just-joined socialists.
He is a good and decent man and a socialist (hear it from Ian Lavery, 6 mins in). So good, he persuaded people like me to suffer fools gladly, to attempt to negotiate meetings and procedures I would never have bothered with before, and get along with all kinds of people. Now, the ends are thrashing loose. All the things I’ve obediently dealt with “in a comradely manner” are bubbling up, and I’m grieving, because I’m starting to fall out with people I’ve come to love during my Labour Party years. (No worries – love will endure, but…)
Join Labour or leave it?
Whither now, join Acorn? Definitely. Throw my energies back into my pre-Labour Party activism and concerns? If I can.
Should I let my Party membership lapse, or get active and campaign for others to join the party and keep the movement alive? I really think it might be the latter – but first, some steam has to be let off, because it’s really not going to be easy to do anything in an austerity-ridden country, under another five years of a particularly pernicious Tory government.
Here’s my contribution to the rising tide of ‘what went wrong?’ and ‘what do we do?’…
“We’re not tribalist, we’re socialist.” Hmm. How did members react when Chris Williamson, having been slandered and sabotaged by the right wing of the party, threw in the towel and stood against Labour in the election, looking to inspire a new socialist movement outside the Party? The argument around that was about whether he was helping to sabotage a Labour election victory, and so I went for quiet disapproval. Now, a part of me is thinking, why the heck didn’t Corbyn, McDonnell and the team do what he did?
Moves like that depend on timing. It was clear Williamson wouldn’t succeed – at least not this time – but at the peak of the movement within the party, if Corbyn had called for a mass exodus and a new Party, he could have led hundreds of thousands to join and build a really socialist, really environmentalist party without the establishment PLP dragging them down at every turn but no, the faith in the tribal banner was too great. The thought could not be thought.
There’s a strong democratic socialist element in my town, and our local Momentum group walked away from Momentum proper sooner than many, rebranding ourselves as a TU support group. I learned my democratic practice in feminist and activist groups, and Occupy, and so very quickly realised that whatever Momentum was, it was not a democratic socialist organisation. Momentum were brilliant when they were brilliant – particularly in the early days – remember that superb rally in Parliament Square when the PLP tried the vote-of-no-confidence trick? – remember the glaring lack of a Momentum call-out the next time Corbyn’s Labour hit a serious threat? Considering Momentum was supposedly founded to support the Corbyn leadership, it was a patchy performance at best – we relied on it too much.
Our voting system
It’s crap – we know it’s crap. We’ve known for years that it’s crap – but in the hands of habitual criminals, crap becomes a heck of a lot more dangerous. I’m spoiled for choice on links to show this one, but if you’ve not given this any thought yet, here’s one to get you started.
Corbyn, McDonnell and the team strike me as having, on aggregate, a wealthy, public school educated, London-based Guardianista attitude, and they have more faith in people like them than the rest of us do. They think we all love the bright young things among their own cohort of privileged, unpaid interns. Don’t get me wrong – the Corbyn/McDonnell team are (were) the best shadow cabinet we’ve had in decades, and I sincerely wish we’d won that election and got that magnificent manifesto into action but they would not have been perfect – not by a long chalk. Here’s my take on why.
The term ‘Guardianista’ implies, to my ear, a privately educated, metropolitan (or green-welly rural) would-be socialist. Lovely people, some of them. I still think Corbyn’s the best and most insightful one of them ever, and he didn’t really fail.
Here are my contributions to why we lost that election that stick in my mind…
1. The Guardian and all who sail in her
Everyone knows the Sun and the Daily Mail are corrupt, mendacious productions – possibly, even the people who read them know that. Similarly, lots of people who read the Guardian claim they “read between the lines” and are not fooled by its “champagne socialism” (do people still use that term? It’s very useful). Those same people nod wisely when told that in Liverpool, where the Sun is not read, Labour did well. I wonder if it’s occurred to them that Labour might have done better elsewhere if not for the Guardian. There are not many things more damning than faint praise, especially if it has poisoned chocolate chips in it.
This is one of the vital keys to breaking the corporate-led tyranny we’re currently suffering. Russell Brand was one champagne socialist who realised that sooner than most and, whilst he held his ground and helped to build and publicise the ideas that empower projects like Acorn, and Unite’s “a home is a human right”, the Guardianistas were busting guts trying to discredit him.
One of the global heroes of the battle for real information is Julian Assange. The Guardianistas never credit Wikileaks when they list the sources of their edgy reporting, and have contributed hugely to the establishment’s narrative that Assange is insane, and not worthy of your support. And so our most famous political prisoner is left to rot, and when medical observers are denied access to a public hearing about his case, the nation barely even get to hear about it.
2. Trade Union execs who aren’t real socialists
(Some TU execs are brilliant, perhaps most of them are – but… ) When our very best parliamentary young socialist, Laura Pidcock, took John Hendy’s transformational plan for worker’s rights to the TUC conference, it should have been a grand reveal, a centre-point of the manifesto, and of the coming election campaign, the turbo-powered rescue plan for those slowly dying of insecure work and starvation wages.
The TUC top-brass went ‘meh’ and carried on with their individualistic competition to be the most dramatic, rantiest speechifyer in the building.
3. A lack of Party support for real socialist MPs
I don’t know yet what Laura Pidcock is going to do next but if I can, I am going to do it too. She is the only one I saw spending the necessary amount of time telling the House about the sufferings of the poor. Poverty is not a part time concern for poor people – why is it a part time concern for wealthy socialists? Why do most MPs tire so quickly of illuminating what years of bad government has done to our people? What is government for, if not for looking after our people? Why aren’t people shouting that every day in Westminster?
There are real, bright young socialists turning up, but they are not getting nearly enough attention in the Labour Party or, on the whole, in the TUs. If the leaders on the left had turned away from their wealthy, metropolitan bright young things with their Guardianista tendency to lose their bottle and call for resignations when the going gets tough (Owen Jones had several lengthily justified bouts of this) things could have been different.
4. Wealthy young woke people
Journalist Janice Turner publicly declared her repudiation of the party right in the middle of the General Election, probably contributing significantly to our loss. I was furious. It was a terrible thing to do, and I told her so – but I do understand where she’s coming from. Her topic of choice for a long time has been critiquing the current trend for identifying alienated kids as trans, and answering every argument against sex self-ID with the woke mantra, “trans women are women” or worse, with the ultimately arrogant, anti-socialism response of #NoDebate.
The widespread blindness to what’s wrong with this, and just how much woman-power the Labour Party and the Trades Unions have lost by clinging to the idea is jaw-dropping. That’s not such a problem with politicians. Intelligent politicians of all parties have actually tried to ease the brakes on and open the debate on sex-and-gender, as witness the Labour Party manifesto, which takes a far more measured and thoughtful stance than the woke young warriors and their grey-headed groupies do.
The king and queen of woke
Shortly after the loss of the election, the hashtag #OwenJonesisaW… was trending on Twitface. The virtuous left rushed to defend him, saying the alt right were attacking their darling – and they were right. It is stupid to use abusive hashtags like the above, because it attracts thugs – but it wasn’t the alt right that started it. It was Jones, who posted a revolting, misogynistic “joke” which reminded many, many women just how rude he’d been to any lesbians who’d tried to tell him that all was not well in LGBT world.
And for me, it re-ignited the anger so many of us felt when he and Ash Sarkar put the first nail in the coffin of the left’s General Election effort. It came before the election was called, and it happened in Parliament Square – do you remember?
5. Class wars
We are sexist, we are racist but above all, we are classist
I did a blog about that a while back, when I started to understand that what wiser people already knew – that all the other –isms and –phobias are rooted in class prejudice, which is there to protect the power of the wealthy – but perhaps I didn’t emphasise enough that it was the class thing in all its variations that killed the attempt to re-kindle socialism in the Labour Party (the movement is not dead, but the drive to do it in time to win the election died). I saw it starting to die the day I got caught up in the revolting Bollox to Brexit crowd in London “have you ever spoken to a leave voter, darling? What are they thinking?” Yes, yes, I’m sure there were all kinds of people there but – the ones I saw – erk. Perhaps I cringed from them because my dad’s family were northern working class, and my mum’s up-clambouring leafy-Londoners.
I believe our election chances started to die the day Owen Jones and Ash Sarkar refused to share a platform with Eddie Dempsey in Parliament Square. They said it was because of Brexit – and perhaps they weren’t the source of the self-justifying lie that Diane Abbott had said Dempsey was racist but it stuck, they did nothing to heal it – in fact, they used it.
What they did to the Brexit debate
A vital Parliament Square rally was killed stone dead – a rally where the king and queen of woke would have been challenged to share a platform, and therefore a conversation, with the RMT’s incredibly popular Dempsey, who you most certainly won’t hear saying what some of my Party comrades have been saying about some leadership candidates unfortunately having the wrong sort of accent. It was the moment the Labour Party stepped decisively into the chasm created by a perception of Brexit as wealthy remainers’ arrogance v less-wealthy leavers’ resentment. I know, it was always a toxic issue and a difficult debate but they took “difficult” and made it “impossible”. I felt the memory of that day squirming in my back-brain through all the thousands of conversations I had during the campaign, vainly asking people to have faith and vote for the party that embodied the Brexit social chasm. I know, we kept saying it wasn’t all about Brexit, and I still believe that – but that’s because social division is the fuel of the Brexit divide, and income inequality is the driver of social division.
Stay and fight
I’ve decided to stay in the Labour Party – until or unless I get thrown out for saying something someone important decides is barbaric. I may be okay – I’m not black, or visibly poor, or discernably disabled, or noticeably struggling with a neurodiversity condition –yes, I do believe a disproportionate number of the people who get kicked out (of everywhere) for saying “barbaric” things are one or more of those – and I know that for all its faults, the Labour Party is by far the least racist, sexist and classist of the main parties. (Chortling here – wouldn’t it be funny if I got kicked out for saying that.)
I hope you will stay – or join – as well. If you do, we’ll be there to vote for the least harmful option whenever internal votes come up, and we’ll be able to join in any genuinely useful conversations that arise. But we have to do the real politics full time – in our own lives and in our own communities – because we know that people are suffering and dying of poverty, health and social care failures, the consequences of climate change and wars, dying NOW, and I really don’t think the wealthy young lovelies do know all of that – not really, not personally.
There are lots of people to blame
Blame the wealthy careerists
There is so much choice in who to blame. Ours is a “blame culture”. I say what I say above knowing that I have at least one foot in the camps I criticise as well as those I defend, and I am to some human degree guilty of every charge I make against others. I am confident that I haven’t named anyone who’s vulnerable (other than having vulnerable egos, but they’ll survive!) We do need to reflect on what went wrong, and we most definitely need to remember who the enemies are, and all the reasons they prevailed in 2019 – but positive action is paramount. Understanding is vital.
Resentment and blame do not help. Whether you choose to continue the battle for the Labour Party, or take your energies elsewhere, work with whoever you find doing the necessary work.
You’ll learn a lot, and make some very unlikely friends – I did, in the Labour Party!
Whatever…. But let’s not blame each other too much.
Here’s to the New Year.
Work for it, talk, write and sing for it – here’s to an outbreak of 2020 vision.