Monday, 26 September 2016

Labour's Appearance and Reality - Part 1 of 2

Jeremy Corbyn has once again defied all of the attempts of the Tory media, and of the Labour right to prevent him becoming Labour leader. His position has, in fact, been strengthened. Reflecting the bizarre bubble in which his opponents exist, the first thing they did, after his victory, was to set out a series of demands on him, which he “must” concede to them!

The most prominent of those demands has been that Jeremy must introduce election of the Shadow Cabinet by the PLP. They present this demand, as though it is them offering an olive branch to Corbyn, that if he allows such election, they may be so gracious as to take up the positions in the Shadow Cabinet that they only months ago resiled from, in their failed attempt at a coup to remove Corbyn as Leader. But, of course, what they want everyone to believe appears to be the reason for this proposal is not the reality.

The PLP previously, under Ed Miliband, voted to end the process of electing the Shadow Cabinet. So, why do they now want to introduce the process, and why would such elections make any difference to them participating as Shadow Ministers? The reality is, of course, that their demand that Jeremy allow them to dictate who will be in his Shadow Cabinet has nothing to do with democracy, or with them offering up an olive branch. Having failed to retain, for themselves, the decision of who should be on the ballot paper for the position of Leader, and having then failed to be able to put forward any candidate that could beat Jeremy, they have fallen back to another undemocratic position.

They want to have the power to elect the Shadow Cabinet only in order to isolate Jeremy, to remove all of his supporters from the prominent positions, and thereby to dictate party policy. in Parliament, and to have a justification for dominating the airwaves, even more than the Tory media allow them currently. Where previously they admitted trying to kidnap him when he stood outside his office, so as to bully him into resigning, now they want to hold him hostage within the Shadow Cabinet in the hope of achieving the same effect.  A look at the strategy of that Tory media over recent weeks reveals what is really going on. On issue after issue, that media has called forth former Shadow Ministers to comment on matters arising in Parliament, rather than the current Shadow Minister. Its also clear why many of Jeremy's parliamentary opponents want to secure for themselves positions as chairs of select committees, because that too gives them a redoubt from which to attack him, as Keith Vaz did over anti-Semitism, as well as to justify their frequent appearance in front of the cameras.

However, its quite right that the Shadow Cabinet, as well as the Cabinet when Labour is in office, should be elected, but it should be elected, like the Leader and Deputy Leader, by the whole party, not just by a couple of hundred members who happen to be MP's. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the party, are the party's choice for who should fulfil the roles of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, it makes perfect sense, therefore, that each year, the party should also vote for who it believes should hold the other Shadow Cabinet positions, in just the same way that each year, the members of the NEC are elected.

The PLP respond to the idea that the party should elect the Shadow Cabinet by arguing that they represent millions of voters, whereas party members amount to only a few hundred thousand. But, again the superficial appearance here conflicts sharply with the reality. For the last three hundred years, British parliamentary democracy has been a party based democracy. In other words, rather than individuals putting themselves up for election, and winning support on the basis of their personal talents, they put themselves up for election, primarily, as a representative of a political party, of the general set of ideas, which that party promotes. It is the members of the party, which determine its ideology, its program and so on, and which then select individuals to represent it in elections.

The reality is that the MP's remain nothing more than individuals, and individual members of the party. Were it not for the party and its members, the individual MP would never have been elected. In systems of proportional representation, based on the party list system, that is even clearer, because it is the party which then directly determines which of its candidates from the list will actually sit in parliament. The Labour right are not relying on democratic ideas for their arguments, but a relapse into 17th century feudalism.

But, of course, even that is a charade. The Labour right, if they truly believed in this argument could easily justify it. All they had to do was to recruit a tiny fraction of those millions of supporters they claim to have in the wider electorate. They say they represent 10 million voters. To have won the leadership election – after they had disenfranchised 130,000 party members from voting – they needed an additional 100,000 votes. That represents just 1% of that 10 million people they claim supports them.

Yet, despite the fact that they have the massed ranks of the Tory media standing behind them, despite the fact that they have secretive, closed, conspiratorial organisations such as Labour First, Progress, Saving Labour and so on, as well as various millionaires, and billionaires throwing their weight behind trying to recruit people to support the forces of the right, they were not able to win the support of any of these additional voters. In fact, they went backwards. Jeremy's majority increased, and of the new members brought into the party, he won 85% of the vote!

And here lies another conflict between appearance and reality. The Labour right tell us that only they have the leadership skills, the policies and the strategic ability to beat the Tories and win the next election. Well, if they do not have any of those things sufficient to be able to win a majority within the party, why on Earth should we believe their assertion that they would have better results in a wider election? The fact, is that in terms of policies, they have nothing clear or distinctive from what the Tories are already offering, what they are offering was rejected by voters in 2010 and 2015. Even what they are suggesting through some of their mouthpieces, of some kind of lash up with the Liberals, is a non-starter, because those same policies put forward by the Liberals were decisively rejected by voters in 2015.  If they truly believed their own spin, they would save themselves the trouble of arguing with party members, and simply go off and rely on their personal talents to win an election for their parliamentary seat, or they would do what at least the SDP had the bottle to do, which is to set up their own party, and put their claims to the test.  They won't because they know what happened to the SDP, and subsequently to the Liberals.

Back in the late 70's and early 80's, for about three or four years, we used to turn up to party meetings thinking we had enough support to defeat the old right, only to find that they had pulled a few more people out of the woodwork, who we had never seen before, and often never saw again until the next AGM or selection meeting. These people who we had never seen before, would come along and hurl abuse at us, describing us as all kinds of devil's spawn. Today's right do not even have the organisational ability and backbone of the old right of that time. They are lazy and flabby, having come to rely on spin, and their access to the Tory media. They huddle together proclaiming their commitment to staying and fighting, but they are far more likely to rely on others to do any fighting of any kind, verbal or metaphorical, on their behalf. They have all sorts of professional body guards in that respect.  Even compared with their 1980's equivalents they are weak-kneed, and lacking in any kind of moral fibre.

Their own strategic and organisation skills were shown by their abortive coup attempt, followed by the laughable and equally abortive leadership campaign of Angela Eagle. At party conference, having been even more decisively defeated than they were last year, they immediately again began spinning and abusing the membership such as the comment by Phil Collins, who tweeted that the number of spoiled votes had been 61.8%, and the others on the right who tweeted images of their party cards being ripped up. And of those that were left couldn't even organise a piss-up in a pub. They booked a room in a pub for their fringe meeting that was not even big enough for the few dozen of their supporters who turned up to hear the whingeing of a handful of has been Blair-right MP's, sobbing into their beer mug over losing the potential future sinecures they had counted upon.

Forward To Part 2

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