Cards on the table, I didn’t vote for Corbyn. Being the paranoid pessimist doomsayer that I am I’m caught in this strange place where I know that a Corbyn leadership has so much potential to change how we do politics in this country for the better, yet I can visualise so easily how it can all be squandered to poor media management, to gaffes and to in-fighting. Being caught in this strange place sandwiched between excitement and trepidation has completely scrambled my political compass, to the point that, as opposed to say, a year ago, I would not put money on any political predictions I may foolishly make.
If you had told me in early May that Jeremy Corbyn would have won the leadership election with 60% of the vote in the first round I would’ve laughed at you. I expect a lot of people would’ve as well. And so the question we need to ask ourselves is: “Is this a one-off from Jez, or can he continue to defy expectations?”. This then leads to “Does the mood within the Labour Party reflect the mood without?”. Because, although Corbyn did manage to win several hundred thousand votes, this is a tiny fraction of the total electorate. It’s easy to say that, because he packed halls across the country, he can win elections. Here lies the problem. Because it is objectively true that Corbyn has energised the Labour Party and re-given a sense of dignity to it and its members and, as much as this pleases me and I’m sure many of my comrades, there is no guarantee that it will do the same to the wider electorate. We risk disappearing into a dangerous cycle of self-satisfaction, a dynamic and positive party with nothing to offer the people we’re supposed to represent. On the one hand I’m happy that we now live in a time when the Shadow Chancellor is actively pro the destruction of capitalism, but I’m not too sure how voters in marginal seats will take it.
The problem is Corbyn has allowed himself to be completely trampled on during the first few weeks of his leadership. It happened when he first announced his cabinet, when the mock outrage regarding his non-singing of the national anthem was spewing from every self-contented Tory columnist and when John McDonnell had to apologise for his comments about the IRA. Where were the Labour MPs, peers, mayors, councillors and academics on the radio, on the TV, giving interviews defending Corbyn? Where was the unity of message essential to an operation that knows it will get the worse possible coverage in the press? Where was the wall of sound on every form of media reassuring the British public that the great people’s institution that is the Labour Party had not been taken over by a trotskyite relic, but rather by an honorable, sincere and fundamentally decent man who was here to bring a new type of politics. The only way Corbyn will make it to Downing Street (or even to 2020 for that matter) is by ensuring that any and all coverage he gets has at least one forceful soundbite of the Party line. If I were him, I’d be contacting every single left-leaning academic, economists in particular, and getting them ready to be called up to defend my leadership, my policies and my people.
If I were him I’d also make peace with the PLP, and they need to grow up and play their part. Corbyn won’t get anywhere without support from Labour MPs. Not only will he need to call on them to defend the Party in the media, but he also needs them for policy and to push for any grass-roots organisational reforms he may have in mind. This means all talk of deselections from senior Corbynites needs to stop. On a purely practical level, it means MPs are less likely to support the leadership and more likely to be happy to be quoted as ‘an anonymous Labour source’ for the Telegraph or the Times. But we also need to consider the effects that semi-leadership-endorsed deselections will have on the morale of the membership and local parties. If we cherish the aim that, as members, we should act in a comradely way to each other, deselections are clearly against our principles. Pitting one half of a CLP against another and destroying campaigning capacity is an easy way of losing even the safest of seats and destroying possibly decades of comradely work. Corbyn needs to stress that he does not want deselections to occur at any point during his term if he wants to start to win over the PLP. He needs to reign in some of his more unruly supporters and he needs to integrate into proper Party structures those people who are more loyal to him than the Party. There needs to be a clear policy that, if you want to be part of the Party that tries to make Jez PM, you should campaign for candidates locally and nationally that may be part of the dreaded ‘Blairite cult’. There must be no space for hangers-on from the Socialist Party, from the various splintered communist parties and especially from the Greens. We must not allow them to destroy with their extremism and dogma the (usually) friendly attitude that allows Labour to be such a broad church. Jez is simply one of the candidates that we will campaign for across the country to promote the cause of labour in all levels of government. Those who do not understand this cannot and should not be placated.
Having watched both Corbyn and McDonnell’s speeches, I’m glad they did what I was so hoping for them to do: namely avoiding dogma and cliche like the plague. One of Corbyn’s strengths is his refreshing difference to other mainstream politicians. The fact that he will challenge orthodoxies that the Party hasn’t talked about in years is a definite plus. I don’t lament the loss of the fetishisation of the market, the belief that the state is incapable of delivering any kind of large scale project or the refusal to challenge the failings of the financial system. But to maintain his image as a man out to challenge the failing political and economic he needs to continue to be new and unorthodox. This means not banging on about certain ideas overused by the Left and so abandoning (or at least seeming to abandon) the golden calves of our movement that we love but that make the public either uncomfortable or very bored. You can see examples of it all over Twitter: badly made memes that know neither proper fact-checking or good graphic design. Let’s be honest, Trident is not something that affects people’s daily lives, and fervent opposition to it simply helps the ‘Labour are a bunch of lefty hippies that want the USSR back’ narrative. Relegating the nuclear issue to a second-rate issue and spending more time on more tangible issues seems to me to be the most pragmatic to avoid a massive clash inside and outside the Party.
Corbyn in his speech did not, and he continue to not, present his economic platform as ‘anti-austerity’ but rather as common sense, the embodiment of the British sense of fairness and community. Rather than building his narrative around dry theory, statistics and philosophy, Corbyn has started to construct a narrative on a vision of an economy founded on high investment and high wages, and a society that is equitable and democratic. His task now is to convince the British people, in the face of newspaper smears, that he is not the dangerous radical, rather Cameron is. “Cameron is the despicable ideologue that refuses to change course no matter the evidence, while Corbyn is the guy just implementing the will of the British people” should be our message. If he can manage to expose the Tories’ hypocrisy: that of piously singing the national anthem or going to the rugger to support England while selling off as many of the nation’s assets to the Chinese on the sly or allowing big multinationals to walk all over our tax system, Corbyn can destroy the shaky foundations of Cameronist-Osbornism. But to get this message across he needs to sort out his operation and start pumping out his message 24/7 wherever he can. He needs the PLP to get over themselves and start acting like team players, or at least give him a chance. His task is massive (although not impossible), but, if he pulls off Labour victories in 2016 and 2020, the rewards will be huge, and Jez will be elevated to the same status as the last bearded man who led the Labour Party. The future is bright, bold and exciting, but tinged with a faint stain of trepidation. I really look forward to being part of this strange chapter of the great British political story.