Corbynism

What would it take for the biggest political party in Western Europe to be accorded a bit of respect?

Will the mass media reports from the Labour Party conference be the same when the membership tops 750,000? Or a million?

What does the Labour Party have to do to get taken itself taken seriously?

And what has happened to our political discourse that when democracy is exercised it is traduced as a kind of dictatorship?

In an otherwise thoughtful column by The Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley describes the outcome of Labour’s second leadership election campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s increased share of and increased vote as a coronation.

It wasn’t a coronation, it was an election.

He was not crowned, he was elected.

No sooner had he won overwhelmingly, than a queue of discontented MPs were lined up to protest.

This is an example of what the political and cultural scholar, Prof Jeremy Gilbert describes as the ‘anti-democratic discourse’ of what passes for political commentary.

Hilary Benn recycled his anti-Corbyn plea for military intervention in the Middle East – as if staking out a lonely pitch for himself as a Churchillian anti-appeasement, anti-fascist leader in waiting;

Anti Corbyn Louise Ellman was everywhere; Chukka Umanna re-iterated his cautions against de-selection of MPs…same old voices, same old complaints…endless laments that Corbyn is unelectable…

Will they still be rehearsing these lines if and when Labour Party membership – excited by the prospect of a social democratic political project for the first time in three decades – hits 1 million?

Probably.

Will they rebuke the party members if and when they mobilise actual, active resistance to the Tories’ neo-liberal strategy?

Probably.

Why? Because they can’t stop themselves: they are fighting for their political lives. Not because they are menaced by a de-selecting mob, but because most of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been shaped by New Labour and it our doesn’t know what else to do. It has been chosen and trained by New Labour; it has been disciplined by New Labour, and by its biblical belief that there is no alternative, that Labour’s adoption of the neo-liberal global settlement is not only Peter Mandelson’s failed Third Way, it is the Only Way.

The surprising dullness of candidates challenging Corbyn during the first leadership election campaign, and their performance since then, is indicative — it is a kind of mute inability to connect with the impact of 2008 and the neo-liberal implosion; it renders them the living dead.

The decline and fall of political journalism, its cloistered internment on Westminster Green, its symbiotic dependence upon the tenants of the raggy palace across the road, produces gossip as a proxy for analysis.

It worked well with a party leadership that controlled the commentariat much as it controlled the party. But it doesn’t work when the membership itself is taking everyone — including itself — by surprise.

I once described New Labour as a kind of anti-party party — an organisation run by people who didn’t like its members, a project that preferred an audience to a membership. That era has been extinguished by the rush to join up and join in.

Hence Corbyn’s critics’ strange obsession with the new mass membership as a ‘movement’ rather than a ‘party’. Prof Jeremy Gilbert has written an adroit critique of this polarisation.

Movement and party are not irreconcilable — exemplified by the Green Party which is both a movement and a party. The rise of radical anti-austerity movements across Europe and Scandinavia, Podemos, Syriza and the pirate parties, are simultaneously movements and parties.

You can have effective movements that aren’t political parties — feminism is the exemplar: movements, ideas, campaigns that don’t have an address, a political energy and imagination that is not tethered to a place or time.

Civil rights movements in the US, Northern Ireland and South Africa operated within and beyond the boundaries of parties.

But as Labour needs to know by now: you can’t have successful mass parties that aren’t also movements.

 

35 thoughts on “Corbynism

  1. Wendy Morgan

    spot on – the reason why many of us older Labour party members have rejoined is because we can now be enthused by politics again. We left during the new labour years, precisely because so many MPs then were conformist followers of fashion rather than independent thinkers of integrity like Jeremy Corbyn. Not all those who voted for Corbyn are young! I grew tired of people telling me all politicians are the same, “in it for themselves”, etc. Now the commentariat are instead saying “he’s unelectable” – well, I don’t believe it – if he really is, why are they spending so much effort on ridiculing him? !

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    1. Marina Tabbert

      Wendy-

      I think the problem is that they do want Corbyn, how can all of labour be in it together during this perilous time (mind, it could be their greatest coming together if they would just realise it, I have no idea why they think it must hurt them) if the party isn’t wanted, he is not one of them and if they are not to be disbanded then he has to unite with them- and go unwanted.

      While they face this threat they might resent that he could go unscathed if not by their reciprocal attacks- doesn’t Labour face going down? How can he enjoy this moonlight walk while they’re trembling along the same cobbled path, he surely can’t then- it is decided, he must be adored and lambasted in equal measure. If they remove Corbyn they don’t have a leader, they fulfill the threat they perceived in their fruitless imaginations that justified ratifying him to this degree but if the electorate goes elsewhere then- considering they had gone to Corbyn- and not labour, there is a real problem. Perhaps though they would go to Labour regardless and Corbyn was never so much a front man for the job as he was the one they wanted to head the party they were always headed towards. Perhaps they would naturally gravitate towards the man that could approximate their view of a group they intended to edge towards- a romantic idea of a society fulfilled by someone they could legitimatise their romantic feelings for, perhaps, perhaps! If I come across tantalisingly close to an admission of Corbyn worship, I will absolutely not admit it- I am not a romantic.

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    2. NICK JONES

      As ever, Bea, spot on. My only minor cavil is that I really think (in this build-up to the very realistic prospect of the party soon having one million members) that we should start talking about ‘re-selection’ and not ‘de-selection’. The latter rings of Kinnock-like purges, whilst the former merely states the bleedin’ obvious: ‘put up or shut up. We put you in Parliament, yet now you’re sulking in the corner of the Westminster playground, refusing to play. Join Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist initiative, or make way for others.

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      1. Kathy Fletcher

        “When democracy is exercised it is traduced as a kind of dictatorship”. This kind of comment, effectively ‘join Jeremy Corbyn or else’, is the reason for that accusation. The linked article by Jeremy Gilbert is excellent: amongst other things, he is clear that there are many varied & valid viewpoints within the Labour Party. Democracy, as practised in the West, tends to allow space for dissent. I totally agree that that dissent should be internal but the attitude of many Corbyn supporters that anyone who does not agree 100% with JC (even when he disagrees with party policy) must get out of the party is disgusting. Worse, I have seen the same attitude applied to those who agree with his policies but question his performance (eg Owen Jones).

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        1. Marilyn Gaint

          Pot kettle black Kathy. I’m afraid that what you say could be transferred to the actions and activities of the Labour Right, AKA ‘The Moderates’

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          1. Kathy Fletcher

            Really? I’ve seen one or two comments about entryism, otherwise I’ve seen comments criticising various opinions but not saying that there is only room for 1 opinion on any issue. On the other hand, you are making assumptions which back up my point, “the Labour Right, AKA ‘the moderates'”. How do you know that the 2 definitions are synonymous?

        2. Rod Lloyd

          “many Corbyn supporters”, How many ? and how many espouse the view of 100% agreement or out, how many 99% or out, 98% or out etc. Where are you drawing your “facts” from to support your argument ?
          Your vague general ism ….. “the attitude of many Corbyn supporters that anyone who does not agree 100% with JC , must get out of the party is disgusting. ” …… is just your opinion not fact based, not researched just thrown into the melee of the discussion to cloud the issue emotional half understood nonsense.

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          1. Kathy Fletcher

            No one can have fully researched this (without access to all Corbyn supporters & a great deal of time/money). However, my view is more solidly based than that which says that anyone who does not support Corbyn is right wing/moderate/Blairite/red tory/blue labour etc etc etc. I cannot count how many times I have seen people saying ‘get behind Corbyn or get out’. Support him publicly, yes, I’ve no problem with that. Believe what he believes, no, not an acceptable demand. ‘You lost, get over it’, ‘it’s not your party anymore’, ‘if you don’t support Corbyn, you should leave the party’. And you call me emotional?

    3. Jennie

      So true! I’ve lived in Australia since 1974 but still have dual citizenship. I would never have imagined I’d want to join a British political party from here but when I first heard about JC I joined up because at last what I was hearing was true compassionate socialism … I was reminded of Harold Wilson whom I greatly admired … I’m loving bing watching the death throes of New Labour and I plan to coincide a trip to England with the next general election, which will hopefully be a triumph of good over evil!

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      1. Daffer

        He has, but when his critics say “unelectable” they mean “the general public won’t vote for him”. So far he has only been elected to his position by labour members. The left love him, but it remains to be seen whether the same Britain that gave the Tories a majority, voted for Brexit, and only voted Labour in when they moved to the right will vote for Corbyn. I hope they do, but the track record is not good!

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  2. Ralph WJ Brown

    Some great new thoughts in here. The idea of Westminster gossip as a by-product of New Labour and the resulting poverty of discourse since – well since Miliband probably.

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  3. Anita Bennett

    So good to see you socking it to the boys who are too thick and/or inexperienced understand democracy.

    This is an apparent accident of history that we feminists should embrace and run with, helping all those younger women MPs with ideas and help for taking on the more blinkered aspects of older male leftism. It’s possible by engaging and helping out. It was a surprise to see my old comrade John Ross, former IMG leader, amongst Cirbyn’s circle. Not because he’s a Trotskyist, or former, who cares. But I do remember feminists who wanted to highlight the right to choose abortion having to challenge his and the majority’s “workerist” tendencies, more comfortable with equal pay than fighting state control of women’s reproductive rights. Must if we are shackled with cunwanted children, controlling men, scandalously bad contraception then we haven’t got jobs to think about any pay .

    Bravo Bea. Xx☮️☮️☮️☮️

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  4. croz

    Change of the political paradigm is inevitable. The anti-Corbyn ‘movement’, Blairite to the core, a New Labour with a ‘blue tie’, is in its path throes, and it knows it, as surely as eyes – that gaze out at the approaching tsunami of humanity, compassion and equality – know the futility of their resistance.

    That change is coming, and not just in Britain, but also Europe and the rest of the world…the USA it seems is utterly doomed…the change is a coalescence of Human Consciousness against which there is no media deceit, digital lobotomy, spin or msm Weapon of Mass Distraction with any repugnant potency to veer it off course.

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  5. rosie jarrett

    I joined the Labour Party for the first time in my life this year, after deciding that I wasn’t a party political person. I did briefly belong to the Green Party and liked the way they didn’t have real leaders as equality is one of my basic beliefs. However in the end I left because I didn’t really do anything. I have described my reaction to hearing Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour Party members speak in a blog: J C and the second coming. on wordplay917.wordpress.com

    Rosie Jarrett

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  6. Anne Cleall

    I am 70 and have never voted for Labour before, I am a Grandmother but also an intellectual. I joined the Labour Party earlier this year when I realised that Jeremy Corbin is actually a real Human Being. Not only that he appears to me to be authentic, caring and interested in equality, justice and fairness.
    I am sick to death of all the propaganda, posturing and downright dishonesty that has been displayed in Parliament for too many years.
    I voted for Brexit as I believe that being ruled by an unelected, elitist self- serving group who’s main aim appears to be to remain on the out of control Gravy Train thats called the The European Union. All that we can hope is that common sense prevails and we can revert to living in a true and honest democracy where each and everyone of us has equal rights and the opportunity to be heard and valued as the unique individuals we all are.

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    1. Gary Pinfold

      Nice to see that a “corbynite” can admit to voting brexit but still display enough rationality to actually nail the issue with being part of the EU!!!, self serving elitist conglomerate of crusty business men feathering their own vested interests if only the “new, new labour” can look on leaving this current clusterf##k as a positive move and actually act as one party then having a labour party in “chair” as opposed to in “opposition” could be a very real proposition!!
      Well articulated Anne Cleall. I applaud your refreshing and observed comments

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  7. Annie Weatherly-Barton

    Hells bells, Bea Campbell at her very best. I wrote to her years ago and thanked her for a fantastic piece she wrote in The Guardian. She is as amazing now as ever.

    Thanks Bea. You are the best. My heroine.

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  8. Peter Lockhartt

    It has to be a movement as well as a party and that means at times working with other parties such as the Greens who have similar aims. The old order won’t go down without a fight so now is the time to all with a socialist outlook to look out and protect each other. Its the only way to beat the elite.

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  9. Jill Mackay

    I find it amazing that the Labour ‘blue ties’ cannot grasp that they are getting a new chance. The have already lost two elections, and will lose the next if they wont see sense. They needed to change their tack’ They, are the unelectable side of the Labour Party. If they really wan’t to succeed, they should get behind their elected leader and be thankful to have captured such a large portion of young people. Mr Corbyn has offered them a place in the newer version of the party, they should accept the offer to find common ground. That’s if their ego’s will allow. They could do each other, not silly tantrums

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  10. Mary Vanderpump

    It’s difficult to understand why an honest, principled leader – twice elected – is still so derided and denigrated. If only the PLP had supported Jeremy Corbyn I suspect the ‘power mad’ man would have lead the party until a younger leader emerged naturally and then he would have graciously stepped aside leaving the Labour Party strengthened. Short-sighted, treacherous behaviour has created doubt in the minds of ordinary voters and left a disparate Tory party in the driving seat. A missed opportunity but we can still hope for a Labour comeback.

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  12. Mike Shone

    Of course there are many attacks on Corbyn et al. that are just ill-founded & prejudicial.

    But it remains the case that with support for HS2, Hinkley and the Nuclear industry that Corbyn;s Labour is a vehicle for continued economic growth and not sustainability.

    To what extent Labour under Corbyn , in government, would practice democratic styles of public service organisation and politics and not “top-down” ones is unclear” . However the evangelical dismissal of views which are neither neo-Liberal or pro-Corbyn inside the present Labour Party as Blairite and the voice of traitors suggests a worrying communist style culture is becoming dominant.

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    1. Vicky Seddon

      I agree with MIke Shone. Some of us Labur supporters actually want a strong opposition to the Tories which hasn’t been delivered, and a Labour government ,which doesn’t seem likely in the next ten years

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  13. Ken Murphy

    The problem that the right wing MP’s have got is of their own making. They have stood by and watched their constituency party shrink in membership and supported the old guard. Now we can at last get to grips with attacking not just the blue tories, but the red ones too, Blair encouraged the careerist to join and become MP’s and that is what we have got. It is now time to ask them to put up or shut up, I am sure that these talented individuals can find a job elsewhere.
    Some MP’s have unfortunately burnt their bridges and have nowhere to go, except perhaps on the dole.

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  14. Tim Webb

    When I was a trade union official with Manufacturing, Science and Finance, I had to visit the House of Commons on a regular basis to brief Labour MPs on the electronics industry. It struck me then and now, reinforced by the Corbyn issue, how MPs who worked hard in their constituencies became quickly sucked in to the strange, clingy atmosphere of a place detached from everyday reality. The archaic customs and procedures dulled their critical faculties and led them to believe in their own self-importance and separation from their Party. They were encouraged in this by the pack of journalists who hung around seeking a political tip-off or a bit of scandal. Everybody who wanted a career-enhancing piece of publicity played the game, with a drink in the Red Lion or a a nice meal and an arm round the shoulder whisper in the corridors.

    The hostile media reaction to the election of Jeremy Corbyn can in part be explained by the fact that the Westminster journalists know he doesn’t play that game and now feel excluded. They have to fall back on endless criticism from his opponents; largely a dull, charisma-free bunch of former Par;iamenmtary aides who were parachuted into safe northern constituencies by their New Labour employers. Their world is disappearing and they are not going quietly – but they are going.

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  15. Kathy Fletcher

    I’m a little confused by all the comments about MPs parachuted in by New Labour. My MP predates Blair’s leadership, as does the neighbouring one. Both worked locally in this area’s major industry & one lived (& still does) in a working class area in his constituency. I don’t think that they are that unusual. Can anyone provide evidence that the PLP are mainly Blairite clones, parachuted in against the will of their CLPs? If not, please can people drop this offensive & meaningless trope?

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  16. Tom Dewe Mathews

    For a long time I’ve been wondering quite why so much vitriol is being poured on Jeremy Corbyn’s head. After reading your article I have a clearer idea of why.

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  17. Tim Webb

    In response to Kathy Fletcher, I did not suggest that ‘the PLP are mainly Blairite clones, parachuted in against the will of the CLPs’, but did suggest that large part of the vociferous and continuous criticism of Corbyn emanates from former special advisors/aides. for example, Michael Dugher and John Woodcock. Ed Miliband, who used to work for Gordon Brown, and his brother David, former assistant to Tony Blair, have also weighed in with their doubts about the elected leader. Of course a majority of MPs from traditional backgrounds do not currently support him but that reinforces my point about them being sucked into the dead air of Westminster and behaving in a way that does not reflect the views of party members outside.

    As she raises the issue of the imposition of parliamentary candidates on CLPs, is it not about time that constituency members had the unfettered right to choose their candidates, without the NEC vetting and approving them?

    Reply

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