The ballot papers for the Labour leadership election have started to go out and I am looking forward to receieving mine and posting my first preference for Andy Burnham, and my second for Yvette Cooper. As we saw in 2010 the distribution of secnd and third preferences can become really important.
So far I remained fairly quiet on my political blog – probably like a lot of members I was getting slightly fed up with being bombarded by texts and emails from the candidates (Leader AND Deputy Leader of course). But then ‘Corbynmania’ started to become a little less of a joke and serious polling started to emerge that he is odds on favourite to win. I still held back thinking the collective voice of the party would or will win through. I worked on the assumption that party activists have always been to the left of the majority of party members and certainly to the left of the majority of Labour party voters and way off the scale when compared to the general electorate. But day after day the bandwagon kept rolling for Jeremy and his campaign. My twitter and facebook is full of normally sensible friends with their ‘I’m backing Corbyn’ photos.
That’s why last week I had to come off the fence and support Andy Burnham as my first choice and Yvette as my second. The timing was helpful as Yvette delivered a really well received speech, moving out of the comfort zone of candidates trying to say all the right things to appease the Labour party electorate. It is right that she started to take on some of the myths of the magic surrounding the Corbyn campaign. It is frustrating that every time somebody raises serious questions about Corbyn and his policies their team run for the cover of ‘avoiding personality politics’.
This is the theme for today. I am afraid we are in an era of personality politics- even if we reject this kind of politics. It is like much of the Corbyn campaign – harking back to an era before 24 hour TV, News, and social media coverage. It seems that whilst UKIP want to take the country back to some mythical 1950s, The Tories ARE taking us back to some 1930s level of state provision, and now we have Corbyn & the left fighting battles of the 70s and 80s. They also attack anybody (I assume I will now join their list) who does not agree with their vision of a left wing agenda as somehow a ‘Tory’. This idea that there is some test of ideological purity is something I find as deeply depressing as those in the Christian world denouncing others as non-believers because of some obscure theological doctrine. I am reminded of the Life of Brian Scene time after time – ‘Splitters’.
Just because I am willing to adjust and create pragmatic policies to fit the world as it is now and will be in the future it does not mean an abandonment to my core principles of creating a more just and equal world. I hold a really positive and radical view of what the world could and should be like. It is a world in the words of Shane Claiborne – “where Capitalism is impossible and Communism is unnecessary.”
The main difference is that I know the majority of the British electorate don’t share my worldview just yet. Yes I could spend my time ‘educating’ them or waiting for our Right Wing Press to collapse. I could even wait for the end of international capitalism. But whilst I am waiting people suffer. I made a conscious decision as an 18 year old to Join the Labour Party because I wanted to change the world. I joined because of issues of international development and global poverty & inequality. I could have joined a campaign organisation (I did this too – from the Nicaragua solidarity Campaign to CND), i could have gone and worked for an aid agency to offer practical skills and effort. But I chose to join a political party so that we could get our hands on the levers of power to make the positive changes I wanted to see. Yes it was always slower than I liked and full of compromises, but when we cancelled much of the debt of the poorest 49 countries as a consequence of the Jubilee 2000 campaign I could see how important it is to be IN government, making the right choices even if it means compromise and adjustments.
So I can see the appeal of those who join Labour as a protest movement against capitalism and this bunch of Tory cronies running the country. But as we battle with each other over our ideological purities the Tories are busy ruining our country and sitting on 39% in the polls. So if you joined Labour as a ‘supporter’ just to get Corbyn elected as leader I fear you will have destroyed the very thing you want to see – the end of Tory government. With Jeremy we will all be able to tut very loudly about the state of the world and just how awful these Tories are – but we won’t stand a chance of being able to do a thing about it!
You see we are electing a “Leader” of the opposition party with a view to them becoming Prime Minister. The electorate couldn’t even cope with the concept of the decent guy Ed Miliband becoming PM. What do Corbyn supporters honestly think the general electorate will make of Jeremy? And as we are electing a ‘Leader’ I would love to see far more scrutiny of the leadership qualities of the candidates. Who can command the PLP and Party? I am seriously not convinced Corbyn could ever seriously ask for party discipline in view of his years of non-compliance in my time in parliament.
I admire my friends enthusiasm for Corbyn and I know – a little like Farage & Boris Johnson – people like to see a little more fun in their politics. But the reality is that winning government is about forming a coalition and alliance of supporters from your core supporters to those who may vote for the other major parties. Corbyn does appeal to the core hard left voters, but the maths are against him winning & forming a government. All the research from the 2015 election I have seen points to our need to win back in the centre – not tack further to the left to bring back a few Greens and minor socialist party voters. I know many Corbynites also add in non -voters, but again the evidence suggests these are more likely to be right wing voters than the left sitting at home. This is why UKIP did well. They took voters from Lab & Tories and gained on-voters. I can assure Corbynites these voters are not looking for us to be more left wing!
I make this plea to fellow party memberss not because I don’t share some of the hopes and aspirations that Jeremy talks about and I certainly have really tried to avoid any hint of personal attacks in anything I write or say. I personally like Jeremy and enjoyed working with him a few times on some issues in Parliament
There is still a few weeks to go. And I hope to wake up one of these days to see the Corbyn bandwagon put into a proper perspective. It’s nice to wish, but realistically 10-20 years of opposition is not a good place to be. And I don’t want to be writing here in 2020 “that I told you so”