Vince Mills, Chair of the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism, and a contributor to Morning Star, The Citizen, Tribune and The Red Paper on Scotland, challenges criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and offers a different view of Labour’s recent history.
As many of the left, like Neil Findlay in the Daily Record (23rd July), had anticipated, the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have intensified. Indeed, the attacks on Jeremy personally from one Labour MP has outdone the gutter press, while the attacks on Labour’s electoral process itself have brought new meaning to the word ‘hypocrisy’.
Years of pursuit by the Blairite right of one member one vote and primaries, where supporters can select Labour candidates, should according to these very Blairites be reversed overnight because the potential result does not suit the ‘aspirations’ – and how they love that word – of Labour’s existing and wannabe elite.
John Mann MP, for example, the leader of the cries of ‘foul’ over the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, was even more vocal in his support for primaries including the 2010 leadership election in his Constituency Labour Party at Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire which was open to “voters and supporters”!
However, it is away from the personal and on what really matters – policy issues – that the Blairite right of the Labour Party have come out, but not fighting. Instead of arguing the case for Trident renewal, or benefit caps, or low tax, small state or the canonisation of the entrepreneurs – the catechism of neo-liberalism – Labour’s right has instead taken to the discourse of pathology. And so it is that Blair, as reported by the BBC website addressing the Progress think tank, said :
“…the ‘debilitating feature’ of the leadership contest was that it was being presented as a choice ‘between heart and head’, adding that people who say their heart is with Mr Corbyn should ‘get a transplant’.”
To be fair his speech did contain a list – Delphic in clarity – suggesting, for example, that Labour should be thinking about ‘real policy not one liners which make a point’ and working out ‘what a political organisation looks like today’, but pointedly he was unable or unwilling to set out any real detail on how a party of Labour delivers what its supporters really need – jobs, a decent health service, education and social services – only deliverable by increased taxation – and key infrastructure – finance, transport, energy and IT – that works for ordinary people and not the rich elites who own them.
Not to be outdone, Blairite supporter Tom Harris, who lost his seat of Glasgow South in May to the SNP, continues the medical theme, although his specialism is psychiatry. Speaking on Radio Scotland he said:
“What is happening is what happens to the Labour party just about every generation – every 25 or 30 years – when we get thrown out of power we have an emotional reaction. This is different from the nervous breakdown the party had in the 50s, which is different from the nervous breakdown we had in the 80s, this is a nervous breakdown of a totally different order. The danger is that the result will be exactly the same, that we will exclude ourselves from government for the next 10 or 15 years or even longer than that.”
All of this is premised, of course, on the assumption that Blair offered deliverance form the chains of ultra-leftism and unelectability of the 1980s and 1990s. So I am inclined to respond with a pathology of my own – amnesia. The Blairites ‘forget’ that the Labour victory in 1997 usually attributed to Blair was evident in opinion polls when John Smith was still alive in 1994. Gallup then gave Labour 50.5%, ICM 48% and MORI 51.5%. Pretty much what they were saying in April 1997 just before the election that Blair won. The actual vote in 1997 was 43.2% for Labour amounting to half a million fewer votes than Major polled in the 1992 election. Turn-out was the lowest since 1935. The share of the vote was lower than Attlee’s in 1945, or Wilson’s in 1964 and 1966.
They also ‘forget’ that after the landslide majority of 179 in 1997 that majority slid to 167 in 2001 and 66 in 2005.They ‘forget’ that although fifty-eight per cent of working-class voted for Blair in 1997 it had fallen to 40 per cent by 2010. They ‘forget’, although the Smith Institute pamphlet reminds us that:
“Between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost a staggering 4.9 million votes. Some of this loss can be explained by a drop in turnout (some 1.6 million fewer voted in 2010 than 1997). Traditionally the Conservatives would have gained where Labour lost but the biggest winners were the Lib Dems in absolute terms, and some of the fringe parties in the percentage rise of their vote.”
And of course in their obsession with Labour’s heavy defeat in 1983 they ‘forget’ the intervention of the SDP which so successfully split the anti-Thatcher vote almost evenly between Labour and Lib/SDP alliance – a re-run of which I note has been mentioned by John Mills the ever loyal millionaire Labour supporter, as the nuclear option for Blairite loyalists discussing end of the world scenarios in the New Labour bunker.
As Jeremy Corbyn has argued, it may have been that what the Labour Party north and south of the border needed was a period of intense reflection and debate about the nature and purpose of the Labour Party before we discussed leadership. Instead we have this contest, so it will have to do. In which case, can we please now move to the debate about politics and policies and stop avoiding it by adopting a discourse that camouflages political stances rather having a frank discussion about political differences and allowing the party membership to decide which position they find most attractive in austerity ridden Britain.
10 thoughts on “Pathology and political amnesia”
As an outsider to the Labour party let me gently point out that the manner and strategy and types of attacks thrown at Corbyn from within Labour are nothing new to those of us who oppose Labour. Its acceptable and encouraged practice from all sides of the Labour party to use these strategies in their attacks on their opponents so its utter and absolute hypocrisy from anybody in Labour to complain about the nature of the types of attacks they themselves revel in when directed outwards from Labour.
You set your own standards and abide by them so don’t whine and complain when they are employed internally.
The public infighting has created a condition which is going to damage Labour no matter who wins.
Forget ( if that is possible ) the internal damage to the Labour Party and movement, which could last for years.
The right wing media will portray Labour, in every future election, as in the clutches of incompetents, economic vandals and worse. Even the most right wing Labour Leader will be portrayed as in hock to the Forces of Darkness, lurking just out of sight.
Labour didn’t lose the Election by all that much, outside of Scotland. But it has lost the post election period, big time.
I just read this letter on Labour List. I cant ‘link’ so had to copy and paste.
An Open Letter to Progress
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To: John Woodcock MP and Richard Angel
Dear John and Richard,
We are writing to you as Chair and Director of Progress.
We appreciate the experience of working with you for many years now to jointly promote moderate candidates in internal Labour Party elections for the NEC and NPF etc.
The current challenge for the leadership by Jeremy Corbyn represents the most serious threat of a Hard Left victory in the Labour Party since Labour First initially helped deal with this phenomenon 30 years ago.
Within Labour First we have high profile supporters of each of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. As individuals we are working hard for our preferred candidates but collectively Labour First is very publicly calling on people to use their second and third preference votes for the other two mainstream candidates to stop Corbyn winning.
We know that Progress has decided to support Liz Kendall and respect that this is the view of your Strategy Board.
However, we are concerned that you have not recommended use of second and third preferences to stop Corbyn and that some individual members of your Strategy Board are suggesting not using their second or third votes.
We are therefore writing to ask you to consider helping us demonstrate the unity of moderate and mainstream forces in the Labour Party and the strategic priority of stopping a Corbyn victory by amending your position slightly so that as well as continuing to support Liz you join us in recommending people use their second and third preference votes for the other mainstream candidates.
Luke Akehurst, Secretary, Labour First
Keith Dibble, Chair, Labour First
Rt Hon John Spellar MP”
So there it is in black and white. In their own words; Right wing/Progress/First Labour, call it what you want, they don’t care who wins the leadership election, the only thing they care about is stopping JC and they don’t care who knows.
There is another name that comes to mind when right wing groups without principle or belief forge unholy alliances with other right wing groups to stop left wing politicians. No prizes awarded. No clues required.
The more they attack Jeremy Corbyn the stronger my support for him gets.
Oh dear. Attack Tony Blair – the only Labour leader to win three elections in a row. And that media confection ‘the Blairites’. Surely, it would be better – really – if we all took to heart why he was a success with the electors.
And if now – in this leadership election – supporters of the various candidates would actually set out the policies which make their candidate so overwhelmingly preferable, as you advocate but don’t do.
Tony Blairs only success was his first election victory based on his promises to deliver a more progressive left wing agenda. When he failed to do that and instead gave us more of the same Tory ideology he haemorrhaged support for Labour by the millions. Turned them into disenfranchised non voters. Only the corrupt FPTP system coupled with a continued loathing of the Con Tories won him 2 more terms in office at very reduced majorities.
The biggest block vote in the UK is still the non voter not right wing Tory voters. Right wing ideology is not popular anywhere. Its the ideology of the extreme minority. A powerful influential minority who manipulate and control the election process giving us a corrupted undemocratic process which allows them to grasp the reins of power when they never could under a truly democratic process.
I could have led the Labour Party to 3 election victories in a row against the shambles that was the Tory Party from 1997 t0 2005. Blair was a success because he was able to take tranches of traditional Tory voters from the shambolic Tory Party but only on loan. Once the Tory Party recovered under Cameron and Osborne those Tory voters drifted back. In the meantime he had managed to lose a very large chunk of Labour’s more traditional support and that hasn’t moved back. In the end ‘triangulation’ was a dead end for Labour and it really is very difficult to see how the party will recover.
That is the difference between you and me Trevor, you can excuse anything when the ultimate goal, success, is achieved. I can’t.
Leaders can go down in history as a success or a failure. Chamberlain for example. It doesn’t really matter, for every historian that says ‘yes’ you can always find one that will say ‘no’. Political leaders of a country can make mistakes and be excused for those mistakes. Who hasn’t made a mistake? Some people, doctors, nurses air traffic controllers, countless other professions have to make safety critical decisions on a daily basis. It is a tragedy when they sometimes get these decisions wrong. That is I am afraid inevitable, it does happen. I’ve seen it happen. It can end a career.
Tony Blair is not one of these people. The burden of that responsibility did not weigh on Blair it excited him.
To take a country to war is the one decision a leader cannot get wrong. If there is any doubt what so ever he/she must ere on the side of caution. It must as the last resort for a leader to invade another country. It is a decision political leaders should prey they do not have to make. In the case of Blair I believe he did the opposite.
The party still haven’t accepted that the issues that interest those that set the agenda are not the real problems that the electorate want addressed.
If I recall chasing the Tory vote was just the policy that the last Scottish leader urged the Party to adopt,just how did that turn out.
This might be radical but why don’t we return to the members,at our conference,making policy?
Hows about this for a policy the next Labour Party leader could convene a extraordinary meeting of the Labour Party and announce that the Labour Party will no longer send any of its current or past Labour Party members or MPs to the House of Lords. This would bring the issue of the House of Lords reform or closure to the forefront. Do you think that the establishment including the Labour Party will shut down the club that many of their current or past Labour Party members or MPs are hoping to get into someday? Could somebody ask the leadership contenders what they intend to do regarding the House of Lords?
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