Kenneth Fleming takes a closer look at recent, apparently bizarre, commentary from the former journalist Paul Mason, and sees something considerably more strategic, and clever, than first appears. This article was first published on Kenny’s own highly recommended blog.
Over the last few weeks, I like many others have been watching with increasing incredulity as Paul Mason has been describing events in the Labour Party as a ‘Blairite Coup.’ For a while, I thought a respected journalist was evolving into a pontificating polemicist, as a sort of intellectual midlife crisis. It looks bizarre, and on one level it is. But I actually think there is far more strategic thought behind this than appearances suggest.
I think Mason understands something about the Labour Party that is so easily forgotten. Being a Labour Party member and being a Labour Party activist is not the same thing. Lots of Labour Party members join the way they do with Greenpeace. They’re happy to make a contribution to a cause they broadly care about, but they don’t obsess about the party on twitter, or pore over Stephen Bush’s latest offering like a Franciscan monk with the Scriptures.
Painting Angela Eagle as a Blairite is absurd. Trying to define her as being on the party right is scarcely less credible. But how many party members understand this fully. They might have heard of her, but they don’t know her politics in detail. They are defining Eagle before her campaign has barely gotten off the ground. The label doesn’t even need to stick that firmly, as long as it helps to frame the parameters of the wider debate.
In his latest blogs, Mason has frequently talked about movement politics. In a broader sense this is part of framing the choice as between a coup by a “Blairite wing” and a wider broad based social movement type of politics. The response to this has been a sneering piss take. ‘Political parties not movements become Governments, and it is Governments that make things better.’ This is only partly true.
Firstly, a functioning Labour Party is not about choosing between the PLP and the wider Labour movement. It is about recognising that this is a false choice. Labour only works when the leader, the PLP, the membership, wider affiliates and most importantly, the electorate are in some sort of alignment. Not in perfect sync, but with the various components coherent enough to allow the party to win an election. We may never see this alignment again. Deselections in the PLP, a severing of the ties with the Trade Unions, or a permanent fracture with the wider electorate may result. The traditional Labour movement as we know it may be finished, or about to undergo painful reconstructive surgery.
But it doesn’t mean that movement based politics is redundant as a vehicle for mainstream progressive political parties. Labour centrists know this. Gordon Brown understood when he spoke to Citizens UK in 2010. He knew that a Democratic President signed the Civil Rights Bill, but only because of the pressure exerted by Dr King’s movement. David Miliband understood this when he established Movement for Change, in order to strengthen community based politics.
The Labour movement as we know it probably won’t make it to the autumn intact, but the only future that a credible and alternative UK centre left party has is one that builds its foundations on movement politics, instead of erecting walls against it. (As Anthony Painter describes far better than I can here.) This is why the approach by Mason could be quite so devastating. Not only does it stop Labour centrists winning a leadership election, it potentially lures them into fighting on a platform that impedes the possibility of a ‘Next Labour’ Party ever emerging. Mason and other Corbyn supporters don’t just want to win the vehicle that is the Labour Party, they want to win the left in a broader sense.
This leadership election is about what happens next. Mason and many Corbyn supporters understand this. They know that is about the future. Appeals to history by Party grandees didn’t work a year ago and they won’t work now. Lord Kinnock’s speech to the PLP had my hairs standing up. But here is the rub, I already agreed with Lord Kinnock, and it was a speech rooted in the feelings and thoughts of those who already agree with him.
Regurgitating Bennite battles or belittling the New Labour era is fertile ground for Project Corbyn. They undermine the achievements of the last Labour Government because they want Labour centrists rattling off its achievements. We know it did it great things. The Minimum Wage. Tax Credits. Sure Start. The list goes on. But as great as these things are, they are in the past. We can’t re-introduce the minimum wage, just like we can’t re-establish the Welfare State. But this is the Labour Party, and we incontrovertibly find a way of turning our history, our greatest strength, into our greatest weakness.
The intellectual energy of those who want to defeat Jeremy Corbyn has to be about defining and articulating a vision for the future. Corbyn won because his leadership campaign didn’t replay the 2010 leadership contest and so was not rooted around a dry focus on electability. One more heave won’t work. It never does.
There will be a narrow sliver of persuadable voters within the Labour selectorate who could conceivably change their minds, and deliver a victory to an Eagle or a Smith. While we’ve been taking the piss on twitter, Paul Mason is at the vanguard of a Corbynist strategy deciding the terms of the next leadership election before it has barely begun. Do you embrace elites or movements? Do you want to own the past or define the future?
The Labour centrists are about to get pushed off the Mosquito Ridge.
20 thoughts on “We need to talk about Paul Mason”
I dunno, Angela Eagle’s record – voting generally for war, against inquiries into war, for tuition fees etc – seems fairly Blairite. What about her record makes you think she doesn’t meet the definition?
It is a Blairite coup.
“Painting Angela Eagle as a Blairite is absurd”
On what planet is it absurd? You only have to look at her abysmal voting record and her ideology! She is FOR Trident FOR austerity For Welfare cuts FOR Privatisation! FOR Tuition fees! She supported the bombing of Syria and Libya! She supported the war in Iraq and Afghanistan!
The woman is as Red Blairite Tory as they come! Jesus H Christ you people are either the worst kind of compulsive bare faced liars or the worst self deluded people on the planet!
Its a coup—agreed?
The people behind it (since the election of Corbyn ) are Blairites—-agreed?
The PLP, in the main, are against Corbyn—agreed?
While that does not make the coup, Blairite, the drivers ARE Blairites and would hope it makes THEM stronger—-agreed?
Angela Eagles Blairite? She walks, talks and votes as a Blairite would—agreed?
Let us leave it at that!
No, that’s complete rubbish. Most people who voted no confidence in JC did so after giving him a chance to prove himself able to lead in parliament, and he has failed. That doesn’t make them Blairites, it makes them rational. As for Angela Eagle being a Blairite, that’s about the most ludicrous suggestion since the last time Mike commented on this blog.
From an outside perspective, Angela Eagle certainly looks like a Blairite. What justification is there for claiming she isn’t?
Duncan despite you and Eagle’s protestations that she was not a Blairite, her voting record in Parliament – including supporting foreign military interventions, supporting tuition fees, and abstaining from votes on welfare cuts – “sounds pretty Blairite to me.
That’s because you use the word Blairite to mean something it doesn’t!
Can you explain what it does mean? Is it anything to do with policy, or are you just defining it as “in the Blair camp instead of the Brown one during Labour’s previous civil war”?
It means Red Tory! As if you didn’t know. You have to be the most openly dishonest blogger on the internet.
What does the word Blairite actually mean then Duncan? Eagle looks like a propent of Blairism to me.
Clearly I need educating & you appear to be the man to do it…..
Whether Eagle is considered a Blairite or not doesnt matter. It is her betrayal of her leader that marks her out. Labour members voted for Corbyn in massive numbers a year ago. He deserves the support of his MPs. All organisations need a structure that everyone recognises. This applies to a business, army, or political party. If those within an organisation do not respect the structure then the viability of organisation is at threat.
She has challenged Corbyns leadership, fair enough she is entitled to do that but the consequences of this putsch have to be severe. I believe the future of the Labour Party is at stake here. So my advice to Corbyn is to explain before the vote that those that support the challengers will have their titles removed if he wins. Deselection. You cannot have an army where the soldiers support the leader but the lieutenants do not. If Corbyn is a real leader he needs to stamp down hard on those within Labour that question his right to lead.
In opposition, the only labels that matter are electable and un-electable.
In what way has he failed to lead relative to anybody else in Labour? He hasn’t lost an election he has gained support and made Labour more popular than any Blairite could ever hope to. He has a greater electorate support than Blair ever had.
But you Red Tories couldn’t give a flying fuck about any of that because he is too socially democratic for your Red Tory Conservative tastes.
You Red Tories want to keep Trident to keep bombing Islamic nations to keep expanding the House of Lords to keep targeted austerity to keep means testing to keep tuition fees to continue supporting US rendition for torture to keep selling weapons to despots to squeeze even more taxation from the already overburdened tax payer.
You people make me sick.
Duncan, I don’t think Corbyne has actually had the chance you assert he has.
I am not a Corbynites, but I think he represents something Labour has lost. He is honest, ernest, and stands out from the hucksters who have ruled Labour for years like a sore thumb.
Eagles claims her voting record reflects her “taking the whip”, yet while she is happy to consign those at the bottom of the heap, to Tory cuts, she finds fault with Corbyne and defies HIS leadership.
That says all we need to know about Eagles.
Duncan, i tend to look at an MPs voting record rather than the words that come out of their mouths. Labour MPS do no represent your membership at large. That much is obvious even to you.
I am sure the activists in your local party are of the centre right. They could be little else given that Ian Murray is your local MP.
In any case Labour is dying before our very eyes. Dead in Scotland, dying in England.
I for one shed no tears for a party that need folk to stay poor for it to prosper.
If you don’t care about the fortunes of the Labour Party then I am unsurprised that you endorse the Corbynite view.
Nobody but Red Tories gives a flying fuck about a Red Tory Labour party Duncan. Real Labour supporters want their Left of centre Socially Democratic party back the way the founders intended it to be.
Unfortunately for you Duncan and the rest of your labour colleagues in this attempted coup, it appears that most of your membership do endorse the Corbynite view.
If it looks like a coup and smells like a coup, it’s probably a coup.
Have to take particular issue with the notion that JC was given a chance, utter bollocks!
Remember the ‘needing a heart transplant’, the ‘brain dead morons’ and the litany of ridicule and abuse that anyone supporting JC received, and that was BEFORE he was even elected.
The gerrymandering of rules is another problem and a soon to be an expensive one, I have it on very good authority that there’s at least one class action being framed up right now.
Pauls Mason’s bang on. Labour have been found out and don’t have long for this word, while this makes me sad you’ve no one to blame but yourselves.
So the latest candidate for Labour Leader wants to renew TRIDENT, so he can bargain it away. As if!
We have heard this so-called multilateralism con trick for years now, and it doesn’t smell any sweeter now, than it did when it was first wheeled out.
Trident sucks up money from conventional defence.
It is indiscriminate, and therefore immoral.
On the jobs front, ALL the good jobs are down south where Trident and associated systems are designed, built and refitted ( thanks to Malcolm Rifkind)—Scotland gets some cooks, cleaners and security guards+ a few techie jobs, but most of them will be Qinetic employees, based in Worcestershire.
Baillie and her “20,000 jobs” should be in a fantasy fiction book, or next to the Brexiteers lies.
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