Thursday, 6 August 2015

Labour's establishment too chicken.

The Labour Party's establishment seems to be combining to defeat the only leadership candidate with (modest) vision, Jeremy Corbyn.

Two days ago  Polly Toynbee wrote* that she had dreams well beyond those espoused by Corbyn, but no one who stood on those policies could possibly get elected.  Yesterday the decent Alan Johnson wrote that voting for Corbyn would be madness, and urged support for Yvette Cooper.

I can see their point: they are terrified that if the Labour Party is led by someone whom the  Tories and their client press can depict as being from the "loony left" then Labour will be unelectable.

Relatively recent history shows this need not be so.

When in 1975 the right wing extremist Margaret Thatcher ousted the relatively moderate Edward Heath from the Tory leadership many on the centre-right probably felt that the Tories had made themselves unelectable.  Then look what happened.   Mrs Thatcher’s policies clearly struck a chord with the electorate.

In 2000 "Red Ken" Livingstone was so far to the left that Labour refused to endorse him as their candidate for Mayor of London.  So he stood as an Independent and won anyway.

And in 2015 the Scottish Nationalist came from almost nowhere and reduced the other parties' representation in their country to a mere one each.

So massive shifts in support can happen and I suspect Jeremy Corbyn’s personality, record, and  policies are capable of causing a similar shift now.  

I believe many of us are tired of sound-bite-spouting politicians all espousing the neoliberal consensus that reducing the government's internal deficit is top priority, that the banks, who caused the economic crisis, continue unscathed and underegulated, that the rich need to be further rewarded and the poor punished,  and that key sectors of the public realm should be handed over to the profit-maximising private sector.

 Not that Corbyn's policies are all that extremist, save in the eyes of that neoliberal consensus.  Taking the railways and utilities back into public ownership, retaining the NHS as a non-profit making service, asking the better off to contribute more to the costs of society, etc. are actually popular and supported by a majority, according to YouGov.

  Sadly, unlike Mrs Thatcher in the 70s and 80s, Corbyn will not have the support of the majority of the press: indeed quite the opposite – they will go out of their way to vilify him.  Nevertheless, if this relatively honest and decent man, untainted by the triangulations of New Labour and who speaks from conviction rather than in carefully-tailored sound-bites, is given the chance to face the disingenuous  and duplicitous Cameron and Osborne, I have the feeling his decency will shine through.  

The three other contenders for the leadership are doubtless worthy but all are offering Tory-lite and not one of them seems to have the personality to set the electorate on fire with enthusiasm.  Corbyn is different.  If he is non-tribal and keen to work with other parties of the left (and I don't know the answer to that) he could be the game-changer we need.

Labour's establishment should stop being lily-livered and "go for it."

*  This article, entitled "Free to dream, I’d be left of Corbyn . . . " appeared in the print edition of the Guardian on the 4th August, but seems to have been dropped from their website.


  1. The best bit is, if he's elected leader, then when he crashes and burns, the Labour left will still insist that it was because he was vilified by the media. There is no way they'll accept they are simply out of touch with most of the electorate (who, whatever they may say when asked about individual policies, when it comes to that once-every-five-years X-in-a-box moment, care above all about economic competence).

    And if he isn't elected leader, but comes first in the first round, then whoever does eventually emerge victorious will find their authority challenged every time they don't take the leftmost tack on any issue.

    Basically, Labour have, in the space of five months, lost not only the 2015 election but eh 2020 and 2025 ones as well. It's hilarious and brilliant.

    1. You may well be right, though I don’t share your relish at the prospect of their failure. If our democracy is to function effectively we need an Opposition which is capable , and seen to be capable, of and forming an alternative government.

      Labour has a choice. It can either “play safe” and elect one of the three alternatives (effectively either Burnham of Cooper, both, it seems to me, lacking charisma and tainted by their records in office, where they were both tarred with the neoliberal brush. ) Or they can “live adventurously” as the Quakers’ “Advices and Queries No 27” puts it, and plumb for Corbyn.

      As to the “X-in-a box moment”, I believe the Conservative claim for economic competence is a sham, and, given that “you can’t fool all the people all the time”, Corbyn is the man to expose it.

      In my view the worst possible outcome for Labour is that Corbyn should be narrowly defeated, possibly by second preference votes. Then they will have to endure all the opprobrium of having allegedly moved to the left, without the benefits of the appeal of Corbyn’s record and personality to lead them

    2. Does Jeremy Corbyn have a personality? If so, where has he been hiding it all these years?

      I'm also not sure how he's supposed to expose the Conservative claim to economic competence as a sham, when he himself can't add up and is ignorant of all aspects of economics. Osborne does get away with selling an awful lot of flim-flam, but surely to point that out you need someone who has their own budgetary head on straight, not someone who thinks you can just print money to make all your problems go away.

      Even if Corbyn does make any valid economic points against the Tories, nobody will listen to him because in the minds of most voters he will always be 'that guy who believes in the Bank of England's Magic Money Tree'.

      There is no good choice for Labour in this leadership election. None. Bland, bland, inexperienced, mad — how on Earth did they let it come to this?

      Yes, we need an Opposition which looks like it is capable of forming an alternative government. Sadly the only Labour leadership contenders who look like that are both utterly uninspiring, and will basically repeat the Ed Miliband Years, including the bit at the end where they lose the election.

    3. Yes, I think Corbyn does have a personality: he seems to be able to appeal to those, especially the young, that the others can’t reach. If you look at his biography you’ll find that he hasn’t actually been “hiding” all these years. Among other things, he organised the Stop the War Coalition (still, I think, the largest demonstration in our history) and has been a prominent member of Amnesty International, a cause dear to the hearts of we Liberals.

      His strength seems to me to be able to say what he genuinely believes rather than speak in carefully turned “messages.”

      As to the “Magic Money Tree,” the truth is that an economy with an independent currency does have such a tree. It is a commonplace of economics that the banking system creates money. For most of our history this has been done reasonably responsibly under careful government regulation. More recently the regulation has been relaxed and what we used to call monetary policy through “Open Market Operations” now has the fancy title of “Quantitative Easing,” though I’ve no idea why the change in name.

      As Keynes explained, the weakness of monetary policy is that when times are slack the public cannot be tempted to borrow, so expanding the money supply to promote activity is ineffective. Similarly when the economy is running at full belt contracting the money supply is ineffective because economic agents use the reduced supply more efficiently (eg, the velocity of circulation speeds up.)

      A further weakness of monetary policy in trying to stimulate economic activity is that the government cannot be sure that an expanded money supply will be used for the purposes it hopes. For example, in the Barber Boom (was that under Heath?) most oft the the extra money went into commercial property. More recently QE has been used by the banks to shore up their balance sheets rather than loaned to SMEs to stimulate commercial activity.

      So Corbyn’s idea of “people directed QE” has merit, though in my view it would be simpler just to use traditional government spending on investment to stimulate economic activity through an expansionary fiscal policy.

    4. Yes, I think Corbyn does have a personality: he seems to be able to appeal to those, especially the young, that the others can’t reach

      But he's not very charismatic, is he? Not when you actually see him interviewed or, according to reports, when he speaks. What people seem to be responding to is the idea of 'a left-wing firebrand' rather than Corbyn actually being any kind of great orator who can inspire the masses.

      What would he be like at, say, PM's questions? I sort of get the impression that he'd be all dour and earnest and therefore any PM with a sense of humour could run rings around him, rhetorically. And what about the party conferences? Will they be able to find the soundbites to put on the news that make people go, 'Yeah, I want this guy to represent our nation on the world stage'?

      Anyway, it won't happen, so.

      As to the “Magic Money Tree,” the truth is that an economy with an independent currency does have such a tree

      Well technically it does, yes, but if you pluck it you get runaway inflation. Of course Corbyn's right in that the Bank of England could just print money and give it to Good Causes; but if it did it would cause more problems than it solves, both directly (that inflation) and indirectly (if the government's creditors see the real value of their loans being eroded by inflation as a result of government policy, they are going to want a higher return to compensate, so borrowing costs for the government will rise, making it harder to eliminate the deficit — and if the government responds, as a Corbyn one presumably would, by printing more money to cover the gap, that will just make the inflation worse in a vicious spiral).

      So Corbyn’s idea of “people directed QE” has merit, though in my view it would be simpler just to use traditional government spending on investment to stimulate economic activity through an expansionary fiscal policy.

      But how would you fund that government spending? Higher taxes? More borrowing? Neither of those ideas seem to be popular with the electorate, fi the last election was anything to go by.

    5. There's also, and I'm surprised nobody else seems to have mentioned this, the fact that it seems to be very easy to get him to lose his temper. Twice now when asked awkward questions about his support for terrorists he has either started shouting at the interviewer or simply put the 'phone down.

      A Prime Minister-in-waiting needs to look calm, unruffled, able to deal with any potential crisis. Whether they really are like that in private, and goodness knows if the stories about Gordon Brown's outbursts are true they haven't all been, they need in public to be able to project an, 'I can handle this' persona.

      What if he's leader of the opposition and a journalist starts asking tough questions about his economic policies and, instead of calmly sticking to his line, he starts shouting that the journalist is not giving his ideas a fair hearing, is clearly biased, and then walks out of the interview? That's the election lost, right there. You can't ask people to give you control of the country and then act like a teenager reduce to ending an argument by screaming, 'Because it just is, okay?' and slamming the door.

      So if he's going to be a credible leader of the opposition he needs to learn to handle even questions about his friendship with the IRA (because it will come up, again and again) in a way that leave him looking authoritative and in control — and al the evidence so far is that he simply cannot do that.