Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Hope, experience and the left

Paul Mason has an article in the Guardian which I think exemplifies where many on the left are right now. He looks back at the electoral failure of Michael Foot in 1983 and the formation of the SDP, which together began the gradual marginalisation of the left in the UK. He goes through the obvious differences between that history and now, but then notes a key similarity:
“As with the SDP, there is a prospect that a few entitled Labour MPs will split, and that the media will get behind the narrative that they are the “true” Labour party. Disunity has already damaged Labour in the polls, just as it did with Michael Foot.”

Why will that not matter this time? His answer seems to be that neoliberalism is on its last legs and the Labour party has 300,000 new members, which he describes as the main event of 2016. These are times of hope for the left, he says.

Of course a revitalised membership is great, as long as that membership understands that it is just one small part of what has to happen to actually change things. It has to combine with a united parliamentary party if it is to have any hope of victory. Just try putting yourself in voters’ shoes: voters who know little of politics, but want to elect a prime minister and a party that will govern well and govern in their interests. In Labour they see a party that has voted no confidence in their leader. It really does not matter if that happened yesterday or 4 years ago because the media will remind all concerned as if it was yesterday. They will say to themselves if their own MPs have no confidence in Labour’s leader, how can I?

I have made this point so many times over the last few weeks. Responses fall into two kinds. The first says that if Corbyn is reelected, MPs must unite behind him, and it will be disgraceful if they do not. If it all breaks down, it will be their fault. But MPs are not soldiers who must carry out orders (although even soldiers ordered into battle by a commander they think is hopeless do not fight very well), but people who have experienced Corbyn’s leadership at first hand. To disregard their experience as just the smears of Blairite plotters is escapism. There are some smears of course, but there is also real frustration and anger among MPs at failures of leadership. If this experience of MPs is ignored, it will be Labour party members, and they alone, who are responsible for the consequences of the votes they cast.

The second response is that the party will have to replace its troublesome MPs. Here history does suggest that this is a excellent way of achieving the split on the left that Paul Mason agrees may happen. To cross fingers and hope it does not happen, or to imagine it will not matter this time, is a triumph of hope over experience, to put it kindly.

But what about the imminent demise of neoliberalism? Here I have to disagree with Paul Mason. The main event of 2016 was the Brexit vote, not 300,000 new Labour members. To think otherwise is delusion. The Brexit vote, in its way, was a blow against neoliberalism, but of an entirely reactionary kind. Economic crises embolden both the radical left (those 300,000 new members) and the reactionary right, and how that turns out depends in part on how united, organised and smart each side is. Under Corbyn, even with 300,000 new members, the left was not able to stop Brexit. Thinking the next time will be different is again putting hope over experience.

What is more, this hope seems rather selective to me. What about putting hope a leader who is standing on a radical economic programme with no question marks over their commitment to closer ties with Europe. He cannot be trusted, I am told, even though he was once ‘core group plus’. Little hope extended there. What about a leader who will be able to unite the party, with a chance of taking power back from this Conservative government that is doing so much harm. He will be overthrown by the Blairites, I am told, even though according to the Corbyn camp the original number of hostile MPs numbered less than 40. This is close to paranoia. 

This is not a hopeful left, but a left that wants to rerun past victories rather than adapt to reality. A left that will not allow itself to believe that by electing Corbyn in 2015 the membership has stopped the drift of the party to the right. A left that does not want to see how Brexit has changed the political landscape. And above all else a left that will not let go of a leader who started out with less than 40 hostile MPs and ended up with 172. A man who is not a victim of some Blairite plot but of his own inability to lead.



69 comments:

  1. 'This is not a hopeful left.' Quite the opposite Simon, quite the opposite. Note, it is the right who constantly hark back to the 70s and 80s, the new members are utopian optimists focused on the future. Neoliberalism is on it's last legs. The question is what will replace it? In the short-term, greater investment and a mixed economy focused on green futures and investment, allied with a far more participatory and local democracy. Like St Peter you can deny once, twice or thrice, but this is a new movement, a different politics and one that Owen Smith and the plotters will strangle at birth.

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    1. I can only repeat what I said in the post. "The Brexit vote, in its way, was a blow against neoliberalism, but of an entirely reactionary kind. Economic crises embolden both the radical left (those 300,000 new members) and the reactionary right, and how that turns out depends in part on how united, organised and smart each side is. Under Corbyn, even with 300,000 new members, the left was not able to stop Brexit. Thinking the next time will be different is again putting hope over experience."

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    2. But Brexit wasn't a left/right issue, Simon.

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    3. I would argue that the outcome of the referendum was mainly a left/right issue, but not in a classical way. It was a split between social conservatives and social liberals, but also a split between reactionaries and progressives.

      Like it or not, the so-called "traditional" working class is both socially conservative and reactionary, and exhibits many of the cultural and political traits that one associates with the traditional, essentially paternalistic, patriotic and patriarchal British right-wing view of the world and of society.

      It seems to me that the real splits in UK politics nowadays are multiple, the old left/centre/right continuum is no longer particularly helpful.

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  2. I'd just make the point that when for young people, membership of the labour party costs £1 a YEAR, it's an incredibly cheap way of signalling the virtue of being left-wing - without any need for a serious conviction towards the Labour Party. It's a way of making a statement, and since its so cheap nowadays, why not make it? But it doesn't separate in any way people who are pro-labour for the long haul and people who saw Brexit and want some cheap way of signalling their discomfort.

    In time, I am sure the emails will be unsubscribed from, the letters will be thrown in the recycling, and direct debits will be cancelled.

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    1. Why should they be Labour for the long-haul, Jeff? Loyalty should be earned through hard work and a commitment to the members: surely that was one of the great lessons from Brexit.

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  3. There are certain processes that simply have to run their course until the inevitable car crash (that is clear to most observers) is revealed. This is particularly the case when processes are largely governed by rules and driven by a conjuncture of events - many of which were unlikely ex ante and decisions - many with unintended consequences. The current saga about the leadership, purpose and direction of the Labour party falls in to this category.

    There is little point analysing (or lamenting) these events and decisions. We are where we are. Similarly, there can be little doubt that Mr. Corbyn will win the current leadership contest. Given that all Labour MPs intending to seek voters' consent to remain representing them in Parliament will face re-selection following the boundary changes in 2018, it is likely that quite a few MPs will focus on their post-parliamentary careers. It is is possible that many of those who voted no confidence will seek to avoid de-selection by coming to some accommodation with the re-confirmed leadership. I suspect the remainder will simply keep their heads down, do what they can to avoid de-selection and hope for a better future - after the inevitable electoral car crash.


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    1. Paul. I too think that JC will emerge as the only game in town. I just hope Simon will continue giving his invaluable advice to Labour.

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  4. Your assessment is spot-on, Simon. What is happening is like watching a slow-motion trainwreck.

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  5. There are reasons why we don't "allow [ourselves] to believe that by electing Corbyn in 2015 the membership has stopped the drift of the party to the right", and they have to do with the lack of guarantees offered by Smith. Let Smith take your own advice - let him say that he welcomes Momentum and looks forward to working with them; let him say that he'll propose dropping the 20% nomination threshold for challenges to a nominal 5%; let him offer to keep McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor. I think if he did any one of those things many members would swing his way; if he did all three he'd win easily. But he hasn't done any of these things, and I don't currently expect him to.

    It's also worth pointing out that, in person, Smith isn't all that convincing - today's BBC hustings, with a hand-picked Corbyn/Smith/undecided audience, saw a swing from Undecided to Corbyn, even though Corbyn wasn't saying anything he hadn't said many times before. Maybe even electability isn't as cut and dried as we might have though.

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    1. This is not about who sounds more convincing in hustings. Its about how a party led by someone who 80% of MPs have no confidence in will never get elected.

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    2. So the PLP should always dictate to the party members the direction and policies of the labour party! If you don't agree with this statement,then how do the members who have lost confidence in the PLP do! resign !form another party!please tell me why party members should be treated has second class! members ,where a few hundred( which is cheaper to corrupt) than a few hundred thousands dictate what is best for them???

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    3. Why should he work with Momentum? Why should they have leverage over the leader of the Labour party when they're not even required to be members?

      What would be the purpose of allowing MPs who lack the support of even 6% of their colleages to become leader? That would just result in the chaos we see now.

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    4. Hi, This 80% figure troubles me. We're not talking about 172 members of the public or 172 workers complaining about a bad boss. These are politicians. They're the most tactical of voters, their future careers depended on the patronage of the winner. One has to ask how many voted with the plotters because they expected the plot to win? A Keynesian beauty contest turned prisoners dilemma.

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  6. This comes down to arguing that members must accept that MPs have a veto over the choice of leader. How can you see Smith as “a leader who will be able to unite the party” when he is opening up a huge fissure? I guess you see the party just as MPs and ignore the members and the unions. A Smith victory will not bring unity but open warfare, which we sought to avoid last year. His position will probably become untenable. Most of the MPs and party officials backing him do not really believe in the policies he is offering and activists will not forgive him whatever he promises. The legal shenanigans will have deprived Smith of legitimacy in the eyes of many even if he does win. I can’t see how he can hold all that together.

    You persist in seeing this as a question of Corbyn’s personal qualities. We hear lots of complaints from MPs. and some of those might sincere, but most were never really reconciled to last year’s result. Corbyn does have admirable qualities of empathy and consistency, and judgement too on some big questions like Iraq, but this is about so much more than one man. We are not electing a führer. At the heart of this year’s struggle is the role of local, campaign, community and union activists. If Smith wins we will once again be driven out or marginalised, and it is only activists and members who can provide any guarantee against the return of neoliberalism to the centre of party policy.

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    1. "A Smith victory will not bring unity but open warfare" We already have open warfare, so how you can imagine a unity candidate will make it worse I cannot see.

      If you think the PLP is wedded to neoliberalism, then you have to remove the PLP. That will split the left for sure. How many years does it take to win a general election after that?

      The membership and the PLP have to cooperate. To find a leader that the PLP can work with with policies that the membership can accept. The left can only win if it is united. That is what all the evidence tells us.

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    2. You're right: we already have open warfare but it's an illusion to think that a Smith victory can change that. I don't understand how you can see him as a 'unity' candidate when he is causing such pain and division.

      Smith had an opportunity to act as a true unifier. If he had stuck firmly with Corbyn at the time of the no confidence vote, then he could have made criticisms that members would have listened to. But he opted for war.

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    3. But he's only a 'unity candidate' in your head, Simon.

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  7. "He will be overthrown by the Blairites, I am told, even though according to the Corbyn camp the original number of hostile MPs numbered less than 40. This is close to paranoia."

    It's not a question of being overthrown by Blairites. It's a question of reneging on opposition to neoliberalism.

    The well-trodden argument in your posts and the comments is that the issue is trust - can we trust that Smith is being truthful and honest about his new-found radicalism. What would help Smith's case would be several prominent supporters in the PLP coming out with a similar repudiation of neoliberalism. Instead we have nothing. So we have the spectacle of a neoliberal-supporting PLP putting up Smith as an anti-Corbyn candidate, while his radical policies are an isolated offering in that group. Do you wonder why this is not trusted?

    The other point being that, as neoliberalism has all the appearance of being dead in the water - first the Brexit vote, now May's recent announcements (if they can be trusted) - why should be PLP be hesitating to change direction? It is them who have left the anti-neoliberal vote to the right.

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    1. A key aspect of neoliberalism for me is a desire for a small state. Do you really think a majority of Labour MPs want a small state?

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    2. Hmmm, is it valid to select one aspect of your view of neoliberalism to make an argument?

      OK, let's replace the term neoliberalism with some thing like "the political/economic consensus post-1997 in favour of austerity, deregulation and a crackdown on social security".

      To be fair, Jess Phillips did repudiate her non-opposition to the post-election welfare cuts. But have any others? I mean you know what the main point of my comment is. Who in the PLP is coming out in support of Smith's new radical policies?

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    3. Yes. There's a tension at the heart of New Labour's version of neoliberalism between democratic centralism and market fundamentalism (which is why Andrew Gamble's 'The Free Economy and the Strong State' was so prescient) but market creep was a feature of the New Labour years. Is there an area of public life that hasn't been affected by New Public Management theory? And consider Owen Smith's public pronouncements on PFI and the health service.
      Any notion that a PLP largely made up of and informed by New Labour patronage and ideology believes in a big state is, I'm afraid, fanciful.

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  8. It would probably have been easier were Owen Smith to have distanced himself from and sought a solution to the exclusion from voting in the leadership election of 130,000 Labour members at the High Court, with the five who brought the case saying they could not take it to the Supreme Court due to the costs.



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  9. If the quality of "leadership", in the context of Labour, is by definition the support of the PLP, then no leftwinger, no matter how skilled, can ever be an acceptable leader, and logically none but the PLP should ever elect the leader.

    This isn't about Corbyn but the balance of authority between PLPs and CLPs. If a new leftwing candidate were to emerge, combining the leadership qualities of Napoleon and Attlee, she still wouldn't be acceptable to the PLP.

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    1. And the PLP's attempts to work with Corbyn over the last 9 months were just a sham. And all the complaints about his leadership, which correspond with real failings, are just a sham. And Lisa Nandy is really a Blairite.

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    2. Nor were our efforts to work with MPs, including those on the right of the party, a sham. Now that's been thrown back in our faces.

      Of course Corbyn has failings; everyone does. But this election is not about those. It's all about the party 'old guard', MPs and officials, protecting their position against members who want to assert their right to be consulted and help make policy. That's why the growth in the membership horrifies them.

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    3. She may not be a Blairite but has been groomed by the Don.

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    4. Lumping "the PLP" together is a mistake. But I think it would be correct to say that if we'd elected the best left-wing leader in the world last year, (s)he would still have had to contend with opposition from ex-ministers and other grandees, opposition from party donors and their chosen leaders-to-be, and (something which has really shocked me) opposition from the heart of the party - the party apparatus, the Whips' office and the deputy leader. I voted for Corbyn and Watson last year on the understanding that Watson - and the Whips - would work for Corbyn, smoothing things over for him within the party and making sure things got done; instead they've been at best sitting on the sidelines, at worst actively undermining him. I think it's disgraceful.

      I also think the left-wing MPs who have moved to supporting Smith (my own MP among them) have come to the conclusion that Corbyn's incapable of getting things done or uniting the party, when all that we know for certain is that he can't do those things under those conditions. But nobody could. Owen Smith's candidacy has the whiff of blackmail about it - look at the mess we've made! vote for our candidate and it will all go away! The trouble is, I don't think it necessarily would - and in any case, I don't like having my arm twisted.

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    5. 80% of the MPs last summer were opposed to Corbyn winning the leadership election before they had any experience of his leadership. Which raises the possibility, does it not, that they remain opposed to him due to (in my opinion misplaced) concerns about his electablity, rather than competence, and are using his so-called incompetence as an excuse to get rid of someone they were opposed to from the very start.

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    6. The majority of MPs did not vote for Ed Miliband, so nothing necessarily follows from that. Some, like Yvette Cooper, had no faith in his abilities from the start, but many others did accept positions in his cabinet. In addition, Corbyn and McDonnell were careful on most issues to adopt policies that were acceptable to the majority of the PLP. The incompetence, and the inability to work with others, is real enough. The issues over the Brexit campaign are real enough. Which indicates that it was Corbyn's leadership ability, not his policies, that led to the vote of no confidence.

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    7. I’m unconvinced by the ‘leadership quality’ argument because an alternative path existed that was rejected by the PLP majority. That path would have been first to support rule changes to reduce the proportion of MPs/MEPs required for a leadership nomination from 15% to 5%, so guaranteeing that a left candidate would be on the ballot in any subsequent election. This would then have opened the way to discussion around whether or not Corbyn was the best candidate.

      As it is, the choice presented to us is either to stick with Corbyn or be marginalised again as the managerial wing retakes control and the neo-Blairites emerge from their self-imposed silence. The rejection of the alternative path shows that this is not really about Corbyn’s ‘leadership quality’ at all but about destroying the left.

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    8. Policies are one thing, but the media will do its best to depict Corbyn as a lunatic, far left candidate, and I think that's a general impression the public has of Corbyn. Or, at least, a conception amongst Labour MPs, that Corbyn is unelectable, which I would suggest also plays a role in their moves against him.

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  10. "This is not a hopeful left, but a left that wants to rerun past victories..."

    Seems to me to be one that wants to rerun past defeats.

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  11. One of the interesting things that are implicit in the Labour party discussion, esp. on the Corbyn side, is the assumption that party loyalty is an intrinsic virtue (that when this is over, the PLP and their supporters should get with the program). But party loyalty isn't an instrinsic virtue. Party loyalty is only an instrumental virtue. Political parties are instruments that their members use to pursue their own political goals. As far as I can see, there is a fundamental disagreement between the various constituencies of the Labour party about political goals and programs. This is a fundamentally unstable situation.

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  12. The pivotal thing is which way the unions go. Without funding any SDP-style partition of the Labour party would be stone dead.

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  13. You seem to be wearing a strange set of blinkers which allows you to see only the left of the political field. You seem not to see that most Labour MPs, together with their associates in the Lords and in the media, oppose Corbyn, and have done from the start, not because of dissatisfaction with his leadership style but because they will not support a left-wing political programme. Smith cannot unite them behind such a programme any more than Corbyn could. If by accident or chicanery Smith were to become leader, one of two things must happen, or most probably both: he would swerve to the right as abruptly as he has swerved to the left, and the right wing of the party would move to depose him as quickly and ruthlessly as it has moved to depose Corbyn - but much more easily, because Smith, unlike Corbyn, has no personal support base within the party.

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    1. If MPs are as opposed to a left programme as you say, they will never cooperate with Corbyn. So you go down the path of deselection. As I said, that is a sure way to split the left.

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    2. Deselection of some MPs has now become unavoidable. We tried the path of working together but too many MPs have rejected that.

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    3. But the parliamentary party need to offer some kind of guarantees to the membership. Corbyn was only elected because of their charmlessness & incompetence. They seem stuck in the past unable to adapt or to think for themselves.

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    4. Simon, you assume an identity between LP and left. Given the voting record of many in the PLP - voting for war, voting against later inquiries into this, voting for austerity - that assumption seems very shaky.

      You are lining up with people whoseem agenda you've attacked on this blog repeatedly, and against those (for all their undoubted faults) whose standpoint is closest to your own.

      That seems terribly naive.

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    5. I know this perfectly well, so its not naivety. So what is it? As I have said so many times, a party where 80% of MPs vote no confidence in their leader cannot get elected. Voting for Corbyn may make members feel good, that they are on the right side etc etc, but the inevitable consequence of their vote is to say goodbye to government for a decade+.

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    6. Well yes, you've said so repeatedly. Do you have any evidence to back it up?

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    7. "We're gonna make you an offer you cannot refuse" is never a line to win loyalty.

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    8. MartinM. There is no evidence, because party leaders who lose the confidence of their MPs normally resign. Instead its common sense, which I outline above. Tell me why my common sense is wrong. You would be the first to do so.

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  14. This is a difficult one for me. I like Corbyn's principled stance on issues, even if I disagree on some (notably, Trident). But I can't deny that commanding so little support with fellow Labour MPs is a major problem and does suggest weakness as a leader. He was also painfully terrible on the Last Leg, which makes me wonder if he's as poor behind closed doors on unfamiliar topics. It's a pity Corbyn strongly rebuffed Smith's offer of becoming party president - we could've had Jeremy attracting members and Owen coordinating the PLP, which seemed like a winning combination. Overall, no matter who wins, I do wish they'd all band together. (Yes, hope over experience!)

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  15. "This is not a hopeful left, but a left that wants to rerun past victories rather than adapt to reality."

    What past victories? It can't be the Blair years, they hate him. It can't be Attlee, he started Briton's nuclear weapons programme, fought communists, and championed NATO. Wilson & Callaghan weren't exactly capital-S Socialists.

    Or are we looking further afield? Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin? Castro, Chávez?

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  16. You assert that: “MPs are not soldiers who must carry out orders (although even soldiers ordered into battle by a commander they think is hopeless do not fight very well), but people who have experienced Corbyn’s leadership at first hand.”

    I say that we members are not soldiers who must carry out orders of the 172 MPs (that lost the last two general elections, lost the leadership election to Corbyn and failed to win over traditional Labour votes in large swathes of the country during the EU referendum (although even soldiers ordered into battle by a commander they think is hopeless do not fight very well) but people who have experienced their incompetence at first hand.

    I’m sure you’ve seen the latest howler from Owen Smith that the 172 MPs chose as a personification of competence.

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    1. My point was that imagining that after the membership votes for Corbyn again MPs will suddenly decide Corbyn's OK after all is fantasy. My point is that if this election is seen as a war between the PLP and the membership, which you seem to think it is, everyone loses.

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    2. Your point would be better addressed to Tom Watson and the NEC then.

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    3. I agree with you on this Mr Wren-Lewis!until you say everyone losses,Labour can only fail if i they don't offer a real choice to the electorate,ii have policies that engage the electorate,iii the effects of others parties fore-filling points i and ii,
      It is petty obvious that labour has been failing on both points and therefore haven't engaged people(probably because they want centralist left or right)rather than engaging with the poor and disenfranchised,which is now not a feeling but obvious policy of labour over the last 20yrs! the party has been about getting the money from the Sir Alan Sugars and Fosters of this world which has made the labour party the slave not to the needs of it members but its financiers,(Attacking unions also proves this,& labour very poor response to it)this has shown itself in poor voting levels,the people want a party for the people the poor the disenfranchised and i believe nothing will stop that, has neoliberal economics goes from one crises to another & using protectionist economics under the disguise of free markets, to in reality protect their privilege,in other words denying others there rights to protect their privilege & that IS what has been happening since the late seventies.
      Purging those that want to keep people form engaging in politics will strengthen not weaken the power of the people which will engage the poor & disenfranchised to rally,this may not at first mean winning elections but it will hold those that have trampled over others their will of others to some accountability,with the knowledge that if they don't,they will be the ones who can't govern even if they hold power!

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    4. Agreed. But the PLP who seems to have political skills limited to Backroom fixing & bullying need to show they are prepared to adapt. And they need to deal with the outliers who have no interest in a labour government with policies to the left of Cameron

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    5. I'm sure I can't be the only lefty and Corbyn supporter who doesn't care what voters want or what MPs want, nor what is demanded by "reality", but instead wants to create a social and democratic movement that changes what reality is. People say that Corbyn will split the Labour party, will make Labour unelectable, will leave the toiling masses at the mercy of the Tories. And I say, you may well be right. Vote Corbyn.

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  17. Seems odd to me that the PLP's views on their leader are so routinely ignored by Corbyn's supporters. I mean, they can't ALL be Blairite stooges, Red Tories or Corporate puppets, can they?
    Fact is the PLP contains MP's with a range of views and positions. Some on the right have been disgracefully disloyal and have sought to make life as difficult as possible for Corbyn. They are in a minority though. The bulk of centrist and soft left MPs have, on the whole, given Corbyn a chance, have served in his cabinet, have been loyal and have tried to make things work. That such a majority have lost confidence in Corbyn's ability to effectively lead them really does tell you just how awful they think he is.
    From the outside and reading many comments from perfectly decent MPs who have been on the inside, it seems clear to me that Corbyn is unable to fulfil the role as leader of the opposition.
    Can Smith do better and will he move the party back to the centre right?
    Well, he can certainly be a more effective parliamentary leader and lead a broadly united PLP. That matters. Presenting yourself as a credible opposition is the first step to getting the electorate to consider voting for you at a GE. Will he move the party back towards the centre? Possibly to a degree but the notion that Labour will hark back to where they were under Blair and Brown is, I think, quite wrong. Things have moved on. It's surely obvious to most MPs and most of the party that Labour must break out of the Tory lite straightjacket and must forge a distinctive social democratic offering, though goodness knows they are a long way off doing that.
    If they haven't absorbed this lesson, well then there really is little hope for them.
    I've got to be optimistic that the lessons of the last 10 years and of Corbyn's election to the leadership, and of the support he has galvanised, are being understood.

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  18. Before he was elected you could see all of this coming. He had almost no support within the PLP and sooner or later this was going to happen. This doesn't mean that he hasn't made many tactical and strategic mistakes, but then this was always likely when he had no experience of working at this level and was facing a party and party structures which continually sought to undermine him.

    For those still supporting Corbyn there is the very strongly held belief that should Smith triumph the 'left will be put back in its box for decades' as one member of the Labour right told Channel 4's Gary Gibbon after Corbyn was elected.

    Corbyn supporters believe that should Smith win, the rules that govern the leadership elections will be changed back to a version similar to the old members-unions-PLP system (Watson openly discussed this last week) so that the PLP has much more control over who is selected . Because of this it is believed that Corbyn has to stay in place until the threshold for nominations for the leadership are changed to 5% or 10%. This way if Corbyn moves aside the left are guaranteed someone on the ballot to vote for and continue the party's move to the left.

    Many on left see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see left of centre interventionist economic policies enacted and have zero faith that significant parts of the relatively attractive policy suite being put forward by Smith making it into a future Labour election manifesto.

    Many also I think see Corbyn as placeholder for a more conveniently electable, less baggage laden figure from the 2010/2015 intake to emerge and take over before 2020.

    However in order for Corbyn or any other figure to have any chance of defeating the Tories, the Labour party must have unity and party discipline. Without that they cannot win.

    Corbyn is almost certain to win, and by a large margin. I also think the PLP won't accept him so that we will be in for a long and very damaging period of attritional warfare.

    There is of course a third, very unlikely option, outlined by Steve Richards who no one can accuse of being a Corbynite:

    " If they do not split there is only one other option. Instead of a deadly war of attrition that would probably lead to Corbyn winning a third leadership contest, with an office justifiably displaying extreme paranoia, the rebels could do the opposite.

    Every single Labour heavyweight could offer to serve on the front bench, perform well in parliament – the arena where they are strong, and become assertive in the shadow cabinet by sheer force of experience and political talent. These are figures shaped by ministerial experience, the highs of victory, the trauma of defeat.

    Such a front bench under a leader obliged to compromise and perhaps willing to go of his own volition later in the parliament could not be worse for anyone all than the current nightmare, in which all are trapped and with virtually no room to navigate. It might even be a little better. Call it a Third Way."

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    1. Precisely. Steve Richards has been one of the few adults in the room at The Guardian.

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    2. Oh come on - I'm being childish am I?

      Mike: Suppose this Third Way happens. Wouldn't you agree that every MP during a GE - whenever it comes - will be asked why they voted no confidence in Corbyn and have they changed their minds? There is no convincing answer to that. The leadership will be asked how can we be expected to vote for you when 80% etc etc. Labour will have a lot going for it in any GE but this is a killer as far as I can see. And it is very noticeable that no one has addressed this in comments.

      I know Corbyn is likely to win. But I can also see no way that any good will come from that. So I must say this, however much people do not want to hear it. Hoping it will somehow be alright is not an option for me.

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    3. Hi Simon - Yes I recognise that as being a major problem which is why the coup was so ill thought out. They assumed that he would just throw the towel in after the no confidence vote but anyone who knew him - or those behind him - could have told you that wouldn't happen. If you are going to carry out a coup you have to do it properly but this was amateurish stuff with no credible candidate and no plan to win over the membership if he didn't voluntarily step down.

      However I suspect the biggest problem is the not the vote of no confidence from most of his party - it's actually the things he has said about in the past over defence, foreign policy, the IRA, NATO etc. The papers and the Tories have even begun to mine that rich seam of problematic data but when they do it will be very damaging.

      But I do agree with you that this is going to end very badly. Either Corbyn will be ejected and much of the new membership will leave or many the rebels will find themselves deselected. A showdown I think is now inevitable barring some unforeseen miracle and it is pretty depressing that no one has managed to find a compromise.

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  19. There seems little doubt that Corbyn’s lethargy (or worse) contributed greatly to the Brexit result, therefore it’s fair to say that 48% of the referendum voters are very unlikely to ever vote for him in a general election. So unless Smith wins this leadership campaign then it’s likely that many of the angry & despondent Labour Remainer’s will throw the towel in and move their votes to a potential winning party that will try and mitigate the Brexit disaster.

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    1. Sorry, but the idea that 'Corbyn's lethargy' contributed to the Brexit result is just a media macro myth. I voted for Brexit, and Corbyn was the only person who came close to changing my mind. If he had been more forthright it would actually have made me less likely to change my mind.

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  20. This is interesting; the last couple of paragraphs contain some constructive demands, even if you think some of the earlier parts of the article are a bit overheated.

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    1. The tone is rather typical of Paul Mason, but I think his analysis of the media and how it's being used is pretty accurate.

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    2. The Economist article referred to is also worth a read.

      "True Labour obtains recognition from John Bercow as the official opposition. Donors are sought and local branches established. These swallow the moderate segments of Constituency Labour Parties and welcome a flood of new centre-left and centrist members, including many previously unaligned voters politicised by the Brexit vote. The new opposition leader, Angela Eagle, discards Mr Corbyn’s unelectable stances and puts real pressure on Theresa May."

      I honestly wonder how many drugs the writer had taken before writing that.

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  21. Paul Mason's latest is well worth reading. Scary mind, if true:

    https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/the-sound-of-blairite-silence-aed2ef726c8a#.7c10uo7xs

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  22. Question from a North American bystander

    From my understanding, the argument is thus:
    Labour voters went 2/3 remain, 1/3 out. The party isn't united under Corbyn, so he has to go.

    Smith is the unifying candidate. He says a second referendum must be held, i.e. let's vote again, and this time, let's do it right. I understand how emotionally satisfying that would be to voters still furious at the mendacity of Leave. However, that unites the Labour party how? Those white working class voters (1/3) are not going to become standby UKIP voters why?

    Second question:
    Why didn't the Labour Party (and the media) lose its shit when an election was won on the lies that Gordon Brown caused the housing bubble in Florida to collapse? These sorts of righteously angry pieces: https://www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2016/jul/22/how-technology-disrupted-the-truth-podcast
    are surely 7 years too late. What is the matter with Labour MPs and journalists to lose it now, and not then, especially as many of them were complicit in the previous "Big Lie" in UK politics (i.e. pointless austerity)?

    Last question: What exactly should Corbyn et al do to stop the "culture of abuse" at the moment? I've never understand concretely what is to be done here.

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    1. The recent open letter to Corbyn about abuse concluded by demanding he condemn (all) ‘campaigning outside MPs’ offices, surgeries etc’ - irrespective of whether it was peaceful & respectful or not - and called for leading Labour figures to be held accountable for any kind of complicity with abuse, up to and including ‘being present where posters, t-shirts etc are abusive’ (emphasis added). I think the perception is, quite simply, that the problem is caused by Corbyn's supporters, and the way to solve it is for Corbyn's supporters to shut up and go home. (More about this line of argument - which I think is often advanced without any cynicism or sense of partiality - in this blog post.)

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  23. Respectfully...
    I disagree with just about everything you say.
    Obviously the issues you raise are so important that they almost demand full essays in reply virtually no one has time to write.

    So let me make a couple of points.

    1. The idea that the Corbyn Project can go forward without Corbyn, under someone else's leadership is totally barmy. A number of people are suggesting this and they only show themselves to misunderstand the last 12 months and the rise of Corbyn/-ism completely. It's a total non-starter: like coming up the idea that you can play football without a ball.

    2. You've far too must respect for the anti-Corbyn PLP. There is no such thing as an objective view on them and neither should there be. It's as blatantly daft as suggesting that a single candidate can "unite the Labour Party". The entire point of the Corbyn Movement is that it is a fundamental break with New Labour (Blairite, Brownite and Ed M.-ite) and a complete rejection of it. Therefore, the idea of re-uniting what Corbyn represents and what he and his supporters want is, again, a farcical non-starter of an idea. So talking of splits, the Labour split has already happened.

    3. No assessment of the current situation cannot and must not incorporate the sheer immorality of the anti-Corbyn group. It must absorb the fact that this smearing, cheating, lying, fixing and manipulating behaviour means that they have placed themselves beyond the pale of acceptable politics.

    4. Therefore there is no going back. There is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. There is a war on. In this particular war, a truce is not possible. Corbyn Labour and anti-Corbyn Labour are 2 irreconcilable groups. I'm repeating myself, here, but it's a point that bears repetition. There are already two Labour Parties and discussion must proceed from this fact.

    5. What flows from this is thinking out what each individual involved in the war wants. We can all only speak for ourselves. Personally I want the each and every Labour MP directly involved in the Coup expelled from the party or deselected. Never mind worrying about them leaving, kick them out before they resign if possible. I am totally amazed that some observers who claim to want the best for the party can pretend or believe that this is not the totally obvious and reasonable thing to do, to happen. You don't compromise with bad people The Labour Party is not a place for fixers and cheats and nor should it be, ever.

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  24. Wow. It's quite clear that you have no idea what you are on about Simon. How sad anyone thought you had any kind of insight.

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  25. Have you heard yourself in these comments Simon? You sound like a Tory, utterly hostile to social democrats, sneering and dismissive of any attempt to change society in a more equitable sort of direction. To think I once thought of you as a worthwhile commentator!

    I think the moral of this story is never place your trust in the liberals, whatever their academic pedigree. They will always side with the status quo over any form of social democracy, even if it means giving ammunition to the Tory party and perpetuating the very economic polices you've made a lucrative career critisizing. We saw the same with Paul Krugman throwing Bernie Sanders under the bus in favour of Hillary Clinton - it's very easy to write about how bad inequality is on your blog, that's ok so long as it doesn't translate into policy, but when it comes to an actual contest for power, where vested interests are threatened, Krugman and Wren-Lewis and the rest of them side with the the right-wing against the left. No doubt for them, on their fat salaries, writing about the evils of inequality has a very abstract feel, a nice academic subject but not something they have any personal investment in, meaning it's quite easy for them to reconcile writing about how bad inequality is whilst simultaneously attacking the only political movement in the country interested in changing it. For those of us enduring poverty our choices are simple - Corbynism or Barbarism. We either win with Corbyn and a properly pro-working class Labour party or we continue to suffer at the hands of the Tories and their oligarch donors. I once thought of you as an ally, but since you're now implacably hostile to the Labour party (indeed, going out of your way to try to damage it with your public statements)for all intents and purposes your on their side. Don't start insincerely complaining about Tory party grinding the faces of the poor and vulnerable into the dirt - your continued attempts to denigrate anti-austerity politicians will be a small but crucial factor in enabling that suffering.

    The Parlimentary Labour Party is the parliamentary wing of the Labour movement. It has no god-given right to veto or overrule the democratic decisions of the membership. We members of the Labour party are not passive spectators, supporting our parliamentary faction against the other as if they were a football team, we are participants. We formulate the policies, run the campaigns, pay the bills and maintain this party, inside parliament and outside. If these people no longer support the Labour party or it's ideas they should do the decent thing and resign the Labour whip and call a by-election with them standing either as independents or as members of a political party that actually shares their views.

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  26. "You sound like a Tory". Well what I sound like to myself is someone who is fed up with inept Conservative rule, and does not want another decade or more of it because others on the left did not want to think about the consequences of their actions. I've lived through the 80s and 90s and have no wish to see history repeat itself.

    And tell me this - on what issues do I sound like a Tory? I even agree with Corbyn rather than Smith over Trident, but that does not make any difference to the fact that a leader than 80% of his MPs voting no confidence in him is going nowhere in terms of ever being able to implement his policies.

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