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Critical Times, Paul Way-Rider

Jez we can

Hot’s Sean O’Shea reports on the aftermath of the Labour Leadership Election, some of the challenges facing newly elected Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn and the East Hastings Labour Party’s victory celebration.

Corbyn does have a lot of support from MPs, it’s just that they’re all in the SNP.

Frankie Boyle, Guardian

The fact that Corbyn’s initials happen to be the same as a certain Jewish heretic who came to a sticky end for his troubles on behalf of humanity is an irony that may not have escaped the attention of HOT readers. I hope the outlook for Jeremy is a little more auspicious than that of the man who flouted convention and, after raising Lazarus from the dead, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

The early signs are not reassuring, and though he may be credited for raising the Labour Party from the dead, Corbyn has so far received little thanks for his efforts.

It’s worth recalling some of the statistics. The vast majority of the Parliamentary Party didn’t support Corbyn. He won 49.6% of the Constituency Party member’s votes, and though less than half of union members voted in the leadership election, Corbyn got a comfortable majority of 57.6% of their votes. It was among Registered Supporters that he gained a decisive victory with a resounding 83.8%. So outside Parliament things look bright, or potentially so, even allowing for the likely internecine battles still to be fought at constituency level and the issue of how the enthusiastic new supporters – at present an inchoate group – may be galvanized into an enduring force and incorporated as full members of the Labour Party.

A parliamentary wake & U-turns

Inside Parliament, for now at least, the outlook looks bleak. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall when Corbyn addressed the Parliamentary Party on Monday afternoon (14th September).  Rather than have to pretend to congratulate him on his success many MPs would have probably preferred to be still on holiday. Fully aware of their lack of support I imagine Corbyn himself would have preferred to be attending a march, helping his constituents or working on his allotment. Because he’s a public spirited man he had cast his hat in the ring with little expectation of success. His turn had come and there was no one else available on the left to fulfil this role.

Given his reputation for honesty Corbyn might have started his address as follows: “Comrades I would like to thank everyone for not voting for me. However in spite of your efforts to ensure I wouldn’t win there were many others outside of this place who felt that politics needed to change and that I was worthy of their support. So, as the late Vladimir Lenin said in his famous pamphlet of the same name, the question is ‘What is to be done?’ There is no point in just glaring at me or making difficult times more difficult. So any suggestions – and don’t all jump at once?”

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, who supported Yvette Cooper in the Labour Leadership Election, described the atmosphere in the Parliamentary Party as ‘funereal, and things didn’t look much better in the newly appointed Shadow Cabinet most of whom, we need to remind ourselves, did not vote for Jeremy.

Confessions & declarations

First there was a series of confessions about the mistakes and bad jokes of the past in which starred the newly appointed Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonald. Matters for which he apologised included remarks he had made about the IRA and his historic reference to how Margaret Thatcher should have been assassinated. But he insisted that the economy would be safe in his hands.

There followed a series of declarations. Many newly appointed Shadow Cabinet ministers used their initial interviews with the media to make clear their differences with Corbyn and to spell out the circumstances in which they would resign. Tom Watson, the newly appointed Deputy Leader, was the first to kick off reminding us all that he had his own separate mandate whilst he went on to spell out his differences with his leader. He was followed by Lord Falconer, Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Lord Chancellor– and friend of Tony Blair– who unsurprisingly announced the longest list of differences, and also the longest list of circumstances in which he would resign.

Other shadow ministers seemed to be trying to define Corbyn’s leadership role as that of a temporary chairman and began reinterpreting his policy programme. We were told that Corbyn’s manifesto was just a series of suggestions or ‘proposals’. He was promoting a ‘new pluralism’ and it was only on this understanding that many of the new Shadow Cabinet ministers had agreed to accept their appointments.

Subsequently policy shifts seemed to be occurring on a variety of issues including welfare, tax and defence culminating in an announcement that Labour would be advocating remaining in the EU in spite of Corbyn’s previously stated reservations. Mid-week a bit of sex was thrown into the mix with an account of an alleged liaison, way back in the seventies, between Jeremy and comrade Diane Abbott, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. By the end of the week Corbyn was reportedly promising to sing the national anthem at the earliest opportunity and go on bended knee before the Queen if that was expected of a Privy Councillor. And if he didn’t want to bomb Syria, well his Shadow Cabinet and party would act on conscience and support the Tories should they decide to do so. In the words of one cynical commentator, they would only be taking a leaf out of their leader’s book.

The agony & the ecstasy

In the space of a week Corbyn had progressed from the fleeting ecstasy of victory to the agony of having to lead a Parliamentary Party who clearly resented and resisted his leadership. He was in an invidious and politically unprecedented position – and in human terms deserved sympathy.

In Parliament he faces a comparatively united Tory party or at least one which supports its leader. Behind him are in excess of two hundred disgruntled, stony-faced non-supporters who seem to eagerly await his downfall. And by his side a deputy who urges MPs to respect their leader while he himself  publically disagrees with some of the  latter’s main policy proposals, and in barely coded language reminds us all of his readiness to take over when Corbyn bites the dust. With friends like these who needs enemies?

Polly Toynbee, writing in the in the Guardian on Tuesday 15th September, issued a warning to those who ‘flounce out’ on the new leader. Sensing Jeremy’s plight and vulnerability and the unseemly drama that was unfolding before her eyes, she struck a decidedly positive and emollient tone urging MPs not to turn their back on Jeremy and to support his ‘hope and change message’. It remains to be seen whether anyone takes her advice.

Local celebrations

I went along to the victory celebration of the East Hastings Labour Party at the White Rock on Saturday (12th Sept). I was expecting a degree of euphoria, diversity, colour and pizzazz. I was also expecting to see some new faces, both young and old, enjoying their success and possibly engaged in lively intellectual debate about the future of the party.

The event comprised a small, homogenous and inconspicuous gathering of long-standing members of a certain age, including a few councillors, who had assembled in the bar along with the diners. There was an understandably genial atmosphere and exchange of hugs. However the only thing that distinguished them from any other  group of middle-class patrons quietly meeting for drinks on a Saturday night was the presence of a red flag rather incongruously hanging in the bar side-room.

I wondered where all the new supporters were gone, particularly the young people. Perhaps they had decided to celebrate somewhere else. And as to local party members, who I’m sure must number more than a dozen people, perhaps most of them were Blairites who, lacking any reason to celebrate may have chosen to snub their comrades and drown their sorrows indoors.

With some disappointment I resigned myself to catching an early bus home and contented myself with watching the ‘euphoria’ on television.

If Labour’s seminal new movement is to develop and flourish and become truly inclusive there needs to be continuing change in the culture and organisation of the party at both local and national levels. New supporters bring minds as well as legs and will expect to be socially and intellectually engaged, and given opportunity to fully participate in debate and decision making as well as contributing to the more mundane grassroots footwork customarily expected of new recruits.

For a party that has not, until recently, been overwhelmed with new members or renowned for its open and vigorous debate – this will be a challenge.

A further and perhaps more pressing concern for new supporters will be the fate of Corbyn’s programme which they so passionately fought for and which seems at this early stage, and in the context of the new pluralism, to have become quite ragged.

SOS

Posted 03:34 Thursday, Sep 24, 2015 In: Politics,SOS

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