Jones and Smith

I am voting for Owen Smith for Leader of the Labour Party.  Change is needed. Jeremy Corbyn failed to convey the party’s position in the EU referendum and is deeply unpopular with public, despite claims last year that he was in line with public thinking.
I have never been a fan of Owen Jones, the left activist who features in The Guardian.  Too many of the leftist ticks that draw from the 1920’s.  So his latest statement on the crisis the Labour party faces is a bit of a surprise and might be a moment for change, if what we are dealing with, in Momentum, is not just the latest version of anti-politics, but a version without the mass appeal.

Owen Jones poses “Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer” and starts with “Labour and the left teeter on the brink of disaster.”  He starts by bewailing allegations of bad faith as an explanation for all the problems – and this is the first of many points where I feel like saying that’s one of the ticks.
Bad faith – cos he’s not prepared to be uncritical; cos he has a career in politics and journalism; cos he has “never really been left-wing at all”; cos he’s “shifting politically to the right”; cos he “support[s] the coup against Corbyn”; cos it’s “like the Miners’ Strike. You just have to pick sides.” Owen wades through paragraphs of justifying  his views against these charges of bad faith – made agonising cos that’s the “milieu” he’s been a part of [and note, he’s been a kind of SPAD].  Corbyn only stood for leader to have the debate and they didn’t expect to win.  More charges for him to deny – cos he didn’t want Jeremy to win or to succeed; cos he’s too nice about the political establishment.
But Owen warned them about what to do and they didn’t do it. “first impressions were critical: most people [do not] take a daily interest in politics. … Corbyn’s leadership acceptance speech …  was not, let’s say, a classic in the genre of reaching out to a wider audience. The appointment of the Shadow Cabinet was a PR disaster. For the first few days, the new leader was barely on TV … A speech to the TUC a few days after his victory similarly failed to reach out to the country. Jeremy Corbyn began his term in office as the first Leader of the Opposition ever to have a negative personal rating. His ratings slid from there.”  It was “critical … for the leadership to come out of its comfort zone and address the weaknesses his enemies were honing in on” – patriotism, “the burgeoning ranks of the self-employed”, “rather than simply being anti-austerity, Labour was pro-something else; as well as building a coalition of middle-income and low-income people and addressing issues like immigration. I genuinely thought — and think — it is possible for a left-led Labour Party under concerted attack to cut through with an inspiring alternative that would resonate with millions of people.” Counter-challenges to “Establishment hostility” undermined by “an utterly ineffective strategy to deal with it and cut through with a popular message.”
“As Jeremy Corbyn is surrounded by cheering crowds, Labour generally, and the left specifically, are teetering on the edge of looming calamity.” Then back to fending off chargs of bad faith. But “If Labour ends up being routed, then there’s a very good chance those ideas will once again be associated with calamitous defeat for a generation ….  Labour faces electoral oblivion.” c.f. ‘Enjoy the party, stop being on such a downer!’ “And that is why the questions below need answers. … for the future of the Labour party — the only means the left in this country has ever had to wield influence through national government”.

1. “How can the disastrous polling be turned around?”
“Labour’s current polling is calamitous. No party has ever won an election with such disastrous polling …”. … ‘on the team better able to manage the economy’, 53% of Britons opted for Theresa May and Philip Hammond, while 15% opted for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.” “Corbyn started his leadership with a net negative rating. (Ed Miliband — who went on to lose — started with a net 19% positive approval rating); it has since slumped to minus 41%.” … “one in three Labour voters think Theresa May would make a better Prime Minister than their own party leader and — most heartbreakingly of all — 18 to 24 year olds preferred May.” “The response to this normally involves citing the size of rallies and the surge in Labour’s membership. … But Michael Foot attracted huge rallies across the country in the build-up to Labour’s 1983 general election disaster.”  … “So my question is: how is this polling turned around?”

2. “Where is the clear vision?”
“Labour under Ed Miliband jumped around from vision to vision. The ‘squeezed middle’, ‘One Nation Labour’, ‘the British promise’, ‘predistribution’ (catchy). All of them were abstract.”  … “it is very easy to sum up the Cameron and Osborne’s Tories’ vision.” … “…’anti-austerity’ is an abstraction for most people.” Not sure  Corbyn’s vision [quoted] “will resonate with the majority of people.”

3. “How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?”
“The Labour leadership effectively has the same fiscal rule as Ed Balls … [also] proposes a British investment bank: again … [also} equal pay audits. … [all]  in the last manifesto.”  … “anti-austerity: … [but]  their fiscal rule … the same, including a focus on deficit reduction. ‘Deficit denial is a non-starter for anyone to have economic credibility with the electorate’, wrote John McDonnell. … renationalise the railways, … reverse NHS privatisation: again, [like] Labour at the last election.”  “Corbyn opposed the Iraq war: so did Miliband.”  [check]  ” vote against the bombing of Syria, as it was under Miliband”.
“… Ed Miliband presented his policies as less left-wing than they actually were, and now the current leadership presents them as more left-wing than they actually are.” …
OK, only a year in, but not a clear idea of what will be offered.

4. “What’s the media strategy?”
“Yes, the media are always going to demonise a left-wing leader” … Sadiq Khan “managed to counteract it, and won. His ratings are extremely favourable. The press lost.”
No “clear media strategy. John McDonnell … solid performer. But Corbyn often seems entirely missing in action … Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister, the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, the collapse of the Government’s economic strategy, the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, soaring hate crimes after Brexit, and so on. Where have been the key media interventions here?” … “Many of Corbyn’s key supporters will not recognise this picture, because they follow his social media accounts. … a huge gap between Corbyn supporters and the rest of the public when it comes to getting news off social media.”… at the last General Electio, Tories targetted key messages to selected voters c.f. energise your core supporters all the time, but not reaching out.  …” the Tories’ social media strategy … was not a substitute, but just a complement to a wide-ranging overall package.” … “Most people hear a bit of news about politics on the TV or radio” which “means appearing on TV and radio at every possible opportunity” …

5. “What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?”
“Britain has an ageing population. … older Britons the most likely to turn out to vote, but they are increasingly likely to vote Conservative. … Labour had a huge lead among 18 to 24 year olds, but only 43% voted … Unless Labour can win a higher proportion of older voters, the party will never govern again.  … Corbyn … strategy [has] some sensible starting points” but not widely known. …

6. “What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?”
“This was identified as a key priority during Corbyn’s last leadership campaign…. At the last Holyrood elections, Scottish Labour came a disastrous third. That’s not to blame Corbyn [but] while Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has a +58 net rating among Scottish Labour voters, Jeremy Corbyn languishes on -47% among Scottish Labour voters. …

7. “What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?”
“…  to have a chance of forming a government — Labour needs to make some inroads into the Conservative vote.  Corbyn … spoke of dealing with the housing crisis, decreasing student debt, promoting new industries like solar panels, and asking them if they were comfortable with rising inequalities ” … not  a convincing strategy for persuading Conservative voters who didn’t want to plump for Labour under Ed Miliband.” …

8. “How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?”
“Britain just voted to leave the European Union in what, above all else, was a vote on immigration. Some of the communities who most strongly voted Leave were working-class Labour constituencies in the North. … it was obvious to me what was going to happen before the result. Labour has to at least engage with where people are at”. …
{A less compelling section; for me immigration should be dealt with much more as a labour market issue.]

9. “How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?”
“… Having a mass membership is a real achievement, and one that should be lauded. But unless it can be mobilised in the wider community to reach those who are not already convinced, then its role in winning over the wider public will be limited.” [and the membership can “become defensive… that defensiveness can turn into intolerance towards any criticism.”
“… a movement will only win over people by being inclusive, optimistic, cheerful even, love-bombing the rest of the population. A belief that even differences of opinion on the left can’t be tolerated — well, that cannot bode well.”

“Labour faces an existential crisis.”  [Wrong – I think existential doesn’t mean exists, but exists only in people’s minds.] … The situation is extremely grave and unless satisfactory answers are offered, we are nothing but the accomplices of the very people we oppose.” …

My Quick Take.
Corbyn had a point – and won last year’s ballot with a majority of the previous members – and that mainstream Labour had become part of the stale funk of British politics are points I might find common ground on.
I’ve some criticisms, especially on the latter points of his full article, but the one big point I think he’s missed is that Momentum people think we can win without reaching to people who’ve previously voted Conservative.
But this article ranks alongside Lilian Greenwood MP’s speech (about Corbyn not acting as a Labour leader should) in drawing people’s attention to the reality of Corbyn’s politics and as having the potential to be one of the significant statements of this leadership campaign.


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