Corbyn’s advantage in the Labour leadership contest can hardly be overstated. Even the hated BBC admitted it after his campaign launch in London. His backers have joined up his supporters in superior numbers to his critics, and are now in a holding pattern to keep those supporters insulated from the messages of his only rival, Owen Smith. They’ve got the font and the brand and all that merch (which omits reference to Labour so as to be inclusive of Socialist Worker Party &c). But there’s more to do to keep the actual September voters on message.
His most influential backers tend to sow doubt about the media. This doubt is now corroborated by Media academics, who report that most articles about Corbyn were negative and few represented his views in his own words. More Media academics signed a letter to the effect that the media is biased against Corbyn. The seasoned journalists implicated in this have been explaining for some months why their treatment of Corbyn is the way it is. And isn’t this the same kind of MsM consensus which many have complained Nigel Farage experiences as leader of UKIP (is there an academic protest letter about that) or Trump as Republican presidential candidate (again). It is also widely reported that Corbyn and his closest associates consider almost all journalists ideologically disobedient and won’t cooperate with them. Most recently Owen Jones felt he had to preempt criticism about interviewing Lisa Nandy (who supports Corbyn’s opponent Owen Smith) – what he wrote implied that Corbyn’s circle were hard to reach. Go figure. Meanwhile Corbyn even managed to look unpromising in the sympathetic Vice Media documentary The Outsider, which he gave privileged access until things got difficult.
The effect of sowing doubt about the media is that Corbyn supporters are driven into the Corbyn-friendly counter-news zone of VoxPolitical and The Canary. Unfortunately these news outlets have very low standards of journalism and a strong conspiracist spin. One of The Canary’s most prominent journalists admitted he had been in the grip of antisemitic explanations for the world’s ills. Since his (good, serious) apology he’s kept the baseless conspiracism but dropped the Jews from it. As this independent commentator observes, conspiracism is not left wing, and not politically literate. Marx invented Marxism to explain the world in structural ways so that people wouldn’t be so susceptible to the kinds of monocausal explanations which can be so easily manipulated and channeled. And yet these abound in Corbyn’s camp now. It’s been a long time since I saw a Corbyn supporter retweet the Morning Star. I never expected to be worrying about that. And on the implications of Corbyn people not engaging effectively with media, do read this piece about why Barking & Dagenham residents voted to leave the EU.
Then there’s the obscuring of facts. Yesterday I mentioned how under Corbyn Labour lost 18 seats in Council Elections. Today a Corbyn supporter asked me why his gains were being shown as a loss. Here is why. Because Labour lost seats overall, and that is extremely unusual for an opposition, and signals a collapse of confidence in Labour.
The effect of this obscuring of the facts is explained by this (independent) commentator: “If you drive a car with ice on the windows you are likely to crash because you cannot get accurate feedback on your progress due to the distorted (or blocked) view you have because of the ice. If we want Labour to win the general election in 2020 we need to plot our course based on an undistorted view of progress, otherwise we will most likely crash. We do ourselves no favours if we allow ourselves to have a distorted picture of reality”.
The next brick in the insulating layer between Corbyn supporters and Corbyn-critical views is to damp down alarm about stories of abuse at the hands of the Corbyn camp. McCluskey extravagantly blames MI5 which serves to undermine the credibility of accounts by members, targets and witnesses. Corbyn himself is left to act emollient and cheek-turning (though he can’t seem to talk about colleagues’ abuse without mentioning his own) while those around him set about promoting an agenda of scoffing. Diane Abbott, perhaps herself desensitised after relentless, tidal volumes of racist, sexist and body-fascist abuse, brushed off worries about antisemitism which turn out to be officially justified. So that’s anti-racism out of the window.
The effect of this desensitisation, combined with a credibility deficit for anybody complaining, combined with Corbyn’s self-positioning about there being no place for racism, abuse, &c, &c, &c that is that abuse is defined out of existence. It definitively can’t exist in Corbyn’s part of Labour because he has dissociated from it. Strange, then, that the behaviour is still going on much as before, not least in Labour Party meetings chaired by Corbyn supporters. This post from a Labour Party meeting July 8th and the comments underneath is a good example (note the chair of that CLP retweets Angela Eagle being called crap shortly after boasting that he doesn’t hurl abuse from the safety of social media). And so it goes on:
Look at ’em all. Bloody MI5. James Bond, Bodie, Doyle, the lot. pic.twitter.com/3YPmNWOj9n
— John Harris (@johnharris1969) July 22, 2016
So when a Momentum panelist on a political Q&A programme says they haven’t had any complaints, that’s probably because anybody on the receiving end of misconduct in the name of Corbyn / Momentum knows that complaining to Corbyn / Momentum would be futile. Abuse cannot exist because they have pledged there will be none. And Chakrabarti didn’t grasp the nettle (says another independent commentator) of the leader’s own associations, or his educational needs. People (mostly men) respond along the lines of “you must concede that shit like this does indeed go on in times like this…naïve to think otherwise.” That is a very laissez faire response which can only normalise trolling. The trick has been pulled off when John McDonnell calls his colleagues “fucking useless” and no Corbyn supporter is seen (by me) to complain.
Another part of the strategy is to label anyone who reaches a reluctant, pragmatic accommodation with the parliamentary system (incidentally a system which keeps hard right groups out of power) as a shameful Blairite and careerist. A quick search of the web or your chosen social media channel will reveal how widespread this is. Hence it was that I spoke recently with a Corbyn supporter who actually told me that Corbyn was both very good in opposition and also incapable of winning a general election. So to this and many other Corbyn supporters, not doing much to win a majority is a virtue. And that is not going to work. Corbyn has always overclaimed his influence. Take the labstention over the Welfare Bill, cited by so many Corbyn supporters as evidence that Labour MPs are bad to their cores. Here is an explanation. It’s not obvious. I can see why it was misunderstood. But to anybody skeptical of gesture politics, it makes sense.
The effect of rubbishing 80% of the parliamentary party is to make Corbyn’s supporters look as if they should be in a pressure group rather than a political party. However, as we can see from the nine months of Corbyn inactivity and poor prioritisation (how many Cuba meetings at critical moments – what can he be thinking?) they admire integrity of rhetoric over action any day of the week, so it doesn’t at all dent Corbyn support.
And finally, if anybody has the temerity to say that Corbyn supporters have fallen into personality cultishness, the response must be extravagant offence. That Corbyn must at all costs be kept in place is testament to his backers’ failure to build a sustainable movement. As one (independent) commentator wrote, Corbyn is “as much a top-down mediated phenomenon as Blair”, and
“…if Corbynism actually was a social movement that had developed over time and culminated in, rather than started with, Corbyn’s leadership victory — if Momentum really was the rebirth of Militant, with well-organised new members embedded within their local parties, taking up positions of power, standing for office — then the importance of Corbyn himself would be correspondingly reduced.”
most of those who were simply seduced by his rhetoric have found it to be empty – most of his economists (e.g. Murphy, Blanchflower, Picketty), several of his aides (e.g. Coleman), most of those who nominated him (e.g. Cox and Coyle) not to mention his shadow cabinet (most eloquently Nandy, Debbonaire, and Greenwood) – have left him. In fact most of the people who were up for working with him and know him best as a colleague have left him. Are people seriously going to say they don’t know better than we do? And now there is an alternative from the same part of the political spectrum as Corbyn – he’s Owen Smith, a man with different, to my mind far more promising, baggage. For one thing, he has some concrete policy pledges. I wanted Eagle but I’ll take Smith.
So this, as I see it, is the character of Corbynist campaigns. These aspects make it moribund. We may be at peak Corbyn but the fact is, with the more pragmatic parts of his support having moved to Owen Smith, the remainder are the most fixed on Corbyn, and the least likely to demand anything of Corbyn, and the most dedicated, energetic and creative in explaining away anything which Corbyn &c do wrong. I guess they are personally secure enough off not to be personally threatened by another term of Conservative government. And they are almost certainly the majority of those entitled to vote in the Labour leadership election.
So changing their minds is our challenge. For obvious reasons I doubt I’m doing that here. I have ‘othered’ Corbyn supporters and not shown them respect. That is because I think these things are true and need airing. So, on principle this has been a civilly disrespectful post and not a unity post, I hope it makes space for Corbyn’s bridge-building opponents to do some persuasion and some unity. And here’s where I may now get called a Zionist Blairite agent who couldn’t get raped, or similar. If that’s you, then alternatively you could, in an equally civil if disrespectful way, challenge me substantially on the facts of this, or the analysis of this.