Saving Labour?

There seems to be an odd feeling among certain folk in the labour party that the party somehow needs saving from Jeremy Corbyn. Bizarrely they claim that he has no support amongst the membership – apart from a few hard left usurpers- and none amongst the electorate. 

The labour party is a democratic socialist party, and as such there are clear rules regarding leadership challenges. Unlike the tory party, labour MPs don’t need to put a motion of no confidence in, they just need signatures of 20% of the parliamentary party to ignite a leadership bit. The takeover that is underway could,  if the aforementioned claims are true, have been achieved easily, in a nice, friendly, grown up fashion by presenting the 50 signatures and taking a vote to the members, who apparently don’t support him anyway, and winning the election. Easy.

This isn’t,  however, what the PLP decided to do. Ten months after he won the leadership, much to the distain of the PLP who had their own candidates, we have seen the implementation of a long planned coup. A couple that the telegraph reported would happen months ago. They reported what would happen and when, yet we are still expected to believe this was all a reaction to Mr Corbyns appearances in the referendum campaign. A campaign in which he made more appearances than anyone except Cameron and Boris, and a campaign in which he managed to convinced 2/3rds of labour voters to vote remain.

The favourite to mount a leadership challenge is Angela Eagle, who cried on TV as she quit her shadow cabinet role in the wake of the resignations giving them as part of the reason.  Only the website “angela4leader” had been registered before the resignations started. It just doesn’t add up.

It looks like the coup may have been started and aborted before, around the time of the Syria debate. Reports suggest it was aborted after he Oldham by-election which was won with an increased majority. Local elections were a success and other by elections have also seen increased labour majorities. These success come as he is chastised as “unelectable” by the coup and by the mainstream press.

I believe that those responsible have chosen to go down the humiliation route,  rather than the democratic challenge route,  because they didn’t think they could convince the majority of members to their way of thinking. I feel they believe he would have walked the members vote. What does that say about their electability? How are we supposed to trust them to deliver a majority in parliament of they can’t convince a majority of their own members? They have, in fact, made it much harder for themselves. I, and many others,  may have been persuaded to back some of those involved in a democratic challenge, but not now. I couldn’t back someone for leader who is willing to  try and humiliate someone in this way. On top of the potential members they have lost, we have seen 60000 new members this week,and I imagine a lot of them have joined to support the leader. Although the right wing media, in particular the mail and the telegraph,  did run stories urging their readers to song up too.

There is a massive irony at play here. Those involved in terms coup are claiming Corbyn unelectable but don’t seem to think they can beat him in a leadership election. They are claiming he isn’t tough enough on the tories,  yet he has scored victory after victory and right now, while they are weakest it is the coup itself that has taken the heat off them and given them a free ride. They claim that Corbyn is splitting the party, but all he is doing is the job he was elected to do, he has even offered those responsible a way back from this and has stated repeatedly that he will happily go if they beat him in a leadership election.

I wish they’d stop their humiliation and either put up a candidate, or take the offer to work behind the leader in a united labour party offering a real alternative to conservative politics.

Democratic Socialist Party

This post was originally published here on Labour Teachers on 2nd January 2016.

Labour is a Democratic Socialist Party. It says so on my membership card. It’s a party built on an internal democracy. Historically, policy decisions have been made by the membership, rather than the small proportion of that membership who sit in the commons. We have the national policy forum and we have policy decisions made at conference. Parliamentary candidates are selected by the membership, democratically, before they stand for election.

I know all this, but earlier this week I read this piece from Tarjinder Gill (@teach_well) who was arguing that these things actually make the Labour party less democratic. I read this albeit well written piece with a bit of bemusement. The argument was that actually these PLP members have been elected by the general public in an election and as such have more of a mandate to set policy than the wider membership, and more than our democratically elected leader.

I feel that this is a twisted an flawed logic. Granted they have been elected by the populous, but there are many reasons why the logic is flawed. Firstly, the majority of these MPs were elected more because they were standing for the Labour party rather than their own personal policy views. I believe that these MPs who have been so outspoken against the leadership understand this, or they’d be able to break away safe in the knowledge that they would be returned as independents, or members of an alternative party, in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they should, I feel there’s room in the party for all the views and that we can look to work together, I do think that some of them need to stop writing vile horrible things about their leader and members though.

When it comes to policy decisions one wonders why these PLP members are so scared about the membership having a say. Surely if they believed their policies were best they’d be able to stand by them in a debate and get across to members why they should side with them? These are the members who selected them to run in the first place after all.

The article, and many of the things we have seen in other media written by Corbyn’s detractors, tries to conjure up an idea of him as a Stalinist, a totalitarian of the hard left. He’s not, he’s a democratic, keen to make the democracy even more democratic by removing the unelected elements we still have and keen to make his party even more democratic. He’s also not “hard left”, he’s further left than any leader recently, and is further left than the other main parties (and so the labour leader should be!) But he’s not hard left. In the party of Bevan, of Atlee, of Keir Hardie, he’d have been considered a moderate.

The internal democracy within the Labour party is a strength, not a weakness. Policy decisions, selection decisions and other decisions can be made together, through discussion and debate. That’s what Corbyn wants, a party that works together to build a better future for all. I just wish that everyone within the party would get behind him and engage with these debates to ensure their view is heard and the policies are the best for all. This would be much better than the vile attacks we are seeing on our leader and his supporters, and the equally vile retorts that some of his supporters feel the need to issue.

With friends like these….

This post was originally posted here on Labour Teachers on 23rd October 2015.

I’ve just read this post from @teach_well on Labour Teachers. It’s a terrifying hatchett job which suggests the new Labour leader is similar to the infamous leader of the British union of fascists.

With an almost worryingly bizarre irony the post suggests that Mr Corbyn is working against democracy. Corbyn has been elected by a massive majority of party members. And membership has swelled even further since his election. This shows that he has a massive democratic mandate to create policy. The others in the parliamentary party backed their own horses and found them, and their policy ideas,  rejected by the party as a whole. It seems to me that it’s actually the PLP that are working against democracy by blocking the policies that the party as a whole selected democratically over the summer when it elected Corbyn.

These personal attacks on Corbyn and his followers are all too prevalent in the media and in social media. Coming often from purported supporters and members of the party. But bizarrely we also hear of Corbyn supporters attacking the non “Corbynistas” as tories. I’ve not seen any of these attacks, but masses of attacks the other way.

The post attacks Corbyn for answering a question about policy disagreement with the phrases “I would try to change their minds”, suggesting this is undemocratic. But actually this is the very crux of democracy. The whole point of the parliamentary system is to engage in debate and try to persuade others to come around to your way of thinking. That’s why we have commons debates, Lords debates etc etc. So to suggest that a debate is undemocratic is an absolute nonsense.

The post also attacks the right to peaceful protest. A democratic right that we have in this country. The author seems to think that party conferences should be exempt from this, and that by exercising a democratic right to protest those involved are campaigning for a dictatorship, which is ridiculous inference. By protesting and lobbying the general populous can show the political classes their views, and potentially affect policy decisions.

It’s bizarre that so many members of the Labour party, a democratic socialist party, are so vocal in their opposition to Corbyn, a socialist who was democratically elected leader. The party is a broad church, often referred to as “the coalition on the left”, Corbyn has embraced that and wants involvement from all areas of the party in policy making. Yet those who didn’t want him don’t seem willing to engage, the knives are out and they’re being sharpened. With friends like these….

A surge to the left?

The campaigns ahead of the labour leadership elections have been extremely interesting to watch. Liz Kendal must have thought she was in with a good chance when she was backed by progress, but her tory – lite policies have done little to win over votes within the party and she is miles behind the others in terms of CLP nominations.

Jeremy Corbyn probably set out to ensure the left of the party had a voice in the election,  and I would imagine that to start with he didn’t think he had much of a chance. He has, however, captured the imagination of the party and the nation. Way out in the lead in terms of CLP votes and inspiring masses of long term labour voters, supporters and former members to join, or rejoin, the party they feel has been taken away from their position and too far to the right. The press have been on an all out attack, labelling him hard left, comparing him to Michael Foot, when actually he is just the voice of true Labour. Someone who believes there is another way to austerity.

He has certainly had an impact on the debate,  and I can’t help wonder if Andy Burnham’s pledge to renationalise the railways and re-regulate the buses has come in response to the clear left wing feeling the nation is holding. Perhaps Burnham feels he needs to move to the left to be in with a chance, or perhaps the mood of the nation has allowed him to reveal policies he has wanted to hold for a while but has been worried the nation would not want them.

As he moves to the left Yvette Cooper seems to be staying in that centre ground, and seems to be after Liz Kendal’s supporters second preferences. By ruling out working with Corbyn if either of them win she has certainly not done much for party unity.

The debate goes on, and we are finding out more about each potential leaders policies by the day, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Labour Leadership

I’ve just watched the Sunday Politics Labour Leadership debate, it’s good to see a platform for these hustings that everyone can access. I thought the debate was conducted in good spirit from most of the candidates although I wish it had been someone other than Andrew Neil in the Chair.

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn kept up his consistent anti – austerity message, favouring a growing economy over a shrinking state as the best means to decrease the defecit. He is clearly a contender who holds true Labour values of equality,  fairness and democracy and as leader would certainly take the party back to its roots. I thought he looked confident, knew his stuff and was unphased by Neil’s constant badgering. I particularly liked his answer to the question “would you have any of your leadership opponents in the shadow cabinet?” Which was to suggest all ministerial roles be decided democratically. He spoke of a need to add in more bands on housing to raise fair taxes. He spoke of a need to build more council houses and therefore bring down the housing benefit bill and he spoke of a need to tackle tax avoidance and evasion which costs the economy billions.

Liz Kendal

At the other end of the spectrum we had Liz Kendal, she’s a self proclaimed “Blairite” and is certainly trying to paint herself as a modern day Tony Blair. I think there is a difference though. Blair built a growing economy, he appealed to the middle class then handed the money to a true socialist in the exchequer who spent it on improving education, health, infrastructure and creating a greater Britain for all. Kendal sounds more like Cameron, with her repeated insistence that the party needs to adopt the policies of the Tories and to appeal to their voters, as well as questioning her opponents on how they would fund not cutting services that haven’t yet been cut,  I was left thinking “but they’re being paid for at the moment”.

Andy Burnham

Burnham spoke extremely well on a number of issues, he certainly seems to be in near constant agreement with Corbyn and looks like he wants to reconnect with traditional Labour values. He’s prepared to accept he has made mistakes and genuinely seems to want a better future for all. He, with Corbyn and Cooper, spoke vehemently against the cutting of child benefit and tax credits for third (and later) children but then stated he was “in favour of the principle of the benefits cap”. This seemed not to fit with some of his other views and I was left wondering if on some issues he was playing lip service to policies he thought were necessary to win the leadership of the party, then the country.

Yvette Cooper

Yvette spoke of the need to celebrate all that Labour achieved while in government. She holds true centre left values and wants to improve the country for all concerned. She expressed deep worries over the recent budget and how it will hit hard working families the hardest. She spoke of her pride in the diversity of the nation and linked this to her own heritage.

There was consensus between Burnham, Cooper and Corbyn on a number of issues, although the latter was the only one consistent in an anti – austerity message. It was good to see the debate and I hope to see more in the contest, to enable all Labour members and supporters to make the most informed choice.

Labour Leadership – Nominations Close Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the last day that Labour MPs can nominate leadership candidates. Currently three candidates  (Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal) have received the 35 nominations needed to be included in the debate and on the ballot. Mary Creagh has withdrawn from the contest so the only candidate left who has yet to receive the 35 nominations is Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is the candidate who is positioned furthest to the left of the party and is the only one who has taken an anti – austerity stance. He has currently got the backing of 21 MPs but needs 14 more by tomorrow.

I think it would be a real shame if Corbyn wasn’t to make it onto the ballot. There are many, vocal,  members on the left if the party calling for his inclusion and there are many disillusioned supporters or former supporters who see Corbyn as the leader that they could support. The other three cover the centre (Burnham and Cooper) and the right (Kendal) of the party so including a candidate to cover the left of the party would at least give them a voice in the leadership hustings and the wider debate.

I look forward to the debate, to see where the Labour party are heading and what they plan to do in opposition. I’m not sure who I’d like to lead them, I’m waiting for the debate ti rake place, although I’m certainly leaning towards Corbyn and definitely wouldn’t want Kendal, in fact I often wonder why she even joined the Labour party when she seems much more aligned politically to the Tories.

Labour Leadership

So just over a week since the election defeat and we’re now firmly into the process of choosing a new Labour leader. It didn’t take the Dark Lord long to come out and have his say, claiming that the failure of the party to accept his choice last time was ultimately responsible for the defeat and that moving foward the party would need to return to the “New Labour” of he and Blair, as the lurch to the left hasn’t worked. He presented us his candidate, who promptly withdrew.

These claims have been repeated by many on the right of the faction, but I have trouble believing them. The tory press sold a “Red Ed” line and the Blairites (I’ve always wondered if the term should be Mandelsonite) backed it. However, the reality was much different. Ed Miliband was a great leader with great policies, but I feel that on many issues (imigration and austerity for example) he pandered too much to his detractors on the right.

The election results showed that the Labour vote share was up on 2010. It was up more than the Conservative vote, and in England and Wales there was a gain in seats, although not a large enough gain. Blairites and many commentators have suggested that this was due to the middle class deserting a post New Labour party, but analysis of voters suggests this to be untrue,  and that actually the working class vote was the vote that hit hardest.

In England and Wales one would assume that a lot if that we think yo the Greens and to UKIP,  the Greens stood for the left wing principles Labour were missing, and UKIP built a worrying rhetoric around their anti hero that seems to have sold well to a group who feel Labour have left them behind. North of the border we saw real dominance from the SNP,  a party running in an anti cuts, anti austerity ticket. This all suggests to me that the next leader should be opposing these ideas and there’s certainly an appetite for it amongst the new blood, as well as the old guard.

In the wake if the 2010 election defeat the Tories and the tory press sold a lie to the public. They created this myth of “Labours Recession” and the “Conservative Recovery”. The truth is that Labours spending was working. Our country was improving at a rate of knots. Those of us of a certain age will remember being schooled in portacabains, buildings built on the cheap that were falling down. I remember someone kicking a football against the wall in the biology room and the wall literally falling off. The schools built under building schools for the future are amazing facilities to learn in. NHS waiting lists were under 2 weeks, A&E waiting times were brought down, patients were able to get high quality care fast. SureStart was improving lives of millions. That’s now all gone.

The Global recession was caused by the banking crisis, which was caused by banks, as Richard Burgon said in his acceptance speech, “The clue’s in the nane.” Labour’s failure to defend their spending and to tackle these myths cost a lot of votes, and I feel going forward this needs to be addressed.

Of the candidates Yvette Cooper seems to be the one who is most likely to stand up to austerity and reconnect the party with its roots. She’s already spoken about these issues and certainly seems to hold these views. I did also like Andy Burnham’s video announcing his candidacy, stressing that his vision is a party that stands up for all. Both he and Liz Kendal impressed me when I saw them speak on the NHS during the campaign, although I worry about Kendal’s backing of private health care providers.

I think that all 5 candidates (these 3 plus Tristram Hunt and Mary Creagh) are excellent speakers, all have the charisma that the public seem to think is more important than policies and all have strong feelings for the party.

Today we are all wondering what has had to Chukka, perhaps there is a skeleton? Perhaps he really just didn’t realise the scrutiny the media would present him? Perhaps he’s cut a Blair Brown deal with Hunt? Maybe there is another, personal reason for not running, or maybe he thinks 2025 is a more likely victory year so is holding off? We may never know, but we can’t let it detract us. We need a new leader to win us the election in 2020 and to restart the good work.

I’ve heard some say “we need this person to win,’ or “winning is more important than direction.” I disagree, the party is a democratic socialist party, and must select the leader that’s right for the party and the country. Whatever happens in the end though, we must unite behind the winner and not see the back stabbing Ed Miliband faced, or that Cameron is facing from Davis now.