Here is my response to at least some of Owen Jones’s questions for Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. His lengthy blog proved unexpectedly popular with the 172 MPs, while leading to disorientation and – in some cases – to downright anger from some of his followers on twitter. A third group reminded the rest of us that they’d long been saying, “I told you so. Owen Jones was never one of us.” Owen Jones is a socialist, and like the rest of us, he speaks for himself, and he also changes his mind from time to time. Big deal.
I was disappointed in Owen’s blog, as I took it as a given that – despite going through the motions, feeling the need to pretend to be neutral – he’d vote for Jeremy Corbyn without a second thought, and that began to look quite unlikely. The 172 MPs and their hangers on, as well as David Cameron, Theresa May and all the Tory frontbench and backbench MPs who gave Hilary Benn a standing ovation for attacking Jeremy Corbyn… All of these reactionaries were celebrating on reading Owen Jones’s blog, openly predicting this intervention may actually tip the balance by persuading enough of the left to abandon Corbyn.
Disappointed? Yes. Angry? Not really. I wanted to give Owen the benefit of the doubt. I’m so glad I did that. After going to bed disappointed at the reaction on Twitter, Owen quickly distanced himself from his newfound fan club on the right. Owen clearly wanted to be convinced, and many of us are taking up his challenge – although I would have hoped Paul Mason’s blog would be enough to do that on its own: maybe he hasn’t had time to read it yet; alternatively, he is still too overwhelmed by unaddressed anti-Corbyn prejudices that it’s going to take a bit longer than we’d hoped. Whether he’s already been convinced or not is besides the point. Let others add flesh to Paul Mason’s bones of a strategy for winning the next election. Here is my modest attempt.
I don’t blame Owen for raising questions. I wish he’d done this long ago. Paul Mason’s unexpressed anxieties mirror my own. However, unlike Owen, I never felt any need to hold back. I’ve been predicting the PLP’s sabotage being raised to this degree from before Jeremy Corbyn won first time round. I did want Corbyn to try to make the best of the PLP bequeathed to him by Ed Miliband and Brown and Blai. But I always felt he wasn’t doing enough. A year has been wasted, but the backlash the 172 strong chicken coup has provoked is, as Paul Mason rightly points out, our opportunity to turn things around.
Turning things round depends to a significant extent on identifying the weaknesses of our enemies, and Paul Mason is 100% right on just how weak they are. The Tories are fragmented, and Theresa May has made that situation still worse by her cull of David Cameron’s supporters, and by handing the Brexiteers a poisoned chalice, one that will exasperate their fans in UKIP.
Labour is busy being reborn with an ocean of new blood, bouncy-bouncy youthful activists, and can easily reach out to Green Party activists and voters by drawing them into the party. It’s not in Caroline Lucas’s interest to split the vote, nor is it in the interest of TUSC. An electoral non-aggression pact isn’t a done deal, but I think the progressive forces can win, more or less by joining Labour. UKIP won’t win in Labour heartlands provided candidates sing from Jeremy Corbyn’s hymnsheet, rather than to ape the xenophobia of Nigel Farage and the Tory right, and broadcasters who have been whipping up xenophobia for years. Voters need hope, not scapegoats. Corbyn can eat into UKIP’s vote, while Theresa May’s Tories are destined pay a very heavy price for trying to renege of the single market that the racists thought they were voting against. Blairites in such a context have nowhere to go. If they split, that’s the last we’ll ever hear of them.
Because the 172 MPs realize they can’t dislodge Jeremy Corbyn, their best bet as a small group of individuals is to try to do deals to prolong their parliamentary careers for as long as possible. If they think they can avoid deselection, then they’ll do that. Some may want to provoke expulsion, praying the 172 will rally to them as individuals. I suspect they’ll be disappointed. Local CLPs and the NEC will need to examine MPs’ behavior on a case-by-case basis. But expulsion has to be the very last resort.
Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters look forward to more ‘unresignations’, if possible. How do we maximise them, and how do we lower the rate of rebellions against Labour’s whipping operation? This is about tactics. We have to play it by ear. Carrots and stick are the order of the day. Forcing all 172 MPs into a corner that gives them no option but to split is idiotic. Paul Mason’s proposals are more than they deserve. Nevertheless, if those concessions keep some of them on board, that’s a good thing. I think it should give the entire Labour Party a set of perspective to hold the operation together until the general election, and 90% of the party’s membership will accept this, placing intolerable pressure on the MPs to accept this deal. Then there’s the manifesto. Then MPs will need to decide whether they want to be Labour candidates at the next general election or not. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. CLPs can decide who represents the members. In such circumstances, Labour can win a landslide victory. That’s not whistling in the wind. It’s not empty rhetoric. It’s a fact.
Can Labour win a general election without favorable media exposure? Owen Jones doesn’t think so, but refuses to face up to the consequences of what he’s saying given that we live in a world where the media is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the CBI and other ultra-rich Thatcherite bampots. In my opinion Jeremy Corbyn can be elected Prime Minister in a landslide victory even with the broadcasters remaining 100% biased against us. But that is not the same as saying there’s nothing we can do to get better coverage on the telly; we can, and we need to see to it that we do.
Just because mass rallies and social media can expose Tory liars at the BBC, SKY News, Channel4 News, that’s no reason to accept this as a fait accompli. Owen Jones was right to insist that social media is not enough. But what’s his solution? To rely on Jess Phillips to do the job for us? Or Owen Smith? They inspire no one. And, from the perspective of most Labour voters, they (not Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters) are unelectable. Polls, let’s face facts, are not as good as they should be. But that’s because of the 172 MPs. I wasn’t happy with Labour’s polls prior to the Chicken Coup, although many others pretend they weren’t that bad. These polls are a damning indictment of the MPs who appear on a regular basis on the telly and radio. And the television, and radio, editors censor Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters, deliberately picking MPs they trust to sabotage Labour. And this is no recent phenomenon. Time to impose some discipline on MPs given television and radio exposure. Those bringing the party into disrepute need to face the consequences.
Owen Jones friend – Clive Lewis – has been, at least in my opinion, extremely weak. His support for Jeremy Corbyn has always struck me as paper thin, at best. Rumours are he’s been canvassing to dump Corbyn for a very long time, and that’s what I’ve felt every time I’ve heard him interviewed. Owen admits he’s tried to get him in place as Labour’s leader before the next general election. I would vigorously oppose that idea, and I’m sure all Jeremy Corbyn’s voters agree with me on that.
Clive Lewis has spent the last year defending free votes in the Shadow Cabinet. But those are hated by Labour voters, repelling Labour’s potential voters. What they hell are we supposed to be voting for? Clive has long denounced deselection. But deselection has always been inevitable, and should have been defended as thoroughly democratic from day one of Jeremy Corbyn’s term as leader of the Labour Party. The Chicken Coup must surely have woken everyone up to why deselection is no optional extra. If Labour’s half a million Labour members can’t select their own candidates for MPs, then the general election is a farce. This is not democracy when no one is allowed any real choice.
The resignations mean that it’s now tougher for the Tory editors to censor Jeremy Corbyn representatives to the degree they once did. When the ‘unresignations’ kick in, those wanting to be brought back onto the front bench need to be vetted. If they can’t defend the members priorities, then back to the backbenches they must go. If that means MPs being lumbered with extra work, they’ll need to hire more staff to help them with their added workload. But the front bench needs discipline. Then Labour can, finally, get its message across on television and radio as well as it does on twitter.
We can look forward to a virtuous circle with disciplined Labour MPs on the television and radio contributing to much improved opnions polls, which in turn will increase audience figures for those programs that give airtime to Corbyn’s best media perforers. If the backbench MPs keep sabotaging the party in order to damage it electorally, then that will merely accelerate the deselection process of the individual MPs in question. The ball is entirely in the court of the trouble-makers.
Some Corbyn supporters want to make a virtue out of necessity. They insist that Corbyn’s supporters don’t need to make use of the broadcast media. Oh yes we do. Only ultra-lefts legitimize a division of labour whereby the Tory ‘journalists’ explain why Corbyn is kept off the telly and they- the ultra-lefts – use twitter to explain why we don’t actually want him or his supporters on telly to have our opportunity to expose the liars. Of course we want our right of reply. Stop making excuses for these Tory editors and broadcasters. Expose them every chance we get. #WeAreHisMedia is a means of drawing attention to the bias of the BBC, SKY, Channel4 News. It is not a justification for boycotting these stations.