Owen Jones is the latest to accuse Jeremy Corbyn supporters of being some kind of cult. I resent this. Jeremy Corbyn is the figurehead of a mass movement. We are standing by him as our leader because we know we can trust him not to sell us out, not because we follow him blindly. I certainly do not follow Jeremy Corbyn blindly, and have never held back when I think he’s wrong. It’s because I respect Corbyn so much that I won’t be a yes-man, telling him he’s right when I’m absolutely convinced he’s got something badly wrong.
Jeremy Corbyn’s strengths are many. One of them is unleashing the democratic energy of others, transforming Labour into the biggest left-wing party in Europe, with 93% of CLPs outside London backing him – a figure the BBC and SKY News and Channel4 News keep forgeting to mention when they tell us how big a vote of no confidence there is amongst the MPs. It’s the MPs who will suffer a series of votes of no confidence and, as such, be ineligible to be the official Labour candidate at the general election, whether it is four years away or a snap election, which certainly cannot be ruled out.
Jeremy Corbyn has just unleashed his ten pledges, and I for one am unimpressed. I suspect very few of Corbyn’s supporters will agree with me, but I am happy to flesh out what I am saying here, which obviously won’t stop me campaigning vigorously for Corbyn to remain Labour leader, nor to become Prime Minister with a landslide victory.
When I say I don’t like these pledges, what exactly do I mean? Do I disagree with them? No. The problem is most of these pledges have been drawn up to be so vague there are very few who could argue against any of them, certainly not Labour Party members. This makes them very blunt tools. As a conseequence, Labour is in danger of being reduced to being a laughing stock by opting for meaningless rhetoric of a motherhood and apple pie variety.
Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges remind me of the inane soundbites Ed Miliband once chiseled onto a headstone. The notorious headstone was once defended by Lucy Powell who admitted nobody knew what they meant anyway, and even if succeeded in decyphering them, just because he literally carved them on stone that doesn’t mean he won’t break them anyway. This is typical of the politics that voters detest. Voters want something concrete, and these pledges are abstractions that can’t be pinned down.
Am I calling for dumping these pledges? Not exactly. It’s too late for that. Besides, since they are impossible to argue against, they can be regarded as work-in-progress. But there is so much work still to do. In the first place, each of these pledges open up so many questions. The idea that Andrew Neil won’t ask those questions is not credible. We need figures, comrades. And we need to be told where the money is coming from. Is it from borrowing? How would that affect interest rates, or profitability which could be used as an excuse for mass redundancies and investment strikes by the propertied classes?
The specific pledges are far too close to Owen Smiths. And neither set of pledges tell us much. What is the reason for vagueness? Partly, it could be trying to get through the leadership contest without giving critics anything to target. But that could rebound if the questions keep coming and the answers simply aren’t there. That will look bad. However, there is a perfectly good reason for this vagueness. Jeremy Corbyn is not a dictator. He can’t lay down the law: the leadership contest is no referendum on the policies of either candidate. Jeremy Corbyn will be bound by conference, and the leader may find he’s outvoted on how policies are fleshed out. Half a million members’ heads are better than one, even one as good as Jeremy Corbyn’s. Half a million brains, hearts and spines are more than the sum of their parts. While these policies aren’t as concrete as I’d like, I trust that conference will flesh out exactly what they mean, and where the money is coming from.