Wednesday, 19 August 2015

In Partial Defence of Corbynism.

"Now we're far from that valley of sorrow,
But it's memory we ne'er will forget,
So before we continue our reunion,
Let us stand to our glorious dead."

That is the final verse of Jarama Valley, probably the most famous song to emerge from the International Brigade who fought for the cause of the Spanish Republic.

It's original lyrics were actually written by a Scotsman although it was thanks to Woody Guthrie that the song became truly well known.

Anyway, the version of the song now sung in Scotland traditionally starts with Jarama Valley and then as the valley of sorrow is left in its final verse, segues into the much more upbeat Bandiera Rossa. The reason for that is that this is how the two songs are linked at the end of The Laggan's 1978 folk Album, I am the Common Man and there is virtually no Labour activist of my generation who doesn't possess somewhere a copy of that work. It is almost now a part of the traditions of the Scottish Labour Party.

Now the reason I am telling you this is that Jarama Valley/Bandiera Rossa was sung lustily last Friday night at the conclusion of the rally that Jeremy Corbyn held in Glasgow.

And, although I wasn't there, it seemed from the footage that I saw that a large majority of those present already knew the words.

I'm not voting for Jeremy, I never was, but I am getting more than slightly annoyed at some of the spinning against his supporters. The vast majority of these people were members of the Labour Party before the General Election. Never forget that as recently as December last year, Neil Findlay, Corbyn's Scottish Campaign manager, secured nearly one third of the votes of individual members in the contest to succeed Johann Lamont as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Patently, none of these members then voting joined only to support the Corbyn surge and, with respect all round, this was despite Findlay being a much weaker candidate than Corbyn, while Murphy was a much stronger opponent than even the combined efforts of Burnham, Cooper and Kendal.

And a good further chunk of Corbyn's support seem to me to be people who had at one time been members of the Party, who had lapsed or consciously resigned, but who have been lured back by the prospect of change. Corbyn is the mechanism for that change but contrary to some of the mockery of these supporters he is NOT seen by them as a messianic figure. These people certainly want to change the Party but they have not taken leave of their senses and it is still, legitimately, their Party as well.

Now, that's not to say that Corbynism doesn't have its lunatic fringe, conspiracy theorists up there with the zoomiest of Scottish Nationalists; entryists from the ultra left and the devious right; keyboard warriors blind to the absurdity of those who paid £3 to become only associate members, even now, calling on those who have been in the Party all their adult lives to "JOIN THE TORIES"!

But it would be a critical mistake to tar the whole of the Corbyn movement with this brush.

A lot of longstanding members of the Labour Party: Election Agents, Branch Secretaries, local Councillors of many years service, have decided to vote for Corbyn. Good grief, today, he has even been endorsed by the Daily Record.

Some of these people genuinely think he can get elected as Prime Minister but I suspect most, in their heart of hearts, know he can't.  But I think there are three or four other things going on here.

Firstly, as I pointed out in my penultimate blog, they really doubt that any of the other current candidates can win the big election either. Certainly the utterly inept  way they have conducted their leadership campaigns hardly fills you with confidence in their ability to go head to head with Cameron or Osborne in 2020.

Secondly, Party members did not want the internal debate about why we lost immediately closed down, yet that was/is what is on offer from each of the other three. "I'm the leader now, we can't afford internal strife, so just leave it to me." That was essentially what happened in 2010 after Ed won and we then sleep walked to disaster. Certainly, if you phrase it that bluntly, it is absurd to say that the electorate gave the Tories a majority mandate and voted in huge numbers for UKIP because they thought the Labour Party was too right wing. But equally, things were altogether more complicated than it simply being all down to Labour's lack of economic credibility. Yet in many ways to install any one of the other three within four months of our defeat would be to be seen to have effectively endorsed that conclusion without it first being rigorously tested. A period of debate is sometimes a good thing and only Corbyn offers that.

Thirdly, I should say that I depart not one sausage from what I said in last blog. Many of Corbyn's supporters are confusing what is unpopular with them with what is unpopular in the Country. But, at the same time, we can't simply give up on what the Labour Party is meant to stand for: First class public services funded by progressive taxation and a continued concern for those at the bottom of society. Even if that is not universally popular. Kez said this week that people in Scotland no longer understood what the Labour Party stood for. It wasn't just in Scotland. I agreed almost entirely with Brown's attack on Corbyn at the weekend but amidst the repeated quotations from our great leaders of the past he missed one of the most important: "The Labour Party is a Crusade or it is nothing." The man who said that remains the only Labour Leader to have won four General Elections.

And finally there is this. Once installed, it is very difficult to remove a Leader of the Labour Party against their will. That was the problem with Ed. We knew in our gut (and from our canvassing) that he wasn't going to sweep the Country about two years out but he wasn't for shifting. And neither, once installed, would any of the other three candidates this time be for shifting.

But Corbyn is in a different position. He could fall at any time, for assembling the necessary Parliamentary votes to trigger a challenge would not be difficult. More to the point, he is nearly seventy. I suspect if they had known how things would develop he wouldn't have been the candidate of the Party's left at all. It is entirely credible to see Corbyn leading his coalition of the angry till 2018. We would have our debate and we would see where his leadership and that debate had got us. It might be messy, it would be messy, but would it necessarily be worse than the false, to use a quote from another former leader "unanimity of the graveyard" that  prevailed from September 2010 until May 8th 2015?

And in 2018? Hopefully the centre of the Party would have more credible candidates than those currently in the field.

So, do I want Corbyn to win? Certainly not. But would his victory be the utterly unmitigated disaster some predict? Perhaps not.


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