Warning: This is a political blog, not an educational one. If you want educational, don’t bother reading. It’s also directed pretty much solely at Labour supporters and members. So if you’re a Tory, only read on if you like abuse, and if you’re a LibDem or Green, well, you can read if you like, because frankly your parties are so irrelevant that you may as well impotently waste your time here than impotently waste it elsewhere. If you’re a UKIP supporter, then what the hell are you doing on my blog when you know you can’t understand big words?
There, I think that sets the tone of wide-barrelled blunderbussing which is to come. I’m hoping there’ll be something in here for everyone to get offended by. I’m an equal-opportunities offender.
I have many, many weaknesses. One of those I’m perhaps most ashamed of, is that when I get cross about something (and after 7 years of Tory governments, Brexit and Trump, then let’s face it, there’s much to be cross about), my frustration can manifest itself in anger at innocent parties. Often those bystanders are my children, which is unfair. They may well have done something annoying or daft, but when I’ve been stressed, or angered, or frustrated by external factors, I can sometimes bark disproportionately at them for some minor misdemeanour.
It is annoying that they have dropped empty crisp bags and bottles on the floor by the couch on which they are umbilically attached to their phones, rather than making the arduous two-metre walk to the bin, but when I bark at them that I’m banning their friends from ever coming around the house again, I’m actually shouting at the Saints players who just contrived to lose against Wakefield, or at the Tories who just closed the library, or at Brexit voters.
My kids aren’t responsible for any of those things, of course, but I can’t do anything about the bloody Tories, or the bloody Brexiters, or the bloody Saints players, because they’re not there, they don’t know me, and they wouldn’t give a stuff about what I thought even if they were in front of me in the flesh (actually, I’m not sure I’d shout at the Saints players if they were there in the flesh, as they’re all 6’4 and weigh 17-stone – the useless steaming lumps of soft lard). I have no power to influence them, so I displace my frustration onto those I believe I can influence.
I’m ashamed of this, but I also know I’m not alone. Who amongst us has not shouted at someone close by, for the sins of someone far away? Who has not vented their frustration at some bemused friend’s or relative’s minor transgression, because of our inability to do anything about the true cause of that frustration – the boss, the illness, or the world? I always make sure to apologise to the victims of my displaced anger for my unreasonableness, as soon as I calm down, which is often within seconds. But I don’t just dislike this aspect of myself because of the hurt I cause people I love. I dislike it because the sheer pointlessness of it offends my rational, thinking self. It’s an irrational response to frustration, and the greatest irony is that its root cause is often frustration at the irrationality of others !
And so to the Labour Party, and its current malaise.
For what it’s worth, I’m pretty much in agreement with Owen Jones on the issue of Labour’s current problems. By dint of simply staying in the same place I was when I joined Ashdown’s LibDems in the late 80s, through the Kennedy years, and then into the Labour Party, I’ve contrived to find myself on what has been described in pretty much every English newspaper as “the hard/extreme/far left”. This is a place apparently occupied by dangerous proto-communists who want to nationalise the railways, preserve public services in the public sector, and perhaps borrow a bit more, and add a few pence to the top rate of income tax to pay for higher NHS and schools funding. And after we’ve done that, we plan to murder a million kulaks by beating them to death with the severed limbs of the royal family, obviously, but we don’t shout about that bit.
It’s odd to find I’ve been on a long journey to an extreme simply through the tactic of standing still while lots of others passed by me on a journey rightwards, but there you go. Even more oddly, I find that the people who shout at me (well, not at me personally, but at people like me, who voted for Corbyn as leader), tend to have remarkably similar views on policy. They too like public services, they too think the rich could stand to contribute a bit more, and they too wouldn’t mind a few more essential services of the strategic or natural monopoly variety, finding their way back into public ownership and control. We really do, in the soppy cheesiness of comradely convention, “have more that unites us than divides us”.
Even more, I agree with them about Corbyn’s weakness. His goose is cooked. His parrot is dead. He has had his chance (little enough that it was), and he has blown it. I’m not going to go into why – like I said, Owen Jones does a pretty good summary , and an even better one in his youtube blog which goes into it in more detail. Whether this is the fault of a media which has been hostile and biased to an unhinged degree (yes), or the fault of a fearful and/or right-wing element of the Labour Party which has tried everything in its power to sabotage Corbyn (also yes), or Corbyn’s incompetence and the uselessness of the people he put in place to support him (yes, this too), seems to me to be ultimately irrelevant. He’s dead in the water, and the British public traditionally only rehabilitates politicians in their affection after they’ve left office and appeared on a few quiz shows or done a series on steam trains.
So I hope some of them are open enough to hear me when I say: stop it. You’re being silly.
“Stop what?” I hear you ask. Well, let me say, that over the last few months, I have never heard so many people attribute such enormous political power to a British opposition party. Every single political issue which enters the news, and is discussed in the media, will sooner or later generate the statement “And it’s all because we don’t have a decent opposition. Bloody Corbyn”. It’s so predictable that there should be one of those internet laws about it. Disappointed Idealist’s Law: “Every twitter thread about a terrible government policy will, within four tweets, attract the comment ‘It wouldn’t be happening if we had a decent opposition'”.
Which is, I’m afraid to say, bollocks.
The British political Opposition has precisely bugger-all power beyond pointing and moaning. It can scream, and shout, and try to generate stories which embarrass the Government, in the hope that they’ll back down, but that’s all really. In fact, if one wants to look more closely at that, the real power doesn’t lie with the opposition at all. The power is with the media (which is why they’re called the Fourth Estate, noted the boring history teacher), who exercise their power by putting pressure on backbench MPs – not of the opposition, but of the government. Despite a lot of blather, the British constitution gives absolute power to the winners of a majority in the House of Commons – a system often referred to in politics textbooks as an “elective dictatorship”.
To give you an idea of the sheer powerlessness of any Opposition, let me note that John Major’s government not only privatised the railways, which even Mad Thatcher thought was just a little bit too mad; but also gave us the ejection from the ERM and Black Wednesday; unemployment at a fairly consistent >2m; the “Back to Basics” morality campaign which allowed a gleeful media to mine an apparently endless seam of Tory ministers shagging, sucking and asphyxiating their way to illicit orgasms; the national traffic cones hotline; and “Condemn More, Understand Less” justice policy which spawned more illiberal Criminal Justice Acts than you could shake a soapbox at.
All these laws were passed by a deeply unpopular government, led by a Prime Minister considered so weak he was depicted in popular culture as incapable of putting his underpants on correctly, and one which was never less than 10% behind in the polls (occasionally an incredible 30% behind Labour), against an opposition led by, first, John Smith, and then Tony Blair. They were effective leaders, with a command of media strategy which makes even the most spittle-flecked Trotskyite sigh appreciatively, and faced a government with a very small and diminishing majority. Yet still those laws passed. Because oppositions have no power. None. In fact, Major’s government passed nearly 50% more laws per year than Thatcher’s, with her whopping majorities and allegedly crippled opposition, and only very slightly less than Tony Blair’s government, which had a massive majority, and an opposition led by Hague, Duncan-Smith and Howard respectively. I could go further back and give you examples of legislation passed by other governments who were in even weaker positions, facing much stronger Oppositions backed by most of the media – go look up Wilson’s second government, if you don’t believe me, but I think the point is made.
So can we knock this “if only we had a good opposition, this wouldn’t be happening” bollocks on the head?
It seems to me that there’s some deeply inconsistent thinking going on here. For example, one perfectly valid statement often uttered by visceral opponents of Corbyn is “Principles are pointless without power. If you don’t win elections and get into power, you can’t protect people from the Tories“. I agree. Then the very same people turn around and say “The Tories are only doing these things because we have a weak Opposition“. Is it just me who sees the inconsistency there?
Let’s be clear: what the Tories are doing now is being done because of the Tories doing what Tories do. The last time you could conceivably blame Labour for it is in 2015, when Miliband’s party lost the election, or you could blame Brown for what happened between 2010 and 2015. If either of them had won, that would have stopped the Tories, but they didn’t, so they couldn’t. You could also blame the LibDems, for first propping up the Tories in coalition, and then helping them into majority government by dissolving into a yellow puddle of evaporating piss, handing over their seats to Cameron’s party in 2015. But Oppositions, as many people who hate Corbyn have rightly pointed out, have no power.
You could also blame the voters who voted Conservative, because they put the Tories in power. And you can blame those voters who didn’t bother to vote Labour, or wasted their vote on a no-hope party in a marginal seat, giving the Tories a win by default, because they helped ensure the Tories got into power. But in 2015 Corbyn was responsible only for his own election as party leader, and if I can’t blame Tony Blair for not preventing Major’s nonsense, I’m sure as hell not going to blame Corbyn for not preventing May’s nonsense.
And to develop this theme, which will really wind up people for whom this has become an article of faith, nor is Corbyn to blame for Brexit. The argument goes that Corbyn was insufficiently enthusiastic about Remain, that he could have done more, and that if he had, then a million or so people would have switched from Leave to Remain, or even more millions would have bothered to vote Remain, rather than staying at home, the lazy, feckless bastards that they were.
Let me ask those people who think this: If Corbyn had come out strongly for Brexit, making that risible ‘Left Leave’ argument which some on the left did, would you – a Remainer – have changed your vote? Honestly? I wouldn’t. I doubt you would. So why do some think that somehow Corbyn was responsible for the votes of that third of Labour voters who chose Brexit? Who are these weak-minded souls who you believe would have changed their vote if only Corbyn had made one more speech? What makes you think that you, a Labour voter, couldn’t be swayed from your pro-Remain position by a pro-Brexit Leader, whereas they, also Labour voters, could have been swayed from their position if only Corbyn had delivered a few more of the speeches he delivered in a more enthusiastic way?
After all, Cameron was speaking passionately for Remain. Every Labour MP (outside the loony Hoey-types) was speaking passionately for Remain. Corbyn was speaking for Remain, as was Farron. The vaguely sensible newspapers were speaking passionately for Remain. Nearly every expert in every relevant field was speaking passionately for Remain. Do you really, really think there were a million Leave voters out there who would have voted Remain if all else had stayed the same, but Corbyn had said he was 9 out of 10 in favour of the EU, rather than 7? Or do you really, honestly believe that there were two million out there who didn’t bother to vote only because Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t lit the fires of Euro-passion in their souls? Really? You know your own minds so well that no party leader could have swayed your vote, but there are millions of your countrymen who were just waiting for Corbyn’s slightly more enthusiastic endorsement before changing their minds?
Blame the Tories for Brexit – they pushed the referendum. Blame the lies the Leave campaign generated, spewed out by those truly evil feckers, Michael “Oleaginous Turd” Gove and his sociopathic sidekick Dominic “Fruitbat” Cummings. Blame the rabid media and their weirdo millionaire far-right owners. Above all, blame the Brexit voters, because ultimately they were the ones who chose to believe or disbelieve whichever lie, fact or prejudice entered their heads, and to drive us all off a cliff. But there’ve been enough lies around Brexit. Corbyn was not the difference between Brexit and Remain any more than he’s responsible for May’s desire to return the country to 1953, or the BBC’s inexplicable urge to include Farage on every current affairs programme in the last ten years even when UKIP were receiving a fraction of the support of the LibDems.
So let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s perfectly valid to say that under Corbyn, Labour looks vanishingly likely to win the next general election. I agree, and for that reason I hope he doesn’t stick around for that election. There are questions about how he goes, when he goes, and how his successor is chosen, which are for a whole different blog. But go he should. Yet it’s just nonsense to blame him for what the Tories are doing. Blame the Tories for that, because they’re doing it. Blame the people who voted Tory for that, because they put the Tories in power to do it. Blame yourself for not moving house to a marginal seat where your vote might have actually counted in 2010 or 2015, if you really want to publicly self-flagellate like a mourning Iranian, but let’s stop this nonsense of blaming people with no power for what people with power are doing.
If you’re wondering, this blog was prompted by a discussion on Twitter tonight in which we started off by slagging off Tory plans for grammar schools. So far, so much standard stuff. Then, Disappointed Idealist’s Law was triggered, and someone said “I’m so cross about Lab not stopping this, I’m not renewing my membership”. To which I answered “Well, which Tory or LibDem policies do you prefer to Labour ones?”, and back came the answer “none”. So. Umm.
You see where I’m going? You see the link between my first paragraph and here? I hope so.
Because here’s the thing. We need to get past this shit. We need to get past blaming Corbyn for everything from Brexit to Storm Doris. We need to get past the paralysis which is caused by this endless navel-gazing. We need to stop lashing out at people we fundamentally agree with, because we’re frustrated that people we disagree with are doing stuff we can’t do anything about at this time. We need to stop taking out our rage and profound sense of loss over bloody Brexit on one man and/or his supporters by pretending that it was something one person could have stopped if he’d only smiled a bit more when delivering the same speech, and seemed a bit more, you know, enthusiastic.
It’s all displaced frustration, and it’s all displaced frustration about the same real culprit: the electorate. Put bluntly, the electorate have not chosen what many Labour activists, pro- or anti-Corbyn, would have chosen, either in 2010, 2015, or 2016. The buggers keep rejecting what we want. But we can’t take it out on them, can we?
- Those bloody awful people who appear in vox-pops on the news saying something cretinous about Brexit? They’re not on our twitter feeds.
- Those blinkered fools who keep voting for the Tories, and then moaning that their public services are getting worse? Well, I don’t really mix with Tories.
- Those useless Labour leaders who lost us elections? But Brown’s buggered off, mostly, and it feels mean to be nasty to a man who can’t eat a bacon butty with dignity.
Who’s left? Who can we blame for the fact that since 2010 the world seems to be going in a dark direction, both here and elsewhere, with no real solution in sight? Well, Corbyn’s right there. Blame him. Blame the people who support him. Blame the people who oppose him. Blame the people who undermine him. Blame the people who produce memes about him. It’s just, none of them are to blame for a single thing this Government is doing, or for Brexit, or for Trump, or for global warming or grammar schools or any other bloody thing currently upsetting you.
The electorate, not Corbyn, are to blame for this Government, and for Brexit, and all the policies we don’t like. They’re also to blame for not wanting to support Corbyn, or not rising up to fight the bourgeoisie, or whatever the current term of preferred revolution is on the left. The electorate are to blame. We need to get to grips with that, and with the consequences of that. And the only way of doing that is stop talking to, or attacking, each other, and start talking to them, and trying to win them over to our shared principles and arguments.
It matters that I rapidly come to my senses when I lambast my children for their non-existent role in writing Boris Johnson’s latest xenophobic drivel, because when I do that, I’m neither thinking, nor acting, in a rational or useful manner. So it now is with a whole bunch of otherwise well-meaning left-leaning people. To Corbyn Or Not To Corbyn has become a lightning rod for discharges of fiery displaced frustration, attracting hugely destructive levels of energy which are blinding us to the need to think and act usefully.
- I have seen Labour supporters applauding Tory MPs who tweet that they don’t like May’s Hard Brexit, but who then troop through the lobbies with the Tories to vote against Labour amendments to soften it, while dumping truckloads of vitriol on Corbyn, whose party tabled those amendments. We should be criticising those hypocrites, not cheering them.
- I have seen members of my own party snidely celebrate the loss of those new party members who were sufficiently enthused to join when they believed Corbyn might result in genuine change. We should have been engaging and using those members in our ground war against the Tories, not repelling them with our cynical contempt for their idealism.
- I’ve seen increasingly mad claims of treachery and conspiracy theories which would even test Trump’s credulity, thrown at perfectly reasonable Labour people who express perfectly reasonable doubts about Corbyn. We should be out on the stump together, fighting Tories, not sitting in our pyjamas creating smart-arse memes to piss off those who fundamentally agree with us.
None of those things is useful. Most of them are damaging. When you find yourself retweeting pro-Remain Tories weeping crocodile tears about the sad state of the Opposition, remember that they voted for the party which spent decades demonising the EU, then arranged the bloody simplistic referendum, and are now loyally implementing May’s Brexit. When you find yourself agreeing with Tim Farron that the LibDems are ‘the only real opposition’ to the Tories, remind yourself how that ‘real opposition’ went in 2010-2015. When you tweet another bloody conspiracy theory about how Owen Jones is a CIA spy, perhaps wonder whether you might be so deeply bunkered that you can no longer see reality.
The discharges from this lightning rod are paralysing us. The Right of the Party has retreated into some sort of weird denial in which the 2010 and 2015 election defeats, and the millions of lost Labour voters under Blair and Brown, somehow don’t matter, and if only Corbyn would go, it’d be 1997 all over again. What madness! The Left of the Party, meanwhile, seems to think that if only they shout a bit more about media bias, or write one more blog about PLP treachery, or just keep blowing the same bloody kazoo about Corbyn’s principles one more time, then the polls will magically reverse, and the downtrodden proles will rise up to sweep us to victory. Also completely barking. Labour needs to make some changes and do some deep thinking which the obsession of both sides with Corbyn’s guilt or innocence is simply preventing, and frankly the man himself seems incapable of leading any such reflection.
This is deeply damaging, because actually, Oppositions do have one power, and that is the power to evict local and national Governments at the rare and precious points when they are allowed to do so. Everything and anything an Opposition party does should be geared to that. I believe Corbyn needs to be replaced, because he transparently cannot help us do that. But I also believe that’s no excuse for throwing our hands up in hopeless despair.
So I have nothing but contempt – real, genuine, burning contempt – for those people who claim to be Labour supporters but who not-so-secretly celebrated Labour’s loss in Copeland, and are actually hoping that Labour loses badly in May, because they believe that will hasten Corbyn’s demise. Those people would sacrifice real local services and cause real pain to real people, in order to achieve their goals. Get over yourselves.
I have a very shallow well of sympathy left for those who, frustrated at a Tory policy they don’t like, announce to the world that they’re leaving a Labour Party which opposes that policy, in order to join a LibDem party which will happily facilitate it. You are slapping people who agree with you in order to punish those who don’t. Wake up.
I have bugger-all time for those people who are content in their impotent online self-righteousness to write endless diatribes ‘proving’ media bias and PLP conspiracies against Corbyn and then sit back and do NOTHING to combat the actual impact of that bias in the real world against the party he leads. Your imagined social media victories over those who agree with most of what you believe are simply aiding the common enemy you share.
And, just to return to my normal educational theme briefly. There are those people claiming to be Labour supporters who have supported Tory education policies for the last 7 years, yet who now, when faced with the logical conclusion of those policies in the return of grammar schools in a privatised school system, blame Corbyn’s Labour for not stopping those Tory education policies. For them I have but one thing to say. But it’s too rude to write, even for me.
You may be able to tell that I’m fed up of this pathetic defeatism. Yes, Corbyn has failed to attract support to the party to replace that lost under Blair and Brown. Indeed, he appears to have lost even more, putting us in a worse position than Miliband, who also failed to attract sufficient replacements for those losses. Yes, he needs to go. No, I don’t give a monkey’s who is most to blame for that failure. But his obvious failings, and the failings of the electorate to do what we’d all prefer, do not justify the sort of self-destructive sulk which has infected a significant number of Labour supporters and activists.
We’ve local elections across the country on 4th May. Those elections have very real consequences for local communities. Labour councils will fight to preserve the services our most vulnerable children and adults rely on. Tories won’t. If we carry on lashing out at those who actually bloody agree with us, the Tories are going to laugh their way into four years of slash and burn which will leave your local communities in tatters. Already, some people will be composing a tweet saying “Ah yes, but if Corbyn wasn’t leader…”, to which I would only say, with the greatest respect, “Get over yourself, you self-indulgent arse”.
So now we’ve had our respective little displaced temper tantrums, whether at Corbyn, or the PLP, or the media, or whoever, then perhaps we can now grow up and ask ourselves some hard questions:
- How is what we are doing helping?
- How does resigning from the Labour Party, to join a party whose policies we agree with even less, help anything?
- How does sitting on our hands during the local election campaign help our local communities when the Tories are returned with majorities on our councils?
- How does publicly deriding the party we allegedly want to win, help that party win?
- How does repeatedly joining the Tories in telling the electorate how useless Corbyn’s Labour is, persuade more of them to stop kicking us in the teeth every time they’re given the option of doing so at a ballot box?
So what are we going to do, my fellow leftists? We who have become a bunch of whinging, frustrated, irrationally-displacing chumps? Are we going to carry on writing conspiracy theories about how all Labour MPs are MI6 secret agents, while refusing to leave the comfort of our revolutionary computer chair to actually go down to our local CLP and influence policy and selection? Are we going to carry on tweeting #Corbynmustgo because of his failure to win over more voters, without delivering a single leaflet which might actually win over a voter? Are we going to bask in the approving retweets of people who support the policies we hate, when we self-righteously announce that we’re leaving the party which supports the policies we like?
We’ve got a mountain we have to climb to get back to a position where we can achieve power. It’s a mountain that’s higher than it should be. But we still have to climb it. And we won’t do that if we just stand around at the bottom bitching and moaning to our fellow climbers about whose fault the sodding gradient is. That doesn’t get us a single step closer to the top.
I’m out every week canvassing, leafleting, and later today, holding a surgery for prospective constituents in the May elections. I’ve spoken to a lot of voters, and maybe I’m unusual, but very few raise Corbyn, or Brexit. They talk about the stuff which matters to them – local services, schools, planning issues, the NHS, the quiet desperation of people slipping under the waves, anti-social behaviour and, yes, traffic and dogshit, the two staples of any local councillor’s existence. There isn’t a single one of those issues which will be made better by a Tory council or a Tory government. A Labour council will be better for every one of them.
So can I ask, nay beg, all of those currently wailing, gnashing teeth, tearing hair and rending shirts, to consider whether their current actions are making a Labour Council and a Labour Government more or less likely?
The Tories aren’t doing the things we hate because we’re a particularly crap opposition. The Tories are doing the things we hate because we’re the opposition and they’re the government, and they’d be doing those things whether we were the worst or greatest opposition ever to sit on the wrong side of the House. If you’re going to rage against something you hate, rage against the buggers who are actually responsible, and then go one better – get out and bloody do something to bring about the end of this awful Tory Government through the only means available, which – in the great majority of constituencies and councils in this country – is by helping the Labour Party get elected.