Nihilistic, rudderless and banal: 5 reasons why Jeremy Corbyn has to go if Labour, and the UK, is to be saved

Labour’s narrow victory at Stoke and disastrous loss at Copeland is the first definitive sign of just how much Labour is struggling under Jeremy Corbyn. In the aftermath, it might be easy for some to dismiss the loss at Copeland as emblematic of current polling, as though that somehow justifies the loss. Of course, that raises the question of why Labour is so far behind in the polls to begin with. Here are 5 lessons to be drawn from the recent by-elections.

1. Copeland is a disaster. Make no bones about it. I saw Cat Smith, Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs, trying to make some attempt at explaining the historic closeness of results in Copeland. Despite it being Labour, it has generally always had narrow margins of victory. Unfortunately, while this is true, it is distracting from the wider issue that Labour lost it this time. In 2010, Labour’s loss at the election was described as the biggest in its history, only then for 2015 to see further decline. Both times Labour held Copeland. What does it say now if, as is suspected, people in the seat were actively voting against Corbyn? It signifies just how badly Labour is now doing. To put in context as well, Michael Foot was gone after four years, and it was another 14 before a Labour government. At this point, we’ll have had at least 10 years of a Tory led government by 2020, and Labour could be so far down in the polls to be insignificant in terms of parliamentary power. A quarter of century of Tory rule is growing more plausible.

2. Stoke flatters Labour. Yes, UKIP’s efforts were undermined by poor organisation, and a poor candidate (I cannot see how the Hillsborough fiasco could have done anything other than ruined Nuttal’s chances). However, this shouldn’t allow Labour to think all is well in it’s heartlands. For a start, Labour have found how easy it is when your opposition is so weak. Quite the situation the Tories are in at the moment nationally. I do wonder what might have happened with a more organised UKIP campaign, or perhaps a candidate not so Trump like in nature. Labour had a central campaign message – the NHS – while UKIP had nothing. That doesn’t mean that people found Labour’s message enticing, it’s simply that when faced with a consistent political message, and a chaotic inconsistent mess, people will always pick the most consistent. It’s why the Tories tend to dominate so well compared to Labour. Their messaging is much less nuanced than Labours, and they tend to put their policies in terms of what they will do for you, the voter. Labour’s tend to be more abstract and less direct – they look like they’re telling you what they will do for everyone else, but not YOU. Labour need to learn this lesson and not draw a vain belief that the NHS campaign is the right one. As Copeland showed, people are willing to sacrifice the NHS if they are receiving a more direct form of campaigning.

3. Labour is descending into nihilism, particularly from the far left and newer recruits. Corbyn’s lack of humility about the Copeland result, unwilling to accept responsibility, signifies a Prima facie resolve from Labour, to struggle on even when faced with defeat. In reality, it is defeatism that has turned into nihilism. Faced with no prospect of victory, Corbyn and his cult like following have simply given up and opted for masking their dismay behind a “we will soldier on”. It’s a lie. Instead of trying to improve the situation, they will move ever towards more extreme policies, which are designed to put people off, further justifying the self-destructive passage that may end Labour for generations.

We can see something of this in terms of policy. All Labour seems to be these days is an NHS swan song. Don’t get me wrong, I am horrified by what the Tories are doing and can do further to the NHS. People are literally dying as a result. It’s easy to see why Labour has a particular focus. However, it’s not the only policy that matters and people have other interests. Consider the example of a group of friends that meet up regularly. One of them only ever talks about one thing, the state of the NHS. At first the friends tolerate this, because they are friends and they are sympathetic to the situation. However, as time goes on, the other friends realise this all this person talks about. In fact, this friend doesn’t appear interested in the rest of them. At first they make excuses for leaving early, but in the end they simply stop inviting that friend. That is where Labour are now. A party sounding a one track record that’s scratched.

Why won’t Labour talk about other policies effectively? Well, it’s mainly to do a lack of creativity. Corbyn doesn’t know what to do about the various ‘wicked problems’ the UK faces. Instead of accepting his own inadequacy, he merely sticks to the same topic to distract. Again it is nihilistic – there is no hope of victory, therefore the only course is one of defeat.

4. Corbyn is a really, really poor leader. I don’t know how many times I’ve reflected on this in my blog, but Corbyn is displaying fewer and fewer credentials for being a representative of anything. He rather stupidly referred to how the people of Copeland have been let down by the establishment, after Labour have been representing that seat for over 50 years. 

He failed to take any responsibility for Copeland. When asked by a reporter if he ever looked in the mirror and asked if he was responsible, Corbyn answered “No, thank you for your question.” What he should have said is something like, “Obviously I am disappointed by the result in Copeland. I don’t think it represents the hard work we put in, but it clearly shows that there is a gap between our policies and the people we are pledged to represent. We need to examine closely why that has occurred and how we can work to persuade more people to vote Labour. As leader though, I clearly have to take responsibility for the result, and to learn from this etc.” 

There are those that blame the MP’s. In some measure, the MP’s are responsible. For a start, those imbeciles that nominated Corbyn two years ago. They are directly responsible for Labour’s current collapse. Then there are the rebels. Truth is, last year, they shot too high and missed. They lost, and Corbyn became stronger than ever, as a parasite does by draining its host. Of course, drain too much and the host dies, and the parasite with it. Am I calling Corbyn a parasite? Yes, yes I am.

Ultimately though, Corbyn is responsible for the conduct of the MP’s. To quote Tywin Lannister, “When soldiers lack discipline, the fault lies with their commander.” The MP’s lack discipline, because Corbyn does not, and cannot, lead. Maybe he’s realised this, and hoping John McDonnell, equally inept, can manage to get the rules changed to get a better chance of nomination, and so resign then. Such a thing would be an even bigger disaster. Corbyn is disliked, but McDonnell is dispised nationally.

5. Extra members doesn’t equal extra campaigners. Labour is sitting somewhere around 500,000 members at the moment, quite remarkable. However, this isn’t turning into extra campaigners. In a seat like Copeland, there should have been a small army of Labour campaigners out there, getting the message out. Instead, numbers of volunteers were measured in the hundreds, not thousands. Where are all the Momentum lackies? Too busy fighting each other in an inevitable internal collapse of the far left? It’s easy to highlight Corbyn’s massed supporters, but in practical terms they have delivered nothing. 

So where does this all leave Labour? Even if they did get rid of Corbyn, I wonder if they have the means and the resolve to face up to the scale of the challenge. There needs to be a greater reflection within the party about what they actually want and how they intend to promote it. Challenging the economic wisdom of the time has to be done in such a way that people will feel that they will benefit from it. Nationalising services has to be the means to a particular end, not the end of every means. In other words, using nationalisation as a solution where appropriate, not for every issue. People need persuading of its validity before accepting it wholesale. 

The Labour Party needs something radical to shift perceptions, to show that it revolutionise without appearing to be randomly revolutionary. People are genuinely worried about the ramifications of Brexit, for or against, and the wider implications of a failing trust in the free market system. The scale of the challenge of climate change is immense, and the issue of immigration and globalisation reminds unresolved. What are Labour’s solutions and alternatives to these problems? And how can they be articulated in such a way that will deliver public support. The party may have many people in its ranks capable of meeting this challenge, but Jeremy Corbyn is most definitely not one of them. It’s time for him to go, and it’s time for Labour to start meeting the challenges the UK faces.

What Corbyn needs to do to be an effective leader

Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign kicked off yesterday, and in some ways it came off more positive than I expected. In other ways though he failed to articulate successfully why he can lead effectively. In some parts he looked almost bilgerent and authoritarian.

There’s already been some interesting analysis of Corbyn’s chances of leading Labour to victory. For the record, it doesn’t look good

So what does he need to do to be an effective leader?

Firstly, he has to be able to build a effective team and manage resources he has. Like most leaders, Corbyn has limited choice over the team he puts together. He can establish a shadow cabinet, and his advisors, but he has no control over who are the MP’s and employees of the Party. 

For this reason he has to be able to show flexibility to engage with the strengths of those around him. Since all team dynamics involve political dimensions, he needs to be sensitive to differing perspectives and opinions. Of course, he’s got to a point where MP’s are no longer disgruntled but are out rightly in opposition to him. This didn’t happen in isolation – Corbyn has been leader for 9 months. If his MP’s are in open revolt he needs to take responsibility and resolve this.

Simply saying ‘I am the leader’ is not enough. There has to be negotiation. Luckily for Corbyn he has some advantage here. Labour is a broad church of left wing, centre and occasionally soft right opinion, but married by common principle. On a lot of issues he needs to negotiate common cause, work out what everyone can agree on and then negotiate on the rest. He needs to apply sensible application of leadership in cases where opinion is intractable (like Trident), or sometimes just make the hard call and say ‘this is what we’re doing’. Note that he can only do this if he has demonstrated a genuine attempt to listen to all sides.

He needs to be responsive. This means being able to make decisions in timely manner. A LOT of MP’s have complained about his inability to do this, with a running theme of non-communicative. I suspect this may be the biggest underlying problem. Ed Milliband had marginally  better but still poor electoral results. A big difference was his engagement with the PLP.

In some regards he has shown adaptability, but in others he seemed woefully dense. It was not sensible to mention selection issues and boundary changes. There was no other way for his critics to see that as anything other than an outright threat.

Another aspect of responsiveness is understanding cause and effect, and a little bit of systems theory. That is, the wider implications of a decision, and knock on effects. It’s important in politics because it’s the difference between a slogan and a policy.

A good example of what not to do lies in Corbyn’s comments about pharmaceuticals. While he was undoubtedly aiming for the leadership race his comments have wider implications. He’s raised the question of whether he wants to nationalise pharmaceuticals in the UK. Maybe he does, but he needs a policy ready to do this effectively – I suspect he hasn’t got one. Also, a large number of employees are union members – the same ones he is relying on for support. I’m not sure he considered all the ins and outs of his comment – it was a cheap hit against his opponent, but in the longer term might have greater drawbacks.

He needs greater innovation. Some ideas, like questions from actual people for PMQ’s, were genuinely intriging. Unfortunately they have limited benefit if applied in a scattergun approach (Corbyn rarely sticks to one or two subjects in PMQ’s so his impact is lost).

He also lacks nuance. When asked about deterrence, Corbyn said he wouldn’t use it. What he could have said is ‘hopefully we’ll never have to find out’. That way he leaves enough doubt about which way he would go, without compromising in his beliefs. Being honest doesn’t mean you have to be openly honest all the time.

This is also an electoral issue. Labour has lost a huge number of voters to UKIP and the Tories. The former probably on immigration, the latter on the economy. It’s not likely that Corbyn is going to sacrifice his principles to appease these voters. Tony Blair would probably have sought some policies to appease theses voters (contributing both to his success and also source of criticism from the left).

So, if Corbyn won’t sacrifice his principles on these issues, he needs to find clever ways to engage on those subjects. He can’t simply ignore the problem (because it won’t go away AND people will think he’s out of touch), and he can’t simply reject the assertion outright (because people generally don’t respond well to being told they are wrong). Unfortunately, this is an area he has struggled with. Without finding a way to deliver effective policy and messaging, he and Labour will go no where.

Corbyn needs to have perseverance on issues. In some respects he’s demonstrated this already – he certainly hasn’t backed out of a bruising fight with his MP’s. In other regards though, he still struggles. For example, he is attempting to bring a different style to the House of Commons arena. That’s fine, but he seems to have gone no where once it became apparent that the Tories weren’t going to go along with this. Now his approach seems weak and ineffectual. He needs to find other ways to put pressure on the Tories about this matter if he wants to make change.

For Corbyn to establish himself as a leader he needs to display qualities well beyond those he has demonstrated. He might have integrity in some regards, but while good leaders need integrity, not everyone with integrity will make a good leader.

I honestly think Corbyn’s biggest problem is his inability to compromise and negotiate with his PLP. Ultimately, party membership doesn’t win elections – only seats in the Commons do. It is the natural focal point of public opinion on political effectiveness, not flash mob rallies of Socialist Worker Party supporters.

He and other MP’s would see eye to eye on many, if not most, issues. The difference is that his approach is leaving something to be desired, and he seems thus far unable to bring the two sides together. Threatening them is not going to resolve his problem – if they think they will be deselected automatically they may take a collective plunge and resign on mass. Extreme behaviour pushes people to extremes. 

Corbyn doesn’t need to compromise on every principle – indeed, if he’s sensible he doesn’t need to compromise on any principle. But he does need to show that he can listen, take on board opinion and respond effectively. Thus far he has failed to do, and his leadership credentials lie in tatters.

Only by making a massive fundamental change to his approach – some kind of epiphany – can he begin to rebuild his party image and establish himself as a genuine alternative to Teresa May, and credible option as PM.

I look across at the UK political landscape. New Prime Minister, Brexit has happened but isn’t going to happen this year, Boris Johnson is the UK Foreign Secretary. That really is a ‘fuck you’ to the rest of the world. 

Of course, these things might pass me by. I feel indifference to the new PM (a Tory is a Tory is a Tory), only distant frustration at Brexit, and general amusement at Boris Johnson (I mean, fucking hell, did anyone think about that decision properly?).

My main source of woe is Labour, and what a topsy-turvey party it has become. It makes me feel sad, to see friends so torn and angry, and unfocused. Really unfocused.

The problem, of course, is the chasm of belief between MP’s and Jeremy Corbyn. There seems to be a genuine schism between the need for integrity (which Corbyn is perceived to have), and leadership (for which he is less so renowned).

I have all kinds of problems with this scenario. A good leader must have integrity, but not everyone with integrity is a leader. 

Corbyn, for me, is not a leader. He lacks conviction, and his approach to the stories is remarkably passive. When the Tories were last in opposition they turned the narrative into ‘if we were in power we would do A,B and C’. This meant questions to the Labour government were put in the context of Tory policy, not government. That wasn’t the only problem Labour had back then, but it was a central one.

Labour under Corbyn though, is generally of perspective of ‘what are you going to do about these problems?’ It allows the Tories to give any answer they want, and the narrative is still about Tory policy.

Ed Miliband’s biggest problem was that despite some excellent, sensible and popular policies, he failed to provide a narrative for his leadership. Like Corbyn, he became leader thanks to the trade union block of voters, and a sizeable chunk of regular members. Corbyn’s victory was more emphatic of course, but both sourced from the same place.

Despite this popular support from members, Corbyn has failed to materialise with a narrative. In fact, far worse, he has failed to materialise. He has made no headway in Scotland. His canpaigning on Brexit was woeful, and the victories trumpeted in his name are minor in electoral terms (London mayor, for which he had little to do with, and Bristol mayor, which should have been won anyway). 

I find disturbing the lack of critical perspective from his supporters. There is a willingness to back despite acceptance that he will probably lose a general election anyway.

It’s even more alarming that there is no real alternative. The PLP’s best offerings are not likely to set the world on fire. Although in fairness, this is uncharted territory.

I’m losing my train of thought. Already at Freo. I’ll continue this tomorrow, or maybe I won’t. 

The murder of Jo Cox was a hate crime

Yesterday, a woman was murdered. Indeed, a lot of women. A lot of men too. A lot of children if we distinguish age. A lot of people were murdered, are murdered, every day. The sense of tragedy can dull the senses, and it can inflame the heart, but all I’m doing is grieving for one today.

I didn’t know Jo Cox, but even on these distant shores I feel some sense of grief and sadness. Without meeting each other there’s some commonality – human, British, European, Labour.

I read reports that the suspected murderer yelled ‘Britain first’ or words to that effect. A man described as being a quiet person by the local community, someone who they wouldn’t have suspected of committing such a crime. I don’t know why people say things like that – most muderers do not blindly rampage around indicating they are murderers. If only it were that easy to spot them.

It could be some twisted warped sense of patriotism paid a part. And if you think that the current referendum campaign, with its vitriolic fear and distorted rampant nationalism, would have no part to play in that belief, then you are deluded. Maybe mental health played a role (although community perspective makes that a difficult idea to sustain). There’s too much confusion about his motivations to know for certain. All I do know, with reasonable certainty, is that Jo Cox was targeted specifically. This was not random. This was deliberate and pre-meditated. This was a hate crime.

It might be easy to dismiss the idea that she was targetted because she was a woman; after all, it could have been any MP right? Maybe, but it wasn’t. There is no virtue in being male or female, but we make it one. Society finds considerable ways to target women AND rationalise it afterward. I doubt Jo Cox was killed because she was a woman, but the fact that she was one makes it relevant. I don’t intend to rationalise her gender as being as being irrelevant, because it most definitely wasn’t.

Seeing tributes paid, many focus on her being a committed MP, a campaigner for refugee rights, and a mother of 2. Without meaning to, we made her gender part of who she was. Being a mother is a gendered role; being a parent is gender neutral. See the difference?

I know my sense of solidarity might seem like futility from such a distance, but it’s there, for her family, and the Labour Party and Labour movement, which I love. In every sense, there is something in this tragedy that binds us. 

I have little time for the crocodile tears of the right – a couple of days ago they would have poured scorn on her beliefs, and her achievements. I think particularly of that recent, racist Brexit poster about immigration (using images of refugees). I know Remain has hardly covered itself in glory, but it’s fear is centred on the abstract uncertainty of economic outcomes. Leave campaign has been based on outright lies and fear of the foreigner. Ironically this is probably why it has succeeded – fear of immigration seems more tangible than economics, even though it actually isn’t.

At this point though, I can’t say that Brexit’s particular brand of venom is a factor in Jo Cox’s death. Those media reports could be wrong. So I withhold that judgement about that, even if I think their mourning is hypocrisy.

I still believe though, that this was a gender crime. It was a man murdering a woman. It happens a lot. In Australia, 31 women have been murdered this year alone by domestic violence abusers – men. I don’t see why this should be any different. Premeditated hatred (cause) and death of a woman (effect) are the same.

A successful , dedicated, influential woman was murdered. She was murdered out of hate. It was not unique, it was not isolated. Unless society takes greater stock of its culpability, then this is a sad and tragic norm that will continue.