I’ll admit it: I was right about Jeremy Corbyn

I’ll admit it: I was right about Jeremy Corbyn. And he was right, about hope over fear, about kindness over hate and, although it took me a while, I believe he was right on Brexit too.

The membership were right, twice, too, and here’s a football metaphor about how that felt.

Do you remember the 1990 World Cup? Not how good it is painted as now, but how it was seen before that David Platt overhead kick? The headlines were about how bad things were, not how memorable. It existed as one of the great last sorties of English hooliganism abroad, we were shown constant footage of it raining plastic glasses and plastic chairs in picturesque squares all over Italy. There’s a great a book by Pete Davis called All Played Out which is a fantastic, if depressing, read about how Planet Football is divorced from all reality and the lives of the fans. Davis quotes a distressed Englishman — no doubt dressed in too-small shorts — after a disappointing draw against North African opposition: “Fight you bastards,” he says, “like we fight for you.”

And, do you remember, how the Labour Party seemed from about 2010 until the election as leader of one Jeremy Bernard Corbyn? They were terrified to stand up to austerity, to reject the idea that they had broken the economy, to stand up for wages, for benefits, for the people of the UK. Good people as they may have been (and some have proven to be since) they were beaten in thought and deed. They had no fight. No fight for us.

But with this campaign, and this manifesto, and this hope that has been fostered by this Labour leadership, the fight is there. We are all in it together. They fight for us and we fight for them. But, more than that, we fight for the many, not the few. And that many includes people who voted against their class interests on June 8th.

A Labour government will be better for everybody, not just those who vote for it.

To get that government, we must eventually get the votes. We must fight for Jez and John and Barry and Dianne and Angela and on a local basis for Jess and Jack and even Wes. We must fight, and hope and fight and hope some more. We must do it for the sick and the young and the elderly, the poor and those doing just about ok. We must fight even for those that don’t seem to want it.

The fight is not just against the Tories, the election laid bare the idea of neutrality or balance in the broadcast media: but it also showed that almost all professional commentators know nothing.

Take my constituency, Oxford West and Abingdon — not a Labour win but a heavy Tory loss. Buzzfeed’s News Editor, Alan White, despite being from a supposedly ‘in-touch’ new media operation, is completely baffled by the result. He tweeted: “The Lib Dems overturned a popular liberal Tory with a 10k maj in Oxford but lost to Labour by 13k votes in Cambridge. Walk me through that”.

On the ground I could see it. I stood in the recent County Council elections for Abingdon North in May, where the Lib Dems took a clean sweep of the ‘Abingdon’ part of the constituency. In my district they put on 1000 votes (the turnout was up just over 1000) to overturn a Tory. We, without much of a ground operation in a very unlikely Labour area held our percentage and increased our vote — both pictures that were reflected in the General Election result. But, more that that, the idea that Nicola Blackwood was popular with the constituents didn’t hold any water at all. Local Facebook groups bristle at her lack of engagement and a voting record that shows she voted against gay marriage and for every cut the Tories wanted. There were tactical voting campaigns like I’ve never seen, Tory posters taken down or ‘modified’, and even politically ‘neutral’ anti-Blackwood leaflet deliveries.

The mood in the country was misjudged by almost everyone with a platform in the mainstream media. And we can’t let them forget that and go back to the cosy, clubbable, atmosphere that rejects the idea that change is possible. The old methods could not predict what was happening, and we cannot go back.

We cannot go back to anti-hope naysayers: the ‘moderates’, the Guardian columnists who said our boy and our ideas were unelectable, all the ‘balanced’ BBC journalists who had nothing but a withering word for a movement that had momentum. And yes, there were cowards that flinched, and those that sneered. And they were all wrong. Labour doesn’t — yet – have a majority but rightly we celebrate a fabulous result and a real gain on the road to a Labour government.

It would be great to see full support from across the right of the Labour party for the polices in the manifesto. However, the current shadow cabinet have done a brilliant job and are now just as (if not more) relevant and visible to the electorate than those in the public eye prior to 2015. Everyone has something to offer, but I think it’s right to make sure that anyone on the front bench is offering the right thing to the electorate and the party.

Willingness to serve is exactly what we need. But, no, there should be no change in front bench personnel unless it’s right for the country, the programme and this truly socialist manifesto.

We’ll all need to get together to try very hard to make the world a better place. It’s closer now than ever.


Join the absolute boy on the journey.

Jeremy Corbyn’s real gamble on the Article 50 bill

Jeremy Corbyn’s real gamble on the Article 50 bill was assuming that the remain voting Labour supporters — which should be the smartest of the lot — would be switched on enough to realise that any concessions on Brexit would not come in the commons where a heavily whipped Tory majority of 18 is bolstered by hard Brexit supporting UKIP, eight DUP MPs, the increasingly bizarre Labour Leave gang, and even the odd Lib Dem.

It was Jeremy’s hope that enough people would understand that the fight for workers’ rights, for free movement, for human rights and fair tax structures, would be a sustained campaign across the county, in and out of the media and parliament for the two years of the negotiations. And that it will continue after that: as it always has. Jeremy has gambled on people being able to see a slightly bigger picture than a vote that could not be won, and could not even be symbolically fought without hurting the wider fight: at the moment it seems he’s to be disappointed on that.

To those disappointed by Labour’s stance, you have to hope that people who oppose Brexit think about why they oppose Brexit: and in coming elections vote on those issues.

The left leaning amongst the angry remainers will need to vote for a party that can safeguard the best of the EU legislation, and they don’t need to vote for a party that is willing to get back into bed with the Tories.

Labour nationally needed to be seen to accept referendum result, which meant a party position. No whip, and the there was the ‘not respecting referendum’ stick for Tories, Kippers and their media pals to beat the party with. There’s scar tissue already all over where the ‘shadow cabinet rebellion stick’ beats Labour, most of that self inflicted for this

Don’t think the leadership will be judging anyone harshly for voting the against the whip, John McDonnell has even suggested that ‘rebels’ could be back in fold within months. This will be forgotten long before the next election. After all, there are bigger, and more winnable, battles to fight.

“There is no final victory, as there is no final defeat. There is just the same battle. To be fought, over and over again. So toughen up, bloody toughen up.” – Tony Benn

Going full canary: conspiracy theories are the way we understand inequalities

If the main voices in our public discourse are to be believed, tin foil sales have gone through the roof. To use their own phrase, many people have ‘gone full Canary’: and are expressing opinions that can be dismissed as them being willing to believe in conspiracies behind not only how society works but how it’s presented to them through the media.

The Canary, a left-leaning, clickbaity web publication, is having a moment in the sun — or at least Newsnight — and is the target of the ire, ‘well meaning despair’ and laughter of much of the journalism profession. It seems unafraid to push stories that other publications won’t touch, either because they aren’t verifiable or because they are otherwise uninteresting to Buzzfeed or the Guardian. They have become a shorthand for conspiracy, or things about which it can be said “the MSM (main-stream media) won’t cover this”.

But think about it calmly, the commentariat would say, there’s nothing going on behind the curtain.  And that may be right: the world is too complex, and people too fallible and factionate to think that there are often huge co-ordinated conspiracies. That does not mean, however, that all is fair and that motives are honest.

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Post-truth, post-fact, post-description: ponzi schemes of lies that are killing our debates

I think I was a few weeks ahead of some in calling the referendum campaign the triumph of post-truth politics that was just as much a fault of David Cameron as the referendum itself was. Jonathan Swift was much further ahead of the post-truth politics game, as in most things: “the greatest liar hath his believers,” he said,”and it often happens that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work [ …] Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

It’s no longer the case that the truth will eventually get its boots on and catch up. For a time it just seemed that the truth needed to up its game, get a pair of slip-ons, get a better narrative, frame the debate: the truth now is on a continuing 24-hour cycle of being shouted down and tripped up. There is only one truth, it’s sometimes complicated or nuanced, there are many more lies — as many as you have space for in the media and on the internet.

And you might think that there are a lot of column inches to fill in the newsagents, but that’s just peanuts to the internet.

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Labour can’t win back voters by championing the status quo

Labour does have a problem with reaching people.

The party made a decision under Kinnock, Blair, Brown and even Miliband to move away from being the party of organised labour. A change that also contributed to the decline of organised labour itself. That has left the party at the mercy of the media to reach the working class voters it depends on.

The ‘dispossessed’ that voted Leave aren’t likely to be union members: there are just over seven million now, dropping from 13 million in the late ’70s. The rise of insecure work and the restrictions on union bargaining power have made it more crucial — but paradoxically less attractive — to working class people to join and organise in the workplace.

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The rise of the idiocracy

The leavers are rising in the polls and everyone is starting to get scared that they might actually win. And, of course, it’s Jeremy Corby’s fault.

It’s not unusual for Corbyn to come under attack, he doesn’t sing loud enough, or bow at the proper angle, and he baulks at the idea of mutual mass destruction. And we all know what Cameron thinks about his suit and tie. But what is odd is that this time around he’s effectively being criticised for not coming to the aid of his opponent in his hour of need.

David Cameron is struggling to get his message across. For the first time his privilege is not buying him an easy ride with an unusually un-supplicant press: and he’s looking to those with experience of not having everything their own way.

Cameron did not see this coming, but in many ways he is the architect of his own downfall. The establishment is trying to pin the blame on the Labour leadership but everything about this is a Tory mess. Even leaving aside that the very referendum is Cameron’s own fault – a self-serving promise to prevent haemorrhaging even more votes and party “loonies” to UKIP – the actions of the Tories have created a situation in which rational argument has lost its power and a new idiocracy rides the waves of ill-informed public opinion.

When Ed Miliband said that the media has focused on the “sexy blue-on-blue action” in covering the referendum campaign, he may have made Today programme listeners push away their boiled eggs, but he was right. Labour has been hamstrung in getting the socialist case for remaining in the EU across, not through a lack of passion, but through a lack of coverage.

Labour (and especially Ed) are used to this, but it is the first time that sections of the Conservatives have been on the wrong side of the tactics that they have spent the last 10 years developing.

So successfully have they terrified the BBC into a false version of impartiality they call ‘balance’, that ideas are never challenged, only countered. Lies are given equal weight to the truth.

And the right wing press doesn’t even have to pretend to be impartial. So if a view – or most frustratingly a fact – isn’t palatable to the owners and their editors then it will get the shortest of shrift. This is a problem. Yes, social media and the internet means that we can go beyond newspaper bias to get to more of the truth – but only if we have the time, critical analysis skills and networks to do so. We can hear Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, see every stroke his cat gets, if we subscribe to it on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: but in the mainstream media his statements are not treated impartially. They are given less credence than those who are prepared to spread lies, to deny facts and give the appearance of idiots when it suits them.

Now the Tory leadership is feeling the Iain Duncan Smith effect: a man who has casually denied links between his workplace capability assessments and the deaths of those they removed benefits from, a man who has defended the fiasco of universal credit, a man who tried to change a law to make his actions over workfare legal after they’d been ruled otherwise by the high court, a man who has made an artform of using false statistics in the face of the evidence and chastisement from the ONS, a man whose greatest lie may have been that he cared. Through all that Smith knew that the right wing press would support him and that a neutered BBC would let his statements pass without comment, given equal credibility as the truth.

And as a result, he has become unanswerable. As Auden said, “A sentence uttered makes a world appear; Where all things happen as it says they do.” He believes that he can say anything; he can. And of course others have seen it work and take advantage too.

From the Hutton report onwards, the BBC has shied away from confrontation in news: and the Tories have enjoyed every moment of it. They spent six or seven years being unchallenged on their lies about the causes of the financial crash, and they grew in confidence to the point where they felt able to say “I don’t accept that view” and dismiss any factual argument put to them.

We are living in an age that is post-democracy. Power is concentrated in an elite, says political scientist Colin Crouch, who make “electoral debate a tightly controlled spectacle… considering a small range of issues.” The majority of the electorate, he says, play “a passive, quiescent, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them.” In a single issue vote, with a narrow debate, this makes the infantalisaton of our media actively dangerous to democracy: and we’re seeing this turned up to 11 by a band of chancers that display no more signs of intelligence than Nigel Tuffnell, let alone Nigel Farage.

The lie of the £350M sent to Brussels – proven not to be true, widely debunked, yet still emblazoned across the Leave campaign bus – is the ultimate example of this. It sits in the background on breakfast TV, the moderators on the ITV debates don’t challenge Boris Johnson when he repeats it again and again

David Cameron and his ilk have a specific problem too: the Tories have consistently stoked fear of immigration, because otherwise they’d have to admit that austerity and privatisation is the cause of stress on housing, jobs and services – not migrants. They can’t defend the lies of the leave campaign and are trapped by their own past rhetoric. Consummate politician though Cameron is, he doesn’t quite have the confidence to U-turn on that. There’s no doubt, however, that the idiots would flip and tell that truth if it suited them. They are not just post-democracy, but post-truth.

There are stories that Leave literature has been telling black and asian communities that there will be more and easier immigration after leaving Europe, in direct contrast to the anti-immigration narrative that we hear elsewhere from the same campaign. Likewise the EU is labelled undemocratic by those who don’t turn up to vote despite having been elected to its parliment, and those who would happily turn any state control over to the private sector.

We have a referendum debate conducted in a post-democracy, post-truth, landscape: one where facts aren’t valued and liars aren’t called out. We have already had a Trexit and left a place where rational argument holds any sway.

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The Labour doorstep? A load of cults

From each according to his ability, is half of Marx’s founding ideas.

From the ‘sensible establishment’ supporters of Labour’s pre-Corbyn core, there is something different: forget abilities, what we require from each is a particular form of commitment to and participation in activity that we see as ‘correct’. The virtue signalling of the ‘Labour doorstep’, and the dismissal of those that don’t feel that this is the best use of their efforts in pursuit of a (supposedly) shared goal.

The idea that knocking on doors providing up to date voter data (oh, and having ‘conversations’, although in what form we’re never really told) is the only route of activism available to the foot-soldiers.

Having an opinion is frowned-upon until a certain amount of dues-paying doorstepping has been completed.

A Red Wedge-style series of fund- and awareness-raising gigs with high profile names is dismissed as meaningless in electoral terms. Unless they also knock on doors.

Labour far outshone the Conservatives in doorstep conversations in May last year. But, if knocking on doors alone won elections, it wouldn’t be the Labour Party in power: it would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In coalition with meter readers and Betterware franchisees.

Social media may be an echo chamber, but volume still matters. It’s where people are — but crucially most see no substantive delineation between platforms, between local and national issues, nor between ‘real life’ and the real people they communicate with online*. And that’s why Tom Watson’s digital project, and what it comes out with is so important: we do need to be able to understand how the psychology of people plays out as a whole. That includes conversations around unity in the media, and on the web. And it included targeted digital interactions.

I’ve a lot of time for Jess Phillips, the ‘outspoken’ MP for Yardley, or at least it seems I feel I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what she’s said now. She’s recently been talking about how people on the internet are stopping her being ‘herself’. She says that people are willfully misinterpreting her — and that’s contributing to the rise of the robot MP, too afraid to say anything put the scripted party line.

I wonder if she sees the parallels in how she jumps to give her opinion at things, often speaking before the full story is known, and how other people behave towards her? It is true that we often find most distasteful in others the behaviour that we recognise and dislike in ourselves.

The irony is that, yes, she was misinterpreted by the media — ‘I’ll stab him in the front’ — when talking about how Jeremy Corbyn was misinterpreted by the media and giving that as a reason to potentially work against him. Is she not worried that PLP member’s attacks on Corbyn risk him turning into a frightened ‘robot’ too? Isn’t that what we had for a leader in the previous two elections? How did that work out?

People I know, who know Jess Phillips say she’s the same in real life as she is online. That has certain merits, but it’s not quite true: everything we do online is mediated either by oneself or others. We have to understand the prisms through which we’re seen.

If you’re an MP, you’re not normal — you’ve had a particular set of ambitions, opportunities and experiences. If you’re more than passingly interested in politics, you’re not normal either. Look again at your Facebook feed: although it’s skewed towards your personal likes, is it more political or personal? Watching Googlebox, liking ‘indie music’, or tweeting about ‘bake off’ doesn’t give you some direct line to ‘people’. Only thousands of real conversations — and arguments — offline and online, and through the unfortunately mediated press,  can do that. People like Jess are really valuable to that goal, so she needs to be onboard: but intra-movement discussion needs to be constructive as well as honest. We need to beware we don’t conflate a common touch with an actual principle.

But what if you aren’t ‘on the doorstep’? I find this criticism both disingenuous and exclusive. In reality it’s one of the stock criticisms that can now be laid at the new kind of activist: they’re not doing what we always have done.

Emails from our local party leaders often feel like they’re prickly at an influx of activists: they often “remind new members” of some protocol, despite there being no way for those enthusiastic neophytes to know.

This behaviour, and the exaltation of those ‘on the Labour doorstep’ feels like a set of shibboleths to assert control of the movement. It also feels like an all-purpose criticism to use when change feels uncomfortable. Change may be uncomfortable, but it has to happen.

*This new book Social Media in an English Village is well worth a read on real-life social media use, free to download from UCL Press.

This originally appeared on Labour Uncut.

A brief note about hope

Hope is a one hell of a drug in politics. Luckily it’s hard to get too addicted because like any good drug, it has one hell of a comedown. In fact the comedown is so bad it can put you off forever. After the last general election The Left were clucking bad, wandering the streets, red flags left to drape in the puddles, while The Right grinned with sharp yellow teeth and wiped the saliva from their chins with the yellow ties of the Liberal Democrats.

Now the real addict knows, the best way to avoid a comedown is to stay high, and anyway who wants to miss the two month hope leadership election festival? Hope dealers galore dragging back in the old and hooking the young. The first time’s free (or three quid).

If hope is a drug, The Left has found a reliable dealer in Corbyn. He seems genuine, pure: the good shit. Will he be affecting any change? I don’t know. He did seem to be the only leader with any real eye towards opposing the Tories during their holiday of hate.

Tom Watson is the only MP I’ve shared a pint with. I looked in his eyes and saw a person. He moves like a politician though, and is formidable as an opponent. And Corbyn will need it if he to survive the next six months. If Corbyn is smart he’ll lean into the party hard and appoint his own whips as soon as possible, big fuckers with sharp teeth, because I fear there will be many nights with very long knives to come. Although a 59% mandate buys you a lot of cover.

Myself I only dabble with hope now.

Go on then. Maybe just a line.

Jeremy Corbyn: One direction

We live in a small town in Oxfordshire — Cameron country — where Labour are a distant third in all elections, and the Conservative social club is a signposted landmark and a social hub. My wife Libby is never one to shy away from a political discussion, despite being the daughter of a sometime Liberal Democrat councillor. At least once she has stopped to engage those having a fag outside ‘the Con club’ as it’s known and asked them their opinions on matters of the day.

Most of the time it happens with more respect and decorum than PMQs, even though, leaving aside the Chancellor, participants in these impromptu street exchanges are likely to be more intoxicated.

But do you know what? These proud Tories haven’t got a clue what is going on: they have no inkling that there has even been a Health and Social Care Act, let alone what  its impacts are. But these are the people, working class in the true economic sense and ‘aspirational’ — if that means that they are happy to work hard, desire have nice things and want look after their families and friends — that we have been told that the Labour Party needs to win over in 2020.

Truth is, it probably is possible for a Labour party to bring these people along: but it’s not going to happen by nodding assent to the direction of Tory policies and then just arguing with the nuance. We have essentially been agreeing that we all have to stand in a lake of excrement, but we’re saying we should have socks on as well as our sandals. We can offer a different, hopeful, fair, path: and that means an alternative to austerity. Out of the Labour leadership contenders I only see Jeremy Corbyn articulating anything like that. The halls across the country, bursting like a boyband concert, are testament to just how many people see the same thing: and that feels fantastic.

I’ll admit to not having been too aware of him before this campaign, but I’ve been more and more impressed by his stature, attitude and messages. He’s being painted as further left than Lenin, but there’s nothing in his policies that sounds outlandish.

Let’s get ‘electable’ out of the way: the ravaging the press gave Ed Miliband is the new standard that every Labour leader can expect from here on in. Pandering to it is not going to work: changing the debate is the only way. Consistency of thought and message, and — yes — being “a signpost rather than a weather vane”. I can’t say that any of the other candidates have improved my opinion of their abilities in this spotlight.

Corbyn is leading the internal party polls, they say, but there are a lot of shy Tories.

No, that’s unfair: every Labour member I’ve ever met is committed to social justice. It used to be that the destination was the same, but members had different ideas about how to go there: now it seems that the ambition and the drive to move beyond small changes are missing from the usual suspects.

The upper tiers seem to be surprised by the support for more socialist ideas in the membership, and that’s part of the problem. At the very least it shows a lack of their supposed electoral nous: who’d have thought that there were a load of left wingers in the Labour party? There may have been four million conversations on the doorstep, but how many internal conversations about policy?

It’s a shame that the leadership seems to hold the steering wheel, the map and the gas money, but at the moment it does and that’s why getting someone going in the right direction is so important. It’s why we need signposts. Deputy leader candidates (especially Tom Watson and the very impressive Stella Creasy) have spent a lot of time talking about the need for Labour to be a movement — and that’s true, I hope whoever wins that contest they can both work towards it. But that means a leader that also wants that.

Movements have to have leaders, it’s what drives momentum, passion and commitment. Far better they are the reluctant type driven by principle rather than personal ambition, for they are most likely to do what is right — and listen to their movement — rather than only opinion polls.

The movement can be big enough, the momentum can be big enough, the membership can be big enough to win in 2020. But we’ve got to offer people a direction, and Jeremy Corbyn is the only one going anywhere.