Labour Leadership – The Three Debates

Evidently, I supported Corbyn last year and I’ve changed my position. This has been for various reasons, some of which I’ve already expressed on here. You might have thought that my status as a former Corbyn-supporter would give me some additional street cred, but it doesn’t. For the most part, from Corbyn-supporting friends, I’ve received the suspicion that any convert might expect. Perhaps I’ve gone mad, perhaps I’ve been hoodwinked, or perhaps I never really supported the ideas of Corbyn sufficiently in the first place.

One real difficulty we have is the debate is taking place accross several fronts. I’ve been able to identify three so far, and here are my responses in brief to all.

Debate 1: Left or Centre Left

There is the politics/policy debate about whether Labour should be left or centre left. I’ve already argued, I think convincingly, that this is not a real issue as Owen Smith has a very similer if not stronger socialist platform. This is to the point that Corbynistas have been alleging Smith stole the policies. Another Angry Voice, for example, attributes this to an “ideological flexibility” on the part of Smith, as though ideological purity were a virtue (I’ll get back to this).

I just do not see this at all, and I’d ask everyone considering voting on this issue to think seriously and critically about their own biases. The very idea that policies can be owned by a person is a spurious and centrist liberal attidue towards politics anyway. An attitude Corbyn constantly disavows by deferring to the Movement and not himself. The fact is, Corbyn is simply not that left wing! Jeremy Corbyn is a parliamentarian social democrat, he is not a communist. a fortiori he believes in a democratic, pragmatic and compromise based approach to the taming of capitalism. The polices Corbyn has could comfortably have been proposed by Brown and certainly by Miliband. I’ve said it many times: no one paying attention believed Miliband believed in austerity-lite, it’s one of the main reasons they lost the election.

Labour is always about investment, and Another Angry Voice’s suggestion that Cooper ran her election campaign against investment is frankly deluded. Remember, Cooper was the only candidate apart from Corbyn saying New Labour did not over spend!

Debate 2: Is Corbyn Incompetent or a Superhero?

This brings us onto the second, and I think main, debate within the leadership contest: Corbyn’s competence. The Owen Smith position is very clearly that Corbyn is great, but not very good. Lets implement a stronger version of his policies but through a leader that knows how to get a message accross, has the trust of the PLP, and can make Labour look like a government in waiting instead of a protest party.

The opposing position is that the qualities Smith supportes misrecognise as incompentencies are actually virtues. It isn’t that Corbyn is a terrible interviewee, he just doesn’t conform to the stylised tropes of broadcast media. It isn’t that Corbyn is a boring speech maker, he undermines the rehersed slickness of the post-Blair era with honest, passionate, and analytical public statements. It is obvious where I stand on this point, and I ask anyone who thinks otherwise to remember Tony Benn. Benn was no spin doctor, but had the very important statesmanly skill of public speaking.

It’s all very well in saying that you shouldn’t need to be a public speaker to be a good prime minister, but the fact is that statesmanship in a democracy has always been and will always be more than half about making speeches. Only the dictator does not need to convince others, and it is impossible to convince others without being interesting and engaging a speach maker.

Debate 3: Is this a Coup?

The final front on the leadership contest is a moral outrage against the so-called (Blairite) coup. To friends who believe that this is a reason to abandon Labour should Corbyn not succeed, I can only say that this is a fair election and it is inconsistent to decry the deposing of a leader on the basis of a mandate and then leave the party because someone else gets a mandate.

As a final point, I’ve had it said to me many times that the changes in election rules have meant that poor people can’t afford to participate. I’d only point out that this works in your favour as the overwhelming evidence over the last ten months is that Corbyn supporters are not working class, but middle class. They are not poor, but well off. And, for the most part, they live in Labour strongholds in London.

That should also put to bed the idea that Corbyn is a champion of the working class. It is my strong suspicion, as someone from a working class background with mainly working class friends and family, that the working class voter: 1) Is neither in a union nor really knows what one is, 2) just voted for Brexit seeing a protest vote as the only viable way to attack the Tories, having utterly lost faith in Labour as an opposition party, 3) likes trident, and 4) thinks Corbyn is a power hungry, condescending, middle class prick.

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