2001 again

By Jake Wilde

I’ve never been much of a joiner. At university the assorted political parties of the far left, or their front organisations posing as single issue groups, revolted me and none of the major political parties offered anything that interested me. In hindsight I think that’s because I was following a path that had more resonance in the United States than in the United Kingdom, where the anti-Stalinist left had embraced the principles of democracy, personal freedom and liberty more commonly associated with American conservatism. I hold a general view that the state has key role to play in delivering essential services to its citizens and can and should do things the market can’t and won’t, but that individuals need to have the freedom to operate economically outside of state control, and to have complete freedom of political thought. The problem I always had with Marxism was that the cobbler could never make a pair of shoes for his daughter, and the problem I always had with Leninism and Stalinism was the mass murder. In short, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was more of a neoconservative than anything else and in the late nineties there really wasn’t much interest in attracting the neocon vote.

When Tony Blair became the first Labour Prime Minister of my adulthood I was pleased but no more so than any other Labour voter. It never occurred to me to join the Labour Party as it still tolerated the kind of people we now call Corbynistas. When I started work and became a trade union representative I encountered these people every day, and they moved in the same sphere and held broadly the same views as those in the Socialist Party, the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party. There was no obvious distinction between those of them who were members of the Labour Party or those who were in the fringe parties. Any differences between them seemed to be more about which personality cult they favoured.

The single event that prompted me to join the Labour Party was the 2003 military intervention in Iraq. Finally here was a political party actually prepared to fight fascism, rather than to pretend to do so in order to promote its own agenda. It’s often said that the far left have been at the forefront of the fight against fascism, sexism, racism and homophobia. This is nonsense. The far left have always hijacked those campaigns to use them for self-promotion, to swell the numbers seemingly prepared to foment revolution or simply to use those causes to rail against capitalism and The West. This is not an essay about Iraq, but I remain firmly of the view that the liberation of the Iraqi people ranks alongside the creation of the NHS and the introduction of the minimum wage in the pantheon of achievements by the Labour Party.

It strikes me that, in the same way that “Iraq” has become the standard retort to any defence of Blairism, “Syria” will be the single word used to define the Labour Party’s post-Iraq cowardice. Unlike Iraq, where military action would have taken place even without UK involvement, the military action against Assad did not occur solely because the UK did not participate, and precisely because of the attitude of the Labour Party, as directed by the then Corbyn–led Stop The War Coalition.

Thus where the liberation of Iraq led to democratic elections and a multicultural society (as reflected in today’s Iraqi army), the non-liberation of Syria has led to a fascist, torturing, murdering, sectarian dictator remaining in power. The Labour Party should take credit for the former and must take the blame for the latter. Jeremy Corbyn has far more blood on his hands than Tony Blair.

So with the reason for my joining Labour now treated with disgust, and the party under the far left’s control, I am back where I started. I was only ever what I’ll call a CBeebies Blairite – of a generation with young kids when Blair was at his height, and only needing a elementary understanding of what Blairism was in order to support it. I doubt that there will ever be a political party that fully represents my views but in that sense I am no different from those who share my viewpoint on the other side of the Atlantic, who must have found themselves looking at Trump and Clinton in the same way as I look at May and Corbyn. Nevertheless I regard myself as lucky to have been, for a short time in the mid 2000s, in the right place at the right time.

Why is any of this relevant in 2017, you may very well ask. I may be being overly self-centred, even by my standards, but I don’t think I was the only person who felt politically seasick during 2016. I’ve read countless articles about how everything has changed, how populations across the world are rejecting elites, about a revolt against liberalism. It’s seductive stuff because everyone, especially those who write political articles for a living, likes to think that they live in historic times. I just don’t think it’s true. No grand realignment has occurred, there has been no massive change in the way people think and Trump, Corbyn and Brexit are not reflections of a populist uprising.

Leo Strauss, one of the founders of neoconservative thought, was writing in the 1960s when he said “the crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose” but his view equally applies today. In America liberals call Trump a sexist but then defend the burqa, while conservatives laud the importance of freedom to the human spirit but then forcefully deny it to those from different continents. The notion that what we call liberalism and conservatism are vastly different becomes a nonsense when contrasted to the world view held by Islamists, for example. Yet Obama can’t bring himself to confront Islamism and Trump is happy to consign moderate Muslims to their deaths. As a consequence no political leader in the US is entering 2017 with any credit or a clear vision about how to lead the world’s response to the threats to the unifying Western principles of democracy, freedom and liberty.

I’ve written before about my astonishment that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls seems to be the only senior Western politician prepared to recognise Islamism for what it is and challenge it but, crucially, attempt to preserve Western values while doing so. He knows that tolerating the apparently softer edges of Islamism, such as dress codes and segregation, fuels extremism, rather than assuages it and by normalising Islamist ideology and practice we accept it when we should be rejecting it. He also knows that the first victims of toleration of Islamism are Muslims, Muslims who would and should be at the forefront of opposition to Islamism. But politicians such as Trump make the critical mistake of lumping all Muslims in with Islamists, rather than acknowledging that Muslims are the Islamists’ first and most frequent targets. They then compound their error with precisely those Muslims who are looking to the West for help, by suppressing them, failing to give them safe refuge or ignoring their pleas for help in fighting back against Islamist (or other forms of) oppression. Western leaders need to learn that secular democrats who happen to be Muslim are vital in the war against Islamism. There’s no difference between Obama and Trump on this, albeit for different reasons.

That’s one of the reasons why I see the transition between the Obama and Trump administrations as little different to the handover from Bill Clinton to George W Bush. During the 2000 election campaign Bush had criticised Clinton, and by connection Al Gore, for being too interventionist: “If we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that.” This is precisely the objection Trump raised against Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy plans. And while Bill Clinton did intervene on occasion his failure to effectively deal with Islamism would prove to have devastating consequences. After an equally controversial election, demonstrations accompanied the 2001 inauguration, as there will be for Trump’s, and Bush also started his presidency by pushing through tax cuts and controversial environmental initiatives that some saw as being driven by his links to big business. If you set aside Donald Trump’s talent for courting publicity through manipulating media controversy, then there is little to separate him from the 2001 pre-9/11 version of George W Bush.

The Labour Party, in the manner of someone who hasn’t had a hangover for a while and is sat in the pub drinking like there’s no tomorrow, has forgotten just how electorally damaging left wing ideology is in this country. The British far left always turn to the comfort of religious scripture, interpreted for today’s world by the next round of Marxist prophets, and cast judgement upon those made impure by having to make real decisions that matter. That’s why their greenest bile is reserved for Labour governments. We should be thankful of the greatest check against extremism that this country possesses – the British electorate. The current leadership of the Labour Party are there simply because not many people are members of a political party and all of the far left wing ones have joined Labour. It’s no more complicated than that, and it has no meaning to anybody who is not a member of the Labour Party. It is only once the electorate start to hear what Labour now offers that the true horror of what has happened to the party dawns upon the general population. Lost deposits in by elections are not freak results, they are what happens when Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party meets the real world.

Voting in the EU referendum saw people across the UK discard their party political home and vote according to their instinctive sense of what the EU represented to them. None of the major political parties, not even the SNP, were able to deliver “their” voters to support their preferred outcome so it is understandable but incorrect to regard the outcome as a rejection of traditional politics. That the country should be split on their view, and most didn’t even have a view, of an organisation that none of the major political parties particularly liked to talk about surely shouldn’t be a surprise. The EU has been variously painted as a bogeyman or a sugar daddy, punishing small businesses with red tape that Whitehall would never impose, or protecting workers with legislation that Westminster would never have allowed. Neither is true but both are believed with equal religiosity by their proponents. In the end the electorate were forced to rely upon a personal interpretation of a binary question about what an unknown future held and yet people have the nerve to tell those who voted the other way that they were wrong to do so.

That’s why I think 2016 was no different to any other year. There was no populist revolt, no death of liberalism, and no rejection of elites. Trump is no more a fascist than Obama is a communist. Corbyn is less a threat to the establishment than he is a part of the establishment. Brexit was a consequence of slightly more people guessing that Leave was a better option than Remain. 2017 is more like 2001, with a two-term Democrat handing over to a Republican widely ridiculed by the left, a UK government untroubled by an incompetent and ideologically unpopular opposition, and our relationship with Europe still a mystery to pretty much everyone. So perhaps in a couple of years someone will come along who will make me a joiner again. They need not rush.

We are our choices

By Jake Wilde

Some of the choices that we are required to make in our lives are deeply important and the decision making that surrounds these significant choices is generally, and often rightly, a source of debate, argument, fractiousness and angst. Whether that choice is about Britain’s membership of the European Union or the direction of your own life then the impact of such a decision always falls upon more than just you alone.

Similarly whether the choice is who the leader of the Labour Party should be or, as will be required of 150 million Americans in a few days, who will be the most powerful person on the planet, these are real choices that affect the lives of millions of other people.

What interests me is the response to such a choice once it has been made. I’ll use the examples of the EU referendum and Labour leadership election, both of which have produced outcomes I personally didn’t want.

In the case of the vote to leave the EU there are those who wish the referendum to be re-run. Others genuinely want to ignore the result, and more still are trying to impart a layer of meaning not contained on the ballot paper, such as that it somehow excluded the principle of freedom of movement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader, a year after being first elected, illustrates the folly of this thinking. One of the principal objections from Corbyn supporters to the 2016 election was that it was inherently undemocratic to even hold it. That to ask the same question a year after first asking it, and expecting a different outcome, was disrespectful to both the people who voted in 2015 but also to the underlying principles of democracy.

I think they had a point. If you make what you know is a significant decision then you are entitled to have that choice respected unless there’s a clear and demonstrable change of circumstances. The suggestion that people who voted to leave the EU, or for Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t know what they were doing, or were ‘mistaken’, has no place in democratic discourse. That extends to those who will vote for Donald Trump on 8 November. These are choices that people make, and they have weighed them in just the same way as those who choose differently.

We all know that a key part of any vibrant and successful democracy is the continuation of debate and discussion. But this must manifest itself in the form of finding new questions to ask, of accepting the decision that has been made and looking at how to move that debate, that discussion on. Otherwise you risk being no better than the rape apologists of the SWP, on the streets objecting to the outcome of free and fair parliamentary elections.

Here both the Remainers and the anti-Corbyners share a common problem. Both are stuck in wanting to replay the question until the ‘correct’ answer is given. In the case of Brexit the debate needs to quickly shift to how we mitigate the economic impact of ceasing to be a member of the EU, rather than in finding ways to pretend it’s not going to happen.

Similarly the anti-Corbyners need to be contemplating how to mitigate the worst effects of the Labour Party being led by Corbyn into a general election, and preparing for the inevitably much-changed environment on 8 May 2020.

The reason for this is because it is impossible for either the Remainers or the anti-Corbyners to persuade anybody beyond themselves of the merit of their arguments if they don’t accept the outcome of the original decisions. So in much the same way as Corbynistas are rightly ridiculed for not wishing to attract a single ‘Tory vote’ it is unsustainable for Remainers not to attempt to appeal to those who voted for Brexit.

Similarly those who support Corbyn do so for, from their perspective, good reasons. It’s doubtful that these include clear or firm policies other than being opposed to Trident and austerity so most who support Corbyn do so because he is their choice as a leader, albeit an unlikely (possibly accidental) one. So the uncomfortable truth is that the only way to counteract this is with an alternative leader. We all know that the reason for Labour’s success in the 90s was Tony Blair, not Blairism. We ought to admit that and set about finding the next one.

Here’s where there is a convergence between the two issues. The approach from the current Labour leadership is already clear; they will just regurgitate the Lexit arguments they secretly wanted to make during the referendum. This won’t help anyone, and it will have no impact upon the national discourse about the terms of Brexit. But there is room for an opposition politician to marshal the Remainers and make strong arguments that reach across the majority of voters who were not dogmatically fixed to a firmly held view: to find a Brexit to please Remainers.

It’s wrong to ask a question over and over because we don’t like the answer that we get, but more importantly it doesn’t address the world as it is, changed by the choice that people have made. We cannot avoid the consequences of significant choices and whether we agree with the outcome or not is, ultimately, irrelevant. Instead we must adapt to the new reality that exists, discover the next significant choice that must be made, and prepare for that. Because there is always a next one.

I, Max Dunbar

Max Dunbar

idanielblake-jpgHere’s a question I’ve been pondering. Can you review a film you’ve never seen? Also: can you review a review of a film you’ve never seen? This is what I’m wondering as I read reviews of I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach’s film about people on benefits. Liberals tend to like the movie. Or I think they like it. Lynn Enright, for the Pool, writes that, ‘My whole face was wet with crying. I tried to be discreet, but my body was shuddering as sobs clattered through it. I allowed the film to simply do its work on me, reducing me to tears, stoking a great sadness and sense of naïve uselessness.’ Jack Monroe, in the Guardian, had a similar reaction: ‘The woman beside me, a stranger, squeezed my forearm as I choked on guttural, involuntary sobs. I’m sorry, I whispered, sloping out to punch a wall in the…

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“Success supposes endeavour”

Thirteen months ago I wrote a short piece just ahead of the announcement of the result of the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest. The eve of the 2016 result seems like a good day to reflect on what has changed in that time.

You can read for yourself my warnings about what Corbyn’s supporters would try and do, of what the atmosphere in the party would be like (and the comments below the line on them) and decide how wide of the mark I was. The most important development though has been the fruition of my hope that there would be unity amongst the anti-Corbyn camps, and that has been shown throughout this year’s leadership campaign. It’s no secret that not all of us who oppose Corbyn would necessarily have started with a shortlist of Owen Smith and Angela Eagle, or chosen Smith as our candidate. Nor would anyone suggest that all of Smith’s policy proposals have been supported by those of us who oppose Corbyn. But what is important is that we have done what the Corbynistas have done, and unite around both the candidate and the cause.

The contrast with the 2015 contest couldn’t be starker and precisely demonstrates the approach that is required to win general elections. The competition to succeed Ed Miliband was partly a narrow ideological debate and partly a test of soppiness. What started as a ballot of how many of the party’s members supported the four identifiable strands of thought turned into a flood of desire to feel better about things. Corbyn won in part because the differences between Burnham’s soft leftism, Cooper’s Brownism and Kendall’s Blairism (none of those labels are particularly accurate) were indistinguishable by comparison to his simple anti-austerity message. But he also won because a large number of party members were fed up with being sensible about things and went with what felt nice.

In the late 1990s Tony Blair did not have the support of everyone in the Labour Party, but (nearly) everyone in the Labour Party was fed up with opposition and wanted to win the next general election. Members then also wanted to feel nice about things by actually being in power and recognised that uniting behind Tony Blair was the way to do it. In 2016 we have the odd situation where large sections of the party are either unfussed about winning the next general election or actively don’t want to. For while there are certainly Corbynistas who would rather retain their principles over gaining power there are also some of us who think that a Corbynista government would be extremely dangerous. In any event a significant number in the party, including the overwhelming majority of MPs, certainly don’t think that uniting behind Corbyn will win the election. I would go further and say that Labour has a better chance of overall success as a party in a general election if individual parliamentary candidates make it clear to their constituents that they oppose, or at least don’t particularly support, Corbyn.

My view hasn’t changed over what those of us who oppose Corbyn and his supporters need to do. We must hold our nerve and continue to expound the reasons why the electorate should choose to support a party led not by extremists like Corbyn and McDonnell, but by those who share the view that Labour is the party of work, of success, of growth, of modernity, of equality and of international democracy. I’ve argued in other articles about the need to draw a clear distinction between us and what Corbyn represents. We can articulate that difference within the party. MPs can articulate that difference in Parliament. And the next challenger for the leadership can articulate that difference in 2017. In 2016 the opposition to Corbyn has been able to unite people behind a broad coalition of views that includes soft left, Brownite, Blairite and even some Corbynite opinion, and behind a single candidate. In other words the Owen Smith campaign has, happily, proved that a broad church strategy is still possible.

 

 

 

Labour isn’t Europe’s biggest party

By Paul Canning

Reproduced by kind permission from the author’s original posting on his blog.

It is one of those little things that illustrates something bigger. For some time I have seen Twitter posts on Labour’s membership numbers claiming it is now the biggest political party in Europe.

labour europe

The oldest tweet saying this which I could find came from a nasty antisemitic account in January:

Some of these tweets, most notably from Momentum’s James Schnider, have described it as ‘biggest left of centre party’. Others have described it as ‘biggest party in Western Europe. But now this has progressed to a meme and I’ve had enough.

CqVXLYSWcAA3V2M ()

This is not true, on several levels.

Wrong, spin, ignorant

The biggest political party in Europe is United Russia**, the ruling party in the Russian Federation, set up by Vladimir Putin in 2001. It’s membership (2013 figures) is over two million.

It is spin because in a first past the post (FPTP) system almost all left members of political parties are in one party, rather than in several. In the rest of Europe, the spectrum of views represented in UK Labour are covered by more than one party because they have various forms of proportional representation.  So the Social Democratic Party of Germany has around 450k members and Die Linke 60k and Alliance ’90/The Greens another 60k. Plus there are other smaller left parties.

I am not suggesting that all those members of other parties than Germany’s Social Democrats would join them under FPTP but that those numbers point to another problem with the ‘Europe’s largest party’ claim: the UK is coming off a very low base; proportionally most other European countries have higher memberships in general of political parties.

These are the most recent figures I could find (from 2013)*. As you can see, even with Labour’s membership growth the UK still has much lower numbers than most other countries.

Figure1Biezen ()

I could not find membership numbers for parties such as Greece’s Syriza but this graph suggests it would be high. Parties of the left in Italy have a membership total over half a million. Spain’s Podemos has around 450k members in a country 70% the size of the UK. Proportionally Podemos is as big as UK Labour and there are another 190,000 Social Democrats.

The election for UK’s Labour’s Leader also has a paltry participation rate compared to elsewhere. In the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary around 2,700,000 voters participated in the first round, and 2,900,000 voters in the second – a fact which beggars the question what the outcome would be if a similar democratic event were to happen in UK Labour.

Wake up call

What these facts highlight the most – and this is how a little thing can illustrate something bigger – is the con job behind this spin from Corbyn supporters, led by Momentum. Namely that even if you are ‘Europe’s biggest party’ it does not matter how many members your party has, what matters is how many people will vote for you. The experience of other European parties tells us this. As they dare cite Europe they simultaneously ignore Europe.

One could add (because rally size is often cited alongside membership by Corbyn supporters) that it does not matter how many people you get to your rallies either – have you seen the scale of some of the rallies for European left wing parties?

This is a rally of tens of thousands for Spain’s Podemos two months ago. They went on to lose the election to Spain’s conservatives and got 21% of the vote.

podemos-rally-madrid ()

*Another paper showing figures up to 2008 from across Europe.

** It has been pointed out to me (cheers Roger McCarthy) that Turkey is also in Europe, including a huge amount of its largest city, Istanbul.  As of May 2008, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly had 3,688,761 members.

 

Editor’s postscript: Since Paul published his article Jeremy Corbyn seems to have stopped making his false claim. Let us know if you know otherwise.

Corbyn’s past will destroy Labour’s future

By John Rogan

This is an edited version of the author’s original post on Medium, kindly reproduced with his permission.

The Socialist Workers Party are right about one thing at least – the Labour Party is indeed imbued with “electoralism”. Labour Party members believe that Labour needs to be in Government to change things for the better. The big split is that while the PLP believe Corbyn is the main obstacle to power, many of his supporters believe it to be the PLP.

I believe the 80% of the PLP who have no confidence in Corbyn winning to be absolutely correct. Why? One issue. Northern Ireland.

Jeremy Corbyn, along with John McDonnell, was among those on the Left who gave critical support to the Provisional IRA “against British Imperialism”. He may, in the leftist parlance of the time, not have agreed with some of their methods but they were deserving of solidarity. Now this is being dishonestly dressed up as Corbyn being ahead of his time and helping to bring about the peace process by talking to the Republicans. This refusal to face what Corbyn’s views actually were could be a major factor in destroying the Labour vote in many parts of the country (e.g. Birmingham and Warrington to take the obvious examples).

For those who are willing to take the time, I suggest you read the articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. To summarise, Jeremy Corbyn was on the editorial board of “London Labour Briefing” (LLB) in the 1980s. After the Brighton bombing in 1984, LLB ran an editorial condemning it. Cue an angry reaction from readers and the next editorial ran an apology for the condemnation and reemphasised its support for Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Briefing 1984

If any Sinn Fein members or supporters happen to be reading this, you should put your feelings of nostalgia and gratitude towards Jeremy Corbyn’s support for the Republican Movement to one side for the moment and look at the following.

Jeremy Corbyn is a founder member of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) as is John McDonnell (it’s Chair for many years). At the LRC AGM 2012 on November 12, the following motion, moved by Gerry Downing’s Socialist Fight grouping, was passed:

LRC 2012

report in “Weekly Worker” stated the following:

ww12

Prison officer David Black was killed by “dissident Republicans” on November 1st 2012. Caitriona Ruane, Sinn Fein MLA, called his killing a “pointless murder” and Martin McGuinness even expressed a willingness to go to his funeral . In fact McGuinness went as far as issuing a joint statement with then First Minister David Robinson to appeal for help to catch the killers, saying that an attack on any member of the Northern Ireland Prison Service was “an attack on all of us”.

Meanwhile, eleven days after the murder of David Black, the LRC (Chair John McDonnell, founder member Jeremy Corbyn) supported a motion not only calling this killing “political” but also for the freeing of the perpetrators. In other words, an act of political solidarity with those, (the Continuity IRA, the Real IRA etc.), who would wish Northern Ireland to return to the worst days of the “troubles”.

Perhaps one day, the Chair of the LRC, John McDonnell MP will offer an explanation for that organisation’s political solidarity with “dissident Republicans”. Perhaps, one day, a founder member of the LRC, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, might offer his view on the LRC’s political solidarity with the killers of David Black.

Did either Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell vote for Motion 4? I’ve no idea. Maybe that question will come up in the General Election too.

I’ll try to be charitable and say the LRC, alongside Corbyn and McDonnell, are perfect examples of ultra-left, student union politicians. An “anti-imperialist” motion like this would have been voted for without thinking of any consequences. It’s not as if it would really have any effect on the Northern Ireland peace process. After all, it’s not as if Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell were holding leading positions in the Labour Party then.

They do now though.

John McDonnell said in 1998, in an interview with An Phoblacht (the Sinn Fein newspaper), “An assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years. We want peace, but the settlement must be just and the settlement must be for an agreed and united Ireland.” Reading this, I, for one, am glad John McDonnell was not a Sinn Fein leader during the negotiations which lead to the Good Friday Agreement.

In May 1987, the Sunday Express ran a front page story where it said Jeremy Corbyn stood for a minute’s silence for eight IRA members who had been killed by the British Army in Ireland.

Corbyn IRA 87

Afterwards he was quoted as saying, “I’m happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland.” The meeting had been organised by the “Wolfe Tone Society” which was set up in London in 1984 to support Sinn Fein and its policies, including support for the IRA.

How might all this play out in a General election though?

Here’s how I picture that might look on a Conservative Party billboard in a General Election campaign:

Corbyn Tory election

Imagine that billboard in Birmingham or in Warrington during a General Election campaign. Imagine it throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. In Glasgow, where I come from, sectarian and political tensions would be dangerously stoked up. And, if Corbyn supporters believe all this talk of supporting the IRA is a “smear”, let’s wait until a General Election debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May — “Were you or were you not at the Wolfe Tone Society meeting where you stood for a minute’s silence for IRA terrorists, Mr Corbyn? Were you or were you not a member of the editorial board of London Labour Briefing who supported the IRA bombing of the Conservative Party conference in 1984, Mr Corbyn?”

Would the Conservative Party be at fault for publishing such a poster?

In my opinion, it would not. Conservatives want power, they want to win and they are perfectly entitled to use all legitimate political means to achieve that end. Highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for the IRA would be part of that.

The blame for such a poster being published would lie entirely with Jeremy Corbyn and all of those of his supporters who know his views and history regarding the IRA and back him for Labour leader. I would also blame those prominent supporters (particularly Trade Union leaders) who have heard these accusations but either don’t want to investigate the truth of the matter or know the truth and want a quiet life.

They would all be responsible for Jeremy Corbyn leading Labour to a devastating, catastrophic rout at a General Election.

If Jeremy Corbyn wins the Labour leadership (again), I would paraphrase George Orwell and say, if you want a vision of the future, imagine the Tories laughing in Labour’s face again and again for the next ten, fifteen, twenty years (at least).

May HoC

The psychological limits of Corbyn’s moral authority

By Bill Blackwater

This is a cross-post from the Renewal blog – republished here with kind permission from the editors.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign was based on his moral authority, in turn said to be the key to renewing the party’s appeal in its traditional heartlands. But latest research on the psychological basis of morality, and its relationship to political views, suggests this was always misguided.

“The Labour Party is a moral crusade—or it is nothing.” Harold Wilson’s famous remarks, made at Labour’s Scottish Spring Conference in May 1964, still resonate in debates on the party’s direction. The journalist Tom Clark summed this up during last summer’s leadership contest, with reference to the decision of Labour’s front bench to abstain on a vote on welfare cuts. Taking up the options Wilson set out, he put it that the three mainstream candidates had “plumped for nothing”. Hence the appeal of Jeremy Corbyn: he was “filling [the] void”.

Corbyn’s unembarrassed articulation of moral purpose was clearly something Labour members had been waiting for. As James Bloodworth put it, there was a “smouldering resentment” among Labour members at some of the excessive “principle-rotting” compromises made during the New Labour years. For his core supporters, Corbyn was seen as having saved Labour from pasokification, the fate of centre-left parties in Greece and Spain, whose support has collapsed as a result of failing to articulate an alternative to austerity.

But there was always a problem: Corbyn’s startling unpopularity with the country at the large. He was the first person, on becoming opposition leader, to receive an initial approval rating that was negative (-8%). In April 2016, it is true, his approval climbed above David Cameron’s; and much was made of this. Less was made of the fact that Corbyn’s approval rating was still an eye-watering -22% (to Cameron’s -24%), and that Cameron still beat Corbyn in terms of how many people positively thought he was doing a good job.

In reviewing Labour’s future leadership and policy direction, the question all factions within the party should study is this: If Corbyn has such moral authority, why is he not more popular with the public? This may be key in potentially selecting a new leader who might be able to connect with voters in its heartland areas and marginal seats.

Drivers of moral judgements and political views

To answer this question it is useful to turn to the rapidly-developing field of psychological research into the basis for moral judgement, and its relationship with political beliefs. Selecting just a few key points from a number of recent papers (see note), we find:

  • There are five dimensions of morality:
    • Harm/care: Concerns for the suffering and well-being of others.
    • Fairness/reciprocity: Concerns about inequality, cheating, and
    • In-group/loyalty: Obligations of group membership – such as loyalty, self-sacrifice, and vigilance against betrayal.
    • Authority/respect: Concerns related to maintaining social order, including obligations between leaders and members of the group such as honour, respect, duty, and protection.
    • Purity/sanctity. Concerns about physical and spiritual pollution, including safeguarding things regarded as sacred, and control of desires.
  • The first two dimensions (harm and fairness) have been identified as more connected to left-wing views; the other three (associated with social cohesion and order) more to conservative views.
  • Interplaying with the five dimensions, morality comes in two forms: proscriptive (telling us what not to do, in order to avert harm to others), and prescriptive (telling us what we should do, to alleviate their suffering). Proscriptive morality translates into an emphasis on protecting society from harm (associated more with the right), with prescriptive morality translating into providing for society’s well-being (associated with the left).
  • In making moral judgements, people tend to resort to ‘moral typecasting’: perceiving people solely as an agent (either hero or villain) or a patient (beneficiary or victim).
  • Where political groups are defined by a moral vision, they tend to be defined at least as much by hatred towards those outside the group as love towards those inside.
  • Our emotional responses to others are shaped by our impressions of two factors: warmth and competence. Generally, the more competent we view someone, the less warmly we will feel towards them, and vice versa. Competence in a political candidate is the more decisive factor in winning support, but the greatest leaders are viewed as both warm and competent.

Applying this framework to Labour politics

Concentrating here on just three key messages, this analysis suggests:

  1. The left does not have the monopoly on moral authority it likes to think. It only recognises two (harm and fairness) of the five dimensions of morality. Corbyn’s assertion of moral superiority thus provokes some resentment among those who don’t identify with him because he is implicitly viewed himself as being morally deficient in the three domains of in-group/loyalty, authority, and purity. This is seen most tellingly in his aversion to patriotism and the rituals of the nation-state.
  1. By its own standards, the left risks being guilty of moral failings – and the further to the left, the more pronounced these risks. The left’s acute sensitivity to harm and fairness means it is very prone to ‘moral typecasting’, dividing the world into wicked villains and suffering victims – the latter then becoming incapable of doing harm themselves. It is this which lies behind the kind of moral relativism well documented by Nick Cohen, with its apologetics for the most appalling regimes so long as these are seen as opponents of western imperialism. It is also what lies behind the mentality of class war, and the literal hatred of Tories – now extended to the Red Tories who are traitorously moderate, and seen at its worst in online abuse. The more that leftist groups are defined by their moral vision, the more they are defined by hatred towards the villains they see outside. This hatred – condemning people for what they are, not seeing them for who they are – contradicts the very moral principles (fairness, and avoiding harm) it springs from.
  1. By ignoring the three “conservative” dimensions of morality, as well as the protecting mode of morality, the left cedes them entirely to the right. The left emphasises the providing mode of morality. The problem comes when this is over-emphasised: at its extreme this becomes a boundless altruism which would leave us destitute, accompanied by a moral disapproval of anyone who would demur. This is also to over-emphasise one’s impressions of warmth, meaning it is psychologically near inescapable that one’s political opponents will be seen as more competent. Also it contradicts the protecting mode of morality whose chief concern is protecting the group, defending “our” interests. This protection mode is the main concern for the socially conservative and culturally insecure (Leave voters, in other words), those who believe “order is precious and at least a little fragile”, and are more likely to perceive social changes as threatening. By ignoring these aspects of moral judgements, the left enables the right to play on them in divisive ways.

 Conclusion

Labour is a left-wing party. It is essential to its purpose and identity that it emphasises the “left-wing” moral dimensions of fairness and avoiding harm, and accent on providing for society’s well-being.

But it must guard against being defined as a purely moral movement – this will tend to foster an intolerant attitude towards those who are not sufficiently “with us”, and provoke resentment in return.

What Labour needs to understand is that morality has more dimensions than those traditionally associated with the left; that a progressive vision can and must be developed for all five moral dimensions; and that pragmatism, and seeking to respect and represent all members of society, can itself be seen as a moral virtue.

 

Bill Blackwater has written for a variety of publications, including Renewal, the Political Quarterly, and Left Foot Forward. A more detailed version of this article will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Renewal journal.

 

Note

Papers drawn on in this post are all published behind a pay wall; references available by request, but including work by Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Andres Luco, Jonathan Haidt, and Gray, Young, & Waytz.