Labour Party Split

Jeremy Corbyn, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz KendallJeremy Corbyn is the kind of MP who’s not afraid to stand up against cruelty to pigeons or to say openly that he opposes renewing Trident.

Being pro-pigeon and anti-Trident may be popular stances, but it’s a truism in professional political punditry that serious candidates don’t stand up for that kind of thing. Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall are too professional as politicians to have that kind of thing in their political record.

I’m no longer a Labour Party supporter. I decided, a couple of days before Corbyn joined the leadership contest, that the Labour Party had become too right-wing for me to tolerate any longer. The May 2015 election was the first election in quite a few years where I didn’t vote Labour.

I became a socialist in a business studies class at Napier many years ago. The lecturer didn’t know he was making me a socialist: he was explaining company structure. A company is run by its CEO, who is appointed by the company shareholders. The CEO’s first responsibility is to the shareholders: this is in general expressed as a legal obligation to keep the value of the shares rising. Because the value of the shares is usually dependent on the company profits rising quarterly, a CEO’s goal is to have each financial quarter show more profits than the last.

In small-scale companies, with few shareholders all of whom take a personal interest in the doings of the company, the CEO can be instructed to make the profits of the company secondary to other things which are more important to the shareholders than seeing the value of their shares go up and up: their good name in producing quality goods for sale, their desire not to exploit or discriminate against their employees, their belief in climate change, their desire to own both an ecologically sound as well as a profitable company.

But in large-scale companies, where the shareholders are themselves corporations, there is no such human check. The CEO representing the corporate owner of the shares has the overriding legal obligation to see profits go up. And because this is the overriding focus of the business, they frequently expect their employees – whose wages may have been frozen or cut in pursuit of that goal – to share their focus in making profits go up.

A paramedic earning $15/hour responds to news that fast-food workers in New York have won the right to a 15$/hour minimum wage:

Look, if any job is going to take up someone’s life, it deserves a living wage. If a job exists and you have to hire someone to do it, they deserve a living wage. End of story. There’s a lot of talk going around my workplace along the lines of, “These guys with no education and no skills think they deserve as much as us? Fuck those guys.” And elsewhere on FB: “I’m a licensed electrician, I make $13/hr, fuck these burger flippers.”

And that’s exactly what the bosses want! They want us fighting over who has the bigger pile of crumbs so we don’t realize they made off with almost the whole damn cake. Why are you angry about fast food workers making two bucks more an hour when your CEO makes four hundred TIMES what you do? It’s in the bosses’ interests to keep your anger directed downward, at the poor people who are just trying to get by, like you, rather than at the rich assholes who consume almost everything we produce and give next to nothing for it.

My company, as they’re so fond of telling us in boosterist emails, cleared 1.3 billion dollars last year. They expect guys supporting families on 26-27k/year to applaud that.

When Labour politicians talk about the importance of “being business-friendly“, do they mean they want to listen to small-scale businesses, locally-owned, which need their customers and their employees to be prosperously employed to keep their business going – or do they mean the importance of listening to bsuinesses that can donate thousands to a party that will make the political decisions that benefit corporations rather than people?

You don’t have to believe that the government should own the means of production to see that the government must make overriding decisions about business and corporations, because even a government fixed on getting re-elected in five years time is capable of longer-term thinking than a CEO looking at next quarter’s profit.

In this situation, it quite literally becomes of no importance to corporate decision-makers that their decisions may make the planet unlivable for human beings in fifty to a hundred years time: or that their constant push for profit comes at huge human cost for their workers: because that doesn’t impact on the next quarter’s profit, therefore they cannot take it into account when making business decisions.

But the Conservative Party is all about corporate values, not human ones. (As for example: their recent decision to ignore the evidence that climate change may make London unlivable within the next 50 years when the sea-level rises by 3+ meters, because their donors see their profits endangered by alternative energy supplies.)

London when sea-level has risen 10 feet

An MP rises to make a maiden speech in opposition to a Tory finance bill:

The Bill offers no comfort at all either to those people or to the vast majority of those of my constituents who are fortunate enough to be in work. Indeed. it adds the insult 315 of inequality to the injury of poverty. It gives a further clutch of tax concessions to those who are already well off. Some 200,000 people are taken out of the higher rate bands, whereas only 10,000 come out of the poverty trap. That is a good illustration of the sense of priority shown in the Bill.

When I say “well off” I mean very well off. It is not those who earn the average wage who have benefited from the Government’s fiscal policy, or even those who earn double the average. The only beneficiaries are those who earn more than three times the average. It is to that tiny and rarefied constituency that the Conservatives address themselves. The provisions of the Bill contradict in practical terms the myth that the Conservative party is the party of lower taxation for the people. In reality, lower taxation under the Conservative Administration has been confined to an exclusive club of the very privileged.
I am a Socialist not through reading a textbook that has caught my intellectual fancy, nor through unthinking tradition, but because I believe that, at its best, Socialism corresponds most closely to an existence that is both rational and moral. It stands for co-operation, not confrontation; for fellowship, not fear. It stands for equality, not because it wants people to be the same but because only through equality in our economic circumstances can our individuality develop properly. British democracy rests ultimately on the shared perception by all the people that they participate in the benefits of the common weal. This Bill, with its celebration of inequality, is destructive of that perception. It is because of a fear that the Government seem indifferent to such considerations that I and my colleagues oppose the Bill and will continue to oppose it.

Mhairi Black’s maiden speech? No: Tony Blair’s, 6th July 1983. Once upon a time, Tony Blair said he was a socialist: thirty-two years later, Blair contradicts his younger self:

I wouldn’t want to win on an old-fashioned leftist platform. Even if I thought it was the route to victory, I wouldn’t take it.

The Labour leadership campaign candidates range from the right-wing Liz Kendall, who wants to win over “white working class voters” and punish the undeserving poor (a position which has considerable support from those who voted Labour in the last election): through to Jeremy Corbyn, who’s at least trying to appeal to the voters who stayed home in the last election, though he has a surprising degree of charis’ntma for a successful politician. (Corbyn, like Blair, was elected for Labour in the middle of the Tory landslide in 1983: he has been steadily re-elected at every general election in the past thirty-two years, surviving the expenses scandal by the surprising trick of, er, not claiming many expenses.)

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, has issued the most morally confounding challenge to Jeremy Corbyn because he wasn’t pro-active enough in pursuing reports of abuse in Islington children’s homes in the 1980s. John Mann does have credibility in pursuing reported child abuse. But John Mann has not written in condemnation of Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, or Liz Kendall for not being pro-active enough in pursuing reports of abuse made in the House of Commons in 2013: nor, that I can find, has he condemned Joe Ashton, the previous Labour MP for Bassetlaw, for not being pro-active enough in pursuing reports of abuse in Nottinghamshire in the 1980s.

While I do believe that everyone who was in a position to make a stink and instead ignored reports of child abuse betrayed their position, I also think John Mann’s sudden concern for Jeremy Corbyn’s moral standing on this issue, but not for any other MP in the leadership contest, has less to do with Mann’s concern for victims of child abuse and more to do with Mann’s objections to “leftists” re-joining the Labour Party or registering as supporters in order to vote for Corbyn. (The nasty little squib at the end of his open letter blaming “trendy lefty” politics as a “contributing factor” in child abuse suggests strongly that Mann still hasn’t faced up to the extent and severity of child abuse in care homes long before anti-homophobia or anti-racism or anti-sexism became issues for the left.)

Mann told the Sunday Times, in a story published today, that the leadership contest was “totally out of control”, and Harriet Harman should put a stop to it.

“It should be halted. It is becoming a farce with long-standing members … in danger of getting trumped by people who have opposed the Labour Party and want to break it up, expressly want to break it up – some of it is the Militant Tendency types coming back in.”

Let’s be clear: voting doesn’t close in the Labour leadership elections until September, and it’s not even August yet, and the only data we have saying Corbyn is likely to win is one YouGov poll.

But in response to the news that Corbyn is a serious contender – serious because of the sheer number of Labour party members and supporters who want him to win, various right-wing MPs and funders of the Labour Party have been threatening to split away as the SDP did in the 1980s in response to Michael Foot’s leadership.

Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have gone as far as saying that if Corbyn is the Labour Party leader, they won’t serve in his Shadow Cabinet. (An interviewer asked Liz Kendall, if she won, would she have Ed Miliband in her Shadow Cabinet: she was unable to reply.)

Carole Malone's column and Mirror pollCarole Malone in the Sunday Mirror fulminates that Labour voters don’t want a “left-wing dinosaur” to win (but the poll at the end of her article says the readers of her column want Corbyn to win by an overwhelming majority). Dan Hodges in the Telegraph sputters with rage at the “lunatic left” supporting Corbyn. John Mills, Labour’s biggest donor, says if Corbyn is elected this could cause an “SDP-style split”.

How right-wing Labour split, created the SDP, then joined the Liberal Party, thus creating the Liberal DemocratsLibDems are eagerly anticipating that an openly left-wing leader of the Labour party means their party will grow stronger. (And, presumably, enjoy a second change of name just as they did when the SDP and Liberal Party combined.)

The threat of a split if Labour members and supporters elect Corbyn is countered by the simple fact that if these funders and MPs think a split would be bad for the Labour Party, the answer is in their hands: they need to throw their influence loyally behind Jeremy Corbyn, if he wins. There can’t be a split if the right-wing members and MPs and donors refuse to tolerate that.

Polly Toynbee, who has consistently argued for years that at election time we should always “Vote what best keeps the Tory out where you are. Buck that arithmetic at your peril.” wrote on 23rd June that Jeremy Corbyn was “a 1983 man”:

a relic of the election that brought him to parliament when Labour was destroyed by its out-of-Nato, anti-EU, renationalise-everything suicide note. He’s a good man, sincere, ascetic, beloved by constituents – but voting for him is ignoring the electorate. Goodness knows Labour faces tough dilemmas – how to win north and south, reclaim the lost votes of the old (47% of over 65s voted Tory) and win back Scotland, while fighting off Ukip in the heartlands. Every Corbyn vote gives ammunition to Labour’s enemies: Toby Young won’t be the only Tory maliciously paying £3 as a “supporter” to vote for him so they can claim Labour is back to the days of delusion.

But Ursula Wills-Jones reports on a meeting in Bristol attended by Jeremy Corbyn with three hundred people present:

Nonetheless, there were a bunch of startling things going on in that room. First, the staggering level of dissonance between what people were concerned about/prepared to consider, and what the media talk about. Second, the gap between what the audience wanted to talk about and what Jeremy Corbyn wanted to talk about was really quite big too. Thirdly, everyone there was raring to go, they just weren’t quite sure where to go to it. If Jeremy had suggested we all marched down the Council House and turned it into the Paris Commune, I’m fairly sure everyone would have picked up their bags and followed. He didn’t, obviously.

And here’s the thing. Given that Corbyn is campaigning for the leadership of the Labour Party, you might expect that meeting to have been a leader looking for a movement. What it actually looked like, was a movement looking for a leader. I’m not convinced it’s found it, yet.

SNP and Green supporters have noted: this is the Labour Party struggling for its own survival. Most MPs and most pundits think that there just aren’t enough Labour voters spread across the UK to win if the party is lead by someone who believes in left-wing politics. The received wisdom is that Ed Miliband lost in May – even though the Tories and the LibDems had become hugely unpopular – because he was widely regarded as too left-wing. The Smith Institute’s post-election report notes that Labour increased its share of the vote in May 2015, but only in Labour constituencies, not in the Tory and LibDem constituencies that Labour needed to win: the Tories increased their share of the vote less overall, but in Labour and LibDem marginals, their increase went up sharply. Labour doorsteppers talked to more voters overall, but Conservative doorsteppers had a longer and more subtle set of questions not only to identify voters who were open to persuasion, but to discover how they could be persuaded to vote Tory against their best interests.

I don’t know whether Jeremy Corbyn or Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper would do better at Labour Party leadership in terms of how many seats Labour could win at the next election. (Anyone who claims they know, is just wrong.)

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, and others have tried to justify their opposition to Tory plans for welfare despite abstaining when it came to their opportunity to vote against the Tory plans for welfare.

But Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have to try to justify it: he voted against the welfare bill, and he has a clear plan to create a fairer society.

Of course, most Labour politicians – leadership candidates included – would say that creating a fairer society is one of their top priorities as well. But when it comes to Corbyn, even if they disagree with him, few doubt or misunderstand his intentions. He’ll propose seemingly unfashionable policies because he believes in them. And it helps that he speaks in a language people can understand; John Gaffney, Professor of Politics at Aston has deemed Corbyn a “political philosopher” who “has the charisma and language to capture hearts”.

This seemed to be the mood in the room today when he set out his (though he calls it ‘our’, presumably as a nod to the nature of his campaign team, which Kate Osamor MP called a ‘family’) vision for the economy. This includes a minimum wage of £10 an hour; rejecting austerity; Quantitative Easing; huge investment in housing and transport; and scrapping certain corporate subsidies and tax reliefs, which amount to £93bn a year. These are big ideas and they’re transparent. For anyone unsure of his intentions, he offered a clear tagline to his plans: “We need to judge our economy not on the number of billionaires we have, but on whether we can get rid of poverty”. This is a simple message that many Labour members are likely to agree with.

This is kind of politics that appeals to a membership base tired of hearing confused messages from party leadership.

Most worrying of all, to those who have tied their political careers to the scythe of austerity, Jeremy Corbyn says plainly:

“Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity.”

That’s not the message cheap-work conservatives want us to hear. Cheap-work conservatives own most of Britain’s media: the nearer Jeremy Corbyn gets to winning, the more most of the media will let you know that despite the apparent popularity of the SNP’s anti-austerity message throughout the UK and the evident popularity in Scotland, despite the apparent popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message to Labour supporters, still: anti-austerity leadership cannot win an election.

Is that true? Well, if Corbyn wins, perhaps we’ll find out.

Or perhaps the right-wing MPs and donors and members will quit Labour and start a new party, on the very mature grounds that if they can’t run the Labour party, Labour can’t be allowed to win elections.

Or perhaps demonising Jeremy Corbyn in the media will work to ensure not enough people vote for him by September, and Andy Burnham will be the new leader, and Labour will be in for another five years of not really being much of an Opposition.

And perhaps, if Labour take lessons from the Tories about focussing their polling and campaigning, Labour will win the next election anyway. After all, I live in what was always a safe Labour seat: how I voted made no difference to Labour, which always won. That is, until Labour decided not to oppose the Tories too hard for fear of losing votes, and my Labour MP lost to the SNP, who weren’t afraid to campaign as the anti-austerity party.

(The consistent refusal by Labour and Tory and LibDem pundits alike to admit that the SNP didn’t campaign and win as nationalists, but as anti-austerity and anti-Tory, says a great deal about their collective determination to believe that anti-austerity politicians can’t win. Will Straw, the red prince selected to stand in the constituency neighbouring his father’s old constituency, claims the problem was Labour got tagged as “anti-English” for not rejecting the SNP fast enough.)

We know working-class voters stayed home (or voted UKIP) and that lost Labour the election in marginal constituencies in England. I’m not a working-class voter. I didn’t stay home. But I voted Scottish Green on 7th May, because it seemed to me that Labour wasn’t there any more for working people, for people on benefits, for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Is that true? Well, if Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper win, I fear we’ll find out.

Where's the split, Labour


Filed under Politics, Poverty

2 responses to “Labour Party Split

  1. I’m completely taken aback by your account of your conversion to socialism on the basis of a chance remark by a business studies lecturer at Napier.

    What made you think he was right?

    Famously, new students at the Harvard Business School are asked whether they think management’s primary responsibility is to shareholders, employees, or customers. The answer, as per Harvard, is that management is equally responsible to all three. Which, when you think about it, is kind of obvious.

    • Not a chance remark: the legal obligations of CEO to shareholders formed part of a lecture series.

      What made me think he was right?

      Initially, checking the legal obligations of CEO to shareholders. Following that, the personal experience of being a director myself, in several different situations. Plus, general research and awareness of the behaviour of CEOs in thw wild.

      Famously, new students at the Harvard Business School are asked whether they think management’s primary responsibility is to shareholders, employees, or customers.

      I didn’t know that. How nice.

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