The Guardian published a new Corbyn attack piece here, written by Luke Akehurst.
What follows is my response to sections of this article, followed by a closing letter to Luke. I would, however, recommend that you read all of the original article, as there is simply too much to respond to here.
Drawing equivalences between New Labour and Jeremy Corbyn was something I didn’t think was possible until Luke, unwittingly, managed to achieve it.
Over 50% of his article either eulogises Labour as a social movement, drawing huge similarities between today and twenty years ago, or talks about the achievements of New Labour; many of which Jeremy would agree with.
But instead of using these similarities to work together and support Corbyn’s new social and political movement, Luke has used it to drive a wedge between his “retro Labour” and Corbyn’s “abusive” Labour.
“The difference between the way the Labour party behaved then and the way Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum are behaving now is that it had humility. We did not think we had a monopoly of wisdom. We assumed that our election defeats meant that voters were trying to tell us something and we ought to listen.”
If New Labour thought election defeats meant “voters were trying to tell us something” then, surely, the loss of 4 million Labour voters from 1997 – 2005 “meant something” too?
That when senior Blairites lost their seats at the last General Election, this “meant something”?
That when Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election with 59.5% of the vote (versus Blair’s lesser 57%), this “meant something”?
The truth is that the support Corbyn gained over the last 12 months is because New Labour – far from being a beacon of humility – had transformed itself into an arrogant bastion of authoritarianism.
Blair’s government was one that often governed by itself, for itself.
Alastair Campbell, John McTernan, Lance Price (whom Luke refers to as the “best professional communicators in Europe”) spent most of their time drawing-up “dodgy dossiers,” fire-fighting their own communication errors (“We don’t do God”) and writing speeches to attack migrants, welfare recipients and students.
To say Corbyn and his supporters suffer from anything other than humility is to ignore the circumstances in which this movement was conceived; as a direct response to the neo-liberal, anti-democratic actions and oligarchal style of New Labour.
“Our main activity was not the hosting of large, self-congratulatory rallies, though each of Kinnock, Smith and Blair was a hundred times more compelling an orator than Corbyn. Rather it was to systematically go out and speak to millions of ordinary working people on their doorsteps and listen to what they wanted.”
Jeremy Corbyn is one of a handful of MPs in Parliament to earn significant and continuous support from voters at every general election they’ve faced. In a Parliamentary “career” spanning over thirty years, Jeremy has won 8 general elections by an average majority of 56%. In his 7 elections as an incumbent MP, Corbyn has never won an election with less than 50% of the vote.
There are only a handful of Labour MPs to have ever achieved this… and one of them was Tony Blair.
This doesn’t happen without treading thousands of miles; speaking with people and knocking on doors.
Majorities this big only come about through continual, dedicated, empathetic and active concern for constituents by their representative(s).
Jeremy Corbyn was criticised by many in the Labour Party for attending a mental health charity event on his first day as Labour leader. He cannot be accused of self-indulgence and a lack of humility, nor being out-of-touch with his constituents or members of the public, when he has never sought the limelight which Tony Blair so obviously craved.
The truth is that the proverbial door-knocking by Blairites has become a stick with which to beat the Left; choosing to argue that Jeremy’s supporters are not really Labour supporters at all because they “don’t knock on doors” or engage in the “retro” style of politics Luke desires.
What Luke is really saying is that Corbyn supporters don’t actually deserve to be Labour Party members.
“Within the party the whole spectrum of opinion was engaged in the project of seeking victory, with leftwing figures like John Prescott, Frank Dobson, Robin Cook and Clare Short all holding significant shadow portfolios and working as a team.”
“Working as a team” would be great if it was possible. Unfortunately, almost all senior, experienced MPs refused to serve the Party on the front-benches almost as soon as Jeremy was elected.
For the few that did serve, they launched two coup attempts, both of which were planned ahead of time.
Tony Blair didn’t have to deal with anything like this during his 15 years as Labour leader. Corbyn has to deal with this continuously.
Luke talks about the fact that New Labour succeeded “without making too many compromises.” And he’s right. New Labour didn’t have to make too many compromises because it decided to just agree with a largely-conservative public instead.
Forget debating the issues.
Jeremy Corbyn’s “Standing up, not standing by” message is a direct attack on a Blairite Party which, instead of standing up, bowed-down to the Murdoch machine, bowed-down to the prejudices of the electorate and was “completely at ease” with phenomenal amounts of wealth being concentrated in the top 1% of the country.
Luke said it himself: “Weakness on defence, weakness on crime, and a propensity to raise income tax on the base rate payers who make up most of the “99%”” were the main “obstacles” Labour had to overcome.
Labour was now in a position where, “electorally, it looked beautiful.”
But the idea that Labour’s electoral success was “beautiful” is to look at the last 15 years with one eye shut.
The loss of 4 million Labour voters by 2005 was a disaster; masked by the anti-democratic deficiencies of the first-past-the-post system.
Being able to win elections with a steady and calamitous drop in support is nothing to boast about. On the contrary, these lost voters are now coming back into Labour with a sense of renewed hope and purpose; a purpose which Luke is trying his best to both rob them and the Party of.
I won’t address all of Luke’s points here because there are simply too many falsehoods to repeat in one article, let alone to have been included in his original.
But I will share his closing statement:
“You can keep your big rallies with mediocre speakers; you can keep your Twitter storms and social media abuse; you can keep your 16% Tory poll leads and spitting at CLP AGMs; you can keep your blind-eye to antisemitism and your fetishising of dodgy Latin American regimes and Middle Eastern terror groups; you can keep your snappy slogans and absence of policy, you can keep your mass recruitment of passive clicktivists to stack internal elections; you can keep your elevation of a faction above a 116-year old party that founded the NHS.
Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer retro Labour from 20 years ago as my model of what a “social movement” or a political party should look like. I won’t be taking any lectures about socialism from people who are busy destroying, demeaning, diminishing, eroding the only social movement that can ever, and has ever, delivered it in this country: the Labour party.”
I feel this article wouldn’t be complete without saying thanks to its source of inspiration.
So thank you, Luke.
Thank you for your accusations of abuse. Thank you for your accusations of mediocrity. Thank you for your lies (for that is what they are) that we are anti-semitic, terrorist-loving, vacuous slacktivists.
Thank you for sharing with us your nostalgia of the New Labour years. For Iraq, for tuition fees, for welfare cuts, for the deregulation of the banks, for making it OK to bash immigrants with “British jobs for British workers.”
Thank you for reminding us of “Thatcher’s greatest achievement” in Tony Blair, the beacon of humility and Democratic Socialism.
Thank you for accusing us of clicktivism from your click-bait article.
Before I forget, I’m glad you’ve found an exceptional public speaker. One who is so exceptional, in fact, he has to roll-up his sleeves and unbutton his shirt in-case he explodes with passion.
I’m also glad you’ve found a leader void of “snappy slogans” and full of policy details. I think we agree a lot on these, maybe we agree on 12 out of 20 of them? We did come up with them, after all.
I also love your snappy slogan, “Well, that was just a bit of rhetoric, wasn’t it, Chris?” after accusing the Tories of a policy agenda based on “rhetoric.”
Have an ice cream on me. You deserve it.
Thanks to Tim Johnston
You can follow Tim on Twitter at @timjohnston_89
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