Voting has now closed in the Labour leadership election, with the result due to be announced on Saturday. Time to look back on a contest which has vindicated Semi-Partisan Politics’ call for a rejection of bland, consensual political centrism
As voting closes in the Labour Party’s leadership contest, it is interesting to look back on a time in the recent past when Jeremy Corbyn was an unknown backbencher – and maybe also point out that this blog was one of the first among the punditry to realise the significance of Corbyn’s candidacy and the effect it could have on our politics.
In that spirit, here is a summary of how Semi-Partisan Politics has covered the battle for Labour’s soul, from the dark days immediately after 7 May through to the Jeremy Corbyn insurgency, and everything in between.
9 May: Where did it all go wrong?
Until the exit poll came in, it was simply inconceivable to many on the left that there could be any result other than a rainbow coalition of Britain’s left wing parties, coming together to lock the Evil Tories out of Downing Street and immediately get to work cancelling austerity and providing everyone with material abundance through the generosity of the magic money tree.
Labour lost the 2015 general election because they increasingly stand for nothing, having gradually lost touch with the party’s roots and founding principles – and because they created a two-dimensional caricature of their right wing opponents (stupid, selfish, mean-spirited and xenophobic) and campaigned against this straw man, essentially shaming Conservatives and UKIP supporters to keep quiet about their beliefs.
12 May: Please, God, not Chuka Umunna
Just what the Labour Party needs. Another dazed and confused London career politician stumbling shell-shocked and bewildered beyond the M25 in a belated effort to understand why so many working and middle class people – Britain’s strivers – spurned his party at the general election, totally unconvinced by a Labour manifesto and message conceived in Islington but barely embraced even in Hampstead.
30 May: The angry left wing bubble
Once this intellectual framework was created, and seized on by the media, it became impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Left wing activists and the party faithful unquestioningly swallowed the idea that they are on the side of fairness, equality, virtue and goodness, while conservatives actually want poor people to suffer and (in some particularly hyperbolic instances) actually die. And as these noxious ideas swirled around the party base, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party leadership team – so used to preaching only to the faithful – gradually started to believe their own hype.
4 June: Can Labour’s grassroots seize back power from the SpAdocracy?
Young. Brash. Cheerfully ignorant of history and blissfully devoid of ideology, these young guns pick a career in politics the same way that others swarm to high tech firms, the media or academia – because it looks fun, the lifestyle is appealing, and because all their friends are doing it. They pick a political party not so much because it fits with their own core beliefs (they usually have none) but as the result of a cold calculation that playing for either Team Red or Team Blue will best advance their future careers.
For awhile, they were nothing more than an annoyance in the background of politics, something unpleasant to keep an eye on for the future. But now these know-nothing, soulless parasites have driven politics into irrelevance, and the Labour Party off an electoral cliff.
20 June: Jeremy Corbyn is no joke
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t bemoan the fact that voter turnout is down and that politicians are homogeneous and uninspiring, and then throw a hissy fit when a politician who doesn’t fit the mould finally gets some airtime – even if they do represent a rose-tinted stroll back to the 1970s.
Perhaps if Britain had a genuine choice between the Owen Jones Left of the Labour Party and the Michael Gove or Sajid Javid right of the Conservative Party, the genuine ideological differences and competing worldviews on offer might generate some intellectual interest and public excitement, injecting some difference back into politics.
12 July: Tristram Hunt’s missed opportunities
The Labour Party is in denial about the scale of the challenge ahead of them. By pretending that this is any other leadership contest, Labour is deluding itself into thinking that the right combination of new houses pledged, new banker taxes proposed, new hospitals commissioned and more generous benefits extended will see them restored to power, when in reality the problem is far more fundamental, and the cure far more painful.
16 July: Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy is good for our democracy
You don’t have to support socialist policies to want to see them given a proper airing in our political discourse. And you don’t have to advocate extreme policies to want to see something other than the petty squabbling over nonexistent differences that passes for debate in modern Britain.
This blog would love to see the paternalistic, big government, statist socialism espoused by Jeremy Corbyn – and increasingly championed by pampered young leftists who think that David Cameron’s is an ideological government and who wouldn’t know true austerity if it smacked them in the face – advocated forcefully and passionately by someone who really believes in it. And then see it resoundingly rejected by the British electorate, defeated convincingly, once and for all, in the battle of ideas.
22 July: Permit me a little schadenfreude
It would be sad watching this once great party tear itself apart, if only it were not so very richly deserved. But Labour has spent the past five years insisting that all Tories are evil, and that those who supports conservative policies are not only acting out of narrow self-interest but are also complicit in a genocide of the poor, the sick and the disabled.
Labour’s campaign rhetoric has been consistently shrill and offensive, to the extent that one wonders how they ever planned to win an election by insulting half of the electorate. And so the Labour Party deserves to be consigned to political oblivion, for political incompetence alone. And that’s before we even get to the fact that Labour’s anti-austerity hysteria was the political equivalent of crying “wolf!”
24 July: No change on Europe, then
At a time when the Labour Party is seen to be melting down and descending into acrimonious civil war, it was perhaps encouraging to see all four candidates actually agree on something. Unfortunately, the thing which united the four candidates was a shared contempt for national democracy, a shared pessimism over Britain’s ability to prosper in the world without external help, and a shared unwillingness to look beyond a stale pro-European consensus which has reigned in British politics since the 1970s.
26 July: Stop the ‘entryist’ witch-hunt
Let’s be serious. This isn’t about the Red threat from Britain’s oh-so-powerful Communist Party. And it’s not even about the few hundred bored Conservative Party activists who have parted with £3 in order to mess around with their Labour rivals. This is about Labour’s professional political class being absolutely terrified that someone from ‘Old Labour’ is threatening to bring their hegemony to an end; the gnawing fear that Jeremy Corbyn speaks to the disillusioned party base in a way that the slick, besuited, well-manicured and telegenic establishment rival candidates never can.
27 July: So much for thinking small
By forcefully advocating a National Education Service to mirror the National Health Service, Corbyn achieves two goals. First, he justifiably slams the Tories for failing to do nearly enough to re-equip Britain’s unskilled adult workforce to better participate in the modern globalised labour market. And second, he manages to make his calls for a more centralised and government controlled education system sound positively sensible and business-friendly, painting the Tories as the party of “managed decline”, a term that conservatives and libertarians are more accustomed to throwing at Labour.
(This blog was also first to draw parallels between Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in the United States. You’re welcome!)
1 August: Jeremy Corbyn no longer a joke to the Tories
If British conservatism was confident in itself – if it believed it really had the right answers to today’s problems – it would welcome passionate and ideological debate from anywhere else on the political spectrum, particularly the “far” left.
Every time Jeremy Corbyn opens his mouth to rail against market forces, conservatives would have a gold-plated opportunity to extol the virtues of capitalism and individual freedom, explaining that Corbyn’s hated capitalism has done far more to lift people out of poverty and destitution than any amount of state planning or national ownership ever has, and ever will. In many ways, Corbyn is a walking billboard for conservatism.
2 August: Semi-Partisan Politics for Corbyn!
By supporting Jeremy Corbyn for leader of the Labour Party, I want to widen the field of acceptable political debate in Britain, so that our political conversation might actually be relevant to more of the people living on these islands, and more representative of the full range of their views and opinions. We deserve to have a robust political debate that questions the accepted orthodoxies of our time, and we should have the confidence that our small government conservative beliefs can win the argument.
Like Jeremy Corbyn, I am loyal to my own beliefs first and foremost, before any tribal loyalty to any one political party. And we believers in small government need to realise that the Conservative government of David Cameron and George Osborne is not our friend, that supporting the status quo means that our deeply cherished views will only continue to be bargained away and pushed aside in the depressing scramble for the political centre ground.
3 August: Corbyn Scornin’
Nigel Farage and Jeremy Corbyn have their rough edges, to put it mildly, but they also provide a voice to millions of people whose fairly unremarkable political views were firmly and high-handedly shut out of the political debate by a small elite who shrank the acceptable terms of British political debate to the point where there is almost nothing substantive to choose between the major political parties.
(This blog was also first to call out false – and intellectually lazy – comparisons between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump, increasingly popular with the punditry)
5 August: A conservative Jeremy Corbyn of our own
I want a standard bearer for the Right who actually makes me feel excited, not resigned, when I enter the polling booth. I don’t necessarily expect that person to be elected by a landslide on the first attempt, and to immediately implement their entire agenda in full. But neither do I expect – as presently happens – all of the soul-sapping compromising and watering-down of core principle to take place before the candidate even gets their name on the ballot paper.
Jeremy Corbyn has not done all of his compromising upfront – he is proud of his beliefs, and does not seek to apologise for them. And he doesn’t talk and answer questions as though he is responding to the twitches of a focus group’s instant polling dial. That’s why he is surging in the polls. That’s why previously dejected Labour activists who support Corbyn are suddenly walking a little taller again. That, I think, is why Owen Jones is walking round with such an infuriatingly wide smile on his face at the moment.
13 August: Tony Blair’s failed intervention
The preening, self-righteous and unearned moral superiority which came to characterise the Labour Party under Ed Miliband, and which they carried into their disastrous 2015 general election campaign, now threatens to devour the party from within.
Because it turns out that it is not just Tories and UKIP supporters who dislike having their values criticised, their morality questioned and their reputations slandered. Labour supporters also don’t warm to being told – by fellow Labour activists, no less – that they represent either a nostalgic throwback to the past or a dangerous threat to the future.
But it seems that the modern Labour Party knows no other way of campaigning. Any ability to engage with opponents, to converse with people who hold even slightly different views as fellow human beings, seeking to win them over through rational debate, has been lost somewhere in their hysterical fight against the Evil Tories.
13 August: Why isn’t the Guardian rooting for Jeremy Corbyn?
This is why the Guardian could never endorse Jeremy Corbyn for leader. Their brand of left wingery relies on drumming up sympathy for the poor and the dispossessed, but then using the resulting political capital to further the interests of the new middle class clerisy who have taken over the Labour Party. And Yvette Cooper is perfectly positioned to do just that. She can say all of the right things about how nasty the Evil Tories are being, while reassuring the liberal elite that she will do nothing to rock the boat unduly were she ever to gain power.
15 August: A new approach to capitalism?
If Jeremy Corbyn is not the answer to Labour’s irrelevance, whoever ends up taking the party forward will need to explicitly make peace with capitalism, and undo the bad blood created by Gordon Brown’s brooding statism and the hand-wringing “predators vs producers” equivocation of Ed Miliband. And this will require explicitly praising the virtues of capitalism, and potentially letting the Jeremy Corbyn-led wing of the party split off and float away back to the 1970s.
17 August: Gordon Brown isn’t happy
Gordon Brown’s ‘barnstorming‘ Royal Festival Hall speech was intended to deliver a history lesson, forcing the audience to conclude that a Jeremy Corbyn leadership would lead inevitably to powerlessness and the loss of influence. But in reality, all the speech did was reveal the extent to which the Labour Party has already become little more than a shadow of its former self, and that any burning sense of ideological mission has long since evaporated in the decades since 1945.
18 August: Where is Labour’s courage?
The connection between the Labour Party and its socialist base has decayed like a long, stale, sexless marriage. In the beginning, passion burned bright and the love was all-consuming, but decades later all that’s left are the chill bonds of custom, familiarity and duty.
The Labour Party of Burnham, Cooper, Kendall, Umunna and Hunt tolerated the likes of Jeremy Corbyn because they were used to his quiet, unobtrusive presence on the backbenches. But just as the overbearing old husband gets angry if his usually placid wife dares to contradict him, so the leading lights of the Labour Party are quietly livid that Jeremy Corbyn has actually dared to influence the direction of the political party he calls home.
19 August: Feminism as a rhetorical weapon
Yvette Cooper’s brand of finger-wagging feminism is every dumb commercial you have ever seen where the carefree, happy-go-lucky husband has to be scolded by the exasperated but loving wife for being inconsiderate and making a mess of the house. Rather than seeking to build women up and move past these lazy pastiches, Cooper plays up to just about every gender based stereotype going.
23 August: Okay, let’s talk about ‘Labour Values’
If the Labour Party does not want to be a socialist party any more it should say so boldly and unequivocally, and draft a new set of Labour values embracing privatisation, spending restraint and free markets. And then at least the Left would know where they stood, and have the chance to split off and become their own party.
But since the Labour Party establishment is not willing to do this – their survival dependent on stringing the Left along, leeching off their support while offering nothing in return – they must accept that so long as Jeremy Corbyn’s presence is tolerated within their parliamentary party, his supporters must also be grudgingly welcomed and heard.
25 August: Meet Andy Burnham
Burnham was at his best when trying to look beyond sulking opposition to austerity and focus instead on the bigger, more transformational changes he wants to bring about, like bringing social care under the umbrella of the NHS. When asked what new Labour policies could ever appeal both to Scotland and the south-east of England, Burnham cited the 1945 Labour government which “had policies of scale, of ambition, of hope”.
The same cannot be said for the Labour faithful who stood up to ask Burnham questions, though. By and large, the audience – encompassing a range of ages but overwhelmingly white, especially for London – were eager to lay into the Evil Tories first and foremost, and demanded their full share of anti-Tory red meat from the candidate.
26 August: The Labour Purge claims a new victim
Labour cannot admit to its true goals in their publicly expressed values, because true Labour Values would be repulsive to vast swathes of the electorate, many of whom do not look to the state as an auxiliary, omnipotent parent. So instead we are treated to this elaborate ruse, with Labour trying to appropriate the basic tenets of human decency and pass them off as radical ideas thought up by the Labour Party. What will they claim next as a socialist invention – the theory of gravity?
5 September: Centrist voters aren’t worth the effort
Now, with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn within the Labour Party, perhaps it is finally time for us to stop being in thrall to the capricious whims of the low-information “swing” voter, that cretin who always has something better to do when a news bulletin comes on TV and whose bovine grunts of “they’re all the same” is not the result of any effort to compare Britain’s politicians, and far more to do with the fact that they cannot understand anyone who doesn’t communicate in TXT SPK. LMAO.
8 September: Rejected by the Labour Party
Sorry, Jeremy. I dearly wanted to vote for you – not because I agree with your policy positions or think that a Corbyn-led Britain would be a better place (quite the opposite), but rather because a country where both main political parties look the same, talk the same, recruit from the same “talent” pool and protect the same interests rapidly loses any claim to be a real democracy. That’s what is happening in Britain, and that is what my tongue-in-cheek application to join the Labour Party was all about – doing my bit to restore some semblance of representative democracy to Britain.
It has been quite a journey, but all good things must come to an end – and so it is with the Labour Party leadership election.
But do not despair: Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to provide the same political commentary and analysis throughout the party conference season, into the autumn and on into 2016 and beyond.
Next up: The UKIP party conference in Doncaster, which I will be attending and live-blogging from 25-26 September.