The UK general election result (06 2017): Labour as a progressive alliance.

Labour MP, Clive Lewis and Green MP, Caroline Lucas, have made no secret of their hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour project; Lewis forecast “’an existential crisis” if [Labour] failed to embrace progressive alliances” (Matthew Weaver, ‘Tactical voting: Corbyn could have become PM in landslide’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). But who are the (“frustrated”) “progressive voters” of which they speak in their most recent joint statement? And does the “best placed left-of-centre candidate” referred to by Compass, in its push for tactical voting and a progressive alliance, mean every candidate or voter who is not Tory-inclined can be identified as “progressive”?

Based on recent historical evidence, many do not see the Lib Dems, the SNP or the Greens as progressive, left-of-centre parties. And the GE result has brought a diminution of political heft and influence for all three. But certainly these small parties are all infinitely preferable political allies to the DUP, even given playwright James Graham’s cautionary reflections on what a hung parliament is likely to mean (‘A hung parliament? It’ll be the 70s again, and people will die’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017).

However, tactical voting in this GE did not find favour or success, as seen in Wells, Somerset (Steven Morris, ‘People went for security in the end’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017). Suddenly, across the country, people saw Labour as the most compelling and realistic repository of anti Austerity values. Conversations on doorsteps, street corners, trains and buses, in families, at political meetings and open air rallies, gave expression to this rejection of more of the same punitive authoritarianism, and a burgeoning desire to do better, be better together. Old and young discovered common ground. Confidence was forged. What followed – increased voter registration and turnout, and the size of the Labour vote in ‘unexpected’ places – was a form of civil and political disobedience.

At the same time, those of us venturing out beyond our own constituencies, to support Labour campaigns in seats identified by Momentum as Labour or Tory marginals, became aware that there were candidates being underfunded by LP HQ (see Dan Hancox, ’24 hour party people’, 14 06 2017, G2). And where Momentum could not fill that gap, there were negative outcomes for those candidates. This needs independent investigation.

But doesn’t Corbyn’s inclusive Labour campaign, conducted with passion and dignity, and the stunning GE result, show that the Labour party is now seen as the only serious repository, not just of hope, but of realisable economic, social, environmental and political transformation, which has not previously been on offer from any political party? So for Lewis and Lucus to warn (threaten?) the Labour leadership that “progressives will desert the party if they cannot see a change in the way politics is conducted” combines ignorance and arrogance.

To caution the leader, who has engendered the most open, honest and participatory political process the country has ever seen, and which has led to this Labour breakthrough, confirms that there is still a lurking desire within the Labour establishment, to denigrate Corbyn’s achievement as leader and to topple him in the name of a progressive alliance. By ‘progressive’, they seem to mean themselves, those who have actively opposed Corbyn’s Labour project of diversity, unity and campaigning, against the apparent odds, to put Labour back on the political map, not just as the largest political party in Europe, but as a radical and representative party, fuelled by a new participatory politics that has activated members and supporters, old and new.

The post election resistance and disbelief that Lewis and Lucas represent, mean they still don’t get it. They don’t welcome this opening up of our democracy, this people-powered campaign (as opposed to machine politics). They don’t see the unity of purpose, across so many social and cultural differences, that Labour’s unique campaign and astonishing result demonstrate. If they cannot see this electoral process and result as a new politics, is it perhaps because their part in it was so reluctant? Like the media George Monbiot castigates (‘The biggest losers? Not the Tories but the media, who missed the story’, The Guardian, 14 06 2017), Lewis and Lucas (and Compass?) missed the story. So instead of rejoicing, they feel gloom and a sense of defeat.

val walsh / 16 06 2017

[This is a slightly revised version of the letter sent to The Guardian, 15 06 2017.]

Personal, political and professional misjudgement. Being wrong, being sorry, being contrite. . . . in the aftermath of Jeremy Corbyn’s game-changing general election campaign.

Since the UK GE (08 06 2017), a number of MPs and media commentators (e.g. Louise Ellman, Lucy Powell, Polly Toynbee, Jonathan Freedland, Robert Peston), stating the obvious, have admitted they “underestimated” Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, and his ability to inspire and steer a widespread and burgeoning campaign rooted in Labour values, based around a manifesto that addressed the circumstances, concerns, hopes and aspirations of all sections of our society, across differences of age, ethnicity, social class, dis/ability, gender, sexuality and geography.

Some (e.g. Owen Jones and Owen Smith) have gone so far as to explicitly apologise. But in the main, the expressions of approval at this extraordinary achievement fall short of acknowledgement of their own role since Corbyn was elected in 2015, in opposing and denigrating him and his supporters: they merely, they say, made a mistake. They now smile, many Labour MPs having achieved increased majorities on the back of Corbyn’s incredibly successful Labour campaign. And those they derided are also expected to smile, now we are all on the same winning side. Corbyn’s supporters are expected to overlook, for example, the damage the PLP inflicted on the Labour party by forcing a second leadership election, and sustaining hostilities and attempts at sabotage, throughout the period of Corbyn’s leadership.

But what will stay with Jeremy’s supporters is not the neoliberal ‘mistake’ of these MPs and commentators, in finding themselves on the wrong side of history. What will be remembered are their venomous bile, their relentless spite, aggression and contempt towards Jeremy and his supporters – possibly the worst personal, political and media attacks on a public figure, an elected MP, in living memory. Their seeming need to destroy, not just to disagree, was shocking. As well as instructive: exposing themselves to public scrutiny (intellectual and political). We know them better now.

As Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn never responded to or descended to, personal abuse, and there were those who saw this as ‘weakness’, a sign that he was not a proper leader, not ‘manly’ enough. Following his example, can we now move to outlaw extremist forms of communication in the pubic sphere – in politics and the media – where shouting, verbal dominance and mocking abuse seem to have been normalized as signs of ‘success’, the behaviour of a ‘winner’. Both Theresa May’s relentless personal abuse during the electoral campaign, and Jeremy Paxman’s loudmouthed recent media performance surely show us the way not to go if we are to engender the social and political conversations we need, to come together in respect rather than competition. These are the old ways. Parliament and the media need to learn from Jeremy Corbyn’s example and strength.

val walsh / 12 06 2017

 

 

 

Shacking up with the DUP: reckless, wrong and dangerous to UK democracy.

Alarm and revulsion has been variously expressed at the prospect of the UK parliament being held hostage to Northern Ireland’s DUP (Democratic and Unionist Party), on the basis that it wants “to allow people to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds, opposes liberalizing abortion rights in Northern Ireland, has repeatedly vetoed marriage equality and counts a number of creationists and climate change deniers among its senior members” (Esther Addley & Caroline Davies, 10 06 2017).

If that isn’t enough, there is the constitutional inappropriateness and risk to the peace process and power sharing at Stormont, posed by the UK’s role as mediator being severely compromised if the DUP and the English Tories join together to impose their values and policies on the UK following the GE result. As Alastair Campbell, Shami Chakrabarti (BBC Question Time, 09 06 2017) and others have warned, the Tory party and its government are no longer neutral agents in this vital process, if they are overtly in bed with each other politically, exerting mutual influence.

In addition to these two serious social and political objections to the DUP acting to guarantee the survival of Theresa May’s damaged Tory government, there is a third factor which should cause more than hesitation: the role of Robert Mercer, US billionaire hedge fund owner (Trump’s biggest donor and close associate of Steve Bannon), and his organisation, AggregateIQ, the data analytics company based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

“A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum” (Carole Cadwalladr, ‘The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked’, 07 05 2017).

Mercer owns Cambridge Analytica, which funded several of the Leave campaign organisations in the UK; its vice-president during the UK EU referendum period was the infamous white supremacist, Steve Bannon (close associate of Trump inside Whitehall, and friend of Nigel Farage). The DUP spent £32,750 with AggregateIQ as part of its Brexit campaign (Cadwalladr). In February 2017, “the DUP Brexit campaign manager (MP Jeffrey Donaldson) admits he didn’t know about its mysterious donor’s links to the Saudi intelligence service” (Adam Ramsay & Peter Geoghegan, opendemocracy.net, 16 05 2017). Ramsay & Geoghegan note that, “Being forced to return a donation of this size [£435000] could leave the DUP at risk of bankruptcy”.

May’s reckless desperation to remain Prime Minister and keep the Tories afloat as the party of government, is further evidence of Tory indifference to matters of legitimacy, corruption and democracy. The craving to hang on to power overrides ethical considerations, and by extension, the best interests of the country, as opposed to short-term party political advantage.

val walsh / 11 06 2017

Democracy and the problem of slippery journalism.

This is the unedited version of my published Guardian letter, 13 05 2017:

Jonathan Freedland (‘No more excuses: Corbyn is to blame for this meltdown’, The Guardian: 08 05 2017) continues his excoriation of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. It makes for slippery journalism.

He cites the election results as “evidence” and “proof” of Corbyn’s failure as leader, but notes the collapse of UKIP, “its programme swallowed whole by the Conservatives. Ukip voters transferred en masse, reassured that Theresa May will give them the hard Brexit they want”. Many working-class anti-EU voters, he says, feel better represented by May than Labour. Well yes, because Labour’s stance towards Europe, the EU, other nationalities, the world, is not the same as Ukip or the Tories. Generational and educational factors, as well as social and economic experience and circumstances, have influenced voting behaviour.

Few of the participants in the two focus groups Freedland observed ever bought a paper and seldom watched a TV bulletin. “So blaming the media won’t wash,” he proclaims triumphantly. Nor could they name a single politician, other than May, Corbyn and Boris Johnson. Freedland ignores the significance of where/how participants get their information, and the role of closed circles/echo chambers on social media, concluding: “They had formed their own, perhaps instinctive, view.” What on earth does that actually mean? As journalism it’s beyond poor. Is it disingenuous or just sly?

Freedland quotes Dave Wilcox, the Derbyshire Labour group leader, who refers to “genuine Labour supporters”, who will not vote Labour while Corbyn remains leader. “Genuine”: well what does that make the rest of us, those out campaigning for a Labour government? ‘Fake Labour voters’? And what of all those young people ready to vote Labour because Corbyn is leader?

Theresa May exults in her identity as a “bloody difficult woman”. Her bluster seeks to disguise the fact that, as Professor of European Law, Michael Dougan (speaking as a panel member on Brexit Britain, at Liverpool’s WOW [Writing on the Wall] festival, 06 05 2017) insists: “There is no plan”. Freedland would serve democracy better by calling to account a prime minister “nervously pinballing from one stop to the next, with apparently no idea of where she is going or why” (John Harris, ‘Today there are three voter types: the disconnected, deceived and dismayed’, The Guardian: 06 05 2017), but determined to take us with her.

val walsh