Thrash Them Out

Conrad Landin · The Labour Leadership

After Ed Miliband resigned, the acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said the system for electing his replacement would ‘let the public in’ to the debate:

This is the first time a political party in this country has opened up its leadership contest in this way and I think there will be a real appetite for it out there... We should not be afraid of differences. We should thrash them out.

Under the new rules, each vote has equal weight, including those of ‘registered supporters’ who can sign up for £3 – making the election more like a US primary. The changes were overseen by Ray Collins, the party’s general secretary from 2008 to 2011. Trade unionists who were once sent ballots automatically now have to opt in. When the Collins review came to a vote at a special conference in March last year, the only opponents were grassroots activists on the left, who argued that it undermined the principle of collective affiliation. But it’s the candidate of the left, Jeremy Corbyn, who looks set to benefit most. Last week the first scientific opinion poll put him ahead, beating Andy Burnham by 53 per cent to 47 per cent after second and third preferences were reallocated.

At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that the huge numbers of new members and supporters signing up to Labour were down to a ‘hard left infiltration’. The paper said the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) ‘has called on supporters to join and back Corbyn as part of its revolutionary “strategy”’. It didn’t mention that the party is a splinter group of a few dozen members.

John Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said the contest was ‘out of control’ and called for Harman to suspend it, pending checks on new joiners. (Harman has since said that they are ‘policing the integrity of this process’.) ‘It is becoming a farce with longstanding members,’ Mann said, ‘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.’ Yet Mann was a champion of ‘letting the public in’ long before it was received wisdom in Labour, making the case in Progress magazine in 2013. In the 2010 leadership contest, Bassetlaw was the only constituency to determine its nomination – and Mann’s vote – by a primary of Labour supporters.

Still, it’s no surprise that Corbyn’s opponents on the right of the party have resorted to questioning the process. They did the same thing with the row over Unite's influence on the Falkirk parliamentary selection (which prompted the Collins review in the first place). But the political attacks on the leftwinger have mostly backfired. Earlier last week, Mann accused Corbyn of inaction over a child abuse scandal in his constituency in the 1980s. A spokesman for Corbyn said it was ‘a new low’; hundreds of activists on social media agreed.

Tony Blair said Corbyn’s supporters needed ‘a heart transplant’. Corbyn’s campaign said they received more than 1000 emails from activists offering their support on the day of Blair’s intervention – far more than any previous day. At an early hustings at the GMB union’s annual congress in Dublin, the other candidates barely engaged with Corbyn’s arguments, presumably thinking he would fail to get the nominations. Luke Akehurst, the secretary of the ‘old-fashioned’ (non-Blairite) rightwing faction Labour First, said Corbyn should be on the ballot to prove the weakness of the left. ‘I want his ideas scrutinised and defeated in a democratic ballot so we can prove that they are not the direction the vast majority of members want to go in,’ he wrote. Now the candidates have learned to ignore or underestimate Corbyn at their peril. Liz Kendall said last week that Corbyn was gaining ground because members had ‘been through a huge trauma’ after the election defeat.

Party grandees’ shock at Corbyn’s success points to a gulf in political opinion between the parliamentary party and the wider membership. In the 1970s and early 1980s, constituency delegates at Labour conference would lay into MPs for betraying the principles they espoused when selected as candidates. There was a decline in both membership and grassroots activity in the Blair years. Party members became more willing, as the former national executive member Liz Davies put it, to play 'a walk-on part'. But now Corbyn is leading in constituency nominations, which the new registered supporters have no influence over. Unlike in 2010, many MPs have been unable to persuade their local parties to endorse their preferred candidates. The frontbenchers Gloria de Piero, who nominated Kendall, and Jonathan Ashworth, who nominated Cooper, both looked on as their branches nominated Corbyn.


  • 29 July 2015 at 7:52pm
    Dominic Rice says:
    Throughout the past five years, the PLP silently acceded in the Tory and media rewriting of what caused the deficit, and nod dumbly when Osborne pronounces that the holy grail of our society must be a balanced budget. Since May 7 it has been desperate to ensure that Labour become even more akin to the Tories. They are an utterly bankrupt shower who can only parrot the conventional wisdoms of neoliberal media pundits.

    • 31 July 2015 at 2:06pm
      mototom says: @ Dominic Rice
      Spot on!

  • 30 July 2015 at 6:00am
    SpinningHugo says:
    The Tories are laughing at you.

    • 31 July 2015 at 7:59am
      neilkh says: @ SpinningHugo
      I think you'll find that that mob of sniggering schoolboys laugh at most things.

    • 31 July 2015 at 10:10am
      edtex says: @ SpinningHugo
      the tories are always laughing at someone. it's the sign of a bully

    • 31 July 2015 at 2:08pm
      mototom says: @ SpinningHugo
      Yeah, they were, but you might have noticed the right wing press last weekend calling for the election to be suspended.

  • 31 July 2015 at 3:22am
    tony lynch says:
    And me at you.

  • 31 July 2015 at 10:20am
    SpinningHugo says:
    There has always been a gulf between the PLP and th members. The members were always more leftwing. In the 70s/80s this was offset by the Unions, who operate as a stabilizing force. That has all gone. We now have Unit, and no Jack Jones.

    Blair was tolerated because he won. That has now gone too. the discipline createe by memories of the 80s has gone too. Iraq is far more in the minds of thee activist ultraas.

    And so we end up with the farce of Corbynquit possibly being elected leader. This is not a return to Foot. We are in uncharted waters. Corbyn has

    -no significant PLP support. It is hard to see how he could construct a shadow cabinet.
    -no exerience at all.
    -economic policies from thee kindergarten with numbers plucked out of the air that don't bear any scrutiny (eg £93bn in corporate welfare).
    -a consistent platform of wnting UK exit from Nato and the EU (until his less than plausible retreat from the latter last week)
    - a platform of radical renationalisation. He thinks it sensible that time and resources are spent renationalising the BT 'monopoly'
    - a consistent and firm pattern of support for George Galloway. Know people by their friends.

    He is the 'fuck it' candidate. The candit of romantics who prefer glorious noble defeat to the boring business of elping real world people.

    That is why th Tories are laughing at you.

    I am not laughing at all.

    • 31 July 2015 at 10:57am
      Joshua K says: @ SpinningHugo

    • 31 July 2015 at 3:48pm
      SpinningHugo says: @ Joshua K
      I knew the source. It is laughable.

      The biggest item in the list us capital depreciation.

      Good luck trying to spend that.

  • 31 July 2015 at 10:45am
    Joshua K says:
    The thing about this assumption that a genuinely left-wing labour party would be an electoral disaster is that it's based on nothing more than the defeat of the previous genuinely left-wing labour party 40 years ago. That was when lots of people did genuinely believe that all that unrestricted capital would trickle down and by now we'd all be living in a free-market utopia of abundant wealth and mass home ownership. As this vision has very obviously failed to materialize, a new left-wing movement led by a popular conviction politician could gain some traction.

    And God knows what sort of state the country will be in by 2020. Plus the older generation of Tories are dying off and younger people are generally not fans of the Tories at all. Corbyn will really appeal to and inspire them.

    And even if Corbyn doesn't win the leadership he will have succeeded in giving the left-wing position legitimacy and popular currency. That could cause problems for the Tories.

    The point is, this hasn't happened in a long time and there aren't any safe predictions. (Except that it will never again be glad, confident morning for neoliberalism).

  • 4 August 2015 at 12:30pm
    outofdate says:
    Pragmatists of England! Maybe a Tory government is what you deserve and need, and also what you've elected. Has that thought occurred to you?

  • 9 August 2015 at 1:08pm
    Michael Taylor says:
    It's depressing that so far from bringing in anything new to Labour politics, Corbyn is re-hashing the same old leftist arguments that the electorate doesn't buy and never has. We get the same argument, for instance, that the voters voted in a Tory government because Labour weren't left-wing enough, which is preposterous in its own terms. Ah, but this time it's different; the financial crisis has put paid to capitalism and voters are ready for a shift. I just don't see that. I see instead a tiny minority of political geeks with no connection to voters -- voters who aren't interested in political theory and just want to get on with their lives. It seems to me that Labour has been heading leftwards since Blair stood down as PM. Or am I the only one who remembers Brown being held as 'more in touch' with Labour roots: or the unions backing Ed Miliband as more left-wing than his brother? In the meantime, Labour has lost two elections, in 2010 and 2015, the 2nd time worse than the first. I resent doctrinaire socialists taking over the only social democratic party we have when there is already any number of overtly socialist parties for them to join; and the sense that this is important, because Labour was founded as the party to represent working people in parliament, and if they won't be around any more to do that, who will? That's the real betrayal -- of Labour's natural constituency, who aren't socialists, just ordinary people.

    • 11 August 2015 at 10:48pm
      denismollison says: @ Michael Taylor
      How many of Corbyn's policies are really "hard left"? Many of his policies seem pragmatic and progressive.

      The neo-liberals have managed to shift the "Overton window" of acceptable policies steadily rightwards for over 30 years. As Alan Bennett put it in the LRB last year ( "One has only had to stand still to become a radical".

      If Corbyn helps us ignore the Overton blinkers, and have a discussion
      of our environmental, social and economic options that cannot be closed down by lazy abuse using terms such as "hard left" he will have done us all a service.

  • 10 August 2015 at 12:39pm
    Roy Madron says:
    Check out the exclusively Neo-liberal members of Brown's global advisory groups to know the true nature of his relationship to both the Labour Party and social democracy. To advise him on policies to improve the competitiveness of the UK economy he chose Bill Gates , Lord Browne, chief Executive of BP, Bernard
    Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, Lee Scott, chief executive of Wal-Mart, Meg
    Whitman, chief executive of e-Bay, Robert Rubin, the chairman of
    Citigroup, Li Ka-shing, chairman of Hutchinson Whampoa and Ratan Tata,
    chairman of India's Tata industrial grouo.

    On economic and social policies he chose among other cronies,
    Alan Greenspan Ex-chairman of US Federal Reserve; Larry Summers Former US Treasury secretary; Bob Shrum American campaign strategist and speech writer; Gertrude Himmelfarb Veteran American academic and matriarch of the Kristol family of Neocons; Ed Miliband; and
    Sir Gus O'Donnell Cabinet secretary (co-author of a notorious article in praise of Margaret Thatcher's leadership);

    Those names alone should be part of any debate about the true nature of Brown's world view, political beliefs, economic theories, and social values.

  • 12 August 2015 at 11:35am
    kalyjag says:
    It is crazy to describe Corbyn as 'hard left'. Forget entryism and other 80s fears and loathing. There are only about He has been my MP for over 30 years and I

  • 12 August 2015 at 11:53am
    kalyjag says:
    Sorry about shortened last post - a jolted elbow hit the wrong button!

    Corbyn has been my MP for over 30 years - he has been incredibly popular with 'all walks of life' and has been accessible and effective. He has had more Parliamentary experience than Cameron and Kendall have had the proverbial hot dinners.He genuinely wanted to re-instate democratic socialism and an option on the political agenda. He has certainly been aback by the Corbyn-mania that has resulted from his standing. He has resonated with the public because he speaks honestly and without an eye and ear to 'the Party line'. The political culture in Britain has become bereft of meaning, most politicians never answer Qs - they spout what they are expected to. People know this and have stopped listening. Corbyn may well have restored some faith in political discourse. He holds the high ground of serious political debate - not 'tabloid journalism'. And it is surely democratic to be able to talk 'socialism' as an option without a chorus of 'its out of date' or 'look at the Soviet Union'. If he hadn't stood, the Labour Party leadership would have been a giant boring yawn to most people - now the Labour Party has lots of new young members and is alive and well - and kickin! They should thank him for that at least. If he wins, its going to be difficult for the Labour heirarchy to deal with - but they should be very careful how they play it.

  • 13 August 2015 at 3:12am
    Peter Smith says:
    I find it fascinating - as an octogenarian born and educated in Britain who has spent his working life in Canada and the US - that the very same things are being played out in all three countries. In an age of social media universal communication, young people in all three countries have NOT EXPERIENCED anything but neoliberalism. My young American friends have never known a president who was not in thrall to Wall Street. Ditto my nephews and nieces in the UK - substituting The City for Wall Street. In Canada things are marginally better, because Harpic is a recent scourge compared with Clinton and Blair and their successors. Only a fool would predict where Corbyn or Sanders or Mulcair will end up - but they all have the same appeal for people under 30. Those young men and women are hungry for a different version of "the truth about society" - ravenous even.

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