Pathology and political amnesia
Vince Mills, Chair of the Scottish Labour Campaign for Socialism, and a contributor to Morning Star, The Citizen, Tribune and The Red Paper on Scotland, challenges criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn and offers a different view of Labour’s recent history.
As many of the left, like Neil Findlay in the Daily Record (23rd July), had anticipated, the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have intensified. Indeed, the attacks on Jeremy personally from one Labour MP has outdone the gutter press, while the attacks on Labour’s electoral process itself have brought new meaning to the word ‘hypocrisy’.
Years of pursuit by the Blairite right of one member one vote and primaries, where supporters can select Labour candidates, should according to these very Blairites be reversed overnight because the potential result does not suit the ‘aspirations’ – and how they love that word – of Labour’s existing and wannabe elite.
John Mann MP, for example, the leader of the cries of ‘foul’ over the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, was even more vocal in his support for primaries including the 2010 leadership election in his Constituency Labour Party at Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire which was open to “voters and supporters”!
However, it is away from the personal and on what really matters – policy issues – that the Blairite right of the Labour Party have come out, but not fighting. Instead of arguing the case for Trident renewal, or benefit caps, or low tax, small state or the canonisation of the entrepreneurs – the catechism of neo-liberalism – Labour’s right has instead taken to the discourse of pathology. And so it is that Blair, as reported by the BBC website addressing the Progress think tank, said :
“…the ‘debilitating feature’ of the leadership contest was that it was being presented as a choice ‘between heart and head’, adding that people who say their heart is with Mr Corbyn should ‘get a transplant’.”
To be fair his speech did contain a list – Delphic in clarity – suggesting, for example, that Labour should be thinking about ‘real policy not one liners which make a point’ and working out ‘what a political organisation looks like today’, but pointedly he was unable or unwilling to set out any real detail on how a party of Labour delivers what its supporters really need – jobs, a decent health service, education and social services – only deliverable by increased taxation – and key infrastructure – finance, transport, energy and IT – that works for ordinary people and not the rich elites who own them.
Not to be outdone, Blairite supporter Tom Harris, who lost his seat of Glasgow South in May to the SNP, continues the medical theme, although his specialism is psychiatry. Speaking on Radio Scotland he said:
“What is happening is what happens to the Labour party just about every generation – every 25 or 30 years – when we get thrown out of power we have an emotional reaction. This is different from the nervous breakdown the party had in the 50s, which is different from the nervous breakdown we had in the 80s, this is a nervous breakdown of a totally different order. The danger is that the result will be exactly the same, that we will exclude ourselves from government for the next 10 or 15 years or even longer than that.”
All of this is premised, of course, on the assumption that Blair offered deliverance form the chains of ultra-leftism and unelectability of the 1980s and 1990s. So I am inclined to respond with a pathology of my own – amnesia. The Blairites ‘forget’ that the Labour victory in 1997 usually attributed to Blair was evident in opinion polls when John Smith was still alive in 1994. Gallup then gave Labour 50.5%, ICM 48% and MORI 51.5%. Pretty much what they were saying in April 1997 just before the election that Blair won. The actual vote in 1997 was 43.2% for Labour amounting to half a million fewer votes than Major polled in the 1992 election. Turn-out was the lowest since 1935. The share of the vote was lower than Attlee’s in 1945, or Wilson’s in 1964 and 1966.
They also ‘forget’ that after the landslide majority of 179 in 1997 that majority slid to 167 in 2001 and 66 in 2005.They ‘forget’ that although fifty-eight per cent of working-class voted for Blair in 1997 it had fallen to 40 per cent by 2010. They ‘forget’, although the Smith Institute pamphlet reminds us that:
“Between 1997 and 2010 Labour lost a staggering 4.9 million votes. Some of this loss can be explained by a drop in turnout (some 1.6 million fewer voted in 2010 than 1997). Traditionally the Conservatives would have gained where Labour lost but the biggest winners were the Lib Dems in absolute terms, and some of the fringe parties in the percentage rise of their vote.”
And of course in their obsession with Labour’s heavy defeat in 1983 they ‘forget’ the intervention of the SDP which so successfully split the anti-Thatcher vote almost evenly between Labour and Lib/SDP alliance – a re-run of which I note has been mentioned by John Mills the ever loyal millionaire Labour supporter, as the nuclear option for Blairite loyalists discussing end of the world scenarios in the New Labour bunker.
As Jeremy Corbyn has argued, it may have been that what the Labour Party north and south of the border needed was a period of intense reflection and debate about the nature and purpose of the Labour Party before we discussed leadership. Instead we have this contest, so it will have to do. In which case, can we please now move to the debate about politics and policies and stop avoiding it by adopting a discourse that camouflages political stances rather having a frank discussion about political differences and allowing the party membership to decide which position they find most attractive in austerity ridden Britain.