Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Crisis Around Corbyn

On the surface, Jeremy Corbyn's aides appear to be mishandling the current crisis in the Labour Party - there is a lack of dynamism in responding to critics and an unnecessary defensiveness. The attack dogs of the PLP smell fear and it only encourages them.

Corbyn may now be wilting under pressure but there is undoubted bullying going on here. The alleged deletion of the hard drive on the finance bill (reported in the Guardian today) is a very serious matter that can only be interpreted (if not a genuine error) as political sabotage, one that could affect the lives of vulnerable working people negatively.

However, the more serious issue is the underlying political situation in the country which is more complex than it first appears. The recent increase in party membership seems to be in non-marginal non-Labour territory while the Party is weakening or shrinking in traditional Labour areas placing the marginal seats (the key ones in an FPTP system) at serious risk.

MPs fear for their jobs because Corbyn is allegedly not reaching out to working class constituencies but how can he reach out in this way if he is hobbled by the PLP itself? It is these MPs who have been disabling the Corbyn-McDonnell team from developing a message more in tune with the vote that took place on June 23rd.

The hollowing out of the Party in its traditional areas certainly has nothing to do with Corbyn and everything to do with Blair and Brown's era of control (and that of Milliband). Meanwhile, the coup leaders are radical middle class Remainers who may be incapable of communicating with the discontents that UKIP is now targeting.

It is arguable that Corbyn could have reached out to the working class long before this if he had not been hobbled by the Party's pro-EU position. Corbyn is a weak Leader thrown into an intolerable situation because of the refusal of the PLP to face reality on the ground.

His office know what is at stake - throwing the Party back into the hands of a professional political class which has failed to engage with the electorate in stages since the landslide of 1997 and has no coherent plan of its own for electoral recovery. A weak Leader of the Left cannot resign because its strong Leader (McDonnell) would not get on the ballot under current rules - the Left and the new membership would be erased from history and the Party handed over to make-weights.

The rebels huff and puff but cannot come up with their own alternative who could beat Corbyn in a straight democratic fight. They are also made up of multiple competing factions - the old Labour Right (represented now by Watson who seems to be playing as straight a bat as he can under the circumstances), the soft Left (represented by the younger Benn and Kinnock), the Brownites and the hard-line Blairites, allegedly manipulated from behind by PR advisers.

The PR Campaign which appears to have had months of preparation has framed the media and so much of the general public against Corbyn, thereby adding another weapon ('public opinion') to the rebel armoury but it is one which the Left knows is based on the same sort of false framing that we saw in the Remain campaign. Part of the crisis of our times is public resistance to manipulative political framing of the debate - the spinners are crumbling before the stubbornness of the people and are forced into increasingly hysterical and bullying positions as a result.

The unions are aghast and divided - some have thrown themselves in with the rebels because of potential Left rebellions in their own ranks, others are fully committed to the Left. The stakes are immensely high and the 'schwerpunkt' of the battle is the mind of Corbyn himself - hence the Left (which acts as a collective here) shores up and shields him in a ring of steel while the rebels apply extreme, often bullying, pressure directly and through the media on the man and only the man.

If he snaps they win. If he holds, they have to find a candidate-challenger and lose everything. This is, in short, one of the most brutal and ruthless engagements ever seen in British politics in which morality has no meaning.

There is one other factor which is driving the Blairites and, to a lesser extent, the Soft Left - Chilcot. There is no conspiracy theory needed here but Chilcot, pushed continuously into the long grass until now, will be a decisive judgment on a former Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary. Normally, it would be a simple partisan matter and the effect would be neutered since a war crimes case is unlikely to be demonstrated under Nuremburg principles (or will it?).

If there is any ambiguity in this, however, Corbyn would be expected to turn on his former Leader and may even prosecute the case for war crimes. There is a back story here of conflict over Middle Eastern policies that pulls in criticism of NATO, of Atlanticism and of Israel - and the antisemitism narrative (also carefully framed to promote hysteria rather than thought) is part of the mix.

Corbyn is only dangerous if he is in office on Wednesday - once out of office, he is just a discredited Leftie. So, the mission from the old Atlantic Right is to get him out of office before Wednesday or destroy his authority.

Corbyn's alleged weak leadership of the Remain campaign was merely an excuse to drive this war forward and quickly and pull in an angry mass base behind it. The timing is carefully designed to split the Corbynistas over Europe itself.

The Left is actually highly critical of the EU. It only chose to campaign for Remain on a rather spurious makeshift policy of internal reform that had more holes in it than a Swiss cheese.

The reasoning (proven flawed) was based on a belief that by conceding on the European Union, the inevitable coup attempt could be deferred. The June 23rd vote now frees the Left to accept Brexit and then campaign for a Socialist Britain.

The Right not only do not want acceptance of Brexit, they don't want a Socialist Britain and they know that many young Party activists were as committed to Remain as they were to Corbyn. June 23rd thus offered an opportunity for the Right to mobilise the Remain vote alongside Liberal Democrat and dissident Socialist and anti-racist networks to create a 'popular' movement to contain and then defeat Corbyn.

However it seems as if the Neo-Remain movement is not all that it appears to be. 30,00-50,000 on the streets is not actually a lot, Corbynistas appear to be mobilising for their man in preference to Europe, there have been dodgy practices exposed in the petition and the involvement of big business and PR people is being exposed on social media.

It gets worse. Geldof and Izzard are now figures of fun, radical Remainers are not necessarily the majority in many CLPs and it is clear that no PLP member seems ready to rely fully on the Neo-Remain movement to launch them into office by mounting a challenge.

The public has moved on and it seems that only bankers and big business are continuing to moan about the result in public (alongside some petit-bourgeois students) - not exactly the natural friends of the working class. So, with four days to go to Chilcot, the choices are simple - will Corbyn accept some untrustworthy deal and go before the release of the Report, will he hang on to force a challenge or will he leave only on condition of a change to party rules that allows McDonnell to stand in his place?

The collective leadership of the Left and four decades of tough survival in the wilderness suggests that Corbyn will go to ground and hang on until he is challenged or the Left can be promised a viable alternative candidate. What we can rely on is that the operation to oust Corbyn will now increase in intensity until it reaches levels of unparalleled viciousness aided and abetted by the trained ferrets in the mainstream media.

At a certain point, though, the bullying may result in blow-back within the softer unaligned elements in the PLP who may begin to waver at the aggression of their allies. Bullying in itself may mobilise members and some of the public and union activists in particular (often hyper-sensitive to bullying in workplace situations) for Corbyn.

All in all, despite all the pressures on him, Corbyn appears to be down rather than out and there is still room for a fight-back although how this cannot end in some split in the Labour Party beats this observer. Eventually there will be a stabilisation based on compromise but surely either the Hard Left or the Blairite Right will be exuded from the Party within months.