Trevor Fisher sees much value in Owen Jones’ lessons for Labour, even as Owen Smith emerges as the sole challenger to Corbyn
The article by Owen Jones in the Guardian of 14th July deserves to be more than just another Opinion piece – Jones came nearer to outlining a Third Road Analysis than anyone in recent years. While he was savage on the current coup, he was equally open eyed about the problems that Corbynism has brought in its wake.
Although he set “all sides” challenges, he recognised in reality there are only two. The dominant New Labourism is he argues “the plaything of technocrats and managerialists, stripped of roots in communities, lives, anything”. Not surprisingly, he says “a vaccuum, a political void was left” and the reaction that this has now been filled by something they do not like has come as a shock, “but are they really surprised?” It would appear so. The majority of people in the Labour establishment had no idea that a revolt was coming.
As Owen says, they now assume that there was a collective madness, a Facebook politics or – a popular one it seems – the uprising of ‘far-left revolutionaries, as though there are hundreds of thousands of sleeper Trotskyists in Britain’. What Owen did not say, is that the SNP must be full of the far left since they have wiped out Labour in Scotland, with the aid of a resurgent Tory party. However as Owen claims to be the son of a Militant full timer, and is in a good position to assess the roots of the movements of the 1980s and now, the rise of Momentum is surprising precisely because the Far Left was in marked decline. But when the left saw a chance, they went for it. They showed skill but it can never be said too often, that the chance was provided…. by the parliamentary Labour Party, or of the misguided element like Margaret Beckett and Frank Field, mainstream right-wingers both, who put Corbyn on the ballot paper.
As Owen Jones says, the subsequent surge “was a surprising to a candidate who did not stand to win as anyone else”. And it was the miscalculation of the parliamentary right which did this. No one predicted the surge, and I was as surprised as anyone. But the tinder was ripe for the flame, for New Labour had created the vacuum that Jones talks of. That the parliamentary right still cannot get this is astonishing. And I certainly agree with McDonnell’s reported remark that “as plotters, they are f….g useless”. Indeed, as politicians, what skills do they show?
I am writing this at 8pm on 19th July, and news has just come through that Angela Eagle has stood down to allow a two horse race, perhaps because the Times today reported even higher levels of support for Corbyn among the Party membership.Which makes the latter part of Owen Jones’ article even more relevant as he critiques Corbyn and his team’s political performance, writing “I believe socialism, on the one hand, and competence and effective communication to the majority of people, on the other, are not mutually exclusive”. Very true. Yet his conclusion on the first days of the new regime and its tenor over the first ten months is damning: “there has always been a lack of direction, clear vision or ability to communicate…” Jones itemises a number of failures to bring the Tories to book, notably the IDS resignation.
Jones notes many MPs are rebels who are pro-Corbyn’s positions, citing Louise Haigh and Karl Turner, but who fear a Labour wipe out if he stays. Corbyn’s personal ratings are below Miliband’s at the same stage, and have dropped to minus 41 with more Labour voters dissatisfied than satisfied. Yet the members are satisfied and increasingly supportive. For what? If the Tories call an election in the next six months, whoever leads the party will preside over a disaster. For this, the PLP rebels have to be held responsible.
If May does not call an election and its hard for her to do so without changing the Fixed Term Parliament Act, then there is a little more time to consider what should be done. Owen Jones argues Corbyn’s team and his opponents have to demonstrate how the party can be successful. But that is easier said than done when neither side shows any political skills worth having. Gerald Ford, an American president who was put into the top job without being elected to it, was said to find it difficult to “walk and chew gum at the same time”. Its possible that a whole political cadre on the Labour benches is facing the same problem. That Owen Jones has put his finger on a key issue of competence seems to be both undeniable and essential to discuss.
Trevor Fisher 19th July 2016