Monday, 27 June 2016

Questions for Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Alan Johnson on the Brexit victory

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But it wasn't Jeremy Corbyn. Or even Labour's Remain front man, Alan Johnson.

So the morning after Great Britain was cut adrift in an ocean of uncertainty by the Brexit vote, the public were finally told the truth by the Leave campaign: there will be no £350mn saving per week going to the NHS; Turkey is not joining the EU; Britain wasn't party to the Schengen agreement anyway so the EU vote will have no effect on immigration except for a possible increase; the British Army was never going to join the fantasy Euro army of Ukip nightmares; expect TTIP on steroids.

However, we will have that recession that's been looming and we will lose Scotland and Northern Ireland. Little England has done more for a united Ireland than any IRA bombs.

And the 75 per cent of young voters who voted Remain feel their futures have been destroyed by older voters. Plus an explosion of far-right race hate is transforming the UK.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove put the prick into Pyrrhic.

Parliament's raison d'etre (sorry to go all European on you) is surely that momentous events are presided over by our democratically elected representatives whose job it is to know what they are talking about. But like the cynical demagogue he is, Gove dismissed not only all the experts as Nazis and cast himself as their persecuted Jewish genius Albert Einstein, but he drew to an end the whole Enlightenment movement's emphasis on reason, provable evidence and facts, stoking up a Dark Ages dependence on blind faith.

The mainstream media will always be hostile to Corbyn. We know that. Which is one reason why our side had to be at its sharpest, most agile, ethical, lively, imaginative and honest. It is dismaying to see the one quality in play — JC's honesty — end up as a pearl cast before swine and trodden underfoot in a skint and lacklustre campaign. So much for "balance", especially from the BBC. (Jeez, even that other JC, Jeremy Clarkson, was to the left of The Management on the EU, stunning us with his Remain stance.)

Corbyn's 30 or so Labour In meetings for the Remain cause around parts of the country, while encouraging and a vital plank for the cause, were largely speaking to the converted and perceived by the wider national audience as too little, too late. A whole lot more was required: a bigger audience reached, a wider bandwidth of communication deployed.

And now vast swathes of Leave voters have woken up with a hangover.

Some questions:
Why did Jeremy Corbyn not share every Remain platform with Cameron, taking advantage of Remain's resources, and have the confidence that his better arguments would outshine the Tory wing of Remain? Some have argued that JC would have been damaged by this in the same way that Ed Miliband was damaged in the Scotland independence referendum. Yet this was such an unusual set of circumstances that, had a powerful narrative been harnessed, that's what would have lasted beyond the dreaded photo of Corbyn holding his nose and standing 10 feet away from a clearly desperate, weak Cameron. He didn't have to be chummy but at least he would have been in the game.

Secondly, they needed a potent Remain vision to inspire voters and fill the void. Leave had Take Control. What did we have instead? How did Corbyn's team aim to cut the legs out from the powerful emotional pillars of Leave's argument? Were they methodical? Did they think that simple facts would win the day when dealing with such deep illogical fears from a working class pummelled and pulverised by Tory austerity and twisted by media collusion for half a decade?

Thirdly, are Jeremy's close Lexit friends [STW] relying on the ensuing chaos, calamity and misery to drive the workers into their arms? Or have they effectively driven them into the predatory arms of the right?

JC did not cause the country to vote Brexit but as leader of the opposition hoping to win power in the next general election he could and should have done much more to weight it in Remain's favour. This was Corbyn's chance to shine, to show everyone what the progressive Remain but Reform side represented, and to have done it with clarity and good conscience for a better future in common with all the other workers of the world who are being stiffed by the bosses.

Yet he went on holiday in the middle of the campaign, 30th May to 8th June. This says much about his sense of urgency and perhaps a residual desire for Brexit based on 1970s circumstances.

Jeremy Corbyn is a great constituency MP with a left conscience. He was as surprised as anyone else when, having given John McDonnell a break to stand as leader of the Labour Party, he actually won. Like thousands of others I joined the LP because of Jeremy. But the victory for Leave, condemning a younger generation to an enfeebled economy for the rest of their lives, is due at least in part to Labour's slothful, uninspiring, ineffectual campaign. For too long Labour voters didn't even know which side the party was on.

Alan Johnson, chair of Labour Remain, was to grasp the campaign by the scruff of the neck and drag it into the public eye. I'd forgotten. That's how much of an impact he made.

Corbyn's strongest suit in the political sphere is that he is honest and straight if a bit dull. That honest, reliable quality should have been promoted to the max flanked by his bruisers — Tom Watson and Alan Johnson in the case of Brexit — doing the heavy lifting. The campaign was lacking in all counts.

There is history to this. The one far left analysis from the late 1990s, one that has stayed with me, was that the working class would grow more bitter with each of Tony Blair's inevitable betrayals and would turn to the right. That's why it was vital to build a left alternative to the Labour Party.

Instead, the far left leadership of bureaucrats (prominent in Lexit — left Brexit — and a key part of Corbyn's Labour leadership campaign) proceeded to stop and start, initiate and then sabotage, the various attempts to create a left pole of attraction. They took an axe to the fledgling Socialist Alliance  just as it began to make an impact. Their dishonourable opportunism around the Birmingham Mosque, PJP and Respect ended with the OFFU cheque debacle. Valuable organising time was frittered away, opportunities wasted, trust destroyed, careers made.

The important job was to make sure there was no vacuum which the right could fill. They failed to do even this. All their bickering and internecine warfare may have secured a top place for certain ambitious lefties but it has left the working class in disarray, clutching at the nearest nationalist straw.

Paul Mason is more forgiving of Corbyn, crediting him with keeping two thirds of Labour supporters on board to vote Remain. He writes:
Our strategic problem is to reconnect not only with the Labour core voters who backed Brexit but with those who have drifted to Ukip. I don’t know whether the present leadership can do that; I do know all the previous leaderships failed to do it so we need to work out a plan and try.

Who is the "we" who are going to work out a plan? The usual far left clique of charmers?

Phil Harris, chair of the Labour In campaign, says that Corbyn's office:
"... consistently attempted to weaken and sabotage the Labour remain campaign, in contravention of the party’s official position. For example, they resisted all polling and focus group evidence on message and tone, raised no campaign finance, failed to engage with the campaign delivery and deliberately weakened and damaged the argument Labour sought to make.

Corbyn made only a smattering of campaign appearances, and they were lacklustre in delivery and critical of the EU in tone resulting in Labour voters not knowing the party’s position or hearing our argument. Corbyn’s infrequent campaign appearances and narrow focus, in turned limited the party’s appeal. He kept saying that the economic shock of Brexit was not real. It is. And it is working people and Labour communities that will pay the price. A price that is being felt right now."
Sabotage is probably too strong a term for the incompetence on display but this certainly felt like going through the motions in every sense. While the reluctance to do the necessary work may not reflect Corbyn's past position of the 1970s, how much of this damage was down to his press supremo Seumas Milne who did share Lexit's desire for Out last time anyone looked?

One left commentator, Sukant Chandan, writes:
"The first thing Corbyn said on the early morning of the Brexit victory was to 1, Capitulate at the feet of the ‪Brexit Fascists‬ by demanding we fast track exiting the EU by invoking article 50! The other thing he said is that immigration is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Since then he has been increasingly positioning himself as someone who is going to 'fight for plucky england/UK against the EU for brexit', this is positioning him increasingly directly with the UK nationalist right who are similarly invested in 'fighting the EU for the UK' which is neatly centred in the UK right and far right project. Corbyn is fast becoming right now (has already become?) the figure head that the Brexit/Lexit camp are attaching themselves to to develop this UK nationalist fight with the EU."

However, faced with the prospect of a Blairite coup, I do not want Corbyn to go. Replacing him with Blairites seizing on this chance to ditch the hope he embodies is to score as big an own goal as working class Leave voters have just done. We do not need more capitulation to austerity, supporting wars without end, appeasing business and taking jobs with the worst offenders (such as former Home Secretary Dr John Reid and G4S, Alan Milburn and privatised health, Tony Blair and his evil empire).

Eleven Labour cabinet members have resigned to oust Corbyn. Yet how many resigned over austerity?

We are reaching an existential stage of the survival of the British working class and the struggle requires all hands on deck.

I've been arguing for improved media relations since I started doing presswork in the left: if we are so overlooked by the mainstream press with only the pro-Brexit Morning Star to plough the socialist furrow, would the TUC use some of its treasure to finance a cable TV station that combined news and arts to give the left a cultural base? It would take time to build but the longest journey begins with the first step. More Yellow Brick Road than Shining Path, we hope.

Sign the Second Referendum petition

Open letter from Women of Colour supporting Remain.

Leave campaign wipe all their pledges off their website.

George Soros predicts break-up of the EU, of the UK and the end of decades of peaceful European unification.

Lee Jasper on Bracist Britain: a Black British perspective.

LSE Blog: Brexit is not the will of the British people – it never has been

Anna Chen started and ran many press operations for the left including Globalise Resistance, Socialist Alliance, various UK Chinese campaigns such as the Foot and Mouth Disease smear 2001 and the Morecambe Bay cocklepickers disaster. She was the press officer who succesfully relaunched Stop The War (STW) with Jeremy Corbyn's first STW meeting in London, September 2001, breaking it into the mainstream media.


Milnrowmart said...

I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of this. A nicely nuanced analysis.

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks, Milnrowmart. Corbyn needs a testudo of competent, principled Labour MPs surrounding him so he can play to his strengths.

gerdowning said...

Corrected version:

Sorry Anna, although I agree with you on Tibet and many other things this is a bad article that reveals a very reformist and bourgeois outlook on politics. Who is the "we" who is going to lose Scotland and Northern Ireland as a result of this referendum? You are thinking here like a member of the ruling class by lumping the two together. "We", read British imperialism, has no right to occupy the six north eastern countries of Ireland and every real socialist campaigns to "lose" them to Ireland, a socialist United Ireland, preferably. Scotland is different and "we", as the British working class, should oppose Scottish independence politically whilst defending their right to self-determination if they should so choose.

But it is the whole electoralist premise of the article that is so wrong. If Corbyn was only more media savvy and had Owen Jones and yourself as his advisers he would be in a far better position now.

The correct points you and Jones make about his mistakes are totally undermined by the realisation of where you are coming from.

No, it would not have been better if he shared a platform with Cameron during the EU referendum campaign. It would have endorsed racist anti immigrant bigotry as the source of the crisis.

The concessions he made to that after the result were entirely wrong but you surely understood that the attacks on him by the PLP was because he did not go down that road during the campaign itself.

And you and Jones have missed the whole point of supporting Corbyn and only Corbyn. Any replacement now would be a victory for the Blairites and British imperialism itself. Because he is now the living embodiment of the fight against austerity. These are illusions in many ways but they are real mobilising illusions and the more the movement grows the harder it will be to explain why these aspirations cannot be realised. It is all about this movement now, giving it strength and confidence in its own importance and ability to enforce change.

Looking at the electoral arena completely misses this and denies it. Of course we must get Labour Councils to take a stance against austerity of course we must get trade unions to become part of that. That struggle has much more chance of success if Corbyn remains and Momentum is democratised and then the whole Labour Party is democratised in the struggle. We deselect the right wing Labour traitors, 172 or however many we need to, and replace them with more militant class fighters and revolutionaries where possible.

But concentrating like yourself and Jones on the minutiae of media presentations with a few left criticisms as cover for a right wing attack is appalling.

Finally I came back to that Freudian slip at the start. "We" mustn't lose "Northern Ireland". What's best for the British Empire and not for the British and global working class. Or are the two things the same?

Madam Miaow said...

Hi Gerry, just found your comment. Re Ireland, FWIW, I've always opposed British occupation of Northern Ireland but for now the Peace process seems the best that can be achieved right now in the absence of a full-on glorious revolution. I accept your point about using "we" but I (lazily and ironically) was using a short cut to get to the heart of the matter I wanted to reach.

I joined Labour to vote for JC and, as someone who has actively campaigned against Blairite policy and been critical, I understand and support a beaten down, pauperised class wanting a champion/leader instead of the usual Tory Lite contingent.

That's not to say I am not critical of Corbyn, such as his lax approach to the immigration debate and the EU. You write (sharing a platform with Cameron) "would have endorsed racist anti immigrant bigotry as the source of the crisis."

However, Corbyn subsequently caved into the bogus claim that free movement of labour is the problem, when capital knows no borders. There are, of course, strong feelings about Cameron but JC might as well have shared the platform and made clear his position – where he differs and what his vision has to offer — and made his point to a wider audience. It was no time for a sectarian huff which is how many despairing Labour sympathisers have perceived it.

I'm sorry you see having a proper press campaign as being "minutiae". It was far from "minutiae" in building the anti Iraq War movement as I know from direct experience. It was only in the final two weeks of the general election that it looked as if Team Corbyn had finally got their act together and electoral support surged, sadly too late to win. Imagine if they'd landed with their wheels rolling from the start. It's a shame they played sectarian games and clung to cronies instead of building a fighting machine. That lost time, hope and friends, and we got another period of Tory predation. I believe that result was not an inevitability.