22nd January, 2016
Do you hear the people sing?
The weekly strategy meeting being held in the leader’s office is not a happy affair. Seumas Milne paces up and down as one by one the others in the room point out the recent communication disasters: Trident without warheads, the Falklands, a cosy chat with Daesh, the never-ending reshuffle.
Jeremy Corbyn sighs and looks at Milne. “Seumas, do we have a plan? A strategy? Something?”
Milne smiles and walks towards the window. And starts singing
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes.
Within seconds, everyone present is singing and Jeremy jumps to his feet and shouts, “Just like the leadership contest rallies… Birkenhead, Liverpool, London all that cheering! We must… we can… the people are calling… it is our destiny…”
At that moment Milne reaches peak Milne… standing on the long table punching the air as he sings.
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see?
The door opens and silence returns. John McDonnell, the real boss, looks at those gathered and says,”Get a grip. Our strategy has to be more than a bloody song and memories of a few rallies”.
Milne snaps back, “Our strategy is working. This isn’t about us. It is bigger than us. We are creating a new world. A people’s world!”
And back to reality!
Since becoming leader almost everyone agrees that Corbyn has struggled on many fronts. He hasn’t managed to convince a critical parliamentary party that he has a plan or is capable of leading the Party out of the very big hole it is in. He hasn’t reached out beyond his core support and he has struggled to present a coherent narrative.
But he is still leader and is likely to remain as leader for the foreseeable future. And the reason he is leader has little if anything to do with ability, political nous or basic competence – it is all about numbers. He and his team know that the thousands who attended his rallies still support him. Any challenge at the moment would fail. He has the numbers and in politics numbers are everything.
So Jeremy has the numbers to keep any internal challenge at bay but with the electorate the numbers are very different. The problem for Labour is that Corbyn is too strong to be deposed but too weak and unpopular to win elections.
And of course many of his biggest fans blame everyone but Jeremy for the mess we are in. If it isn’t Progress, it is the media and if blame can’t be pinned on them they howl and bark hoping someone will listen. Perhaps the most bizarre claim comes from former MP Chris Williamson (note his Twitter name still uses MP – never admit defeat appears to be his battle cry!)
Or perhaps this spotted on Twitter hints at where the problem lies
But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom since September. As the latest Labour Party Political Broadcast reminds us the government has been forced into u-turns and policy changes. Remember cuts to tax credits? Reversal of cuts to police funding and the Saudi prison contracts? All it can be argued, defeated by a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
But it is a dark, dismal affair (video, PPB). It lists the battles won and invites us to join Jeremy on ‘a journey’. But I can’t help thinking that the journey would be a depressing hike in freezing cold rain, through muddy fields, with Jeremy at the front shouting “It is just around the corner” but it never is and one by one people drop away. Eventually only a few remain, exhausted but still following. Their journey will never end. There will always be another corner.
If you want to see a positive, uplifting, something-to-vote-for political broadcast then the latest from Welsh Labour is worth watching. I know being in government is different to opposition but you still have to offer hope.
In normal circumstances three victories in four months would be seen as real progress. They would be held up as a sign of a strong opposition doing its job, holding the government to account. But these are not normal circumstances. For every victory there are several disasters, big enough to overshadow parliamentary victories and most of them have been self-inflicted.
When Labour should be leading the news agenda more often than not they spend all their time, as Dan Hodges put it Corbynsplaining.
And, if anything, public opinion and judgement on Jeremy Corbyn is heading in the wrong direction.
On the key issues of economic competence, defence and security, and basic leadership Labour and Corbyn are losing ground and it is ground that under Corbyn’s leadership they cannot regain.
In trying to frame the debate and introduce us to his new politics as being “people led”, he has given us; The People’s Chancellor, The People’s Momentum – but simply adding “People’s” to everything isn’t a strategy. It is sloganeering.
But there is a far bigger problem eating away at the heart of the Labour Party. We are constantly hearing pleas for unity, the cries of take the fight to the Tories (and of course this is what we should be doing – it is a big part of what a Labour opposition should do – hold the Government to account).
The real problem is that those closest to Corbyn are re-fighting the far left factional battles of the 1980s with the latest casualty being Neale Coleman who has quit (or been forced out of) the leaders office.
And if you want to know more about how bitter the internal wars are then this Andrew Grice piece is a good place to start
And it is so selfish. But the hard left has always been selfish. Everything is about them or it means nothing. They talk of fighting the Tories. They talk of wanting to form a government. But first they need to fight one another.
So going back to where this post started: Jeremy, do we hear the people sing? I fear that we do. And they aren’t singing your song.
By Tim Carter