Some of you may have heard Kinnock’s speech to the PLP on Monday 4th July. Some of you might have read it. But I would guess a lot of people have not. I want to look at parts of it more closely to offer some kind of perspective on what is going on in Westminster just now.
Kinnock starts by pointing to his own successes (though 1992 never gets a mention, a’ right!) and does a number on Ed Miliband – he failed the “supermarket test” – people just would not vote for him.
Corbyn is disposed of in the relation of a conversation Neil had with someone in Cardiff, which he said was typical of many such conversations, who said Corbyn was “weird”. Of course he is trying to relate to the claims being made by most of the Labour MPs who are against Corbyn, that he is “weird” (or similar), or a decent man but not up the job (and Angela Eagle is? Oh dear!) and not electable. We can only take Neil’s word for it, but he was PM ……….. oh, wait a minute, he wasn’t. But hey, he is a Lord!
Ironically of course, Kinnock fails to mention that the same argument he puts up against Corbyn is pretty much the argument put against him in 1992. Remember this?
It is hardly a new tactic, to portray a leader who is perceived as a danger to the established consensus – currently, Trident (remember when Kinnock was in CND?), privatisation, and austerity – unacceptable, and a threat to the community. It is perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of the current mess the Labour Party is in that one part of it is using the tactics of its enemies.
But then Kinnock goes on, “but you know, everybody in this room knows, as we’ve seen in the Welsh elections, in the Scottish elections, in the local elections, in the referendum, you know that is what you’re getting from people who yearn to vote Labour but are inhibited by the fact that Jeremy is still our leader. Let’s face the fact.”
And what fact might that be Neil? Here are two for you. In April, yougov released a poll showing Corbyn – yep that weird guy – was more popular than David Cameron (note the date, however – this was before the EU referendum – since then of course Cameron has had all the popularity of a dose of an anti-social disease) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/new-poll-shows-cameron-less-popular-than-corbyn-for-first-time-a6974891.html. The newspaper (the Independent) report on shares similarities to the Kinnock tirade, since they attempt to explain the outcome of the poll by Cameron’s declining support. But the fact is that the graph they present, while it shows Cameron’s support falling away, Corbyn’s is actually increasing (Corbyn’s numbers in red and Cameron’s in blue)
A more recent yougov poll suggests that Labour party members are increasingly confident of winning the next election with Corbyn as leader. Of course one might expect members to expect their party to win, and given that, what is important is the trend.
Even the most recent yougov poll – end June, and the battering that Corbyn has had pretty much non-stop since the EU referendum – shows that while support for him has cooled somewhat, it is still net positive.
So despite the evidence that his approval ratings are better than the current PM’s were before the referendum vote, and Labour party members by a majority are happy with the job he is doing, the problems of the Labour Party are consistently attributed to Corbyn.
In Scotland it has nothing, nothing at all, to do with Labour campaigning with the Tories during the 2014 referendum? Or that its policies are perceived to be ill-thought through, irrelevant, or reflex responses to what the SNP are doing? In one case support for increasing the Scottish Rate of Income Tax actually fell when the question about the self-same policy included reference to the Labour Party.
The view in the PLP, exemplified by Kinnock is that ‘We need to talk about Jeremy’, and as long as that is the received wisdom that Labour acts on, it has no need to try to address its policy failings, which saw it lose Scotland – a Labour heartland for my adult life – and on the basis of the EU referendum outcome, it looks as if the jackets of its north of England MPs might be on shoogly nails as well. But, nope, it’s all about Corbyn and as long as that is the paradigm, they don’t need to look any further, or at anything else. Put Angela Eagle in the job and all will be well (sarcasm alert!).
Then the speech takes a slightly different turn when he says “Nobody has ever said, Dennis [Skinner], that this parliamentary party considers itself or should be considered to be more important than the rank and file, whether they paid three quid or whether they’ve given their lives to this movement. Whether they’ve threatened their managers, whether they’ve ruined their careers through their commitment to this movement. Nobody has said, ever, however recent or long-established members’ party membership is, that we are superior.”
It’s hard to disagree with this, particularly as, as Kinnock points out, it was he and others who “worked like hell – Dennis, myself and many others – to change that to make sure that the rank and file would have a direct voice, that trade unions would be part of it, councils would be part of it, activists would be part of it, so we got one member one vote”. Fine.
But then…………… But then Kinnock subverts the whole thing, by reference to the decision of the Labour Party in 1918 to reject Syndicalism and Revolutionary Socialism, and instead to adopt a “Parliamentary Road to Socialism”. This Kinnock argues makes it “vital, essential, irreplaceable, that the leader of this party has substantial – at least substantial, if not majority – support from those who go to the country and seek election to become lawmakers“.
It is easy to concede that the leader being acceptable to the PLP is certainly very desirable, but if, at the margin (as Economists put it) the preferred candidate of the “three quid” members and the rest is not the preferred candidate of the elected MPs, then what? For instance, it seems clear that Theresa May is the preferred candidate of the Conservative MPs, but what if Andrea Leadsom proves to be more like “one of us” as far as their members are concerned, and land the MPs (and the country) with her instead of Theresa? This possibility for the Tories is exactly the reality of the Labour Party just now.
The important issue is how they react, and the reaction of the PLP is not edifying. With the ball at their feet and the Tories in utter disarray, the PLP has retired to the dressing room to try to sack their captain.
Of course, the Labour MPs might have made the best of it – as I suspect the Tories will if they get landed with Andrea. But we now have the idiocy of someone who could manage only 4th in the election last year for a Deputy Leader, challenging the successful Leadership candidate who was elected with 60% of the vote.
All of this, I would argue is confirmed by Kinnock in his conclusion – that it is “crucial to have a leader that enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party.” Or put another way, the membership – who he has “fought like hell to involve” – can elect whoever they want, just as long as he (or she) is acceptable to the PLP. Sort of like the Henry Ford dictum that the customer could have any colour of Model T that they wanted, as long as it was black.
As before, where there is a meeting of minds of the PLP and the membership, this would be ideal, but what Kinnock has said is that when the chips are down, when we are at the margin, the leader has to be someone who “enjoys the support of the parliamentary Labour party”. It does seem as though for Neil, some members, some voters, are more important or influential than others, in the democracy of the Labour Party.
But let’s go back to the beginning. Why does Corbyn not have the support of the PLP? The main reason seems to be that he is weird, and probably failed the supermarket test with Honours? Perhaps too because he never did have the support of the PLP who would have been much more comfortable, probably, with Andy Burnham, for the policies that Corbyn has espoused over the many years he has been in Parliament are not those of the mainstream PLP. While there will be a democratic vote between candidates for constituency nomination, those they can vote on is controlled by the party, because the party – and its MPs – know best. To this end the candidate list has been pretty thoroughly Blairised over the last 10-15 years. Constituency parties are not only enjoined to have women-only short-lists but to nominate from those approved by the Labour Party, often with trade union influence.
Right now the MPs are predominantly Blairite (one explanation for the current timing of moving against Corbyn is that they wanted him out of the way before he could apologise for Iraq, and the beloved Blair’s involvement, on behalf of the Party https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/06/still-iraq-war-stupid/). Yet rather than debate his policies, Corbyn is condemned for two reasons – first because “he’s weird”, but mainly that his policies differ from the received wisdom of Labour Party policies, which took it to its lowest vote for many years, and allowed Cameron a majority that few thought he could achieve. Someone will have to explain that strategy to me again!
Lastly, we used a negative pic of Neil above, so let’s finish with one that shows where he is now.
Kinnock said just last year that his “political hero” was Nai Bevan who said of the House of Lords that to frustrate the will of the 1945 Labour government, it “would resurrect its “old cartel carcase” and try and put it between the Government and the will of the people”.