Neither ‘moderates’ nor ‘ modernisers’…

One thing that has become stark in the Labour leadership election has been the division between factions – the trouble is, the descriptions used seem to be determined by those who have a distinct interest in the result. Jeremy Corbyn is of course described as ‘far left’ or ‘hard left’ – and though I disagree with both descriptions that isn’t really the point I want to make here. No, what I don’t agree with is the counter-description of those who seem to be lining up against Corbyn as ‘moderates’ or ‘modernisers’. Neither term is at all appropriate.

Anyone who has watched the increasing desperation by some within the anti-Corbyn campaign should have noticed the lack of moderation. The language used against him and his supporters has been vicious and personal. The tactics used – and even worse the tactics proposed – have been much less democratic than those used by his supporters. There have been stories of coups should he win, and most recently a call by John Mann MP for the whole contest to be called off. None of this is ‘moderate’ in any meaningful way. It’s the opposite: extremist, in a particular ‘centrist’ form. The level of control demanded – and part of John Mann’s call was based around an idea that the leadership election was ‘out of control’ – is the kind associated with the ‘hard left’ or ‘hard right’ than with anyone who pretends to be ‘moderate’. The narrowness of the ‘acceptable’ discussion is also far from moderate – it’s controlled and controlling. Moderates? Far from it.

The idea that the anti-Corbyn campaign is full of ‘modernisers’ is almost as misleading: in practice, many of them want the opposite of modernisation. What they want is a return to something that was modern, but has now become part of an almost mythical past. Labour circa 1997 is seen as the ideal – and this isn’t ‘modern’ any more. It’s harking back to the past, with nostalgia just as unrealistic as UKIP’s nostalgia for a mythical 50s. A true ‘moderniser’ is open to something new, ready to abandon their presumptions and prejudices, not to try to lock into place something that they liked in their youth. I liked Labour 1997 – but in 1997. It’s not 1997 anymore – and a real moderniser wouldn’t want it to be. They would want something really new – and not to go back to their version of the Blair model. That time has passed.

So no, the ‘anti-Corbyn’ campaign isn’t populated by moderates and modernisers so much as with extremists (of the centre) and nostalgia-driven conservatives (with a small ‘C’). A moderate would want debate, and show respect. A moderniser would be open to different options and to having their assumptions (including economic ones) challenged. Right now, those driving the campaign against Corbyn do neither.

10 thoughts on “Neither ‘moderates’ nor ‘ modernisers’…

  1. A J P Taylor once remarked, in a job interview, “I hold extreme views, but I hold them moderately.” Those you accuse of extremism hold moderate and pragmatic views, and some of them do so in an extreme manner. But a degree of strong passion is in order, first because Corbyn’s views, however mildly expressed, are those of an unreconstructed 1980s Bennite, who has always been unwavering in his support for less mild-mannered extremists within the Party – most of his programme is entirely marginal, in terms of support both among economists and the electorate at large: whatever over-excited youth, and those over-excitedly discovering their youth may think, he represents an existential threat to Labour as an electable alternative. This is reflected in the fact that only 5% of his supporters view electability as an important asset in a leader. Second, extreme passion is understandable, if sometimes excessive, as a response to the sheer vitriol the Corbynites have thrown at their opponents – for the most part they are entirely like Scottish “Cybernats.” What has happened will blow over, and Corbyn well defeated, but I am very angry that the antics of extremists may well already have guaranteed us Tory government until 2025.

    • I’m not sure I agree with much of what you say – but as I tried to say in the first part of my post, I’m not arguing about Corbyn’s views. I happen to think you’re wrong about his ‘unreconstructed’ views as I’ve watched him reconstruct them over the years, but that’s not really what I meant. I’m serious when I say I think some of his opponents actually have extreme views – the view that austerity cannot be questioned is an extreme view, just one dressed up as moderate. The idea that it would have been a good idea to keep someone off a ballot is an extreme view – that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good one, but we should be honest about what it is.

      Finally, in my view it’s not the ‘antics of extremists’ that may have guaranteed us Tory government so much as the weakness and inadequacy of the ‘moderate’ (in their terms) candidates. If even one of them had something to offer, some new ideas, some ‘modernisation’ that didn’t just mean acquiescing to the status quo, then none of this would have happened. Corbin didn’t even want to be in the campaign – it was only the paucity of the candidates that made him feel it was worth it.

  2. That is definitely an understatement Paul…….smile.
    ‘It was only the paucity of the candidates that made him feel it was worth it.’
    Oi fink ‘es worf it mate….
    grin

  3. Since Corbyn would not be able to name a Shadow Cabinet of supporters, let alone have got into the contest without “charity” nominations, it’s not extreme to wish people hadn’t been so “charitable” – Margaret Beckett, for one, has acceded to John McTernan’s implicit description of her as a “moron.” Cooper, for one, doesn’t think austerity can’t be questioned – her husband only got the Shadow Chancellorship only on condition he accepted Ed M’s view that that argument was already lost. Parties go thru long-term ups and downs, and indeed public-facing politics has declined in attractiveness, and this isn’t the highest calibre of candidates we’ve ever had. But all the candidates who are from the reality-based community *know* that if every SNP and Green and Far Left vote had gone to us, we would still have lost badly; and they *know* that what the voters we needed believed was that we could not be trusted 1) simply for having a leader like Ed M 2) on the economy, specifically overspending (the furthest I would go, is that Brown turned on the taps rather after 2005 in anticipation of his “accession,” the effect of which was marginal). We lost throughout Thatcherism because the voters we needed thought we were all really Bennites (with varying degrees of concealment). We will lose next time, and possibly the time after, if they think we’re all really Corbynites (middle-class do-gooders with theories about “capitalism” – which, in the actual case of Corbyn, isn’t the half of it). Anyone who wants Corbyn as leader is malicious or deluded.

    • Actually, Ed Miliband was advised to nail the Labour spending caused the crash line by Alistair Campbell. He took the advice, wrote an article for the Times in late 2011 that should have kicked off a week long offensive by the Shadow Cabinet talking about nothing else, but that issue in order to make the media sick off it. An approach much along the lines of that adopted by the Republican Presidential candidate (played by Alan Alda) in the West Wing when he bored the media witless with his stance on nuclear power. Alas, the Shadow Cabinet got cold feet and the rest is history.

      I can well imagine that Cooper and Balls were benched for the week to avoid them distracting from the aim of the exercise, but that leaves Burnham as the only leadership candidate, then in the Shadow Cabinet, who declined to take part in the exercise.

      Currently, no leadership candidate is currently talking about the conclusions set out in this research https://smithinstitutethinktank.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/red-alert-why-labour-lost-and-what-needs-to-change.pdf It will not matter who wins, because if they do not use the data in the report as a starting point for mapping out the journey to the next General Election, then Labour will lose.

      Everyone has had their pet theories as to why Labour lost. Why not check them against the evidence in the report and see how close you got to truth?

      “Labour’s defeat in 2015 was comprehensive. The task at hand to win again (even without a parliamentary majority) is thus not simply about winning over one group or another. Labour has to win votes from 2015 Conservative voters to stand a chance of winning in key constituencies. It must also win back the trust
      of those voters who turned to UKIP and the SNP, while ensuring there isn’t a ‘Green surge’ (or Lib Dem revival) over the coming five years.

      This means retail offers” (which all of the Labour leadership candidates are making) “to one group or another will not be enough. Indeed, it would prove extremely difficult to imagine how this could be done without jeopardising the (prospective) support of other groups of voters. Nevertheless, a new policy
      agenda has to focus on areas where Labour performed poorly.”

      “Labour’s defeat in many respects was due to older voters staying and indeed turning to the Conservatives. The Conservatives gained twice as many votes amongst this group as Labour. What’s more there will be relatively more older voters in 2020 than in 2015.

      The Conservatives have protected older voters relatively more than those of working age. Appealing to older voters who in the round have largely been unaffected by the government’s economic and fiscal policies will not be straightforward. One of the totemic Conservative promises was the triple lock to ensure pensions rose by at least 2.5% a year. Attempts to raise the state pension further will not be cheap and would require savings to be made elsewhere (or tax rises).

      Of course all older people’s are not the same. And within this group there are different generations, backgrounds and incomes. The NHS is natural terrain for Labour to furrow, which around three quarters of older voters see as an important issue. But older people also saw the economy/deficit and immigration and
      patriotism as important issues and were more critical of Labour’s record in office and less likely to see Labour as competent.

      Forming popular policies for this group (or indeed groups within older people) should be seen as an electoral priority. However, policies which could be perceived as undermining the interests of older people could easily become counter-productive. For instance, issues affecting younger people, not least access to
      decent housing, can become about reducing the value of homes. Equally inheritance tax and previous attempts by Labour to improve adult social care can easily be painted as draconian ‘death taxes’. A rise in interest rates offers a double edged sword for the government amongst this group – with savings and
      pensions likely to rise with negative impacts on house prices.”

      “… with five years until the next general election, the immediate task for Labour must be to show first and foremost that the party can be a credible and competent opposition.”

  4. “Actually” Ed M was given all kinds of advice, including that from Campbell (which was, unsurprisingly, correct), and, rather like Gordon Brown, rather tried to follow all of it. Nonetheless, Balls’s views were clear as, ultimately, were Ed M’s (thus the Shadow Chancellorship going to Alan Johnson first, and only going to Balls on condition of the undertaking to which I referred).

  5. It’s true the Smith Institute report is important, but it’s rather too soon for it to have been fully digested. Another reason Ed M should have stayed on for a while as caretaker, rather than have us launched into this mess.

  6. This is reflected in the fact that only 5% of his supporters view electability as an important asset in a leader.

    I wouldn’t call any sample-based survey finding a fact about the population in question, least of all when the figure’s as low as 5%. In any case, the survey you seem to be referring to asked Labour members to nominate the two or three main reasons why they were supporting their chosen candidate; 5% of (353) Corbyn supporters included “best candidate to beat the Tories in 2020” in their top three. It’s a statement about what they see as the main reasons why they themselves are backing Corbyn, not a view on whether electability’s important.

    As to why this reason scores so low, bear in mind the background to Corbyn’s candidacy: it has always been primarily about broadening the debate and putting certain ideas (back) on the agenda. Ask someone who thinks of him/herself as a principled socialist whether they’re supporting their candidate because he/she has the best chance of being elected and they’ll be mortally offended. Conversely, when Kendall talks about electability (and 73% of her supporters included the relevant reason in their top three) she’s not actually talking about getting elected by any means necessary: if a Labour government means a Corbyn government, she wants no part of it. “Electability”, for the Blairites, is code for “New Labour policies, which are popular because they’re correct”. (Not that they always have been – Tony Blair’s record in attracting voters, as distinct from winning elections, is an absolute shocker.)

    What’s really interesting about that survey, to my mind, is that 70% of Corbyn supporters put “has the best policies for the country” in their top three – that compares with 36% for Kendall and even lower figures for the other two. Do they not care what Labour actually does, as long as we’ve got a government with a red rosette on it?

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