Monday 1 August 2016

Some answers to Owen Jones' questions

The left-wing commentator Owen Jones has written a very long blog post entitled "Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer" which asks nine questions of Jeremy Corbyn supporters, but which could easily just as well be asked of Owen Smith supporters, or supporters of any political party that opposes the hard-right fanaticism of the Tories.

Mainly fair and justifiable questions not biased smearmongering

Before getting to his questions (which I will attempt to answer later) Owen Jones spends paragraph after paragraph trying to define his stance as being broadly sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn and his team. He doesn't ever quite bring himself to admitting which side of the binary choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith he favours, but he makes it quite clear that he's not just behaving like the tedious Anyone But Corbyn bots who even blame Corbyn for everything, even the way Labour's poll numbers have plummeted since their disastrously ill-timed Anyone But Corbyn coup plot was launched.

Jones makes it clear that he is broadly sympathetic towards Jeremy Corbyn and friends with many of his top team, and he makes his feelings on the timing of the Anyone But Corbyn coup equally clear:

According to Jones the coup-plotter decision to "effectively shut down the functioning of the Opposition when all the scrutiny should be focused on the Tories" was a "disgrace at a time of national crisis". It's good to see that Owen Jones' opinion on the timing and the conduct of the highly, damaging and ineptly conducted pre-plotted Anyone But Corbyn coup is pretty much the same as my own.

Lots of people have gleefully jumped on Owen Jones blog post as if it's some kind of savage condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership, but in reality it's actually nothing of the sort. The blog post raises a number of criticisms and demands answers to difficult questions, but it's absolutely nothing like the hopelessly biased guff that most of Westminster establishment club and their chums in the mainstream press have churned out since day one of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership.

Overall Owen Jones blog post constitutes more-or-less fair commentary and reasonable questions, not the kind of savagely biased hatchet job a lot of people seem to be portraying it as.

My own stance

Just as Owen Jones felt the need to clarify his own stance before asking his questions, I'm going to clarify my own before answering them, but hopefully in fewer than 18 paragraphs.

I'm not and never have been a member of the Labour Party. I consider myself a traditional Labour voter who was chased away from the party during the Blair/Brown era. I dislike the hard-right Thatcherite ideology Blair agreed to adopt in order to win Rupert Murdoch's approval and as a consequence I have not voted Labour in a General Election since 1997 because every single Labour candidate in the various constituencies I lived in were from the right-wing Blairite mould. Labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010. If they want to win another election they have to figure out how to win some of them back.

The reason I consider myself a Jeremy Corbyn supporter is that he is returning the party to their traditional values. Before Corbyn came along I had more sympathy with the Green Party than with Ed Miliband's Blairite infested Labour shadow cabinet.

As far as I'm concerned if Jeremy Corbyn is ousted as Labour leader and replaced by a guy who is backed by every single Blairite in the party, then my suspicions that the Labour party is essentially unreformable and unelectable will be confirmed. 

If Corbyn wins re-election then he's going to face an incredibly tough fight to fix the reputation of the party, but he'd certainly have a mandate to introduce re-selection of Labour MPs so that local people can remove self-serving gravy train riders and replace them with ordinary people who are more likely to actually serve the interests of their constituents rather than lining their own pockets.

I'm not going to be joining the Labour Party because of my position as an independent writer, but if Corbyn wins and somehow manages to tame the Blairite faction who would rather destroy the Labour Party completely rather than allow Jeremy Corbyn a chance of success, then I'd certainly consider voting for them.

Questions and answers

1. How can the disastrous polling be turned around? 

The first question of the nine is one of the most disappointing because it makes no admission of the fact that Labour's polling has taken a huge hit since the Anyone But Corbyn coup was launched. Before the coup Labour weren't exactly doing very well (ranging between -5 and level pegging in the various polls running up to the EU referendum), but since the ridiculously ill-timed, incredibly divisive and unbelievably inept coup was launched, five of the first six polls had them double digits behind the Tories.

Of course the polling needs to be turned around, but the job is going to be an awful lot more difficult now as a result of the damage inflicted on the party's reputation by the Anyone But Corbyn coup.

There is no one magic bullet answer to the question of restoring the Labour Party's reputation with voters. If the poll results are to improve it will take a strategy based around answers to the other eight questions.

2. Where is the clear vision?

Corbyn has two clear visions that have convinced hundreds of thousands of people to part with cash to become Labour Party members.

The first is opposition to Tory austerity. Criticism of the Tory policy of selling the public a load of ridiculous economic fairy stories to justify a policy of transferring as much wealth as possible from the poor and needy to the already super-rich really shouldn't be such a hard sell in a country that lauds Robin Hood as a national hero for doing the opposite

The problem is that the Labour critiques of Tory austerity needed to be as clear and easy to understand as the economic "let's cut our way to growth" economic fairy stories the Tories and the right-wing press have been drip-feeding to the public for years. Corbyn needs to simplify his message a lot more and learn to get to the point (I appreciate the irony of me giving this advice in a 3,000+ word blog post).

The other clear Corbyn vision is to try to restore faith in politics by sticking to his principles and not being a corrupt, lying opportunist who will say whatever he thinks it takes to serve his own political interests. If Corbyn could solidify this honourable way of doing politics with some actual policies (democratising the Labour Party with the ability to re-select corrupt/venal/self-serving Labour MPs, making all party manifesto pledges legally binding, introduction of proper punishments for politicians who are caught lying to parliament or the public, rules to ensure press apologies are made in the same size font and position in the newspaper as the original lie ...)

These are two potentially popular positions because there is an absolute mountain of evidence of the catastrophic social and economic results of Tory austerity, and because nobody likes to be lied to.

3. How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?

Corbyn's position is very different from the last Labour manifesto. Ed Miliband offered half-hearted tinkering with the energy markets and rail franchises instead of the renationalisation policies that the vast majority of the public want to see.

One of the clearest distinctions between Corbyn's leadership and the Miliband so-called opposition that preceded it is their actual opposition to malicious Tory legislation. One of the clearest examples of this distinction can be seen in the way that Ed Miliband whipped his MPs into abstaining on Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive workfare legislation that was designed to cover up the fact that he'd imposed a load of unlawful rules forcing unemployed people to work for profitable corporations for no wages.

Whether you like Corbyn or not, the idea that he would collude with the Tories in this kind of manner in order to help them cover up their unlawful treatment of unemployed people is impossible to imagine.

Owen Jones should be well aware of this difference because back in 2013 he wrote a blog post slamming Ed Miliband and his then shadow DWP minister Liam Byrne for helping iain Duncan Smith write himself this parliamentary get out of jail free card. Owen Jones is also well informed enough to know that the retroactive workfare legislation that Ed Miliband helped the Tories shovel through parliament in a single day was subsequently declared unlawful in the courts.

Whether you like Corbyn or not, it's impossible to imagine him whipping his MPs into supporting an unlawful piece of Tory legislation designed to retroactively cover up their unlawful treatment of unemployed people by treating them as a free source of labour for their corporate mates.

It's also impossible to imagine Corbyn appointing a complacent Blairite fool like Ed Balls as his right-hand man and then following his hopeless advice to push a catastrophically uninspiring and General Election losing austerity-lite electoral strategy.

Corbyn is different from Miliband because he is not ever going to collude with the Tories to strip people of their labour rights and force them to work for profitable corporations, and he's not ever going to weakly imitate Tory economic policies rather than actually opposing them.

4. What’s the media strategy? 

In the paragraphs explaining this question Owen Jones makes some good points. The first is that "the media are always going to demonise a left-wing leader" and the second is that social media is an effective tool in reaching some demographics, but a very poor tool for reaching others.

The mainstream media vendetta against Jeremy Corbyn has been relentless and there's plenty of hard evidence to prove it. One study found that just 11% of articles about Corbyn actually mentioned his policies without manipulating or distorting them.

Another academic study found that the BBC's news coverage in the wake of the Anyone But Corbyn coup was extremely biased in favour of Jeremy Corbyn's critics.

In the final question Owen Jones asks how the huge Labour membership can be mobilised. Perhaps one of the ways could be a letter writing campaign demanding that newspapers start actually discussing Corbyn's policies, rather than presenting crude smears and insults as news coverage? 

If newspapers got tens of thousands of letters complaining about their biased coverage and threatening to stop paying for their products or visiting their websites, perhaps they would consider actually discussing/critiquing some of Corbyn's policies rather than just smearing him (which would actually be a significant improvement on the current scenario).

Writing to the corporate press might not achieve very much, but complaining to the BBC could, because the BBC has a public service remit. It's hardly unrealistic to expect a publicly funded public service broadcaster to avoid displays of staggeringly biased coverage.

5. What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?

This is an important question because the older people they are, the more likely they are to actually bother voting. At the 2015 General Election Labour actually marginally outperformed the Tories in the combined 18-49 demographics, but were absolutely trounced by the Tories with the over-60s.

Two of the most important issues for older people are pensions and the NHS. If Labour want to appeal to the older generations they have to make more of the fact that the British state pension is one of the worst in Europe and offer something better, and do more to criticise the deliberate Tory strategy of shaking the NHS to destruction.

6. What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?

This is another disappointing question because it doesn't even acknowledge that the loss of the Scottish Labour heartlands was the fault of Corbyn's Blairite predecessors. Blair and Brown were utterly complacent towards the Scottish electorate but the real damage was done by Ed Miliband who decided to have a year long public french kiss with the politically toxic Tories over Scottish independence, then compounded the issue by pushing Ed Balls' catastrophically ill-conceived austerity-lite agenda in Scotland where the electorate had an alternative party to vote for. 

In 2015 Labour lost 40 of their 41 seats in Scotland and it's telling that the Labour campaign manager who oversaw the most catastrophic collapse in British electoral History (John McTernan) is backing Owen Smith to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

In my view the only way Labour can possibly win back some support in Scotland is to distance themselves from the Tories as much as possible from now on, find a replacement for the appallingly vacuous Kezia Dugdale to lead the Scottish Labour Party, and never ever listen to a word John McTernam ever says again. 

Even if they do all of these things the Labour Party have a huge uphill battle to fight to regain even a fraction of what the Blairites used to take for granted and abused to the point of outright revolt.

7. What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?

This is another disappointing question because it relies on the misnomer that the only way to win a General Election is by poaching Tory voters. In 2015 just 24% of the public voted for David Cameron's Tories. At their lowest ebb ever 19% of the public voted for William Hague's Tories in 2001. This suggests that just 5% of the eligible electorate are soft-Tory voters who would ever vote for other parties.

In comparison to the 35% of the eligible electorate who didn't even vote in 2015, 5% of the electorate seems like a pretty tiny demographic to fixate upon. Maybe giving the seven people who thought that politics doesn't work for them something to believe in and vote for could be a better strategy than tailoring your policies to suit the one Tory voter who might change their mind (and risk chasing away even more traditional Labour voters in the process).

It's also worth noting that the Lib-Dems managed to lose two thirds of their voters between 2010 and 2015 after they enabled David Cameron's hard-right fanatics into power. Surely wooing the 9% of the electorate who are disillusioned Lib-Dems would be a more realistic policy than trying to trying to appeal to voters who supported the demonstrably hard-right Tories in 2015.

In my view chasing Tory voters should be a distant third priority behind trying to engage the huge numbers of politically disillusioned people and trying to woo former Lib-Dem voters, but it is worth considering that 52% of Tory voters support renationalisation of the railways and energy companies, so it's clearly not even necessary to imitate hard-right Tory economic policies in order to have some appeal to the majority of Tory voters.

8. How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?

This is a difficult question to answer for one main reason. A lot of people's concerns over stuff like immigration and the EU are blown out of all proportion to the actual scale of the problem. A piece of research before the EU referendum demonstrated that an awful lot of people are woefully under-informed about immigration. The research found that the average Brexit voter estimated that EU migrants make up a vast 20% of the UK population when the real figure is just 5%.

It's pretty difficult to try to argue against the savage anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right-wing corporate press, but if the choice is between the politically expedient course of playing along with the anti-immigrant lies (and legitimising them in the process), and the politically difficult course of trying to counter the propaganda with facts and evidence, it's a contrast between political expedience and morality.

One thing that definitely can be done is to criticise the woeful lack of planning to deal with migrant worker inflows. All local council services have been under severe pressure from years of savage Tory austerity cuts, and poorer areas that often have had large migrant inflows are even more under pressure. Labour could definitely do more to channel money into providing public services in areas that have had major population increases. 

If the Labour Party is unwilling to court the extreme-right with anti-immigrant hatemongering like Theresa May is, then the immigration debate has to be reframed so that governments that turned blind eyes to the impact of mass migration into certain areas are blamed, rather than the migrants themselves.

Labour do have one very strong piece of ammunition against Theresa May; f
or all of her vile anti-migrant hatemongering as Home Secretary she oversaw the largest spike in net migration in British history. Labour could insist that the way to deal with immigration is through adequate strategic planning rather than through Theresa May's empty hate-filled rhetoric and inaction.

9. How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?

One of Jeremy Corbyn's undeniable achievements as leader of the Labour Party is stimulating an unprecedented surge in party membership. With a paid up membership of over 500,000 the Labour party now has more members than every single other political party in the UK combined!

If this membership can be mobilised effectively it could be a real game-changer in UK politics.

One of the key ways in which this membership could be used to challenge the tropes pushed by the right-wing corporate media is through engagement with ordinary people.

The mainstream media have waged a deliberate propaganda war against Corbyn supporters, using precisely the same kind of rhetoric used during the Miners' Strike. As far as the mainstream media are concerned the hundreds of thousands of people who support Jeremy Corbyn are a bunch of militant, brick-lobbing, misogynistic, anti-Semitic thugs.

The difference between Corbyn supporters and miners is that the miners were confined in close-knit mining communities, but Corbyn supporters can be found all over the UK and in all different ages and demographics too.

It was easy for the right-wing press to demonise the miners in the minds of people who had never even met a real miner. It was easy to paint them as the thuggish "enemy within" because there weren't miners spread across the entire UK and across all sectors of society to defend themselves.

It's very different with Corbyn supporters. If everyone who supports Corbyn challenged people they know in person to consider the fact that they are a Corbyn supporter and contrast it with the "brick lobbing bully" stereotype, it would be a great way of illustrating that the mainstream media are pushing a dishonest agenda.

It's undeniable that people are susceptible to mainstream media tropes. Just think of all the times you've heard someone mindlessly regurgitating unsupported evidence-free drivel like "Corbyn is unelectable" or "Theresa May is a 'safe pair of hands'" that they've blatantly just rote learned from the press.

However when it comes to contrasting what they've been programmed to believe about Corbyn supporters with what they actually know about someone like "our Kath", Granny or Steve next door, who are actually kind-hearted, honest and respectable people, you couldn't really ask for a stronger demonstration of the fact that the mainstream media are using dishonest demonisation tactics to smear huge numbers of decent people.

When someones' cousin, respected-work colleague, aunty, longstanding friend or neighbour asks them to consider some of the mainstream media smears against Jeremy Corbyn supporters and then asks them to contrast that with what they know about them in person, there couldn't really be a stronger tool for diffusing the lies and smears of the corporate press.

Of course there are other ways in which a voluntary army of 500,000+ people could be utilised (delivering leaflets, telephone calls, social media campaigns, explaining policies, inviting people to attend events ...), but this article is long enough as it is so I'll leave it to your imagination.


Anyone trying to portray Owen Jones' blog post as an attack on Jeremy Corbyn clearly hasn't even bothered to read it, or if they did they failed to understand pretty much anything it said. 

Most of the questions are justifiable, but the article is disappointing for the way it excludes important bits of context. Of course Corbyn would need to find some way of reversing the appalling poll numbers and winning back some Scottish voters, but omitting to mention the fundamental role of Blairites in creating both of these problems makes the article appear to be much more of a hatchet job on Jeremy Corbyn than it could have been.

I've tried to provide considered answers to Owen Jones' 9 questions. In return I would like Owen Jones to answer one simple question.

Given that the future of the Labour Party is set to be determined by a binary choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. which candidate does he support?

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