An outside view on the Labour Party

15 October 2016 by Jennifer

Reflections on the UK Labour Party in the summer of 2016. Not claiming to have answers – just wanting to put into words some of what I’ve been thinking, and share it.

Most of this was written after the Brexit vote and before Corbyn had won the second leadership election. I kept getting to a point where I thought I was close to finishing & posting it, and then something else would happen and I’d want to include that too!

In a conversation with my friend Vron, I was saying that, and she said something like: well you’d better just get on and post it, otherwise something else will happen :-) And this is of course exactly how it went! Since then, there’s also been Corbyn’s visible association with the Socialist Workers’ Party at the Stand Up Against Racism event – i.m.o. a bad move. But I thought this was still worth posting without an analysis of that episode, to share some of my thoughts from over the summer.

Drops of water

A place to start… this speech by Jeremy Corbyn from July 2016:

Real pressure – real pressure – is when you don’t have enough money to feed your kids, when you don’t have a roof over your head… When you’re wondering if you’re gonna be cared for, when you’re wondering how you can survive. You’re wondering how you’re gonna cope with the debts you’ve incurred. You’re wondering if your lovely employer is gonna give you a call to give you a couple of hours work, or not bother… or change their mind when you’re on the bus, on the way to do that job.

That is the real pressure in our society.


For those people struggling on low pay, struggling on zero hours contracts, not knowing what’s coming from one week to the other, not knowing if they’ll be able to pay the rent, not knowing if they’re gonna be homeless, not knowing if their children will end up in care… That’s the kind of brutal pressure that’s put on people every day of the week, in this country.

Contrary to @LabourEoin’s prediction, the hairs didn’t stand up on my neck watching it. But I did feel moved. Not because he gets a bit shouty, but because it is true.

It reminded me of the first time I encountered Corbyn’s ideas, last August during the Labour leadership campaign. I don’t think I’d heard of him before that week. He had written an article “The arts are for everybody not the few; there is creativity in all of us.

I wrote at the time,

Feeling slightly tearful reading that #Corbyn piece. That’s how starved I am for a government which sees people as more than work units.

This felt similar. Hearing him acknowledge what people are struggling with, hearing him put into words some of the experiences of people in poverty, I thought: I have been thirsty for this. I have been thirsty for these kinds of truthful, compassionate, realistic words to come from someone with that kind of public role and platform. As with the arts piece, I didn’t even realise how much so until this moment of metaphorical drink was brought to me.

Quote from Jeremy Corbyn, plus semi-faded pic of him. The quote is: "Real pressure... is when you don't have enough money to feed your kids, when you don't have a roof over your head... When you're wondering if you're gonna be cared for, when you're wondering how you can survive."

Seeds in history

I’ve never joined a political party. I’ve voted variously Labour, Lib Dem and Green, depending on the context, while feeling most aligned with the Green party for its long-term thinking. When I’ve done “political” things (not that anything isn’t political in a way), it’s generally been to address specific areas, like non-school education law or bi erasure, or going to “Reclaim the Night“. I don’t consider myself an expert on national politics, or party politics.

But I listen to people – including people I disagree with. I do have some understanding of what’s gone on.

(And I’ve seen bits of national politics close up, like biased so-called consultations which happened to be about something I knew about.)

I understand that Tony Blair & co got Labour into power partly by shaping the party’s policies to be more acceptable to big business: in particular, acceptable to Rupert Murdoch.

In a sense, that was a clever move.

In a sense, it was an admission of defeat: an inability to connect directly with the average person, hence needing to rely on mainstream media to tell people to approve of them.

Of course the Blair governments did good things aplenty. They also gave us the Iraq war, academies, the expansion of PFI and a (then relatively subtle) shift towards the punitive benefits culture of today.

A Labour theme from 1994 was “We must transform the welfare state from a safety net in times of trouble to a springboard for economic opportunity.” (That’s from Social Justice: Strategies for National Renewal – link is to PDF file.)

These choices and framings inform the culture we live in today.


This connects up with why I found myself thinking again recently about Eva Illouz’s writings, and my reflections from 2012 about work and human value.

Re-reading my own words from 2012, what strikes me most now is the createdness of the producer/product worldview.

Nowadays, it is in no way remarkable to think of our lives in terms of “production”. It seems natural. Yet by paying attention to the origins of that framework, we can get inklings that (at least some of) our ancestors thought of their lives very differently.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We don’t have to orient ourselves as humans towards the desire of people who are already rich to get even richer.

The narrowness

Not everyone wants to change that framing.

I’m thinking of something I read years ago, from an interview with Joan Nestle. She was talking about something different, yet in my mind they link up:

… I think erotic self-definition by women and by lesbians is a courageous act. I guess one basic principle I’ve evolved is that if you live by the decrees or the world-definition of those who are in power, who created the narrowness of experience in the first place, you will starve to death. Because the complexities of our experience will never be clean enough to suit them.

The role of business in maintaining poverty, insecurity, stress and despair: these truths are inconvenient to the rich blokes who own and run mainstream media.

And our dreams of justice and caring will never be marketable enough to suit them.

It’s not coincidence that Corbyn has been personally vilified and misrepresented in so much of mainstream media.

I wonder, do many ordinary people dislike him, as some of the polls seem to show? Or do they dislike the caricature of him which is all they’ve had access to so far?

I hear (via a friend who knows more about Labour Party history) that another thing which happened to Labour in the Blair years was a dwindling-away of the educational aspect of the local Party organisations. That seems relevant here, because it places the Party even more at the mercy of mainstream channels.

The criticisms

It’s clear by now that in the year or so of Corbyn’s leadership, he and his inner team have made mistakes in organising the Party and its campaigns.

It’s not been easy to get the measure of that, as compared to the tabloids’ mountains-from-molehills, and maybe I still haven’t. But I did find Lilian Greenwood’s firsthand explanation very useful in understanding why some people are fed up with him, aside from just disagreeing with his ideas in the first place. Unlike a lot of the generalised grumbling, this speech gave specific practical examples. Here’s one:

Rail fares go up once a year on 2 January. …

It is a huge date in the political calendar every year.

We had the opportunity not just to criticise the Government, but to show we had a real Labour alternative. Our flagship policy. One that unites our party. [i.e. public ownership of railways – which is also popular with the general public.]

My staff spent weeks preparing briefing materials for MPs and constituency parties across the country. Trawling through mountains of rail fare information to provide examples of the season tickets that had risen the most and that cost the most. Examples for every MP and CLP. [CLP= Constituency Labour Party.]

On 4 January – a cold dark Monday morning – I was at Kings Cross at 7am doing Radio 5 and BBC TV.

Standing with Jeremy and the Rail Union General Secretaries for the media photocall. It was a crucial day in the Party’s media grid. [i.e. the Party-wide pre-agreed plan for which story will be the focus for each day’s campaigning.]

And all across the country local party activists were outside railway stations in the cold and the dark, leafleting commuters with the materials we’d prepared. Armed with the briefings and statistics.

Incredibly, Jeremy launched a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle on the same day.

This was the reshuffle that had been talked about since the Syria vote a month earlier. …

By mid-afternoon the press were camped outside the Leader’s office. They were there for the next 3 days.

It knocked all the coverage of the rail fare rise and our public ownership policy off every news channel and every front page.

I respect completely Jeremy’s right to reshuffle his top team. But why then?

I mean yeah. If that were my team whose weeks of careful work got squandered like that, I would be fuming at the sheer unnecessary waste of it, and the failure to care for my people and their energy. If there were some reason why the reshuffle absolutely had to be that day, then at the very least, Corbyn owed an explanation and an apology to Lilian Greenwood and her staff and volunteers.

As Gary Younge drily put it,

Corbyn’s leadership was unquestionably undermined and attacked from the start both from within the parliamentary Labour party and by a hostile media. The hand they were dealt was terrible. But they did not play it well. There is little point pretending that I have not frequently been in utter despair, because I believe socialism, on the one hand, and competence and effective communication to the majority of people, on the other, are not mutually exclusive.


These extracts from an explanation from MP Peter Kyle are interesting, too:

I have on occasion been forced to speak publicly without any idea of the leader’s approach to an issue. Sometimes this has been despite having asked him for guidance directly the previous day but for nothing at all to be forthcoming.

… worst of all is when Jeremy gives a different answer to the same question in public and then I’m sent messages, sometimes by members, calling me ‘disloyal’ or a ‘traitor’ for not agreeing with my leader when in truth I have tried my very best to do so.

Dan Rebellato’s piece on “The Corbyn Dilemma” helpfully provides some other specific examples of mistakes and puts them into context.

Teamwork skills

About this genre of problem, I feel a sense of recognition. Being a leader, even a non-bossy understated kind of leader, requires a certain kind of thinking where everyone in your team is in your mind. You can’t neglect people, and if circumstances push you into a situation where you seem to need to muck up a team-mate’s plans, you need to communicate with them and explain and see if there’s a better way.

And if you’re no good at that complex-pattern thinking yourself, then you need someone alongside you who will give you a heads-up if you’re about to make a mistake, and you need to listen to them.

Going back to Lilian Greenwood’s example of the rail fares campaign, I wonder who was in Corbyn’s confidence about the imminent reshuffle? I wonder if anyone said to him “OK, so when are we announcing this? Let’s find a good day for it that won’t muck up something important on the rest of the grid.” I wonder if anyone said to him “Mate, you don’t wanna do it that day, because look, all this prep for the rail thing”, and he brushed it off… or if it was that nobody close enough in had the awareness to notice that clash? Or did he not even consult his buddies before going for the reshuffle announcement that day?

And panning back a bit: I wonder does the party have other people with those team-awareness skills, and if so why are none of them collaborating with him? Because they’re not offering? Because he doesn’t trust them to be genuinely supportive of his political direction? and if so, is that warranted? Or just because he’s stuck with his old friends from habit rather than choosing the best talent?

If I were working with someone whose direction I believed in but who had practical/management weaknesses, my intention would be to find ways to compensate for their weaknesses, by what I brought to the partnership. OK, Corbyn clearly hasn’t been coordinating the party skilfully… but I’m still very curious to know the dynamics of why no-one else has been able to compensate for that.

A measurement of the critics

As for his critics… I was not happy with all those Shadow Cabinet resignations and the vote of no confidence, just after the Brexit referendum result. I understand people feeling upset and frustrated, but as a sample of Corbyn’s critics’ awareness of the world, that episode seems to me revealing.

I don’t just mean: because they thought they could coerce him to resign and they were mistaken.

I mean the timing.

I mean like: there they all were that week, like a whole football team unmarked in front of an empty goal labelled “The government has no plan for what next after Vote Leave”, metaphorically totally failing to kick the ball, instead using their media skills to deliberately highlight their own squabbling!

How out of touch, how insular, how Westminster-bubble. Do you think that glaringly misplaced sense of priorities makes you look more electable?

(And going round telling everyone that the Brexit result was Corbyn’s fault, instead of focusing on the far more significant roles of Cameron, Johnson & Gove!)

Over Brexit itself I mostly felt griefstricken, but about that episode, I felt furious. What an opportunity to articulate a future; what a shameful squandering of that opportunity.

Votey shenanigans

And then there was this thing where suddenly it cost £25 to vote as a supporter in the new round of Labour leadership elections, if you hadn’t already signed up some months ago.

It’s not about being a late-comer, or uncommitted to the party; if you can afford to throw away £25 to make your point, while never making any other contribution, then your money and your vote is acceptable. It’s the skint people whom they’ll be excluding with this rule.

That seems to me a painfully clear signal of the party’s current positioning with respect to people in poverty. Ouch.

Communities in decline

Going back to the criticisms, this from Peter Kyle is one of the most interesting bits, I think:

… many of the residents I met who had previously voted Labour had become contemptuous (a word I do not use lightly) of our party. They felt time and again we simply do not understand the realities of living in a town or community in decline, where high street brands disappear monthly, where traditional industries have vanished, and younger generations have disappeared off to study or work elsewhere and don’t return afterwards.

Whether right or wrong, many people in these communities feel that we do not speak for them, sympathise with their concerns, or propose solutions to their challenges and desire for a better life. We are simply not earning their faith.

I think he’s spot-on there. And at the same time, I think that loss of faith is rooted in the last 20 years of Labour, and very little to do with Corbyn and the last year or so. If anything, I feel like Corbyn is addressing exactly those people with the Durham speech that I started with above.


In a way, we can look at Labour’s approach in recent years as a kind of harm reduction. Like “A less harsh austerity is better than a more harsh austerity”.

I do get it. About reining back what you’d ideally want to ask for, because in the end, when in power, you can do some good. In politics there’s almost always an element of settling for what we can get.

Harm reduction recognises the value of supporting people now, where they are and whatever their situation, and not only in some different future.

And at the same time: We need the harm reduction of this moment to also support a better future, or work on a parallel path to it – not be at the expense of it ever coming into being.

Does it even work any more to be “Just slightly different from the Tories, nothing to rock the capitalist boat too much”? If it does, why didn’t Miliband & co win the last election?

And when it does work that far… what next? Is this all we get? Tactical-voting for whoever has a chance of getting in?

When do we get to vote for what we really want?

(There’s that famous quote of Tony Benn’s, “how do we get rid of you?” I think of that sometimes. We can “get rid of” one lot, and then we get the other lot, or we can get rid of them lot and get the first ones back. I don’t remember him talking about that limitation.)

I want a government which prioritises taking care of disabled people, and dismantling racism, and providing libraries and mental health support and playgrounds, and homes to live in, OVER profit and increased luxury for people who are already doing fine. I want a party willing to take the risk of explaining that AUSTERITY IS A CHOSEN POLITICAL APPROACH and not a matter of the money being “gone”.

I want someone who has the courage to CONTRADICT racist, counterfactual narratives about what immigrants have given to our country.

I want leaders who think of all of us as HUMANS, not production units or enemies.

It’s not about him

People who think I’m part of “a cult” because I appreciate Jeremy Corbyn: No. That is not what is happening.


I want to hear these things said, not just by ordinary people on my Twitter feed describing their own survival or their hopes and fears, but by someone who has the courage to say them from a public platform DESPITE KNOWING THEY WILL BE, in some quarters, UNPOPULAR.

I notice I actually feel pretty vexed about the “blah blah cult, blah blah Corbynista” rhetoric. Personally, I get an unpleasant feeling of being erased when I hear that, and politically I think it’s a mistake.

I mean, last year, when I first read that article by him, I had no idea Corbyn was about to win the leadership election and “Momentum” was going to exist! I read some words about the arts and human creativity, and I thought “Yes, this, I agree with this”.

That’s why I remembered Corbyn’s name when it came round next.

And I’m pretty sure that a large part of his success has come from other people reacting similarly to how I did. “Yes, this, I agree with this. About time someone said it.” Not necessarily on the same topic in everyone’s case, of course, but about whatever they heard from him that made sense.

I agree that some people don’t seem to want to hear the legitimate criticisms of how Corbyn & co have been going about things. And cults typically train people to avoid thinking about any criticism of the cult, so that genuinely is a bit culty.

But to put the focus on that dynamic is to miss a whole load of other mostly-less-noisy people and where they’re coming from.

Here’s “lifelong Labour voter” Sophie Crossfield, quoted by chelley ryan on Twitter in July:

I’m 50 years old and a lifelong Labour voter although only a recent member of the Labour party. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected Leader last year, it was the first time in decades that I’d seen a Labour politician who actually spoke to the issues that concerned me …

Like millions in this country, I watched in abject horror as the Blair government took us into an unjustifiable war in Iraq … I have become sickened and angry as the levels of inequality in our society have grown and grown over recent decades. I have seen “austerity” sold to us as the only way forward out of our economic mess… I have seen immigrants, the working poor, the unemployed, the sick, the mentally ill and the disabled vilified and punished for their circumstances, whilst Labour politicians – whether in government or in opposition – have done very little to speak out for them or protect them. As an NHS worker, I have seen the daily heartbreaking evidence of the way that privatisation and grotesque underfunding is destroying our beloved health service. And I have waited for the Labour Party to stand up and say “No more.” To say “There is an alternative to this.”

And here’s JJ at A Up Let’s Talk, speaking spontaneously while walking down the street after a Corbyn rally in Leeds:

The speaking was so positive, so inspirational… Talking about things like mental health, and inequality, and just wanting to have a – a diverse and equal society… I don’t know how people can’t get behind these ideas. …

I loved the policy ideas about renationalising the railways, and making things more affordable, and housing, and mental health, and education, and giving poor children access to things – even just like performing arts, and stuff, giving us the chance to express ourselves …

Wherever you are in the spectrum, I can’t see how you wouldn’t want to get behind something like this.

… Half the panel were women… everything about this was class.

I’m not some idiot that just supports anybody… but we need a prime minister who’s going to be like this, who’s going to be out there for everybody.

Listen to those people.

It was the first time in decades that I’d seen a Labour politician who actually spoke to the issues that concerned me.

I loved the policy ideas … we need a prime minister who’s going to be out there for everybody.

That doesn’t look to me like a “cult of personality”. That is ideas winning because enough people think they are good ideas. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work??!!

Sophie Crossfield’s words also remind me of someone I know, who used to go “doorstepping” for Labour years ago. She lost faith and left the party in Kinnock’s day. She recently rejoined, supportive of Corbyn’s approach.

In the narrative of a “cult”, where are the people with that background? And where are the people of my generation who left Labour a bit later, e.g. over the Iraq war, and have now come back re-energised?

Make some other people famous, then

I mean yes, at one level it is about Jeremy Corbyn personally: because he is a person who’s been rather visibly going around saying those things. And at the same time… you know what? When other people say similar things, and demonstrate similar integrity in how they’ve stuck to their principles, then I tend to appreciate them too!

Ironically, the attempt to frame it as being “about Corbyn personally” is only plausible because there don’t currently seem to be other people in similar positions saying similar things. He’s noticeable because there’s a shortage.

If you want fewer people to be listening to Corbyn in particular, then get on and make some other people famous for their lifelong commitment to similar things.

Giving Owen Smith a chance

So then along comes Owen Smith. And I think to myself, OK, let’s give this bloke a listen and make up my own mind.

First I saw of him talking live was the second video from this article, when Angela Eagle had just dropped out of the leadership contest.

I am just as radical as Jeremy Corbyn”, he says.

Watching along, I kind of like it that he aspires to that, and I’m waiting to see how he’s gonna back it up.

What labour members want is, yes, a principled leadership in this party, but they want someone who can put those principles into practice by winning power for Labour, and looking after working people – working women, working men, the length and breadth of Britain. That’s why I’m in politics, and that’s what I intend to do.

Working people. Working people. I FELT THOSE WORDS. Justified by works. What about the people who can’t work? What about people who’ve worked for years and now they can’t? What about people who never could?

And again, less than a minute later, sliding the two words together as if by reflex:

I think I’ve got ideas that can turn some of the slogans we’ve had in recent years into solutions – solutions that would lead to better material improvements in the lives of working people


– that’s what Labour’s about, we’re about helping people get on – all people in this country, and we’ve got to be seen as that once more, and under my leadership we will be.

He caught himself that time, and threw in an “all people”. Yet even then, “all people” are placed in the context of “getting on”. Is that not some kind of code for ye olde “economic springboard” again? For sure he didn’t mean getting on as in “getting old”.

What about people whose only “getting on” is the quality of life they can hope to experience, while reliant on others?

I could be mistaken, but I didn’t get the impression those were coincidental unfortunate slips of the tongue. My impression was more of habitual thinking, springing from the political framework he lives in. He told us his priorities. WORKING PEOPLE.

How am I supposed to have any hope that you’re gonna mend our society’s broken safety net, if you go around talking like that?

Honestly, it doesn’t have to be Corbyn. I get that he’s not the best at management or teamwork. But I don’t believe that Owen Smith is “same politics, better manager”. This is not at all the same vibes as I’ve been getting off Corbyn politically.

Try again, please, Labour.

Where is the opposition?

And while we’re on the subject of work and welfare…

It seems to me that a significant subgroup of Corbyn supporters is made up of disabled people, along with the people who love them, living up close to the results of the ideological removal of the “safety net”.

In July 2015, while Harriet Harman was interim Labour leader, there was a House of Commons vote on new benefits legislation. I saw an interesting comment a little while back (I forget from whom), suggesting that in a way, Jeremy Corbyn had really won the (first) leadership election on the day of that vote.

Part of that particular episode of legislation was to cut about £30 per week from the “work-related activity group” category of people receiving disability benefits, i.e. those who are deemed possibly able to work at some point in the future. As I understand it, that’s £30 subtracted from typically £102 a week, so about a 29% cut.

The legislation went through. From April 2017, people newly allocated to this category are to get only the same amount as a non-disabled person on “jobseeker’s allowance”.

Beth Grossman of Scope commented:

We have significant concerns that reducing support will not only have a harmful impact on financial wellbeing but will also push disabled people further from the workplace.

Amelia Gentleman wrote about some people who would be affected:

… (in addition to struggling with food and heating bills) [some] would no longer be able to afford an internet connection, which would make complying with the requirement to search for work very difficult.

I remember that vote. I remember the ambiance on my Twitter feed that day, as disabled people waited to find out whether the Labour “opposition” would stand up for them.

The Conservative majority would pretty obviously vote the legislation through, whatever Labour did. But what would be said? What line would Labour take?

I remember the sense of betrayal as the news came out. Abstaining? What kind of an opposition is that?

The burden on the honest people

(Content note for this section: suicide, self-harm, unfairness.)

But even long before that vote… In recent years, some say increasingly, there’s been a terrible strand of mythmaking exaggeration about “scroungers”. And this is used to justify making almost all disabled people go through stressful – often painful – ordeals, to prove that they aren’t one. It’s a kind of “guilty till proven innocent“.

Six per cent of doctors have experienced a patient who has attempted – or committed – suicide as a result of “undergoing, or fear of undergoing” the Government’s fitness to work test.

… 14 per cent had patients who had self-harmed as a result of the test.

Richard Wachman & Oliver Wright, Independent, 2012

I accept that a few people are taking the piss. Research has suggested that about 0.7% to 0.8% of UK benefits are fraudulently claimed – 70p or 80p in every £100.

If that percentage is correct, and if the money percentage translates approximately to a people percentage… then for every one scammer, there’s about 125 disabled people just trying to get on with their lives. That’s thousands upon thousands of disabled people being suspected and challenged and put through trouble, on account of someone else nothing to do with them.

When the latest letter from the department [for Work & Pensions] hit the doorstep five weeks ago, Tony, 58, read it for Sharon – all 12 pages – and summarised it out loud: she will soon no longer receive her DLA and instead have to apply for the government’s replacement, personal independence payments (PIP).

“When they say ‘we might take your benefits’, I can’t cope,” Sharon says, quietly. “I went into psychosis.”

… The next few hours were a blur: Tony called 999, to ask for help, and then called Sharon’s sister to come to the house. Both of them stayed awake with Sharon until 2.30am the next morning. “She was inconsolable,” Tony says. …

What’s particularly devastating for Sharon and Tony is that, before this letter, she was making progress. …

“I get so frightened with what the future holds … that we’ll lose the house,” she says. “These horrendous cuts … it worries the life out of me.”

Frances Ryan, Guardian, April 2016

The trouble is all the more because the current system grossly malfunctions even by its own supposed standards. In a survey for Muscular Dystrophy UK in June 2016, relating to people with muscle-wasting conditions & their families,

Two in five respondents report being sent to an assessment centre that wasn’t accessible for disabled people. That’s in order to be tested for a disability benefit.

… some [assessors] didn’t even understand the condition they were testing …

Darran uses a wheelchair – and has a degenerative muscle wasting disease – but last year was downgraded on PIP and lost his car. In his own words, it left him “housebound and isolated”, and he scraped together the deposit for another accessible vehicle. The DWP later informed Darran that its decision had been “mistaken”, and his old car would be returned. “My £2,000 deposit is non-refundable,” he says. “I’ve lost that money.”

(Original report here (PDF). Writeup from Frances Ryan – who, incidentally, is doing sterling work reporting on UK disability benefits, austerity etc.)

I am so scared of what this may bring that it keeps me awake at night. … I have had periods when [Disability Living Allowance] was my only source of income and I don’t know how I will manage if it goes away.

… cerebral palsy and epilepsy do not go away. … Irreversible brain damage is irreversible. Reassessment of lifelong conditions makes no sense to me. It is a waste of money and energy, and it is cruel.

31-year-old, Glasgow, as written up by Sarah Marsh in the Guardian

(See also this recent news on a slight easing of stressful and futile reassessments for people with lifelong conditions.)

I’m not saying pay no attention to who’s “trying it on” versus who really needs the money.

But when people are being put through ordeals like that, and stresses like this, and intrusion like this (not to mention callous interference with natural human compassion… and I could go on), then I say the balance has swung way too far away from “innocent until proven guilty”.

The way all disabled people (unless they’re rich enough to do without the money) are put through these troubles, it reminds me of teachers who say that because one kid was rude, the whole class has to stay in at break. That’s called collective punishment.

What if we think a tiny percentage of people taking the piss is actually an acceptable price to pay for not punishing and harming the honest people?

When do we get to vote for that?

Of course these recent examples are under Tory & coalition governments, far more callous and punitive than Labour ever were. Yet the 1990s Labour thought-leaders did contribute to the shift in that direction, with their “transform the welfare state from a safety net in times of trouble to a springboard for economic opportunity”.

And I don’t think people are being unreasonable to doubt whether they can trust Owen Smith and his backers to fix it. As Rachel Reeves said in 2015,

We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work. … Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.

I would bet that when Rachel Reeves said that, she was trying to counter mainstream media pro-austerity mythmaking about Labour spending all the money on benefits; I’m not assuming that quote is necessarily representative of everything she thinks. But listen to those words. Where isthe party to represent those” who can’t work, or can’t find work they can do? How do we accomplish a politics which ensures that vulnerable people are safe and supported, for real?

Also under the category of “non-working people”, there must be stories to be told of places where industry disappeared, like Peter Kyle was talking about. Here’s a snapshot via Dawn Foster:

For people in Banwen, jobs are few and far between, and the lack of public transport doesn’t help. I heard of one case in which Amazon was offering a day’s work on zero-hours contracts at one of its nearby warehouses. They only let you know on the day itself whether or not you’re needed, but the text message they send out arrives too late for you to get the first bus. Rather than risk losing the work, several locals slept in a bus shelter the night before on the off-chance they would be needed.

… The many people in Wales who have spoken to me see that their own lives are getting harder, and that their children’s future is bleak. They’ve had Labour MPs for decades, under Labour governments and Tory governments, but nothing very much has happened to change their lives or bring jobs.

Moving the Overton window

(For readers who don’t know the term “Overton window“: it refers to the range of ideas that seem socially acceptable and thus politically feasible at a particular time, and the way those limits change over time. It’s named after a bloke called Joseph Overton who thought of describing it.)

So, how do you shift the Overton window? The answer is simple: You have to stand outside it and pull. Social change always begins with a few brave people who dare to advocate something previously unthinkable. And most of those first-generation advocates, to be perfectly honest, suffer scorn, ridicule and opprobrium, are often even targets of persecution and violence. But by their mere existence, by their willingness to stand fast on their principles and refusal to compromise, they stretch the boundaries of what the majority considers possible and redefine what counts as the “moderate” position.

Adam Lee

Not that Corbyn is a “first-generation advocate” of all the things he’s saying. Some of it just used to be ordinary Labour party policy. But I perceive him as demonstrating that “willingness to stand fast on… principles” which is part of redefining the current “window”.

Unfortunately, the right has been far ahead of the left in moving the Overton window in their desired direction for a long time. If anything, the left often plays it in the exact wrong way, actively policing and seeking to silence its radicals for fear that strong left positions will serve to discredit moderate left positions. The irony is that the Overton window should actually be easier for progressives to play: if you look at the polling on issue after issue, from education to jobs to foreign policy, the actual majority stances tend to be to the left of the range of policy proposals on offer.

Josh Bolotsky

Apart from the fact that Corbyn’s views aren’t even all that radical by olden standards, that seems about the size of it.


None of us knows for sure where the choices we make today will take us down the line. And that’s part of what makes the current situation difficult: different people have different intuitions about the future, in which different strategies look practical and ethical.

There’s this patronising narrative about how the “Corbynistas” are naïve in believing a Corbyn-led party could inspire or sway the general population in time for the next election. But that’s not where I’m at.

I doubt anyone can make a Labour Party electable in the short term now.

What with mainstream media influence, redrawing electoral boundaries, Scotland going SNP and possibly even separating, etc etc, I find it very hard to believe that switching in Owen Smith (or Angela Eagle) would be enough to win Labour the next election. I can’t judge in retrospect whether Corbyn would’ve been able to with whole-hearted support – quite likely not, even then – but for sure, I really doubt that the other recent leadership contenders would do significantly better with the country as a whole.

It’s not that there aren’t people who’d want to vote for more equitable sharing of wealth, more playgrounds and libraries, better health care, rich educational opportunities for all. But right now, too many of those people have been lied to too much about what causes what. And some have lost faith (I’d say understandably) in the party-political system ever giving them what they need.

I think now, probably the only medium-term hope for England of something other than Tory-austerity rule is via some kind of coalition. Not that I actually believe either that that would happen! There’d be some reason why they can’t all agree, and then the Tories would still get back in.

(In retrospect, Blair & co might think they made a blooper by failing to build in some kind of proportional representation or transferable-vote system while they had the chance. Seems like hubris to me – thinking Labour would always be mighty enough to find a majority.)

I see the current predicament as partly down to the drip-drip power of relentlessly lying media, and partly a result of Labour’s capitulation to that pressure in the early 1990s, leading indirectly (along with the Iraq war) to people’s later loss of faith in them. (Though I’m sure the recent spectacular intra-party arguments haven’t been helping.)


Longer term, though: it seems to me that someone needs to articulate a vision of solidarity, and offer it to the people who don’t know yet that this might be what they want. Otherwise it’s going to be Tories forever, the dwindling-away of the NHS, the rich getting richer and the poor getting even poorer.

It doesn’t have to be Corbyn, as far as I’m concerned – and I suspect he’d agree with that himself. But until someone else better comes along, I’m glad to see him making a start on it.

I like it that he’s been building support by going to where people are and talking to them; I see that as vital in order to escape the controlled narrowness of the mainstream media channel. I like it that he’s been speaking of the realities of people’s lives.

I’m appreciating the way so many people – already working for change, or hopeful of change – have been inspired to get involved. I hope that power can be channelled towards results.

Corbyn’s not great at playing the media game or forecasting how other people will see things, and that’s a liability. But he’s also seemingly not much swayed off course by the gusts of media drama – and I’d really like to see the mainstream media have less influence in this country.

I’m not hugely optimistic. It could be that even that approach is hopeless. Maybe it’s too difficult ever to get any party elected which tells the truth and asks for fairness and caring for all.

And what all those top Labour bods do isn’t up to me, anyway. So in a way it doesn’t even matter if I’m totally mistaken.

But what if in the long run, this path might actually work better than keeping within the parameters of mainstream media approval? (when that’s even possible – Ed Miliband didn’t manage it.) What if it’s not about remoulding every leader towards a media-acceptable (i.e. biased) image of “electability”?

What if, at this point, the slow build of talking honestly & directly with people is the best bet we have?