Tuesday, 15 September 2015

A Leftfield Leader

Corbyn and McDonnell
What a few strange days following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The announcement was well handled in the circumstances and the result was more decisive than anyone expected. Corbyn has a bigger mandate than Blair in 1994 and in the 2007 leadership contest Brown's men ensured that there was no democratic election.

The sense following this election is that there will be no oligarchy but a more consultative style of governance of the party. During the Blair/Brown years the triumvirate of Mandelson, Campbell and Gould controlled the agenda, media and opinion respectively and woe betide any MP who didn't adhere to the grid of announcements. Under Corbyn differences of opinion, and there are many, will be tolerated and allowed to shape future policy and decisions, rather than being trampled on by the party whips. There is no indication that New Labour control mechanisms will be replicated, there will be a far looser, more democratic and less dictatorial style of leadership.

Like many I remain uncertain about Corbyn's ability to lead the Labour Party but it had become a Party whose values had been lost during recent years. New Labour was swift to chide and slow to bless its members. Corbyn has reversed this tendency and that will be his greatest legacy. If he manages to secure changes to policy as a result of more open discussion and to ditch any commitments to neo liberal economic policies he will have rekindled the soul of Labour and made it a more principled and respected party than it has become in the last decade. Beyond that I doubt that he would want or could survive until 2020.

Corbyn is a throwback to a politician who is principled, dedicated to equality, uneasy with status, humble and a mumbler rather than orator. He is unlikely to be swayed by the press or corporate interests in the way that Blair and Brown succumbed. He is an leftfield leader whose commitment to challenging the neo liberal consensus of the last 25 years plays well with the disenchanted electorate. They have had their fill of party politicians reared in the hallowed traditions of Westminster, full of glib phrases and brimming over in their self importance. It is why the Greens, SNP and UKIP have done so well in recent elections.

Whether he can create a mood for a shift in the style of politics will be his real test. He will have ranged against him the press and media, big business, western leaders as well as the Tories and the majority of Labour MPs who have adopted a more cowardly and machiavellian way of challenging his leadership.

The two examples of outright hostility yesterday were about the gender balance of his shadow cabinet and the appointment of John McDonnell as shadow Chancellor. The constant refrain that he had not filled any of the 'big' three posts with women was a curious take on the first ever cabinet or shadow cabinet with a majority of women: 16 compared to 15 men. And neither Blair nor Brown had a woman in the same three posts during their first administrations. And as for Cameron he had only 3 women, not 16. in his first cabinet in 2010.

John McDonnell was dismissed as someone who had never served in office. But had George Osborne?  McDonnell had been the Finance chair of the GLC and been the Chief Executive for the Association of London Councils. Osborne had merely been a researcher and speech writer for the Tories. McDonnell's polished performance in an interview with John Snow on the Channel 4 news confirmed that he is an intelligent man with a wry sense of humour when he apologised to a reporter for not being able to continue a doorstepped interview because he had a bus to catch. He was criticised by others in the media for his suspension after lifting the mace to object when Geoff Hoon, the disgraced former Defence and Transport minister, tried to force through a £6bn Heathrow expansion without a giving Parliament a vote. And unlike Michael Heseltine, another macelifter but sweetheart of the media, McDonnell didn't shake the mace at the opposition, he placed it on a bench as a way of saying that the the government did not have the authority to impose such an important and controversial decision without a democratic debate.

These attacks from past and present MPs and the media are possibly having the opposite effect with many of the public, who are sick of the self righteousness of the press and establishment politicians. The parallels with Chris Mullin's excellent novel of 1982, A Very British Coup, are uncanny and worth re-reading

Whether Corbyn will end up like Harry Perkins, the left wing PM elected against all expectations, as the victim of a military coup may be dependent on whether Trident is abandoned - if not there might not be enough troops left to take out the Islington cyclist.

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