Tasty, nutritious democracy

vote-counts

“People who say their heart is with Corbyn, get a transplant.” Tony Blair

“The moronic MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn to ‘have a debate’ need their heads felt. They should be ashamed of themselves. They’re morons.” John McTernan

When I sat myself down a week or so ago to start making notes for this blog I decided that this would be a good moment to write something positive. After laying into the press and the chancellor in previous blogs various former friends suggested that I should try to be more constructive. It’s easy to throw bricks they said, harder to build a house.

My intention, therefore, was to write about the Labour leadership contest. It seemed like a good place to start. After much tooing and froing, MPs decided to nominate four candidates who, while broadly uninspiring, cover most of the perceived spectrum of views within the party. In fact, they’d gone out of their way to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn was on the list to specifically ‘broaden the debate’.

This seemed like a laudable action by MPs – allowing grassroots members to weigh up the candidates differing views across a full range of policies and help to provide a future direction for the party from the bottom up – and I was all set to start researching when YouGov released the shock results of their first poll: Corbyn was winning, and relatively comfortable as well. Even with second preferences taken into account he held a healthy-looking 6 point lead over his nearest rival – the likable but dreary Andy Burnham.

Faced with the startling reality of what their members wanted, the Labour Party duly went bonkers and, like Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket [spoiler alert], they couldn’t cope and proceeded to blow their brains out in the bathroom. Except that it wasn’t a bathroom it was Newsnight. Damn you democracy for getting in the way of what our sensible, right-minded leaders tell us is good for us.

It started with John McTernan (a man who’s Wikipedia page has been hit hard in the last seven days) calling those who nominated Corbyn morons; was followed by Tony Blair suggesting that those who say their heart is with Corbyn need a transplant; and finished with two of the other candidates saying they’d never work for Corbyn, a major funder telling us that the labour party would breakup if Corbyn won; and a prominent backbench MP saying the whole leadership election should be rerun because it’s undemocratic. Finally, on Monday, it was suggested that should Corbyn win a group of unnamed senior Labour MPs will attempt a coup. If this were suggested somewhere in Africa we’d be rolling our eyes and threatening economic sanctions. Here we prefer to pretend it’s just politics.

Anyway, let’s start at the top. The list of ‘morons’ who nominated Corbyn includes Frank Field (former Secretary of State for Social Security, the coalition government’s Poverty Tsar and current Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee), John Cruddas (former Labour Party Policy Co-ordinator) and two London Mayoral candidates, David Lammy and Sadiq Khan, the latter of whom who ran Ed’s leadership campaign in 2010. Put simply, if these people are morons then the party is completely screwed.

Turning to the most discussed aspect of this whole issue, that the leadership election is undemocratic, I could argue that never stopped the House of Lords, or even the House of Parliament – though that’s a little too like opening Pandora’s Box. Instead, let’s look at what’s been said: 140,000 people will have joined the Labour party as members or registered supporters before the vote; and what’s been implied: that this is a leftist plot (aided by some mischievous right-wingers) to infiltrate the leadership race.

I started by trying to work out where the figure of 140,000 came from. Labour had some 200,000 party members before the general election so this sort of influx could have a dramatic effect on the outcome. As far as I can tell the figures tally up like this:

New Registerd Voters for Labour Party Leadership Election 2015 (approx)

Full Party Members 68,000
Registered Supporters 21,000
Union Affiliated Supporters 25,000
Union Affiliated Supporters still in process 30,000
Total 144,000

 

These numbers are rough – they were the best I could do at short notice – and come courtesy of a couple of sources. [i] [ii]

So, is this a calculated ploy to fix the result? Well some of those full members could be hard leftists. While standard membership of the party is about £45 a year, full-time students can join for a £1 and the unemployed for a much reduced rate, so I guess it’s possible. However, it’s worth noting that less than a third of new members have joined since the leadership nominations were closed so can’t have joined to specifically vote for Corbyn and – even presuming they’re all communists – they still make up less than 10% of the potential pool of voters.

What about the registered supporters and affiliate members, then? While the party has been quick to defend itself against charges of interference it is undeniably difficult to check the political affiliation of all these people. Thankfully, when YouGov did their survey they also separated out voting preference by membership type. What they found was that while 57% of affiliate members and registered supporters support Corbyn, only 40% of full members did. When you follow this through a members-only vote would be a dead heat between Corbyn and Burnham. However, it’s worth noting though that even among full members Corbyn has a lead of 13 points for first preference votes and that he’s been nominated by more constituency labour parties than any other candidate.

As such, the sensible conclusion to draw from this farrago – it seems to me – is that whether the leadership of the party like it or not, Corbyn is not some kind of figurehead for a leftist plot to take over the Labour party. Rather than a party being dragged to the left by its more extreme supporters this is a group of voters who have been dragged to the right by their leadership and no longer want to stay there.

They’re fed up of a schizoid, directionless party that seems to offer little or no alternative to an incumbent government who – let’s be honest – are seen to be more responsible and reliable by the public at large and particularly by the business sector. They’re fed up of having no choice but to vote for a party who can only say we’re a bit nicer than that lot so you should support us. They’re fed up of not having an alternative – whatever that means for the future electability of the Labour Party. The only thing Corbyn is the figurehead of is Team ‘Please, for fuck’s sake, there must be another way, a better way of running a country’. Frankly – what with the rise of anti-austerity parties across Europe and the SNP’s utter domination of Scottish politics – it feels like this has been coming for while.

The sadness of this story is that it seems that the people in charge really aren’t ready to face that. Instead they sink as far as suggesting that the only way to deal with people utilising their democratic right reprehensibly – as they see it – is to have another election; or to go on strike; or to have a coup, should it come to that. Here stands the Labour Party, refusing to listen to itself, preferring instead to blow its own brains out on national TV – that should make them more electable.

[i] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/28/harriet-harman-we-are-weeding-out-bogus-labour-leadership-voters

[ii] http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/Politics/article1585822.ece

When not getting pointlessly angry about politics I get pointlessly happy about music. You can access my latest mix here.

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