Hoist by their own petard?

The underlying assumption of New Labour strategy with regard to mass membership of the Labour Party was that mass membership would always push the party to the right (which was the direction in which they wished to go), and that the Party was only leftist because of a small number of left wing activists that ‘dominated’ Party meetings and structures but were unrepresentative of the wider public and indeed the Party membership. The assumption was that ‘the public’ and the rank and file membership would always be to the right of these lefties and thus the more members you got the further to the right the Party would go.

Even the £3 Supporters scheme for the 2015 leadership election was accepted by the PLP because it was assumed opening up the Party to the wider public would ensure the victory of a ‘moderate’ (read right wing) candidate.

Imagine their baffled horror at the events of the last 12 months!!!

In the early 90’s Tony Blair himself was a vigorous advocate of ‘mass membership’ of the Party. For Blair, “An increased membership, one that was in some generalised sense different to past memberships, was a fundamental way of revitalising Labour. For Blair, getting people to join was not just a statistical exercise, it was a means of recasting the party altogether.”*

In a 1999 pamphlet for Progress, Phil Wilson outlined the Sedgefield model in detail emphasising a focus on ‘traditional hard working communities.’ ‘Tony Blair believed that the party had to become less introspective and more community focused, with a mass membership making it more representative,’ he wrote. *

For Blair, having a mass membership was a way of locating the party in the community and avoiding the extremism of the past, which could be blamed, in part at any rate, on supposedly unrepresentative activists taking control. He concluded, ‘We have to represent communities and have roots in them.’*

Gordon Brown even got in on the act writing a pamphlet, Making Mass Membership Work, in 1993, and telling John Humphreys, ‘in my constituency the membership’s trebled. If you go out and talk to people, if you get out and visit people, if you knock on doors and explain your message, people will join.’ Even as late as 2007 Brown wrote in a Progress pamphlet: ‘every local party should involve local organisations and individuals with our shared values in our debates.’ * (Exactly one of the things Momentum is berated for because it is claimed it facilitates entryism).

Suddenly for the Labour Party ‘political debate, socials and even barbecues were the order of the day!’ and it was all about ‘the members’; ‘one member, one vote’ was the defining Blairite slogan in the early days.

As a result, between 1994 and 1997 Party membership had increased spectacularly, reaching just over four hundred thousand.

But this increase in membership was part of deliberate campaign to transform the ‘character’ of the Labour Party and to shift it to the right. And by the time New Labour were elected in 1997, the Party had indeed been transformed; no longer a party of the working class, ‘New’ Labour was now a party of the liberal, metropolitan, middle-class.

There had been a sort of ‘ideological cleansing’ of the membership, as many long-time, working class members associated with the so-called hard left, were expelled or resigned from the Party, and were replaced with new, almost exclusively middle-class, soft-left members.

To me this begs the question of who actually ‘infiltrated’ the Party, the left or the right? Who were the ‘entryists’? The Militant Tendency or the Blairite metropolitan, liberal, elite who took over the Party and remade it in their own image?

But hilariously it turned out that eventually Blairism shifted too far to the right for even these soft-left, metropolitan, liberals, especially after the Iraq War, and between May 1997 when Tony Blair’s ‘New’ Labour Party was elected to office and 2009 when Blair stood down, Labour Party membership had declined again by 40%.

As Blair drifted further and further to the right and even the new members failed to support him, the Blairites reimagined the Party as a ‘partyless democracy’; a Party without any active members. The National Policy Forum replaced Conference as the seat of policy making and a sort of Soviet style ‘democratic centralism’ replaced Party democracy. Party members could not be trusted to ‘make the correct decisions’ and it was regarded as dangerous to allow them to even discuss, let alone determine, policy; the only function of Party members was as foot soldiers at election time.

This shift to the right was presented as an issue of ‘electability’, the implication being that of course secretly everyone in the Labour Party wants to see increased spending on schools, the NHS and care for the elderly, and that everyone would like to see nuclear disarmament and equality for all, but that these policies are simply not ‘sellable’ to the electorate and thus we need to enact a sort of deceit whereby we ‘pretend’ to be right wing but really we’re all ‘true’ Labour really.

Apart from the fact that if it were true this would be a disgracefully anti-democratic way to carry on, it’s also manifestly nonsense. The reason the Blairites wanted to push Labour to the right was that they themselves are of the right; they accept the basic premises of neoliberal capitalism and the TINA narrative, and believe like most modern professional politicians of all parties, and most of the media, that the function of modern governments, democratic or otherwise, is to ‘manage’ the decline of the public sector and to get out of the way of big business, who are the real wealth creators and who actually rule the world. Sure these professional politicians convince themselves that they are motivated by the desire to ‘serve’ or to ‘make a difference’, but in reality they have accepted the rules of the game as defined by the existing elite, and that politics is only ‘the art of the possible,’ and that therefore politics is really no different from any other professional middle-class career, and thus it is perfectly reasonable for professional politicians to concern themselves primarily with their own personal quest for status, power and wealth, which are entirely dependent upon maintaining the status quo with regard to existing power structures and wealth distribution.

And then along comes Corbyn and cocks it all up by appealing to hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to join the Labour Party not because he is a nice, moderate, professional, right-wing candidate but because he is genuinely and unapologetically of the left! The professional politicians and the commentariat didn’t even know so many of us existed and have been entirely wrong-footed by our emergence. ‘This isn’t how its meant to be.’ they cry! We had ‘calculated’ and ‘triangulated’ all this and you people shouldn’t exist… And yet we do.

The only response from the entire political elite, including the press, has been to insult us. According to them we are all stupid, easily manipulated, anti-Semitic, violent, foul-mouthed, loony Trots; the Nazi storm-troopers of a disgraceful, illegitimate take-over of the lovely, civilised, rational, professional, middle-class institution that is the ‘New’ Labour Party.

There has been almost no attempt in the press to examine why so many of us are so committed to this cause. No attempt to examine what the appeal of Corbyn is, nor why his policies are so attractive to so many. There has been no attempt to actually find out who these ‘new’ Labour Party members are; simply a rhetorical assumption that they must all be raving loonies from ‘the bad old days’ or naive youthful idiots manipulated by Soviet style propoganda.

It is clear that the entire political class is completely baffled by the Corbyn phenomenon and has no conceptual framework through which to view it rationally. And almost all the calculations and assumptions the PLP and Labour Party bureaucracy have made about how the Labour Party could move forward successfully after Blair, have turned out to be miscalculations, and in their shock their only response is to seek to demonise and insult their own membership and corruptly suspend and expel as many of us as they can.

I personally can’t see how this is going to pan out and to be honest I’m not hopeful, at least in the mid-term, what I do know is that these months and years will define the Labour Party for at least a generation and marks a sea change in British politics that the political class have not yet even begun to come to terms with.

* See Pemberton, H. R., & Wickham-Jones, M. (2013). Labour’s lost grassroots: The rise and fall of party membership. British Politics, 8(2), 181-206. 10.1057/bp.2012.27

About I Am Not A Number

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders. In 2008 he was appointed as the Senior Lecturer in Recorded Media in the School Of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University. He currently presents, Agitpop, a pop & politics radio discussion programme on North Cotswold Community Radio http://www.agitpopradio.org.uk He is currently the Communications Officer for UCU at Bath Spa University and a UCU SW Regional Rep at SWTUC.
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8 Responses to Hoist by their own petard?

  1. moelarrythecheese says:

    The Trumpites and the Corbynites have so much in common. We need to team up and kick ass.

  2. Jack says:

    “The Trumpites and the Corbynites have so much in common.”

    Sorry fella, nothing could further from the truth.

    Trumpites have nothing in common with Corbynites.

    Trump supporters believe in unfettered capitalism, free markets, aspiration,individual liberty and a life free of government interference. We also believe in a level playing field and not a special set of rules for two big to fail bankers. In the US, there were dozens of sound regional banks that could have stepped up to the plate in 2008 and taken over the US banking industry if JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and others had been allowed to meet their deserved fate of bankruptcy without a taxpayer bailout. All fraudsters deserve jail time, big and small. Trump supporters do not want welfare or a welfare state. We want to shove the federal reserve up a few New York bankster’s arses, hand a few bankers for good measure and move on. Trump supporters believe in work, not welfare. We don’t want free healthcare. We want the insurance industry out of the healthcare delivery system. Who the hell wants to pay both insurance companies and health care providers a profit. Remove the insurance providers and the cost of healthcare will plummet. But oh no, big government (Corbynite =Obama) wants us all to pay higher premiums so lazy no count welfare bitches can pop out five kids at our expense. Sorry fella, you really don’t have a clue what a so-called “Trumpite” is. And guess what, there are a hell of a lot of Mexican-American Trumpites here in Texas that want a wall built to keep the welfare sucking riff-raff from across the border out. The media myth of the Hispanic Democrat is just that.

  3. Jack says:

    I wasn’t aware that leaving a comment on your site would lead to having insults leveled at one. My mistake. What is the purpose of asking for readers to leave commentary if you intend to insult those that do. From reading your articles I came to believe you understood the difference between reality and media created mythology and stereotypes. The purpose of the comment was to help your readers better understand what a so-called Trumpite really is. The notion of all Trump supporters being “uneducated white males” being bantered about by the yellow journalist media strumpets on Sky News is pure propaganda. If the media had an interest in reality, then the misleading rhetoric portraying a large chunk of of the US Democratic Party are “minorities” both black and Hispanic needs to change and in all fairness to “proper rhetoric” and be restated by the media to read “The typical Hillary voter is an uneducated high school dropout” as reality based education statistics show that over 40% of blacks and Hispanics in America are just that. However, reality also shows that the so-called black and Hispanic vote don’t mean a hill of beans in America due to voter apathy. I live in a city that 99% Hispanic. The population is 255,000. Only 27,000 voted in the last general election out a registered voter population of 115,000. 25% of this 27,000 voted Republican in our gubernatorial race. Caveat: Due to corruption, I believe the number of registered voters my be high and a few dead people are still on the roles. The election commission will of course deny this.

    I like your site and agree with many of your views, but prefer not be insulted.

  4. The problem with your comment Jack is that it is profoundly racist. You are entitled to express such views in a free country and I didn’t delete your comment so i am allowing you to express those views on my site. BUT I do not have to ‘respect’ those views or those who express them, and rather than engage in a pointless and undoubtedly lengthy exchange I chose to use humour to express my lack of respect for your ignorance.

  5. Jack says:

    You have a strange view of racism. In fact, leveling such a misguided charge should be beneath your intellect.
    Dictionary definition of Racism.

    The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

    ….prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
    I am certainly not a racist and neither is the comment. In fact there is nothing in my comment that gives you license to level such accusation at someone you do not personally know.

    Your calling me a racist reminds me of your own article in which you point out the ridiculousness of being called an anti-Semite for criticizing Israel government policy.

    It appears that your tactic is similar to the left wing media; if your arguments don’t hold water or you disagree, resort to name calling and unfounded allegations.

    What do you call a Mexican that calls Mexican welfare suckers riff raff? Surely you would not call him a racist?

  6. So sorry I must have misunderstood.

  7. Jack says:

    I suppose comments made by me with no context were not useful. We have a problem in America with abuse of our welfare system. It is abused by whites, black, yellow, brown, no matter what be the ethnicity.

    Therefore, what follows is a short synopsis of the problem based on my point of view having lived on the on the Border of Mexico for the past 25 years, teaching school to the poorest of the poor and and being married to a Mexican-American who worked as a State Welfare worker and is also a teacher.

    In our community, first generation Mexican-American families set up and lived the American Dream. They worked, built homes and triumphed. Mexican Americans run the political system in my community. Our Senator and Congressman are Mexican-Americans.

    However, with the creation of modern day welfare by LBJ, we now have generations of welfare dependent do-nothings and I mean do-nothing other than hustle welfare. This is fact in my community. This is why the US Border patrol is embracing Donald Trump. I have personally had to fill out paperwork on children whose parents attempted to have them labeled in school as “emotionally disturbed” in order to collect a Social Security Disability check. I taught the kids as a Special education teacher for emotionally disturbed children. However, no matter what a teacher wrote on the form, the local doctors reluctant to lose the state generated referral monies always concluded the kids were indeed emotionally disturbed, not realizing the life-long damage they were setting the kids up for from being shoved into the ED unit at school. This is abuse of the system of the worst kind. My wife, as a welfare case worker had to visit families who were claiming benefits. Upon arriving to the given address, she was informed the client actually lived in Mexico and used the address to suck off the US system. This also is abuse and it happens everyday.

    Until you have heard Mexican-American kids call illegal immigrants from Mexico wet-backs, you will have little understanding of the views here. Most Mexican-American believe in hard work. So do my wife and I and most of my community. But guess what, we all still want to keep the welfare sucking scum from across the border out. This is not racism. This is called a work-ethic based aspiration based value system. Yes we believe in compassion for those that deserve it, but not for scammers.

    By the way, I am unfamiliar of any political system that is not a plutocracy. Even the much heralded socialist regimes of the past monetarily benefited those at the top. Check the bank accounts of your local union bosses versus the average worker. It is society at large that determines who is rich and even more so in the modern tech world…when the average welfare citizen of America is at home googling the Kardashians of the world, and giving thumbs up to viral videos someone is making money and it ain’t the socialist sitting at home on his couch complaining.

    I have one socialist idea I will agree with if the socialists put it forward…that is give everyone free high speed internet and basic courses in selling on eBay, Amazon, or other venues so everybody who has ambition can sell something. I attempted to get the State of Texas and my LEA, local education agency to allow me to teach such courses to middle school children, but no, the state has the misguided belief that all and I mean 100% of these kids are college bound which is quite a delusion.

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