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Monday, 1 August 2016

A Month Is A Long Time In Politics


Really doesn’t feel like less than two months since the country narrowly voted Brexit, does it? So much has happened in the political landscape of the UK since, it feels like we have crammed at least a year into the last 39 days.

 I’ve not commented at length as yet, because where would you even start? Just last week on twitter I was talking about how UK politics have become so unpredictable that I could throw out any old randomness and have a shot of it being true in a few short weeks. I personally think Boris Johnson training a parrot to attend his boring meetings, and said parrot becoming wildly popular and winning a by election in his own right is not that implausible given that one of the contenders for the Ukip leadership race is a Lithuanian man  who is running on a pro-European ticket. But here we are now, and I, like many left leaning voters, am still trying to make sense of it.

On June 24th we woke up to the cold hard reality that we have voted Brexit by 51% to 49%.  A lot of us expected the likes of Boris Johnson to be smugly grinning all over our TV screens, but instead much of the Leave camp did all they could to avoid being seen , and when  they were spotted in the wild they looked as shell shocked and confused as those of us who expected the country to vote for the status quo. Before breakfast, most of us realised that the Leave camp were not expecting to win, and had absolutely no clue what to do now they had. No one in Westminster had even the slightest notion of a plan. We were making this up as we went along and hoping for the best.

Obviously making things up and hoping for the best is all very well, but the one thing that the markets don’t like is instability. I’ll be the first to admit I have only the haziest knowledge of how stock markets and share indexes and all the other things I mentally categorise as Imaginary Money work, but “uncertainty is bad” is, as I understand it, a concrete fact. So, again by breakfast time the British Pound was worth approximately 2 rusty paperclips and a banana skin. And every time Farage opened his mouth, it dropped still further.

I can only guess that most of the country did as I did; sat and watched TV rolling news and social media in a state of shock, wondering how on earth we had woken up in an episode of Black Mirror.

The Tories fell apart completely. Cameron certainly hadn’t expected to lose the referendum he had called, and didn’t have a plan. Rather than deal with the fallout, he quit, effectively telling the leave camp that it was their mess, so they should clear it up. I felt a twinge of pity for Cameron when he resigned. Being the PM that allowed us to break our ties with Europe (pissing them off mightily in the process, which will make our divorce negotiations somewhat toxic), leading to a possible break up between Scotland and the rest of the UK and causing economic ramifications across the whole continent, the only way to console himself is that at least he will be remembered as more than the man who left his daughter in the pub and allegedly masturbated with a dead pig’s mouth.

 I don’t think Johnson expected to win either. He expected a narrow Remain vote, and a shot at being the PM who reunites us with Europe. And his mate Gove suddenly wasn’t his mate anymore. Boris bailed as well, and the Tories went into a full leadership battle, each candidate more horrifying than the last.

As a mother of four, in a low income household, all of that was terrifying. Like the markets, I like stability. I like to plan my family finances months ahead so that I can budget in for children’s birthdays, back to school shops, Christmas. Any unexpected expense can throw out a low income household’s budget for months or even years. I needed a sense of stability, but the Tories, the ones who created the uncertainty, were too busy focusing on themselves to worry about the anxiety they had plunged us into.

As a Labour voter though, I was optimistic. We have a party leader who has a strong anti-austerity message, clear ideas about areas in which to invest to get our economy moving again and a very proven record of campaigning for equality and inclusion. Labour would surely, at that moment, ramp up their campaigning for the amazing positives of having a Labour government. They would unite behind their leader and promote a strong anti-austerity message. They could reach out to those who voted Leave as an anti-establishment “sick of the same old politics,” vote, by pointing out that the current leader of the labour party has been fighting the establishment for the rights of workers his whole career. They could show those who defected to Green, or Lib Dem or Ukip, or stopped voting altogether under the Blair years that they were serious about rebuilding Labour into the strong, fair, socialist party it always used to be. They could say that yes, Jeremy Corbyn did acknowledge that the EU has faults. That’s because the EU does have faults, and he tells us the truth about what he thinks. He also heavily acknowledged the EU’s many good points. Being able to see both the good and bad of the situation surely makes him ideally placed to negotiate our relationship with the EU in a way that does the least impact?

As a Labour voter I was optimistic for the first time in a long time. We are going through a period of great social change and Labour were ideally placed to shape it into something that could be good for everyone.

Instead, the PLP decided now was the time to blow the party apart.

 A wave of brutal, live streamed and fully tweeted resignations, on the hour, every hour, all citing the claim that Jeremy Corbyn was “unelectable” as their reason. I thought I knew what unelectable meant. I thought it meant someone uninspiring, who people won’t vote for. I don’t really understand what definition the PLP are working from though. Under Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party have grown their membership so that they are now the biggest Left of Centre party in Europe. They have won every by-election and Mayoral contest. Thousands of people attend rallies to hear him speak. He is neither uninspiring nor unelectable. Thousands of people are willing to campaign on Labour’s behalf. That all seems positive to me, but apparently it isn’t to the PLP. Those are the wrong  types of voters, you see. No, I don’t get it either.

The PLP put Angela Eagle up as a leadership contender, saying that it wasn’t Jeremy’s personality as such, just his policies were out of touch, and out of date. Eagle herself said that Corbyn’s lukewarm performance and lack of effort put in to the Remain campaign was why she was running against him. She forgot she had said not two weeks before that he had been running up and down the country with the energy of a 25 year old, but not getting the airtime on main stream media. And that his constituency voted much more comfortably to Remain than hers did.

Eagle seemed to have no problem getting herself on TV though, and she passionately put across her policies of being a woman and from the north, and the virtue of  having a mother who was a seamstress. I am fairly sure she meant the sewing kind, not the Pratchett kind.

 Having failed to convince Jeremy Corbyn to resign and just give her the leadership because she is female and she wants it, Eagle launched her actual leadership bid in a lovely chat room set, with a pretty swirly pink union flag with her name scrawled across it as her backdrop. That’s where the Eagle’s launch crash landed though, as just as she was standing opening the floor for questions, all the journalists buggered off to cover Andrea Leadsom dropping out of the Conservative leadership contest, making the terrifying Theresa May PM.

While the labour party hadn’t been looking, the Conservatives had fallen into line. Now more than ever labour needed to put this silliness aside and unite.
But instead, the coup continued.

Angela Eagle, who by this point seemed to just be shouting “but I’m a woman from the north! I should be leader! People are picking on me!” was joined in the race by Owen Smith. No, I hadn’t heard of him either. Angela later dropped out of the race. I felt for her, a bit. I think she really thought the PLP would back her leadership all the way, and she must be very disappointed that they all fell aside.
The once pharmaceutical company lobbyist Owen Smith (who used to praise the virtues of a semi-privatised NHS until quite recently)  is now running on an anti-austerity ticket, and has made noises about renationalising the railways and protecting th3 NHS from privatisation. Yes I know, those are Corbyn’s policies. Yes I know the PLP said Corbyn’s policies were out of touch and out of date and he is a good person but not a good leader. They’ve changed their minds now. Now his policies are good, but it’s his personality they don’t like. He is a bad person, and though as a leader he attracts loads of people to rallies,  inspires a big following despite poor main stream media coverage, those are the wrong type of people, so that proves he can’t lead. Or something.

Having tried and failed to keep Corbyn off the ballot, the PLP are now trying everything they can think of to smear his supporters, twist his words and his record and do maximum damage to the party they claim to love. I don’t understand why they, as Labour MPs, would sabotage the party’s electoral chances at a time when we were best placed to make real positive social change. But thy seem very committed to it.

Unfortunately I fear the unelectable mantra is starting to become a self fulfilling prophecy. Floating voters are not going to be tempted to vote for a party that looks so very divided. I think most people, like me, crave stability. Thanks to the actions of the PLP, Labour isn’t looking too steady right now. While the PLP are busying themselves with all of this in-fighting, the Tories are quietly uniting in their aim to roll back any human rights or workers rights we thought we had, privatise our prisons and our NHS,  and turn our schools into little more than totalitarian, profit run exam factories where primary school aged children are put into isolation at lunch time if their parents are late paying a bill. The PLP are leaving us undefended, and the Conservatives can cut unchecked.

So the state of the Labour party is very grim right now. Mainly, I think, because of the actions of the 172 (although some are, I think, more culpable than others). But I do have some hope.

Sarah Champion has already come back into the fold, which is fantastic. She is a veryour strong politician and does a lot of good, and it’s brilliant to have her back in the shadow cabinet, fighting for the most vulnerable.

We have seen some very promising, fresh new talent rising to the shadow front bench. I greatly admire Angela Rayner, I think Clive Lewiswill go far and Richard Burgon is one of the best orators I have ever seen. I will be very surprised if he doesn’t become party leader one day.

The road to the leadership election will be a long one, and I think we are likely to be exhausted by the end, by bitter insults on both sides, accusations of bullying and threats, smears on Corbyn supporters and probably Owen Smith supporters too, if we can find some that haven’t just turned up because they heard there will be free ice cream.

One way or another, Labour has to unite after this.  I don’t see how the can do it unless they unite behind Corbyn (as he is clearly the leader that the party members overwhelmingly want). I don’t see the 171 doing that. I wish I could see it. I don’t want the party to split, although I’ve heard there has been talk of it, and that Smith is refused to say he is against it. It would be sad to see the PLP flounce off in a huff. I think Labour would recover, and hopefully by the next general election, but it would still be another wound the party doesn’t need.
 My ideal would be that those members of the PLP who can work with the leader to bring about the electoral choice the party members desperately want, stay and team up with the fresh new talent we have seen hit the ground running and work admirably to pick up the slack the PLP so unceremoniously dropped. If they don’t feel able to do that, and be part of a broad church, left platform perhaps a different party would be more suited to them.

Given that 40 days ago I couldn’t have begun to predict the state we would be in today,  I don’t feel able to foresee the outcome of the leadership election. My gut says Corbyn will win. Hopefully then we can put this petty squabbling, (which Corbyn himself has refused to indulge in, showing remarkable dignity in my opinion) aside and get on with turning this massive new movement into a credible force to rival the Conservatives at the next election.

We need a Labour government more than ever. I have hope we can still achieve it at the next election. And the main reason I still have hope is that through all this drama, Corbyn, aided by McDonnell, Thornberry,  Skinner, Rayner, Burgon, Lewis and the rest of the Labour team who have refused to join the coup attempt have been calmly getting on with their jobs and trying to ensure a better UK  for the many, not just the few.

I’m with them.

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