Do Labour Dare Hope? – Election Update

News and Politics

When the election was called, I made a number of predictions which now appear somewhat ill-judged. Foremost among these was an assumption that Labour’s vote share will likely decline before polling day. So far, the opposite has happened. While the Conservatives have been hugely bolstered by the near-total collapse of UKIP, Labour has also experienced a surge in the polls, seemingly at the expense of the Greens and more interestingly the Lib Dems and maybe also UKIP. A YouGov poll released today has the party on 38% (it’s highest since 2014) with the Conservatives down a few points to 43%. If this poll is not a freak outlier, as it still may very well be, then Labour have essentially closed within five points what was, when the election was called, a twenty point gap.

As much as I’d want this to be true, jubilation will have to wait until we get to see more polls, however, that being said, what is increasingly beyond doubt is that Labour has experienced a surge (the proportions of which are highly debatable) over the past few weeks.

The former Tory Leader, William Hague, once stated that his party has two modes: Panic and Complacency, and the latter I believe is now a significant factor behind recent developments. Personally, I don’t think that the Conservative Campaign is quite as bad as some say, largely because, just as in 2015, a significant part of it is invisible and focused on digital targeting, however, it is still pretty darn abysmal. It still shocks me that the same people behind Cameron’s 2015 surprise win are capable of running such a poor operation, although perhaps the spirit of complacency has gotten to their heads too.

I mean, gosh, where to begin? Theresa May seemingly looked at her initially giant poll lead and assumed that she could start drowning puppies on live television and still win in a landslide. She must have thought that the British public hated Corbyn and adored her so much that (perhaps as Thatcher had done decades earlier) she could get away with a number of deeply unpopular, albeit allegedly necessary, policies.

First, there was fox hunting, which is still a really big deal for some reason (I mean, honestly, aren’t schools and hospitals a little more important than the welfare of some occasionally cute mammals that shit on the lawn and eat your garbage?). Hunting is still vehemently opposed by the overwhelming majority of the UK population, and those that do like it would have voted Conservative anyway. And then there was the ‘Dementia Tax,’ a plan to fund social care by forcing the elderly to sell away their homes, as well as the end to the pension triple lock. It really shows just how certain the Tories were of victory that they dared to attack the elderly (the one part of the population that is certain to vote).

Meanwhile, encouraged by her high approval ratings, Theresa May decided to run her campaign as if it were a Presidential run. Conservative branding was stripped from party literature in the North of the country, instead replaced with talk of “Theresa’s candidates” and “Theresa’s Team,” while actual policy substance was disregarded. Last year, another female politician tried a similar strategy against an anti-establishment outsider with solid, populist, messaging… It didn’t go well. Meanwhile, the lack of returns from the overwhelming focus on Brexit has shown what I’ve believed to be the case for a while – That Brexit is nowhere near as important of an issue to most people as pundits believe. Most Britons think that that battle has already been fought and now just want the government to get on with it, and therefore Labour’s strategy of largely ignoring the issue while focusing on domestic policy was probably the correct decision.

Speaking of Labour, and of policy – To seemingly everyone’s surprise, the party has been running a very good campaign. Messaging so far has been solid, and capable of penetrating into minds of those who don’t stay up at night thinking about politics. Popular policy pledges have been consistently repeated on radio and television, and they seem to be getting through. A recent YouGov survey has asked voters about what they perceived to be the main policies of the two parties. For Labour, the top two are scrapping tuition fees and increasing NHS funding. For the Conservatives, the ‘Dementia Tax’ and “Going ahead with Brexit.” While, in the wake of the Manchester attack, the Tories still lead on issues of defence and security, perhaps Labour’s message about cuts to police budgets under the current government may also have a positive effect. Corbyn himself has done a rather good job so far, and while most voters still really don’t like him, perhaps he’s a negative factor which increasing numbers of them are willing to overlook. So yeah, to my surprise, the Labour operation has managed to find within itself a healthy dose of competence.

And then we come to the Lib Dems, the one party who seemingly had little to lose and everything to gain from this election. Personally, I expected them to make modest gains, unlike some who apparently expected Tim Farron to become the Leader of the Opposition. However, even that seemed to have been too optimistic. To the surprise of most, including myself, who expected moderate Labour voters and some pro-remain Tories to defect to the Lib Dems, the opposite has happened. Former Lib Dem supporters who voted for the Tories in 2015 have barely moved, while considerable numbers of the party’s remaining backers have switched to Labour. Now there is even talk of Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield.

UKIP’s collapse is a peculiar phenomenon, and I have a strange feeling that it may not necessarily be the godsend that the Tories expect. The predominant belief right now is that those seeking to predict individual constituency results should simply take at least half of the UKIP vote and give it to the Conservative candidate. I think that’s a huge oversimplification because it completely ignores regional context. UKIP’s 2015 vote can be largely split into two groups. Former Tories who were angry about the European Union, and former Labour and BNP voters who were angry about immigration. The former group, who largely reside in the South, are obviously going to go back to the Conservatives now that Brexit is dealt with. However, the latter group, who largely reside in the North, is a far more open question. Many of those people really do not like the Tories, and never did. They are the reason that Paul Nuttall feels obliged to bang on about the NHS, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they either stick with UKIP or maybe even go back to Labour. Therefore, the result would be Theresa May piling up extra votes where she doesn’t need them while Labour clings on to its heartlands.

Now for some caveats. While current polling trends are good for Labour, actual election results are not. The local elections on the 5th of May made for grim reading, however, that was before Labours apparent surge towards the end of the month. Secondly, there is also a danger of Labour piling up votes in safe seats, as YouGov’s regional polling might suggest. Go and ask Hillary Clinton about how an absurdly unrepresentative voting system can make irrelevant one’s national support. Thirdly, once polls start predicting a tighter race, Conservative fear tactics about a Corbyn-led government propped up by a “Coalition of Chaos”, a prospect most only recently thought impossible, will be far more effective. Fourth, polls almost always overestimate Labour’s support – that may very well be what we’re seeing now. Fifth, there are still two weeks to go, so expect CCHQ and their (plenty) allies in the media to go absolutely nuts.

Perhaps that Conservative landslide which we thought inevitable might not be such as foregone conclusion after all. If Theresa May comes away with a majority similar in scope to what she possesses now, don’t be surprised to see her ousted as leader of her party even before Jeremy Corbyn.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Briefly About The TV Debates – Why They Won’t Happen and Why Corbyn is Right Not to Take Part

News and Politics

So, according to recent polling, the majority of the British public want Theresa May to take part in a live TV debate ahead of the upcoming election. Regardless, she is still insistent on refusing. A lot of people are somewhat cross at her and seem to think that sharing Change.org petitions will force the PM to change her mind, which it goes without saying is a little silly. Then, today, Labour announced that Jeremy Corbyn won’t be attending any debate if May doesn’t do so either after BBC and ITV expressed a desire to go ahead without her. It goes without saying that, with both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition missing, there probably won’t be any TV debates after all.

That might be a shame, since these things are always pretty fun, but, I’d briefly like to explain why I think that:

  1. Theresa May’s refusal to take part is terrifically obvious
  2. Corbyn’s decision to not attend a debate without her is actually the right one.

Firstly, unlike the USA, the UK does not have a history of televised election debates. In fact, they’ve previously only happened in 2015 and 2010. That aside, May was never going to allow herself to be dragged into one because, to put it bluntly, she sucks at media and, unlike Cameron, has an opinion poll lead large enough to essentially warrant telling the broadcasters to go fuck themselves. May has nothing substantial to gain from a TV debate and a lot to lose, so the obvious response is to avoid it.

In 2001, when the Labour government had a similarly massive poll lead, William Hague (the Tory leader) practically begged Blair for a debate. However, Labour’s election wizards rightfully concluded that it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Blair, who was far better at media and debating than Theresa May, then won his second landslide and everyone moved on.

In 2010, when polls were on a knife’s edge, the first general election debate in British history was held, the star of which ended up being neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown but Nick Clegg, the charismatic new Liberal Democrat leader. As a large portion of the electorate at the time was both sick of Labour and still wary of the Conservatives, Clegg and the Lib Dems proceeded to rise spectacularly in the polls. TV election debates almost always benefit the underdogs. 

But why shouldn’t Corbyn take part? Surely, if May doesn’t show up, that will give the opposition a very good platform to hammer the government? No. It won’t. Instead, it will probably result in the best case scenario for the Conservatives. This already happened before. In 2015, a second debate was held between all the major opposition parties after Cameron refused to come. The event descended into chaos as the opposition leaders quickly came to resemble the very “Coalition of chaos” that Conservative propoganda was warning the public about, with all the polls and pundits predicting a hung parliament.

So no, Corbyn shouldn’t show up to any debate if May is “Empty chaired.” That’s exactly what Crosby and CCHQ want.

Can Labour Avoid Total Catastrophe? – Electoral Predictions For June

News and Politics

As I wrote on this blog yesterday, the snap election on June 8th will end with Theresa May securing a very comfortable majority, which should be rather obvious to everybody. The only question is exactly how large will that majority be? I mentioned some historical parallels the other day, so perhaps that’s not the worse place to start. In 1983, the last time when Labour was both in opposition and this far behind in the polls, it ended up with 209 seats – pretty bad, but only approximately 30 less than what the party commands now. However, the electoral map today looks significantly worse for Jeremy Corbyn than it did for Michael Foot.

What Do The Numbers Say?

So, the current polling average has the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 26%. According to a traditional “Swingometer,” if the vote was held today, that would translate into a Conservative majority of 94, having taken 41 seats from Labour and one from the SNP, as you can see in the graph below.

275710a95cfbddd16fabe047d554a6d2

The Numbers Are Misleading

Well, sort of anyway. Firstly, I have a slight suspicion that the current polling is somewhat exaggerating Labour support. Why? Well, because it usually does, and, as I will explain later, it is highly likely that Conservative support will increase as the campaign properly begins. Under first past the post, even small swings can bring substantial changes to the map. For example, if (instead of 42/26) the Conservatives manage to win 44% to Labour’s 24%, their majority increases to 130.

Secondly, it would be wrong to take these calculations as absolute gospel, even if the projected national swing is correct. That is because some constituencies are likely to see a higher than average swing due to issues such as Brexit. According to the graph above, the Liberal Democrats will only gain one seat (Cambridge from Labour). That is almost certainly untrue, as the party will likely gain a number of pro-remain seats from the Conservatives, as the latter’s election chief has warned. Furthermore, a majority of those happen to be former Lib Dem seats anyway, making their comeback there more likely. Another example could be Labour seats where many people are employed in nuclear power or the defence industry, as such voters will be much more susceptible to anti-Corbyn messaging due to the Labour leader’s previous views on energy and the military. Such local concerns are not represented in national polling.

What Is Likely To Change Between Now and June?

Glad you asked. First and foremost, Labour’s support will likely decline. Since Corbyn was elected leader, his ardent supporters have wasted no time complaining about unfair media coverage. Well, over the next few months they will discover what a Conservative Party media machine really looks like. Tory operatives will dig up everything unsavoury the man has ever said or done and hand it to their friends in the press. Every comment he ever made about the IRA. Every newspaper he ever worked for that condoned terrorism. Every penny he ever took from the “wrong” people. Everything which contributes to an image of Corbyn being simultaneously dangerous and incompetent. They will destroy him, just as they did with Milliband and Kinnock, only this time their people will have far more material to work with.

Speaking of “their people,” Lynton Crosby has already been hired to help lead the campaign. That’s the 60-year-old Australian who engineered Cameron’s surprise victory in 2015. Some of his tactics have certainly come under staunch criticism, but the man knows how to run an election campaign. They’ll wake up at 5 AM every day for six weeks and their machine will be devastatingly effective. Tory HQ has also hired the same pollsters as last time round, also known as “The only people in Britain who weren’t surprised by David Cameron’s majority.” Simply put, as far as talent is concerned, Labour isn’t even close. They weren’t close in 2015, and now most of the party has accepted their face and is only worried about the internal battles to follow.

5c1f806d4f82cb90a626020dcab46716

Get ready for an updated version.

 

Tory Apathy 

Now for some counterbalance, I suppose. In 2015, the Conservatives owed their much-renowned victory to a terrifically effective fear factor. Third party voters and apathetic Tories alike were driven to the polls by the feeling that a Labour government propped up by the SNP was a very real possibility. Much of Crosby’s messaging initiative was focused on precisely this.

This time, however, few people in Britain actually believe that Jeremy Corbyn can become Prime Minister, and that’s a problem. If Labour manages to do a decent job of mobilising its voters, then the potential apathy on the other side might ensure that they lose by a significantly smaller margin than most expect. Combine that with moderately sized Lib Dem comeback, and May’s projected supermajority might not be quite as super after all.

Why Now

That’s what a lot of people, myself included, were undoubtedly wondering as May went back on her approximately 7 million promises not to hold an election before 2020. I suppose the reason she finally couldn’t resist is that it’s unlikely to get any better from here for the Conservatives. By 2020, Corbyn might have resigned and been replaced with someone at least half-competent, while the realities of leaving the European Union without a proper trade deal might begin to set in. This is her best chance to get a huge majority while likely reducing the opposition to its lowest number of seats since before the Second World War. Temptation is a potentially irresistible force.

My Pointless Prediction Then…

All things considered, and while it will be much easier to tell closer to the date, my own feeling is that May will take somewhere between 40 and 50 seats from Labour while the Lib Dems make moderate gains from both Labour and the Conservatives. The SNP will probably hold on to almost every seat in Scotland despite one or two loses to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives. UKIP will get nowhere. Brexit was the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Quick Thoughts On The Early Election

News and Politics

For obvious reasons, since Theresa May became Prime Minister last summer, all sorts of people began comparing Britain’s second female PM to Margaret Thatcher. However, among the more politically astute, some comparisons were made with Gordon Brown, Labour’s own last (perhaps ever) resident in Number 10. Neither May nor Brown obtained their posts through an election, neither within the country or even within their respective parties. Both became Prime Minster at a time of great national uncertainty, be that Brexit or the 2008 financial crisis. Both long contemplated on whether to call an early election. Brown kept hinting at one but eventually chickened out, while May kept saying that an election wasn’t necessary until she asked the commons to give her one after all. However, this is largely where the comparison ends, because while Brown got booted out and replaced by the coalition government, May’s electoral fortunes will be far closer to that of Mrs Thatcher.

Few are in any doubt about what is going to happen on the night of the 8th June. Just as in 1983, The Conservatives will all but certainly achieve an overwhelming parliamentary majority at the expense of a bitterly divided and farcically led Labour Party. The Thatcher comparison in that sense is thoroughly uncanny. Therefore, this election will be all about what happens afterwards. That said, there are some details which might give us a hint as to what could be in store for the long term, especially concerning a potential political realignment. How many remain voters can the Liberal Democrats snatch from Labour and the Conservatives? Despite inevitably losing huge amounts of swing voters to the Tories, how will Labour’s electoral coalition hold up? The party’s support is currently split between overwhelmingly pro-remain metropolitans and it’s traditional working class base, of whom a considerable amount back Brexit. Will that balance change? And if yes, how? As for UKIP, forget about it. UKIP is over.

Of course, May’s reasoning for calling the vote is largely nonsense. In her initial announcement, she accused all the opposition parties of playing politics, while in reality, her decision to hold the election in the first place is the among the biggest examples of “playing politics” there could be. Those complaining that the snap election will waste valuable Brexit negotiating time are also largely kidding themselves. Those negotiations won’t really start until the end of September anyway – because this little thing called “Democracy” exists on the continent as well, and talks are currently rather fruitless until the French and the Germans figure out who will end up governing them throughout that process.

Finally, coming back to Labour, the question on everyone’s minds is what happens to the party’s leadership after it inevitably gets thrashed in June. Well, my personal prediction is that Corbyn will attempt to hang on until Party Conference in September. The hope is that his supporters can pass the so-called “McDonnell Amendment” (lowering the number of MPs one needs to qualify for a leadership election) and then have Corbyn safely step down while anointing a successor. The other internal battle that is bound to occur pretty soon is over mandatory reselection of MPs in time for the general election. After failing to get a single Corbynite candidate selected for any of the recent by-elections, Labour’s left will be keen to replace many of their opponents in safe seats, giving themselves another alternative to cling on to the leadership should the McDonnell Amendment fail at conference. The chances of the party’s NEC actually approving such a measure, however, remains very slim.

Those are my initial thoughts anyway, I’ll probably write more as the campaign begins. Should be fun.

 

Brexit vs Trotskyist Trump

News and Politics

Here Cometh Twenty Seventeen

2016 was the worst year ever! – Was a certain hyperbolic statement a variation on which you’ve probably heard/read somewhere over the past few months. Seems a bit odd really. I mean, let’s be honest here, anyone who says that is probably only doing so because they ended up on the wrong side of Trump and Brexit, and it’s hard to see how 2017 will fare much better in that case. That is, this year Trump will actually get to be President and the Brexit process will actually begin.

Anyway, even if one is so utterly horrified by the prospect of an orange manchild becoming the leader of the free world and by Britain leaving the European Union, I’m still not convinced that that, plus a number of high profile celebrity deaths that will inevitably continue happening in 2017, makes 2016 the worst year in human existence. It seems a bit of a pointless and arbitrary exercise, but surely if we had to pick something then one might be inclined to consider 1939 (when we entered into World War 2) or perhaps 1347 (when about half of Europe started dying from the bubonic plague). Obviously, such nonsense is merely the by-product of an increasingly interconnected world living in the age of outrage.

Brexit Means Brexit 

Speaking of Brexit, why is everyone still so confused about the single market? We’re leaving. End of story. In a world where politics still trumps economics, Theresa May has made it her mission to reduce immigration “to acceptable levels” – whatever that means. By refusing to exclude students from the annual migration quota, she’s already shown that reducing numbers is more important to her than potential economic benefit, and unless the EU is prepared to give Britain a “best of both worlds” deal (hint hint: it’s not), then remaining in the single market while rejecting freedom of movement is completely impossible.

Why is this such a hard concept to grasp? The Remain campaign had been saying for months that single market membership is incompatible with greater immigration controls, and Theresa May’s stupid “Brexit means Brexit” slogan should have left everyone without a doubt that a “Hard Brexit” is precisely what we’re heading for. If May actually supported single market membership at the cost of freedom of movement, guess what, she would have said so by now. She’s the Prime Minister of Great Britain, not a former Hobbit trying to beat Bilbo at a game of riddles in a dark tunnel under a mountain.

Corbyn 2.0

Meanwhile, the embattled leadership of the British Labour Party has decided that the best way to improve its terrible approval ratings must be to reinvent Jeremy Corbyn as some kind of Trotskyist Trump: An anti-establishment firebrand with a strategy consisting of slagging off the hostile media and appealing to an apparent surge in populist sentiment.

A few problems with that. One: I’m not terribly convinced that the best electoral strategy consists of mimicking a man who lost by nearly three million votes. Two: what demographic is Corbyn’s team actually trying to target here? You might be forgiven for assuming its working class Brexit voters, but that’s rather hopeless as long as Corbyn remains dedicated to the free movement of people (which is still seemingly the case).

Otherwise, a left-populist approach is almost certain to further alienate those defecting to the Conservatives and Lib Dems, a group which (contrary to what some seem to believe) is much bigger than those leaving Labour for UKIP. Trump managed to win the electoral college by taking traditional Democratic voters in the Rust Belt. What is Labour’s equivalent to this? They can’t take the UKIP vote while supporting freedom of movement and neither can they make any inroads into the Tory/Lib Dem vote while acting like a left-wing Donald Trump. About that…

Just like with Agent Orange across the pond, the idea is seemingly to “let Corbyn be Corbyn”, and if today’s supposed re-branding exercise is anything to go by, that apparently translates to “forget whatever you were meant to do and say something incredibly stupid in order to derail the entire media operation”. In a series of morning interviews, he floated the idea of a maximum wage cap. Why? God only knows. According to Labour sources, it was never on the agenda, and Corbyn couldn’t come up with any details when inevitably pressed upon the subject.

Therefore, something that isn’t even official Labour Party policy (although, frankly, nothing these days seems to be) essentially dominated the news agenda, as opposed to the things Corbyn was actually told by his handlers to discuss. By the time of his big speech later in the day, the idea was partially discarded in favour of merely capping excessive pay to government contractors, while previous suggestions that Labour might abandon its stance on freedom of movement were also contradicted. Great message discipline guys. Just fucking brilliant.

Honestly, I’m still a bit baffled thinking about what the whole point of all this was? It was meant to be a re-branding exercise, but Corbyn didn’t change his policy on practically anything. Not on freedom of movement, not on the single market. Meanwhile, media attention was taken away from the current crisis in the NHS, which happened to dominate newspaper headlines this morning. If you haven’t heard by now, people are dying on trollies in British hospitals… In a National Health Service which the Labour Party created, and at a time when Health is one of the only issues with which it still leads in the polls.

Presented with such an opportunity, the Labour leadership should be talking about nothing but health. Every minute of every hour they should be thinking, “Ok, how can we keep screwing the Tories on the NHS”, but no, apparently making contradictory statements on immigration and a moronic maximum wage policy is far more important.

Why My Support For Jeremy Corbyn Has Turned Into Repulsion

News and Politics

At around 11am on the 12th of September, 2015, I was sitting aboard a South West train headed from Basingstoke towards London Waterloo. Stations whizzed past against the backdrop of semi-detached houses and the occasional spot of English countryside, the latter becoming increasingly rarer and the former more frequent as we got closer and closer to the capital. Walton on Thames, Surbiton, Wimbledon… A group of ladies to my right were busy discussing their foregone summer holiday, while I remained glued to my phone, constantly refreshing BBC News. Clapham Junction, Vauxhall… Finally, the headline came: “Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest“. Almost simultaneously, a group of young men near the front of the carriage opened a champagne bottle. The party had started.

At Waterloo, I met my friend Sam. We hugged it out, and then both said something along the lines of “Jez we did”, followed by a brief period of laughter. Safe to say, at that point, both of us were fairly pleased with the result. Later that day I decided to join The Labour Party.

Yesterday morning, on the 24th of September, 2016, Sam and I coincidentally once again found ourselves in London. It was just after 11:45am, and just like 377 days before, I found myself anxiously refreshing the BBC News app on my phone. It was soon a few minutes to twelve. I turned to Sam, “Result should have been announced about ten minutes ago”. Frustrated, I then proceeded to open The Guardian, only to realise that the people at the BBCs digital division haven’t been doing their job… “Corbyn sweeps to victory, increasing mandate“. Sam turned to me:

“Wow, you guys are so fucked”                                                                                                                       “Yeah… I know”

Last year’s enthusiasm had clearly evaporated. The only champagne bottles opened that day were at the Conservative Party Headquarters.

***

There’s a reason I chose to open with that anecdote, because details aside, I’m far from the only Labour member whose personal support for Jeremy Corbyn has made a complete reversal over the past twelve months. For some, it was his totally inadequate performance during the Brexit referendum, while for others it was a gradual realisation that the 67-year-old MP is hardly qualified to be running a street stall, nevermind Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader for the first time, he did so with the support of members old and new. This year, according to a YouGov exit poll, those who joined The Labour Party before May 2015 voted overwhelmingly for his opponent. Buyers remorse has settled in, but while Corbyn’s detractors attempted to win by shrinking the electorate, Labour’s hard left was busy finding itself a new base of customers.

Last year I celebrated Corbyn’s victory with the full knowledge that this was someone firmly to my left. Yet perhaps in a spirit of naivety, he seemed to represent the way I wanted to see politics done in Britain. Like many others, I cringed my way through PMQs as rows of chimpanzees dressed as politicians flung insults and verbal diarrhoea across The House of Commons. Like many others, I felt somewhat optimistic about Corbyn’s line of “Straight Talking, Honest Politics“, looking forward to a time when real-world issues can be discussed in a constructive, civilised manner. Yet over the past twelve months, I’ve come to realise that Corbyn and his allies are anything but straight talking, anything but honest. Unlike some, I haven’t come to oppose Jeremy Corbyn because he calls himself a socialist, but rather because like many Labour members, I still dare call myself a liberal.

Corbyn’s questionable political past wasn’t something I was entirely oblivious to. In fact, part of my support for him stemmed from his prior involvement in the British anti-war movement (wouldn’t it be great if we actually had a Prime Minister who wouldn’t start wars in the Middle East at every given opportunity?). However, while supporters have used his past as evidence of the man’s “integrity”, to say that Corbyn’s record is questionable would actually be a major understatement. When he became leader, I hoped that he would use the opportunity to distance himself from that past, to turn a fresh page, and make amends where necessary. Instead, he stuck to his guns.

When asked repeatedly in a BBC Radio interview to condemn the actions of the IRA, a terrorist organisation that has been responsible, among many other things, for the murder of five British members of parliament, Corbyn instead chose to criticise the British Army. When asked by the LGBT network Pink News to explain the reasoning behind his paid appearances on the Iranian Press TV, a propaganda channel which has been complicit in filming and broadcasting the forced confession of a tortured journalist, not to mention one owned by a state who’s only policy towards gay people is nothing short of murder, Corbyn made no attempt at an apology; instead outright falsely claiming that his time on the programme allowed him to raise human rights issues.

When asked by David Cameron to withdraw his prior remarks calling the Islamist organisation Hamas his “friends”, an organisation whose manifesto openly calls for the murder of Jews, Corbyn did no such thing. When asked to clarify his position on the Falkland Islands, which voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to remain British, Jeremy Corbyn suggested that sovereignty should be shared with Argentina, nevermind that the only things Argentine on those islands are 600 graves and 19,000 land mines.

So Jeremy, what on Earth happened to that great leftist principle of self-determination, or does that only happen to apply to those wanting to break off from Britain, as opposed to the other way around? What happened to standing up for human rights? For freedom and for democracy?

The problem with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn is not their readiness to criticise British policy, but an outright refusal to apply the same principles to her adversaries. An eagerness to cosy up to any regime, no matter how right wing, no matter how oppressive, illiberal or fascistic, as long as they just happen to be anti-West. In 1941, at the height of The Blitz, a fellow socialist called George Orwell wrote an essay during which he criticised a certain part of the left, which he described as being “sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British”. It horrifies me to think that, after decades of trying, precisely this kind of outlook has finally taken over The UK Labour Party.

It is now a well-established fact that Corbyn happens to be about as unelectable as a cardboard cutout of Nevile Chamberlain, however, that only serves to make him incompetent, not malicious. It alone would be enough reason for any pragmatist to vote him out as Labour leader, but to do so while still respecting him as a man of principle and integrity. The problem for me is not that Jeremy Corbyn will never become Prime Minister, but that he can never be allowed to. Party loyalty can only go so far, and a blank refusal to draw any kind of moral red lines shouldn’t be seen as an admirable quality, only a meaningless display of tribalism.

The past twelve months have been an unequivocal display of incompetence, but in what can only be described as a mixture of lies, weakness and sheer stubbornness, Corbyn and his team decided to go a lot further. While attempting to explain taking tens of thousands of pounds from the hands of a fascist dictatorship, his only response was to lie and hope that no one noticed. When asked to rebuke what was, at best, his previously lukewarm attitude towards the IRA, his only response was a pathetic attempt at rewriting history. Peace in Northern Ireland, he claimed, was due to the efforts of himself and his comrades, a lie so brazen I’m amazed few in the media chose to hold him to account.

Peace in Northern Ireland was not achieved because Corbyn and his pals spoke at a bunch of Troops Out rallies and invited the IRA to parliament only weeks after it attempted to assassinate the British Prime Minister. It was not achieved, contrary to what was said by John McDonnel, because the British government was forced to the negotiating table, but because the IRA had lost its armed struggle. If Corbyn truly wanted to support a peaceful and democratic solution, he could have voted for it in parliament. Instead, he voted against. Despite what they may claim, Corbyn’s and McDonnel’s ultimate goal wasn’t peace, it was for the other side to win.

Despite his constant talk of a kinder, gentler politics, he did absolutely nothing to prevent his supporters from heckling and shouting down his leadership opponent. Debate after debate, Corbyn chose to stand idle as his attack dogs made The Labour Party appear a grotesque laughing stock on national television. When those same supporters were faced with accusations of anti-Semitism, Corbyn appointed Shami Chakrabarti to lead an independent inquiry. Her inquiry found that no big problem existed, and then Corbyn promoted Chakrabarti to the exact same House of Lords he supposedly wants to abolish. That’s not honest or straight talking, Jeremy, that’s cronyism.

On Corbyn and Cults

News and Politics

A new line of attack has been developed against the pro-Corbyn side in the Labour leadership election. His supporters, it has recently been argued, are members of a dangerous political cult, while their delusional leader lives within a giant messiah complex. Now while I wouldn’t personally go that far, perhaps some of these allegations do carry a certain degree of truth.

Firstly, let’s get one thing quickly out of the way. I do not think that either Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters are members of a cult. However, one does not necessarily need to be in a cult to exhibit an alarming quantity of cult-like behaviour, something which has become an increasingly obvious characteristic among Corbyn’s most loyal group of supporters. For what it’s worth, I don’t view this as an attack on nor an attempt to undermine the Labour Party’s current leadership. Rather, I hope to encourage some degree of much-needed self-reflection, not only among Labour members but also those of other movements throughout the political spectrum.

In order to provide some structure, and because my personal knowledge of psychology is very limited, we’ll be using a definition given by Dr Arthur Deikman, a former professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Fransisco. According to Deikman, who has written a book about the patterns of cult behaviour in American society, cult behaviour includes, but is certainly not limited to:

  1. Compliance with a group
  2. Dependence on a leader
  3. Devaluing the outsider
  4. Avoiding Dissent

It is largely the latter three that I want to focus on today.

 

Dependence On A Leader 

For obvious reasons, any successful political party leader should exhibit qualities that convince and inspire others to follow them. That might sound religious, and I guess in a way it is, but understandably every movement and political organisation needs a strong leadership figure in order to be effective. The striking difference between the majority of successful party leaders, Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, Tony Blair etc, and Jeremy Corbyn is that while the aforementioned figures have successfully managed to win over the mainstream public, and therefore power, Corbyn is a figure who is cherished and idolised by a small fringe group, in contrast to his spectacular unpopularity with most of the British electorate.

To that group, in our case that being the left-wing of Labour party members, and that of Momentum, Corbyn is a figure practically beyond criticism. A friendly looking, sixty-seven-year-old man with the highly ironic initials J.C, The Labour Leader has, over the course of the past twelve or so months, managed to develop what is essentially a religious following, where any hint of scepticism and dissent is punished with remarkable efficiency (more on that later).

In the eyes of these hardened supporters, The Leader can do no wrong, and a constant flow of spin is developed to justify even his most controversial and inexcusable positions. Sometimes, this torrent of spin flows right into the realms of Orwellian doublethink. The Corbynistas are always the first to dismiss the reliability of opinion polls, since almost all of them question their carefully constructed narrative, however, are also quick to share and overexaggerate any polling that supports their point of view (as limited and rare as such polling is).

Clearly, this kind of behaviour isn’t just limited to Corbyn and the UK. Supporters of Donald Trump exhibit many of the same characteristics: hostility towards the media, total ignorance of opinion polls, embracing of conspiracy theories and a practically religious devotion to their Leader to name a few. Both are also the leaders of political parties who have lost their last two general elections. Both were elected to their role on a strong anti-establishment message against the most fervent advice of most other party officials. Both have shown a clear inability to carry that message into the mainstream, and both are destined to lose, badly.

Devaluing The Outsider

The tendency to create a strong ingroup vs outgroup mentality is a defining characteristic of cult behaviour, and unfortunately, one exhibited by many of Corbyn’s supporters. Politics is often about reaching out, and as obvious as this might sound, any party that actually wants to win power can only do so by convincing the type of people who don’t usually vote for them. That doesn’t, however, seem to be something that Corbyn and his supporters are awfully concerned about. Instead, their incredible sense of paranoia regarding the mainstream media has created an increasingly inward-looking movement. A movement less concerned with reaching out to the centre as opposed to increasing its own membership, not to mention creating an ideological echo chamber.

The latter is, of course, another fundamental building block for any aspiring cultist, and anyone who’s spent even a few minutes scrolling through Corbyn-friendly Facebook groups would immediately recognise the resemblance. Confirmation bias is the air these people breathe and cognitive dissonance is the ground they walk upon. Of the articles being shared, is a constant flow of “Corbyn is great”, “Corbyn can win”, “Everybody Loves Corbyn”. Among the sources, you will find names such as The Morning StarThe Canary and Socialist Worker. The traditional left-wing press, you see, has long become the puppet of corporate interests. Some critical articles are posted of course, but only for the purpose of ridicule. Meanwhile, provided is an endless supply of memes, charts and graphs, always idolising Corbyn and almost always without citation.

A strong ingroup mentality is therefore created, and those belonging to the outgroup constantly find themselves on the receiving end of ad-hominem attacks. Arguments are often evaded, rarely addressed, and usually dismissed out of hand due to the other person being a member of the said outgroup. Articles are rejected as a matter of principle due to the publication hosting them, while a colourful list of adjectives is used to describe those with an opposing point of view: “Blairite, Red Tory, etc”.

The pro-Corbyn organisation Momentum has often found itself on the receiving end of criticism, and often unjustly so. Personally, I think it is utterly ridiculous to suggest that these people are some 21st-century British equivalent of the SA Brownshirts, mainly because I’ve met quite a few of them and most were perfectly fine people. However, there is a real danger of the group becoming the kind of “party within a party” that Militant emerged as back in the 1980s.

Many of its members rarely attend local Labour meetings, choosing to instead go to dedicated Momentum ones, hence helping to create an ideological ingroup within the wider Labour Party. A separate Momentum conference is planned alongside The Labour Party conference in September. In the same city, at the same time, with Jeremy Corbyn attending. There comes a point when one should ask themselves the following question: If The Labour Party doesn’t fit in with my personal political leanings, forcing me to instead attend rival events hosted by a fringe ingroup, then why on Earth did I ever join The Labour Party? And if the answer to that question is, “to support Jeremy Corbyn”, then you really start to sound like someone who doesn’t really support the Labour Party… just Jeremy Corbyn.

Avoiding Dissent

As previously mentioned, any views critical of The Dear Leader, especially those originating from popular figures, is denounced and punished with remarkable efficiency. For a case study, let’s use the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has recently come out in support of Corbyn’s leadership challenger, Owen Smith. As someone who nominated Corbyn for the leadership position last year, Khan has often been used by the former’s supporters as an example of Corbyn’s electability.

Victory in the London Mayoral election, they argue, was largely the result of Corbyn’s efforts, not Khan’s. That, of course, is the opposite of the truth. Labour and Sadiq Khan’s victory in London was achieved in spite of Jeremy Corbyn, and not because of him. Indeed, the Khan campaign was terrified of being associated with The Leader, whose unpopularity with the wider electorate made him a liability as opposed to an asset. At the time of writing, Sadiq Khan has a net positive approval rating of +30 among those living in London, while Corbyn’s is a net negative of -25.

Regardless, facts are secondary to many of Corbyn’s supporters, and once Sadiq Khan wrote an article in The Observer endorsing Owen Smith, a man who was previously the embodiment of Corbyn’s electability became a deceitful turncoat, and a member of the aforementioned outgroup. All of a sudden, he was “a mediocre mayor”, “a cheap bastard” and of course, “a Blairite”. The pro-Corbyn Facebook groups had a field day, demonising and casting Khan away as someone who was never really on their side anyway. As always, the array of cheap and meaningless memes started to fly all over the place… If only memes could win elections.

14051678_1198588396859215_2608159744022858544_n

Seriously, who takes the time to make this stuff?

 

Remarkably, the tactics used by Corbyn supporters to effectively ridicule and demonise other Labour Party figures share some uncomfortable similarities with all the wrong places, most notably cults and Communist dictatorships. The year is 1974, and a young, fabulously talented Russian ballet dancer by the name of Mikhail Baryshnikov is performing on tour in Toronto, Canada. One night, presumably after realising just how great life was on the other side of the iron curtain, Baryshnikov evaded his Soviet minders and requested political asylum.

Once news of the defection broke out, The Soviet Government did everything within its power to transform the once popular and revered dancer into a national hate figure. His citizenship was revoked, stories of foul play were invented and flooded into the media, while Baryshnikov’s previous achievements were rapidly discredited. Just like with Khan after his intervention in the Labour Leadership race, history was re-written and the truth quietly thrown down the memory hole.

It’s the same tactic used by everyone from American cult leaders to Soviet Propagandists to The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. When someone leaves or defects from the ingroup, denounce, attack and discredit them until everything that person ever did was either a lie or a form of malice. Now if your goal is to run an inward-looking movement with alarmingly cultish characteristics or an Orwellian dictatorship… congratulations! However, if your trying to get a political party elected to government, well, you might want to consider a change in attitude.

If what you want is to achieve power through the ballot box, as opposed to a combination of pitchforks, firing squads and or wishful thinking, you simply cannot act as an inward looking echo chamber that is concerned more with ideological purity than it is with winning elections. As a general rule of thumb, each and every one of us should be open to opposing viewpoints and the concept of self-reflection. We have to accept that no one is infallible, and that if we refuse to accept evidence and listen to public opinion, we might not necessarily be a cult, but we won’t really be that far off from one.