what happens when democracy ignores you?

It happened in Blair’s time.  The Iraq War mobilised millions.  Maybe not a majority, not then.  Though you’d be hard put now, after everything that’s emerged, a bit in hindsight, a bit out of a prior obfuscation impossible to sustain forever, to find too many people too keen any more to associate themselves with its supposed blessings.

It then seems that the period between May 2010 and May 2015, here in the UK, became an extended example of this.  (Not in the nature of the conflict, of course: Iraq wasn’t a developed country deliberately imposing from within austerity economics on its own people.  Rather, it had been a pretty evil dictatorship – is there any other? – which an interventionist liberalism felt obliged to engage with.

Or at least, with respect to the Blair side of things, I think that’s how it started out.)

But, over a fairly long five years, Ed Miliband’s Labour always struggled to battle it out with the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition.  I don’t think it was a lack of knowing how to exactly: what to say, what to do, where to set up alliances.  More, I believe, it was because like any vicarly type – and I think Ed Miliband is definitely one such person – his leadership didn’t have the heart to kowtow to the violence the Coalition offered up.  To meet the Coalition on the playing-field they’d designed from the outset.  That of serious conflict.

Meantime, Miliband’s Labour believed in conversation.  It truly was born of social-media tropes.

Corbyn’s Labour won’t be, I can assure you.  They’ve already shown themselves capable of using it to their advantage, that is true.  But social media for them will be a tool to fight, not converse.  And that is what happens when democracy ignores you.  Five years of being ignored bodes an awful future for those – ie Cameron & Co – who did so much of the ignoring.  No wonder the latter are already indirectly painting Labour members and supporters as Fifth Columnists:

It’s a savage game they’re continuing to play – but no more nor less than their precursor, the Coalition, played for those five years we’ve discussed:

Jeremy Corbyn represents “a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security” according to an aggressive attack message the Conservatives released hours after his election as Labour leader.

The image, sent by email to the party’s supporters, selectively highlights some of Corbyn’s comments about Osama Bin Laden’s death, Hezbollah and Hamas, nuclear weapons and tax. Showing a black and white photograph of Corbyn in front of a red background, the warnings are spelled out in capital letters.

And whilst Miliband (E) would’ve decently snuffled his disagreement, and in truth did, Corbyn’s Labour has had five years of referred supporter pain – of disabled deaths, of broken families, of the working-poor, of the mental and physical poverties of unemployment – to back up its desire to fight back rather more aggressively.

Factor in, as well, the successful shutting off of almost everything left-like within Labour under Blair, and the wilderness years for Labour’s left stretch out far behind the last five.

Miliband believed in assertion over aggression, because Miliband had the power of opposition over sixty – ultimately awful – months, as well as the honestly held delusion that government was in the offing.

Corbyn is unlikely to take the same decision or direction, for the reasons – fairly emotional too, though none the less real or comprehensible for that – which I’ve mentioned above, and with which many people will be all too familiar.

So what’s the next step?  After democracy ignored a very vocal, cogent and considerable minority at the time of Iraq, after democracy ignored a probably growing majority during the last five years, and after more people voted against Cameron than for him at the most recent general election, the Tories now in power – and maybe the governing institutions they work with – must surely be a tad worried that they can no longer operate democracy as they used to.

Imagine, in fact, we’ve reached a moment when a threshold of people now ignore what politicians trot out and newspapers dutifully publish.  That’s a whole layer of comms control – expensive comms control at that – which suddenly becomes irrelevant.

Two elements interest me as a result:

  1. people will begin very unpredictably, unleashed as they are, to form opinions of their own – or, at least, opinions they believe to be their own
  2. the newspaper commentators and political number-crunchers will begin to realise their wisdoms lay not so much in understanding voters as in having the luxury, no longer to be present, of being able to define – fairly predictably and regularly – what voters thought

Not seeing into the soul of the body politic in some remarkably prescient way – instead, just being able to control it, and tell it – quite shallowly – what to do.

Imagine, this time however, that the people which democracy ignores – no longer the Iraq marchers nor the dying disabled nor the voters who refused to vote for more of the same – are those who are used to sitting amidst its highest layers.

How would they react?  What would they do?  Would they accept a fate of impotent existence and acquiescence like everyone else has learnt how to?  Would they carry on with their lives, prepared to be ignored for their deepest opinions and beliefs?  Would they allow the national discourse to revert as vigorously as some would have it revert?

Would they meekly try, Miliband-like, to converse as assertively as possible with the enemy?

Or would they choose to aggressively fight back?

I suppose my question here really is: in a democracy like ours, hidebound (perhaps constructively in some respects) by tradition, procedure, history and unwritten ways of doing, what really happens to the privileged few when fewer of the under-privileged continue to listen?

To that, I know no clear answer.  How can I?

But we may be on the point of finding out.

crowdsourcing politics – corbyn playing games or a real game-changer?

This has just popped into my inbox.

Labour's crowdsourcing of PMQs

It’s official stuff from Labour, barely hours after Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election; pretty complex and strategic long-burn stuff too.

I wonder how many people within the Party have been spending precious resource in the full knowledge that Corbyn was going to win.  I also wonder how it’s been enabled, exactly.  How it’s been coordinated.  How they knew before anyone knew.

Stuff I’m not privy to, of course.  Stuff I have no data about.

Anyhow.  Dan Hodges – well-known loyal Labourite that he is – reacts thus:

And then proceeds to tweet this:

It seems to me he has a point in both tweets, but at the same time completely – surprisingly – misses the point as well.

The point being?  Corbyn beat the Blairites hands-down on precisely the ground they had once made their own:

You never beat a governing party before you beat your own.  That’s the way of politics.  Alastair Campbell, more than anybody surely, should be fully aware of this fact.

That in the midst of their sense of foggy impotence, perhaps rightly felt too (only time will tell), Hodges, Campbell, Rob Marchant & Co should – in a sense – be blaming the voters for treading where only political fools have ever gone is the most surprising thing about this astonishing election process.

For Corbyn didn’t win because the voters allowed themselves to be duped.  Corbyn and his team won – will continue to win, if they continue to do so – by the same process and journey Blair et al went through as they won all the times that Campbell properly reminds us of:

  1. within their Party, gaining the foothold on power;
  2. still to be seen of course, negotiating high internal expectations with growing and complicated realities;
  3. one day going to the country, and battling the ranged forces of media hostility, own goals to be committed (as we all end up doing), and the long ragged wearinesses of any general election;
  4. showing themselves actually capable of delivering what they eventually choose to widely promise.

Whilst the Blairites (if it is at all fair to reduce them to what now feels such a disrespectful and limiting noun) are hating the size of the victory, and find grace in defeat so challenging, at least today, at least for now, they may nevertheless have a longer-term point in their autumnal discontent.  But whilst they continue not to recognise that Corbyn has beaten them on the patch they never expected to lose over – audience understanding and connection, the machine of their politics, technical efficiency and a sheer overall competence – they will never be in a position to be able to accurately predict whether Corbyn’s Labour will win or not.

And in their lack of humility and objectivity one might also wonder if they would now prefer that such a Labour lost the next general election than won, hands-down, the eternal duel fought across the writhing bodies of us haplessly confused voters.

Not because Corbyn’s policies were better either – rather, simply because his political nous, the machinery I mention above, was ultimately able to out-New Labour everything the Blairites had once laboured for so brilliantly.

Isn’t it, then, possible and fair to suggest, Dan & Fam, that Corbyn won not because the voters were dumb, empty-headed or simplistic but, far more likely, because – in quite neutral terms – his campaign was by far the most politically effective and intelligent since the Blairites themselves showed us how it should be done?

And to be honest, if that’s the case, whilst crowdsourcing the very short and silly game that is Prime Minister’s Questions to half a million of your voters is hardly a sincere and truthfully useful game-changer (how on earth will anyone expect for their point of view ever to get through to Parliament itself?), as a way of a) ingratiating yourself with your recent voters (the very day he’s voted in, Corbyn’s already connecting directly) at the same time as b) putting the PM on the back foot (any stupid jokes Cameron makes as his wont will now generate headlines about his lack of respect for painful questions asked on behalf of pain-ridden people), it all goes to clearly demonstrate that Corbyn’s Labour will be anything but naive lead-weighted monolithic leftishnesses.

What Dan & Fam really fear, I think, though I don’t know if they’ve realised it consciously yet, is that Corbyn’s team have read Machiavelli (or is that Mandelson?) from cover to cover – to cover to cover to cover.

In this sense, Dan doesn’t really fear that Labour will lose against Cameron.

Dan really fears Labour’s on the road to beating him.

why we need jc to want bc more than tb did #labourleadership

Jeremy Corbyn has won the Labour leadership election.  That we know.

Labour leadership election results

Tom Watson, who I’d’ve preferred as leader, but who stood for deputy, has won the latter election.  In the end, I wavered between him, my original first choice, and Stella Creasy, who ended up first on my ballot paper with Tom second.

Both Stella and Tom were – and are – extremely capable, what’s more moral but not moralising, politicians.  I’ve been searching for quite a while for candidates and representatives who can take the moral high ground without their declarations sticking in my craw.  They fit the bill in this respect.  I hope Tom will see his way – hierarchically, I mean – to taking onboard the manifest strengths of Stella’s “judge me by what I do” political activism.

Actually, he, himself, over the past few years (re the Murdochs, phone-hacking, VIP paedophilia etc), is – clearly I feel – an active, a proactive, citizen made in a similarly admirable mould to Stella.

Two to continue watching for a long time to come – to continue watching but, more importantly, to continue drawing example from.

Some thoughts, then, on Jeremy Corbyn, about whom I have reservations.

I retweeted this earlier in the day from Paul Mason:

I sincerely wonder whether the left, trampled on for so long by the mix and match-ism of Blair’s Third Way, is capable of being coherent with its obviously sincere long-held tenets and – at the same time – sufficiently creative for a 21st century which demands of us creativity above all to face its many dreadful challenges.

The problem with creativity is that it continually asks you to surprise yourself.  It is not easily pursued by those who demand consistency and resilience in politicking.  How, then, can the left now in ascendancy disentangle properly the desire to be creative from the danger and risk of being perceived as exhibiting disloyalty to a heritage of (truly, frankly, clearly honestly) sustained allegiances to multiple concepts such as community, decency, humanity, kindness etc?

How can you be clever, quick-footed, quick of concept and politically witty without ignoring that which underpins attention to long-running details and commitments?

Will the terms “values”, “missions” and “strategies versus tactics” return to the fold of acceptable Labour-talk I wonder?

Can Labour win the next general election under JC without employing the verbal and conceptual paraphernalia and fireworks of TB’s New Labour?


I don’t mean the policies, which – in any case – TB et al sometimes seemed to end up inventing, as is the ultimate wont of the powerful, on the back of sofa-located envelopes and notepads.

And whether these sofas are champagned or couch-potatoed really makes no odds.  The issue is, rather, whether JC is to abandon any pretence that Labour is to remain a BC – no, not as in “Before Corbyn” but as per all those good intentions to being a “Broad Church” – or, on the other hand, if he is to use his moral charisma (should we call it that?) to make the Party fairly uniquely in his own image, in much the same way as TB once used – all those years ago now – his own very social charisma to do much the same.

For TB saw “inclusion” as meaning making everyone so excited about Labour’s potential to generate change that the absolute trust gained might give absolute freedoms for the very clever and generously far-sighted.  (When in truth, it corrupted – eventually – just about as absolutely.)

It’s here I wonder if, deep down, JC is of similar attitudes and assumptions – perhaps quite despite himself.

It’s why I wanted Tom Watson to be leader, to be honest.  I wanted someone who’s in politics to do stuff with stuff that understands ideology as a tool to be learned, played with and fashioned, not a coherence of a straitjacket to be imposed for the wider good, and limitlessly justified with a medicinal fervour only the neo-liberals themselves would care to count themselves as proud of.

I hope JC wishes to do the former; that his instincts in this still hugely hierarchical body politic that is the United Kingdom will lead him to do what I am convinced Tom, given the chance, would have both intuitively and consciously striven to achieve.

But I’m afraid I fear that the suffering, both physical and intellectual, which the years since both TB’s Iraq and David Cameron/Nick Clegg’s awful awful Coalition have engendered in so many of our working-poor, unemployed, disabled, elderly, youthful and youthful in spirit will make it all too easy for the all-too-easy route of politics by numbers to become par for the course.

I don’t think JC will want Labour to remain that Broad Church I mention – probably because (hardly surprisingly) he will judge that, in truth, in reality, in practice, it generally never has been one.  More a Church of the Resignedly Tolerant than a Broad Church maybe?

When Blair took over Labour, he did so with our blessing: a saviour, himself, of the cruellest moments of Thatcherism.

Saviours are dangerous things, though.

Messy things.

The trust they demand creates expectations which can never, finally, be fulfilled.

The only real solid goal they can ever have is to keep the ball rolling for long enough for some decent good to come of the juggernaut set in motion.

But in the end such rocks, such movements, meet their hard places.  Let’s hope Mr Corbyn knows better how to negotiate Labour and the country’s needs than I expect him to.

I don’t ever like being in the smug position of an “I told you so …”.

It’s not creative in the least.

And I’m, first and foremost, above all, more than anything else, in love with the creative.  Not just in politics, of course.  But not least in politics.

It is – don’t you think? – where creativity could absolutely do the most good of all.  No?