I haven’t said or written too much lately.
1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath
Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.
I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.
I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.
As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.
The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.
For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.
As I see it.
My fingers have been hovering over the keyboard for nearly a week about this post because I don’t quite know what to make of it all. Last night I remembered the Isaac Asimov quote – that writing was thinking through his fingers – so here goes. Not quite sure what will come out…
- Moving left is not going backwards. It’s moving left.
- Moving left does not mean that the centre is completely abandoned
- Actually, all this moving anywhere stuff is completely bogus (backwards, left and centre) because no-one is moving anywhere. It’s like a heated argument over a map between a party of broke ass backpackers before they leave the hostel after a heavy night. Direction is meaningless unless you put one foot in front of another first.
- Jeremy Corbyn is probably appealing to people because he is moving, at least somewhere. The rest of the candidates are literally stuck, squabbling over the map, too scared to raise their arms in public lest they be counted. Hardly leadership behaviour.
- John Prescott is right; the conversation needs to turn to policies. The problem is that some of the candidates don’t seem to have any that they can articulate without sounding like they want to get into the tent with the Tories.
- Some party grandees and intelligentsia have it wrong. Young people want change – this does not make them naive and misinformed. Young people are fighting for a future and socialist values speak to that. This does not mean they are ‘dragging the party back to the 1980s’. If they pay their dues, they have an equal chance to shape the future of the Labour Party, whether the Roy Hattersleys of this world like it or not.
- The Labour Party has a long history and some members rightly fear that history will repeat itself in terms of electability. I would say you can’t tailor your message to appeal to what you think the electorate want or need because that’s a shifting sand place to stand. That’s counter-intuitive, I know. The Tories succeed because they have set an agenda that fits their values and ideology and whether we agree with it or not, the message continues to ring out across the right wing media, assured and clear. It is a message to organise around for most Conservative MPs.
- The Labour Party should stop worrying about getting right, and start focusing on articulating its message. That’s why Jeremy Corbyn is apparently doing better than other candidates. We know where he stands. This makes us feel safe. The other candidates might know that life’s not like that, that everything is more complex and nuanced than Jeremy makes it sound, but people want to feel that they are in safe pair of hands.
- The English electorate, particularly, are at heart conservative with a small c. To appeal in those heartlands the Labour Party needs to have a clear message that makes them feel safe. The Parliamentary Party might be up front behind the wheel, lost in the wilderness enough to beggar belief, but the kids in the back don’t need to know that. Occupy them with I Spy until we reach the destination, otherwise they will pick up on your fears and become unruly and intractable.
- And finally, despite his own beliefs that he was manifested somewhere in heaven, before being sent to earth to save us with his New Labour project, Tony Blair came on the back of Michael Foot, the ‘unelectable’ Neil Kinnock and the radical heft of John Smith. The party he took to power, was shaped by previous incumbents. That’s how things work on the arrow of time continuum. You can never go back.
Come on Labour Party. Stop playing this out in public. Stop making idiots of yourselves on air and in the House trying to be smart and clever and (some of you) downright rude to Mr Corbyn. Put up or shut up until September. The fact is not one of you will be leading us into the next election – whoever is elected you will be in the caretaker seat for now – and that’s the only outcome I would be inclined to back at the moment.
I had a particular interest in these live updates last night and it was a lot more coherent than reading Twitter.
Additionally, it is worth noting the mass media were not reporting the disturbances in real-time, if at all. The Met released a press release in the middle of the night saying there wasn’t a media blackout, but you really have to wonder what’s going on between the press and the police and social networks.
The West Londoner has done a fantastic job sifting through the wild rumours and facts and keeping people up-to-date. The Guardian live news blog also earns a special mention.
This morning? *head in hands*