When a junior shadow minister resigned on Monday (mainly for family reasons), much was made of her claim that Labour are following a 'negative path.' Everyone agrees it was obvious from day one what Jeremy Corbyn stands for. So why suddenly become concerned about the 'path' he's taking now in a series of revenge resignations designed to maximise damage?
When Westminster-bubble politicians say Corbyn is unelectable, what they mean is that they intend to make him unelectable -often in an unprincipled way. Take the claim that Pat McFadden, shadow Europe minister, was sacked because he said terrorists were responsible for their actions. This is both absurd and untrue - McFadden visibly failed to integrate into his Europe portfolio a tough defence of workers' rights.
The left, with years out of power, is a little rusty at spin. But delays aside, the reshuffle shows Corbyn learning on the job. He has a duty to the 60% that voted for him to deliver on his promises - and that means assembling a team more focussed on attacking the Tories than their leader. He has delivered that duty diplomatically - the vice-chair of Blairite faction Progress, a Labour Friends of Israel supporter and a former armed forces lawyer are now in the shadow cabinet to assuage any fears that Corbyn might fill his inner circle with people who share all his ideas. His new politics remains untarnished.
I wrote about the reshuffle here, and my main point was the importance of clarity. Blair took a landslide majority in 1997 and had sunk it to winning on fewer votes than Labour used to lose on by 2005. Both Blair and Miliband's projects were ultimately compromised by pursuing short-term popularity over long term change - Labour tried and failed to be everything to everyone. That meant confusion - Miliband marched against austerity, was buffeted by pressure groups and meanwhile a year ago Labour's press office aggressively asserted their support for cuts. In 2011, Labour overtook the Tories in the polls. That remained mostly unchanged until 2015 - and Labour lost regardless. Those cringing at some poor polling (in spite of an upward trend, a by-election win and a 10-point lead in London) should remember that polls rarely paint a full picture.
Corbyn has taken a more difficult road (earning the respect of Miliband in the process.) Carried to power by a broad mass of supporters - disaffected working-class former Labour voters, people struggling under cuts, social media-savvy students and young workers, and even middle-class professionals - he has set out to transform. He's in it for the soul of his party and the future of our country.
His project is both noble and necessary. While modern poverty is widespread, those reliant on foodbanks, unable to find jobs and blocked from accessing welfare are often invisible. The 1980s slammed down barriers between classes, partly by selling off social housing which has led to lower homeownership, social segregation, higher prices and more rogue landlords. Alongside the Tory stranglehold on development (restricted for the rich in deprived areas, none at all in Tory strongholds) the social housing sale has created a crippling housing crisis - in turn fuelling poverty, which has hit minorities the hardest.
While we're told that junior doctors, nurses and teachers are a drain on the public purse, we pour billions in taxes and bills into keeping afloat overseas private companies running transport, infrastructure and energy. Even Tory councillors say vital services are being cut beyond the limit - and all for paltry deficit reduction figures. Education is harder to access and schools sold off to crooked academy chains. Trade union rights are slashed and access to justice blocked. We are steaming ever further towards an economy of insecure jobs and poverty pay.
Blairites complaining about Corbyn have few ideas of their own. Their response to these challenges seems to consist of a sticking plaster over the Tories' worst injustices and calling that 'electability.' Corbyn's call for a participatory politics could not be more timely; in an age where most of us feel excluded the opportunity to play more of a role in decision-making in our political institutions, councils, workplaces and places of study is vital. (Labour's right don't even want Labour members to have a serious role in decision-making.) McDonnell's call for an entrepreneurial state that embraces the sharing economy, education, skills and new technology, and investing in prosperity, could also not be timelier.
A kinder society and stronger economy is not going to come overnight, but is well worth the work. With a difficult week behind us and the worst cynics out of the shadow cabinet, perhaps we can have a Labour party that brings back pavement politics and mass participation rather than telling us that politics is just for the professionals (the undertone to most sniping about 'Corbynite mobs.') We can build a Labour party that tells us national pride does not lie in engraving 'controls on immigration' in stone or mugs or spending billions on bombs, but in working together to build a more compassionate future. We can put public services in the hands of those who use them. After years of Tory mismanagement, we can say to voters: it's not about spending more, it's about spending better.
'I hope you've got what you wanted', an article on this website thunders at Corbyn supporters. We have. We had a leadership election that inspired hundreds of thousands, a leader that has opposed the government effectively, and the chance to do politics differently. Those who want to squabble over minor reshuffles can do so. The rest of us will be busy working to win hearts, minds and elections.Suggest a correction