Image credit: 95ash95. Note to the overexcited: not real
Jeremy Corbyn will be on the ballot paper by right. Yesterday it briefly seemed like it would be otherwise: with votes for a secret ballot and for Corbyn himself to leave the room during discussions, many speculated that the meeting was against him. As consequential, however, were the decisions made subsequently. With Corbyn and a couple of allies having left the room, a new item which had not been on the agenda was introduced, the now-infamous decision to restrict the vote to those members who have been in the party for six months - a period twice as long as that chosen by the avowed anti-democrats in the Tory Party.
This, and the decision to raise the registered supporter fee to £25, explain why the NEC was willing to grant Corbyn the automatic right to be on the ballot despite the warning signs: very likely some Corbyn opponents felt, quite correctly, that to depose him without a free and fair election would only create more problems for Labour in future. Instead, they have tried to rig the election against him by disenfranchising the 130,000 newly-joined members who are thought to be mostly his supporters, and reducing the number of registered supporters, 84% of whom backed him in the last leadership election.
They have probably calculated correctly that those 130,000 were mostly Corbynites, and the removal of their votes - if allowed to stand - will harm Corbyn's chances. However, every other sign indicates that Corbyn's opponents will lose this contest.
110,000 people became Labour members between August 2015 and January 2016. The vast majority of these will be Corbynites. Corbyn won the votes of almost half of Labour members last September, so he is adding this 110,000 to a solid base, even assuming that some have lost faith in him. Some 13,000 left the party in that period, presumably mostly anti-Corbynites. The Establishment has underestimated the determination of Corbyn's supporters, who have already opened paths to voting rights through the affiliated unions. The new rules will have angered plenty of members - contrary to some MPs' apparent assumptions, Labour members do have independent and intelligent brains - who feel that the central party is doing its level best to overturn their choice by stealth.
More importantly, the NEC's actions prove that the party's Establishment still has not understood the Corbyn phenomenon. Its priority has been to prevent non-long-standing Labour members from voting, because they imagine that it is from these that Corbyn draws all of his support. Most MPs and other major voices in the party evidently believe that Corbyn owes his position to 'entryists', whom many happily label Trots. Mike Gapes seems to tweet about nothing but 'Trotskyite entryism', and in a recent LabourList column, 'superactivist' Luke Akehurst claimed that the registered supporters' section "turned last year's election from a battle for hearts and minds of actual long-serving members into a lop-sided stacking exercise, won by the team with the biggest email lists."
Evidently, he wasn't paying much attention. In fact, Corbyn won a plurality, 44%, of the first preferences of Labour members who joined the party before 2010 - that is, before Ed Miliband's allegedly 'too left-wing' pitch. Including second-preferences, very likely this would have been enough to make him leader without the votes of any other section or of members who joined after 2010. The Left won the 'battle of hearts and minds of actual long-serving members'.
Because they have decided that Corbyn is in place because of 'Trots', most of whom they clearly also believe to be violent thugs, the PLP is blind to the damage it has done to its reputation among the membership. By insinuating that Corbyn's supporters are not truly Labour, to legitimate in their own minds their rebellions against him, the MPs have offended the large part of the membership, including the long-standing membership, that voted for Corbyn and/or believes in his policies. The MPs imagine that they, supported by the 'true' Labour membership, are fighting a war against the 'entryists' who do not belong. In fact they are antagonising Labour's core support, which wanted Corbyn in power, with an ill-conceived coup at exactly the time when Labour should be attacking the Conservatives. They cannot see how angry sections of the membership are.
Having decided that 'true' Labour did not vote for Corbyn, the party Establishment has not seen fit to evaluate the reasons for his support within the party. This is the other reason why they will lose to Corbyn again. The membership voted for Corbyn because while the non-Corbyn candidates kept talking about how the party needed to be electable, they were not convinced that those saying it actually had a plan to get Labour elected. The same is true now. Angela Eagle has yet to substantiate her claim that she is more electable than Corbyn, and a common theme from the Corbynite commentary on her is that she is, if anything, less electable.
Once again, the MPs have failed to comprehend this view, and this has in turn hampered their case. They have spent ten months merrily undermining Corbyn at every turn, ensuring that their claims that Corbyn is unelectable have not been given a fair test: it is very easy for Corbyn supporters to retort that Labour's travails are the result of disloyalty from the PLP, rather than his own image. Their doomladen predictions before the Oldham by-election and subsequent contests, none of which was realised, only served to make Corbyn's electoral record seem more impressive. Now they will once again tell the membership that Labour needs to be electable, and the membership will agree and refuse to vote for candidates, Eagle and Owen Smith, whom they regard as most likely unelectable. As a result, Labour MPs have become convinced that the Corbyn-voting membership is not interested in winning elections, which reinforces their prejudice that they are not truly Labour, and so the cycle begins again.
The Establishment in the Labour Party has become entirely and dangerously detached from its activists. Hopefully, when their more purist notion of the membership returns Corbyn as leader once again, they will accept this as the verdict of the "long-serving members", acknowledge that their impressions and preconceived ideas have been wrong, and begin to unite behind the leadership against the government.
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