Sunday, 21 August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn -neither demon nor Messiah, but this is why I won't be voting for him this time
even though he’ll win


A year ago I enthusiastically cast my vote for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. See my earlier piece explaining my reasons at http://jeremysblog67.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/jeremy-corbyn-labours-new-leader-demon.html As a Christian I considered Jeremy best supported Jesus's Kingdom of God values realised in political principles and policy for the here and now; building a fairer, more equal and peace-seeking society, which prioritises helping the poor and vulnerable (politically realising the call of Matthew 25 v 31-46). It also seemed (and still seems) to me that despite his own personal lack of faith there is something inherently Christian about Jeremy's character and behaviour; his honesty and humility. I admired that and I still do. However, the questions lingered; could a man of 66 with an entire political career as a rebel really make the massive leap to become party leader; to unite and lead a divided party and win back a sceptical electorate? A year later and I believe the answer to those questions is crystal clear. No (sadly).

Jeremy’s character

“Now a leader must be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”  1 Timothy 3 v 2/3

I still believe Jeremy Corbyn amply satisfies biblical criteria of personal character that should be looked for in a leader, despite his lack of Christian faith. Whatever else may be said of Jeremy, I believe he has continued to show he is a man of good heart and character. He has continued to prove himself as a politician of unusual integrity and honesty, without a whiff of being motivated by selfish financial motives. He has also continued to demonstrate humility in his life style and service of others and has stood up for the people and causes he believes in. In the way he speaks to and of others he has always treated them with respect and courtesy in the face of often quite serious provocation. If being leader of the Labour party was all about good heart and character then there can be few if any Labour MPs (including Christians) that can compete with him. He still is and is seen to be that rarest of politicians; a good honest decent man.


A leader's gifting
  
" We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently..."
Romans 12:6-8

Just because a person has a good heart and an upstanding character and reputation does not of course qualify them to be a leader any more than a good heart and character on its own can make you a good mechanic or a good doctor. God certainly did raise up some unlikely people to be leaders (eg Gideon from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe and David as a mere lad and youngest of Jesse's boys). However, the bible also makes clear that God gives different gifts to different people and this is a matter of grace- things that we are given rather than things we simply strive for. Whilst through effort or lack of it you can become a better or worse leader there are some basic skills involved that you just do or don't have. And when it comes to leadership of a political party you are talking about a very particular set of skills different to many other forms of leadership.


Has Jeremy shown he has the gifts needed to lead the Labour party?


Party members

One gift you would want in the leader of a party is an ability to inspire and motivate supporters. Jeremy has proven he has that ability in spades. Rallies to support his leadership continue to be packed out and thousands who had felt completely disengaged with politics have been inspired by him and joined the swelling ranks of his own 130,000 strong movement, Momentum, (almost as large as the entire Conservative party membership on its own!). Mostly thanks to Jeremy, Labour membership has boomed from about 200,000 at the last election to over half a million today. And whilst we wait to see the leadership result next month, few expect anything but a convincing Jeremy Corbyn victory, with already over 80% of constituency parties pledging their support to him. Therefore clearly Jeremy must be doing something right as party leader.

 The parliamentary party

Unfortunately, what Jeremy has completely failed to do is unite and lead Labour's parliamentary party.  Labour was founded not as a protest movement but as a parliamentary party, seeking to be elected to power in order to change things for the better. That is why being an effective parliamentary leader is an essential part of the Labour leader's job description. Jeremy’s failure to do this has culminated in 80% of his MPs voting that they have no confidence in him and the resignation of most of his shadow cabinet, triggering the current leadership election. His supporters will protest that this is the MPs' fault and not his and that this was all part of a Blairite conspiracy that had always been planned against him. However, this is to ignore the actual evidence of who has rebelled against him and why. Labour MPs are a pretty eclectic bunch with some quite different political views. There had certainly been a number who had plotted against him from the start and various others who refused to serve in his cabinet. However, there were plenty of others, particularly on the left side of the party, who may not have voted for him, but had quite warmly embraced his new politics and for nine months had loyally served in his shadow cabinet. These include e.g. Louise Haig (who did vote for him), Lisa Nandy, John Healy, Nia Griffiths, Heidi Alexander and yes Owen Smith. So why did MPs like those rebel?


Neither a team leader nor a team player

One of the main reasons they cite is Jeremy’s failure to work with his colleagues- not only his failure to be a team leader but his failure even to be a team player. It is worth reading the testimonies of some of his former colleagues like ex-shadow ministers Lillian Greenwood, Heidi Alexander and Thangham Debonaire and leader of Labour's EU campaign Alan Johnson. See e.g.;
They all testify to Jeremy's failure to consult with them on the issues within their brief and make policy statements directly undermining their positions. In Thangham’s case he even failed to consult her before appointing and dismissing her from a shadow cabinet post, all whilst she was undergoing cancer treatment. The culmination of this was Jeremy’s EU referendum campaign. Though Jeremy spoke at many events, he often refused to join in the events organised by the party’s remain campaign and frequently ignored their advice on a co-ordinated message which he often undermined, giving his own very mixed message about the EU. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that he left many of the public ignorant of where the Labour leadership stood on the referendum. In his own small way many of us feel Jeremy thereby contributed to the disastrous Brexit vote. He then followed this up the morning after that vote with his crass pronouncement that we should immediately trigger article 50 and the likely severe adverse economic consequences that would have involved. Once again he made that major policy announcement without consulting any of the relevant members of his shadow cabinet (except perhaps one) . It was this that lit the touch paper of the rebellion against him.

Failure to chair shadow cabinet meetings

Many of his colleagues have also testified how Jeremy has failed to chair cabinet meetings in any effective way and in particular, despite his new politics, he has failed to lead any meaningful policy discussions within cabinet. He has frequently deferred to John McDonnell and at times has even read from pre-prepared scripts. See e.g.;



Failure to deal with intolerance and extremism

 There has been the worrying trend among a small minority of members of ideological and even racial or sexual intolerance, which had not been evident in the party for many years. There has even been the start of Troskyite infiltration into the party not seen since the 1980s, clear evidence of which was supplied by the Deputy leader Tom Watson and which Jeremy just brushed away. See;
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/aug/10/labour-deputy-leader-tom-watsons-letter-to-jeremy-corbyn Whilst much of this is anathema to Jeremy, it is questionable how quickly and effectively he has acted to stamp these things out as the party leader.

Failure to lead an effective opposition

 There has also been the growing recognition of Jeremy’s failure to really take the Tories to task; his failure to shoot at open goals like Ian Duncan Smith's resignation and his often lacklustre performance at PMQs. Whilst his use of questions from members of the public is refreshing, he has stuck rigidly to a straight-jacketed formula of six questions on six different issues. This has often meant letting the  Prime Minister off the hook, as the Prime Minister has been able to swat Jeremy's point like an annoying fly and Jeremy then moves onto his next point.


 An inevitable loss of confidence from witnessing Jeremy's inability to lead

I believe that the overall reason why Jeremy has lost so much confidence of his parliamentary colleagues is that they see for themselves day to day how badly he is failing to do his job as parliamentary leader. This is something which the members often just don't get to see. Members might complain that MPs are being undemocratic in failing to support the party's elected leader. But this fails to recognise two things. First, that collectively the MPs have an even bigger democratic mandate than their leader, having been elected by 9 million voters. Second, that the MPs are effectively the parliamentary workers who have to work with and under Jeremy as their boss. Most have found him to be both ineffective, unsupportive and extremely difficult to work with, many feeling that he has disrespected and undermined their work. If members re-elect Jeremy they are acting a bit like company directors who ignore their workers walking out, because their boss is failing to do his job and undermining their work and the company' business. (Sensible party rules would prevent this by requiring a leader to have at least a bare minimum of support from his MPs as well as the members).

 I cannot escape the conclusion that the reason why Jeremy has performed so badly as Labour’s parliamentary leader and lost the confidence of most of his colleagues is linked to his previous 30 years as a protest politician. He is inured to just speaking and acting entirely according to his conscience, regardless of what anyone else thinks. It is a very good thing for our democracy to have such backbench MPs. But the problem is Jeremy has just continued in the same fashion since he has become leader; doing and saying what he wants without feeling he has to consult others (save his political Siamese twin John McDonnell). To behave that way as a leader inevitably sows the seeds of discord and rebellion that he is now reaping. I guess that at his age these characteristics are just too dyed in the wool for him to change. (“For lack of guidance a people falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 11 v 14)

Convincing the wider electorate

The essential job of leader of the Labour party in opposition is to be a potential Prime Minister, convincing the wider electorate that he has what it takes to be a better Prime Minister and lead a better government than the present ones. So how is Jeremy doing on that score? Very badly (sadly). Opinion polls have consistently shown that among the wider public his average approval ratings are the worst of any recent opposition leader and, save for the odd blip, throughout his leadership Labour have remained firmly behind the Tories in all national polls (which they were not under Ed Milliband). A very fair and objective analysis of Jeremy and Labour’s polling in recent opinion polls and local elections is set out at http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ in the piece “How badly is Jeremy Corbyn doing?” Answer; pretty badly and the underlying trends are even worse. No opposition leader with such low approval ratings only one year after their election has ever become PM. He and Labour are clearly heading for serious failure at the next general election. This, I believe, is the other major reason for the MPs’ rebellion. They can see for themselves that Jeremy is simply failing to convince the voters Labour must reach to win a general election. Many of those rebelling MPs have long experience of politics and elections and therefore have a better idea than most about what it takes to win elections. (It is view shared also by the overwhelming majority of Labour councillors too who have overwhelmingly backed Owen rather than Jeremy).That view is only reinforced by the polls.


Why has Jeremy gone down so badly among the wider electorate?

So why has Jeremy gone down so badly in the wider country, and long before the recent rebellion? Certainly a hostile right wing media do not help. However, I believe what has harmed him and Labour most of all has been part of what has most endeared him to his own followers: his refusal to fit into the media’s mould of what a leading politician should say and act. Instead he openly and honestly speaks his mind regardless of what others may think. This is not helped by the fact that some of what he does think is rather to the left of where most of the public are; especially on issues like defence and security. There is no way of hiding his (unpopular) stance on unilateral nuclear disarmament (which I happen to share), but these are areas where he needs to be careful to measure his words before he speaks or he risks isolating most of the electorate. Unfortunately a career spent as a political rebel and protester have taught Jeremy to do the very opposite. From the very early days of his leadership therefore Jeremy has ended up committing a whole series of gaffes and blunders which have eroded away most of the trust the public might have had in him. This includes his failure to sing the national anthem at a Remembrance  Day service, suggesting we negotiate the sovereignty of the Falklands with Argentina and bring back flying strike pickets and his comment in the aftermath of the Paris bombings that police should not shoot to kill terrorists . Most recently this has included his calling to trigger immediately article 50 to leave the EU the day after the referendum and only last week his proposed tearing up of UK’s membership of NATO by ruling out defending a NATO ally under attack.

Does being a political loner spill over into his politics?

“One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.” (Proverbs 18 v 1)

The key policy differences between Jeremy and his current leadership rival Owen Smith (and most Labour MPs) concern international affairs. Seeking peace is a key Christian concept which we would want our government to fully embrace. Jeremy’s own cautious pacifism has been proved right on many occasions, not least in the illegal invasion of Iraq ( a position Owen shared). However, a key part of building and maintaining peace and prosperity is working together with other nations, something built into the internationalist DNA of the Labour party, but not it seems into Jeremy’s own DNA.

 To me there are three bedrocks on which has been built the longest period of peace and relative prosperity we have known in Western Europe for millennia; the EU, NATO and a nuclear deterrent. On the EU I believe the 52% vote in favour of Brexit was a disastrous mistake and like Owen Smith therefore I would want the British people to be given second chance to review their decision when we know what Brexit actually looks like, rather than the mythical Brexit I believe we were missold in the referendum. Jeremy has opposed our membership of the EU for most of his political career and offered the EU only pretty lukewarm support in the referendum. Immediately after the vote he couldn’t leave the EU soon enough, calling for the immediate triggering of article 50. He has since completely ruled out any idea of a second referendum regardless of the terms of Brexit.
Jeremy has also just effectively confirmed what he has said in the past; that he wants us to leave NATO, the international organisation that has helped guard our peace and security for 70 years. This is the only logical interpretation of his statement that he would not come to the military assistance of a NATO ally that was attacked, this being the fundamental basis of the NATO treaty. See Simon Jenkin’s recent Guardian article:https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/19/jeremy-corbyn-dismissal-nato-trident.
 On nuclear disarmament I happen to agree with Jeremy about Trident. However, I do believe (sadly) there is still benefit in having the shield of a nuclear deterrent. Without our own independent nuclear deterrent we would still be shielded by NATO’s nuclear deterrent. But if we were to leave NATO and also abandon our own nuclear deterrent, as Jeremy advocates, this would  leave us without any nuclear deterrent at all. In a world as hostile and dangerous as it ever was that’s not a risk I would want to take.

But is the alternative any better?

The truth is we can’t be sure about that until a new leader replaces him and is given his or her own chance. The only choice on offer at the moment is Owen Smith. Personally I had wanted to see Lisa Nandy stand and I still believe she has the potential to be Labour’s first female leader and Prime Minister. So what should we make of Owen?Jeremy’s supporters certainly don’t trust him. They think he looks and smells like a “Blairite” and so must be one underneath his socialist clothing. Just like Jeremy he has suffered some pretty nasty personal smears, suggesting that he does not have the sort of characteristics one would look for in a leader. However, I have looked into these and I have found they are almost entirely unfounded. Like Jeremy Owen professes no Christian faith, but I have found no evidence of anything in his character or lifestyle to make him unfit to be a leader. Owen has only been a MP for 6 years, but the policies he is putting forward seem to me clearly true to the sort of democratic socialist agenda which I see as the political realisation of Jesus's Kingdom values. In fact, in most respects his policies are extremely similar to Jeremy’s, for which Jeremy’s supporters have much criticised him. But would they like Owen any better if he were advocating more right wing “Blairite” policies!? In fact he has not simply been a “copycat”- many of his policies were new whilst being consistent with Jeremy's own. See e.g.;http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/owen-smith-makes-20-pledges-8502852).
Owen is certainly not perfect. However, the key point for me is that he seems to have much more of the abilities needed in a party leader; an ability to work with and get support from rather more than one other politician, a better orator and communicator than Jeremy and much better at handling the mass media. Rather than being a bland technocrat, as some have suggested, he is a real Welsh dragon of a politician in the tradition of his hero Nye Bevan; a political fighter who will speak out strongly and clearly against his opponents. (If anything at times perhaps too strongly?) Overall he seems to me to have much more potential to attract the support of both colleagues and the wider public that Labour must reach to be re-elected. This is clearly borne out by comparative opinion polling of the two men.

But why Owen (almost certainly) won’t defeat Jeremy

Sadly, all the signs are that the one electorate Owen will not win over is the Labour members. One of the reasons for this I believe is that save for the three international issues mentioned you could hardly get a razor blade between their policies. He is basically signed up to the same domestic socialist agenda as Jeremy. His main point is that Jeremy is a rubbish leader who will never have a chance to put those policies into action, whereas he would be a better leader with a real chance of winning.  Inevitably therefore it comes across to many that Owen is egotistical, arrogant and just out to advance his own career. This is unfair because all the evidence suggests Jeremy simply lacks the basic skills needed to lead the  parliamentary party or convince the wider electorate. You would not need to be an exceptionally gifted party leader to be better than Jeremy.

Then there is the prevalent political climate of rejecting the establishment and ignoring so called "experts". We saw this very recently in the EU referendum where a 52% majority ignored the overwhelming evidence and advice of the “experts” and most "established" politicians and voted to leave. One major reason why they did so was to kick back against the establishment's vested interests who they feel have given them a very raw deal, which indeed they have. (And in doing so I believe made a very unwise decision which will likely leave them with an even rawer deal!). This kicking back against the establishment I believe is paralleled in the Labour membership. (Indeed it was reading another Owen's seminal book, "The Establishment" ,which prompted me to vote for Jeremy last time). Most of Jeremy's supporters seem to regard him as their white knight, a Messiah rebel against the establishment who can save them from the tyranny of the establishment and offer them a better deal. They therefore see the MPs who rebelled against Jeremy, and especially the man seeking to usurp him as leader, as part of the dark forces of the political establishment fighting against their white knight and therefore against them. They are therefore galvanised to come to the rescue of the only man they believe can in turn rescue them.

 This faith in Jeremy strikes me as both idolatrous and na├»ve. It is putting a human being on a pedestal that should only be reserved for God. There is only one man who can and will save us all and bring about a truly just world but it’s not Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Smith or any other UK politician. Its Jesus Christ. (See Isaiah 9 v 6-7.) Too many Labour members in their minds they have made Jeremy into a mythical Messiah figure that he can never be. And I fear the truth may only dawn on them when Jeremy leads Labour to an inevitable crushing defeat at the next election. 


Don't get me wrong.The Labour party needed Jeremy to challenge them and bring them back to their founding socialist principles, but he simply does not have the skills to take them to the place where they can put those principles into action; in government. Jeremy was a good car mechanic who got the car back on the road and even a good navigator to guide the car back in the right direction, but he's a terrible driver who will only end up crashing the car into a ditch.



So what will happen after Jeremy is re-elected leader?

“If a house is divided against itself that house cannot stand” Mark 3 v 25

One thing I am quite certain won’t happen is that Jeremy won’t be elected Prime Minister. His popularity with Labour members is in  inverse proportion to his unpopularity among the parliamentary party and, more importantly, to the wider electorate. And I can’t see that changing. Despite talks of a split leading to a new party there is little appetite for this among MPs (in the absence of mass deselections - unlikely). Most likely the party will just stumble on with Jeremy as “leader”. A few of his colleagues will fall into line. Most will not and will bide their time for another opportunity to challenge him.

Hopefully that will happen before the next general election. If (as expected) the party’s polling continues to be bad and this is translated into obvious failure in local elections in 2017 or 2018, I can see Jeremy’s current trade union backers turning on him. Their influence could lead him to resign and identify a younger successor to take his mission forward. Possibly this could be Clive Lewis, the current Shadow Defence Secretary.

Alternatively, (and more likely) Jeremy will obstinately sit tight, appealing again to his “mandate from the members.” Either way there would be another contested leadership election. I suspect the fiery Owen Smith will not stand again, as he will have made his name too poisonous amongst the members who had supported Jeremy. I would hope that Lisa Nandy would then stand and if so I suspect she could well win. Whilst supporting Owen’s current bid, she has carefully kept a low profile and though resigning from the shadow cabinet alongside Owen she did not join in the vote of no confidence, (consciously or not, doing a "Theresa May)". Lisa comes across to me as eminently sensible and with a likeable “common touch". She is a good clear communicator, but weighs her words more carefully than Owen. She is very much signed up to the same democratic socialist agenda. I think there would be an irresistible appeal of a young mixed race woman to challenge another female Tory leader and become Labour’s first permanent female leader and Prime Minister. What I am still unsure about is whether she wants to stand.

The doomsday scenario would be that despite losing badly at the next election Jeremy still grimly hangs on and the majority of members very loyally but very unwisely stand by him. In that event I envisage most of the unions would withdraw their support and the party would inevitably split. What it would be replaced with is impossible to predict. Let us just pray it doesn't come to that because then we are likely to find we will have been locked into a viciously unjust Tory government for two decades, the very result Jeremy would have wanted most to avoid.