The campaigner’s view

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The last few days have left me asking some pretty fundamental questions of myself.

I am very well aware that my suggestion that Jeremy Corbyn cannot deliver the policies that I believe are necessary for the UK, which appears to be an opinion shared by every one of Labour’s economic advisers, is deeply unpopular with many supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. I only have to look at my Twitter feed and some comments here to realise that. What is more important for me to understand, however, is why those who are angry and I see the world so differently even when my opinion continues to be that we need radical economic reform.

Let me got some obvious things out of the way. Nothing I have said changes a single opinion I have offered in the past. I have same opinions now that I had a week ago. I have no wish for a compromise with neoliberalism. It is a failed economic system.

Let me also be clear: Jeremy Corbyn adopted my ideas last year. I did not write them for him. And whilst I was more than willing to explain them to his audiences and to welcome his use of them last summer I had to take serious and frequent steps to avoid being engaged in the politics of his campaign. You will not, for example, find a single tweet by me last summer supporting his campaign as such. I remained non-aligned, and remained so when many thought I would take a job with his team. I think it only appropriate to say that I was always a thinker and commentator on this issue and not an insider.

But at its core these are not the issues. If, as I think likely, my wishes remain very close to those of my critics then I think the difference of view is about a wide range of differing perspectives.

The first is that, as I have said repeatedly, Jeremy Corbyn is a man who it is very hard not to hold in warm regard and whose commitment is unquestionable, but whose ability to lead a party I now have to question. He did not campaign hard enough in the referendum and I think that was deliberate and party politically motivated on an issue which was too important fur the country for that approach to have been appropriate, as is now clear. This was a straightforward political error of judgement, in my opinion, and on such a large scale that it is quite reasonable to raise the issue.

That said, this would not have been an issue if Jeremy’s leadership team had been open with, and embraced, the opinion of others in its thinking, but it didn’t. For whatever the reason, and having been left out in the cold for decades is an obvious explanation, the team around Jeremy did not or could not, and I am not sure which, build the relationships with those working for them on which effective power in any system is built. This would have required an openness and an ability to listen and act that seems to have been missing. The result was that when a major disappointment arrived those who felt alienated (the MPs) cracked.

This is not to deny, thirdly that some of course always wanted rid of Jeremy, but to over-emphasise it is wrong. This is always the case in every political party. ‘The bastards’ as John Major termed them are always out there, and they were for Jeremy, indisputably. But they can rarely act without opportunity being given. They took theirs here, but I strongly suspect this was not nearly as planned as most seem to think.

To make this personal again (and I am offering a personal reasoning) what I can understand is the frustration felt by many MPs, including decent people who really tried to give Jeremy a chance by, for example, working in the shadow cabinet, who simply could not see how to make working with Jeremy as leader into a practical possibility where effective opposition on a day to day basis in the Commons was possible. I admit I have sensed this frustration growing for some time.

Saying that what I realise this means is that I have viewed this whole issue as someone who has a Westminster orientation to their thinking. I do not think I am part of the ‘Bubble’ but equally reflecting on this has made me realise that, as someone I know well has pointed out to me, I do have somewhat more of an insider’s view than most, especially when I do not make a habit of reporting here much of the time I do spend around SW1A.

Politics has always, for me, had the purpose of effecting change through parliament. I have never had a taste for party politics per se. This is why I have deliberately chosen to talk to politicians from almost any party willing to engage in conversation, and hope to still do so. It is the change that has always motivated me, which is why tax and economic justice have been what I have worked on with those willing to embrace it. But I have never much doubted that this meant winning support in parliament, including in the EU on occasion. So I have become to some degree familiar with the workings of these places, without aligning to a party, whilst making clear I will always respect the privacy of conversations held. My orientation has, as a result been to campaign success, not party success.

Apply this to what has happened in the last week or so and what is clear is that Jeremy Corbyn is not delivering campaign success at present, in the terms that I describe. The result is he has now not got the support of sufficient MPs in his party to form an effective opposition. That means that, like it or not, he cannot create a team to deliver a policy programme in Westminster, and from my perspective that means it is time for him to accept the team needs changing in the interest of the policy goal, which I think more important. So I said so.

I accept though that others do not see it this way. First that is because I think they do not believe the real working problems that Jeremy’s approach has created for the MPs who wanted to support him.

Second, there is disagreement on whether or not Labour ran an effective Brexit campaign. I admit my view had been formed within Westminster and makes me incline towards those who despaired.

Third, I have clearly not understood the symbolism of Jeremy to many. That is my fault. I put issues first. But is this degree of belief in personality in politics really wise, would be my question?

I also have a pragmatism that creates conflicts here. I have been used to trying to create coalitions of interest for a long time. That is, at the end of the day, how issue campaigning works. It crosses party lines and interests to emphasise why there are sufficient features in common to gain broader support. It means that working with those with whom I might not always agree is a normal part of life. I like most of those people even when I do disagree with them. In a very real sense this may be my Quakerism in play: I do always hope there is ‘that of God in everyone’, which is a popular Quaker understanding even if there’s much less agreement on the nature of God. The practical manifestation of that is I am not good at tribalism. That also means that whilst I dislike some ideas I’d rather not dislike their purveyor (although I do not always succeed: I am human).

And it is my instinct to persuade, find common ground, and progress in stages. The blog is not always a true representation of the fact that I can be quite subtle on occasions, but that is the way I have had to work. And by and large I think that if I have ever made progress it is because of that approach.

Long ago that meant I had to make a decision which all campaigners have to do at some time. That is that they can stay pure and outside the tent, or risk compromise and be within it, talking to participants at risk of delivering something less than optimal in the hope that there will always be another day when the next step can be taken.

I opted to be in the tent. I try to combine a clear vision and an ability to compromise. That’s the necessary condition for campaigning success as I see it.

And this week that meant I said what I did. I repeat, I was delighted Jeremy Corbyn used my ideas last summer. I do not regret that he did. I am pleased that many see his economic policies and commitment to economic justice as amongst the best contributions he has made to political thinking and that commentators are saying they should survive his leadership. I sincerely hope they will. That will be my aim. But I could not see how those ideas had a chance in his hands when it was clear that he had lost the support of his parliamentary party, which has happened, in my opinion, for the reason noted above, ‘the bastards’ apart.

That then, I hope, explains my reasoning.

It has left me at odds with many who I think of as friends, who do not see the world through my lens.

I will try to see things your way to seek to understand. To realise that this issue is not just about Westminster.

And that party matters much more to many than it has ever occurred it might to me.

And to accept that whereas my causes can require working across boundaries to create shifts in view others are wholly unused to that thinking.

So I will seek to understand, but ask that others try to do the same, including when or if I seek to work with another Labour leadership, as surely I will precisely because the issues on which I have campaigned are as important now as ever. That's what being non-partisan means. It's about trying to achieve a result across party lines. And I think an effective opposition in parliament is an essential part of that process. Which is why I hope we can have one again, soon, under any leadership that can be agreed upon.

This is my last intended comment in this issue.

NB the term 'apolitical' was replaced with 'non-partisan' at noon on 1 July 2016