The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Plan

Another blog on politics.

The Beatles’ song Revolution has been going around my head. “You say you got a real solution. Well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan”. And that’s where I am right now. Jeremy Corbyn’s our new leader, he’s going to be our candidate for Prime Minister in the next general election, so I want to see the plan. I’m going to the Labour conference later this month, and I that’s the one thing I’ll be looking for. I’m not particularly interested in a history lesson about the achievements of Labour leaders who died before I was born. I don’t need reminding why the Conservatives are dreadful. I don’t need to hear a lecture on why equality of opportunity and redistribution of wealth are good things. I’m not particularly interesting in hearing policies. What I want to hear, and to be excited and to be wholeheartedly convinced about, is the plan. What I want to know, in specific detail, is how we are going to get from where we are now to having a Labour majority in 2020.

The other thing that has sprung to mind is an old South Park episode about Underpant Gnomes. The story, as much as I remember of it, is about some gnomes that go around stealing underpants for no readily explicable reason. At the end of the episode we finally get to see the Underpant Gnomes’ business plan, which is this:

Phase 1: Collect underpants.
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit.

Similarly, I think the Labour party currently has a big blank space at phase 2, between ‘Elect Corbyn’ and ‘Win General Election’. I’ve gone in search of answers, I’ve read blogs, like this one about how Labour will “harness the power of a populist, social democratic movement”. Well, great. I’m all in favour of that! Lots of enthused new members fundraising and campaigning, brilliant, that’s a dream come true. But that’s not an actual plan, that’s not a dotted line leading us from where we are now to where we have to be in five years’ time.

What I want to hear, and be convinced by, is how Labour is going to get the votes of people who voted Green, UKIP, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru or Conservative at the last General Election. It’s great that we’re going after people who have never voted before, that is a very good thing and should definitely be part of the plan, but a cursory look at the figures means it won’t be enough to deliver a Labour majority. So what are we going to say to convince people who voted for the SNP and Plaid Cymru – that they should vote for an even more left-wing party even if it means they won’t get independence? What are we going to say to people who believe that businesses exploiting cheap immigrant labour are undercutting their wages and working conditions – are we just going to tell them that they’re foolish and wrong and that immigration is always inalienably a good thing? What about the couple where both parents are working but who decide not to have more than one child because they can’t afford it – while the state is giving another family who don’t work more money than they would get by working to pay for children they can’t afford to look after? Do we tell them that they are foolish and wrong too? What do we say to people who think that Labour messed up the economy by borrowing too much – how do we explain to them that our new policy is to borrow even more than we were doing back then? And after that, how do we stop them laughing?

I look forward to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters providing the answers. Because here is where I come to the point of this blog. Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have a fantastic opportunity to practise first. Before they can start persuading Lib Dem and Conservative voters, they have to persuade people like me, on the moderate wing of the Labour party. We should be the easy ones! We agree on the same goals, after all. We’re open to argument (well, I am). Before you can convince people who have voted for other parties, you need to convince the rest of your party first.

Now I suspect some people reading this will think ‘Excuse me, Jonny, but Jeremy Corbyn has a great big massive mandate, you should fall in line and give him your wholehearted support’. Just, no doubt, as they would have done had Yvette or Liz become leader. Well, it doesn’t work like that. Jeremy has demonstrated better than any other MP that Labour is a broad church that allows for differing opinions and does not expect nor encourage blind, uncritical loyalty. So I’m afraid just saying ‘You should support Jeremy or leave’ is not going to convince me of his virtues.

But, sadly, that seems to be the mood music of some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. Rather than being magnanimous and inclusive in victory they are triumphalistic, hectoring, dismissive. Bullying. Abusive. And I’m afraid that taking that approach isn’t going to help convince me they are right. Threatening to have MPs ‘purged’ and telling the candidates that I supported that they should ‘Go and join the Tories’ does not make me feel like I am wanted either.

I mean, imagine if that was our campaign slogan at the next election. ‘Vote Labour – or go and join the Tories!’ How many floating voters would that win over? People who voted for Jeremy say they want a new, nicer kind of politics. Well, that means engaging with people who don’t entirely agree with you (but who do agree with you quite a lot!). As I said, you get to practise with other members of your own party before you go out into the cold, hard world and start trying to convince people who voted for other parties. They’re the really difficult ones. But if you can’t win us over – if you’re not interested in even trying to win us over – then you have no chance with anybody else.

So go on, Jeremy. Convince me. Tell me the plan.

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