Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Left in the USA and the UK: arguments of 1. democracy 2. danger of Trump/Tories and 3. loathing

Do you agree that the arguments of democracy and the danger of Donald Trump, mean that the supporters of Bernie Sanders should now support Hillary Clinton against Trump? 

Or are you a Sanders supporter who so loathes Clinton that you will not support her regardless?

Do you agree that the same arguments that apply to Sanders and Clinton mean that the anti-Corbynites in the Labour Party should now support Jeremy Corbyn against the Tories? 

Or are you an anti-Corbynite who so loathes him that you will not support him, whatever the consequences?

Argument of democracy

It is the most basic principle of democracy that the loser of an election accepts the legitimacy of the winner. Clinton has beaten Sanders. He and his supporters should accept that and rally around her against Trump, as Clinton herself did for Barack Obama in 2008.

Last summer, Corbyn stood against three others for the leadership of the Labour Party. He stood under rules introduced by Ed Miliband which had been widely welcomed in the party, including by Tony Blair. Whereas Sanders has run Clinton quite close, winning 23 states, Corbyn won by a landslide. He won 59.5% of the votes as against Andy Burnham on 19%, Yvette Cooper on 17% and Liz Kendall  on 4.5%. Contrary to a persistent myth, he did not win because of the people who had paid £3 to vote. He won by a landslide among the full-time members.

Many prominent opponents of Corbyn accepted the straightforward argument of democracy and have duly supported him. These are people, who are serving under Corbyn’s leadership like Lord Falconer, Andy Burnham, Lucy Powell, Gloria De Piero and Chris Bryant. 

However, some Labour MPs and leading figures in the media - including at “left” publications, the Guardian and the New Statesman - relentlessly attacked Corbyn’s leadership and worked to undermine it from the very second it was announced. I cannot think of an example of such behaviour in similar circumstances in British political life. It has been extraordinary and disturbing for those who believe in democracy.

The arguments of the anti-Corbynites have been elitist and antidemocratic. They say the people who voted for Corbyn are out-of-touch/naive/Trots and they assert - as if it is an irrefutable fact, which it most certainly is not - that Corbyn cannot win against the Tories. But the electorate for Labour leader was agreed in advance (would the anti-Corbynites have criticised the electorate if they had won?) and that electorate had a different view to Corbyn’s electability against the Tories to the anti-Corbynites’ view. Deciding whose view prevails is the whole point of an election, surely?

Argument of danger of Trump or the Tories

If a Sanders supporter wants, as a priority, to beat Trump, the logic is clear. They must now support Clinton. Anything else increases Trump’s chances of winning. 

In the UK, exactly the same logic applies in respect of Corbyn and the Tories. 

It is deeply ironic that the anti-Corbynites like to claim that they are the hard-headed  pragmatists. They sneer at the Corbynites for being more interested in ideological purity than winning power. The precise opposite is the case right now. It is the anti-Corbynites who have lost touch with reality.

The reality is this. It is impossible for the anti-Corbynites to depose Corbyn and replace him with a leader of their choice before the next election. A recent opinion poll suggested that Corbyn is even more popular now among the party in the country, who would vote on a new leader, than he was when he won by a landslide.

Some anti-Corbynites say that next time Corbyn would be kept off the ballot by ensuring that not enough MPs would nominate him. This is a bizarre idea. First, enough MPs have been impressed by Corbyn that it is quite possible he would, in fact, receive enough nominations. Secondly the NEC may rule that the current leader is entitled to stand in any event. Thirdly if somehow the MPs conspired to keep the overwhelming choice of the membership off the ballot, the result would be a mass exodus of members and possibly a split in the party. The new leader would lead a party in far greater turmoil than the one Corbyn leads.

The defeatist argument that Corbyn cannot win against the Tories is plain wrong for many reasons, including that the world in 2016 is very different to the one in which Blair won elections. In any event, he is the best chance for anyone who wants to beat the Tories.

If the priority of anti-Corbynites is to beat the Tories, they should stop undermining him and support him now.

“Argument” of loathing

But people are not rational. Emotion rather than logic often dictates political behaviour. 

Many Sanders supporters loathe Clinton. For them, she represents everything they have been campaigning against. She is the personification of the arrogant political elite that has run the US for over 30 years.

Many anti-Corbynites loathe Corbyn for reasons they have made very clear.

Such is their loathing, some Sanders supporters and some anti-Corbynites are prepared to ignore the argument of democracy and are prepared to see Trump or the Tories triumph rather than support Clinton or Corbyn.

Faced with painful cognitive dissonance - “I should support Clinton/Corbyn but I can’t because I loathe her/him” - many will not be honest even with themselves about their reason for refusal to back Clinton/Corbyn but will instead rationalise. Of course, if Trump or the Tories win, these people will blame Clinton or Corbyn.


  1. Hi Tom

    It seems you haven't responded to my tweets, so I've come to your blog.

    I don't agree that uniting with Clinton is the same as uniting behind Corbyn. Clinton has inherited the coalition of voters that got Obama elected twice. This is proof that she can win.
    Evidence here:

    Meanwhile, Corbyn's voters are not representative of the UK as a whole. They are out of touch on many issues and polling shows this:

    It is not about the leader Corbyn, it's his platform and views which are so far away from most people's views. I will support the Labour party because they're the only alternative to the Tories.

    My next point is that I agree the world has changed and is different from Blair's time in office. But it is Corbyn who hasn't changed his views and hopes one day that they will be popular and that the electorate will come round to his way of thinking.

    In all walks of life, if people can't get what they want , they choose the closest alternative. At GE2015, if people wanted socialism, why didn't they conclude "Labour isn't as left-wing as I would like it to be but it's more left-wing than it was under Brown/Blair so I'll reward them for moving in the right direction?"

    Also do you appreciate: if Labour is 2nd place to Tories in a constituency by 5,000 votes, then taking 2,500 voters off the Tories is a quicker way to power than convincing 5000 non-voters to vote?

  2. Two observations, Mr London.

    1. As a non-ideologue, I utterly and completely disagree with Jeremy Corbyn's political ideas, which haven't changed in nearly 40 years. Anyone who hasn't changed their mind on at least SOME issues in 40 years is, in my view, a fool.
    Having said that, and having tried to persuade my younger friends that they shouldn't support Corbyn, as soon as the Left Establishment turned against him, I told them that now they absolutely MUST vote for him. As you rightly say, it was the behaviour of demagogues and antidemocrats and had to be dealt with.

    2. A few months back, Matthew Parris made the same point you are making now - namely that it is the moderates in the Labour Party who are out of touch. Much as I despise Corbyn's ideas (and McDonnell's) it seems to me that the EU Referendum has exposed leading Tories in an extremely unflattering light. Consequently, even though he has been anti-EU for 40 years, Corbyn has at least bowed to the democratic will of his party to campaign against his own judgement. That simple act will have raised his approval ratings immensely, I imagine.

    We certainly live in interesting times!

  3. As a non-ideologue, I utterly and completely disagree with Jeremy Corbyn's political ideas, which haven't changed in nearly 40 years. Anyone who hasn't changed their mind on at least SOME issues in 40 years is, in my view, a fool.

    Who says they haven't changed, and aren't changing right now, to address the specific problems of today?

    Take a look at this: I don't think it's the Corbynistas who have closed their minds to new ideas.