Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #10

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #10:
There has been a series of learned articles this week from the heated keyboards of the chatterati that got the General Election so wrong, so flamboyantly. This time, the gilded children of our independent schools have decided that Jeremy Corbyn, allegedly such a dullard at the dispatch box just a few months ago, is now a veritable Apollo of the Commons. I don’t buy it at all.
Corbyn has been a remarkably reliable figure over the decades, very consistent and principled if not the greatest orator, but since when did golden tongues reliable politicians make? So why the perceived difference. Well, it has to be circumstances, doesn’t it?
It is considered akin to farting in church to mention it now, but the welcome the Parliamentary Labour Party gave Jeremy Corbyn two years ago was short on fluttering cherry blossom and braying klaxons. His sandals didn’t exactly dance on palm fronds. Many tried to unseat him from the start. They sat behind him, stony-faced, arms folded across indignant chests. They knew- not thought, knew- that he could not perform and repelled the public.
Only he didn’t.
With the help of a small group of supportive MPs and, more importantly, the backing of the mass membership, Corbyn endured votes of no confidence, mischievous media briefings, appallingly skewed and abusive articles and another leadership challenge- and he won through with a little help from his friends. Even so, becoming electorally credible, we were told, was the impossible dream.
Of course, we Matt Monro fans shrugged and carried on regardless. We had argued for two years that a principled leader, a more engaged mass membership, an impatience with austerity, a resentment at failed elites and an arrogant Tory Party that thought more of the same after seven grinding years might just be favourable conditions for a Labour recovery at the polls. Now, nobody likes a smug know-all who says we told you so but, cough, we did, and it wasn’t really that surprising when you zip back through the narrative of events. It was entirely predictable, but refusal to engage with the new political reality, to draw up a defensive strategy that would have abandoned seats like Wirral West may arguably have cost us office. We went from a 30.4% vote share to 40%. Had the entire Labour Party been on a war footing, looking to capture Tory marginals instead of stacking up majorities in seats we were never going to lose, we might even have registered a stunning victory.
So back to Jeremy Corbyn. The conditions make the fortunes of men and women and the conditions have made Labour electable. The fact of Labour’s electability have made Corbyn more authoritative and part of his audience more attentive.
The man hasn’t changed, though I will say a man not used to oratory was positively Paul Foot-like at Glastonbury. The political landscape has. So here endeth the lesson. With a little more unity, a little less self-indulgence and grandstanding before the right wing media, a little more support for the leadership and a lot more energy and campaigning, who knows what is possible.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #9



Now they’re all at it. Tory ‘I’m human, really’ flavour of the month Heidi Allen pops her head above the parapet to say that she is ashamed of the Tory’s grubby deal and suddenly every Blue Meanie and her or his dog is saying the public sector pay cap must be relaxed. First there is Philip Hammond, fresh from his post-election reprieve. Then it is Michael Gove, still shaking the soil from his shroud after rising from the political dead. Now, it is tousle-haired bluster boy Boris Johnson, undergoing his latest Damascene conversion. Most comically, we have self-appointed Conscience of the Nation, Sarah Wollaston saying we need a cross-party national conversation about health. In classic Goldilock terms she says we can’t be too fiscally tight, can’t be too fiscally loose and wants Labour to tie itself ideologically to a form of Tory-lite neo-Blairism. Labour’s front bench will quietly decline her soft-spoken, but dishonest entrapment strategy.

Why are we here? Quite simply, it is not because the Daughters and Sons of Austerity have suddenly discovered their consciences at the bottom of the sock drawer. It is because Labour made itself electable again on June 8th and because a buoyant leadership team exposed Tory contempt for ordinary people by pressing the vote on public sector pay. Shocked by the election result and wrong-footed by Labour’s parliamentary tactics, a section of the Tory party is now scrambling to position itself on Labour’s turf. The problem, of course, is that Labour is better at promoting the interests of public sector workers than the Tories and is far more likely to be the beneficiary of the current mood.

It is in this context surely, that we should see the ‘rebellion’ by 49 Labour MPs. When the public sector pay and Creasey amendments had thoroughly exposed the Tories, insisting on ‘membership of the single market and customs union’ instead of ‘fighting for the benefits of the single market and customs union’ gave the Tories’ succour. Such a fine line led Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, hardly central to the Corbyn project thus far, to criticise the rebels as inept.

Little wonder. There was little principle on show here. Some, who really should know better, thought this might defend migrant workers’ interests. Well hardly. Chuka Umunna is on the record saying he would give up freedom of movement to keep membership of the single market and would support regional immigration controls, measures that would surely result in grotesque chaos.

Labour and Tory have their respective problems with Brexit and the negotiations will test both parties, but it is the party in power most subject to pressure. Labour’s left leadership has every right, given the high stakes and the weakness of the Tories’ arrangement with the Democratic Unionists, to expect a degree of political nous from the Parliamentary Labour Party. Sadly, some sections of the party still seem obsessed with parliamentary moves calculated to undermine Corbyn and resistance to the democratisation of its procedures at its annual conference. Labour’s membership must be as active as possible both in CLPs, pursuing left policies and on the stump and in communities, unions and workplaces. We should not wait until the next election to engage with the public. The battle lines are already drawn.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynista #8:



A few months ago, my various articles argued that Brexit would turn out to be the Tory vale of tears. For a while, it looked as if Labour were struggling over the issue of Europe, but it was the dog that didn’t bark at the General Election and it has come back to haunt May and her ersatz Orange band. It is likely that it will torture May’s zombie party as it stumbles along, dead but not quite buried.

Tonight’s vote in the Commons confirms that austerity is the other great issue that will help undo the Tories. The sight of the Tories, supported by the DUP just days after its MPs pocketed Mrs May’s billion pound bung, baying and cheering because they had just blocked a pay rise for public sector workers was nauseating, but it will reverberate long in the public consciousness.

Remember the exhausted firefighters, heroes of the Grenfell fire, being cheered as they left. People won’t forget that the Tories refused them a pay rise and howled with glee as they did it.

Remember the medical staff who rushed into work to do long shifts when the bomb went off at the MEN in Manchester. People will remember that the Tories and the DUP think they are only worth a below average pay rise. Remember the copper who died and the one who was stabbed trying to save the public in terrorist incidents. People will be appalled that the Tories think it is fun to block a pay increase.

Once more, the Tories have proved to be morally vacuous. Simultaneously, Jeremy Corbyn assumes the mantle of social justice. He looks more like a Prime Minister in waiting with each passing day.

Alan Gibbons to give John Hamilton lecture

My John Hamilton lecture on the future of libraries is on Wednesday, 5th July at 5.30 at the University of Liverpool. If you think libraries are important, please attend.


“To book a place email eddev@liverpool.ac.uk with your name, email address, staff or student number and username (if a member of the University of Liverpool) and a contact telephone number as well as the name of this session.”




Forthcoming novel: The Winds of October

I have just completed the first draft of my novel The Winds of October, set against the period between the February and October revolutions in Russia in 1917. The plan is to publish to coincide with the anniversary. I think it will be of interest generally, but particularly to people on the Left, exploring the extent to which the revolution was one of the mass of working people and how authoritarian one-party rule came to establish itself. It is planned as a trilogy covering the period 1917 to 1921 and culminating in the Kronstadt rebellion.
My traditional audience is Young Adult. Dealing with themes of violence and sexuality, this will definitely be Y10 upward and hopefully attracting a substantial Adult audience.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #7:


I don’t move in the moanocracy’s social circle, but if I did, I would probably hear the crushed pollsters and bewildered opinion writers saying something like this:
“OK, so we have lost all credibility in terms of predicting how the election would shake out, but at least we can act as a collective intellectual anchor, dragging down any optimism about the prospects of a Labour government.”
The polls have, in the last week, been the least arrogant of this squirming nest of diminished reputations. Survation had a good election and shows Labour ahead. YouGov shows Corbyn edging head of May as his star rises and hers spins comically into a fetid, stagnant pond of Tory recrimination. The Tory mantra, sadly repeated by a Grumpy New Labour fringe, is “that Labour didn’t win.”
Well, way to go, Stating the Blindingly Obvious Person. We know. Nobody is saying Corbyn did win. The point is that he and his team, supported by an army of volunteers, raised Labour’s share from 30% to 40% and denied a previously hubristic May a majority. It was the first bold step towards office, not office itself. It has further narrowed the Tories’ room for manoeuvre and shredded their catastrophic Manifesto. Corbyn is now setting the agenda and looks more Prime Ministerial by the day. That is a very significant achievement.
Moany Martin Kettle, the most depressive implement in the discursive kitchen, sums it all up in today’s Guardian. He says getting a Labour majority will be harder. This is code for: “OK, we were talking complete, negative bollocks during the General Election, but we’re right really because Corbynistas are morons, well neuggh.”
Kettle and his various interpretive pots and pans get stuff wrong, not because they don’t know their swings and polls, but because they look at politics from the wrong end of the telescope. They live in permanently Normal Times during which abnormal things don’t happen: young people don’t get excited about politics, politicians don’t mean what they say, parties that won Brexit don’t collapse because they have nothing else to say, Brexit election campaigns don’t talk about just about anything but Brexit, surging remain parties don’t fail to surge and millions of people don’t jettison austerity when the entire media says it is nasty medicine, but good for them. But, Mr Kettle, this all happened. Pop that in your spout and steam about it.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #6:




We can’t have it both ways, of course. We can’t be all: “Don’t trust the polls” when they don’t suit us and all: “Have you seen the polls, yippee!” when they do.” That said, two polls by Survation, the most accurate pollster in the General Election have Labour three points ahead and six points ahead. More importantly, these figures mean Labour has, on these figures, gained fourteen points since May 9th. Much more importantly, Labour’s vote share rose ten per cent in the election.

The Tories are in turmoil. They have a leader whose ear is now ubiquitously described as tin. If anything, that is slightly flattering. Having stumbled through the election campaign, she now has to endure colleagues saying the public should stop using her as “a human punchbag.” When that is your defenders, you are in big trouble. In her worst nightmares, she could not have expected to have her lack of empathy exposed so brutally by the horrific scenes in the Grenfell Tower. Now, she faces the ignominy of Brexit, the issue on which she called the General Election, looking very sticky indeed. David Davis has already conceded a major principle on the timing of different elements of the negotiations, making Mr Hard Brexit look more like Mr Mouldy Biscuit.

Now, caveats are in order. It is great fun taunting the Tories as their ships burn outside Troy, but it wasn’t Calamity May that did for her Premiership. It was a combination of factors outside the Thick of It farce of the Westminster Village. I have never claimed to be anything other than a local socialist activist and scribbler, but I think my pre-election argument that Labour’s short-term divisions over Europe would pale into insignificance compared to the hidden but fatal flawline in Toryism. More significantly, the death throes of austerity and the enduring problems of UK Ltd are coming home to roost, creating a toxic swamp through which the less than intrepid Mrs May must wade. The Tories’ General Election disaster was not caused by May’s personal failings, huge as they are, but twin millstones, grinding her hopes to dust. On the one hand, there is the millstone constituted by Europe, crumbling austerity and the UK economy. On the other, there is the personal integrity of Corbyn, a man who became more popular every time the British public saw him on TV, the army of Labour volunteers campaigning and the vision represented in a very good and credible Manifesto.

Now, some notes of caution. Labour’s votes tend to pile up in their heartlands so we need a much bigger lead to win a majority. That means drawing up target Tory marginals now. There remain obdurate PLP voices, replicated in some CLPs, still resisting project Corbyn which saved so many MPs’ seats. Some Labour organisations are still living in the past, preferring cosy cabals to open, democratic, inclusive mass campaigning, drawing in the new members. The other issue is that the trade union movement and workplace organisation still remains weak. Political advance coinciding with subdued working class organisation is a potential danger.

All that said, few outside Labour’s half million members would have predicted the current situation. We are increasingly well-placed.

Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #5:



So who would The PM Who Called a Snap Election to Destroy Labour and Failed to Get a Majority (PMWCSEDLFGM for short) call to save her job? Yes, it is none other than The Wretched Little Sneak Who Stabbed Johnson to Get the Job (WLSWSJGJ for short). This morning, bespectacled froth-merchant WLSWSJGJ employed his best suppressed Scottish intellectual accent to be reasonable and clipped to argue ‘Let’s forget all this stuff about May having a tin ear and get on with gravitas, statesmanship and Brexit and not talking about the loss of innocent lives too much.’

Now, if the notoriously disloyal Brutus of the Commons is to be the frontman of Tory recovery, they really are in trouble. The public will look on and think that when everyone knows the hyenas are circling around the stricken zebra helplessly kicking her leopard-print hooves, it is a bit dangerous to employ the most dangerous and cruel hyena on the savannah to protect her. The simple fact is that the Tories, not Labour, are now the most obvious example of division and backbiting, however they try to massage the message. Found morally wanting over the Grenfell Tower disaster, thwarted in their ambition to destroy Labour as an electoral force, their Brexit plans in tatters, demonstrated to be desperate for a coalition of chaos that could unsettle the peace process in Northern Ireland for short term survival, this is a government that has lost any political authority.

Now, our job is not to chuckle mischievously or analyse this grotesque farce. It is to maintain unity in action and prepare to bury them. As Jeremy Corbyn said last week, Labour has to be on a war footing with a strategy of attack to take the Tory marginals we need to form a government. The circumstances are favourable. The angry response by the community in Kensington demonstrates that a popular, left wing mood is stirring and it is being focussed around the figure of Corbyn.

We are in unsettled, disturbing times, but simultaneously, hope is germinating.

Poem: Grenfell Tower, the arithmetic of grief

Do you know the first time I knew

I was not safe because of my class,

Because of the accident of my birth,

My factory-working parents?


I was thirteen, in 1966, World Cup year

And a great pile of dirt

Slid down a hillside in Aberfan, South Wales

And killed children and adults in a school.


I wasn’t ready to be angry.

I was too young for that.

I wasn’t ready to be angry.

That would come later.


Do you know when I realised

I was ready to be angry?

It was when a chemical plant

Blew up in Flixborough. 28 dead. I was twenty-one.


I was ready to be angry then.

I was old enough to walk a picket line.

I was angry enough to push a police horse back

At Lewisham when fascists marched.


Do you know when I realised

They even made our leisure time deadly?

It was in 1985 when Bradford City burned

And fifty-six people burned with it.


And did we learn? Did we fuck.

They went on treating us like shit,

Our class watching our sport

And the shit came home to roost at Hillsborough.


Do you know how long it took to understand

The arithmetic of class? It took me

Twenty-one years, the time it takes

To make a man, an angry man.


Here is the arithmetic:

Aberfan, 116 children, 28 adults,

Flixborough, 28 souls,

Bradford, 56 beautiful lives,

Hillsborough 96 unforgotten dead.


So here is what I want to know,

Now I get the mathematics of class,

At the Grenfell Tower,

In London Town, when will we know

The number, the calculus of grief?



Letters from an encouraged Corbynite #4

The spectacle of commentators who made ludicrous claims about the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn now giving equally ludicrous explanations of how and why it happened, is grotesque. This is not about their ability to rummage effectively through the entrails of a bull. It is a misunderstanding of what politics is.
I remember one definition being the common affairs of the people. In the common affairs of the people, the public make decisions for several reasons: because it furthers their own interests; because it furthers the interests of others they care about; because they become convinced that there is a better way of living.
That is why so many socialists were right to persevere with Jeremy Corbyn and why so many non-socialists and waverers were so wrong to distance themselves from him. The commentariat think that it is only able to achieve office by courting a small section of an arbitrarily decided middle ground. People living in the real world believe that change can be achieved by talking to and convincing millions of ordinary people. All kinds of shifts and changes will occur in the course of the lead-up to the next election. Quite simply, it is not how we read polls or juggle the Thesaurus to find the best word for ‘moderate’ that will determine the outcome. It is what we do. So, anyone who wants an alternative to the Tories, let’s start doing more good things.