Reshuffles, Resignations and ‘Catch 22’ Politics
We should be worried. There is a growing danger in British politics that real change will soon become impossible. A concerted campaign exists, that is seeking to lock down the parameters of political debate in this country. It gathers pace daily.
This emerging orthodoxy commands that debate and discussion about all things, from the way we organise our economy and society to the way political parties conduct their business, is tightly prescribed.
I’m not suggesting the existence of a cabal here, sat menacingly at tables in oak panelled rooms, orchestrating all of this. The process is far more subtle than that. Instead, what we have is a conspiracy of vested interests, through which the current political order is maintained.
‘Spin Doctors’ and media consultants, whose role it is to control what ideas politicians are allowed to present to the public, help to perpetuate this; aided an abetted by the print and broadcast media. It seems the odds are decisively stacked against any politician who seeks to break free from their stranglehold.
Take Labour’s recent cabinet reshuffle as a case in point. The coverage of this in main stream media outlets has overwhelmingly focused on two things; the length of time it has taken and the reaction of the Party’s right-wing to any demotions or sackings.
This has only served to create the impression of chaos and division in Labours ranks. The blame for this is laid squarely at the Labour leader’s door.
Those watching from outside could be forgiven for buying into the notion that Jeremy Corbyn is guilty of destroying the Labour Party. It is after all the only narrative in town.
Does it really have to be this way though? Are we not capable of thinking for ourselves?
It is fair to say that the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply divided. So too, for that matter, is the Conservative Party. David Cameron has recently been forced to grant his MP’s a free vote on Europe. He did so because he knows he can’t guarantee they will all vote in line with the government. In the recent vote on Tax Credits many Tory MP’s rebelled against the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
There is actually nothing wrong with this. Dissent and debate is a fundamental part of any democracy. Yet we are being sold the line that its existence in the Labour Party is associated with the incompetence of the leader and his unelectibility.
However, in the event of similar dissent in the Tory Party the media pay it only limited attention. Or, in the case of one right-wing paper today, portray the PM’s climb down as a ‘victory for democracy’.
So we come to the shadow cabinet. Jeremy Corbyn was elected by an overwhelming majority of ordinary members, supporters and affiliates of the Labour Party. This is a fact that the right wing of the Party seem wholly unable to accept. He has a bigger mandate than Blair to implement his vision.
Despite this, there continues to be a refusal to accept the verdict of this unprecedented democratic exercise. Instead they seek to exercise a disproportionate amount of control over the Party, despite having minimal support within it.
Corbyn has made every attempt to change the way politics is done. He has tolerated dissent, even when that saw a member of his front bench team launch a speech in direct contradiction of his own position. For this he was branded weak, isolated and inept.
Time and again Labour’s right wing have briefed against their leader. Some have openly questioned his ability to lead the party and his fitness for office. This is far from democratic dissent and debate. It is better characterised as disloyalty and it is fundamentally against the best interests of the Labour Party.
Rather than focus on this, the media instead refer to such MP’s as moderates. The implication is clear. Corbyn is the extremist.
Given the hostility of Labour’s right-wing, is it any wonder that Jeremy Corbyn has sought to establish a more cohesive cabinet? Not one that blindly follows orders from the leader, as was the case under Thatcher and Blair, rather one that thoroughly debates the issues, before reaching an agreed position that everyone gets behind. This is called cabinet collective responsibility.
The so called moderates chose to respond to the prospect of change with threats of resignations and revolt. Despite this, it is Corbyn who is portrayed as the villain of the piece, even though he has behaved entirely honourably.
As leader, under current Labour Party rules, he is actually entitled to promote, demote and fire as he sees fit. However he chose to carefully consider his reshuffle, discuss it with individuals, listen and come to a considered decision. Naturally this took longer than usual. As a result he is cast as being indecisive, shambolic and incompetent.
This is ‘catch 22’ politics. If you allow dissent in the name of democracy you are weak. If you attempt to address the issue as fairly as you can, you somehow end up being both weak and a dictator at the same time.
Of course none of this has any basis in truth. Instead it is a ‘reality’ manufactured by that conspiracy of vested interests and relentlessly peddled by a grateful media. The irony is that they pretend to be concerned with our best interests, when it is self-preservation that really motivates them.
Just like in the novel of the same name, the rule of ‘catch 22’ is a lie. It exists only to prevent real change. In Joseph Heller’s seminal work those who were mentally unfit to fly missions in world war 2 were not allowed to. However, anyone requesting exemption was deemed to have a rational concern for their safety, and was therefore sane.
The rule acts against the interests of the many and serves those of the establishment, while maintaining the pretence of fairness.
In the face of all of this the public, including some Labour supporters, have fallen victim to the same ‘catch 22’ conundrum. They are deeply sick of politicians. Opinion polls repeatedly state that voters don’t trust them. There is a yearning for someone with honest conviction and genuine principle. Yet when one actually comes along they are told such qualities render him unelectable.
He is, according to the vested interests, destroying the Party he leads and can’t win. So don’t vote for him. This despite hundreds of thousands of people (voters) joining the Labour Party to elect him.
In fact they continue to do so despite the onslaught against him. It is an argument that also ignores the spectacular victory in Oldham where, in-spite of dire predictions to the contrary, Corbyn increased the Labour vote and won on a landslide.
The right-wing, on the other hand, have lost two consecutive elections. Their architect-in-chief, Tony Blair, is widely despised and credited with Labour haemorrhaging votes in 2010.
The so called moderate wing of the Party surrendered it’s heartland in Scotland to the Nationalists and they have the nerve to accuse the left of harming the Party’s chances at the ballot box.
What strange logic is this? Is it not really the so called ‘moderates,’ hell-bent on a ‘scorched earth’ policy in order to oust Corbyn who are really harming the Party?
Of course the counter argument suggests that any ‘credible’politician would understand the political landscape in which they operate. They would achieve their objectives by working the system and playing it safe. Play by the rules set by the vested interests and you have a chance.
This argument has been expressed in many comment pieces, such as this one. If Corbyn’s team are getting a hard time, they only have themselves to blame; or so the argument goes.
If only they played the game, employed a spin doctor or a media guru. However, this would render Corbyn a hypocrite and no different from the rest. Hey-presto we’re back to ‘catch 22’.
Sometimes, in order to achieve real lasting change, you need to disrupt the existing order. It’s inevitable that some will be uncomfortable with this, even inside the Labour movement. There will be doubt, even fear.
However, if we genuinely believe that our economy, the political order and society as a whole needs wide ranging reform; then we need to be more tolerant of alternative perspectives.
Ideas should rise and fall on their own merit. There should be no need for vilification and fabrication. Instead of demonising those who challenge the existing orthodoxy, we should celebrate them.
All that’s required is critical thinking. The next time you read about Jeremy Corbyn, or any other politician being roundly attacked, just try asking who is dealing out the condemnation and in whose interests?
The alternative would be to continue with a system many of us currently reject. Wouldn’t this represent the end of progress. It would condemn us all to a corrupt and uniform politics that delivers little for so many. Why? Because challenging it makes you unfit to challenge?
This is crazy logic and I reject it. We don’t have to be slaves to ‘catch 22’ and I won’t.