Guardian journalists like Zoe Williams and John Harris first sounded the retreat, now they have been joined by Owen Jones and Corbyn advisers Richard Murphy and David Blanchflower . People are right to voice criticisms if they have them, but we should acknowledge that this can be more damaging to Corbyn than the predictable hatred of the mainstream media. Owen Jones’ criticisms are the more important because he was always closer to Corbyn.
And he is right about some things – the Corbyn media strategy does look a bit of a mess, policies are not sufficiently different from those of Miliband, and Jeremy hasn’t articulated a bigger vision than the one associated with his longstanding support for workers’ rights and for peace. We don’t really know what Corbyn’s socialism is yet. But Owen misses the big thing: the Corbyn phenomenon is about an astonishing release of political energy and radical dissenting feeling, and this is what must be nurtured and supported if Labour is to have a future. What compares with it since the rise of Labour at the turn of the 20thC? He is also wrong to demand ‘policies’ that appeal to this or that demographic. That really is the approach of the old discredited, and I think corrupt, political model based on selling yourself to the electorate. And it doesn’t work. Labour has always had more popular policies than the Tories. What Labour lacks is a coherent story, an idea of where it is going, the kind of society it wants to create. But there has never been a better time to write that story. No one, not Jeremy Corbyn, certainly not Owen Jones, has a monopoly on how it will be written. And that is what makes this political moment so significant. Paul Mason’s call to make the Corbyn re-election campaign the springboard for winning a general election is therefore spot on; whether the election in 2020 can be won or not, Jeremy’s campaign has to grasp the opportunity to define his larger political vision, what socialism in the 21st century means to him.
Which is only to ask what it means to us. I will say what I think it means in a subsequent post (A Narrative for Labour). Here we should worry more about the leakage of support from Corbyn and what that means. First there is the liberal intellectual panic, not surprising and not very interesting or enlightening. But secondly there is a real worry, only partly articulated by Owen Jones, about the political weakness of Corbyn and his supporters. The ‘movement’ is politically shapeless. Some of it reflects the new social movements of the young, more interested in community campaigning than platforms and programmes. A lot of it reflects older people coming back into the Labour Party with a leftish-progressive politics not so different from the leftish elements that stayed with Labour in spite of Blair. It would be difficult to knit these elements together at the best of times but if Corbyn loses the danger is that all the energy his election created will be dissipated. If he wins there is a risk that the party will split and the people that remain with Corbyn will have to think much harder, and much more quickly than they have to date, about quite what they stand for.