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Corbyn, May and the Week British Democracy Fell Apart

Two different parties, one giant disregard for the voters. What the fuck is going on?

by Sam Wolfson
14 July 2016, 12:00am

Probably not what they would have wanted. Via

Corbyn loves to wang on about it, doesn't he. That time everyone voted for him. It was halcyon days for old Corbs: Jessie from school who hands out PETA leaflets outside Budgens on Saturdays, your dad's stoner mate who literally boos every time Cameron is on the telly, Steve in IT who read one article about income equality on Reddit and now thinks he's Thomas fucking Piketty, they all stood as one. People who had been told they were out of step with public opinion felt united and energised in a process that sought to include them. There was a surge of democratic fervour. Half a million people energised new Labour party members voting overwhelmingly for Corbyn – is it any wonder he wont' shut up about it?

On Tuesday night, all of that almost ended at a small meeting in Westminster attended by 32 people - mostly MPs, councillors, trade union leaders and Labour party grandees. They were meeting because around 80 percent of Labour MPs had taken a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, creating the opportunity for Angela Eagle to stand against him and trigger a leadership election.

Many believe that Corbyn still has a majority of support among party members and that he would win in such an election. But he had a problem. To get on the ballot in these circumstances, he needs the signed support of 51 MPs. He only has the support of around 40. But he's also the incumbent leader, and Labour party rules are a bit unclear about whether the incumbent has to come up with signatures too.

So the Labour National Executive Committee, not a body the average voter has ever heard of, sat to decide whether Corbyn would be able to stand for re-election. One of the first things they decided in the meeting was that the vote would held in secret, so people wouldn't know how each member voted. In an astonishing statement, one member of the NEC, Johanna Baxter, said the fact Corbyn voted against a secret ballot meant he openly endorsed the intimidation of MPs.

She said:

"The leader of the Labour party voted against the proposal that we conduct our vote in private in order to protect NEC members who were receiving threats, bullying and intimidation. He voted against it. He endorsed bullying, threats and intimidation, by the fact of that vote... The only reason to vote against that is so the intimidation can continue. It's the most shameful act I have ever seen. He showed his true colours in that vote."

It's a strange day for democracy when representatives of an elected body refuse to be accountable to the people who elected them, and accuse those who want an open vote of bullying and intimidation. How is that different from David Cameron saying Parliament is going to vote in private because he's sick of all those protesters blocking his drive?

Anyway, they fought it out, hour after hour, making speeches about whether Corbyn should be allowed on the ballot or not. We don't know what happened in the meeting, but each side received its own legal advice which gave similarly emphatic opinions that Corbyn must/must not be allowed on the ballot.

What's surprising is how little discussion there has been of Corbyn's true failings. His inability to engage with the problems that are facing us now, rather than the problems he'd like deal with. His seemingly indifferent style of politics that feels as though he is often a subject of principle rather than people, even though he claims the exact opposite. There are charges the centrists could use to really sting Corbyn and open Labour up to an alternative, yet instead they instead opted to engage in the most bizarre dispute over an electoral technicality in the hope of bypassing a vote altogether.

In the end, an odd little compromise was made that might seem better for Corbyn than it actually is. Corbyn was allowed on the ballot automatically. Two votes swung it in the end, but, after he stepped out the meeting and celebrated his victory, the NEC voted that the 100,000 members who had joined the Labour party since the EU referendum wouldn't be able to vote in this election. Last time, non-members could register to vote for £3. They also raised that to £25, and reduced the window to register to two days, essentially wiping out many of the supporters who helped Corbyn reach victory in the last election (although he did win among party members too, albeit more narrowly).

For a while there seemed to be a loophole for people joining Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) Labour, which you can do for £5, but today people were reporting that had been shut down by the Labour party. We checked on the BAME site, but couldn't get over that this is literally the picture on their homepage.

Any way, the NEC was sneaky in this way, because they allowed an election, which they then sought to gerrymander. Later this week it's almost certain that Labour MPs will collude to knock off either newly declared Owen Smith or Angela Eagle so that there will only be one anti-Corbyn challenger. They will then have an election that excludes thousands who want to vote in the hope they can squeak a result more favourable to the rebels and call it a democratic mandate.

This all happened at the same time as Theresa May was being crowned Prime Minister, without even a ballot of Tory party members. The Tories were far more successful and ruthless in their scheming. Boris Johnson, the favourite to win, was undone by a bit of treachery when Michael Gove, director of his leadership campaign, decided to try being leader himself. Gove, in turn, was undone by his Leave campaign comrade Andrea Leadsom in partnership with a defeated Boris. Finally the Conservative party establishment managed to dispose of Leadsom, and suddenly Cameron's preferred heir and the only Remain campaigner on the ballot was the new PM.

In the months and years to come, people will write books on these few weeks, and we will begin to learn exactly how these plots unfolded, who were the puppet masters, what was planned to the last detail, what was left to chance. In the mean time, this is what we face: a Prime Minister no one voted for, a Labour party which, whatever the outcome of an election that has been somewhat rigged, is likely to split in two. This leaves a centrist party, a left-wing party and a general election first-past-the-post voting system that won't allow either to succeed.

The past 48 hours have been a miserable time for democracy. The mechanisms by which British people are able to pick their political representatives are starting to fail. In their place, a demagoguery of politicking and collusion has decided who are leaders will be. And if the last few weeks have taught us anything, it's not over yet. Soon all that will be left is Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps back in his constituency office, wanging on about that time democracy happened.

@samwolfson

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