Just Jeremy : between a miliband pledge rock and a hard left place

Just Jeremey

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Credit ITN

People do not believe ideas they believe in the people who hold the ideas. The kind of politics which has gripped labour will remain long after Jeremy has gone. We are party with a crisis of identity with infighting built on cults of personality. Labour must become a party  uncomfortable with disagreeing with  itself and comfortable with agreeing with country. Maybe one strong enough to disagree with the country and change its mind. Cultivating a successful personality has been key to Corbyn’s internal rise and it will be centrals to labours electoral demise. Jeremy will preside over a failure not simply because of his public perception but that his perception is within the narrative of  an opponent’s story.  Sadly the greater defeats we are to  have are much bigger than Jeremy.

If labour replaces Corbyn and fails to create its own narrative it will fail. The stories we have to tell the public – to hold their attention can’t be Blairism with a meme or Corbynism with a gif . It can’t be cultivated by our media silence our political naivety. A combination of a fast changing media landscape, have changed the game whilst the political realties and challenges are enormous . We need clarity of viewpoints and generality of sentiment.; messages which capture the zeitgeist but that is not beholden to it, that massages nostalgia but does not falsely indulge it. People need to know what we stand for what we are going to do and believe that its possible ; for that we need ideas, a leader and a story to combine which combines them both.

Obsessed by the question of leadership

All throughout the labour membership we have indulged in factionalism built around mythology and conjecture of senior political figures. Ideas and issues are expressed in a deeply embedded personality politics. Simply understood this is the presidentialisation of politics but its expression on the British left is more complex. Presidential leaderships styles aren’t unusual ,what’s problematic is when they arise when factionalism is strong and  leaders are weak. So in this particular environment of strong belief and leaderlessness , Jeremy was a shocking but not surprising champion. He was the right man at the right time, calm and angry in equal measure. But unlike other president-style leaders -Jeremys weakness and the  weakness of party organisation –there is a constant undercurrent of candidates and critics . Internal politics moves less like factions vying for influence and policy positions  and more like a never-ending  uncontested convention. In the past two years  criticism has been more focused on different  people not different ideas .

Jeremy would say they are “obsessed by question of leadership”. The media alongside charismatic politicians have exaggerated personality as division not ideas for their own advantages. This isn’t new but digital media, virality and social media accentuates the theatrics. The media enjoys the simplicity of it, clear-cut division and the ratings/clicks it brings. Partisanship has found comfort not in the obvious ideological division but in hyper personality. This poses significant challenge for a Labour party, lost inside itself. One that’s obsessed  not in its values for a modern world but in its figurehead and its inability to reconcile leadership and ideological crisis .

Now it’s about people as ideas rather than the  ideas of people .This is key to Corbyn’s internal success and public failure. OMOV dysregulated the mechanisms that power brokers in the labour party had for checking voters leftist tendencies and narrowing the field.  Corbyn’s success isn’t the pity nominations and luck ,but it was strong pre-existing  ideological partisanship .There was a large number of partisans who were revelling in division, seeking purity .But more importantly is that these people aren’t just ideologues they had attached themselves to the Corbyn personality. In response those on centre and soft left have left to seek their own champions .Failing to create their own ideas or narratives but hoping in the empty whispers of Nandy or Kinnock or whoever wrote the most recent op-ed .Our wilderness is not rival socialist newspapers and men in donkey jackets.  It’s our politics lost insides the conceptions of a few people about political figures.

Labour members are fundamentally different from the rest of the public. More so than at any other time do they make up such a small sector of the population. They are less a reflection of the labour base more its fringe .They are significantly  more left wing more  liberal   more politically engaged. They consume narrow media  and have narrow social circles – politics rather than a 5 yearly event is  a moralist sentiment a strand of identity. This  aspect of politics as part of internet culture – is probably a refection of individualisation  on culture. Demographic and political labels are deeply intertwined, like sociology as one of incarnations of the trinity. This is a combination of the mainstreaming of radical identity politics into the left-wing mainstream and added societal atomisation. Hence members, conceptualise party loyalty to individual narrow markers of social justice. This can make arguments deeply personal.

Though understating all of this. The X-Factorisation of politics, the echo chambers of social media the deeply held views of members; I’m still surprised we are at this point . You have varying political traditions shaky institutions and alternative fact permeating access to information. The twitter arguments, the trolling, memes become murkier. Somehow we end up with bricks in MPs offices, sexist taunts, racist abuse, booing journalists, petitionering and  anti-Semitism scandals. Or perhaps less obvious the conspicuous silence of pretend unity ;lies and obfuscation about future electoral performance and more time spent criticising the media than the government . And losses : MP’s, Councillors ,Mayors, communities , hearts and minds . But failure is either spun, rejoiced or its a shouting match about Corbyn between factions . Little thought of polices which are only ghosts in the minds of Labour politicians , polices which haunt the lives of those who would have  been helped .

Stuck between a Miliband Pledge Rock and Hard left place

People believe their views, values and their leader is an ethical decision a personal one. It’s a paradoxical mix of identity politics and individualisation . We are no longer  a broad church and  worse still division is based on personality and its relation to ideas rather than policy and values in a wider context. For many arguments are extensions of how you conceive your identity, making it more than just a leader. This is something opponents of Corbyn failed to understand to their own Owen Smith shaped disaster. They not only failed to realise they were guilty of similar shortcomings of conception but failed to understand why it meant their arguments fail and candidates fail.

The leadership crisis has allowed the vacuum only to be filled by speculation into future leaders not future ideas. It’s meant that the party is stuck between a Miliband Pledge Rock and a Hard left place. Ideas are swinging between blindly positively polled and classical Corbynomics. I’m not suggesting the leaked draft manifesto is bad nor the 2015 manifesto .But people don’t read manifestos but they are symbol of the priorities .  Labour has lacked the emotional precepts needed to usher in change. They can’t frame peoples situations and put policy in there  context. Its not that ideas are bad its not that the public may think them silly .They just  don’t see them as credible or believable without any story for their necessity. And out the mouth of Jeremy – well I don’t need to explain that . These words may to us indignant in our opposition to tory failure seem facile but for voters they mean a lot.

We must be careful to avoid myths of a  prodigal Miliband returning  whilst “things can only get better” plays in the background. Or believe that a sexier Corbyn can turn everything around . These ideas are popular because many of us believe the problem is just Jeremy. They don’t understand the distance between members and the public, they don’t understand how to deal with personalised 24 news cycles, nor how to craft a politician who is credible but rooted more than a personality attuned to members but one for the country.

The next labour leader must be King Canute . They must understand they cannot change the tide, by simply commanding it. Though I stress the crafting of a message for how people consume media, it’s not just about media management.  I’m cautious of  the current landscape –  a preference for  polar personality rather than coalition building ideas . We can’t  save ourselves by snappy press releases or witty soundbites or kind by-lines, but a national story. One that builds and emboldens a new political coalition .Jeremy’s  failure can not be a Trojan horse for reheated blairism or bland centrism. It cannot be used as analgesic to swallow to wet soft left politics nor is it the ground for an electable Corbyn. Simply its not an excuse to shoe horn your politics but actually a time for labour to look out to the country .Labour has to reembrace a new country  distinct  from the politics its applied in the past. Political stories require clarity of belief and a sentiment to which people  can apply  their own pre-existing values . It’s not just about bland slogans but its about a message that someone can meaningfully apply if only briefly to their real lived lives and hopefully remember at the ballot box.

We must remove the solipsism which surrounds our factionalism. We must engage in our party’s problems but that reflection must not happen within the echo chamber of Labour party .We cannot sacrifice our chance  at power on the altar of a nice man from Islington nor pretend any future challenger has tendency  to the  godlike. We are in leadership crisis but that mustn’t mean that a leader is the only solution to that. We shouldn’t sorrow in our history or mythologise our challenges we should have clear principle not rigid ideology .Crucially we must  create a story that tells the British people  that thy deserve more than they get ,that life chances opportunities and  success should be more available to us . That there is an alternative , beyond austerity and in the misery of Brexit some grander future  is possible . And we might just create a clearing to escape out through the wilderness.



“If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school”

-Anthony Crossland Education Secretary 1966

We must not let life chances be reduced to competency at verbal reasoning at age 10 and 3/4. The selective system doesn’t work. If you advocate selection show me your evidence. There are two arguments for a selective system; improvement in social mobility and a better education. Anecdotes and nostalgia don’t compare to 40 years of data .If you look at fully or partially selective areas in the UK they fail on both counts. Grammars are a 1940’s anachronism. They are an emotive idea and that makes them dangerous. Arguments against selection are not about individual schools, aspirational parents and certainly not about your personal experience; they are about an ineffective and divisive system.

Let’s be clear there is no social mobility, no class elevator and no rising of all boats – there is malaise, failure, rejection and inequity.

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Credit ITN- ITV News. PM Rt Hon Theresa May MP

A selective system assumes opportunity has been equal up until the point of test taking. It hasn’t. Gaps in educational attainment between poor and wealthy children exist by age five.Age eleven is too late to redress opportunity. With poorer children facing complex and structural disadvantage.Any pretence that  working class children do badly because they don’t work hard is a cynical lie. The reality is that a  lack of inter-generational aspiration, poor well being and poor preschool are the chains around the necks of the poor but bright. When your community is made up of those who don’t work or have insecure work;where mum has no time to help with homework; dad struggles to  afford child-care class based division widens. Evidence suggest a comfortable background can increase a child’s IQ score by 6 points. This means the kids who ‘need’ grammars can’t access them because of systemic disadvantage(which this government has made worse). So whilst some grammar schools  have quotas  for disadvantaged children and an  “untutorable”  test  it seems unlikely these interventions  can counter all the problems of selection. These attempts to modify grammar schools highlight the problems they fundamentally have. Grammars on the whole remain privileged isles for the middle class. Let’s be clear there is no social mobility, no class elevator and no rising of all boats – there is malaise, failure, rejection and inequity.

A Grammar schools system does not possess a magic formula for success. Across the country many rooms full of clever kids do well. Many studies suggest marginal or negligible improvement in grades as compared with pupils of the same social background in the comprehensive sector .What’s alarming is children from poorer backgrounds who make it in to grammars are still three times more likely to leave without any GCSE’s than their wealthier grammar school peers. Those who don’t make it in to the grammars from poorer background do worse than pupils in the comprehensive system. In fact areas like London which is almost completely comprehensive has better schools than Kent which is selective.The best areas for results in Britain are comprehensive, the best countries for  education around the world are comprehensive.

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Even if grammar schools are the answer to a question about educational woes we are we are asking the wrong question. In a battle of a statistics and heart the proponents of selection will win the politics.It is  the job of those who don’t hold facts in contempt or haven’t had enough of experts to argue better. We must measure our education policy by the standards we set our children. If we ask our children to sit and memorise facts and apply them we must demand the same of law makers. The argument against a selective system must not just be a data dump but a battle of values. Aspiration and social mobility aren’t owned by one side of this argument. The government say parents want choice. Parents want good schools for all their kids regardless of their aptitude .No parents want a failing comprehensive school or a rebranded secondary modern. We must not fall for rose-tinted idealism but make an evidence-based and emotive case for a prioritisation on early years care, valuable vocational education and good comprehensive education.

A child who is in a failing school currently will not be helped by this policy.

Perhaps you’ll say my criticism is irrelevant. Just because grammars are an idea created in 1944  does not mean its’ going back to the past. The PM has made it clear that it’s not return to the 1950s .But what in fact has the PM  has made clear seems to be very little. Current proposals seem to be for an asymmetric system, random and disorganised. Individual schools can introduce selection, at whatever age without any need or want or regard of the local area. Perhaps the new grammar system will work but who knows?  It’s a strange thing for a government who lacks a mandate for this policy to ignore every major educational authority and expert. Opposition to this unites liberal Conservatives, Labour politicians, teachers unions, the Chief inspector of schools,the Sutton trust and even  the Policy exchange. However according to one ex-Education secretary we have “had enough of experts”.

Grammars do no create opportunity they reduce it. Our modern desire for them is predicated on years of failure on education reform. We have failed to provide early years support in health, education and well-being. Parents are inadequately equipped to support their children. Primary school education has failed to equalise gaps. Teachers numbers are low and  the workforce are underpaid and over worked  .We have failed to design amodern 14-19 qualifications for prospective students or comparable opportunities for vocational training. Children’s experience of the comprehensive sector isn’t one of perfection. There are real challenges. None of these are solved by grammars. A child who is in a failing school currently will not be helped by this policy.

I’m sympathetic to the idea of grammar schools. The arguments are tangible. It’s the politics of pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps. Selection seems obvious, nay logical and thus is always politically tempting. Yet the concept hinges on a flawed social analysis. Grammars need a truly meritocratic society to work. They are conceptually audacious in their assertion that when all kids put pen to paper we can lift the brightest no matter how disadvantaged they are.But remains fundamentally dishonest about social mobility and raising of educational standard.

The PM waxes lyrical about meritocracy and social mobility like she has hired and unemployed Ed Miliband as speech writer. Her language is liberal it prioritises choice and hard work. The arguments are constructed to sway the prince and the pauper or perhaps the software developer and the PC World shop assistant. A grammar school system of any description is meritocratic which means it’s utopian. But utopia doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist in Kent, Lincolnshire, Birmingham or anywhere else for that matter. Facts get in the way. Selection is an idea created for a fictional 1950 Britain’s. Nostalgia for a culture that didn’t quite exist and constructed for an economy that no longer exists .Grammars are an idea artificially supported by assumption, political nimbyism and an adverse reaction to evidence .