Monday, July 18, 2016

Cocksure certainties

I was reading an opinion piece in the Observer by Nick Cohen yesterday, and I came across this paragraph:

As the opposition collapsed last week, Paul Mason insisted that Labour must be transformed from a party that seeks to govern into a “social movement”. Mason, along with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Milne, is part of a group of journalists who have poisoned public life by taking braggart swagger and cocksure certainties of newspaper punditry into politics. But in this instance, he was authentically reflecting “the people” or, rather, that tiny section of “the people” who pay £3 and click on a link to show they agree with him.

My first thought was that it was strange for a political newspaper pundit to talk about political newspaper punditry in such uncharitable terms. It might be fair enough for a reality TV star to criticize Donald Trump for poisoning public life by taking the cartoonish offensiveness and fakery of reality TV into politics, but this seems different. Political newspaper punditry seems too similar to public life for braggart swagger and cocksure certainties to be OK in one but not in the other. Perhaps you’ll disagree with me about that. But there’s something else I wanted to pick up on in the paragraph. It’s the cocksure certainty expressed with such braggart swagger in the last sentence. I think it might not be quite accurate.

Corbyn labour leadership results.jpg

You’ll notice that Corbyn did much better than any of the other candidates among members, and among registered supporters, and among affiliated supporters. From what Cohen said, you’d think that Corbyn won the election because of the votes of the people who had paid £3 to be able to vote in the leadership election. Those people are the “registered supporters” column. But if Corbyn is winning in all the columns, then what Cohen said is quite misleading. Unless I’ve misread something.

I don’t know if he really thinks Corbyn won the election on the back of the £3 voters. It seems a weird thing for him to be wrong about. But since people are discussing Corbyn’s leadership a lot at the moment, it’s worth getting this right. When Corbyn was elected, the big split wasn’t between the party and the clicktivists. It was between the party membership, the clicktivists and the members of affiliated organizations on the one hand, and the Labour MPs on the other. Maybe the split is in a different place now, but that’s where it was last year.

Now, I understand that Nick Cohen thinks that the platform that most Labour MPs want the Labour party to present is closer to the views of the electorate as a whole than Corbyn's platform is. That's a genuine concern. But it's very different from the idea that Labour's leadership is out of touch because the election was hijacked by a group of fairweather enthusiasts with £3 to spare. If Labour is out of touch with the people, then it's out of touch at every level but the MPs. (The MPs may of course be out of touch as well. We don't really know a great deal about the people's view on Angela Eagle, Owen Smith, or whoever the Parliamentary Labour Party wants to replace Corbyn with.)


I did try asking him on Twitter whether he thinks that Corbyn only won because of the £3 voters, but he didn’t reply. That’s completely understandable: he’s famous and I’m sure people tweet at him all the time. Here’s the tweet:

Tweet to Nick Cohen about Corbyn and £3 voters.png