Friday, September 23, 2016


Of course he will win again.

Let's forget the politics for a moment. There are long debates that need to be had, not just about the future of the Labour Party, but of left politics itself. This post isn't about them. Instead, I want to draw on personal experience.

During my working career I have often encountered poor management. It hasn't always been the case; some of my managers have been superb. If you are really lucky, you end up with a star. Sometimes you get people with strengths and weaknesses, sometimes you work for the mediocre, but on rare occasions you get a new manager who is catastrophic. They are so bad that they threaten the very existence of the organisation. Then what do you do? It's an impossible choice.

You start by keeping your head down, getting on with the job, and making sure that everything runs well. It's a bit galling when managers claim credit for all your hard work, when you know that successes have been achieved despite, not because of, management. But then the drip, drip of mistake after mistake, of stupidity repeated, of reputational harm, of antagonism and unpleasantness, reaches breaking point. At that moment you can do one of two things. You can internalise the problem and make yourself ill, or you can take action and rebel. I have done both. And both failed.

There is not a lot you can do to rebel. You can use the union to snipe away at small issues, but the main tool is to hold a vote of no confidence. The expectation is that if the management has any sense of personal honour or obligation they would resign, or, if not, their superiors in the power hierarchy would take action. Think again. Every time we passed one, the management ignored it, admitted no fault, blamed others, issued vague threats to what they saw as a rebellious and disloyal staff, but magnanimously said that we could be forgiven for telling the truth as long as we stopped doing so and did what we were told. Does this sound familiar?

This is why I take the Labour leadership election personally. I've been there. I know what it is like for the PLP. For nearly a year those who had to work under Corbyn's leadership faced a number of mini-crises without snapping. But it was the Brexit failure and Corbyn's unilateral call to immediately activate Article 50, without consultation or any real understanding of the complexities of Brexit, which was the moment that people sat back and thought that something must be done. (Even more bizarrely he denied doing so in the leadership debates although anybody can see the clip on YouTube). The bulk of the Shadow Cabinet resigned, the Parliamentary Party passed an overwhelming vote of no confidence, even his impressive personally chosen team of economic advisors resigned. All said the same thing. The leader's office was a shambles, they had been personally undermined, the media strategy was a mess, there was no consultation or coordination, it was impossible to get to talk to Corbyn, he was unable to take criticism and unwilling to listen, he showed no leadership skills and was an improbable prime ministerial candidate. Basically, he and his team were useless. In addition, the polls were consistently bad and his personal polling was catastrophic. It was clear that Labour was heading for the sort of defeat that is hard to recover from.

The result? Nothing. He ignored it all and carried on regardless with a small band of unimpressive loyalists. If a government is defeated in a no confidence motion, it has to resign, but the leader of a Parliamentary party, apparently not. So the next stage was a leadership challenge.

Owen Smith hasn't impressed. His undermining of Angela Eagle dismayed me, his strategy was poor, his inexperience showed, but at least he was prepared to try in a way others weren't. This points to the other problem, the inadequacy of the alternatives that opened the way for the experiment of the Corbyn leadership. And Corbyn is unbeatable at the moment, given his support within the membership. This is the oddest part of it.

Whenever I was involved in trying to get rid of bad management, those higher up in the hierarchy rallied round to support them against the workers. This time it is a mass of people outside the power structure who want to preserve Corbyn.

I cannot for the life of me understand the enthusiasm, idolatry and uncritical hero worship of the 'Corbynistas'. I dislike and distrust the adulation of political leaders per se. It marks a suspension of healthy sentiments like scepticism, judgement and doubt. Sometimes it can be pathological, especially when it becomes Manichean where all opponents of the beloved leader are enemies, traitors and, ominously, "red Tory scum." I look at the upturned faces at his rallies, burning with admiration at every mumbled platitude, happy to bathe in his banality, and it strikes me that this whole phenomenon is so divorced from reality as to be bat-shit crazy. I haven't put in any links in the post so far, though I could have used millions. Instead, I will point to this one piece by a Greek leftist, Alex Andreou. It's excellent. This paragraph captures the essence of the problem:
... my impression from many hundreds of discussions, is that post-Iraq, all competence and charisma has become a confused proxy for ruthlessness and deceit. To manage is to engage in "managerialism". To win is a sign of immorality. And that, I think, is the true source of my impasse with many Corbyn supporters. I see his incompetence and intransigence as fatal flaws; they see them as guarantees of purity. 
As Andreou says,
Labour is a party plagued by Magical Thinking. Reality has disappeared from view. Oblivion beckons.
This is a disaster. Politics is not a game. It is vital, and a strong Labour Party is needed. The real lives of ordinary people depend on it. Unfortunately, a large section of the Party has abandoned intelligence, and are ignoring the experience and judgement of elected Members of Parliament in favour of their fantasies. The result is that they are supporting the management against the workers and calling it "true socialism." They are replicating the actions of the authorities who ensured that our rebellions ended in failure. And we were proved right far too often. Sometimes our problems were fatal.

The question of the future of the left in Europe is really difficult, but I can assure you that one way to solve the conundrum is not to have the Labour Party lead by someone who is a living example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.


An excellent account of the failure of the leadership challenge here. Well worth reading. It shows something else that I found as well in working life. However inept managers were at the real job, they knew how to cling on to it - ruthlessly.

1 comment:

Blogumentary said...

Thank you Pete! It does help to see the whole sorry episode from the angle of bad management.

May I add that to me, it feels like a bizarrely twisted 1980s time-warp. The rhetoric and the strategies are so out-dated with a thin veneer of 'digital innovation' laid over solutions that failed more than thirty years ago. Which also sounds like bad management.