Labour has reached peak groupthink

by Rob Marchant

groupthink, n., [grüp-ˌthiŋk]: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics

Merriam-Webster online dictionary

The saddest thing about party conference this year, as commentator Iain Martin remarked, was “otherwise nice/sensible people trying to persuade themselves it will be ok”.

If there were a fortnight to convince the world otherwise, this must surely have been it.

Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s position on bombing Isil, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and the rebellion on an actual vote for renewal of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, have all been an unmitigated shambles.

Most immediately, there’s Corbyn’s amazing letter outlining his personal position on British involvement in bombing Isil, pre-empting Monday’s shadow cabinet discussion, astounding shadow ministers and MPs alike.

Then there was his refusal to condemn Stop the War Coalition’s toe-curling and hastily-retracted blog post, blaming the Paris attacks on France and her Western allies. Not to mention a subsequent mauling by his own MPs at the regular PLP meeting, over that, Jihadi John and the government’s shoot-to-kill policy. Then the unprecedented event of Labour MPs criticising their own leader in the Commons and his links to the Stoppers.

In the case of the vote to keep Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, we had centrist MPs in the bizarre (and surely also unprecedented) position of defying the whip to vote for party policy, as Ben Bradshaw MP drily noted.

And let’s not forget (just 24 hours ago although it already seems longer) the unedifying spectacle of attempted political theatre gone badly wrong. John McDonnell MP – for it was he – chose to respond to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement by waving a copy of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book. Yes, that Mao, the 20th century’s greatest mass-murderer.

And thus did the tragedy of Labour’s last few months descend into farce.

The picture does not get any better when you consider polling: an October poll showed that Corbyn is the most unpopular new party leader since records began.

But where exactly is the activist base of the Labour Party at right now? YouGov on Tuesday released an amazing statistic: that despite the ongoing political gaffe-fest and disastrous poll rankings, a full 65% of Labour activists maintain that Corbyn is doing “well”.

We have written about groupthink at Uncut before. But even by the tendency towards groupthink of any political party – Labour above all – the ability of that 66% to seemingly block out all external and independently-verifiable sources of information takes some beating.

That is to say, let’s park for a moment the shambles on Syria, the antics of McDonnell and the fiasco of a response to the defence of the country, the first responsibility of any government. Now, on exactly what planet could the leadership be described as doing “well”?

It is no exaggeration to say that this must easily be the greatest divide between public and party perception of a leader since polling began. Indeed, it is hard to think of any moment in the post-war period when Labour’s leadership has been so far from the public.

Michael Foot managed to hold most the party together in the early 1980s – just – after a potentially disastrous split with the SDP; but Foot was a mere moderate compared with Corbyn. How can Corbyn survive where his more moderate, popular forebear only just managed to?

Conclusion: the latter’s tenure cannot, surely, be sustainable, any more than pacifist George Lansbury’s tenure was in the 1930s. Eventually the forces of political gravity have to come to bear and the groupthink disintegrates into painful realisation, as after any traumatic experience. MPs, in the end, have survival instincts (although we can probably exclude those of Corbyn’s thirty-five nominators who did it “to broaden the debate”).

Put another way, just how long can one group of – albeit largely decent and well-meaning – people put their hands over their ears and sing “la la la, I can’t hear you”? It seems we are about to find out.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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25 Responses to “Labour has reached peak groupthink”

  1. Henrik says:

    I hope the Rt Hon Jeremy stays as party leader until 2025, at least. He’s splendid and everything I look for in a leader of the Labour Party. The sooner he and his cadres get busy with the deselections, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

    ….of course, I’m not a Labour voter and am delighted that the party is now pretty much unelectable. Shame we don’t have an Opposition, though.

  2. Put another way, just how long can one group of – albeit largely decent and well-meaning – people put their hands over their ears and sing “la la la, I can’t hear you”?

    Or to put it another way, how long can the ultras like Rob ignore that they lost the leadership election, not just by a little, but by 95.5% to 4.5%?

  3. Mike Stallard says:

    The Labour Movement is a magnificent achievement. Nobody can question that. You have only to look round and see the lovely new houses, the warmth, the food in the supermarkets and the cheap travel and to compare that with what life was like in the 1950s – or the 1930s – to see that the working man has had his life transformed.

    But that is now done. The working class is no longer the same now. The Labour Party is split into Party Activists who are making a career or else into bitter, angry people (see comments on Labour List) who just want trouble. Neither appeals to me, a floating voter.

    So what next? How about looking at real issues? The fact that the British Education System was described to me by a girl of 15 at a State School, the daughter of two Lithuanian immigrants, as years behind the one in Lithuania. She did most of the stuff she is learning at the moment, she told me, in Primary School. She realises that she has little or no chance of going to a first class university.

    How about thinking through the problems caused by Islam which – be honest – is rapidly turning into the Catholics of 16th century England or the Jews in Europe – unpopular and ready for a really good kicking? No, I do not approve.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Danny Speight, whether a candidate got 4.5% is a reflection of less than 0.5% of the electorate who voted, it’s not that 0.5% who will decide the next election,it’s the millions of potential or ex labour voters who are looking in in disgust
    Unless we follow the view that we get massacred at the next election but the 59% of people who voted acirbyn say we may have lost millions of votes but at least our candidate had the policies we wanted

  5. Madasafish says:

    Put another way, just how long can one group of – albeit largely decent and well-meaning – people put their hands over their ears and sing “la la la, I can’t hear you”? It seems we are about to find out.”

    Until Corbyn centralises power in teh hands of his allies, deselects MPs who disagree (using Momentum ) and controls the NEC.

    Then he and his successors have a free run till 2030 at least. In Opposition .. but I don’t think they care about that.

    Of course, the Unions can stop him dead by withdrawing all finance. But as the Unions supported Miliband, and Corbyn .. you can rely on them doing the wrong thing again.. and again.

    Frankly I think Labour’s goose is stuffed..But then again the Tories may split over the EU and make shambles of things… But they are doing that now – and Labour fights internally.

    It’s bad for the Party and the country to have such a shambles for an Opposition.

  6. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Band Wagon: 1. : a usually ornate and high wagon for a band of musicians especially in a circus parade. 2. : a popular party, faction, or cause that attracts growing support —often used in such phrases as jump on the bandwagon. 3. : a current or fashionable trend.

  7. paul barker says:

    Its not that the Left cant see the facts, its that they interpret them differently. The Left want different things from the Centrists & they are happy that things are moving their way.
    What Labour Centrists have to accept is that, A, they have lost control of The Party grassroots permanently; & B, they cant take many Members with them, wherever they go.
    The various strategies suggested on this site amount to splitting the Party, either now or in the next 2 to 3 years, once you accept thats where you are going then you can think sensibly about how to get there with the minimum losses.

  8. Anne says:

    Keep up to date Danny your statistic is well out of date. You gov has a figure of 65% think Corbyn is doing well and I suspect that now is out of date. Why not take up John P s offer and contribute an article.
    By the times you are posting your comments I suspect you are a night shift worker, suffer from insomnia or living abroad.

  9. Tony says:

    Bradshaw tried to justify his vote by claiming that he was protecting jobs in Plymouth.
    But such jobs would still go if nuclear weapons were banned multilaterally.
    Personally, I am sick and tired of people who want to keep nuclear weapons indefinitely pretending they want to ban them multilaterally.

    I would also point out that British nuclear weapons have never been about defence at all but about status.

    “I was very doubtful about the need for Britain to have nuclear weapons but I didn’t express it in public. The main reason we had them was not to deter a Soviet attack but to reassure the Americans”.

    Denis Healey, Defence Secretary 1964-1970.

    14/03/2011: “Document” Radio 4.

  10. Bill Gordon says:

    The situation could be compared, in a weird way, to the Tories in 1990? Most MPs, including the cabinet could see that Thatcher was an electoral liability, yet she was still hugely popular with the party membership, if not with the public at large. The only difference may be Tories are much less troubled about dumping a leader if they think that the leader will take them to a defeat.

    The Corbyn project has now become a collective vanity act for a certain kind of leftism. When will all those sensible people with their fingers in their ears see that the result of their posturing will be that the Tories will win in 2020, destroying what little remains of the NHS by then.

  11. ad says:

    MPs, in the end, have survival instincts

    Do activists? After all, the party’s membership will not lose their jobs if Labour does badly at the next election, so why should they care?

  12. Delta says:

    It’s quite something being an exasperated activist having to apologise to members of the public for the poor quality and strange behaviour of MPs on the doorstep.
    It’s quite something to be a Councillor and sigh in despair at the embarrassingly bad performanc of fast tracked complient and mindless morons who are the future of the party…but it is truly something to witness the fruits of such imbecilic moronic stupidity when it all comes home.
    The group think of the Blairites who forgot the moderate ground in their arrogance and the lunacy of the dead Left lost in the past.
    It feels like a breath of fresh air that no false sense of injustice and group think fakery can taint.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    All the problems are caused by the MP’s who just can’t accept that 1) the members voted for JC, 2) the members support JC, and 3) the members do not want to return to Blairite centrism

    Sadly, Rob doesn’t understand the members as he has shown in this article

  14. Richard says:

    This may be collective madness of the members of the LP, a hysteria or whatever else you want to call it, but isn’t it our right? Isn’t it our party? Isn’t that what democracy is about? Isn’t that why we pay our subs and union dues?

    The right wing of the party also have a right to express their fears, to oppose going in a direction they believe to be fruitless. Again, a democratic right.

    The real question is one of the methods being used and though both sides can point to unacceptable tactics the problem is where will it end up?

    I think the right realise they can use more Machavellian methods as they know the left have little access to power other than Corbyn himself and have a general desire for unity and winning the debate, other than the Trots of course. The left membership are also removed from the cut throat world of power politics will mistakenly expect justice and fairness from their opponents.

    The right also have the media behind them who, as always, despise the left and the threat to business interests they represent, particularly with the anti TU legislation trundling through parliament, can’t have the rabble roused over that huh!

    In short, the battle is asymmetrical and favours the right politically, though the raw numbers obviously favour the left.

    Now we hear MP’s are consulting lawyers and have been advised that there is no obligation to put Corbyn on the next ballot following a coup. The Machavellian methods are reaching a culmination it would appear, before a special conference can debate rule changes to protect Corbyn is my thought.

    So the right of the PLP might win the battle and unseat Corbyn as early as next Thursday if Oldham brings bad news and there’s not a cat in hells chance in any other than a ‘soft left’ (read disguised right wing) candidate will get on the ballot paper.

    Then what?

    Have the plotters considered what might happen to the party or is the desire to ‘get Corbyn’ so great that any price is worth paying? Have they convinced themselves that this is just politics and the members will fall into line when the dust settles? That Momentum will shut up shop and we’ll get behind the new leader who will use left sounding rhetoric? Are they so ideologically opposed that they are prepared to destroy the party rather than Corbyn have any chance of becoming PM? We know Blaif feels that way.

    Obviously the media will get behind the new leader and congratulate the party on its outbreak of sanity And all the stops will be pulled out to save the party once it’s in a safe pair of hands, but did that save Pasok?

    Well there are always three options, fight, flight or acquiesce. I hope the left fight back and deselections are order of the day. The right hope they acquiesce. My fear is flight and an open door for UKIP.

  15. Nick Palmer says:

    The first duty of a party leader is to be reasomnably representative of the membership. Corbyn’s beliefs clearly reflected most members and has not shown the slightest sign of reneging on those beliefs. So he’s doing well at that primary task, and I assume that’s what YouGov respondents meant.

    I agree that further tasks, such as widening the range of support, need more work!

    Nick Palmer (Labour MP for Broxtowe 1997-2010)

  16. Anne says:

    Yes Bill I think the Conservatives would be far more ruthless with a leader who is failing – they would be out – even Thatcher was eventually ousted. Football managers are an example of ruthlessness when it comes to poor performance.
    Nick your sentiment may be a true one but is Corbyn really reprentative of the membership? He certainly is not with the majority of his MPs. I would also suspect his support is falling like a stone. It is also about leadership and having the skills to bring people with your beliefs – clearly Corbyn is very lacking with these abilities. He never gives interviews so people can at least understand his position.

  17. Anne says:

    On the rare occasion that Corbyn has given an interview, which was with Lorraine Kelly, he began to talk about drain covers – really. To state a well used quotation ‘you can not be serious. I am still thinking is this some cleaver plan or is he really that ineffectual that he he does not want to be taken seriously.

  18. DAODAO says:

    The problem with Corbyn as leader of the Labour party is not his views per se, but his handling of Labour’s position on key issues. Regarding UK participation in the bombing of Syria, a country which the UK has never had any particular interest, Corbyn has adopted a sound principled position (with which I agree) – on this matter, Camer(lo)on is more of a danger to UK citizens than Corbyn. Stirring the hornet’s nest that is ISIL is almost bound to lead to retaliation in the UK.

    However, Corbyn’s handling of Labour’s position on Syria is inept. It is not his views but his leadership skills that are the real problem. While “spin” is undesirable, he needs to ensure that he and his team put forward a united front with agreed views and policies, having discussed issues privately before making any statements. Neither he nor his colleagues should make any position statements until then.

  19. paul barker says:

    There can only be 2 possible ends to this process, either Labour splits into seperate Parties or each side destoys the other in an orgy of mutual hatred.
    The first would be good for democracy, allowing each side to say what they really think & giving voters a wider choice. The second would put thousands of activists off politics altogether.

  20. John P Reid says:

    Mike homfray,and the other problem for. Mps is they know Corbyn will lose the their seats in 2020
    JUDGING BY THE AMOUNT OF labour members I know who voted a Corbyn,who now regret it, I’d say 8% of the 50% he got regret it

  21. Mike Homfray says:

    But given the number of new members and those who left when Corbyn was elected, its now likely to be far higher in favour of Corbyn

    Also, the legal opinions re the right for a sitting leader to stand again have all but one been clear in pointing out that a sitting leader does have the right to stand again without having to seek nomination. The party members would re-elect him. I think its pretty obvious that the PLP can’t simply dispose of a leader elected by the members

    And how come one outlier poll is being quoted as accurate?

  22. anosrep says:

    “…just how long can one group of…people put their hands over their ears and sing “la la la, I can’t hear you”?”

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

  23. @John P Reid

    Of those Labour members you know who regret voting for Corbyn, and those who voted against, have any left the party?

    Because what some others have been saying is that, as new Corbyn supporters have joined, there’s an exodus of his opponents.

  24. Mr Akira Origami says:

    I just can’t stop thinking of “Le dîner de cons” when I think of the situation with Corbyn….

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