Corbyn’s reshuffle did not kill his ‘new politics’ – it only made it stronger

There’s more to Corbyn’s 'new politics' than being a bit nicer and Dugher’s claim over the term was all sound bite and no substance

Andrew Dolan
Friday 08 January 2016 18:07
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With the hysteria surrounding the ‘revenge’ reshuffle one could hear the last gasp of a ‘new politics’ that never really got started. Or so we are told. This was an opportunity ‘squandered’, claimed parts of the press, as the new politics became a ‘casualty’ of a shake up that turned out to be rather underwhelming.

Was it really left to the self-proclaimed ‘straight-talking, honest’ Michael Dugher MP, a former special advisor and corporate lobbyist, to uphold the values that Corbyn has seemingly abandoned in favour of the machinations of party politics?

Dugher’s claim to have upheld the new politics is fatally undermined by his own behavior. There is significant difference between voicing dissent and defending one’s convictions in a sensible, pragmatic manner - which Dugher’s formerly privileged position gave him ample opportunity to do - and briefing against your leader (albeit implicitly) in the press and adding to the pile of sticks used by the Conservatives to beat Labour. It seems the Labour right and centre’s long tradition of demanding party unity rings much quieter when the leader is not the one they want.

Ironically, Dugher’s most well-known criticism is of the organisation set up to further the ‘new politics’, Momentum, in his words a “mob...whose aggression is matched only by their stupidity.”

Dugher’s criticism is revealing beyond simply clarifying factional allegiances. Whatever reservations one has regarding Momentum, condemnations such as those made by Dugher, supported by the rump of the parliamentary Labour party, indicate a gulf between language and practice, rooted in an empty understanding of the new politics.

Within this, the new politics boils down to being a little bit nicer and more patient with each other; the abandonment of political subterfuge and a willingness to tolerate dissent. Whilst this is well and good and is no doubt a key factor in Corbyn’s appeal, building a new politics, if it is to mean anything substantial, must focus on deeper change.

Its aims should be to break down the barriers between political institutions and citizens, to democratise policy processes and empower people to take control of their own lives rather than cede responsibility to political elites that in turn cede theirs to corporate agendas.

We see it in Spain in with Podemos and the citizen platforms in power in major Spanish cities, and we saw genuine flashes of it in Corbyn’s leadership campaign. For all its teething problems, Momentum may well be key to achieving similar change.

Of course, Corbyn and his team will be involved in episodes of political maneuvering like that of the reshuffle in the future - this is unavoidable in party politics, even if one can hope that next time it is more competently managed. Yet we should not confuse the reduction of the power of MPs like Dugher with a betrayal of the new politics nor as behavior inimical to the democratic values that Corbyn espouses.

No one is denying the right of Dugher to represent his constituents but neither should Dugher attempt to deny Corbyn’s unprecedented mandate for change and the wishes of the majority of Labour members.

Talk of new politics is cheap, and those that claim to support it must move beyond language and match sound bites with substance, and divert energy spent undermining Corbyn towards contributing to the much-needed process of transforming social democracy.

Contrary to claims, the new politics has not been a casualty of the reshuffle - especially if Corbyn is now closer to building a team committed to it - but it may well be in the long run if it is not properly articulated and, ultimately, enacted.

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