The line between political activist and commentator

Owen Jones wrote a great piece the day before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the UK Labour Party, reflecting on his own role and how people’s perceptions of his writing might be affected if Corbyn won.

It was never my intention or ambition to become a writer. … All I’m interested in is reaching people with political ideas that are otherwise banished. Obviously, the role of any individual in political change is limited and modest. I’ve spent the last few years trying to contribute to rebuilding an alternative politics, and unashamedly so. I see myself as an equal to any other activist: we’re all trying to achieve political change and contribute in different ways.

That makes my relationship with the mainstream media pretty difficult and conflicted. … Choose your metaphor or simile: but it feels like swimming against an extremely strong tide, without getting out the world’s smallest violin (oops, another one).

The point I’d make is this. I make my opinions and biases abundantly clear. But there are news journalists who are as opinionated as me, but pretend to be impartial. Indeed news and opinion are extremely blurred in this country. It is often possible to read through a news article about British politics and have a fair guess at the political convictions of the writer. As for the mainstream press as a whole — while, it serves as a very sophisticated de facto political lobbying operation, overwhelmingly promoting the cause of right-wing politics.

Go read the whole thing, it’s excellent.

It obviously gave me a bit of pause for thought. I don’t have anything like Jones’ reach or platform (no paid media gigs is a significant one) and I don’t think I’m anywhere near his level. But I am a party activist. I was fairly closely involved in Andrew Little’s campaign for the Labour leadership (enough so, and proud enough of my work, to stick it on my LinkedIn page like a total nerd, prompting a few interesting “who’s viewed your profile” results.) I work for the biggest Labour affiliate union, and blog in my free time on a clear understanding I am expressing my personal opinions.

There are plenty of other people in the NZ political blogosphere and commentariat who wander back and forth across the pundit/activist lines. Many, unfortunately, don’t draw clear lines about when they’re acting as one or the other – and that goes for people on the left as well as the right. And many, I believe, don’t reflect Jones’ commitment to only put in print what he would say behind closed doors anyway.

I can tell you I’m happy to make that commitment. I may choose to comment or not to comment on different issues, but when I comment, you’re getting my opinion on the matter. (Of course, if you already think I’m a party hack regurgitating Head Office’s key messages you aren’t going to believe me, but that’s up to you.)

I have an agenda, just like Owen Jones and just like anyone else who believes passionately in their politics. I want to see “my side” succeed. But a pillar of my ideology is that democracy is the bedrock of our society, and for democracy to function properly it needs an informed, aware electorate.

If we start telling voters what we think they want to hear, in order to gain power at any cost, we don’t deserve power. The other side don’t deserve power either, but I’m not willing to destroy everything that makes our movement worthwhile to get them out. What precisely would we achieve then? The same cold-hearted value-free government with a different arrangement of faces on the front bench.

Words are my tool. I love to write and express my political beliefs through writing. Sometimes that’ll be within the Party of which I’m currently a member. Sometimes that’ll be here. Usually it’ll be on Twitter.

I do work in communications, and I haven’t always worked for employers whose policies or processes I agreed with. And yeah, in those instances I’ve given advice on how to communicate their terrible policy or process best, if that was my job. But when I tell you something is my opinion, you can believe it, and you can believe I will say it to anyone behind closed doors who wants to listen.

If someone wanted to pay me to say it in a major newspaper I’d be down with that too …

freddie mercury wink

A UK Kiwi’s perspective on Corbyn

I’m no expert on UK politics, so thank god for John Palethorpe. He also has a smashing beard. His thoughts on the Corbyn victory are well worth a read:

The assumption that the Labour left was dead was like Goldfinger departing before the laser had finished cutting 007 in half. Presenting the membership with three candidates who were very similar and graciously allowing the fourth on the ballot to ‘broaden the debate’ was breathtaking hubris. Failing to recognise the intricacies of the electoral system they implemented to stop the Unions swinging the vote, like in 2010, sheer incompetence. In combination, it is possible the best demonstration of how poorly the self-appointed natural leaders of the Labour party understood what their leadership had done to the party.

Labour members decided that Henry Ford was right, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ They’ve done something different, without quite knowing what they’re going to get. That’s admirable, that’s brave in a time when we’re constantly warned that changing anything will bring about economic, cultural or other disasters down upon us.

Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn!

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the UK Labour Party. I’m quite excited because I live in hope: if election defeat after election defeat pursuing the ridiculous, amorphous “centre” isn’t going to get the point into some people’s heads, maybe an unapologetic, progressive leftwing leader in charge of a Labour Party, winning hearts and minds and poll bumps without compromising our basic principles of social justice and not crapping on the oppressed, will do the job.

I’m nothing if not an optimist.

The downside is that the UK doesn’t have another general election until 2020, and if a week is a long time in politics, four and a half years is an eternity. We’re definitely not going to get a good strong example of a leftwing leader breaking this godawful “move to the centre” tradition and winning before we go back to the polls in 2017.

Apparently a dozen or so of UK Labour’s “shadow cabinet” have threatened to resign. I’m no expert on UK politics, but I can actually do basic math and when you have 232 MPs to choose from, as UK Labour does, I’m pretty sure the twelve most childish haters of democracy can be replaced fairly easily.

At this point, the biggest threat facing Corbyn may be familiar to NZ lefties: a sulky caucus who refuse to acknowledge they’re out of step with their membership, throwing their toys and undermining the project – then declaring “see, we TOLD you going left wouldn’t work!” after they’ve figuratively set their own party on fire.

But I live in hope.