Show, Don’t Tell

It would appear that the UK Labour Party are not great storytellers. The narrative principle of “show, don’t tell” seems to have passed them by. The Conservatives are in meltdown as Cameron’s attempt to put down a coup by the party’s second-stringers (who now seem dismayed that they actually won the EU Referendum) failed and triggered a leadership battle. Their austerity measures – passed through parliament through the vacillating incompetence and short-termism of the Labour Party (including Peter Kyle, whose own cocksure myopia I’ve previously moaned about) – are being condemned by the UN.

Yet the Labour Party starts a coup of its own. Now, this isn’t to defend Jeremy Corbyn, who has been as useful as a pope in a brothel (well, some popes). But when your main political opponents are collapsing and their policies are under fire from reputable third parties, perhaps that’s the time to put the boot in rather than pursuing your own leader?

Here, instead, is what they should have done. They needed to find a leader-in-waiting, someone who wasn’t strongly affiliated with Corbyn but who still had a shot at appealing to the rightfully disenchanted of the electorate. This single voice should have taken a firm line of argument, pointing out the lies that were told by the Leave campaign, and the cynical manoeuvring on which the referendum was built. They needed to point out how austerity wasn’t working, how the electorate were misled about immigration, and where the root of our economic instability really lay. They could present a real alternative, one that appealed to the people fed up with the status quo, in an effective way that didn’t involve pandering to the worst aspects of human nature.

They would have done all this whilst Corbyn floundered and shortly, we’re talking a matter of months, if not weeks, they could have been in position to gently push him aside and step in, having by now established themselves as the intellectual point-(wo)man of the party.

By showing the electorate that the government were no good, and that they could effectively oppose them, and that Corbyn couldn’t, this hypothetical leader-elect would avoid all the usual empty hot air that comes from telling the electorate that they are, in some ill-defined way, a better choice. Imagine, someone actually taking the fight to the opposition in an effective manner. They could overtake from the inside. Anti-Corbyn Labour could have had their cake and eaten it. No doubt Corbyn would have noticed this; but as events have established, he hasn’t the Machiavellian nous to Francis Urquhart/Underwood the challenger’s manoeuver.

But of course the party couldn’t do this, because for all the tribalism of the Corbynites, the Parliamentary Labour Party has its own tribalism, the tribalism of the professional politician irritated that they’ve not been rewarded for “playing the game” the last twenty years. Furthermore they can’t comprehend how the party could win without playing that game. They’d rather keep pushing austerity because that’s what they think the public wants, rather than convincing the public that it’s not working; they haven’t worked out a way of harnessing electoral disaffection for some positive end, rather than trying to ride the whirlwind of Daily Mail-fuelled bile.

I also suspect that this lack of vision and foresight stems from their own personal ambitions – each views getting rid of Corbyn as a step towards a juicy job of his or her own. They can’t get behind a single replacement because too many want to be that replacement, whether they have a positive program of their own to put forward or just feel they could win an election through brinksmanship and public relations. So they, like the Conservatives, devour their own in a frenzy of infighting.

As for Corbyn himself? His grand vision could probably have been furthered if he had gone gracefully already – the problem with hanging on is that it will breed resentment and feed the tribalism that plagues his party. The net result could easily be that a real Blairite will take this as their chance, and step in to repeat the same slick-yet-hollow political card shuffling and electoral pandering that the original did; the party might once again have a chance of winning, but by substituting tactics for strategy they’d have no substance and make no appreciable impact on the political climate of the UK.

As Raymond Chandler wrote ‘there’s no trap deadlier as the trap you set for yourself.’ The Labour party have set some pretty deadly traps for themselves post-Brexit.



About Elliot Rose
I am a graduate of the Centre for Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex. My PhD thesis concerned the way that human nature has been conceptualised and related to society. I write - when I remember to - about science and society, naturalism, ethology (and its observations in relation to humanity), a little on the philosophy of science and ethics, and occasional grumbles about society and pop-culture.

2 Responses to Show, Don’t Tell

  1. Pingback: Brexit: Why Cameron’s campaign lost | Marcus Ampe's Space

  2. Elliot Rose says:

    Reblogged this on Studies in Social & Political Thought and commented:

    Elements of this might well be seen as redundant in the light of the events of yesterday (Chilcot etc.) – Times correspondent and sometime News Quiz panellist Hugo Rifkind characterised (caricatured?) it as Corbyn finding a square hole for his square peg. Nevertheless these reflect some of my thoughts on the opposition’s response to the Brexit aftermath.

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