The perils of “Palin fatigue”

Even with growing anti-Palin sentiment, she is still a threat to the left.

Since resigning the governorship of Alaska, Sarah Palin has not disappeared from the public domain. Her autobiography sold more than two million copies in 2009. Her second book reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list in its second week. She provides political commentary on Fox News and has hosted her own reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska. Palin is also seen as a darling of the Tea Party movement, several of whose members she endorsed in the recent midterm elections.

But despite her visibility, there are big questions about how much power Palin holds – and whether she has any chance of securing the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in 2012. So is it time for the Democrats to stop invoking her as a hate figure? Is the left giving her more coverage – and therefore credibility – than she really deserves?

Several journalists, including CNN's Gloria Berger, have spoken of "Palin fatigue". On the American news programme Morning Joe, the presenter Mika Brzezinski pointed out: "I don't want to overemphasise her news value . . . I mean, OK, you ran for vice-president, it was a huge failure. At what point do you not become news? At what point do we just ignore?"

So, as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank begins a month-long Palin moratorium and urges fellow journalists to stand with him, when should the media stop trailing Palin to every book signing/town-hall meeting/Tea Party conference, or dissecting every new tweet and Facebook post?

Not yet, I think.

In November last year the former Alaskan governor announced in an interview with New York Times Magazine that she was considering running for the presidency, and to that end "was having that discussion with her family".

Following that, a poll by Ramussen detailing the views of 1,000 likely Republican primary voters in the 2012 presidential elections placed Ms Palin, with 19 per cent of the vote, second only to the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Then again, Palin trailed in fourth in a straw poll of the Republican state committee in the "kingmaker state" of New Hampshire. She was behind not only Romney, the serious contender, but also the Texas congressman Ron Paul and the former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

That straw poll listed 21 possible Republican nominees, perhaps highlighting the continuing uncertainty surrounding the GOP nomination. The Washington Post, however, sees the results as an indication that even with the rise of Tea Party, the party machine is likely to back an establishment candidate in 2012.

According to a recent Gallup poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Ms Palin has a net favourable rating of 22 per cent. Those who placed higher than her in the New Hampshire straw poll – Romney, Paul and Pawlenty – scored 23, 18 and 13 per cent respectively. Interestingly, Palin's fellow Fox News pundit Mick Huckabee, who came 12th in the New Hampshire poll, had the highest net favourability rating of 30 per cent.

Judging by these early indicators, the Republican ticket remains very much unwritten. There is a marked absence of any declared runner providing a rallying point for Republican attention, or the attention of the wider press.

The Gallup poll found that Palin was the most recognisable Republican, which if nothing else demonstrates her capacity to grab the attention of potential primary voters more successfully than her Republican competitors.

Her recognition rating of 95 per cent was 11 points ahead of Romney's. It remains important that those on the left maintain their focus, however fatiguing, on the obviously frenetic Ms Palin.

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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.