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In this week's magazine | How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

A first look at this week's issue.

24-30 July 2015
How Labour went mad for Jeremy Corbyn

Featuring

Mary Creagh: Labour is becoming Millwall FC: nobody likes us but we don’t care.

Brendan Simms on Europe, the new German empire.

Samira Shackle meets Naz Shah: “The victory is my mother’s, too.”

Leader: The Corbyn surge

George Eaton: Not even Jeremy Corbyn took his own chances seriously. Is he now on track to lead a party in panic?

 

 

Mary Creagh: Labour is becoming the equivalent of Millwall Football Club: nobody likes us but we don’t care

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh writes Labour is in “a horrible place” as parliament approaches recess:

A dozen weeks since our overwhelming election defeat, Labour MPs are full of gallows humour and quiet despair – because, in choosing our new leader, we are making four of the same mistakes we made in 2010. First, like Gordon Brown after his defeat, Ed Miliband stood down as leader immediately. He hoped that the party could have “an open and honest debate about the right way forward, without constraint”. That debate has not materialised and we are having a family row with the Labour selectorate instead of a discussion with the British electorate.

Secondly, she writes, the “drawn-out leadership race” will “exhaust” the party:

Whoever is elected as leader will be drained by the campaign but have to start work right away. The first big test will be a speech to the trade union congress, which starts the day after the winner is announced on 12 September. The leader must then appoint a shadow cabinet, prepare for Prime Minister’s Questions, rebuild morale and write a cracker of a conference speech.

Thirdly, Creagh argues that a “left-wing candidate on the ballot ‘for balance’” is a mistake:

During the 2010 leadership election, David Miliband “lent” nominations to other candidates to ensure that Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham could take part. This made the transfers of voting under the single transferable vote system less predictable and, arguably, deprived David of the three or four extra MPs’ votes he needed to win. David’s legacy to Labour, which made it normal – Blairite, even – to put a left-winger on the ballot “to have a broad debate”, has dragged the leadership campaign to the left. Unfortunately, the electorate has moved to the centre right.

She concludes:

Labour is not yet in the place where we can say with confidence: “The only way is up.” Early findings from the “lessons learned” report commissioned by Harriet suggest that voters think that Labour simply does not understand their lives. We are in danger of becoming the political equivalent of Millwall Football Club. Their chant? “No one likes us, we don’t care.”

 Read the article in full below.

 

Brendan Simms: The Iran deal won’t make the world much safer – it will be a differently dangerous place

European integration was designed to contain Berlin’s power – instead, it has increased it, writes Brendan Simms:

 In a blistering speech to the Greek parliament on 15 July, the former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis referred to the harsh “bailout” conditions impos­ed by eurozone leaders, and especially Berlin, as a “new Versailles”. This calculated allusion to the punitive peace inflicted on imperial Germany after the First World War, especially the “reparations” she was forced to pay, was picked up by media commentators and politicians across the world.

Berlin’s approach was widely condemned as “brutal”. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, claims that “the man with the gun is the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble”, and that “it is the Germans who are now running the show”. Indeed, one could be forgiven for wondering whether the “Fourth Reich” that the Irish historian, politician and journalist Conor Cruise O’Brien warned about in 1989, shortly before the Wall fell, had now come to pass. So has the euro crisis brought about peacefully something that the Kaiser and Hitler failed to achieve militarily, namely the German domination of Europe? Less hyperbolically, was Ulrich Beck, the eminent sociologist who died in January, right to say that Chancellor Angela Merkel is a calculating “Mer­kiavelli”, whose ambition to “Germanise” Europe has now been validated by events?

Simms writes that the “short answer” to this question is “No”:

Germany is not oppressing Greece, or any other eurozone country. Nobody forced these previously sovereign states into the common currency, at the barrel of a gun or in any other way. It was a dance they insisted on joining, in some cases rather like the ugly stepsisters, doing violence to their economic body shape in order to fit into the shoes of the required convergence criteria.

But Simms does see the current crisis as “very much a product” of “the German problem” and of the German imperial legacy. Tracing the history of Germany in Europe back to the Second World War, he argues:

European integration was designed both to contain and to mobilise Germany. Its centrepiece to date is the euro, but, given the unwillingness of the rest of Europe to enter into a matching full political union, the EU faced the resulting sovereign debt crisis and the Russian challenge without the governmental apparatus it required in order to end the crisis. Instead, the European project as now constructed, and especially the currency union, originally designed to contain German power, has increased it, just as the British Eurosceptics warned it would.

Simms concludes:

Whatever the solution, it will have to allow the Germans to continue to act as subjects of the European system, without turning most other peoples on the continent into objects. It will have to avoid a “Versailles” for both Germany and everyone else. It will also have to mobilise the collective energies of Europe, including those of Germany, to deal with the enormous challenges posed by the growth of Russian power, and to compensate for the relative decline of the United States. It will have to close the gap that opened up between politico-military and socio-economic integration in Europe in the 1950s. In short, it must once and for all settle the German and European questions at one stroke, for to settle the one is to settle the other.

 Read the column in full below.

 

Samira Shackle speaks to the woman who displaced George Galloway from his Bradford seat, Naz Shah.

Naz Shah’s defeat of George Galloway was the final step in a remarkable struggle for familial redemption, writes Samira Shackle:

Naz Shah wept the first time she spoke in front of an audience. It was 1995 and she was a teenager, giving a talk to a group of students at Bradford College about the campaign to free her mother, Zoora Shah, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “I cried all the way through,” she said.

That harrowing experience of trying to secure her mother’s release helped prepare Shah for her entry into politics. On 7 May this year she ousted George Galloway and became the new Labour MP for Bradford West, the constituency where she grew up. Now 41, she had no background in politics, and secured the nomination in early March only after the local party’s first choice, Amina Ali, abruptly withdrew, citing family reasons. Although Galloway was favoured to retain the seat for the Respect Party, Shah won with a majority of 11,420 votes.

On publishing an account of her life story during her campaign:

“It was very clear that either I own my own narrative, or let George Galloway do it, and I’ll be damned if I let a man own my narrative. It’s mine and it’s up to me what I do with it.”

On Galloway’s campaign tactics:

“I launched my campaign on policy. Even when [Galloway] attacked me, I attacked him only on his policy, his attendance, his record,” she said. “I knew it would get personal, but where he stooped to was a new low. It backfired because the people of Bradford are not stupid. Credit where credit’s due: there are pockets of patriarchy, but the men in this community have come a long way and I got a lot of support from them.”

On Biraderi politics [parties using bloc votes from community leaders in constituencies with significant numbers of Pakistani voters]:

“Biraderi politics is no different to the old boy network,” Shah told me. “We need to work with those patriarchal structures of elitism and power to reform them. It’s my job to convince people of the empowerment that real democracy and honest politics brings.”

On her mother:

“She made that daughter. I couldn’t have got here without her. My victory is not just mine, it’s my mother’s, too, so she can hold her head up high.”

 

Leader: the Corbyn surge

The NS Leader this week turns its attention to the man who would be Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn:

The first public poll of the Labour selectorate, by YouGov for the Times, has confirmed what we had already reported: that Jeremy Corbyn is currently first in the contest to be the next leader of the Labour Party. YouGov has placed him 17 points ahead of his nearest rival, Andy Burnham (43 per cent to 26), in the initial round of voting. Under the party’s transferable vote system, the 66-year-old MP for Islington North could ultimately triumph over the shadow health secretary by 53 per cent to 47. After May, all polls should be treated sceptically but this survey mirrors the high number of constituency parties nominating Mr Corbyn.

A serial rebel, Mr Corbyn originally struggled to gain the 35 MPs’ nominations necessary to enter the leadership contest. Long preferring the purity of ideological opposition to the compromises of power, he began as the 100-1 outsider but his odds have since been slashed to 2-1, after he won the support of powerful unions. That he is leading the contest reiterates just how traumatised and angry many Labour members are following their defeat in May. In many ways, Mr Corbyn is an unreformed Bennite. The next month could decide the future of Labour as a viable, election-winning party.

 

George Eaton: Not even Jeremy Corbyn took his own chances seriously. Is he now on track to lead a party in panic?

George Eaton writes that whether or not private polling showing Jeremy Corbyn on course to win the contest is accurate, it is “undeniable” that he has exceeded expectations:

The question being asked in Labour circles is why. One shadow cabinet minister attributes his surge to a party that is “in grief” and “shock” and  “going through a nervous breakdown”. To those members traumatised by Labour’s election defeat, Corbyn offers the greatest source of comfort. After the election, his rival candidates (Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall) all positioned themselves to Miliband’s right.

Only Corbyn advanced the soothing argument that Labour lost because it was insufficiently socialist. The success of parties to its left in Scotland, Greece and Spain has given his views a salience they previously lacked. A Labour source also blames Miliband’s accommodative leadership. “The left of the party has been indulged for five years and hasn’t been challenged,” he said.

As the only anti-austerity and anti-Trident candidate, Corbyn has benefited from his ideological distinctiveness. To his supporters, what unites Burnham, Cooper and Kendall is more important than what divides them. They all offer variations on the same uninspiring, centrist brew. None resembles a prime minister-in-waiting. The improbability of the next leader reaching Downing Street explains why some members have seized the chance of a “free hit”, as Chuka Umunna recently described it to me. But many, in any case, regard winning elections as a third-order issue. The YouGov poll found that only 27 per cent of party members believed it was important that the leader “understood what it takes to win”, compared to 53 per cent who wanted someone who could provide an effective opposition and 62 per cent who wanted a leader in touch with the concerns of ordinary people

He continues:

Should Corbyn win, he will have Unite to thank. It was the trade union’s activities in Falkirk that prompted Miliband to introduce Labour’s one-member-one-vote system in 2014. Under this model, MPs have lost their “golden share”, which gave them a third of the votes in the electoral college. The anti-Corbyn Parliamentary Labour ­Party is unable to counter the thousands of left-wing activists (and Machiavellian Tories) signing up to support him.

Corbyn’s rivals have been asked whether he could serve in their shadow cabinet. The question now is whether they would serve in his. Shadow cabinet ministers told me that almost all current members would resign rather than join Corbyn’s team. MPs privately predict that he will be ousted “before Christmas” if he wins.

 

Eaton concludes:

Senior figures hope the matter will not arise. The poll could be the moment when Labour members conclude that the dangers of voting Corbyn are too great. Yet it could equally galvanise even more into signing up to guarantee his victory.

Wherever Corbyn finishes, the left of the party will be stronger than at any point since his election in 1983. To many, it feels as if Labour has regressed several decades in the space of a few weeks. The journey back to reality, they fear, will take much longer.

 

Plus

Peter Wilby on Her Majesty’s Nazi salute, the left’s gut feelings and Corbyn’s Foot problem.

Helen Lewis: If you describe Corbyn as “principled”, then so is Liz Kendall.

Barbara Speed on why business needs misfits.

Tom Gatti: How to survive rock’n’roll excess, the BBC under fire, and Cameron’s festival guest slot.

Suzanne Moore: When I worked at Marxism Today, my desire to earn a living proved to be somewhat déclassé.

Andrew Harrison meets science fiction author Michael Moorcock.

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Relive your worst experiences for $15 an hour: how confessional journalism exploits women writers

The women’s website Bustle asks its writers to fill out a checklist covering every possible personal angle; it puts a low-market value on their most intimate truths.

Let me tell you about the worst thing that ever happened to me, the most terrible thing I’ve ever done. Let me tell you everything there is to know about me, all the buried markers of self that live under my skin. OK not that one, and I’ll keep that one too. I have to have something left over, after all. Even so, I’ve written about being the May Queen at school, and the time I got flashed in an underpass; about having depression as a teenager, and the unplanned pregnancy that became my son.

Actually, I’ve written about that last one twice: my first successful pitch for a comment piece was a response to anti-abortion comments by the then-influential semi-thinker Phillip Blond. It was a kind of pitch I now refer to now as the “what I think about X as a Y”: what I think about abortion as a woman who had and chose to continue an unplanned pregnancy. Experience is capital, and in 2009, I used it to buy my way into writing.

It’s a standard route for women writers, but not usually as formalised as it is at women’s website Bustle, which (as Gawker reported last week) asks its writers to fill out a checklist covering every possible personal angle: “I see a therapist”, “I’ve had group sex (more than three)”, “I used to have a Fitbit but I don’t now”.

Every bit of what you are, granulated and packaged for easy dispersal through a range of stories. It’s an editorial approach that gives rise to a weird, impersonally-personal tone. “Five Reasons I’m Grateful For My Parents’ Divorce”, chirrups a listicle; “that’s why I tried anal sex in the first place”, trills a gif-heavy piece about the benefits of bumming.

That’s just the shallow end of the confessional genre. The ideal online women’s interest story combines a huge, life-changing disclosure with an empowering message. Like this, from xoJane: “I'm Finally Revealing My Name and Face As the Duke Porn Star” (the last line of that one is: “My name is Belle Knox, and I wear my Scarlet Letter with pride”). Or this, from Jezebel: “On Falling In and Out of Love With My Dad” (which concludes like this: “And to the victims of their abuse, I want to say what I have finally been able to understand myself: that my attraction, and what it led to, was not my fault”).

It’s tempting to think of this blend of prurience and uplift as a peculiar product of the internet, but it’s been a staple of women’s publishing forever: the covers of women’s magazines are full of lines like “Raped for 50p and a biscuit!” and “The groom who went ZOOM!” about a jilted bride, exactly as they were when I used to sneak them from my aunt’s magazine rack to read them as a child. The difference is that, in the trashy weeklies, there’s no pretence that trauma is the overture for a career. You get paid for your story, and someone else writes it up. The end.

At Bustle, the rate apparently runs to $90 for a six-hour shift. That feels like a low market value to put on your most intimate truths, especially when the follow-up success you’re investing in might never materialise. The author of the father-daughter incest story for Jezebel told a Slate writer that, despite the huge web traffic her confessional received, her subsequent pitches were ignored. Her journalistic career currently begins and ends with her very grimmest experience.

“Everything is copy” is the Nora Ephron line. But when she said it, she didn’t intend the disclosure economy we live in now. For Ephron, “everything is copy” meant claiming control: “When you slip on the banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on the banana peel, it’s your laugh. So you become the hero, rather than the victim of the joke.”

Does the aspiring writer plucked from an editor’s checklist to retail her own Worst Thing Ever get to call the banana skin her own?

The Bustle checklist suggests not. “Don’t put anything on here you don’t want to write about,” it stresses, before adding, “that said, you can always say ‘no’ . . . You might be too busy when an editor approaches you about possibly writing an identity post, or simply not interested, and that’s okay! We won’t be mad!”

Ticking the box basically puts you in a position of assumed consent, but which hopeful young woman would dare to set her boundaries too close when an editor tells her this could be good for her career? (Yes, I know this sounds a bit like a story of sexual harassment. Funny, that.)

So many confessionalist pieces of writing tell stories about women having their limits overridden. Rape and coercion. Abuse and assault. Being talked over and ignored. But the logic of the perpetual confession journalism machine is the same: everything about a woman should be available to use, nothing a woman has to say is valid without a personal claim to authority, repackage their guts as shiny sausages and call it an “identity piece”.

Women writers shouldn’t be waiting for permission to say no. We need to tell our stories on our own terms, and we need to set better terms than $15 an hour and the hope of some exposure. The worst thing that ever happened to me? It’s mine. I’m keeping it.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.