I was passionately involved in the events which Owen Jones describes in his new book, This Land: The Story of a Movement. But it turns out I didn’t know the half of it.
I knew, of course, of the McNichol groupuscule and its determination to undermine the new leadership at any cost. I knew that Mandelson had claimed that each day was an opportunity to bring down Corbyn. And I knew of the chicken coup, the machinations of Tom Watson, the claims of anti-semitism, the frustrating policy changes over Brexit.
What I didn’t realize was what a contrary old bugger was Corbyn himself. What made him an inspirational leader made him a shit CEO.
Owen tells of his sulking fits, his refusal to speak to McDonnell for weeks, his tardiness, his dislike of conflict, is going AWOL for hours and days.
And he also tells us of the incompetence of his hand-picked staff.
One of the key criticisms we make of Johnson and Gove is that their background as newspaper columnists makes them ill-equipped to run a country. There is a great divide between banging out a thousand words once a week and mastering the detail required to conceive and implement policy. The latter matters.
Owen of course is also a newspaper columnist, and in my judgement, a good one. He writes well and fluently in his columns, on Twitter and in this book. But he knows his limitations. He rejected a role in the inner circle.
Seamus Milne, the so-called posh-boy Stalinist, did not. He accepted with alacrity. And although he and Owen were both Guardian contributors, it is clear that Owen made the right choice and Milne the wrong one. Milne was more than capable of over-ruling the decisions of others, but barely able to make one himself.
He was, however, responsible for Labour’s strapline in 2017. “For the many, not the few” was not a new phrase by any means – it goes back to at least to Shelley - but it resonated as strongly as “Take back control” and “Get Brexit done”.
Newspaper people should stick to the knitting. And the essence of leadership is to surround oneself with people with specific and complementary skills. One such is John McDonnell who emerges from this story, unsurprisingly, as one of the few grown-ups in the room. He had – he has - the experience and expertise, the total commitment and work ethic to run an economy and a leader’s office.
Which makes reading of Corbyn’s sulky disagreement with him all the more difficult to take. And it is not made easier by Owen’s final chapter, entitled “The centre cannot hold”.
It is, as Owen says, important that we learn the lessons of the last five years, that Labour integrates its radicalism with organisation and competence. I suspect that those who voted for Starmer had something like this in their minds as they did so.
So far, I have seen and heard very little competence and no radicalism at all.
Let’s hope I am wrong.
Today from the everysmith vaults: A lovely studio session from Mike Bloomfield and Janis Joplin. Not sure where I got this. It’s marked Unknown Studio, San Francisco, December 1969. But it’s brilliant. Listen to Janis singing Had To Get Out Of Texas. So glad she did.