Beware of what you wish for

Jeremy Corbyn has managed to get onto the final ballot to become the next leader of the Labour Party and succeed Ed Miliband. Perhaps fittingly for an MP first elected in 1983, unlike others in that generation like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he looks like he believed every word of Labour’s 1983 manifesto (“the longest suicide note in history”) and still does. Unsurprisingly championed by the likes of Owen Jones, he’s a supporter of:

Despite twitter being much more vocally left than right wing even on my feed (!), interestingly there have been a lot of right wing tweeters gleefully suggesting taking up Labour’s offer of affiliating for £3 to vote for him as being a sure-fire way of killing off Labour’s chances in 2020. After all, in 2010, the total number of Labour members and affiliates voting was less than 300,000 (and many of those will have had more than one vote by being both a member and an affiliate), so it would only take perhaps 30-40,000 carpet-bagger anti-Labour affiliates to join and be able to get him to win. If you’re not planning on standing as a councillor, MEP or MP, perhaps that would even be worth risking expulsion if you’re a Tory member!

Or would it?

While Corbyn looks like a stereo-typical Bennite far left candidate of the sort that must surely be unelectable, things aren’t necessarily so straightforward. There are a few things today which mean that it isn’t certain that a revival of Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy of 75-76 would be rejected so clearly as it was back then. Writers like Owen Jones have made a popular career out of reviving much of it for the generations who, like him, weren’t even born when it was a live issue. Lots of people this year found Labour not properly left wing enough and preferred to vote for the Greens or in Scotland, the SNP. The protectionist core of that line would also be likely to appeal to many who supported UKIP. It is also noticeable that the front-running three candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, are all pretty uninspiring, either being in Burnham and Cooper’s cases, cabinet ministers from the Brown years or a robotic Blairite like Kendall. In trying to learn the lessons of defeat in 2015 each has awkwardly tried to use the language of aspiration but ineptly like someone speaking in a foreign language and hilariously missing the nuances that would make them sound genuine.

I wrote a couple of years ago that Miliband could, consistently with the policy, ambition and philosophy he had set out have moved towards favouring EU exit and that had he done so, he would have given himself more room to expand on his policies as well as define himself in a cause which would have hurt his Conservative opponents (even if a 200 seat majority might have been over-optimistic).  It wasn’t really a serious suggestion as it would have been a very big move away from the consensus in Labour since Kinnock had started the hard job of making them electable again after 1983, particularly for a politician who had only ever seen those times. However, Corbyn doesn’t have to worry about this. He could, as a long term left wing rebel within Labour easily position himself on the EU back on the platform he first won his seat on. With a referendum on EU membership in a couple of years, he could gain a decisive victory against a Cameron led “In” campaign. Regardless of the policies (and interestingly there was an article in the New Statesman last week reminding readers that the strongest anti-EU arguments were left wing ones), all those Tory rebels and UKIP supporters who believe in leaving the EU on the grounds of protecting or regaining national sovereignty would have a dilemma if Labour campaigned for exit. And only Corbyn of the four hopefuls could do so without it being seen as purely partisan.

If this happened and there were to be a referendum vote in favour of exit, it would be very likely to bring down the present government. A large slice of the Tory party might be encouraged by it to defect to UKIP. There would also be little point in those UKIP MPs and supporters campaigning against Labour in any ensuing General Election because they’d be united in keeping out parties who supported staying in the EU. Which might make Corbyn rather more likely to become PM than he might look today.

So, if you’re a Tory thinking of joining Labour to support Corbyn so that the policies you like can continue through to 2025 and beyond, beware of what you wish for. A bit of Schadenfreude at Labour’s pickle today could lead to the stomach ache of a government to make Tony Benn’s ghost smile*.

* Although it is also worth mentioning that it is possible that Corbyn could do all this and fail through being seen as proposing so much rubbish and with so little likelihood of having the competence to see it through that not only does he discredit his broad far left policies but also the whole idea of leaving the EU as being in any way desirable- the question is, do you feel lucky?


Botzarelli’s Second Law

This morning’s Guardian has an article by George Monbiot bemoaning how horrible businesses like Management Consultants and Banks entice impressionable graduates into highly paid but unproductive jobs. If only universities could protect their students and have them go into more laudable careers.

This reminded me of my experiences in 20 or so years of working in the public and private sectors and for a wide range of clients and the relationship between how nice an employer or client was and what their underlying activity was. Which leads me to Botzarelli’s Second Law (yay – I knew there’d be more than one, you cry!):

“The nicer and more worthy the product, the more likely the organisation providing it is not a very nice place to work. The more apparently evil the product, the harder the organisation will try to make working for it pleasant.”

Where the work of the organisation is obviously wonderful and of great social value, it will often be seen to be reward enough in itself. Persuading people to work for it won’t be hard. Persuading people to stick with it even if the organisation, its processes and its managers are dysfunctional is still possible because, well, just think of the children! Or the kittens! Or whatever. That doesn’t mean that all charities and other benevolent organisations will always be dreadful employers – in many, the loveliness of the purpose will be reflected in the loveliness of the people who have devoted their lives to carrying it out in the face of whatever challenges life may throw at them. But, it is striking that a significant number of organisations devoted to doing good can be fiefdoms of dreadful narcissists who will use the undoubted saintliness of the purpose to excuse their own appalling treatment of others in its pursuit. It is perhaps also why, regardless of whoever is in government, teachers emit a constant low whine.

The flip side of this is that where an organisation does something unpleasant, somewhat disreputable or at least not very obviously morally superior, if successful, it will often work hard to do so in a way which is kind to its employees. One of the nicest clients I ever worked with was a tobacco company – everyone there seemed very happy, they had a cheap canteen with a Michelin starred chef, incredible art collection, great benefits and salary so most of the people stayed for years (more than 10 years later I noticed on LinkedIn that the guys I worked with are still there) and, (this was in the days before the smoking ban) such high tech offices that even though smoking was encouraged, there was little or no smell to upset the non-smokers. Perhaps this would also explain why it isn’t implausible in James Bond movies for the super villains to have large armies of goons and administrators – they probably provide excellent life insurance and creche facilities.

It is no surprise that Management Consultants and their ilk, destined as they are for the B Ark, work very hard to entice students to join them and perhaps to overcome idealism/naivete about corporate life. It is also no surprise that organisations like the Police have worked very hard in recent years to make themselves more appealing places to work, even though most would agree that law enforcement is very important, many would also be suspicious about the Police.

Of course, there are also some organisations which combine evil purposes with being evil to their people. Botzarelli’s Second Law is about correlation rather than unavoidable causation.

People, even students, are generally able to weigh up what they really want. Finding the idea of getting paid well to travel and opine on businesses to be more attractive than sitting in a creaky office churning out policy reports on Hedgehog protection measures ahead of a fund-raising drive isn’t necessarily a bad personal choice or even bad for the world. And it isn’t so bad if idealistic, decent people go into things like banking. In fact, it is a good thing – just think how much worse the last few years might have been if there were even fewer decent people working in banking than there actually were! If more decent people went into such careers there would be less chance of bad things like the LIBOR scandal happening.  Conscience is best deployed in environments where it can be tested – it is easy to be good doing good.