The only time I really cashed in on a presidential election reduced to the Supreme Court was Al Gore’s collapse in 2000. I had recruited 6 British Labour Party staff to come to Cleveland and plug into the Gore campaign exactly the same way I had done with Labour in 1997. Found ’em nice places to stay for two weeks, and hustled a “GOTV” contract from the local consulting grand poobah (who I shall not name to save him further embarrasment) which paid for car rentals and reimbursed stateside expenses. I treated it like a visiting international delegation, which it was. A kind of “thank you” to my British friends.
The client was People for The American Way, the campaign was a door to door “issue” thus “non-candidate specific” canvass, thus technically legal. Through this contract, I put my eight Labour mates to work knocking on doors in Cleveland delivering this door hanger. The targets were high Democratic high turnout precincts, because a turned off Democratic base was a major issue for Al Gore in 2000, just as it is for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Despite Al Gore having pulled out of Ohio by the time the Brits arrived two weeks out, it was a blast, of course. My Labour colleagues were mini local celebrities, and they got to see the Florida recount horror begin. “We left and you Yanks still didn’t have a president!” was the joke in later years.
Democrats have thus heard this argument when their presidential candidate is nose diving before. Repeatedly, in fact. Especially in Ohio, the dumping ground of millions in “GOTV” cash every four years. My Labour mateys knew the score, too. Their popularity was based not just in their accents, but mostly in their ability to show up in force as a team of six people, volunteers being extremely rare commodities in Ohio in 2000. To boot, door knockers weren’t all that welcome on those Democratic doorsteps, British or not. We were having zero impact on the election’s outcome. Our international delegation did cross polinate our transatlantic freindships, so it was all a success nonetheless. We drank a lot of beer.
Sixteen years later, the Supreme Court looks likely to end up the Clinton campaign’s closing argument, again. There is some cosmic explanation for all this, I’m sure.
As of this writing, British Labour Party leadership candidate, Jeremy Corbyn, has yet to visit Scotland in his campaign. Corbyn never wanted to run for leader, so a visit to Scotland was probably not in his plans this summer.
The only reason Corbyn’s even on the ballot is that no one else from the left wing of the Labour Party would stand. Corbyn barely got the required 35 nominations from Members of Parliament (MPs) to be on the ballot, getting there by some MP’s charity, for the sake of “debate”. Corbyn only got that far because a social media storm erupted to get anyone at all from the left onto the ballot. Corbyn today towers over the contest, with a 32 point lead in the latest poll. Scotland thus beckons.
For it is in Scotland that every Blairite dismissal of Corbyn collapses under its own petulance. None of the attacks on Corbyn, as some bearded sandal wearing leftie dinosaure Trot, ever mention Scotland. That is because Labour is wiped out in Scotland, largely by the same tidal wave of young membership into the Labour Party that will hand Corbyn Labour’s leadership on September 12.
Ideologically, Corbyn’s Labour is Scotland’s Labour. Scotland’s Labour was never Alistair Campbell’s, or Peter Mandelson’s Labour. Or Blair’s. Or even Brown’s. When Labour abandoned Scotland, to work with the Tories against the Scottish independence referendum, the bankruptcy of neoliberal Blairism was laid bare. Now Labour pays, with only one seat in Scotland, and none of Corbyn’s three opponents has a prayer of bringing Scotland back into the Labour Party.
Let alone the UK. The stakes are high for a Corbyn visit to Scotland this summer.
On the day Saddam Hussein’s statue came down in 2003, I was at the East Midlands Labour Party HQ in Barratt Lane near Nottingham standing next to then regional secretary, Roy Kennedy, watching it on Sky News. The concern on Roy’s face was evident. So I asked, “What do you think?” Roy said bluntly, in his London Cockney brogue, “They’d better find those weapons, mate.” Roy is now in the House of Lords. There were no WMDs.
I was one of the first Americans to go work for Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK in 1997, after being Bill Clinton’s 1996 Ohio GOTV State Director. That’s why Labour hired me – for the GOTV expertise. David Axelrod, you’re welcome.
Thus, I was at the very center of the Blair era, for three general election victories, plus Labour’s inaugural campaign for London mayor in 2000, plus a few party conferences. I brought Labour staff to work with me in the former soviet republics training political parties, and brought even more to the US for the Al Gore campaign in 2000. I love and cherish all the friends I made in Tony Blair’s Labour. I even tried to do a documentary film on it all once at party conference in Brighton in 2001; they couldn’t get rid of me.
As the Republican Party (and Hillary Clinton) knows all too well, there has yet to be a fair account and reckoning politically for Iraq, and that includes Tony Blair and New Labour. That is one root of this month’s thrashing at the hands of British voters. That’s not all that Labour must reckon with before voters trust them again with the time of day.
The target of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, today’s rigged game, which has created the first American generation that expects to do worse than the generations before it, was built mostly by New Democrats, and New Labour. We were the indispensable “progressive” window dressing on capital’s dismantling of the New Deal compromise.
Just look at what Blair’s ballot stuffing “reforms” left behind in the medieval City of London, a rogue state standing atop a mountain of systemic offshore financial risk, utterly uncommented upon by anyone in the Labour Party’s London collection of powerless elected officials, even as they select another candidate for London Mayor in 2016 who is just as silent on the matter, and who upon election will remain without jurisdiction over the Square Mile. I had never realized the role I played rigging that particular game in 2000 until I studied it this semester 15 years later as a student at Cleveland State. No zeal quite like that of the recently converted.
After Labour’s 2015 defeat, a campaign in which no Labour candidate would dare be seen in their presence, we now hear from Blair, Alan Johnson, Peter Mandelson, John Prescott, who, incredibly, argued after the election that Ed Miliband should have campaigned on the banking bailout. This predictable parade of Blairite lords and ladies, at this point indistinguishable from Mitt Romney, lectures us that Labour needs to stay “aspirational”, as if one can aspire to anything in a rigged game. Lord Mandelson is even pimping to be the new leader Chuka Umunna, a City of London “employment” lawyer (read: outsourcing and union busting) straight out of the City’s offshore petri dish. It’s become comical.
Is anyone awake in Britain? Does it not bother me old mates that Jim Messina, late of Barack Obama, now takes credit for electing Tories, and next shall cash in on Hillary Clinton? Are the lights on? There’s a reason Democrats want to push Hillary leftward for a solid two years. No one joins the Democratic Party, or the Labour Party, to start wars based on lies, or rig their country and the world for plutocrats and oligarchs, but turns out that’s exactly what we did. Some of us are in a mood to reverse that course.
Labour members know better. It isn’t 1997 anymore. The days when a Labour staffer could fool a Trot into missing a key policy vote at conference by offering them tea are well over. The blinders are off, voters know to their bones the game is rigged, quite aware of who rigged it, and to those voters, Labour in 2015 stands for nothing other than access to power. No matter how many vapidly facile “pledges” get carved into an Ed Stone, when a party loses trust this badly, voters do not wish to hear how aspirationally sincere a party’s rigged noncredible leadership claims to be.
Labour’s conference is again in Brighton this September. Before deciding on a new leader, Labour needs to hold a broad, inclusive, loud, air-clearing debate at party conference in Brighton, hold itself to account, rebuild credibility from the bottom up, and begin the long struggle of unrigging this game. A party called Labour ought to be counted on for at least that. Across the pond, we could use the help.