Interview with Mark Perryman, author of ‘The Corbyn Effect’

Following the snap general election earlier this year, Corbyn and his Labour party did better than anyone could have expected. In spite of many thinking his policies were unpopular and he was unable to lead, the results of the election shocked pretty much everyone.

Reflecting on this, Mark Perryman put together a collection of essays from a variety of authors and politicians reflecting on this. The Corbyn Effect (Lawrence & Wishart,2017) was published earlier this September, so we chatted to Mark to find out more.

Left Book Club (LBC): Can you tell us about yourself and your career, as well as a bit about who contributed to The Corbyn Effect?

Mark Perryman: I’m one of those who came into left politics in the 1980s, Labour never really appealed as an option to join but of course always assumed if there was an alternative to Thatcher a Labour Government would be it.  Blair was of course an improvement on Thatcherism, that much surely is to be expected, but together with Brown he destroyed our ideals and privatised our hope. Jeremy Corbyn changed all that, aided hugely by the registered supporters scheme. I signed up to the unlikely proposition that I got a vote in the leadership contest. And when my guy won, I joined the Labour Party which is something previously I would never have considered doing. As Corbynism took shape, particularly the idea of a political party as a social movement, there was a wave of new generation thinking and I thought it would be good to put this together with some of my generation’s thinkers too.  When the exit poll came out on election night followed by the results, we had to get our intellectual skates on and entirely rewrite the book. Phew! We did it, there’s nothing else out there quite like The Corbyn Effect. It’s been well worth the accelerated effort. 

LBC: Broadly, what is the book about?

Mark: For two whole years the left-liberal commentariat have wilfully misrepresented and purposefully misunderstood Corbyn and his supporters. Meanwhile, on our side we’ve been thrown into two leadership campaigns and a General Election. What that amounts to is a vacuum, a dearth of any serious attempt to understand Corbynism. The Corbyn Effect sets out not only to do this but how it has been ‘framed’ its limitations and potential. It is a work in progress, there are debates and discussions we need to have, to share, to broaden.

LBC: Austerity politics seem to be growing increasingly unpopular, and there have been a number of left-wing alternatives emerging. However, many of these have failed to succeed, such as Syriza in Greece. How can Corbyn and his supporters ensure this left-wing alternative sticks around?

Mark: Syriza is a product, a reaction to what James Doran in The Corbyn Effect calls ‘Pasokification’, a process taking place all over Europe of the headlong decline of social-democratic parties that have embraced the neo-liberal consensus. To that extent, to date, Syriza remains a success. But as Marina Prentoulis also explains in the book, as a party that grew out of social movements, Syriza has failed to apply that experience in office. Labour’s experience is very different. The strength is that the insurgency has come from within the party of social democracy. The weakness is the lack of clarity on how Labour will be reshaped, organisationally, by that experience. Before, this was nigh on impossible to define because of the dogged opposition of the Labour centre-right and right, but 2017 opens the possibility of this process of change taking shape, it needs to if Labour is to be successful in government in delivering on the promise of radical change.

LBC: Many are quite surprised at Corbyn’s appeal to young people, which on the surface seems understandable. Where do you think his appeal to young people comes from?

Mark: Eliane Glaser and Monique Charles both describe this appal in their chapters around the theme of radical authenticity. I think there’s a lot in that, it chimes with Bernie Sanders in the USA too. It’s not about being sexy Macron-like, or the world’s best orator. It’s about a different kind of politics, and hopefully a different model of leadership too. Without Jeremy there would be no Corbynism, but without us it won’t ever amount to much. Whatever the age group I think we’re all aware of that, we just need to find the ways and means. It’s populism minus the demagogue, thank goodness!

LBC: At the next general election, what do you think Corbyn’s chances are?

Mark: Fair to good. There 66 seats to be won within a 3.6% won to form a majority Labour government. And 19 Labour seats to be defended with a majority of 1000 or under.  Paula Surridge’s chapter analyses both the 2017 vote and the future prospects, it’s a fascinating and vital read. In the book I’ve pioneered the idea of ‘smart campaigning’. We can’t fight to win every seat, and I don’t mean tactical voting but tactical campaigning by focussing every effort on the seats we can win. It’s a rotten electoral system we have, but play the game right and Labour can both win and institute the changes to this system for the next time. Momentum in 2017 showed the extraordinary potential of this through mobilising huge numbers to campaign in target seats. Also, Owen Jones’ #unseat campaign has continued and improved upon this. But we need more, much more to win. Next time the Tories will know just what kind of threat to all they hold dear for the few really is.