Tony Blair attacked Jeremy Corbyn not thinking it would help, but in order to claim valuable “I told you so” points after a failed Corbyn leadership (which he would doubtless help to engineer). Why can’t the other candidates or their supporters make a positive, coherent case for their own campaigns?
Why has the Labour leadership contest descended into such a farce, with the bulk of party activists seemingly intent on going in one direction (Corbynland), and the angry rump of the Parliamentary Labour Party intent on thwarting their will by any means necessary?
Why has this become a contest characterised chiefly by the inability of nearly everyone – save Jeremy Corbyn – to connect with and persuade others that their candidate’s vision for the future of the Labour Party is the right one?
In truth, we should not be surprised. Because the Labour Party are conducting their leadership contest in exactly the same way that they fought – and lost – the general election in May. First, activists picked their team. And then they embarked on a deafening blitz of grandiose moralising and cheap virtue-signalling on behalf of their favoured candidate, barely pausing for breath and never stopping to hear to what the other teams are saying – other than to search for damaging soundbites, of course.
Apparently the Labour Party has forgotten how to campaign, in the age of social media. Where once there might have been an attempt to reach out to the supporters of rival candidates, to convince and persuade them that they should switch their support, instead there is a lot of shouting, a lot of sharing of internet memes, and not much else.
Unfortunately, the Labour Party’s big beasts are setting a terrible example to the broader membership by behaving in exactly the same way. Witness Tony Blair’s latest full-frontal attack on Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of the Guardian:
It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left, right or centre of the party, whether you used to support me or hate me. But please understand the danger we are in.
The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes “disunity”. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.
[..] If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.
Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t offer anything new. This is literally the most laughable of all the propositions advanced by his camp. Those of us who lived through the turmoil of the 80s know every line of this script. These are policies from the past that were rejected not because they were too principled, but because a majority of the British people thought they didn’t work.
Why would Tony Blair even seek to intervene against Jeremy Corbyn, knowing that he is so viscerally hated (however irrationally) by so many of Corbyn’s supporters? This intervention – as with his last – could only ever increase and harden Jeremy Corbyn’s support base, increasing his likelihood of victory. But Tony Blair knew this. Any sixth form politics student could work it out, let alone a consummate political tactician like Blair.
No, Tony Blair waded back into the Labour leadership debate not because he thought for a second that his toxic presence would swing the outcome in a favourable direction, but because he wanted to put down a big public marker indicating that he was against Jeremy Corbyn from the start, and should not be held accountable for anything that happens under a future Corbyn leadership. Ironically enough, Tony Blair was saying “Not In My Name”.
LabourList also picks up on this tendency:
We have heard much wailing and gnashing of teeth since it has become clear that Jeremy Corbyn is now favourite to win the Labour leadership. Almost all of it has been around his electability and very little of it has persuaded a stubborn electorate. Sometimes it feels that those repeating these arguments are doing so not because they believe they can and will change minds and votes, but because they want to be well positioned to say “I told you so” should their fears come to pass. It is a sort of inverse virtue signalling.
When even the party’s most successful election winner and three term Prime Minister decides to engage in cheap virtue signalling rather than making a positive endorsement of one of Corbyn’s rivals – or a rational, structured critique of Corbyn intended to win over his supporters rather than belittle them – what chance is there for anyone else?
But the fault is not only with those who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. Many of the Islington MP’s own supporters are equally guilty, viewing their man as not just the best person for the job, but the only person of decency in the race. Witness the abuse hurled at Liz Kendall, the snide calls for her to join the Conservative Party simply for holding positions which were substantially popular (and election-winning) only a few years ago. Or the cries of “Red Tory!” which greeted Andy Burnham after his (admittedly amateurish) flip-flop on the Welfare Bill vote.
Now, this blog has very little regard for political centrism, particularly when it is borne of a cynical political calculation as to what voters are most likely to unthinkingly accept rather than what is best for the country. But just as this blog has long argued that those with conservative views deserve better than being labelled heartless, narrow-minded and selfish, so too do those whose centrist opinions are the product of careful thought and genuine conviction.
But to many Labour Party members today, the leadership candidates they oppose may just as well be aliens from another galaxy. The range of permissible opinions enforced by each Labour member, supporter or activist has shrunk to such a narrow point that nearly everyone else will be judged and found wanting, dismissed as either a milquetoast Red Tory or a fire-breathing militant determined to bring down the party from within.
The preening, self-righteous and unearned moral superiority which came to characterise the Labour Party under Ed Miliband, and which they carried into their disastrous 2015 general election campaign, now threatens to devour the party from within.
Because it turns out that it is not just Tories and UKIP supporters who dislike having their values criticised, their morality questioned and their reputations slandered. Labour supporters also don’t warm to being told – by fellow Labour activists, no less – that they represent either a nostalgic throwback to the past or a dangerous threat to the future.
But it seems that the modern Labour Party knows no other way of campaigning. Any ability to engage with opponents, to converse with people who hold even slightly different views as fellow human beings, seeking to win them over through rational debate, has been lost somewhere in their hysterical fight against the Evil Tories.
And now Labour must pay in a lump for having become the party of choice for virtue-signalling vacuity.