The Labour Party is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. If rebellious centrist MPs don’t like it, it is for them to leave and find (or found) a new party, and new voters to support them
This blog has little time for the left-wing politics of Jeremy Corbyn, but has consistently supported his leadership of the Labour Party – not out of some mischievous desire to make Labour unelectable, but because centrism is a disease which has sucked the meaning and consequence from British politics, allowing indistinguishable governing elites from all parties to consistently act in their own interests rather than the national interest (see: European Union). And in our current centrist malaise, this blog has common cause with anyone who promises to give the British people a genuine ideological choice.
The naivety and numerous missteps in Corbyn’s first year in charge of Labour have been frustrating to watch, as they have only given further ammunition to those bitter centrist forces who never accepted the validity of his leadership in the first place, and who have been working tirelessly (and in many cases openly) to undermine their leader since the day he was elected. And this blog has had occasion to take Corbyn to task several times for his controversial stances, particularly in the realm of national security and foreign policy.
But Corbyn now finds his leadership under sustained and determined attack by a Parliamentary Labour Party determined to be rid of him in order to resume their previous, uninspiringly bland centrist course. Though this rebellion was precipitated by the shock Brexit victory in the EU referendum (with many sullen Labour MPs blaming their leader for failing to uncritically sing the EU’s praises loudly enough during the campaign), the Labour coup has in fact been building for months. Even I, at the outermost margins of the London political scene, am aware of the late night plotting which has been taking place in homes and pubs with a view to deposing Jeremy Corbyn – in some cases before he had even been formally elected as leader.
And now, ten months later, things are finally coming to a head.
The Parliamentary Labour Party’s stalking horse in this campaign is Angela Eagle. Yes, that complete and utter nonentity Angela Eagle, the former shadow Business Secretary with the voice and mannerisms of a Dalek.
Angela Eagle today kicked off her challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, saying that her priority is to “heal” the Labour Party.
The former Shadow Business Secretary, who resigned from the frontbench last month, accused Corbyn of “hiding” from his critics. She said that Labour needed to be “strong and united” to deal with the fallout from the Leave vote in the EU referendum, and that Corbyn is now unable to deliver that.
Setting out her pitch to be Labour leader on ITV’s Peston show, Eagle said: “I think we need someone who can heal the party.
“I think we need to have somebody that can lead the Labour Party forwards and unfortunately Jeremy has lost the confidence of the vast majority of his parliamentary party.
“We need a strong and united Labour Party that can put a very compelling case to the British people to deal with the challenges that Brexit will give.”
And the rebels intend to create this “strong and united” party by fixing the rules to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from automatically appearing on the ballot in the first place.
The Telegraph reports:
The two rivals made televised pitches to supporters this morning in broadcast interviews after a dramatic series of developments ended the stand-off over the embattled leader’s position.
Ms Eagle suggested Mr Corbyn should not automatically be on the ballot. “He will have to find the nominations”, she said.
“I’m a gay woman with strong, Northern, working class roots. I think I’m the right person for this job at this time”.
So this would-be Labour leader is already resorting to crass and superficial identity politics to get on the ballot, presenting her socioeconomic background and sexuality as traits which would somehow make her a better leader.
What fatuous nonsense. What the Labour Party really needs is not some wheedling, self-entitled centrist who thinks that being a gay woman gives her additional plus points, but an authentic leader who can actually connect with Labour’s disillusioned base by actually reflecting some of their fears, priorities and aspirations.
And it gets worse:
Former shadow business secretary Ms Eagle said Mr Corbyn had “failed to fulfil his first and foremost duty, that is to lead an organised and effective Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that can both hold the Government to account and demonstrate we are ready to form a government in the event of a general election”.
Speaking earlier this morning Angela Eagle did not set out any policy areas where she differed from Mr Corbyn but said he was not able to win a general election.
Angela Eagle’s leadership bid is particularly risible because given a prime spot on the Sunday shows to set out her own alternative policy stall, she failed to name a single substantive difference between herself and Jeremy Corbyn. One would think that rattling off a few clear dividing lines would be easy, given how terribly left-wing Corbyn supposedly is, but apparently we are supposed to be sufficiently entranced by Eagle’s winning personality that we don’t need to see an alternative policy platform.
In fact, the article goes on to mention that Eagle’s greatest selling point is apparently her “electability” and ability to connect with the British people – a skill which she has thus far failed to demonstrate during her own utterly unremarkable political career.
But it’s okay – the Guardian (always the voice of the power-hungry metro Left rather than the true socialists or the working classes, and who supported Yvette Cooper of all people for the leadership) tells us that Angela Eagle is “tough”:
Many believe the former shadow business secretary and chess champion is up to the challenge. “She’s tough – in the best possible sense of the word,” a former colleague, who rates her chances highly, observed.
[..] The leadership contest really began for her on 27 June, when she became the 15th member of Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench to leave, tweeting that she had done it “with deep regret, and after nine months of trying to make it work”.
Let’s be honest. None of the former shadow cabinet ministers who resigned in an attempt to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and force his resignation tried to “make it work”. They were simply biding their time, waiting for the opportune moment to strike against him. And following defeat for the Remain side in the EU referendum and with the fear of an impending snap general election, the timetable was accelerated.
When Angela Eagle and others speak of “healing” the Labour Party, what they mean is dragging it back to the old settlement where the left-wingers knew their place, shut up and didn’t cause any trouble. The plotters have no interest in reaching a consensus or balance of views across the party – they just want to return to the centrist days where Labour competes for power by trying to look as similar to the Tories as possible while yammering on about compassion a bit more. That’s what the rebels are familiar with, and that is what they think offers them the greatest chance of returning to power. Their minds cannot conceive of another path to victory, one based on principle and persuasion rather than compromise and trickery.
What is most offensive about the behaviour of the Parliamentary Labour Party is the arrogance of Labour MPs who think that the fact that they sit in parliament gives their voices greater weight and importance than the overwhelming majority of Labour members and supporters who overwhelmingly supported Corbyn in the leadership election. For a party which supposedly exists to lift up the oppressed and give the ordinary working people a voice, the Labour rebels show a remarkable disdain for their own internal party democracy. And now, bizarrely, they seek to blatantly subvert the wishes of their own party members while still demanding the loyalty (and campaign support) of the very activists whom they are in the process of betraying. This is the arrogance of the permanent political class.
And just contrast this low political skulduggery with what Jeremy Corbyn has been doing.
This weekend, Jeremy Corbyn spoke at the annual Durham Miners’ Gala, an important fixture in the socialist calendar. In an unprecedented move, many serving Labour MPs from the Northeast were disinvited from attending the reception by Gala organisers because of their war of attrition against their own party leader.
The Guardian reports:
The Durham Miners’ Gala attracts at least 100,000 people annually, but this time many Labour MPs from the north-east had tickets to the official reception rescinded by the leader of the Durham Miners’ Association, Dave Hopper. He accused those who had backed the parliamentary vote of no confidence in Corbyn as traitors and “New Labour remnants” who “cannot stand any form of democracy and appear to be interested only in themselves”.
This is the toxic state of relations between the party’s working class base and its elite, out of touch parliamentary caucus. An event like the Durham Miners’ Gala should be de rigeur for any self-respecting Labour MP, and for these MPs to be banned from attending shows the scorn, contempt and even hatred in which they are now held by people who should be their supporters.
All of the warning signs are there: The huge gains for UKIP at Labour’s expense in the 2015 general election. The spurning of centrist Labour’s slavishly pro-Brussels stance in the EU referendum. The banning of centrist MPs from the Durham Gala. And still the Parliamentary Labour Party is treating the party membership and their own working class base with complete and utter open contempt. Still they are sending the message that working class people are only welcome when they shut up, vote Labour and don’t try to influence policy in a more authentically left-wing direction.
And yet against this backdrop, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the Durham Miners’ Gala. This is what he had to say:
There’s a lot of debate about what’s happening in the Labour party at the present time. And I am inundated with questions, questions, questions all the time. And I have patience that is infinite to answer questions, questions and questions.
But one I got today really did puzzle me. They said are you coping with the pressure that’s on you? I simply said this: there is no pressure on me. None whatsoever. Real pressure, real pressure, real pressure – is when you don’t have enough money to feed your kids, when you don’t have a roof over your head, when you are wondering if you are going to be cared for, when you’re wondering how you are going to survive, when you’re wondering how you’re going to cope with the debts you’ve incurred, you’re wondering if your lovely employer is going to give you a call to give you a couple of hours of work, or not bother, or change their mind when you’re on the bus on the way to do that job.
That is the real pressure in our society.
For those people struggling on low pay, struggling on zero hours contracts, not knowing what’s coming from one week to the other, not knowing if they’ll be able to pay the rent, not knowing if they are going to be homeless, not knowing if their children will end up in care, that’s the kind of brutal pressure that’s put on people every day of the week in this country.
Watch the video at the top of this article. Hats off to Corbyn’s speechwriter for a powerful and actually well-written peroration, and to Corbyn himself for an authentically passionate delivery. Whatever else you might say about Corbyn, he shows more eloquence and passion in two minutes here than Ed Miliband managed to muster in five years of cerebral, ineffective opposition.
Here is an embattled leader, stabbed in the back by nearly his entire shadow cabinet (including a number of complete nonentities who would never have had shadow ministerial careers at all were it not for Corbyn), who even now is making speeches highlighting the struggles of the poor, the sick and the marginalised rather than his own plight. I’m sorry, but that’s a class act – and one which only serves to show the petty sniping and plotting of his rebellious colleagues in an even more damning light.
There is no way that this ends well for the Labour Party – and the fault lies entirely with the centrists. Even if they succeed in keeping Jeremy Corbyn off the ballot paper and unjustly ending his leadership, their petulant, childish and subversive actions have created a new normal for dissent within the party.
If Ed Miliband had suffered just one of the many acts of defiance and insubordination from his shadow cabinet that Jeremy Corbyn endures on a near daily basis, the offending MPs would have been banished to the cold extremities of Westminster political life before you could blink (much as nobody really remembers who Adam Afriyie is following his impertinent challenge to David Cameron’s leadership back in 2013).
But how things have changed. Now, it is apparently perfectly acceptable for Labour MPs to openly speculate about their leader’s skills and abilities on the Sunday shows, or for shadow cabinet ministers to vent their frustrations to sympathetic newspaper columnists. Now, even the most junior shadow minister is free to air their grievances in public, party and message discipline be damned. In fact, the level of childish playground politics we are now witnessing makes the unedifying tussle between the Blairites and Brownites look like the model of courteous debate.
The Labour rebels are deluding themselves if they think that this rotten and cowardly behaviour will go back in the box once Corbyn is deposed. It won’t. Such behaviour has now been legitimised by senior Labour figures, including Angela Eagle herself. And these same tactics will be used mercilessly against any compromise, unity or centrist candidate who manages to steal the crown from Jeremy Corbyn – by angry leftists and other centrists who simply want to steal power for their own faction.
This is what Labour’s petulant, rebellious centrists have wrought. A leader undermined by the seething resentments and petty career aspirations of his ideologically rootless, C-list challengers, and a party rendered utterly ungovernable thanks to a complete breakdown in discipline.
But one thing remains clear: after being elected leader outright on the first ballot with nearly 60% of the vote, Jeremy Corbyn remains the one with a mandate. And a quick scan of the swelling membership roles underlines the fact that this is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. It no longer belongs to the centrists.
This blog has no time or sympathy for the Labour centrists, but one can appreciate their dilemma, serving in a party under a leader they cannot (or will not) support. But it is for them to leave the party. Jeremy Corbyn, love him or loathe him, has earned the right to lead his party. He won a huge mandate from the party membership less than a year ago, and retains widespread popularity.
And if Angela Eagle and her fellow plotters don’t like it, it is for them to leave the Labour Party and go in search of a new party and new supporters.
The door is open, and they most assuredly will not be missed.
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