As they go down in flames for the second time in a year, Labour’s rootless and uninspiring centrists deserve neither respect for their “principles” nor sympathy for their plight
Quick, everybody reach for the tiny violins. The Telegraph’s Asa Bennett has penned a tremulous ode to Labour’s centrist MPs, encouraging these noble Men and Women of Principle (…) to never surrender in the face of Jeremy Corbyn’s imminent re-election as Labour leader.
Read the whole thing – entitled “Labour moderates have nothing to gain by kissing and making up with Jeremy Corbyn“. It is hilariously overwrought, and conjures much the same air as the Titanic’s band calmly playing “Nearer My God To Thee” as the doomed vessel slowly slipped beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic.
Corbynistas know who their enemies are in the party. Don’t forget they have already divided up MPs by how loyal they are in secret lists. People like Mr Jarvis and Ms de Piero have made their disquiet known about Mr Corbyn, with the former believing he would lead the party to “electoral annihilation”. They have stuck their heads above the parapet to call for new leadership – a brave decision, but not one they can pretend never happened.
And Corbyn is not in a similar position? At least the centrists have one clear enemy and know exactly on who to focus their attempts at destabilisation. Jeremy Corbyn, despite being overwhelmingly popular among the party membership, is surrounded by disloyal MPs who have been working to undermine his leadership from Day 1. If the people who were supposed to work for you in your shadow cabinet were leaking damning quotes and incendiary opinions to the media like a broken tap, wouldn’t you try to implement some rudimentary system to remind yourself of who could be trusted and who would simply abuse any trust and autonomy to further their own aims rather than those of the party? I know I would.
Besides, that is the trouble with saying incendiary things to the media. There was always the risk that by attacking Corbyn in public, he would go on to triumph nonetheless, leaving his critics in an awkward position. But the answer is not to go on as an increasingly bitter heckler from the back benches. The answer is to either accept the overwhelming verdict of party members and try to cooperate constructively, or if this is impossible, to maintain a position of dignified silence on the backbenches. And then there is the nuclear option, which none of the centrist MPs will take out of overwhelming regard for their own political careers – if they really can no longer abide being in the Party of Corbyn they can always leave and join a different political party.
Some MPs must be tempted to return in order to help Labour fight Theresa May’s government (even if their fellow moderates may think them scabs). This may help the Opposition put up a vaguely professional front, but it will be a gift to the Tories, who can relentlessly use these new shadow ministers’ past criticisms of their leader against them. Mr Corbyn is already struggling to convince voters that he could be a better Prime Minister than Mrs May, so how would that change by him bringing back a bunch of MPs who think he’s useless?
Again, this is shallow partisan thinking. As we are hopefully discovering in the aftermath of the EU referendum and the vote for Brexit, there is more to life than optics and how well things lend themselves to snappy soundbites. Might working alongside Jeremy Corbyn lead to some awkward questions from the media for those MPs who were vocally critical of him in the past? Sure. So power through the awkwardness. Reach out to Keith Vaz for tips on doing so, he has oceans of experience.
Jeremy Corbyn’s former critics would be foolish to think that they can be welcomed back into the fold without any problem. Their return would be taken as sign of ultimate capitulation, and Corbynistas will not forget which side of the Labour leadership contest they fought on.
Asa Bennett is acting like Jeremy Corbyn is uniquely thin-skinned and petty, when in fact the opposite is the case. Corbyn has remained courteous even to MPs who have vented really quite unprofessional sentiments to the media. Will the insults be forgotten? No, probably not – that’s just human nature. But if any Labour leader in recent history is likely to work with his public critics, it would be Jeremy Corbyn.
Besides, in his overwhelming concern for the fate of centrist Labour MPs, Asa Bennett seems to be forgetting the pantheon of misfortunate MPs who were purged from the Courts of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, their government careers abruptly terminated simply for showing too much favour to one or other of these egotistical megalomaniacs. Is Bennett really suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn being a bit frosty to MPs who openly called him “useless” on television is less acceptable than Prime Minister Gordon Brown throwing staplers and mobile phones at cowering aides who incurred his wrath?
And finally (my emphasis in bold):
This year’s Labour leadership election is drawing to a close, and Mr Corbyn’s survival is all but assured. Labour MPs have to decide whether to stay true to their beliefs and carry on the fight, or surrender and beg for a job. Moderates may seek a deal which means they can serve, but what is the point in carrying on such a charade?
Will somebody please tell me what high and noble principles these saintly centrist MPs consider so inviolate that they are honour-bound to refuse to serve alongside Jeremy Corbyn? Because for the life of me I cannot figure it out. Indeed, the very nature of being a centrist typically involves either a willingness to compromise on absolutely core and fundamental ideological principles, or the complete lack of any such principles in the first place. So what one Jeremy Corbyn policy is so offensive to the centrist rebels that they could not bring themselves to support it if focus groups suddenly showed it to be overwhelmingly popular?
Refusing to serve alongside Jeremy Corbyn because of deep and irreconcilable differences over policy matters would be understandable, even noble – but that is clearly not the case here. After all, Labour centrist MPs have enthusiastically thrown their support behind Owen Smith, who is campaigning on a nearly equally retro socialist programme as Corbyn. No, the Labour centrists are rebelling not because of unbridgeable differences but because they think Corbyn’s presence at the top of the ticket makes it harder for the party to get back into government and for their own pampered posteriors to get back into ministerial limousines. And that is contemptible.
That’s the rub. The only “belief” which unites the Labour centrist is the New Labour instinct to be all things to all people – to say anything and compromise on any belief in the pursuit of power for its own sake, while sanctimoniously pretending to be wiser than partisans on either side. The centrist creed, such as it is, would be “nothing is sacred, everything is negotiable”. Jeremy Corbyn disagrees, and for thus making Labour’s mountain back to power that much harder to climb they cannot forgive him.
If these centrists genuinely believe that the best policies for Britain would involve tacking just ever so slightly to the left of Theresa May’s centrist Conservative Party while warbling on about “compassion” and “equality” then they should say so – maybe not in so many words, as that would be political suicide, but they should make clear where they accept centrist Tory orthodoxy and where they would move to the Left. But they won’t do this.
The Labour centrists love to prance around in public as though there is some vast ideological gulf between the Evil Tor-ees and their noble selves, yet give them a leader who can actually put clear water between his own policy ideas and those of the Conservative government and they all scramble over one another to knife him in the back.
Asa Bennett could not be more wrong – the Labour centrist rebels of the PLP could not be less deserving of sympathy or respect. They had their opportunity to stand for something, anything clearly different, yet all of their remaining big beasts were too selfish and cowardly to run for the leadership, while the man who eventually became their champion – Owen Smith – spent the entire leadership contest asking members to vote for him because he was just as socialist as Jeremy Corbyn.
So when should we begin to feel sorry for the centrists, or give their incessant complaints another hearing? How about when one of them dares to stand up and articulate a positive, alternative vision for centre-leftist government which doesn’t just sound good on paper, but which actually generates the faintest amount of interest from the general public.
I suspect that we will be waiting a good, long while.
Top Image: Mirror
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