Submission, Part 4

In his FT column today, Janan Ganesh doffs his hat to reality:

Today, lots of people will end a romance, or stop fighting a terminal illness, or let an argumentative colleague have the last word, or fold a bad hand at the poker table. “Nobody likes a quitter” but prudent capitulation is a part of life. Junior doctors in England have saved their dignity and perhaps some lives by backing down from strike action. Would we rather they showed valour for its own sake?

Because our culture accords no honour to the act of giving up, the remaining moderates in Britain’s Labour party cannot be seen to entertain it. Jeremy Corbyn renewed his leadership over the weekend. The left is rampant. A reverse McCarthyism, with socialists doing the interrogation, is the daily lot of critical MPs. And still they will not resign the Labour whip to form a new party.

That is their decision. It is easy for commentators to will a formal breakaway that others would have to perform. But the least they could do is spare us another round of their fighting talk. They will “never surrender”, you see. The comeback “starts now”, apparently. The people who brought you Owen Smith, pallid flatterer of Mr Corbyn’s worldview and unwanted alternative to him, demand to be reckoned with.

Their plan, such as it exists, is to outnumber the left by recruiting hundreds of thousands of pragmatic voters to the party while refreshing themselves intellectually. The first of these projects seems fanciful, the second unnecessary.

The people they want tend not to join political parties. Their participation in real life gets in the way. An entirely fresh movement founded on the pro-European centre-left could, perhaps, attract those who feel dispossessed by Mr Corbyn and what is shaping up to be a hard exit from the EU. An invitation into an old, tainted party to fight ideologues who know the difference between Leninism and anarcho-syndicalism for mastery of things called the National Executive Committee is, for many people, a refusable offer.

If that is really their best idea – and Janan Ganesh is well connected, so he would know – then Labour’s centrist MPs deserve neither respect nor sympathy at this point. They already tried to pack the membership with an influx of moderates who would rise up against Jeremy Corbyn, and it didn’t work, Corbyn was re-elected by an even greater majority. And their new cunning plan is to try the same trick again?

Ganesh concludes:

If this reads like a counsel of despair, it should. There is a reasonable chance, and it becomes stronger by the day, that Gordon Brown will turn out to have been the last Labour prime minister. Even if the rebels dislodge Mr Corbyn and install one of their own, the public will remember their party as one that voted for the hard left twice in as many years. There are such things as lost causes. There is something to be said for giving up and starting again.

They will do no such thing, of course. They will insult our intelligence by talking up a mass harvest of new centrist members and fall back on the wheezing old line they always quote when their steadfastness is in doubt. In 1960, during another struggle with the left, Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour leader at the time, said he would “fight, fight and fight again to save the party we love”.

So much of Labour’s internal culture is contained in that magnificent and deranged line. In the normal world, you are not meant to love a political party. It is not your family. It is a machine with a function: in Labour’s case, the material improvement of working people’s lives through parliamentary means. If it is broken, fix it. If it cannot be fixed, build a new one.

Sentimentality made Labour moderates stick with leaders they should have culled. It made them open their party to the wider left. And it keeps them in a fight they cannot win.

Gradually they come to realise what this blog has been saying for months – that New Labour is irreversibly dead and buried, and that this is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. The centrists are not merely taking a break – they have been turfed out, just as the old-school socialists were once marginalised and frozen out by Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair.

The options are to accept that it is Jeremy Corbyn’s turn for the next four years, or do the decent thing and split from the Labour Party to form their own new party of the centre-left (while watching nervously to see what percentage of the Labour grassroots membership follows them out the door in solidarity).

Honour can be found in either submission or divorce – but please, spare us from another year of overwrought, teenage drama and soap opera shenanigans.

 

UPDATE: Read Submission Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here.

 

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Submission, Part 3

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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.

Money quotes:

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.

More:

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.

More:

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?

WHAT BELIEFS?

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.

 

UPDATE: Read Submission Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

 

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Alan Johnson’s Permanent Revolution

Despite Owen Smith’s imminent, glorious defeat at the hands of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest Take 2, New Labour grandee Alan Johnson is in no mood for acceptance and reconciliation.

In fact, as the Telegraph reports, Alan Johnson is still firmly stuck in the “denial” stage of grief for the stalled New Labour centrist agenda to which he dedicated his political career:

Moderate Labour MPs must wage a remorseless campaign to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership “year after year” or the party will die, Alan Johnson has said.

The former Cabinet minister called on his colleagues on the centre-Left to “recapture this party” from Mr Corbyn and his socialist allies by emulating their record of opposing previous Labour leaders.

Mr Corbyn is expected to be re-elected as party leader next week, with another landslide majority from members, but he lacks the support of most of his own MPs.

The Labour leader admitted on Saturday to making mistakes and disclosed that he would be making a peace offer to MPs in an attempt to persuade his critics to return to the shadow cabinet.

However, Mr Johnson, the former Home Secretary, condemned Mr Corbyn as “useless”, “incompetent” and “incapable” of running a political party, and called on rebels not to give up their efforts to oust him.

So it’s to be a permanent revolution, then – at least in the puffed-up, self-important world of Alan Johnson’s imagination. Labour MPs should continue to loudly and proudly wear their contempt for their core voters like a perverse badge of honour, be it on Brexit or their preferred choice for leader of the party. The PLP should ruthlessly pursue its own agenda while still demanding and assuming the support of the CLPs who stated their preference for Corbyn, and who will become increasingly enraged by any further attempts to remove him. What could possibly go wrong?

Back on planet Earth, though, the groundwork continues to be laid for the PLP’s abject, humiliating capitulation to Jeremy Corbyn – as this blog has discussed here and here.

Labour’s centrist MPs have severely tarnished their reputation by opportunistically exploiting the EU referendum result to rise up against their party leader, and then failing to put forth any better candidates than the hapless Angela Eagle and the detestable Owen Smith. They have no real political capital left to spend, and while the Corbynite dream of mass deselections may still be out of reach now, another mass rebellion of the centrists would all but guarantee a severe grassroots response.

Besides, all this talk of petulant, hysterical and unending opposition to Corbynism is a bit rich coming from a man repeatedly urged to step up and challenge for the Labour Party leadership himself, but who lacked the courage and willingness for self-sacrifice to answer the call even once.

If Alan Johnson really wants to recapture the Labour Party from the Corbynites, he might consider sitting down with a notepad and pen and trying to come up with some attractive new centrist policies which don’t simply look like splitting the difference between Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot. Want ordinary people to be enthused by centre-leftish policies? Then stop making them such a darn fudge. Stop desperately chasing votes and start crafting the policies which might actually win votes.

But why go to the trouble of doing anything constructive when one can just carp from the sidelines?

 

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Submission, Part 2

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More signs of the humiliating capitulation to come

After Jeremy Corbyn managed to surprise everyone and trounce Theresa May at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Questions, it was interesting to note the fulsome praise he received, even from many of his staunchest critics.

Guido compiled some of the most striking olive branches as they flashed across Twitter, and it makes for interesting reading – see the image above.

And so we have yet more evidence of the PLP resigning itself to Owen Smith’s inevitable defeat and trying to make nice with the man they so opportunistically stabbed in the back in the panicked aftermath of the EU referendum. MPs who haven’t had a single kind word to say about Jeremy Corbyn in months are now keen to be seen cheering on their leader.

Is this just a collective expression of relief that Corbyn didn’t self-immolate at the dispatch box for once? No, clearly something more is at work here.

Why? Because many of these centrist Labour MPs realise that they have put themselves in an untenable position. In their fury at being sidelined, these MPs queued up to publicly declare that Jeremy Corbyn was awful and that there was simply no way that they could productively work together. Now Jeremy Corbyn is about to receive another stonking mandate from the party membership, which rather leaves the door open for the centrists, not Corbyn, to leave the party if they don’t like the direction the members have set. All the while, the ominous threat of deselection hangs over their heads, and so these MPs – many of whom have absolutely infuriated their local party branches with their disloyal behaviour – are understandably desperately seeking to shore up their positions.

As this blog recently pointed out:

The Parliamentary Labour Party called Jeremy Corbyn’s bluff and lost, badly. There is ample blame to go around – some for the remaining “big beasts” of the party who were too cowardly and self-serving to put their names forward as leadership contenders, leaving it to unloved support acts like Angela Eagle and the contemptible Owen Smith; some for misbehaving shadow ministers like Hilary Benn who took the job and then rebelled and briefed against their leader at every opportunity; and last but not least, a portion of the blame rests with every single one of the 172 Labour MPs who opportunistically calculated that the confused aftermath of the EU referendum provided a great “fog of war” in which they could go full Brutus on Jeremy Corbyn’s Caesar and get away with it.

Well, it didn’t work. Nobody viable stepped forward, the party membership was enraged at the parliamentary party challenging their pick for leader less than a year into the job, and Owen Smith’s damp squib of a campaign lurched from one unforced error to the next.

[..] And so the unhappy bedfellows will likely limp on together, Corbynites and centrists openly despising one another but remaining stuck with each other thanks to the British political system. The centrists will continue to moan to any journalist who will listen, Dan Hodges will have more material for his Mail on Sunday column than he knows what to do with, the PLP will do everything they can to make Jeremy Corbyn’s life a living hell, and Corbyn’s team will do all they can to set the stage for a purge of the centrists, either at the upcoming constituency boundary review or when it comes time to choose candidates for the 2020 general election.

But of course, if anyone is capable of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory (or at least taking 1.5 steps back for every 2 steps forward) it is Jeremy Corbyn. And so it is again today, with news that overzealous Corbynite aides have prepared another one of their infamous enemy lists, this time superciliously keeping note of those centrist MPs who have supposedly undermined Corbyn’s leadership in the past.

From the Guardian:

Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign team has issued a list singling out 14 Labour MPs, including deputy leader Tom Watson, who it claims have abused the leader and his allies, triggering a new row in the party.

Corbyn’s team said the list was sent out by mistake by a junior staff member, but the leader later appeared to stand by the substance of the allegations, saying all the remarks had been made on the record.

In the release, Owen Smith, the challenger for the Labour leadership, was accused of being the “real disunity candidate”, who has failed to tackle abuse meted out by his own supporters.

The list, obtained by Press Association, highlighted the behaviour of a number of Labour MPs, including Jess Phillips for telling Corbyn’s ally Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, John Woodcock for dismissing the party leader as a “fucking disaster” and Tristram Hunt for describing Labour as “in the shit”.

Watson was highlighted for calling the grassroots Corbyn campaign Momentum a “rabble”.

Cue lots of sanctimonious outrage from those MPs on the list – Jess Phillips is already parading her supposed vulnerability to crazed Corbynite violent attacks on social media.

This doesn’t make anyone look good. One of the most dispiriting things about the Labour Party in recent years, particularly since the departure of Ed Miliband, has been the continual games of competitive weaponised victimhood played by centrists and Corbynites alike. Both sides are clearly drinking deep from the well of social justice and identity politics, and have decided that the best way to win (or at least shut down) an argument they don’t like is to screech hysterically that the other side is somehow encouraging or tacitly accepting violence.

We are used to seeing this from the centrists, furious at their fall from power and lashing out at anyone and everyone who dares to suggest that their plight might just be self-inflicted. But it is depressing to see Corbynites now adopting the same behaviour, keeping finickity little lists of those MPs who have “abused” them or made them feel “unsafe”.

This, more than anything else, is why the British public views the Labour Party as an unelectable dumpster fire of a political party right now. Yes, Jeremy Corbyn’s outdated socialism is failing to win over centrists (in what is a broadly centre-right country, as recently reasserted by a new non-partisan report as well as by common sense), but far worse than that is the constant spectacle of briefing, counter-briefing and backbiting. These are the seething, petty politics of the student union, being practised by grown adults with prestigious jobs and £74,000 salaries. Frankly, it is pathetic.

But this is all just a flash in the pan. However much some Labour MPs may huff and puff about being placed on Corbyn’s enemy list, the majority of the PLP will fall into line. In fact, given the continual and widespread criticism that he has endured from his own back (and front) benches, the real miracle is that there are only fourteen names on the list.

And there are only fourteen names on the list because in this one key respect, Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges reality rather than struggling against it. Corbyn knows that most of the PLP, whatever histrionics they may have engaged in over the past year, will come trudging meekly back through the door of his tent the moment he finishes wiping Owen Smith’s blood off his sword. And like any smart vanquishing general trying to occupy hostile territory, Corbyn knows that the best thing to do is to make a very public example of those who were most disloyal to him while granting the majority a reprieve contingent on future behaviour.

Having utterly failed in their opportunistic and self-serving bid to rid Labour of Jeremy Corbyn, nearly all of his restive MPs – even the ones who pompously declared the impossibility of ever working with their leader – will shortly bend the knee in a humiliating show of submission.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now, and the centrists are going to have to do a hell of a lot better than Twitter tantrums and Owen Smith if they are serious about changing that fact.

 

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Jeremy Corbyn, His Place Confirmed On The Leadership Ballot Paper, Declares War On The Centrists

Jeremy Corbyn taunts centrist Labour MPs with a subtle repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech denouncing Militant Tendency

After avoiding a party stitch-up to prevent him from automatically going forward into the Labour leadership ballot, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters have been taking something of a victory lap.

The Labour NEC’s decision prompted the valedictory video shown above, hosted on the official Jeremy Corbyn YouTube channel and promoted on the Labour leader’s social media accounts.

In the video, Corbyn concludes his remarks:

Our party is determined that the next government will meet the needs of all of the people of this country. That will invest in health, in housing, in education, in jobs, in infrastructure.

The next government will be a Labour government – a Labour government– committed to ending the injustice and inequality that exists in Britain today.

My emphasis in bold.

I highlight this phrase because I do not believe it was accidental. In fact, I believe it was a direct and very deliberate reference to former party leader Neil Kinnock’s 1985 speech to the Labour Party conference, in which Kinnock (in a bid to make his party more electable) denounced the far-left Liverpool city council and the Militant tendency wing of the party.

Here’s what Kinnock said in 1985:

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.  You start with far-fetched resolutions.  They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of repetition (“a Labour government – a Labour government”) in his address today is, I am certain, not coincidental. On the contrary, it is a direct reference to Neil Kinnock’s speech and a repudiation of Neil Kinnock’s work in the 1980s to drag the Labour Party closer to the political centre (Corbyn himself was part of an effort to depose Neil Kinnock from the leadership in 1988).

By flagrantly co-opting Kinnock’s turn of phrase, Corbyn is defiantly stamping his own authority on the Labour Party. Corbyn is making clear that he is the Labour Party now, for all intents and purposes, and that the party of Kinnock, Smith, Blair, Brown and Miliband has passed away.

Anybody entertaining any lingering wistful belief that Jeremy Corbyn will “do the right thing” and slink away “for the good of the party”, letting the centrists resume their rule without a fight, should now abandon all hope.

This is Jeremy Corbyn’s party now. And he is here to stay.

 

Neil Kinnock’s 1985 party conference speech – highlight:

 

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