Let’s take a moment to consider a fundamental political question:
Is the Labour Right for real?
I think this is a question begging to be answered when you take a moment to really appreciate the reaction of right leaning Labour MPs and Labour donors to the sudden surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Much has been written about the leadership election over the last few months, and much of it is much better than anything I could write, but what we can learn from the Labour leadership election is two things: firstly, Labour members and supporters want to see a new kind of politics in Labour: anti-austerity, social democratic, and populist. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we have the delightful spectacle of the Labour right magnificently, and publicly, destroying itself.
Let’s focus on the latter point for a moment: Corbyn has been attacked viciously by elements within Labour and those affiliated to it. But the fact of the matter is, for all the mud-slinging, none of it seems to stick. At time of writing, Corbyn is on 43% of the vote, according to YouGov, putting him miles ahead of Andy Burnham (the former ‘frontrunner’) who is on 26%, with Yvette Cooper on 20% and Liz Kendall on a measly 11%. According to LabourList, Corbyn has a commanding lead of 73%. Writing for LabourList, Maya Goodfellow makes the simple but effective point that Corbyn has the edge over his opponents in the fact that he is giving a clear, simple message about a kind of politics that benefits everyone, marking a break from the confused political era of Milliband, and the rightist ideologies of the Blair camp.
To a leftist, Corbyn’s voting record speaks of principle, vision and unwillingness to compromise on socialist principles. Indeed, words like “principled,”, “honest,” and “straight-talking” have become the media buzzwords of the Corbyn camp. Even satirical news sites are reiterating this – NewsThump recently published an article entitled “Experts baffled by popularity of politician with ‘principles'”. One would be forgiven for thinking it was a real news article, giving the responses of some Labourites to Corbyn.
Which brings me onto the Labour Right. It is striking how many Labour MPs from the right of the party, who backed Corbyn’s nomination, are now running scared. This in itself seems an act of hypocrisy. If your reason for backing someone is because you genuinely want to “broaden the conversation”, you don’t then run for the hills if it goes in a way you don’t like. To do so is childish, and, in all honesty, rather spineless. This however, isn’t surprising. Since it became apparent that Corbyn was popular with the membership, and was also wiping the floor with his competitors, Labour has unearth various corpses of bygone political days, to provide warnings from beyond the grave. Yet even this is farcical, and serves only to expose the contempt for which the Labour Right views its own membership.
Tony Blair, for example, gave a speech attacking Corbyn and his supporters. A few key details of what he said are indicative of the Labour Right’s contempt: firstly, there is a denial of reality. Blair claims the “traditional leftist position” will not win elections. This is ludicrous not only in light of the clear popularity of Corbyn’s ideas among Labour supporters, but also in light of Labour’s recent electoral wipeout in Scotland at the hands of the SNP. The SNP are not even that far left, in the grand scheme of things, but their message of anti-austerity and protecting the welfare state, trounced Labour, and left them with the vast majority of the Scottish seats. Secondly, and perhaps more insultingly, Blair stated that “People saying their heart is with Corbyn – get a transplant,” The statement is paternalistic, appealing, perhaps, towards a sober, level headed thinking that an elder statesman can aspire to from having years of political experience. It’s also total bollocks, and deeply insulting to the party membership.
Even John Prescott, a man who served with Blair, labelled his comments “unacceptable abuse.” Blair’s transplant statement is important because it really does show the extent to which Labour’s Right think that they are above the membership; they have elected themselves to an authority position which allows them to make great enlightened statements on the future of the party. Except, it doesn’t. If anything, it exposes a heart-felt disregard for what the members of the party want. This, lest we forget, is the opinion of public servants, MPs, people who are elected by the will of the people.
More extremely, it is now reported that senior Labour figures will mount a coup against Corbyn within days of him winning. According to the Telegraph, this will “plunge the party into even deeper crisis and division, but would be necessary to prevent an electoral “disaster” under Mr Corbyn’s leadership, senior figures said.”
Let’s take a moment to appreciate this. Labour is in crisis. Labour is a democratic party. The members of this democratic party are leaning towards electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader. And yet the “senior figures” of that party would rather make Labour essentially shoot itself than listen to the will of the membership.
How stupid, crass and utterly contemptible is that as an attitude?
The Labour Right, not getting what it wants, being nursed by Tony Blair. Ickle. Credit: tea.. via Flickr
And then we have the idiots who think that the leadership contest in its entirety should be cancelled because Corbyn might win. Cancel the whole thing because someone you don’t like might win. Cancel it.
That’s got to be the political equivalent of rage quitting.
The idea that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable is a patent absurdity. Let’s have a look at Corbyn’s electoral record. He’s been the MP for Islington North since 1983. He has been re-elected to parliament a whopping seven times, and even in the 2015 election, where Labour faced what was portrayed an electoral wipe-out, Corbyn gained 60.24% of the vote and a majority of 21,194. Such numbers are truly impressive, and something Corbyn should rightly be proud of.
Of course, being a successful constituency MP and a successful party leader are different things. A party public leader needs to not just impress a single constituency, but a whole country, and is also seen as the representative of his or her political party. How “electable” someone is is really a matter of total speculation, and cannot be an exact science in an unfair voting system. Take, for instance, the fact that despite Nigel Farage’s intense personality cult, he failed to get elected as a UKIP MP. Now, of course, UKIP, like the Greens, were treated pretty poorly as a result of the First Past the Post system. Trying to speculate whether someone is electable or not is fairly pointless when the number of votes a party receives does not correlate with the number of seats they can get in Parliament. It says a lot about how broken the system is when 10 million votes give the Conservatives 321 seats, and 1 million votes gives the Green Party just one.
I want Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour leadership. I want this because, as a socialist, he would stand for my politics. But I also want this as someone who respects the democratic will of the Labour party, which leans towards seeing Corbyn in charge. I do, also, want this because I see an upshot of a Corbyn-led Labour Party being the mass exodus of the Labour Right. Frankly, fuck ‘em. If they want to quit because they have become so contemptuous of the democratic will of the party, then let them go. We don’t want that sort of politics in our names. Corbyn’s leadership could see a new era cross party anti-austerity politics. A Corbyn-led Labour could work with the SNP, Plaid and the Greens to articulate a radical alternative to Tory hegemony. If the price of that is losing the Blairite wing of the party, so be it.
In short, Corbyn’s leadership could see a resurgence of left politics in Labour, and on the national level. It would also be a death blow to the Labour Right, who, let’s face it, have been asking for such a blow with their utter disregard for the very people they are meant to represent.