When did it all go right?

CorbynPMQ

The result of Jeremy Corbyn‘s shadow cabinet reshuffle, a fairly unexplosive and routine one as it turned out, was not the issue. Reading about him doing what the leader of a party really ought to do, which is to say sort it out, you’d think he was genuinely behaving like Stalin and using elongated cutting equipment nocturnally. This makes a better headline. And there’s the rub. With a predominantly rightwing media – and even my beloved Guardian came out in support of Yvette Cooper in last year’s leadership race, a Toynbeean position it appears to have retained – Corbyn can do no right. If he acts, he’s running a totalitarian dictatorship. If he doesn’t act, he’s weak. Either way, he’s “unelectable”, which, if he was, is something he has in common with the previous two Labour leaders. I hesitate to say he can’t win.

London_Evening_Standard_6_1_2016

I have no love for the London Evening Standard. It’s free. I pick up a copy at the station, because I might as well, and flick through it in a matter of seconds, scowling as I do so. One thing that has always irked me about living in London, even when I liked living in London, is that the capital’s local newspaper is rightwing. But those are the breaks. The Standard reported on Corbyn’s reshuffle yesterday in a way that made clear the mountain he has to climb. He was, the paper wrote, in “open warfare with shadow  ministers”. He was “warned”, it said, of being “petty and divisive.” He would, it said, “tighten his grip” by moving those who “oppose him on key policies.” He would “award big promotions” to “left-wingers”. Pardon my utopianism, but isn’t the Labour party “left-wing”. I know what the media means when it speaks of “hard left” and “centre left”, but the papers are obsessed with the hardness of the left since Corbyn was voted in on an unprecedented 59.5% mandate. Presumably those who voted for him wanted something “harder” than Ed Miliband. (Having declined to vote Labour since 1997, I certainly did.)

As all newspapers do, the Standard quoted an unnamed source (a “leading Labour moderate”) who helpfully voiced the newspaper proprietor’s views for him, who called this a “revenge reshuffle” (which made the headline). Then, a comment from an actual “ex-minister”, Kim Howells, a former union man turned Blair loyalist who stood down at the 2010 general election, having been reshuffled himself by Gordon Brown; he’d helpfully described Corbyn’s team as “superannuated Trotskyite opportunists”. (He also called them “lunatics” but the Standard had run out of space it might better devote to house prices, food fads or Boris Johnson’s latest wheeze.)

Corbynnice

In a follow-up piece, it said Corbyn had “swung the axe” on Brownite shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher – in other words, replaced him – a chap who within seconds of hearing the news joined the ranks of useful idiots available at all hours to attack Mr Corbyn. His removal made a “mockery” of the “so-called new politics”. I personally think Corbyn should have “swung the axe” in Syria-bombing turncoat Hilary Benn’s direction, especially after his veiled declaration of his intention to stand against Corbyn in a future leadership challenge in the Commons.

It didn’t take long to get to the word “purge” (another handy allusion to Stalin, or Hitler if you prefer). “One Labour MP” said it was becoming “a war between Mr Corbyn and supporters of [Tom] Watson.” This is the narrative we are being sold. Another Labour MP – named, at least – called Graham Jones tweeted: “With the sacking of Dugher, traditional working class Labour is dying.” He also spoke of that old chestnut a “remote north London elite,” a slur that pretty much did for Miliband, although he also had two kitchens, which is careless.

Dugher is the one who implicitly warned JC not to make Labour a “religious cult”. The Standard added, “The reference to Mr Dugher’s provincial working-class roots was seen by MPs as a contrast with Mr Corbyn’s North London circle.”

CorbynMarr

I despair of the rightwing bias in our press, but there you go, it’s a free market, and it’s run by people with a vested interest in the free market. The story of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise and prospective fall is being written by the eventual victors, and he appears to be able to do nothing about it. He’s too quiet, too reasonable, too low-key – all qualities that should be refreshing in the bellowing Bullingdon that is Parliament, but do him no favours with so many louder voices around him. But I also despair of the Labour party. All we hear about are internecine struggles and knives in backs, petty bickering, negative briefing, unnamed moderates firing shots across their leader’s bows. I’m not sure what the answer is. Take better media advice? You don’t have to join them, but you must occasionally beat them.

This was supposed to be the dawning of a new era for British party politics. The idea of a “left-wing” Labour party seemed like an impossible dream before Corbyn’s democratic ascent. It’s still within Labour’s grasp, but they have to stop fighting each other, unite under their leader or fuck off to the back benches. I am a potential Labour voter. I haven’t been one of those since the Bernie Eccelstone/Formula One back-hander and Blair’s pack of lies in October 1997. I can’t be the only one. But I keep thinking of the best line in Dr Strangelove, especially as bombs fall on Syria in the name of Hilary Benn and 65 other Labour hawks:

Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!

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8 thoughts on “When did it all go right?

  1. Great assessment of the Labour situation, and not just because it overlaps with mine. Don’t get me started on the Guardian. They’ve really disappointed me… Happy New Year, by the way!

  2. Strikes me that it’s not your vote the labour party need. They need people who voted Tory last time round, and lots of them. And, despite your apparent personal distaste for them, it does seem that only the moderates in the Labour party grasp this, and understand the extent to which the LP are making themselves unelectable by associating with STW, or by equivocating about protecting UK citizens, or by sacking MPs who refuse to excuse terrorists, etc etc.

    • It is literally my vote the party needs, as it needs votes from anybody who did not vote for Labour when they lost the 2010 or 2015 general elections. Removing Clause 4 worked for Blair, but the Tories were at sea in the late 90s, and, once elected, the more Blair modelled himself on a presidential, Thatcher-like, God-made-me-do-it, warmongering dictator, the faster the Labour vote drained away, leaving them weakened enough to lose the race to a coalition they refused to enter into. Another Blairite, moderate Labour party will no more trounce the Tories in 2020 than a staunchly principled Corbynite one will magically do, but I would prefer to see an opposition that opposes than one who toes the government line. Which MP who refuses to excuse terrorists have the party sacked?

      • Yes, obviously they need every single possible vote. But electoral reality tells us there are now far more votes to the right of the LP than there are where you’re coming from, and so it’s to there they need to head if they want to win

        I broadly agree with the rest of what you say, except, oddly, the conclusion you reach. Better to oppose meaningfully from the centre ground, I’d have thought. Claiming the centre ground positioned Blair take advantage of the Tory’s travails in the 90s. If the LP front bench (or anyway, the Milne-Corbyn-Galloway groupuscule) is now the party of hard left protest on practically everything, that mass of voters in the south, the south east, the seaside towns, suburbia, rural Britain etc who reluctantly or otherwise voted Tory last time around certainly won’t be changing their minds come the next election. Or the one after that.

        (Pat McFadden, and I meant sacked from the front bench, not the party.)

  3. Not only did the Guardian disappoint me in the leadership election – so did the New Statesman!!! That was a blow, and they’re still not being that supportive. Grr.

  4. Sadly, Labour needs a stronger Lib Dems and perhaps even a stronger UKIP. But it also needs to win back Scotland, which a pro-austerity “New Labour” leader is unlikely to do. Labour should have repositioned itself a little further to the left in 2010. That was what Ed Miliband was elected to do, but he failed to deliver. Corbyn was essentially elected because he was the only vaguely leftist candidate. But he isn’t very vaguely leftist.

    The BBC’s reporting of the reshuffle was heartbreaking. Corbyn never said it would be a radical reshuffle but a BBC correspondent confidently asserted that it would be and that it would therefore mark the end of his (pah!) new style of politics. When he only sacked a couple of dissenters, it was evidence of his feebleness, rather than the fact that the BBC had got it wrong. Then three front benchers resigned, presumably because they don’t like feeble reshuffles. I mean, you could argue he now has five fewer dissenting voices to take into account having only sacked two. You could call that a result. But no one will.

    But, it’s not just down to poor and biased reporting. He is the leader of a political party. His new style of politics appears to involve parties not having leaders, not setting an agenda, not getting out there and arguing your case. Every time I see him he’s being interviewed walking down the street, like someone walking into court – or a beleaguered minister about to resign. And like them, he says nothing. The most telling statistic I’ve seen is that most voters don’t know he’s anti-austerity.

    He won the Labour leadership by default; it’s unlikely he’ll win a general election that way. Miliband compromised too much. From the start my fear about Corbyn was that he wouldn’t compromise at all. But I did expect that by now I’d have some idea whether I was right or not.

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