My indecision is final

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In 2002, I interviewed Michael Moore, a strident, striding leftist, onstage at the National Film Theatre. He inspired me then, and he inspires me still, and you get the sense that he’s born to be in opposition, which suits him fine. His reputation solidified under George W Bush, and seems to be doing the same under Donald J Trump. One of the questions I put to him was about his apparent certainty. I asked him if he ever had any doubts that he was right. He said that if he discovered he was wrong, he’d change his opinion and he’d be right again. It was said lightheartedly but there is something profound about that willingness to be guided by events.

On January 6 last year, I wrote a blog entry on the morning after Jeremy Corbyn’s “revenge reshuffle” (as the rightwing press gleefully dubbed it). He was not yet a year into the job of leading the Labour Party and I was very publicly right behind him. The media was not; it threw up its hands in horror when Corbyn courted what they called “the hard left,” and threatened to cause a “lurch” in that direction. (You always “lurch” to the left; you never skip, or saunter, or waltz.) Kim Howells, a former union man turned Blair loyalist who stood down at the 2010 general election, helpfully described Corbyn’s reshuffled team as “superannuated Trotskyite opportunists” and “lunatics.” But you didn’t have to read the Standard or the Mail to find anti-Corbyn propaganda. Even the Yvette Cooper-supporting Guardian seemed hell-bent on sending him back to the back benches where he belonged. (Like Michael Moore, he seemed perfectly suited to being in opposition – that was his blessing and his curse.) I wrote this:

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.

I felt that after the embarrassing farrago of Ed Milliband, the second of two consecutive “unelectable” Labour leaders – a description that was technically true, as both he and Gordon Brown had lost general elections – Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate signified hope for the future of the party, and his new style of doing business felt refreshing and honest. New Labour had tried everything else; maybe this “socialism” thing had swung back into fashion and relevance as the Tories tore up the welfare state and prepared the NHS for sale. What better time to have an old-school lefty in a woolly tie with a Lenin hat in charge? I almost considered re-joining the party (I’d last been a member in 1992, and last voted for them in 1997), such was the passion Corbyn seemed to inspire, especially in younger voters, who are literally the future.

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I reacted violently against the press war on Corbyn, the cheap shots, the Blairite bias, the obsession with his clothes. The alternative to Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be Owen Smith. I clung with perhaps unrealistic optimism to Corbyn’s mandate among the rank and file, the support he had in the unions, and the calamitous failure of those MPs who refused to work with him to field a candidate anyone took seriously enough to vote for. I wanted the Bennite right to shut up and knuckle down to the job in hand. But it was not to be. I wrote this:

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.

Despite a number of reasons to abandon ship, I stuck with him right the way through the leadership contest in September 2016, which he won with 313,209 votes, increasing his share of the vote from 59.5% to 61.8% compared with the result of original 2015 leadership election. He received around 62,000 more votes than in 2015, in fact. What a loser! If Corbyn was “unelectable”, then Owen Smith and Angela Eagle weren’t even electable enough to find out if they were electable or not. Their combined failure to inspire repaired any doubts I had. It was clear that nobody within Labour was better qualified than Corbyn to lead. His enemies had had enough chances. But Brexit made failures of us all. And it finished Corbyn off, I think.

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Here is the news. I have changed my mind about Jeremy Corbyn. I stuck with him for way longer than most in the approximate vicinity of the Left. I kept defending him in heated arguments when deep inside I knew he was doomed to fail. In the end, I weighed up the facts and the evidence and I did what I knew Michael Moore would have done. I altered my opinion, which had become wrong, and I became right again.

I aired this revelation on Twitter last night, frustrated with Labour’s failure to even lodge a unified protest against the Brexit bill. At the same time I expressed my fond admiration of the noble 47 (out of 167) Labour MPs who voted against triggering Article 50, defying Jeremy Corbyn’s hypocritical three-line whip. For the record, here are the 47 in full. (This list includes Owen Smith, so I have to adjust my opinion of him, too. Try it – it’s liberating.)

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At the same time reassuring any Labour MP who resigned over the issue (stand up, Tulip Siddiq, Jo Stevens) that they could just come back afterwards was a parody of Corbyn’s woolly-tie style. On the one hand, he’s so reasonable he strays into passive-aggression, and on the other, he’s a dictator who seems to be dictated to by his media handlers. Maybe the media made him this way. Maybe he, too, wishes he was back on the back benches. He’s never seemed comfortable walking out of his own front door and discovering that the media outside seems to be interested in him, and he will not trim that climbing plant that always whacks him in the face, but I think a piece of me died when his aides prevented an ITV reporter from asking him a simple, unthreatening question in November. It’s worth watching again.

I wonder if there is an image of Jeremy Corbyn’s downfall more tragic or poignant than the sight of him hiding behind a glass door, claiming to have been “harassed.” I could no longer defend him after that. It was a dick move by him, and by his aggressive, high-minded minders. I had bigger political fish to fry with Brexit and Trump and a world in flames to worry about an old man’s feelings any more.

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I think it’s OK to change your mind. I didn’t like the first episode of period hospital drama The Knick when I saw it, but I returned to it and gave it another go, then changed my mind about it; and I now consider it to be one of the great TV dramas of all time. Someone Tweeted that it was “big of me” to admit I had changed my mind about Jeremy Corbyn, but it isn’t big, it’s just clever.

Oh, and please don’t ask me, “Who’s going to save us now?” If Labour continues to dig its heels in and refuses to form any kind of coalition with the Greens, the Lib Dems, the SNP, and rise from the ashes, it is doomed to fourth place, or worse. I look forward to having my mind changed on this.

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6 thoughts on “My indecision is final

  1. It’s been profoundly dispiriting, hasn’t it? I too, when he emerged, thought that although he would probably never be elected, he might at least bring broadly socialist policies which have long been deemed unusable back into the public consciousness. Apparently a clear majority of people want the railways renationalised, for example, but any political party saying so would be demonised by the Daily Mail and its ilk as if that idea was Trotskyite; I really thought that having a visible, eloquent party leader standing up and regularly saying such things might make them viable again. But he hasn’t been that person, and if anything his approach to the media has allowed them to portray his ideas as more radical and unrealistic than they actually are.
    I think the ideas Corbyn stands for are electable; I think that eventually people will realise that, as much as it feels like it now, the awful status quo of demonising and profiteering is not just the way things are and must be, come what may. But it will need a Labour leader with the charisma of, ironically, Tony Blair (just without the moral bankruptcy) to bring that to pass.

  2. The Labour party has been mortally wounded for years. I am not a Labour supporter and never have been, but I supported Corbyn’s leadership because I saw a glimmer of opportunity for something positive. That he didn’t seek out a progressive alliance was very disappointing for me personally because I see that as the only way to break the Tory grip and shake up the political system in the UK. In terms of the recent vote, I think he’d be damned either way he directed the party. Who would have done a “better” job? The Labour party doesn’t know what it stands for anyway and fourth place sounds totally reasonable to me.

  3. I am afraid it’s even worse than you think.
    Bastions of balance and trusted purveyors of truth the BBC are now hyping things up for clickbait (see the recent judgement against Laura Kuensberg over the “shoot to kill” question) and infiltrated by journalists from the Standard and Daily Mail. (Sarah Sands to edit R4Today).
    Meanwhile the press is at a new low with the “quality” papers having sacked hundreds of experienced journalists, and unscrupulous proprietors relentlessly pursuing their political agenda.
    I think we all have to get into gear and seriously pose ourselves the question: How are we informing ourselves about current affairs ?
    Public service broadcasting is on the edge of a cliff.
    You can’t flee to the bubbles of The Canary or Facebook or Twitter.
    It follows that any successor to Corbyn, indeed any emerging left-wing leader, will need to somehow run the gauntlet of a universally hostile media.
    Right now it looks impossible for anyone, and it’s possible that we’re merely wasting our energy when we’re criticising Corbyn.

  4. I can’t say I supported him in the original leadership election because I’m more centre-left than left leaning. I’m a floating voter, but I believe in having a strong Labour party.

    I wasn’t convinced at all, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I did want him to prove me wrong – I really did. But it’s been painful watching the whole thing. The only time he seems to have displayed any passion is when he was fighting for his role. I did hope that after the re-election it might invigorate the leadership. Give a boost of confidence. But no. It didn’t happen.

    I don’t know what Labour is at the minute. And it’s Europe that’s proved their undoing. Rather ironic given the bitter battles the Conservatives have had over the same subject.

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