To be honest, I’m a bit mystified by the pronouncements of the Labour ‘modernisers’. Their thinking doesn’t seem to make any sense.
In the last two weeks, since Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership with 59.5% of the vote, we’ve heard Charles Clark say “It’s obviously been a very bad week for him.” (?) and that Yvette Cooper is waiting in the wings to take over as Labour leader if Jeremy Corbyn gets fed up with the job (?).
Much more ominously, there are ‘reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying that “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”.
Has it been a bad couple of weeks for JC?
Off the top of my head, he has put together a huge and an inclusive shadow cabinet, which comprises 52% women; made a very successful speech at the TUC and gained praise for his appearance at PMQs. If that’s a bad week, then let’s have more of them.
However, as Phil Burton-Cartledge writes:
Richard Seymour sees this as a continuation of what he calls Project Fear in which the Labour Right has tried to frighten JC supporters but he says:
‘.. there will be war in the Labour Party. Project Fear was just the panicked, clearly ineffectual start. And in that war, the right wing will have the backing of the media, the spooks, the civil service, and a good chunk of the membership.’
John Rentoul agrees that ‘..there won’t be defections. There will be a civil war instead.’
He continues to write of the Labour MPs:
‘How many of them could say, in their heart of hearts, that Corbyn should be prime minister? Eagle is tribal Labour, but I know more than one MP, and there must be many more, who, asked to choose privately between Osborne, who is likely to be leader of the Conservative Party by then, and Corbyn, would reluctantly prefer Osborne.… But Labour MPs are not going to defect. It is their party, and they intend to take it back. It would be hard for them to fight an election with Corbyn as leader and, perhaps even more so, with McDonnell in a senior position, but they don’t think Corbyn is going to last.’
So the Labour Right’s plan seems to be at least partly based on Jeremy Corbyn getting fed up with their machinations and resigning. Then Yvette will step into the breach, untainted by association with the Shadow Cabinet (unlike Andy Burnham who gained 2% more support than Yvette in the leadership contest). It seems like a fair guess that the ex-ministers who flounced off (refusing to serve even before they were offered posts) intend to form a Shadow-Shadow Cabinet. Charles Clark remarked in a television interview the party was preparing to fight the next election without the newly appointed leader.
So what do they think would happen then? Do they think that the 49% of full members who voted for JC, and the 60k new members who have joined since JC was elected, will welcome Yvette, Chuka, Tristam, Liz et al with open arms as the saviours of the LP?
Isn’t it much more likely that they will be blamed for undermining JC and crashing the LP?
Quite apart from the logistics of Tom Watson being elected as Deputy leader and the likelihood of a new leadership contest, I would make a fair guess that there would be a mass exodus of JC supporters if Yvette were to be parachuted in… and how likely is she to be elected? Even with Liz Kendall and Yvette’s votes combined, they gained less than 22%.
Nevertheless, according to Luke Akehurst’s ‘conventional wisdom’:
Some of his grassroots supporters will go through the same painful process of awakening and political education that led to many Bennite activists becoming successively Kinnockite then Blairite in the 1980s and 1990s. Their idealism didn’t survive repeated interaction with electoral defeat and hostile working class voters on the doorstep. It’s natural to want to win. And people get older and in many cases their politics matures.
Trade unions will get fed up with not being able to deliver on pay and conditions and public spending for their public sector members because we don’t have a Labour government (they may also get jittery if we lose councils as they would prefer to negotiate with Labour employers not Tories).
MPs will feel they have to act or the electorate will sack them.
At least, Luke Akehurst sheds a little bit of doubt – ‘if conventional wisdom does prove correct’…. What conventional wisdom? What planet do these professional politicians live on?
Can’t they see that whatever else happens over the next 5y, the political landscape has changed. Globally, social democratic parties’ collusion with neoliberalism is being rejected and the electorate is polarizing between the far right and the left. If JC fails, the LP under a Blairite/Brownite, committed to austerity-lite will, almost certainly go the way of Pasok. They had already lost 5m voters by 2005… and now they’ve lost the two subsequent general elections!
I could say more about the hubris and extraordinary sense of self-entitlement that has been revealed by the posturings of the former LP elite. However, least said…
As far as I can see it, the choice for the Labour Right in the PLP is to join in the democratic debate and put their weight behind JC as leader, or ‘win their party back’ and reduce the LP to a hollow shell.
To improbably quote Blair’s old friend and member of JC’s Shadow Cabinet:
Asked whether Mr Blair was “right or wrong” to say that Mr Corbyn “is not going to be prime minister”, Lord Falconer said: “I have no idea. What we’ve got to do, to try to do is to make Labour an effective opposition and we need to try to make Labour a party that the public think can govern.”
However, there is a very real danger to worry about, and it is not the rubbish about the national anthem, rugby matches and so on.
With reports that elements of the British Army may rebel if Jeremy Corbyn is elected Prime Minister, and a serving general quoted as saying “The Army just wouldn’t stand for it”, it seems that some in our established institutions regard democracy as optional. We are allowed to make our choice, but if they do not regard it as an acceptable choice then they may feel perfectly entitled to disregard it.
Does the British establishment, in its entirety, really believe in democracy? Perhaps for some elements, the best reply to that would be – up to a point.
So is there any hope for Democracy? Noam Chomsky was asked ‘What is your opinion on the emergence of figures such as Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Pablo Iglesias in Spain, or Bernie Sanders in the US? Is a new left movement on the rise, or are these just sporadic responses to the economic crisis?’ He replied:
It depends what the popular reaction is. Take Corbyn in England: he’s under fierce attack, and not only from the Conservative establishment, but even from the Labour establishment. Hopefully Corbyn will be able to withstand that kind of attack; that depends on popular support. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then it can have an impact. Same with Podemos in Spain.
Chomsky is right. If the public is willing to back him in the face of the defamation and destructive tactics, then a left movement which reaches out internationally, and particularly across Europe, can create the conditions for a better world. However, the call to fascism by the army general does not argue for an easy transition. Before we get to that point, the Labour Right will have to decide whose side they’re on.