Readers of this blog, and especially prospective students in PPE and History and Politics, should see this on-going exchange between my colleague Bruno Leipold, a diehard Corbynista (and expert on Marx), and myself, a defender of what he calls ‘the embittered sliver’ of the Labour Party who want rid of him, as a showcase of the good natured and humoured discourse that goes on here at the university. [You can read my piece here, and his response here.]
From time to time we like to talk about so-called ‘real politics’, and why ideas matter. Now, in his article, he describes the only alternative to Corbyn as a ‘coterie of SPADs, PR advisors and Oxford PPE graduates that got Labour into this mess’. But fear not, I am sure he didn’t mean all PPE students would do this, many of whom, as I can attest, are very pro-Corbyn. Their views are welcome. And it is important to stress that we tutors are not here to influence or form your political opinions anyway, but to expose you to a range of ideas and encourage clarity in your thinking – no matter what ‘side’ you sit on.
Nevertheless, in this space, I want to reflect on why the so-called ‘embittered sliver’—that 81 per cent of his PLP; not to mention all Labour MEPs, hundreds of Councillors, all living former leaders and all but three MSPs, and as recent polls indicate, an increasing portion of the membership—could possibly want to see the back of him.
Having read his piece, I realise that I must have been mistaken. Corbyn is doing a great job. After thirty years in Westminster, we only now realise that Labour was hiding away one of Britain’s great parliamentarians. Taking a mandate from his small base (compared to the UK population and also the nine million people that voted Labour at the last general election), he and Momentum are sweeping the nation with a message of progressive change. In the face of a string of Tory reversals, all down to his opposition, Labour MPs from across the party–from Blairites to the soft left–have been won over by his leadership skills, despite the minority of plotters and the ‘mainstream media’ who rudely reprinted all the things he’s said over the years about the IRA, Hamas, Kosovo, Iran, Israel, etc.
Thanks to his leadership, a new set of voters—never heard from in decades—is ready to challenge the Tories in places like Nuneaton and Swindon. He is indeed reconnecting with the Labour heartlands, as his EU referendum campaign showed. Scotland is coming back into the fold, as he promised. He has an innovative policy platform that is modernising socialist ideas for the 21st century. If only Ed Milliband had tacked further to the left.
Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet is leaving in droves because he is completely and utterly incompetent
I could go on, but I won’t, because of course none of this is true. His cabinet is not leaving in droves because they are embittered, but because he is completely and utterly incompetent. He is intellectually lazy, and could not run a chip shop, much less HM Opposition. In the Republic, Plato likens governance to the navigation of a ship, and with Corbyn at the helm Labour is headed for the Bermuda triangle. It faces complete oblivion in the next election. Over a third of Labour voters in 2015, where it went down to heavy defeat, said they would not vote for the party under him. With a potential election looming, the MPs had to act.
Sure, Corbyn got a party mandate. But it was not a mandate to be rubbish. And MPs have a mandate from their voters, who one can argue are more important [a good tutorial topic, that].
All of this makes me feel sorry for my colleague. His comrades have been waiting for decades for the left to seize power and they end up hanging their hopes on Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and the insufferable Diane Abbott. He recounts his Momentum meeting, which sounded lovely, and their universal commitment to winning a general election. Perhaps they should spend more time on the doorstep, which according to a recent report by the political scientist Tim Bale, the new party members are not doing. Bruno writes that ‘Labour needs to become a party that is organically connected to its trade unions, its activists and the people of this country as a whole’. According to reports up and down the country, the latter is not happening.
The belief that without Corbynite activists the Labour party would be bereft of grassroots support is breathtakingly arrogant.
I won’t refute each of his points—although I could—but I will highlight a few things. The belief that without Corbynite activists the Labour party would be bereft of grassroots support is breathtakingly arrogant. And as I said, the hard left only wants to win elections on their terms, regardless of what a majority of the public may desire. The voters must come to them. Any compromise is treachery. As Bruno writes, ‘an election fought (and even won) on the Tories’ terms is in a very real sense also a defeat’. You see, anyone else in the party who does not agree with their hard left views is always branded as a Tory or a Blairite, which are really the same thing.
He states that Corbyn’s big compromise is not reinstating Clause Four, ‘demanding the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange’, an effort that been proven, across the globe, to be a total failure. Ruling out the impossible is not sufficient; nor did he ever campaign on reinstating it. His policy ideas, such as they are, was what I was talking about. He’s done nothing to bring people around the table and put together a representative agenda. Instead, he’s dividing the party with things like pushing for blocking Trident, against the official Party platform.
But on this Clause Four business, and yes I’m being provocative here (again), it reminds me that the hard left has really never gotten over the fall of Communism and that stubborn fact that capitalism has lifted hundreds of millions, even billions, of people out of poverty. In response Corbyn and his clan have had to take solace in associating with or at least defending the last vestiges of anti-Western sentiment – the likes of Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, myriad terrorist organizations and other genocidal regimes. These people are hardly progressive, but they hate America, so who cares. All of their illiberalism is justified on the grounds of anti-western ‘imperialism’. If you doubt me, again, I suggest you read Nick Cohen’s What’s Left?.
Now, I am NOT saying that my colleague, or even more than a tiny sliver of Corbyn’s supporters would associate with this stuff. But that is my point; they are stuck with someone whose politics are not new and often not nice. The consequence of these associations, his poor leadership and his stubborn refusal to compromise, foreshows an electoral failure that will do nothing to help the poor in Britain, like those Momentum supporters that Bruno eloquently describes. Does that make me angry? You bet. And that is why the MPs are so angry too.