The Talented Mr Corbyn

Labour Party


In one of many recent TV interviews, Alastair Campbell claimed that he didn’t know the current scene well enough to nominate the next Labour leader. The problem is that Alastair Campbell has been touring the TV studios like an arsonist, determined to pour petrol on the flames of an already badly out of control fire. The irony is that Campbell often argues on not confusing tactics with strategy. The putsch is high on tactics: e.g. “The staggered series of resignations, leaks, letters, and carefully calibrated statements, ensured that there was such a crescendo of chaos and condemnation that any other leader would be gone by now.” But the strategy is non-existent – what would a stalking horse like to followthrough to government which would address concerns such as austerity, housing or immigration? And who even would the preferred successor to Corbyn be strategically, and why?

Jeremy Corbyn turned up an hour late for his rally in SOAS, part of the University of London. Corbyn was determined to emphasise that it was not, as such, “his” mission. Presumably this comment was to address the quite common belief that the social movement is essentially a personality cult, a notion exacerbated by answers such as ‘I have a mandate’. The irony is of course that many people talk of Tony Blair in glowing terms akin to a personality cult, at worst religion. One word, in the war of words, rapidly takes the momentum out of attacks on “Corbynism” – relating to a report about to be published next Wednesday – Chilcot. Corbyn is highly principled, but given the state of the current parliamentary party is not a ‘unity candidate’. But it’s a miracle he’s still hanging on by his fingernails onto the edge of the proverbial cliff – and, unlike many members of his parliamentary party who do not view being MP with the same genuineness as Jo Cox, Corbyn does not view this “as a game”. The good news for Corbyn is that there is NO unity candidate. And having waited this long to ‘get their party back’, it’s unlikely Corbyn and his inner circle are going to let go without a fight.

Interestingly, Corbyn made reference to the privilege of being educated in such institutions as SOAS. The identity of education as a right or luxury in English culture is an interesting one. Increasingly, identity has been much of a focus in contemporary debate. For example, does “your” opinion of whether you should be “in” Europe depend on your identity of being Scottish or English, assuming that the identity of Europe is the same whether you’re English or Scottish. The name “Labour” will be assumed by whichever faction ‘wins’ the Labour Leadership debate, whether that is in the hands of a mainly socialist or mainly social democrat function.

But some identity is clearly in a bit of a confusion. For all the talk of Tony Blair being a ‘strong leader’, mistakes arguably were made in international foreign policy, for example in Iraq. And the motives for taking particular decisions remain open to speculation, if only bordering on conspiracy. Around 2008, it became a widely reported aspiration that Blair might become EU president. It is hypothesised that harmonising the NHS with EU competition and procurement law was a good way for Blair to be ‘reforming public services’ and getting into the good books of Europe. And this should have been seen, perhaps, in the context of a wide adoption of competition by Alan Milburn in the birth of policy of NHS Foundation Trusts. This was a brave new world where Darwinian survival of the fittest govern which Trusts financially fail. The legacy of this is of course a vast number of Trusts being in deficit, with PFI loan repayments an exacerbating factor. PFI was turbo-boosted under Blair as soon as he came into office or power. Such decisions have, for all their advantages, brought the NHS to its knees now – and all due to ‘strong leadership’.

The caricature of Corbyn as an osteoporotic Billy-no-mates stuck in the 1970s is a convenient one, with the arguments that he is not leading on anything.  Admittedly, Corbyn does not have the same dynastic powerhouse support structures of the Kinnock or Benn dynasties. But he clearly has been leading on various attacks on environmental misfeasance, the lack of social housing, tax avoidance and evasion, abuse of zero hour contracts, enhancing workers’ rights, and, of course, the attack on austerity. Corbyn presents this all as insurgency, which gives the project energy – but what Corbyn is talking about in fact is not hugely “radical”. In this media soundbite age, Corbyn miscalculated when he opined about Europe as 7 or 7.5 out of 10 in such a reductionist and ineffective way. Corbyn, I assume, like Cameron, Corbyn expected the country to vote #remain comfortably. It is up to the public to come to their own opinions, like a buyer making appropriate investigations in buying a car (hence the term ‘caveat emptor‘).  That someone didn’t buy a car could be that the salesman was insufficiently convincing. Or could be that the defects in a competing car were not unearthed. It does not help if the competing salesman is telling a barrage of lies, but as such he is not actually responsible. The accusation  is that Corbyn couldn’t be arsed to mobilise many  Labour members to vote  #remain, but whatever this particular criticism he managed somehow to mobilise about 20% more members than David Cameron for his party. Turning threats into opportunities, or weaknesses into threats, as indeed any good strategic analysis should do, one of the fundamental questions for Labour must be to consider how to attract pro-Brexit voters back into the Labour fold.

And so the criticism is that Jeremy Corbyn did not fully immerse himself into a campaign which was by everyone’s admission “ugly” and “unpleasant”. More concerning is that pro-EU lines were redacted from the script, but if Corbyn is as Eurosceptic as we are meant to believe it is quite generous Labour was allowed to have a pro-EU opinion at all. One could argue, for example, that if the Labour heartlands were predominantly unpersuaded by the value of European immigration, low hanging fruit would have been for Corbyn to campaign actively in a dog whistle manner “to combat immigration”. This, whilst more in touch with the views of Labour grassroots voters, would be opposed to official Labour policy.


That of course is entirely discordant with his views evidenced by the fact that in his original leadership hustings Corbyn went out of his way to promote the benefits of migration. For all the huffing and puffing of Dame Margaret Hodge, it is an open secret that many residents in Barking and Dagenham feel there has been too much immigration – and Hodge has as much responsibility for inefficacy in correcting this in her own constituency as Corbyn does for the national picture. As the coup plotters well know, the EU referendum was never actually a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn.

But what overall is driving the talented Jeremy Corbyn? Seeing education as a human right would be in keeping with Corbyn’s general demeanour of everyone having fundamental rights. If disaffected Labour MPs were not spending so much time in TV studios, slagging off Corbyn, they could be there instead discussing the dismantling of the Human Rights Act, or national debt further going through the  roof as a result of Brexit, or such like. As it is, Corbyn is the innocent hapless victim of the City not getting their return on investment with Labour a glorified lobbying group through their MPs, to protect the interests of multinational corporates. If the Unions cumulatively act to help, and the membership vote for a Corbyn candidate, Corbyn might well make a comeback. And then there would come an uncomfortable situation of Labour MPs morally having not to assume the whip as they had previously voted ‘no confidence’ in Corbyn.

The problem was that it was clearly highly unlikely that over 150 of MPs would suddenly choose Friday morning to become disaffected about Jeremy Corbyn, having sat on a number of by-election successes, Mayoralty successes in London and Bristol, and even some forced manoeuvres in policy against a beleaguered Cameron government. And it was quite unlikely they would orchestrate their opposition in appearances in TV studios with such high definition. The rumours of how the coup came about with the help of PR are well rehearsed elsewhere, but make for extremely unsavoury reading. At a time when mistrust in politicians is not good, it is really not helped with senior MPs being so economic with the truth – e.g. claiming Hilary Benn was ‘sacked in the middle of the night’ when it was in fact Hilary Benn who instigated the phone call to Jeremy Corbyn at that ridiculous time of day.

For all the talk of him being of such weak moral fibre, Corbyn has done well to last this long without batting an eyelid. And he has done so without launching into a tirade of personal insults – even when publicly heckled as he was outside SOAS or on the London PRIDE march. Sure – this can be identified as “narcissistic”, or “deluded” – in that Corbyn is not communicating with anyone in his Party – or it could be a legitimate form of self protection. For instance, if 170 people told you you were crap, your motivation for engaging with them might be somewhat diminished. And it’s not a good look if a Flashman type person says, playing to the gallery, “Oh,  man, please go!” – English people rarely like bullies. From Jeremy Corbyn’s standpoint as a victim of bullying from his parliamentary party Corbyn can get a true measure of friendship as he goes through these difficult times.

As Corbyn himself said yesterday outside SOAS, “we live in interesting times”. So it’ll be the case that Corbyn, if leader of the Labour Party, and if so reluctant in articulating EU free market concerns, is unlikely to act as chief lobbyist for the multinational corporates for Europe in parliament. Furthermore, if Boris Johnson takes the throne for the Conservative Party, EU lobbyists will prefer a different Labour candidate, as Boris stands for Brexit and is fundamentally (now) internationalist. And these things matter if the aim of the game is to privatise or outsource at the least public services such as the NHS. This goes a long way to explain the outrage at Jeremy Corbyn, even though Corbyn managed to mobilise about 20% more supporters in Labour for #remain than David Cameron for the Conservative Party. As such the free market is still breathing, even if there are riots on the streets, as probation and prisons are highly profitable growth areas.

What is going on is extremely acrimonious even by the historical standards of the Labour Party – e.g. Bevan vs Gaitskell, or Tony Benn v Healey.  The ludicrous situation is that if legally Corbyn’s name automatically appears on a fresh ballot, and supporters in Momentum mobilise enough troops, and the Unions ‘back’ him, Jeremy Corbyn could in theory be re-elected even if he doesn’t want to be re-elected. Such is democracy? It would be akin to an author being forced to keep writing on the pretext of his millions of fan letters. The Talented Mr Corbyn, I dare say, might have sympathy with the OPPOSITE of the adage, as per The Talented Mr Ripley, “it is better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.” For many people, the Blair administration, marketed as “New Labour”, was a missed opportunity. The problem for Mr Corbyn is not going down in history as a ‘real nobody’ after Tony Blair politically was a rather successful ‘fake somebody’.

And the upshot of all this – the parliamentary party may have to split off the main party. This would be incredibly sad as the point of the parliamentary Labour Party was to give working class persons democratic power.

But that would be interesting.