This article was posted on the Huffington Post in the week of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader
Let’s drop the myth that Corbyn is the Messiah, then maybe we can make some progress
I take precisely zero pleasure in this. I’m actually quite depressed. If it weren’t for the private messages I receive on social media, or the frank conversations over a beer or two, with Corbynistas doubting their own Corbynianity (while still publicly whooping his name), I might not have the confidence to say all this.
I’ve been to two Corbyn rallies now, with almost exactly a year in between, and the same thing has happened on both occasions. A ferment of excitement builds for days on end before; social media reaches meltdown; the big day finally arrives; the crowd swells, whipped up by speaker after speaker after speaker all praising the leader and detailing how Jeremy’s going to save the world (rarely any mention of him doing this from Downing Street by the way); the energy rises into a huge wave, climbing and towering and roaring towards the beach, and just as it is ready to peak and it feels like we’re all about to go surfing, something happens.
It all fades away. Somewhere around 30 seconds into Jeremy’s speech: a sort of hush descends as the Leader starts off on a rather odd oratory journey, broken up by nervous swallowing, breathless unwieldy sentences that are hard to follow and sometimes impossible to establish as having ended, delivered with strained expressions by a man who doesn’t look, or sound, particularly comfortable. The strange frequency all this creates doesn’t last long because the crowd always steps in to the rescue. Every fluffed line gets a forced cheer anyway; when a sentence peters out into nothingness, the fans drown out the silence. They pick him up and carry him through to the end, by which time the energy has returned in abundance, albeit in a more synthesised form.
It’s an odd thing to witness. But to me it’s also a very, very worrying thing to witness. Because out there in the real world people will be far less sympathetic when we take him to the country, and put him in leadership debates, as the guy we’ve picked to be Prime Minister. If more people were willing to admit that our dear Leader isn’t perfect, and could do with some improvement in certain areas including public speaking, that would be one thing. If more people were willing to open the door just a tiny crack and let a few photons of reality in, I’d feel better.
But this is clearly not going to happen. So I’m going to have to say it, and risk more abuse, more sullen faces, more social media slating – although hopefully not more people tagging all my main clients in a tweet imploring them to stop hiring this “gutter press” journalist.
A strange type of political fundamentalism has taken hold, which no other leader in my memory has been granted. The fact that there are people who have surrendered all their critical faculties, and have been so willing to suspend their disbelief, all because of one formerly obscure man, should instantly cause uncomfortable parallels in even the slowest of mind.
It’s the same type of willingness that leads a person to believe that a man travelled through the night to Jerusalem on a winged horse-like creature to receive divine wisdom, that another man could walk on water, and that another received instructions from a burning bush. This level of uneducated credulity and unconditional support is particularly unhelpful given that, even if you are Jez’s most fanatical supporter, you’d have to admit that he has had a divisive effect on the party. Whether you think he is the second coming, or the worst thing to ever happen to Labour– each is a subjective view and can’t be proved. But about which there is no doubt, is that his leadership has divided the party.
If you don’t share this analysis then I suggest you go back to get your political antennae retuned. If you prefer to rest in the false security that it isn’t he who has been divisive, and if you actually believe that the current problems of the Labour Party are entirely down to the treachery of MPs, then we may as well just shut down the party now.
Among the many reasons I’ve always held the Labour Party in such high regard is because it was above the madness of so much of left-wing politics; it drew energy from the well of principle and fervour out there, but filtered it through rationale, maturity, duty, and self-scrutiny. Instead a sort of cultism has emerged. An emotional unquestioning consensus that isn’t subjected to even the most idol of self-scrutiny: it’s Jeremy Corbyn or nothing now, but nobody seems, on closer intellectual inspection, to be particularly sure why.
Why are so many people willing to squeeze one politician through the doors of reasonable doubt, so many times, while totally overlooking even fiercely defending every one of his flaws? Why has this one man been promoted to the status of a prophet? And since when was to even hint at imperfection in a politician a form of blasphemy, especially a politician so unassailably divisive, if not harmful, to their own party?
I’m afraid the only way you can grant Jez (or anyone for that matter) this type of omniscience is if you are willing to compromise all claims of objectivity, walk around all day wearing blinkers, seeing only what you want to see. Personally I’m not willing to do that, as cosy and reassuring as it must be. I’m upset and depressed that so many supposedly smart people I know have proved themselves willing to do exactly that.
As the situation has become more bleak and the prospects for the Labour Party ever getting back into power more miniscule over time, the bellowing has got louder. All that astoundingly positive energy, the wave that swept Corbyn to power and managed to sweep along with it all but the most cynical Labour members, has formed into a violent, rackety foam with a few nasty surprises bobbing about in it.
Take the London Mayoral Election. Which is listed here as being one of “Corbyn’s victories so far that you won’t read in the rest of the press”. (I’m sure I remember reading about the London Mayoral election somewhere in the papers, but never mind). Sadiq Khan’s victory has been appropriated by Corbyn supporters as, in fact, a victory for Jez. Funnily enough they fail to mention that Khan deliberately distanced himself from Corbyn during the campaign, and has since denounced him altogether – now the crowds boo and jeer at the mention of the name Sadiq Khan.
On the slip side, as I write this there are people fiercely explaining why Labour’s trouncing in a local council election is nothing to do with Corbyn, or the fact that, reportedly, local supporters spent the eve of the election on a Corbyn for Leader phone bank rather than doorstepping for the party. It’s impossible to know, but I’m fairly certain that had the result gone Labour’s way in Sheffield, it would have joined the list of Corbyn victories (that presumably you wouldn’t have been able to read in the press). But then we are stepped so far in untruth and casuistry these days, what’s one more lie?
At the CLP nomination meeting in my own constituency of Nottingham East, Lilian Greenwood spoke in favour of Owen Smith. While she did, a document entitled “Response to Lillian [sic] Greenwood’s ‘speech to Nottingham South Labour Party Members’” was passed around the hall, presenting a point-by-point breakdown of why the elected MP was wrong to address her concerns about the Leader to her constituents, ‘debunking’ the facts behind her claims. It even had a pithy little Bertrand Russell quote, pasted unironically at the end, bemoaning the fact that propaganda is more effective when used for hate than when it “tries to stir up friendly feeling”.
To me this typified so much that is wrong about the party these days – not least because it entirely missed the point that Lilian, like so many others, has been robbed of all morale. And not because she’s Tony Blair reborn. Let’s not forget that she was a darling of the ‘old’ Left, five minutes before she quit Jez’s cabinet with a scathing attack on his competence not his principles). No, far easier simply to rubbish an elected MP, publicly (and presumably, Paul Mason will be urging, deselect her when the time comes).
If economist Richard Murphy could be deselected I’m sure he would be. If he could be hung drawn and quartered, I’m sure he would be. Murphy, on whom Corbyn based his entire economic policy, and who had moist-eyed Corbynistas screaming and cheering at rallies a year ago, has turned away from the whole program in disgust. Even darling Owen Jones has stopped sounding so unequivocal, after months of hackneyed crowd-pleasing simplifications and Lefty slogans that he didn’t seem to believe himself half of the time, but nonetheless did a great deal to help Corbyn to take power.
The excuses for why Labour is going to lose the next general election are already being made. It will, of course, be all down to those treacherous plotting Labour MPs creating disunity and not supporting their leader. Which should be transparently flawed even to the dullest mind – and certainly can’t be used to explain Corbyn’s dismal own approval rating now. (If the public did see him as being the undeserving victim of those mean plotting MPs, surely his personal rating would be boosted in sympathy?). It’s not simply mistaken to discount stats and polls like this, it’s also very dangerous. Adding layer upon layer to a false, confected form of reality, and therefore not responding to the warning signs, could well be our downfall.
The people who are already blaming the PLP for an impending election loss are in effect saying they believe that the British public isn’t principled enough to vote on policy; not understanding enough to see through the Blairite plot; not intelligent enough to not be duped by the lies of the ‘mainstream media’. In other words, anything but the possibility that there may be flaws in the plan to have him as leader. These lines are already being put out well in advance of the next election – that is by the people who aren’t already happily writing 2020 off as a loss, “while we rebuild the movement”.
Let me ask, is it good for the Labour Party and the working classes we are sworn to stand up for, to have, whenever the next election does come around, posters on every street corner with photos of John McDonnell holding the Little Red Book, bearing slogans paraphrased from, say:
“Labour wants no limits on immigration”.
“Labour’s shadow Chancellor is a Communist sympathiser”
“Jeremy Corbyn calls terrorists his ‘friends’”
“Labour would not use shoot-to-kill against a terrorist”
“Jeremy Corbyn supported the IRA”
..which the Conservatives will do – and worse.
And what happens when Corbyn is asked, for example:
“As Prime Minister, would you welcome the Israeli Prime Minister to Downing Street?”
Or “As Prime Minister would you condemn unequivocally Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.”
Or “As Prime Minister, would you defend a NATO state that had been invaded by Russia?”
Or “As Prime Minister, would you seek to be conciliatory with the leaders of City banks?”
Or – as has already happened – “As Prime Minister, would you authorise the Met Police to shoot-and-kill terrorists during an attack?”
Pre-emptively dismiss all of that as mainstream media bias if you choose. Or accept the onslaught of reality – that these things are going to happen. And they are going to be, brutal.
If the leap of faith to imagine Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister has been too great for thousands of Labour members to make, will the general public be able to stretch to it? Bearing in mind that it won’t be party members and activists who are on the whole voting – by my calculations the Labour membership makes up less than 1% of the electorate.
No, it will be people who don’t share the love; who haven’t seen the light and never will. Who voted Conservative last time around in the 100-odd constituencies that we will have to swing from Tory to Labour to get a majority of even one MP. People for whom this Labour Party will be the hardest sell of any in recent memory. I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall repeating this basic mathematics. If it weren’t for the people I know who have been bullied out of voicing or posting these doubts, I would stop the banging.
Jeremy Corbyn will win the leadership. The only real question is what happens next. Assuming the party doesn’t immediately split in two, what needs to follow is a period of introspection. Of honesty about the flaws of the leader (YES, flaws) and where he drastically needs to improve. If the notion that Corbyn is omniscient, infallible and divine continues to prevail, we will hand this country over to the Tories on a permanent loan basis.
For the sake of the party, we need to demonstrate maturity, and self-discipline. Corbyn’s supporters need to hold him to account more; de-canonise him and start being honest about where he’s gone wrong. We need to compromise, get serious about how we appeal to a broader base, and demonstrate a willing to assuage the fears and frustrations of Labour MPs, not simply smear them as traitors or threaten them with political bankruptcy.
On Twitter recently I received one of the standard insults you get when you dare to write anything against our dear leader: “delusional”. Of course nobody thinks Jeremy is perfect, I was told. Ok then, I thought, in that case I’d be interested to hear what this person’s biggest criticism of Corbyn is. The response: “He should have been less conciliatory” when he formed his first cabinet. I rest my case.
It’s one thing to see only the best in Jeremy, but to exempt him from even the gentlest scrutiny or rational judgement is an insult to mature politics, the Labour Party as a whole, and worst of all, the people who can’t wait until 2025.