The leftwards swing towards oblivion

The past two years have seen change at the top and in the foothills of the Labour Party, with a shake-up of beliefs, membership and, some would say, electoral chances. Here's one viewpoint on the changes under Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn, the UK's next PM? Photo: Garry Knight, release under Creative Commons

The Editors

The Editors

Friday 20 January

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A charismatic opposition leader, at the forefront of a rejuvenated party, shaping a vision, taking bold actions, making stirring speeches and teetering on the brink of greatness.

God I miss Tony Blair sometimes.

When Ed Miliband did the decent thing and fell upon his sword after the 2015 General Election, few were surprised by the main candidates to replace him as Labour leader: Andy Burnham was shadow health secretary, Yvette Cooper was shadow home secretary and Liz Kendall held the shadow portfolio for care and older people.

And the left wing of the Party rallied round, decided it was Jeremy Corbyn’s turn to be “it” and, with the help of some members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who, patronisingly, nominated him to broaden the discussion, the member for Islington North was on the ballot.

He wouldn’t get anywhere of course; the left wing candidates never did. But that was under the old system of an electoral college, in the new reformed system of one member one vote, and registered supporters, the goal posts had changed. And nobody really understood how profoundly.

Things began to take an unexpected turn: the Corbyn campaign began to gain traction. People were turning up at his rallies in their thousands. And liking what they heard.

And why wouldn’t they like it? His proposals were anti-austerity, spoke of extra funding for housing and public transport, suggested the Bank of England should print extra money for so-called “people’s quantitative easing”, advanced the idea of renationalising the train network and energy companies, a new & fairer tax system and an end to nuclear weapons.

“(Corbyn) offers a coherent, inspiring and, crucially, a hopeful vision,” said The Guardian‘s Owen Jones at the time.

The things Corbyn said resonated with huge swathes of Party members and supporters. Hope was needed, and hope was being delivered by the lorry load. The low possibility of achieving such bold aims often being ignored.

For example, renationalising the energy companies was estimated by financial analysts to cost £185 billion. Unlikely to be considered the best way of spending such a huge sum of money.

The old guard grew concerned: the Labour Party had become centre left, as opposed to far left, during the previous 20 years – starting with the abolition of Clause Four – and they didn’t want things to swing back leftwards again.

But the more they publicly – and privately – warned of the effects of electing Corbyn, the more it became obvious only one person was going to win. And he did. Decisively.

The election itself wasn’t without controversy, due in the main to Ed Miliband’s creation of £3 supporters: providing membership rights, such as voting in leadership elections, to supporters without the difficulty of becoming proper, full members.

Few full members are sure, precisely, of the difference between members and supporters – other than about £40 a year.

Corbyn was supported during the leadership campaign by an organisation called Jeremy Corbyn Campaign 2015  or, more accurately two companies – Jeremy Corbyn Campaign 2015 (Supporters) Ltd and Jeremy Corbyn Campaign (Services) Ltd.

Setting-up limited companies for such activity isn’t unusual, it’s been done countless times before and since. And both companies changed their names following Corbyn’s elections to ones which you might be familiar with: Momentum Campaign Ltd and Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd.

Momentum Campaign Ltd is now Jeremy for Labour Ltd, and New Hope for Labour (Data Holdings) Ltd has also been added to the “portfolio”.

Managing to keep up? Good. All companies have the same director, Jon Lansman, a former researcher for MP Michael Meacher and – most relevantly – the organiser of Tony Benn’s leadership challenges in 1981 and 1988.

Momentum (in all its guises) plays a significant part in our story… but I wonder how many of those currently arguing about its future direction realise that it’s a private limited company owned by Jon Lansman (who some Momentum members want to oust, which could be interesting) ?

In effect a parallel political party to Labour – though they’d strenuously deny the charge – Momentum has been at the forefront of an attempt to cleanse the Labour Party and increase its socialist purity, with some denouncing any who disagree with them as “Red Tories” or “Blairite Scum”.

Whilst Momentum welcomes membership from anybody who, at the very least, support the aims and values of the Labour Party, its members have also been at the forefront of campaigns to de-select sitting MPs who they view as working against Corbyn, or holding opinions which aren’t left wing enough.

So, is Momentum supporting the Labour Party or Jeremy Corbyn? Because they’re not the same thing.

Elements long-since banished from the Labour Party have also begun to raise their heads above the political parapet, using Momentum as a trojan horse to gain control of the Party at a local level. Groups such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (a Trotskyist group which de-registered as a political party to allow its members to join the Labour Party), The Socialist Party (our old “friends” the Militant Tendency with a new name) and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (which stood candidates against Labour in the 2010 and 2015 general elections) all have people inside Momentum, looking to use the Party’s “brand” to get some “real socialists” into Parliament.

This broad church of the far left have created a cult of Corbyn, something which he doesn’t appear shy in embracing. Knitted dolls, t-shirts, even Christmas ornaments adorned with the bearded wonder can all be yours – and people said Blair enjoyed a cult of personality. I don’t remember ever seeing Tony on a bauble.

Maybe if I’d been ignored on the backbenches for 30 years and was now being idolised I’d be lapping up the idolatry too. But I’m not a politician, I’m not the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I’m not a general election away from leading a G7 country – I’m a writer with a laptop and opinions, who hasn’t held elected office since the Student Union 25 years ago.

Cult may be considered a strong accusation and I can only almost see the comments on this article now as I’m writing it. But how else do you define blind adoration, bordering on deification, from hardcore Corbyn supporters?

“JC4PM for me” – Robb Johnson and The Corbynistas

Definitely not a cult.

The further Labour slips in the opinion polls, the louder the voices proclaim that the revolution is coming. His levels of support are obvious: have you seen the size of the crowds he draws in? So why is the Party more than 20 points behind in the opinion polls? Ah, that’s the fault of mainstream media (the oft-derided MSM who are involved in a cabal determined to ensure Corbyn is never elevated to No. 10).

It’s a circular argument, where facts are considered irrelevant in the face of dogma.

Don’t for a second consider some of these people Labour Party supporters: their loyalty is to Corbyn first, and last, and always. Creating policies that resonate with a majority of the electorate would be a sell-out of deeply-held beliefs. Try telling that to the man juggling zero hours contracts and in-work benefits to keep a roof over his family’s head and food on the table. These are the people crying out for a Labour government but I’m sure they’ll be consoled knowing that we’ve kept loyal to our beliefs.

One of the most interesting theories to explain Corbyn’s popularity compares him to Bella from the “Twilight” series of books and films. Stick with me on this one.

There’s a theory that “Twilight” became so popular because the lead character had very little personality of her own. There was nothing to distinguish her: she was ‘everyteen’ and girls could very easily insert themselves into the narrative, projecting themselves onto Bella.

And Corbyn seems to have created a political version of this. He has little definable persona (other than 1970s geography teacher) and few solid policies apart from nice sounding platitudes which, when analysed, fall apart over pesky things such as practicality and budget availability.

The result being that those who need something to identify with simply project their own beliefs and desires onto him. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone argue vociferously that “Corbyn believes X”, when Corbyn has said no such thing or never even commented on the issue at hand.

Because whilst the Dear Leader may be an ideologue – who never met a 1970s policy he didn’t like – he’s also an empty vessel into which disenchanted lefties who have spent decades in the political wilderness are pouring their every hope and dream. No matter how outlandish or unlikely to gain public support.

Again, why tailor beliefs to appeal to a broad electorate? How dare you suggest the purity of thought be watered-down simply to win something as bourgeois as an election.

There are good people in Momentum, people who have been energised and who may well form the next generation of Labour activists, but there is also a hard core who seem determined to hold the Labour Party to ransom for a set of principles that don’t resonate with the electorate.

There’s a reason Labour was out of power for almost 20 years.

The UK is, at its heart, conservative with a small ‘c’ and whilst I would never suggest Labour should ape Conservative policy, to gain governmental power at the cost of its soul, it would do well to remember that elections are won by appealing to enough people that you gain a majority in Westminster.

Principles without power are just nice thoughts.

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