Jeremy Corbyn, a dedicated democratic socialist, was elected in a landslide 59.5 per cent vote last year as leader of the British Labour Party, slipping past a totally stunned cohort of Blairite MPs. Panic instantly set in. The alarmed MPs railed against Corbyn as a tragic choice foisted on them by a deluded party base, whose numbers had swelled with hundreds of thousands of enthused recruits. The old guard of New Labour were more frightened than elated by these new barbarians and strived to put up border controls against incomers at the same time as they righteously denounced such measures during the Brexit vote.
Labour MPs voted no-confidence in Corbyn by 172 to 40 vote on June 28, doing so before the wider membership got a chance to reconsider their own confidence in these same MPs who scoff at Corbyn&’s egalitarian values, social vision and his open-necked collar. What is truly tragic is that it remains a mystery to indignant Blairites and their wavering allies why Corbyn became leader in the first place.
Labour Party rules and purges especially since Neil Kinnock&’s lacklustre reign in the mid-1980s were crafted to drive out leftists and to install a dominant core of pro-business ‘centrists’ exemplified by Tony Blair, now widely regarded (before and after the Chilcot Inquiry) as a war criminal. The Blairite legacy clearly is expensive unjustified wars, scandalous privatizations, servility towards wealth, and ever widening inequalities. The Tories had good reason to grumble that their cherished policies had been swiped. Blairites cannot grasp why Labour supporters do not accept that sticking to these same policies is the only rational way forward.
Yet a genuine leftist leader, brandishing policies that redistribute wealth downwards for a change, sneaked into the top post. On the pretext of blaming the Brexit vote on Corbyn, who actually backed Remain, the Blairites launched a reckless internal coup. What is transpiring is utterly unscrupulous pitched warfare between the Corbyn and the ordinary membership, on one hand, and the Labour MP elite, on the other, who are asserting their apparent right to choose who is allowed to elect them. Their transparent fear is that the popular surge that thrust Corbyn into view soon will dislodge many of them from their own seats, even though Corbyn soothingly promised not to impose mandatory re-selection.
The sad underlying political tale is a trans-Atlantic one with the major opposition entities, the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, answering to big-pocketed donors. The parties, as shown at the Democratic Party convention last week, are devoted to herding followers into line with elite designs, not aligning with followers to deal with their key concerns. Anyone attending a party convention will experience not a deliberative democratic organism but a rampant ‘jobs fair’, as journalist Robert Scheer aptly described, overflowing with glib young technocrats on the make. These beady-eyed opportunists tend to think the ordinary public — which we define as anyone who cannot afford a lobbyist — should be fobbed off with crumbs and fibs while they get on with the real business of serving the big players.
No one in the UK is more dangerous to the status quo than Corbyn, and so well resourced allies were easy to find in the media, which waged a non-stop campaign to disparage and displace him. The Blairites curbed their opposition to the Tories, threatened a party split, and then ludicrously blamed Corbyn. Every mass media outlet joined the shrill chorus to depose the supposedly loonie leftist. Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, for example, lost her usually level head in heaping praise on Corbyn&’s fickle opponent Owen Jones for urging higher taxes on the 1 per cent and on corporations, as if Corbyn and his feckless lot never entertained such daring notions. An LSE research study found 67 per cent of all media opinion pieces were anti-Corbyn.
Corbyn&’s crimes and shortcomings include winning all four by-elections, doing unexpectedly well in the May local elections, and adding 380 thousand supporters. So his opponents chose and indeed, invented, other grounds on which to attack him. Forty suddenly dainty female Blairite MPs said in coordinated unison that they felt ‘bullied’ by Corbyn, a lifelong feminist advocate. Yet it was challenger Owen Smith who had to be reprimanded when he blurted that Tory Prime minister Theresa May should be “smashed back on her heels.” (This remark would have been just fine if the target had been David Cameron.) The cynical orchestration of charges is undaunted by truthfulness or proportion or sanity. A former shadow chief secretary to the Treasury accused Corbyn acolytes of breaking into her office an entire month after she gave up rights to it by resigning. All this stage-managed hysteria smacks of the cruel little girls in Arthur Miller&’s classic witch-hunt play, The Crucible, who pretended that they had seen a Satanic figure and claimed he was, in this case, Corbyn.
Centrist Labour MP Owen Jones, who raked in a six-figure salary as a Pfizer pharmaceutical representative, got an overnight makeover as the Blairites’ new bolshie hero, although he earlier backed the bombing in the Middle East and was hitherto quite content with austerity. Jones was furnished with a script nearly as plagiarized as was the speech recited by Donald Trump&’s trophy wife at the Republican Convention. Some bright Blairite spark thought to outflank Corbyn on the left, but the best they can do is insincerely copy him.
Corbyn leads by more then 20 points heading towards the 24 September result. Real power is at stake, which is why the fight is so dirty and that fact should be cause for optimism for Corbyn, after this intra-party tantrum exhausts itself.
The writers are authors of No Clean Hands and of Parables of Permanent War.