Corbyn’s Summer Shake-Up (Part 2)

The Inevitable Reactionary Response from…

1) …the Political Establishment

A peace-time battle has raged in the last few weeks between two political forces – one small, self-interested, and wealthy, and the other large, humble, and yearning for justice. For too long, New Labour had sided with the former more often than the latter, leaving the latter to bypass the party which had traditionally been considered their conduit for change.[1] By some stroke of luck, however, a peace warrior who had long defended the interests of the latter managed to make it onto the shortlist for the Labour leadership contest. But the story was never going to end there. The former was always going to use its immense power and influence to undermine this leadership candidate, and the latter would inevitably need to organise more than ever before in order to ensure its voice would be heard.

Below, I will take a brief look at some of the vicious attacks directed at Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters during the leadership campaign. It was always going to be a battle of attrition but, as time went on, the anti-Corbyn corporate lackeys seemed to do themselves much more damage than they did to Corbyn himself. At the same time, it became clear that the leadership candidate’s supporters were speaking infinitely more sense than his detractors.

A) Coup Plotters

With Corbyn creating such optimism on the Left, there were always going to be attempts from above to discredit and demonise his candidacy. The first attacks, however, seemed to come mostly from within the ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). Claiming ‘their’ party was being “hijacked in this summer of madness”, dissident right-wingers in the organisation were already planning in mid-July to “trigger a coup” if Corbyn won the contest. Former Blairite special adviser John McTernan, for example, called the candidate’s presence “self-indulgent”, his popularity a “strange psychological emotional spasm”, and argued that something needed to be done “to restore the party to its sense”. Showing the anti-democratic nature of Labour’s right wing, he then stressed “it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say”.

On August 10, McTernan returned, saying Labour was “being infiltrated by those who wish to do it harm” and that it needed “rescuing from itself”. Rather than fighting the Tory government, the “highest priority” of the party would be “neutralise” Corbyn (who would “happily destroy the Labour Party” if given the opportunity). Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk, meanwhile, was already planning a “campaign of disloyalty” to avoid the implementation of “crazy left wing policies”.

Elsewhere, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt were “setting up a “resistance cell” called the “Common Good Group””, as other anti-Corbynites reflected on the tactics they would use to oppose Corbyn.[2]

B) ‘Infiltrators!’

In spite of Toby Young’s arrogant attempts to encourage Tories to sign up to vote for Corbyn, even the author thought only “a few hundred” would actually heed his call. Nonetheless, figures like former Labour leader Neil Kinnock jumped paranoiacally into the debate, arguing that “the Trotskyite left and the Telegraph right” were trying to influence the leadership elections with “malign purposes”. And the PLP took heed of these worries, quickly drawing up an “exclusion list” of people who had “stood against Labour in the past or helped others to oppose the party”, whilst also checking voters’ “social media records”.

On August 11, it was revealed that, out of hundreds of thousands of people who had signed up to vote, only 1,200 people had been banned, including “214 people from the Green Party, 37 from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, 13 Tories, seven from UKIP and one from the BNP”. In other words, the number of right-wingers who had signed up was tiny, and even the number of sympathetic left-wingers was incredibly small. Nonetheless, Labour stressed that “verification checks would continue even once votes had been cast”, with the “eligibility” of thousands being placed under review and around “20,000 social media feeds” being trawled in search of “evidence so-called supporters [had backed] other parties”. A day later, meanwhile, it was revealed that the three non-Corbyn candidates had “sent a joint letter [to Labour HQ] alleging that unfair processing of affiliated supporters, drawn from trade unions, [was bringing] the integrity of the election into doubt”.

Over a week later, Betty Boothroyd claimed that Labour was “galloping towards the precipice” because “the hard left” was “deluding a new generation with the same claptrap” they had supposedly used in the 1980s. As a result, she advocated a “cleaning” up of Labour’s “stables” in order to get rid of “a combination of far-left enemies, militant trade unions and first-time supporters” (who were conveniently supporting Corbyn’s leadership campaign).

On August 21, former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay claimed that the “‘Labour Purge’ wouldn’t be happening if Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t the frontrunner” and that there was a clear ““ruse” to stop Mr Corbyn winning”. The Left Futures blog, meanwhile, asserted that there was “an element of untrammelled contempt” in the process. Two days later, The Scotsman reported on how “at least 25,000 people” were “expected to be disqualified from voting in the Labour leadership election on the grounds that they [did] not support the party”. On August 25, it was revealed that Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, had “had his ballot retroactively revoked” for allegedly not supporting “aims and values” (despite trade unions having “long been considered part of the core values of Labourism”). Serwotka argued that he had voted in the leadership elections “precisely because I share the aims and values of Jeremy Corbyn on anti-austerity, equality, a fair society and strong trade unions”. At the same time, The Independent reported that “up to 100,000” voters had now been barred from voting in the contest.

For Peter Taheri and Kapil Komireddi, Labour was “trying to accomplish the impossible: become electable while shunning voters”. In their opinion, “at the rate at which Labour is closing its doors to supporters, the party is at risk of appearing less a broad church and more a secret society”. Nonetheless, the non-Corbyn candidates had allegedly asked for “extra checks on voters”, having attended a “‘secret’ Stevenage meeting with Harriet Harman” at which they were thought to have called for the “voting history of new members and supporters to be cross-checked”. In spite of infiltration claims, though, only around 3,000 voters had been “excluded for being supporters of other parties, including 1,900 Greens and 400 Tories”.[3]

C) “End the Madness!”

Alan Johnson, meanwhile, called on Labour to “end the madness” and vote against Corbyn, as Peter Hain insisted that the frontrunner would not be a “successful party leader”. Then, New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell urged voters to choose “anyone but Corbyn” in order to avoid a “car crash” (as it was apparently an “absolute certainty” that Labour could not win an election under Corbyn). Tony Blair, having already called on Corbynites to get a “heart transplant”, claimed Labour was in ‘mortal danger’ – “walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge”.

Soon afterwards, it would be revealed that Peter Mandelson had “tried to persuade the three mainstream Labour leadership candidates to quit en masse to… force the party to suspend the election”. David Blunkett would also make an intervention, and Gordon Brown would clumsily argue that “to win power we have to win the people” (making it unclear whether he was supporting Corbyn or not). Without mentioning the Corbyn, though, he made a “deliberate attempt at disinformation” regarding the leadership frontrunner’s foreign policies.

In the Channel Four hustings of September 1, Yvette Cooper repeated her line about Corbyn’s economic policies being “dodgy” and argued that Russia’s Vladimir Putin was unreasonable and would only respond to ‘firm’ actions from NATO. Andy Burnham, meanwhile, claimed slanderously that Corbyn was “making excuses for Putin” by explaining how NATO’s European expansion after the end of the Cold War had helped to provoke Russian nationalists into electing Putin (which had led in turn to an escalation of hostilities between NATO and Russia). In short, Burnham was trying to ignore historical context and peddle a simplistic argument that lacked a factual basis.[4]

D) ‘We Need to Move Further Right’

According to former Labour policy chief Jon Cruddas, Labour had lost the 2015 general elections because it had “lacked economic credibility” and become “dangerously out of touch with the electorate”. While there is no arguing with these facts, Cruddas’s conclusion was that “anti-austerity is a vote loser” (in spite of the immense popularity of the SNP and the growing support for the Green Party). In his assessment, he effectively ignored the issue that “31 per cent of voters simply [didn’t] know what Labour [stood] for”, suggesting that a lack of clear policies, political education, and reliable information had all played a major role in the disappointing election results.

While Cruddas argued that Labour had to move to the right, Jeremy Corbyn stressed that the party had to develop “a credible method of tackling the deficit” but that it “must be fair” (by “making sure the corporations pay their taxes, halting the tax cuts to the wealthy and the subsidies to high rent landlords and low pay employers”). “In accepting the economic narrative set by the Conservatives”, he stressed, the party had “surrendered its own economic credibility” and failed to offer a “clear, coherent alternative to the Tories’ pernicious austerity agenda”.

Nonetheless, right-wing voices within Labour (and even centrists like Polly Toynbee) asserted that Corbyn’s key policies would send Labour deeper into the wilderness” and could “never be credible”. For Toynbee, there just weren’t “enough Greens and non-voting young for Labour to win a majority under Corbyn” (although she failed to mention that there were even fewer Tories). In Tony Blair’s opinion, Corbyn supporters lacked reason and evidence whilst focussing purely on “feeling good”. Unlike him, they were “within a hermetically sealed bubble”, and were refusing to recognise that Ed Miliband had lost the general elections because he was “considered anti-business and too left”.

In short, Blair’s suggestion was that voters ignore the fact that many left-wingers had abandoned Labour under his own leadership, whilst believing him that the SNP’s victory in Scotland had come thanks to its nationalist agenda rather than its anti-austerity platform. Whilst revealing his paranoid fears of history perpetuating itself, then, Blair himself was blocking out the fact that his own recommended tactic was to repeat the New Labour experiment by encouraging a shift further to the right. In his own padded cell of make-believe, he had fatally disconnected himself from popular opinion and from the zeitgeist of a post-2008 world. And, while Andy Burnham did yet another “about-turn” to support Blair’s comments, the fact was that the former prime minister’s last article in August represented “an utterly broken man watching everything he stood for swept away before his eyes” and a blank refusalto acknowledge the passionate resentment which he and New Labour created”.[5]

Conclusion

Rather than convincing the progressive British public to change their minds regarding Corbyn, the out-of-touch political elite within the Labour Party simply showed its anti-democratic colours more clearly through its interventions in the media. Nonetheless, the way in which these politicians effectively defended the political and economic status quo (by criticising the stand Corbyn was taking against it) was essentially strengthening the position of the Conservative Party and the British right-wing in general. And, as will be seen in “Corbyn’s Summer Shake-Up (Part 3)”, the British Left had to compete with a media assault as well – making the task of defending the progressive ideals put forward by Corbyn more important than ever.

[1] To see why, look at Labour’s sharp turn to the right: https://ososabiouk.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/new-labour-is-right-wing-but-corbyn-could-change-that/

[2] For more information, see: https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-anti-corbyn-coup-plotters/

[3] For more information, see: https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/labours-non-existent-infiltrators/ and https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-labour-purge/

[4] For more information, see: https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/labours-calls-to-end-the-madness/, https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/gordon-browns-accidental-endorsement-of-corbyn/ and https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/the-last-ditch-attacks-of-the-non-corbyn-candidates/

[5] For more information, see: https://ososabiosbritain.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/labours-attempts-to-move-further-right/

Harriet Harman and the Labour Purge
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2015/aug/31/steve-bells-if-on-harriet-harmans-labour-voter-check
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