Labour’s Calls to “End the Madness!”

On August 4, Alan Johnson spoke about how Labour Party founder Keir Hardie had forged a movement “rooted in the decency and moderation of working-class communities” (as if Corbyn was not continuing in that tradition). While accepting that “the Commons vote on the welfare bill was a mess”, he tried to suggest that, by being “disloyal to every Labour leader”, Corbyn had somehow forgotten that “loyalty and discipline” in the party had managed to create institutions like the NHS and the Open University (which left-wingers similar to Corbyn were the most vocal about creating). Subsequently, Johnson suggested implicitly (without presenting any evidence) that Corbyn had not defended Labour’s economic record in government and that he had pretended “that the fiscal deficit can be ignored” (assertions which were not true). Endorsing Yvette Cooper as the “most qualified” candidate, he then concluded his article by saying “let’s end the madness and elect her”.[1]

Peter Hain, meanwhile, would soon jump on the anti-Corbyn bandwagon too, saying that the leadership candidate had simply been “mining a very rich seam of real anger about austerity” and that he would not make for a “successful party leader” or put Labour “in the position to win the next election”. He did not, however, explain how any of the other candidates would be able to “move on from an austerity-lite position and challenge the Tories on what is a monumentally failing economic strategy” (which is what he called on them to do).[2]

On August 11, New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell urged voters to choose “anyone but Corbyn” in order to avoid a “car crash”. Using predictable right-wing rhetoric to describe Corbyn’s moderately progressive policies, Campbell said the leadership candidate would be “a leader of the hard left, for the hard left”. Both his “general politics and specific positions”, the propaganda chief said, would simply not be accepted “in many of the seats that Labour is going to have to win to get back in power” (referring apparently to seats lost to the Conservatives). Conceding that Corbyn was an “OK guy” and “a good MP”, while accepting that “his stance clearly chimes with many people’s views of anti-austerity”, Campbell nonetheless said with “absolute certainty that a Corbyn-Tom Watson led Labour party” would not be able to win the next election. At the same time, though, he also said he could not “say with any certainty that a Labour party led by Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall” would be able to win an election.[3]

Having made an early intervention in the leadership campaign, Tony Blair would return with another contribution on August 12, in which he claimed Labour was “in danger more mortal today than at any point in the over 100 years of its existence”. Claiming he had “forced change on the Tories” (after of course the Tories had forced change upon Labour), he conceded early on that many new Labour supporters had been “joining specifically to support the Jeremy Corbyn campaign” – and could create a “partial takeover” in the party. With this ‘takeover’, he insisted, Labour was “walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below”. To avoid a fate “worse and more life threatening” than in the 1980s, he stressed, it was now the “moment for a rugby tackle”.

Inevitably, Blair felt he had to claim that both the unions and the Corbyn campaign were “in the grip of the hard left”, while asserting that a Corbyn victory could lead to “annihilation”. It was not, of course, Labour’s right which was responsible for the failures of the party. When Blair claimed “oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning”, for example, he ignored the fact that Labour had recently abstained on a Welfare vote in the House of Commons which they could have defeated. In that case, then, the party did not provide an effective opposition even though it had the chance to win.

“Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t offer anything new”, said Blair, and his ideas were “policies from the past that were rejected”. Readers were somehow supposed to believe, meanwhile, that the former prime minister’s own right-wing ideas were brand new and had been endorsed in both 2010 and 2015. Rather than accepting that a continuation of austerity-lite policies had lost Labour support, he claimed that it was Corbyn’s supporters who were involved in “self-indulgence”. Their faith in policies ‘irrelevant’ to the “challenges of the modern world” would do “immense damage”, he said, before condescendingly grumbling “go over the edge if you want”.[4]

On August 16, The Telegraph revealed that Peter Mandelson (“one of the architects of “new” Labour”) had “tried to persuade the three mainstream Labour leadership candidates to quit en masse to… force the party to suspend the election… before ballot papers were sent out”, in what was a distinct sign of “desperation by the Labour hierarchy”.[5] The paper then reported in a separate article that “rumours of a proposed deal by which Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall would step down to endorse Andy Burnham” were “accurate”, according to “sources close to the Burnham camp”. Having seen in her “own phone-bank data” that “only Andy Burnham had any realistic chance of stopping Corbyn”, Kendall allegedlyapproached Cooper personally to suggest they both simultaneously withdraw”. The idea, claimed Kendall’s camp, had first been “floated past them by one of the party’s grandees”. Cooper’s campaign team, however, claimed “no specific deal was offered”.[6]

Three days later, former Home Secretary David Blunkett chipped in to the anti-Corbyn campaign, insisting that Corbyn had “not only been good at opposition against the Tories” but also “profoundly good at opposition against my party”.[7]








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