The Anti-Corbyn 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. In fact, when it became clear how popular he and his policies were, some right-wing Labour MPs immediately began to plan his demise. On July 19, the Independent reported on how one MP asserted “we cannot just allow our party, a credible party of government, to be hijacked in this summer of madness”. This sentiment, the paper said, would lead dissident right-wingers to “immediately start gathering the 47 names needed [as 20% of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP)] to trigger a coup” if Corbyn became leader, with the aim of pushing him out of power “before Christmas”.

The coup plotters, upon raising the support of a fifth of the PLP for an “alternative candidate for leader”, would then have to call for a “fresh leadership contest” (which could easily “lead to the same result”) at the party conference in Brighton in late September (“little more than two weeks” after the leadership results).[1]

In late July, former Blairite special adviser John McTernan described the “nomination of Jeremy Corbyn by Labour MPs as ‘self-indulgent’”, while claiming he couldn’t “see any case for letting him have two minutes in office”. Something, he argued, needed to be “done swiftly and quickly to restore the party to its sense”. Showing his complete lack of touch with both members and citizens, however, he accepted he had “no idea… why party members” thought it was “acceptable to the electorate” to have the peace-loving Corbyn as their leader. Ignorance proved not to be his only characteristic, though, as he blurted out “who cares about the grassroots?” In an example of incredibly authoritarian contempt for democracy, McTernan insisted that, “if you get a strong leader, it doesn’t really matter what the grassroots say”.

Although McTernan claimed abusively that Corbyn’s popularity was a “strange psychological emotional spasm” related to the grief of losing the 2015 election, he did not have his head stuck entirely in the ground. For example, he stated that Labour’s election loss was due to the party’s leadership “refusing to defend” the positive elements of New Labour’s time in government (which is definitely at least partially true). At the same time, though, he failed to mention the impact that the Iraq War and the smarmy authoritarian arrogance of the New Labour machine had had on the electorate’s support for the right-wing party establishment.[2]

On August 10, McTernan suggested the Labour Party was “being infiltrated by those who wish to do it harm” and that it needed “rescuing from itself”. In fact, he said, the “highest priority” of the party would be “neutralise” Corbyn if he won the election. Referring to Tom Watson as “Tony Blair’s assassin”, he argued that, while Corbyn would “happily destroy the Labour Party in the furtherance of the ideology he loves”, Watson would “do anything to save the party he loves”. The separation between ideology and power that McTernan advocated in these assertions was very telling – showing that ideology was very low down on the right-winger’s list of political considerations.

Speaking in a very authoritarian manner, McTernan then asserted that “the iron rule of political organisation is control”. The group he wanted to see in ‘control’ of the party was not the membership, though, but Labour’s right wing. Watson, he argued, was from the “old Labour Right” (the “people who want to win” and who “saved the Labour Party for Tony and Gordon”). The only true division within the party, he stressed was between “those who want to save Labour, and those who want to sink it” (suggesting that the right fell into the former category and the left in the latter). “If Jeremy Corbyn is Michael Foot”, he said, “Tom Watson is Neil Kinnock”.[3]

On August 12, the Independent reported on how Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk had “pledged to begin a campaign of disloyalty right away” if Corbyn won the leadership contest. A “figure on the right wing of the Labour party”, Danczuk said he would plot against Mr Corbyn “on day one… if not before”. He said he was not going to “put up with some crazy left wing policies”, while insisting he “would give him about twelve months if he does become leader”.[4] Speaking of the Parliamentary Labour Party, he said “people in the PLP aren’t going to put up with it“.[5] Along with other Labour MPs, Danczuk was also “calling for the whole race to be suspended and re-run”. In an attempt to defend himself, he said this decision was “not because I oppose democracy, but because this contest has been a serious failure”. In other words, because the right-wing candidates were nowhere near as popular as Corbyn, the most democratic election in Labour’s history was now to be considered a “failure”. The authoritarian concept of ‘I know best and the people know nothing’ was clearly at the forefront of his mind.[6]

Four days later, The Telegraph reported on how “two different strategies” (“Free French” and “Maquis”) had emerged to undermine Corbyn from within the PLP. The first, it asserted, would involve a withdrawal of all support from Corbyn, with MPs refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet and observe the whip. The second approach, meanwhile, would involve standing for election in the “shadow cabinet elections Corbyn [had] pledged to reintroduce” while opposing Corbyn’s “more radical policy initiatives”. In this way, the right-wing dissidents would “start to construct an independent base”, effectively “staying behind enemy lines and fighting” it from within. Then, when the time was right, they would “strike out against him”. Apparently, the paper stressed, a majority of MPs were “moving towards the Maquis model”. One MP in favour of this tactic, for example, insisted “when you look at the small print of the party rule book the Shadow Cabinet actually has a lot of influence over the party machinery”. The problem with this approach, however, would require shadow cabinet members to “observe collective responsibility” whenever key votes came around.

Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt, meanwhile, were “setting up a “resistance cell” called the “Common Good Group””, having “written to Labour MPs calling for a meeting”. However, this call created “significant backlash amongst their colleagues”. According to The Telegraph, though, these attempts had been “misconstrued”, and was really “about trying to build a space where moderates [i.e. right-wingers] from across the party” could “come together to talk about how… to pull things around” (i.e. subvert the democratic will of voters). Fortunately for progressives in the party, “neither Umunna… nor Hunt” had “the standing within the PLP to lead such an exercise”.[7] At the same time, however, Liz Kendall was said to be “ready to join” Umunna and Hunt’s “resistance” group, having said it was “a great idea”.[8]










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