“Just remember how you felt on that dreadful morning of June 10th, just remember how you felt then, and think to yourselves: June the Ninth, 1983, never ever again will we experience that.’”
This was Neil Kinnock’s first speech to Labour Conference as leader. He had started the process of taking the Labour back from the authoritarian hard left clique who had handed Margaret Thatcher a huge majority.
Sadly we are back there again. Another crushing defeat, this one worse than 1983. 4 of the 7 constituencies in County Durham are Tory, most for the first time ever. The site of Consett steelworks now has a Tory MP:
The new Labour leader faces an even bigger fight than Kinnock. 5 years of Corbyn and his own hard left clique has led Labour to it’s worst defeat since the 1930s, and has alienated core voters across the North. Dozens of constituencies who have never elected a Tory MP chose to do so after 10 years of austerity when faced with a Corbyn government.
In blunt terms the electorate told Labour and Corbyn to fuck off 5 months ago. Corbyn’s failure to get that message, and linger on has only encouraged voters to tell Labour to fuck off even louder. His tone deaf response to defeat and his inability to hear the voices of former voters in seats who had voted Labour for generations shows the huge disconnect between the Labour leadership and working class communities across the country. Some of those seats may never turn red again.
I didn’t like Corbyn from the start. I was anti-Corbyn before it was cool. I don’t like bossy bourgeois bolsheviks, and it was clear that his politics would be wildly unpopular among lots of ordinary working class Labour voters. He used to love the applause at the Durham Miners Gala but his politics would have been an anathema to actual Durham miners.
But lots of my friends did like him. Some even joined the Labour Party to support him. I spoke to them at length, sometimes to find out why they were so keen on him, sometimes to try and persuade them not to support him.
Some saw Corbyn as a return to traditional labour values and policies, someone who wasn’t afraid to advocate passionately for causes that Labour members care about, in language familiar to them from left wing meetings.
I was baffled by these claims of authenticity given that his views on a huge ranges of issues from foreign policy (particularly Israel), the NHS, patriotism, monarchy, pacifism, industrial policy, civil rights, though to national security were publicly at odds with every previous leader. As if the triumph of Corbyn was year zero for the Labour Party.
But talking to lots of my Corbyn supporting friends it was clear that there was another, more emotional connection they felt to him. This connection was closely linked to their belief in the ethical superiority of middle class leftism over their right wing equivalent.
His speeches were rambling and often gnomic, but his lack of meaning allowed people to project their own views and values on him. I met people who voted Labour in 2017 GE who were shocked that Labours manifesto was pro-Brexit. Many pro-Corbyn Labour voters were unable to accept that both the 2017 and 2019 manifestoes contained benefit cuts despite voting for them enthusiastically.
They didn’t like benefit cuts or Brexit, but they did like Jeremy Corbyn, and couldn’t comprehend that Corbyn might be a eurosceptic, or that they had voted to take billions away from the poorest.
This odd world view was strongest among hard core Corbyn fans. Anyone who criticises such a lovely person must be motivated by badness and wickedness. If you support Corbyn you are good, and if you attack him you must be in favour of bad things. People unfriended me and sent me abuse for pointing out some of Corbyn’s obvious shortcomings. Others insisted that I had been brainwashed by the Main Stream Media, an accusation that previously only the far right had used about me.
This attitude was most apparent when it came to discussing the racism problems that took hold in the Labour Party after he became leader. His supporters argued that as a life long anti-racist he was above reproach, and anyone who argued otherwise did so in bad faith.
This ludicrous bit of logic; good people are anti-racist + Jeremy is good person = Jeremy is anti-racist; exposed the awful mess of ideas that middle class left got into when they talked about race and racism.
Lots of people on the left seem to have arrived at the belief that anti-racism works by middle class college graduates policing the language and attitudes of people less well educated or of a lower social status. Often taking on the role of speaking on behalf of minorities who never asked them to speak for them. Anti-racism as middle class privilege.
This profoundly alienated a large number of former labour voters in traditional communities, who were rightly angered to be repeatedly labeled as thick or racist for not using that week’s right word. It also alienated large swathes of Britains ethnic minority communities who don’t want old white men speaking on their behalf.
There is no doubt that under Corbyn Labour developed a serious anti-semitism problem.
The reaction to claims of anti-semitism was to talk about Cable Street, claiming it as a victory for middle class lefties. There was apparently no awareness that there have been other struggles by minorities in the 80 years since the that middle class left weren’t invited to.
Modern left wing anti-semitism has nothing to do with the British Labour Party tradition – Labour through most of the last 75 years was a Zionist party. Instead it comes from old fashioned English racism.; an Edwardian view of Empire and racial hierarchy in which the noble Arab stands higher in the order than the greedy Jew, the savage African or the idolatrous Hindoo. Corbyn’s enthusiasm for JA Hobson, a notorious Edwardian racist reveals how deeply engrained this racist world view is.
These was two of many arse clenchingly awful statements that Corbyn made:
This begs the obvious question: is Corbyn a racist?
I find it hard to form a judgement like that without meeting someone, but his record troubles me horribly.
What I can say is that if he had been a Doctor working for me in the NHS he would have been sacked, and reported to the GMC for his conduct. His behaviour towards Luciana Berger, Chuku Umana, Ruth Smeeth, Sadiq Khan, Thangnam Debbonnaire, Chi Onurah and many others would have resulted in disciplinary charges for anyone working for me, and taken together would have meant the sack.
I don’t think there is anywhere in the UK Public Sector where this behaviour would be tolerated. Anyone from an AA in the Civil Service to a High Court Judge who behaved like that would be given their cards.
You can’t have someone in charge of an expanded UK public sector who’s own conduct doesn’t meet the standards that we require from a public servant.
The private sector doesn’t tolerate this kind of crap either anymore. The Umana and Berger cases would have led to claims of constructive dismissal, with punitive damages. The private sector is increasingly wary of these kind of claims, and will not tolerate senior people incurring this kind of financial and reputational damage on a business.
Corbyn gets away with his behaviour in the way that a senior Lawyer or Doctor could not because of power and privilege. He is a privileged man in a position of power, and he uses that power to place himself above the rules that other people have to abide by.
The left cannot condemn the abuse of power and privilege by others while turning a blind eye when their own leadership commit the same abuses.
The use of privilege to excuse shitty behaviour wasn’t limited to racism. Sexual harassment, corruption, bullying and nepotism were all protected by the privileges of Corbyn and his clique
What makes this particularly damaging is that the middle class leftists who Corbyn represents have become harshly judgemental of the language and behaviour of others. The contrast with their refusal to criticise the language and conduct of Corbyn has done widespread and lasting damage, not just to the left, but to the fight against racism and bigotry
The most common claim in Corbyn’s defence is that he helped increase the party membership, and gave the party back to it’s members. This cringing sycophancy from professional mediocrity Barry Gardener is typical:
Corbyn has increased membership back to where it was under Blair, although nowhere near where it was under Wilson or even Callaghan.
The fetishisation of size of the Party became a symbol of political virility. There was something deeply creepy about a bunch of old men asking voters to admire the size of their membership.
Giving the party back to the members sounds like a great thing, but in reality only a minority of party members have the time and enthusiasm to take part in endless meetings, committees, caucuses. In many constituencies a small number of older party members, many of who had reactionary or cranky viewpoints but who were aligned with the leadership, came to dominate the party. Members were empowered, but some were more empowered than others. This is Corbynite leadership contender Rebecca Long Bailey encountering some empowered members.
These views are extreme, but not unexpected. Labour meetings have become unpleasant, social media a sewer, threats have been made, bricks thrown through windows.
Underneath all of this is a a essentially authoritarian view of politics and political parties.
In the British political tradition MPs are representatives, not delegates, elected to represent a geographical area
This is Edmund Burke in 1774.
To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,–these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
The Labour Party under Corbyn had a fundamentally different view of politics. MPs were accountable to the party membership, or at least to the narrow section of the party membership who supported the leader, and who dominated meetings. All elected members were mandated delegates, expected to show absolute loyalty to the leadership. Unquestioningly following the party line even if the party line was confused and opaque as it was on Brexit.
MPs accountable to a narrow clique of members;
Members accountable to a party machine controlled by Corbyn’s clique;
The party machine answerable to the NEC also dominated by the same hard left clique,
All expected to show unquestioning loyalty to the leader. Respect the mandate.
This kind of authoritarian machine politics, with the NEC operating as a politburo isn’t the left wing political tradition I grew up with. Party unity shouldn’t mean stifling all dissent, particularly when the dissenters were warning that the party was heading over a cliff. At times the stifling of dissent became violent bullying and harassment of MPs, particularly female or from minorities. The campaign against Luciana Berger will go down in history as one of the worst examples of racism in British politics. Labour’s rivers of blood moment.
This wouldn’t come as a surprise if you knew the people who Corbyn surrounded himself with. His key aides Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne were from the Communist Party. His clique were dominated by representatives of an authoritarian political tradition, with a wide circle of activists from outside the traditional democratic left. Corbyn was a long standing and uncritical supporter of authoritarian regimes around the world, sometimes for money. His supporters claimed his opposition to the Iraq war represented some kind of moral superiority, ignoring his enthusiasm for repressive regimes and violent terror groups, many of which were violently racist and homophobic.
The other foundational myth of Corbynism is the idea that radical and transformative ideas come from the extremes of politics, that the far left have radical answers that the establishment centrists can’t handle.
The truth of British politics is that all of the radical and transformative policies that have defined the left have come from the centre, from engagement and compromise. Pensions, the Welfare State, NHS, National Minimum Wage, all of these came from the centre ground.
The radical fringe has never had a single transformative policy in history. The policies they put forward are uniformly reactionary, an attempt to turn the clock back to an older happier time.
At the last election the Tories fought and won on a better future manifesto, while Labour fought and lost on better in the past. Without a vision of a better future the left are no longer progressive, just a different kind of reactionary. There is nothing progressive about recycling the policies of the 1970s, or the 1940s with the predictable results.
The rise of Thatcher a tragedy, the rise of Boris Johnson a farce.
For voters whose only interaction with the state is bossy middle class people making their lives a misery because they want to claim benefits, or find care for their disabled children the idea of giving more power to bossy middle class people to build a bigger state is a hard sell.
The Conservative Party re-invents itself every decade, re-imagining itself to stay in power. I can remember it being socially conservative, socially liberal, neo-liberal, free market, free trade, protectionist, neo-classical, trickle down theory, monetarist, sado-monetarist, pro-EU, anti-EU, all in the last 40 decades.
Labour regards this kind of re-invention as a fundamental betrayal. Only by being true to an imaginary version of the 1945 Attlee Government matters.
The dead weight of history sits like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
The current membership are still in thrall to this vision, even though Attlee would have recoiled from Corbyn’s views on foreign policy, Israel, America, NATO, the monarchy, the NHS, pacifism in fact pretty much everyone of the policies Corbyn spent his lifetime championing.
If this feels like a harsh judgement it is necessary. It is not certain that Labour will survive as a major party, and another Corbyn will kill it dead. Another massive vanity project, not just for Corbyn but for the masses of middle class lefties who put him in power and kept him there.
And I realise that lots of my middle class left wing friends will feel I have been too harsh on them too.
But right now, my bet is that Gordon Brown is the last ever Labour Prime Minister. I don’t expect to see another one in my lifetime. The damage done by Corbyn and his clique have made the party unelectable for a generation.
Even expelling Corbyn and this gang from the Party and publicly apologising for him wouldn’t be enough, nor will the election of Keir Starmer (although he will make me some money with Ladbrokes).
The tragedy of the left is that there are enough left wing voters to win elections, but split over different tribes:
At the moment the left are divided like this:
The authoritarian hard left have latched onto Labour, making the party toxic with ordinary liberals and social democrats and tainting the Party with their racism, nepotism and bullying.
If instead the left was divided like this, with a progressive alliance excluding the hard left, then left wing general election victories would be a lot more common:
This realignment will be hard to achieve because Corbynism has been such a gravy train for the hard left. His friends, his children, his friend’s children have all been appointed to well paid roles. Key party positions paid and unpaid have been occupied by his clique. Outside the formal appointments a network of sycophantic pro-Corbyn media figures, websites and “media companies” have set up including Novara and the Canary.
Representatives of these alt-left websites regularly appear on the BBC and across TV and radio representing the Labour leadership despite being “literally a communist”. People are making a good living, and are enjoying power, status and privilege. They will not give it up lightly.
None of them will accept any blame for the terrible defeat. In the same way that none of them will ever accept that any good came from the Blair or Brown Governments. To do so would be to accept that their whole careers had been based on a massive series of errors. Their ambition was never to win an election, or to improve the lives of working class communities. Their only ambition was to take over the Labour Party and use it as a vehicle for their vanity project.
Instead they will simply construct a story of betrayal, with a long list of traitors to be blamed; Jews, Blairites, Centrist Dads, me, anyone who isn’t in their clique, or who spoke out against their incompetence, racism or bullying. They will claim perpetual victimhood, endless twisting that the establishment or the main stream media were mean to them.
But those like me who want this re-alignment will also have to persuade our middle class friends to give up their romantic notions about the hard left.
They are not our friends and allies. They are not part of the same movement as us. They do not represent a purer or more idealistic expression of our own left wing ideals. They are reactionary, authoritarian, racists, groper, crooks and creeps.
They are implacably opposed to all that the progressive left stand for, and we need to treat them as we would the far right.
Without this kind of re-alignment we need to get used to Tory Governments.