A caricature is being carefully constructed. It is the picture of the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, leading a bunch of murderous thugs, hell bent on destroying the Party, democracy, and everything
else that stands in its way. Bullying, intimidation, racism, sexism and cynical manipulation are the accusations routinely thrown at his door.
The caricature is careful not to accuse Corbyn himself of any of this. It quietly, tacitly recognises that Corbyn is the least vain, least venal, least bullying and most incorruptible leader any British political party has had. Far better to paint him as the hapless captive of a ruthless support network of ne’er-do-wells. It plays wonderfully well to what passes as the UK’s political press; now happier to trade in tittle-tattle than serious political analysis.
Take the latest scandal about the ‘hounding’ of former shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra MP. The Observer, the Telegraph and a trash can of other papers ran with the story as ‘a breach of parliamentary privilege’ and a ‘break-in to her office by Corbyn’s staff’. It looked a little different from along the corridor.
It happened on one of the days I was working in the Shadow Chancellor’s office. After the surprise of her resignation, McDonnell and Corbyn set about working out who might replace her. (In the salami-slicing structure of the Corbyn assassination plan, this has become a regular challenge/distraction they have to deal with). The priority was to get a replacement in quickly. It is what the Party expects of any leadership.
For a resigning shadow minister, the process is absolutely clear: you box up your personal papers, vacate the Shadow Cabinet office you were in, and return to the MP’s office already allocated to you. If there are logistical problems, the House of Commons staff are incredibly helpful; removing boxed papers for safe storage until you decide where they are to go.
In this instance, members of Corbyn and McDonnell’s teams wandered along to ask the former shadow secretary’s staff what their exit plan and timetable was. The trouble was, they didn’t have a plan. I admit it prompted a degree of amusement; the staff looking more like abandoned children than game changers. Someone even wondered – à la Paddington Bear – whether they should send along a pot of honey, just to tide everyone over.
If there is a story in this anywhere – and I doubt there is – it would be around the incompetence of a resignation that presumed posthumous squatters rights. If you intend to resign, at least do it competently.
But the story isn’t the story. It only works if you can put Corbyn in the middle of it.
No truck with Trolling
The same is true for the round-Robin letter criticising Corbyn for failing to do enough to protect female MP’s from abuse. I have known Jeremy Corbyn for over 30 years and know will have no truck with Trolling, nor those responsible for it. He is unfailingly polite and never abusive. It would be anathema to his being. But I wait in vain for the round-Robin letter from MPs criticising the trolling Corbyn himself receives from parliamentary colleagues.
A more robust approach to disciplining party members who gratuitously abuse each other, or MPs, may be overdue. But it would deplete the PLP.
Large numbers of today’s Labour MPs would not survive the tests of decency and respectfulness they would set for others. Instead, egged on by a press corps that feeds off abuse and undermining, they run more with the dogs than the underdogs.
What they miss is the much bigger crisis being played out behind the scenes of the assassination.
The financial crisis of a decade ago has never ended. The debt overhang lurks in the corner of the room. Globalisation has been stripped of the illusion of being ‘a rising tide that lifts all boats’. The more brutal reality of corporate feudalism stares most people in the face. Put aside the lies it was based upon, the BREXIT vote pulled the rug from under the Established order. The Establishment needed a scapegoat…and Corbyn is it.
Labour MPs seem to be too dumb to realise that the government’s crisis runs far deeper than Labour’s. The Tory BREXIT Buccaneers have already turned on their Prime Minister over compromise proposals about ’emergency brakes’ on immigration. The EU has responded in kind; putting a hardliner in charge of their negotiating team (with a near certainty they will box out the City of London from ‘passported’ financial transactions within the EU).
Brexiteers just want out; out of social or environmental obligations, out of employment rights, out of climate commitments or rising regulatory duties. One-Nation Tories will find themselves marooned.
There are no Establishment answers to this crisis. Labour lost the last election because ‘austerity-lite’ offered nothing to the left-behinds and even less to the planet-savers. The answer, as Corbyn was to demonstrate, was to throw off the shackles that had made Labour a plaything of the Establishment and return to radical, redistributive politics…with the planet first in line for payback entitlements.
There is, however, a collective amnesia about the Blairite coup that Labour has yet to rescue itself from. If the press, or MPs, read Lewis Minkin’s forensic dissection of the coup – in The Blair Supremacy – they show no signs of recollection. It was the embodiment of a tyranny Corbyn would never entertain.
The Supremacy revisited
Blair’s New Labour project set out to systematically bend the Party to the Leader’s knee. Progressive, independent voices were marginalised (and invariably excluded from selection lists). Party officials were routinely used to ‘marshall’ conference delegates, align their thinking and draft delegates’ speeches. Inside the conference, unofficial stewards would place themselves behind ‘troublesome’ delegates, so the Chair of the session could know who not to call to speak.
Within the PLP, equally troublesome MPs faced regular denunciations and calls for expulsion. But we were all grown ups; people who knew that ‘tough’ applied to families unable to put food on their children’s plates, not to MPs facing abuse from colleagues. In an era in which Labour was being turned from a political party into a Tupperware party, those wanting to keep radical politics alive expected little less than abuse.
At the beginning of the Supremacy – when his personal popularity was greater than the Party’s – Blair openly talked of a new era of ‘direct democracy’; pitching his appeal straight to the public; by-passing the PLP and every inconvenient Party rule and structure. If Momentum were to do so today there would be a hue and outcry.
Back then, it was lauded. The Establishment knew Blair was their child – consummately superficial, cosmetic and (more than anything) corporately compliant. Corbyn is not.
New Labour’s deregulatory zeal required far more than the abandonment of Clause 4. It required a wholesale transfer of rights from citizens to corporations, from planned public investment to unrestricted personal credit, and from an economics of making ‘things’ to an economics of making money. The result is a society in which the richest get paid 400 times what the poor do. It took BREXIT to blow a hole in the myth that this was an “all in it together” economy. Today, the only viable alternatives – beyond the feudal – are radical transformative ones.
Corbyn’s critics accuse him of of being strong on slogans, short on substance. To the extent that he has been besieged by sniping and tittle tattle, this has to be answered. But look at the Manifesto he stood on – the one Labour MPs (and even Party officials) have fought tooth and claw to deflect – and you will see that Corbyn is anything but ‘policy light’.
Corbyn’s ‘Protecting our Planet‘ offered a transformation blueprint whose relevance was only enhanced by the Paris Climate Summit.
Nothing illustrates this more dramatically than the Carbon Brief graphic detailing how little time we have left. There is a 10-year window in which to deliver radical carbon reductions…and this to give just a 50:50 chance of avoiding climate chaos. Many scientists say there is less time than that.
The required changes are greater than anything seen outside wartime mobilisation. The good news is that we are the first generation to have the technologies and know-how to allow us to live more lightly on the only planet we’ve got. We also have nascent social movements longing to do so … and looking for a leadership to deliver it.
This is not a tinkering process. It needs a fundamental re-think of the economics of air, of soil, of food and energy security, of clean transport, of health and housing, flooding and drought; the foundations of which must all be put in place within a decade.
Of course Corbyn has to lead the Party into this. But he has to be freed from the pestering of colleagues who can’t even work out how to leave a room when they resign.
Corbyn’s assassins have chased him from the moment he was elected. But they have never had a ‘big picture’ political alternative that might re-define our common future. In the end, if the assassins succeed, the body on the floor will not turn out to be Corbyn’s. It would be our own.
(energy and climate campaigner, Advisor on Sustainable Economics, recovering politician)