He has Failed on Every Count. It’s Time to Dispel The Corbyn Myth
Karl Marx wrote that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce. Jeremy Corbyn will know this quote only too well. It is little over a year since the socialist activist MP was elected leader of the Labour Party. Over the past twenty four hours the Labour’s parliamentary members - fearing a repeat of 1980s factionalism and the party’s electoral nadir - have tied themselves in knots trying to get rid of the Right Honourable Member for Islington North.
Division, recrimination and fragmentation have paralysed the Opposition since the UK voted to leave the EU last week. In its immediate wake, Hilary Benn was sacked for attempting to trigger a coup against his leader. Next, a motion of no confidence was tabled by Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey. (Hodge wrote: “This has been a tumultuous referendum which has been a test of leadership…Jeremy has failed that test”. Forty shadow cabinet resignations - by loyalist and rebel alike - and a stormy PLP meeting yesterday evening were met with a Momentum-mobilised #KeepCorbyn rally outside the Palace of Westminster. Corbyn, notwithstanding any issues on getting on the ballot, is very much up for a leadership scrap. Being awkward is what he excels at.
In the run up to the Labour leadership election, like many I applauded Corbyn’s rise. His apparent authenticity, his studied insouciance, his combative media appearances, his no-nonsense approach to debate: all made sense as the party sought to renew itself. As across the country crowds greeted him like a new deity, it was impossible to not get swept up in it all: I briefly contemplated joining the party to vote for him, but then remembered that I don’t join political parties.
He won by some margin. And his victory speech was limpid demagoguery: rambling, vague, barely coherent and at times antagonistic. The speech he delivered at last night’s rally was a carbon copy. Every speech he’s ever made is a mimeograph of the last.
Corbyn wants to remain in opposition in perpetuity
Let’s be clear: Corbyn’s mandate is a myth. Many point out that the party’s membership swelled to almost 400,000 after his election. Momentum’s membership numbers around 60,000. A YouGov poll of May 2016 found his support among members was up to 72%. This still constitutes a narrow swathe of the electorate compared to the millions who turned out for Labour in 2015. Indeed, a new Survation poll found that 53% of these people would like Corbyn to resign. Outside of the M25 and university towns nobody cares about Corbyn. He didn’t even bother to campaign in the north east during the EU referendum, and went on holiday instead. The shadow cabinet members who resigned collectively have a larger electoral mandate than he does. Some Momentum members would do well to reacquaint themselves with their Maths GCSE.
After the referendum result, many erstwhile supporters such as The Guardian’s Zoe Williams and Owen Jones are feeling a degree of buyer’s remorse. Who can blame them? The Corbyn myth has come under critical scrutiny of late, evidenced by the recent film by Vice that documented Corbyn dithering over using Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation to his party’s advantage.
In American politics the success of a newly-elected President is typically measured according to what they manage to get done in their first 100 days. Corbyn has had 300 days to get his house in order. And what has happened during this time?
We’ve had a row over Trident. We’ve had a row over Syria. We’ve had an explosive row over antisemitism in the party. We’ve had John McDonnell’s naïve, Mao-referencing response to the Chancellor’s autumn statement. We’ve had the successful election of a Labour mayor who deliberately distanced himself from his leader. We’ve had local elections where Labour, in Corbyn’s own words, ‘hung on’, while UKIP made gains. We’ve had intra-party discord, including a PLP list which graded colleagues according to their hostility to his premiership. We’ve had countless weeks of underwhelming and, indeed, bruising performances at the despatch box. Now we’ve had a referendum of huge significance where the Labour leader was at best a reluctant participant, at worst an agent provocateur.
You can blame this on plotting Blairites. You can blame this on the press. You can blame this on internal leaks or an anti-Corbyn conspiracy. You can blame it on inexperience or the pressures of the job. But sooner or later you have to call it what it is: mule-headed arrogance, intractable incompetence and a refusal to see sense. If Corbyn and cohort think this is the route to Government, they’re living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.
Perhaps that’s the point: Corbyn wants to remain in opposition in perpetuity. He has been a member of parliament since 1983. As a parliamentarian he is parsimonious, principled and, apparently, a proponent of compromise and inclusivity. Yet he defied the party whip 428 times during the Blair-Brown years. His impotence and unwillingness to act decisively as leader has driven his parliamentary colleagues to near-madness. His refusal to quit now, in the face of deepening mutiny within the party, is a continuation of this defiance.
we inch closer to exit from the European Union, plunge deeper into economic uncertainty
These are dangerous times for social democracy in this country. The referendum showed that the old industrial base of Labour Party support has dissipated from disaffection and condensed around an ideologically more-extreme party. The predominantly young urban supporters who may or may not have joined the party in the past 18 months comprise but a fraction of those who voted Remain - and they’ve just seen their future smashed. Prominent Corbyn supporters such as Paul Mason and Billy Bragg would like us to think that he delivered the Labour vote. All the evidence suggests he didn’t.
Yesterday saw the first meeting of Parliament since the country went to the polls. Conservative MPs lined up to pay glowing tribute to a Prime Minister whose austerity policies and needless referendum on EU membership have destabilised society and brought economic and political ruin upon the UK. The referendum result and Cameron’s resignation have spooked global markets and left a dangerous power vacuum. The Labour leader should have nailed Cameron to the wall of the Commons for this. Instead, he lambasted his own party for a return to factionalism. (His parliamentary colleagues shouted at him to resign.)
Meanwhile we inch closer to exit from the European Union, plunge deeper into economic uncertainty, a slew of grotesque racist incidents have been reported, and in our first post-referendum political engagement with our continental neighbours, UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage gleefully roasted his fellow MEPs - MEPs who will have to approve terms of our exit from the EU.
Corbyn was elected leader as a protest against the old politics, to usher in a new, kinder politics. Even in this, he has failed: the EU referendum was characterised by ugly, quasi-fascistic politics supported and espoused by some former Labour supporters. A reversion to the old politics, with its uncodified constitution and antiquated first past the post electoral system, is now the only hope for returning the party to power.
In the likelihood of a snap general election being called in the autumn, the movement for social democracy in the UK now needs a unifying, dynamic and effective leader who can reunify our fragmented politics. Who can present a true alternative to the political, economic and social anarchy we find ourselves thundering towards at great speed. Who can communicate directly with our electorate and pull us back from the brink. Jeremy Corbyn is not that leader. It’s time for him to go.
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