Jeremy Corbyn is Not a Democrat. He is Just a Hypocrite.
If the Labour party has a collective memory it is one scarred by the betrayal of Ramsay MacDonald, who joined the Conservatives in a National Government in 1931. Most Labour leaders have faced such accusations to varying degrees at some stage in their career. To the outsider the Corbyn phenomenon is as mystifying as it is improbable. But betrayal is key. In 2015 Corbyn offered to a defeated, demoralised party a brand of politics the lacklustre, mainstream candidates struggled to project. With 2020 presenting a challenge Labour chose to find a leader who shared their sense of values. He - and his supporters - created a myth that he was the true Labour candidate against a clique of Red Tory, austerity-lite careerisrs who had betrayed Labour.
And so in autumn 2015 social democrats, people who think of themselves of ‘soft left’, even Blairites (1994 vintage) voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader. He won with the largest percentage of votes in any Labour leadership election. In the ten months since, Labour has flatlined in the polls and its leader plums the depths of unpopularity; it has underperformed Ed Miliband in local elections and by-elections; Corbyn’s parliamentary performances are flat and he led a dire referendum campaign; the party has divided: after the no-confidence vote Labour is incapable of holding the government to account. More worrying, were Theresa May to call an snap election and Labour were to win (stop tittering at the back there), lacking parliamentary support Jeremy Corbyn could not form a government.
And yet, as he faces a leadership challenge, the most likely outcome is that he will be re-elected. If it is not easy to accept that such a man could be elected leader, it is mind-boggling that he could be re-elected. In a sane world he would stand as much chance as winning as Katie Hopkins has of getting into Mensa. However, I am starting to doubt whether we live in a sane world.
Corbyn has made unpalatable choices because he wanted to not because he had to
In 2003 the Tories dumped Iain Duncan Smith after eighteen months and similar bad performances. Post-referendum David Cameron resigned and thus began a frenzied orgy of back-stabbing. It seems a distant memory now. They now lead Labour by eleven points. One is the most electorally successful political party in Western Europe, the other is the Labour party. Make of that what you will.
Surely part of the reason for Corbyn’s continued popularity amongst the membership (though not Labour voters) is that he has continued his personal narrative. Like others I have bought into it; like others I have used words such as ‘decent’ when describing him. I admit my error. A man who not only ignores a fellow MP when she is racially smeared but then chats to the attacker is not decent. A man who fails in his duty of care towards intimidated MPs is not decent.
Another word often associated with Corbyn is ‘democrat’. The absurdity of calling a man who associates with human rights-abusing regimes, such as Cuba, Iran and Venezuela, a democrat is palpable. A man who cannot condemn authoritarian Putin for his incursion into Ukraine is no democrat. Realpolitik often dictates that leaders make messy compromises. Often they make wrong choices and allow pragmatism to win over idealism. But Corbyn has made unpalatable choices unencumbered by responsibility.
They use the word democracy not because they believe in it but because it suits their purpose
He has lost the confidence of his democratically-elected peers but has not resigned. We live in a representative democracy: MPs are expected - even required - to use their judgement. That, of course, does not always please party members or its leadership, something Jeremy Corbyn took advantage of as a backbench rebel. Representative democracy is not perfect and it is hard to resolve its conflicts. Democratic systems are inherently pluralistic. They have more than one centre of power. Corbyn’s centre of power lies in his party election; his parliamentary party’s lies in 9.3 million general election votes. A democrat would reconcile the differences but Corbyn threatens deselection; his supporters implore critics to fuck off and join the Tories. They are not democrats.
“We don’t believe in leaders,” he and John McDonnell told Vice before the election. When he became leader he changed his mind. As a backbencher he advocated annual leadership elections, as leader he calls it a coup. Despite his rhetoric, since his election he has spoke against party policy, as voted by conference, on Trident. They use the word democracy not because they believe in it but because it suits their purpose. He is just a petty and opportunistic hypocrite. He is not a democrat.
His whole raison d’etre as leader has become not that he can win an election, not that he can defeat the Tories and lead a reforming government but that he represents the will of the membership. He pretends it is democracy because it is all he has.
To have voted for Corbyn in 2015 may have mystified many, but it was not a dishonourable action. To do so in 2016 when there is so much evidence it will only entrench Theresa May’s Tories and drive away moderate progressives, not only lacks honour it is self-indulgent arrogance which shows a contempt for pluralism that could elect a Labour government. That is real betrayal.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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