Whoever is ultimately responsible for the definite purge which is going on within Labour, it is clear that the purge has backfired on a number of levels. As Paul Mason identified, Bristol has now lost control of the council due to centrally-driven suspensions. Secondly, many longstanding campaigners for Labour who have given decades of their time have been ‘purged’ and lost the democratic right to vote. Thirdly, it has been a PR disaster of enormous proportions, of a centrally driven Labour NEC appearing to be incredibly vindictive against their own members, many of whom are not financially well off. Fourthly, its actual basis was very dubious, when it is known that the number of extremist ‘entryists’ are in fact very small, whereas the usual people (e.g. Old Holborn) have claimed it’s the best £3 they ever spent.
Whichever way you look at it, Labour is a joke. And it is telling of the state of Labour as it is that this is held as default as an abusive comment, rather than freedom of expression. When a mature Asian Labour voter told Owen Smith MP that he as a MP was wrong, Smith called it out as abuse. Channel 4 presented last night a documentary based on undercover filming, a textbook hatchet job on Labour, featuring a family relative of Alastair Campbell providing legal opinions. And the number of migogynist, antisemite and bullying events shown was nil.
BBC1’s Panorama fared better. Jon Pienaar did what he could to present an establishment view of ‘we’re stuck with Jeremy Corbyn with a landslide – but now what?’ Cumulatively, BBC1 and Channel 4 added to a long list including the Guardian notably of totally distorted mainstream media. The Guardian’s reporting does not even make the grade of toilet paper when printed out, though Suzanne Moore did a brilliant balanced piece on Momentum Kids only yesterday. BBC’s Panorama uncomfortably yo-yoed between Lisa Nandy MP and Peter Kyle MP, before referring to Owen Smith MP for an opinion.
By any reckoning, Owen Smith MP’s campaign was an unmitigated wholesome disaster. In a leadership bid which was in part supposed to have been precipitated by sexism and misogyny, Smith is reputed to have made a laddy joke about his 28″ inside leg measurement. The descriptions of his long term debt financing of infrastructure were so far fetched that ‘no economist disagreed with him’ (an achievement in itself) and, more’s the point, nobody in the mainstream media including the Financial Times, Mail or Times bothered to opine about it.
For all the criticisms of Corbyn and team, and there are many, the orchestrated hourly appearances of MPs in TV studios was vile. Episodes such as the staff of Seema Malhotra MP not leaving her office in a timely effect spun in such a way as to discredit a longstanding member of John McDonnell MP’s staff, were vile too. Alastair Campbell siding with Anna Soubry in her attack on John McDonnell, despite Campbell appearing to not make up his mind on which policies he actually disagreed with, was pretty ubiquitously reacted to on Twitter as vile; with many of the Twitterari commenting on how a Labour grandee got away with using the ‘twat’ so often on Twitter, when ordinary party members, maybe who had campaigned for the Green Party but who had now re-joined the Labour Party, had been ‘suspended’ according to the NEC’s ‘make it up as you go along’ rules for retweeting Caroline Lucas a few years ago, perhaps on taking back the railways into state control (now a Labour Party policy aspiration).
Ed Miliband MP himself in his resignation speech had asked for ‘people to disagree without disagreeable’ – and yet this is precisely what he and Neil Kinnock then did par excellence. They laid into the currently democratically leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn MP, as if he had no mandate at all, completely ignoring the fact that they themselves had between them had lost more general elections than most of us have hot dinners.
Secondly, their remarkable achievement was completely to ignore the implications of the Brexit vote. There are some very basic level interpretations of how Brexit came about, including being ‘lied to’ (although lies are not a novel idea in election campaigns, if one remembers Nick Clegg’s ‘I’m sorry’ for example), the impact of immigration on local services, the notion of ‘taking back control’, and so forth. I voted as a Labour voter of 26 years for #Remain, being a ‘reluctant remainer’.
For me, a willingness to be part of the European Union goes way beyond the single market, but goes towards a feeling of genuine solidarity with our European neighbours in fighting on public policy issues, such as public health, data protection, employment rights, etc. But there are aspects of being in the EU which I do find difficult – such as the impact it has on state aid of public sector industries in stress, the way in which Greece had been forced down a path of austerity to the detriment of its citizens, the possibility of the EU-US free trade treaty which would have given a carte blanche to multinational takeover of parts of the NHS, the undercutting of wages happening during free movement of labour, and so on. So for me, it can’t be 10/10 for being in the EU. And Article 50 will probably have to be invoked sooner rather than later, if only because our European neighbours won’t want us to delay on this. It was not Jeremy Corbyn’s direct wish to have a referendum; he did not even stand on a manifesto pledge to have one.
Neil Coyle MP at the weekend was asked how he might win given the summer of discontent of Labour. Bear in mind, I went down one morning, with no expenses paid, to support his bid to become a MP in Bermondsey and Southwark. I was disgusted to hear that people like me who support Jeremy Corbyn are merely part of a ‘fan club’. He then had the gall to say he would be re-elected because of the ‘strong Labour brand’, given the monumental efforts he had made to rubbish the Labour brand, such as our leadership and teamwork, all summer. Good riddance.
I had never heard of Peter Kyle MP until he started TV studios slagging off Jeremy Corbyn MP – in other words, he had made absolutely no impact on me on the national stage in terms of policy.
Not everyone who disagrees with Jeremy Corbyn is though ‘disagreeable’. I differ with Karl Turner MP’s views on some things, but I feel he is fundamentally a very bright and pleasant man (having also briefly met him). I’ve met Tom Watson MP – I don’t think calling Momentum a ‘rabble’ as he allegedly did is crime of the century, and he probably was distressed at this summer’s events too. But I think strong arm tactics for the Labour PLP to ‘get their way’ are a mistake, Tom.
In a completely different category though are Margaret Hodge MP and Margaret Beckett MP who did not offer a coherent narrative on where Jeremy’s policies were ‘wrong’, why millions voted ‘Brexit’ and launched into highly personal attacks on Corbyn.
I don’t think people who disagree with Labour’s policies or dislike the leader intensely should be forced to be members of parliament for Labour. It should never be forgotten that the party is totally dependent on the grassroots activists who go round delivering leaflets, manning phone banks, door knocking, and so on. Momentum has never asked for deselections. I think, however, it would be very healthy for a democracy for our Labour CLPs to look at reselections. MPs who are unable to oppose tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, PFI, the lack of social housing, or the market failure of rail should not be ‘forced’ to MPs under duress, particularly this is in asynchrony with our membership’s views.
And John McDonnell MP is right, though he didn’t phrase it this way. Too many of our Labour MPs love themselves. There are a few who’ve done brilliant work such as Andy Burnham MP on Oregreave, or Debbie Abrahams MP on disability welfare, or Grahame Morris MP on local communities; and there is patently room for improvement in the operations of the top team.
We are where we are. Some of the 170 MPs who have previously had ‘no confidence’ in Jeremy Corbyn will want to campaign on behalf of saving their own seats, despite the mess they caused this summer. It is not far right to oppose that the NHS is now being destroyed at accelerated pace. It is not far right to oppose the savage cuts in social care. The only way forward I feel is for there to be a ‘hybrid’ shadow cabinet, with members put forward by both the Party and membership.
Members of the Labour PLP over criticise the ‘delegate’ argument of the membership I feel. I think what is rotten to the core is the rotten spectacle of Labour MPs behaving like independents not representing their party’s membership. It is not true that all of the Labour Party membership, for example, supports Trident as a weapon of mass destruction.
Jeremy Corbyn is likely to be re-elected this week as the leader of the Labour Party.
As Corbyn says, “Things have to change – and they will.”