No, the Labour leadership contest hasn't been infiltrated

Right-wing conspiracies about the influx in supporters are red herrings intended to discredit Jeremy Corbyn and scaremonger among the left

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Labour leadership election is under attack - or at least that is what some would make you think. Today, Harriet Harman, interim leader of the party, assured members that “rigorous due diligence” was being taken to prevent any sort of “infiltration” from the hard-left or Conservatives backing Corbyn in an election-destroying long game, following a Sunday Times report. But is this just a bit of media-scaremongering from the right? Forgive me if I don’t sign up to the widely held belief that an even more zealous reincarnation of Marx is about to assume leadership of Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, backed by laughing Tories all the way.

Since leadership nominations closed 20,000 new full members have signed up to the Labour party. 18,000 have become registered supporters able vote in the leadership contest and the unions have signed up 25,000 affiliate members. That is 63,000 in total. In the General Election 40,000 voted for a party considered “hard-left” (TUSC, CPGB and SWP), so the probability that they are all entryist Trotskyites is very low indeed, and even if they all were, their influence would still be insignificant, with over a quarter of a million members, plus 140,000 new activists entitled to vote.

So perhaps the reason for this influx of members and supporters is simpler. Perhaps it’s that people - particularly previously disenfranchised members of the younger generation - are seeing something in this leadership election that they haven’t seen before. Jeremy Corbyn, like or loathe his ideas, has managed to engage the media and the public in a contest that previously threatened to be the most boring political occurrence since Plebgate. And, in an unprecedented move, he has directly addressed young people throughout his campaign.

Earlier today, on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour, Corbyn addressed the infiltration issue, condemning entryist tactics but highlighting that “in our campaign, lots of young people [are] becoming involved, often for the first time… Young people are excited about this. Isn’t that a good thing?”

After being ripped off by Clegg’s tuition fees U-turn of the century and continuously isolated from the Westminster ‘suits’, it is no surprise that young people are keen to support someone who will engage with them on a refreshingly soundbite-free level. In the same sort of way that Farage is capable at portraying an admittedly questionable “man of the people” persona, Corbyn comes across as authentic, honest and “down-to-earth”. Moreover, Corbyn talks policies, while his rivals tiptoe around issues and shy away from promises that might alienate any section of the electorate.

So, does Labour’s election need reviewing, as Andy Burnham called for yesterday? Probably not. Do the three more centrist candidates need to do more to engage younger votes that have jumped on the Jez bandwagon? Most definitely. Dropping the Westminster image and the mundane, monotonous politics may be the only way that Kendall, Cooper and Burnham can prevent Corbyn running away with the Labour leadership, and, if you believe what the media on the right of politics has been saying, plunging Labour into a Communist abyss. Unfortunately, none of them seem able to admit that. In fact, they’d rather pretend that the thousands of supporters signing up to their party are scheming infiltrators than face the fact that the generation they failed to inspire might have woken up during Corbynmania.