Nothing to lose but your fears
In the shock and awe campaign to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader, the weaponry of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and, this weekend, Gordon Brown has been discharged, with apocalyptic warnings that Labour is heading towards a precipice if the left-winger wins.
Some in the party want to turn Karl Marx against the socialist candidate, with the phrase about history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, being bandied around in mainstream Labour circles: after the tragedy of the party’s collapse under Benn and Foot in the 1980s, Corbyn’s reign will be a farce, so the argument goes.
Yet if we’re going to throw Corbyn’s favourite philosopher in his face, isn’t there a better phrase to use from the same tract, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon – specifically, how a “grotesque mediocrity” such as Napoleon III, Bonaparte’s nephew, had been allowed, through circumstance, to play a “hero’s part”.
In the Labour leadership, is Corbyn a grotesque mediocrity, the next left-winger on the cab rank whose popularity is merely the result of circumstances, namely the anti-austerity movement in Greece and a leftist grassroots jolted back into life by a Conservative majority government? Or is he a genuine hero who, regardless of what happens on 12 September, has changed the party forever?
Labour’s problem is that senior, centre-ground MPs see Corbyn as a grotesque mediocrity, and the party’s new members and £3-a-pop registered supporters regard him as a hero. While this gulf exists, the party is unstable.
To be clear, I think Corbyn is wrong on nearly everything: his economic policy lacks credibility and billions of pounds; he is not explicit enough about denouncing anti-Semitism among his supporters; and his policies on the environment, while laudable, are in contradiction with his call to reinstate coal mining.
But here is where I depart from Blair, Brown and Campbell. Although it doesn’t seem like it to the Labour establishment, something extraordinary and, yes, wonderful has happened to the party in the past week. At the general election, there were just over 200,000 full members; now there are 245 short of 300,000. There are now 189,703 affiliated supporters and a further 121,295 registered supporters. In the final 24 hours before the deadline, 160,000 people signed up to vote for a leader. The total electorate is 610,753. These numbers are extraordinary, a democratic uplift of which Labour should be proud, not fearful.
It cannot be the case that all the new supporters and members are reds under the bed. Many of them are simply people who care about a vibrant opposition party. It is easy to characterise Corbyn’s supporters as merely Cyber-Trots whose presence is exaggerated by Twitter. But in London, for example, the same people who are voting for Corbyn are also backing Tessa Jowell, a Blairite, as the party’s mayoral candidate. They don’t obsess about these labels, they just see a candidate who seems to be listening to them.
These new people should not be attacked but embraced, not vilified but cherished, because whatever happens next month they need to be kept engaged. If Corbyn wins, there are warnings about him taking over the ruling NEC, about a purge of Blairites in “trigger ballots”. While this would indeed be disastrous, the solution now is not to cry annihilation but to hold the party steady.
The creation by Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt of Labour for the Common Good, which seeks to bring together soft left, old right, Brownites and Blairites, has happened only because of the Corbyn surge. If it works, there has not been this sort of unity in Labour for years.
And, curiously, if Corbyn gives Tom Watson, who is on course to become deputy leader, a job of party management, then the Blairites can stop worrying. As Blair’s former aide John McTernan wrote last week, Watson will save the party from any Corbynista takeover of the grassroots.
In the end, it is likely that Corbyn will not last the full term. He will either stand down or be ousted because he will be unable to whip his MPs through the opposition lobby, or, to misquote Marx again, he will self-destruct under his own internal contradictions. There is nothing to fear. Labour moderates have to learn to stop worrying and love the contest.
If, as is likely, Corbyn wins the Labour leadership and Jowell becomes London Mayor next May, some Blairites joke that the capital could become a city-state, like Monaco, where the rich are allowed to make money while the rest of the country is run by a socialist. This fantasy is predicated on Corbyn winning the 2020 election, of course, and as our poll suggests today, that is unlikely to happen.
I am a fierce defender of the free press, but the way some paparazzi have behaved in trying to get photographs of Prince George outside of official occasions is seriously creepy. The most shocking in the list of incidents published by Kensington Palace on Friday was using other young children to “lure” the prince into shot.
You may think that, as a family largely funded by taxpayers, we shouldn’t care about the prince’s privacy being invaded, but even staunch republicans should feel repulsed by this hounding of a two-year-old to get a stolen shot. Watching your child’s joy as they are pushed on a swing is one of the greatest moments of parenthood, and to have it snooped upon is seriously disturbing.
In fact, if you regard the royal family as anachronistic, you should want this child and his sister Charlotte to have as normal a life as possible.
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