Jeremy Corbyn’s complaint of ‘sabotage’ confirms he was unfit for office

Labour’s former leader claims the party was fewer than 2,500 votes away in key seats from forming a government and blames Blairites for his failure

John Rentoul
Sunday 09 August 2020 17:01
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UK would be three years into Jeremy Corbyn-led government if not for 'disgraceful disloyalty' of Labour MPs, claims Richard Burgon

Jeremy Corbyn and his close associates, having lost two elections, are determined to prove that the British people made the right decision on both occasions. The former Labour leader has put his name to a document that accuses “senior paid employees of the party” of “sabotage” during the 2017 election.

Like most conspiracy theories, it is self-refuting. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that it is true. Why does Corbyn suppose that Labour staff didn’t want him to be prime minister? Was it simply cosmic malice, or was it for the same reason that Labour MPs tried to get rid of him, namely that they didn’t agree with him? And might the reasons for disagreeing with him not be closely related to the reasons the British people didn’t vote for him?

It is the same with all attempts by Corbyn to blame someone else for his own failure. Yes, a lot of the mainstream media were against him. That is almost the whole point of the Corbyn movement: it was hostile to the establishment, including to the established media, and expected hostility in return, because it saw itself as a challenge to the media’s power. So what was the plan?

It turns out that the plan was to revel in the opposition of the “right-wing media”, and to use it to rouse the radical instincts of the British people. And when that failed, to blame the media for that failure. Which is, in effect, to blame the voters for being dupes.

Same plan for taking on the “Blairites” in the party: call them Tories, and use their opposition to Corbyn as a rallying call for hundreds of thousands of new members to join the party to fight for something that must be “socialism” because the Blairites/Tories/neoliberals were against it; and when that finally failed, blame them for sabotage.

What is surprising, in fact, is how little resistance Labour staff put up to the Corbynite reign of error. The document that Corbyn and his eight top people have signed fails to provide a single example of obstruction. That is because the 2017 campaign was an unusual one. The central fact of that election is that hardly anyone expected Labour to win. Corbyn himself, and Seumas Milne, his chief adviser and a co-signatory of the “sabotage” document, expected to lose.

That made it easier for those Labour Party staff who were uneasy at the prospect of Corbyn as prime minister – and they did exist, Corbyn is right about that – to resolve their dilemma. They were willing to work to try to save as much of the party as possible, the better to rebuild in future. Many Labour MPs made the same calculation.

Thus the 2017 Labour campaign was one of the most united and effective ever fought by the party. Unexpectedly, it came within inches of putting Corbyn in Downing Street. The document complaining of sabotage repeats the absurd statistic that “Labour was less than 2,500 votes in key seats away from forming a government”. That ignores the hundreds of thousands of votes in other seats that would have been needed to make those few votes in the closest seats possible.

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But I always go out of my way to be fair to Corbyn, and it is true that if the Conservatives had lost 10 more seats, he would have been prime minister. Once Theresa May had run out of DUP MPs, and perhaps three Labour MPs who would have balked (Ian Austin, John Mann and John Woodcock are now in the House of Lords, having urged people to vote against Corbyn in 2019), a rainbow majority of Labour, SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Greens would have put Corbyn in as prime minister.

So, yes, Corbyn could have won in 2017, but it wasn’t sabotage from his own side that stopped it. The giveaway, as Nick Cohen points out, is that Corbyn complains about 2017, when a lot of Labour staff were “Blairites” and he did better than expected, and not about 2019, when he had total control of the party machine and did worse than at any time since 1935.

The problem with Corbyn was never that he was unelectable, but that he would have been a disaster if he had been elected. With this pitiful whine of the sore loser, he has proved it. He has no judgement, and prefers the warm bath of myth to the harsh reality of responsibility.

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