I hope Tom Watson had a relaxing weekend. If this apparently trivial news evaded you in all the high excitement of life in a political post-nuclear age, be consoled that Labour’s deputy leader has been at Glastonbury. At 4am on Sunday morning, a few hours after Hilary Benn’s sacking and a few hours before the launch of the attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Watson was at a Glasto silent disco.
What to say of this? That’s not rhetorical. It is a literal request for advice on Twitter because I simply do not know.
What words I have I can’t use on decency grounds, either because they’re either too coarse, or involve fantasies involving Watston and blunt instruments which might interest our adorably literal-minded police.
Excuse me now if I meditate in the hope of calming myself enough to find words that may be used. Om om om om ommm, om om om om ommm, om om om om ommm. And so ommm and so ommm.
Right, I’m back with this.
Tom Watson’s weekend sojourn to Glastonbury is not as trivial as hinted above, since it crystallises the self-indulgent separation from reality underlying Labour’s possibly terminal condition.
It tells us that the party is in the hands of monumental idiots. Not people who’d score poorly in an IQ test, or would strike you as thick if you met them at Glastonbury. People who on a deeper level are so incalculably stupid that they either haven’t noticed that their party is hurtling towards the gates of death, or simply don’t care.
Jeremy Corbyn is another such person. If he is still Labour leader when you read this, if still he cannot see that fighting a general election as leader risks reducing Labour’s shrunken parliamentary presence to a tiny rump, he is in the sort of blissfully transported state which people at Glastonbury (not Watson, one assumes) enter via a little pill laden with nourishing MDMA.
Whether anyone, even Alan Johnson, could revive Labour in the longer term is doubtful. I cannot keep writing the identical “Johnson, do your duty at last” article. But for various reasons - some personal, some political - he alone could semi-unite the parliamentary factions without automatically driving pro-Corbyn members into the arms of Caroline Lucas and her Greens.
The Labour movement is so degraded that the game has ceased to be about winning. It’s about staying alive, and Johnson is the best if not only available life support machine to keep it from brain death while we at the bedside pray for a miracle. If yet again he refuses to come to its aid, if he is content to be a footnote in history as a recidivist wartime deserter, that’s his business.
Whoever follows Corbyn, assuming he goes, will take on a job far beyond their powers. We could spend ages going through the runners and riders, and probably soon will. But to mention a couple, Chuka Umunna, whom I seriously underrated judging by his mightily impressive telly performance in Friday’s early hours as the nightmare unfolded, has his problems. He is too smooth for this age, and it will take him time to remove the gloss. But at least this erstwhile summertime fixture at cool Ibiza discos knows better than some that this is not the moment to be busting moves.
Lisa Nandy also impresses. She’s warm, northern, Asian, articulate and very smart. But a nagging voice in my head gently asks if this is the time for a novice.
Nor is it the time for confusing the battle ahead with one which could turn on charm or charisma. This battle is existential. Labour’s existence is in peril. It may cease to exist as a viable party of opposition within months, because it either has nothing to say to what was its core or cannot find a way of saying it which doesn’t fall on contemptuous ears.
The parliamentary party is at war with a membership which tragically deludes itself if it equates the Corbyn of that monstrously disengaged referendum campaign with anyone fit to lead a conga. Being a decent chap with values shared by young idealists and old lefties like me is not enough. It is not the beginning of enough. It isn’t the most lethargic sperm at the back of the queue swimming languidly toward the ovum of enough.
The starting point for a war for survival is the express acceptance that, in a snap autumn election called by Boris, Theresa May, or whoever, Labour could well lose swathes of northern seats to the Tories and Ukip unless it accepts that the national political paradigm of the last century has been swept away.
It cannot be fought by someone who on the eve of the referendum spoke in support of uncontrolled immigration.
A few hundred thousand Labour members may believe in that. I may, in my utopian heart, myself. But a vast majority of our compatriots palpably don’t, and espousing it is suicidal foolishness.
A civil war between MPs and members may soon not be unique to Labour. The Tories could replicate it if an anti-Boris parliamentary movement votes him out of the final two, denying the membership the chance to elect him by a landslide, it will happen to them too. If Boris becomes Prime Minister with the support of a minority of his MPs, the echo of Corbyn will be audible.
Everywhere you look in Britain, you see factional strife (young vs old, educated vs uneducated, white vs not so white, London vs non-London, Scotland vs England, and so on). The lid blew off the pressure cooker on Thursday, and no one has a clue how to get it back on. For a long time, that will be unknowable.
But this much everyone with half a functioning brain must know: Labour’s disentanglement from the fears and ambitions of its onetime natural voters is incinerating its potential as a party of government.
And Tom Watson, the deputy Nero of the hour, boogeys while it burns.
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