When I returned to Oxford, a friend of mine confessed to me that he had done something unspeakable. We talked at length about the state of the Labour party, and I asked him who he had voted for; never before have had I heard the words “Andy Burnham” uttered with such little confidence, or with such rising inflection. He could not keep up the façade for long. “OK, so I voted for Corbyn – but to be fair, that was before I knew about all that dodgy foreign policy stuff”. Quite. Channelling the spirit of Malcom Tucker, I unleashed a whirlwind of remedial expletives. In hindsight this was probably a gross overreaction, but at the time felt like a necessary rebuke – given the way in which the Corbynistas had transformed my party over the preceding weeks. (And as transformations go, it was more Cronenbergian body horror than constructive self-improvement).
He touted the usual reasons for voting the way he did: Corbyn’s outside the ‘Westminster bubble’; he’s “real Labour”; he deals in “honest straight-talking politics”. Now of course only the first of these is true. Corbyn does exist outside of the ‘Westminster bubble’, albeit by virtue of having never held a cabinet – or shadow cabinet – position. His fringe views, inability to compromise, and disloyalty to the whip make him an enticing figure to faddish would-be radicals in Che Guevara t-shirts, but are hardly traits becoming of a successful future Prime Minister. And future Prime Minister has to be the yardstick – whether or not his supporters recognise it.
On to the claim that he is a return to “real” Labour. This is fallacious drivel, and anyone who seriously suggests it is advised to read up on the party’s history. The Attlee comparisons are particularly erroneous. Attlee was very much a moderate, a staunch proponent of Britain’s role as a great power, and a father of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. The Corbynistas have not “got their party back” for it was never theirs, with Labour owing far more to Methodism and early Christian socialism than it does to Marx or Lenin.
And what of his “honest straight-talking politics”? Much like Margaret Thatcher said of power, being “honest and straight talking” is like being a lady: if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. The truth is, Corbyn is surrounded by as much spin as any politician – and what he’s spinning is rather more insidious than salacious Piers Gav rumours or poor economic figures. First there was his generous construction of the word “friends” in relation to terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Then those stories about him hosting senior members of the IRA’s political wing in Parliament. Not to mention his appearances on Russia Today and Press TV (widely criticised as the de facto propaganda arm of the Iranian state), and at rallies alongside numerous controversial figures.
The justification for these – let’s be generous and call them “missteps”– is, invariably, that he was trying to create “a dialogue”. And yet, a man who justifies association with the worst kind of political extremists in the name of political expediency could not bring himself to sing the national anthem of the country he seeks to lead (and where there exists overwhelming support for the monarchy) on that same basis. The hypocrisy! Moreover, when pressed on whether he would sing the anthem in future, he would only confirm that he would “take a full part” – consistently eschewing a direct answer in a feat of message discipline that Alastair Campbell would have been proud of. Corbyn is evidently adept at playing political hide-and-seek to obscure his own – at best – naïve decisions, but not when it comes to showing party unity on important issues such as the EU and Trident.
As he told a journalist at the recent Labour Party conference: “you don’t understand the new politics”. Well neither do I, Jeremy. Not if the “new” politics means doing away with consensus, a united party line, and constructive message discipline which serves to communicate policy rather than obfuscate errors. Not if it means a witch hunt for “red Tories”, and turning a blind eye to all manner unmentionables and extremists in the name of “dialogue”. In fact, I rather miss the “old” politics.
PHOTO/ Garry Knigh