I am, after all this time, quite willing to say that with a couple of caveats I’d be happy for Jeremy Corbyn to go as Labour leader. Quite frankly, the man is shit at politics; principled, decent and with lots of good ideas, but unfortunately he’s about as persuasive as a damp rag and I can fully understand why the parliamentary Labour party have lost all patience. As much as he is principled, principle is not enough to win an election; if that were the case then we would not currently be on day 5 of the post-referendum shitheap where Nigel “Schoolboy Fascist” Farage gets to strut around like, well, like someone who after his performance earlier this week richly deserved to have his teeth smashed in by the rest of the European Parliament, to be frank. There is nothing wrong with principle, and there is nothing intrinsically laudable about pragmatism either, but principle without paying basic attention to how you come across in public is pointless and self-destructive, especially when you’re the leader of the opposition. Principle also does not mean that you must necessarily spout your unvarnished views whenever asked – one wonders how much better things might have gone in PR terms if Corbyn had simply changed the subject rather than allowing interviews to get lots of lovely shots of him dragging up an all-but-settled question like the Falklands as if it actually meant anything.
I say all this despite arguing, quite forcefully, that there is a good reason for his popularity and why I can’t quite loathe the man; because he’s the only person in the room arguing so coherently for the actual solutions to Britain’s problems rather than simply doubling down on free market “ignore the problem and it’ll go away” non-fixes for problems, and not willing even slightly to switch to blaming immigrants or immigration for the country’s problems. Besides his neither-here-nor-there supposed appreciation for the IRA and his deeply questionable comments regarding Hamas (it is worth listening to the full quote on this – he goes beyond calling them “friends” and describes them as “bringing about long-term peace and social justice”, which is certainly one way of looking at things) I find it hard to disagree with much of what he says. However, my support for him has and had nothing especially to do with him as a person, it was for his views on domestic politics and his articulation of how to solve a lot of the deep issues within our society – inequality, the steady erosion of worker’s rights and a lack of government investment. If Andy Burnham had said the same things in the same way with the same amount of conviction I would have voted for him in the leadership election without a single concern. But he didn’t, so I didn’t.
Which brings me to the rub of this “coup”, a coup that makes the Bay of Pigs look positively masterful. This coup is the shittest coup that has ever happened, ever. It is barely worth the title. Leave aside any ideological qualms, about “Blairites” attacking the principled Mr Corbyn or whatever; it’s just incompetent. No wonder voters think we can’t run a piss-up in a brewery when our supposed political heavyweights can’t even boot a demonstrably incompetent old man out of the big chair. Corbyn has basically outmaneuvered them all by simply existing, not resigning and by having the support of the majority of the membership, possibly being the first sitting Labour leader to have retained his position simply by inertia. Barring some sort of shift, or him finally deciding he’s had enough of this shit and resigning (and I honestly couldn’t blame him if he did) he is essentially in situ as leader of the Labour Party until he chooses to be otherwise, and that simply isn’t going to change unless the PLP change tactics.
It’s telling, in fact, that the chief failure of this coup, which I’m going to call the Bay of Marrows affair for no reason other than that it personally amuses me, is that it is a coup in favour of nobody. One could make a very persuasive argument that Corbyn isn’t going to win us an election, but then who is? The Labour brain trust is so depleted at this point, with no Ed Balls to fall back on, Andy Burnham running for Manchester mayor and Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall both a busted flush after 2015, that there isn’t any obvious replacement. Angela Eagle is being floated as a replacement – to tell the truth, I have little against her, but electoral Viagra she is not. The idea that the entirety of the problem facing Labour is Corbyn alone, and therefore that job #1 is to get him gone before we actually try and find someone to replace him speaks to the complete failure to consider what it actually is that the MPs are trying to achieve. They have yet to provide a decent answer to the question, so concisely yet so comprehensively answered by Corbyn, of what they think the Labour Party should be intrinsically for or what they want it to argue in favour of. Much is said about reclaiming Labour “heartlands” in the north and north-east but it is difficult to see them doing so without also repulsing the membership, since it’s difficult to see exactly what a segment of the population that has drifted towards the wink-wink-nudge-nudge xenophobes’ party Ukip could be lured back with other than shifting enormously to the right on immigration. As I’ve said to basically anyone who’ll listen, treating these as our core voters is absurd since they have demonstrated no recent willingness to vote for us, and repelling our actual reliable core voters (the urban working class and the university-educated middle class) in order to attract such people seems fruitless.
It is surprising that they are even bothering to field a leadership candidate at this point, since it is all but guaranteed that Corbyn will win any ballot, and the timing is nowhere near apropos. The membership, rightly or wrongly, are enraged by this pisspoor attempt at a backstabbing, especially the considerable post-Corbyn intake, and are not pleased that it is happening immediately after the government has shat the bed and is extremely weak. In any contest they are likely to support him in droves, since oddly enough when you’re the only person in politics who seems to speak to peoples’ concerns (as Corbyn is for a great many people, especially younger people) you tend to amass a bit of personal loyalty. It’s easy to dismiss that as being a “personality cult”, and indeed placing all of your hopes into one man is not a clever thing to do, but perhaps some reflection is needed on why so many people feel that way rather than simply dismissing them as cultists, communists and former SWP members (did the SWP even have that many members?). The only hope for any potential replacement leader, be that Eagle or whoever, is to understand exactly why people feel that way and provide a way forward for them, without entering into any misguided attempts to try and capture the Ukip vote by shifting far to the right on immigration or to wholesale row back on Corbyn’s platform back to one with a focus on the public finances above all else, neither of which will ever get past the membership and wouldn’t have done before Corbyn was leader either. The membership is in absolutely no mood to go back to that and trying to drag it back that way will lead to whichever candidate espouses it being crushed; all that will do is lead to one more MP out of the count for the next inevitable challenge.
That said, I have absolutely no faith that whoever this mysterious challenger is is going to think that far ahead. They are going to try to recapture the mystical core Ukip vote and the membership will tell them where to stick it. We will then get another six months of this psychodrama, all while the government we should be opposing has essentially fucked off and left an enormous hole where it should be. I genuinely, truly, hope it doesn’t turn out that way; that Corbyn is challenged by someone with some political nous who also accepts that he won the leadership for a reason and that there’s also a reason he’s so vociferously defended that isn’t that his fans are all Trotskyists. I hope we end up with someone who actually listened to what Corbyn’s supporters were saying, took it on board and came up with something to inspire them to vote for a more politically talented candidate, and had the membership respond in kind. I would be more than happy to vote for this alternative candidate, whoever that may be, if that was the case; if such a person doesn’t turn up, I’m sad to say I’ll probably hold my nose and vote for Corbyn again, with a far heavier heart than I did last time, simply because the PLP will simply have learned nothing from the drubbing their chosen candidates got last year.