Ten months into his leadership of the Labour Party, it’s a wonder that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters haven’t started to resemble Seligman’s doleful dogs. A vendetta as nasty, cynical and protracted as that which is being waged against Corbyn by the British establishment would long since have broken a less resilient leader and corroded utterly the morale of those who had propelled him or her to the leadership. But contrary to what the corporate media would have us believe, the surge of popular support for Corbyn and his agenda shows no sign of slowing or receding.
Earlier this week for instance, Corbyn and his closest allies in the PLP — Diane Abbott and John McDonnell — addressed a rapt and highly knowledgeable crowd of hundreds upon hundreds — possibly thousands — of people at a concert venue in north London. It wasn’t the first such crowd that Corbyn has drawn since the acceleration of the slow-motion coup attempt against him, and it won’t by any means be the last. By stark contrast, Angela Eagle — one of the two MPs vying to replace Corbyn — could scarcely muster even a roomful of ordinarily ingratiating corporate journalists when she announced on Monday that she would be challenging Corbyn for the leadership.
At any rate, the rally in Kentish Town on Tuesday evening was notable for immediately following the generous decision of Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), to allow Corbyn’s name to appear automatically on the ballot in the now-forthcoming leadership election. The rules of the Labour Party state that any MP who amasses a minimum of 51 nominations from his or her colleagues (including MEPs) can trigger a leadership contest. The question of whether the incumbent is also required to secure nominations to defend his or her position would not occur to any right-thinking person, and is preposterous enough to not be expressly dealt with by the relevant clause in the rulebook. But so desperate is the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to subvert the democratically expressed will of 250,000 Party members and supporters that it contrived a debate of Kafkaesque bizarreness over wording which — whether grasped through logic or intuition or seen in light of legal advice — admits of no ambiguity whatsoever. Widespread relief greeted the NEC’s verdict on Tuesday night, but 14 of the Committee’s 32 members had chosen — in shameless defiance of simple common sense — to rule against Corbyn.
And soon after news of the decision emerged, the NEC declared that anybody who has been a member of the Party for fewer than six months will only be able to vote in the leadership election upon payment of a £25 fee. This is no arbitrary stipulation, for it is widely accepted that very many of the two hundred thousand people who have joined Labour since the start of the year were moved to do so by Corbyn and his policy proposals, and in response to the corporate media’s disturbingly unfair treatment of him. The NEC’s declaration means that those members who stand to gain the most from Corbyn’s continued leadership may well be priced out of voting for him in this contest, and even those who can afford to pay will only have a narrow two-day window in which to stump up the money and cast their ballots. It’s almost as though the Labour Party establishment, frightened as it is, knows as well as anybody that its neo-Thatcherite creed doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of defeating Corbyn without the deployment of a full range of dirty tactics.
Fortunately there are a number of ways in which new and prospective members of the Party will be able to vote for Corbyn in the upcoming election without having to pay the exorbitant fee demanded by the NEC. Enumerated on Wednesday in the Independent, these warrant reproduction here in full. Firstly, joining the trade union Unite as a community member — with dues set at 50p per week to begin with — would give rise to affiliate membership by the end of the first week of August and therefore eligibility to vote. Secondly, those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds can acquire a two-year membership of BAME Labour and the right to vote in exchange for the relatively measly sum of £5. Thirdly, membership of LGBT Labour — at £8 per year — will enable LGBT individuals to participate in the election whenever it takes place. One hopes that all those who have been barred by the NEC from voting for free will consider doing so on the cheap by means of one of the three foregoing options.*
But given that Corbyn won the first-preference votes of half the Party members who voted last September, and in light of polls which show clearly the contempt in which the likes of Eagle and Owen Smith are held by the expanded membership, it’s possible that he will triumph soundly in any case.
We needn’t wait though until Corbyn is re-elected to pass savage judgement on his opponents within the PLP. In spite of their best efforts and indeed their persistent attempts to call into question Corbyn’s own competence, it is the plotters in the PLP who are — in the sage words of John McDonnell — ‘fucking useless’. The most compelling evidence for McDonnell’s thesis is of course to be found in the uninspiring forms of Smith and Eagle, the two candidates thrown up by the PLP to contest Corbyn’s position. One is a glib former corporate lobbyist (for Big Pharma, no less) who declined to oppose the Tory government’s plan to introduce a cap on welfare benefits. The other, disdained now even by her own constituency party, voted both for the war in Iraq and against an inquiry into it. And yet the delusion that Smith and Eagle, who have no more charisma than Corbyn, are somehow more ‘electable’ than him stubbornly holds sway in the minds of many a Blairite grandee and right across the corporate media. The detachment of these people from reality — from the zeitgeist — has never been more absolute, but a considerable number of them have the temerity to parrot that Corbyn belongs to a bygone age.
Two things above all make this rather tedious attempted coup even more deplorable than it seems. Firstly, the blueprint for it was telegraphed to the public by anonymous anti-Corbyn MPs as early as ten days before the referendum took place. This is ample proof of the cynicism and disregard for democracy that define the right-wing faction of the PLP, which has wanted to depose Corbyn from the moment he was elected. Secondly, the hoo-ha over the leadership has conveniently served to overshadow the findings of the Chilcot Report, which supplied official confirmation of much of what the anti-war Left has been saying all along, about — for instance — the murderous mendacity of Tony Blair, the baseness and emptiness of his case for war and the complicity of Labour MPs like Eagle and Tom Watson in what can only be described as the gravest and most consequential crime of this century so far. That the news cycle is dominated by coverage of the self-serving manoeuvres of mediocre Blairite MPs rather than by frank introspection on Chilcot and Iraq is yet another sign of the desolate state of public discourse in this country.
At any rate, the struggle to unseat Corbyn must continue to be seen for what it is: a deliberate and perfidious assault on democracy and traditional Labour values justified on the basis of a falsehood — namely that Corbyn did not campaign hard enough against Brexit — and prosecuted in the main by deluded careerist has-beens who, thanks to Corbyn himself, can no longer conceal their essential fraudulence from those they are supposed to represent.
With both party membership and popular support for Corbyn at their highest ever levels, one is confident that such an assault will be successfully repelled, but we should nevertheless continue to condemn strongly the frenzied efforts of the NEC, PLP and corporate news media to forestall the attempt by Labour at a return to its leftist roots.
* Shamefully these loopholes can no longer be taken advantage of, since the NEC moved with creepy swiftness to close them.