The Labour right’s needless attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn has ended with a whimper. After a lengthy leadership contest, it was announced yesterday that Corbyn had swept to victory against Owen Smith by securing nearly 62% of the 506,438 votes cast. In winning by such a margin and across every category of voter, Corbyn not just renewed but augmented an already overwhelming mandate to lead. This despite indications that a ‘rigged purge’ of Corbyn-supporting party members was undertaken by the NEC, which also prevented some 130,000 new members from voting.1
Already — despite yesterday’s exhortations to the party to ‘unite’ — Corbyn’s critics within the PLP are moving once again to undermine him. In their view a key prerequisite for ‘unity’ is the re-introduction of shadow cabinet elections, which could see the PLP fill a majority of the positions in Corbyn’s front bench team.
Besides its obvious symbolic import, such a change would serve to make a mockery of the democratic process by which Corbyn was twice elected and defang him by transferring power to the discredited right wing of the party. It would moreover increase the representation of those right-wingers on the NEC, whose composition is at present finely balanced between supporters and opponents of the leader. And of course any transferral of power under the arrangement proposed by Heidi Alexander et al would be more or less permanent, as it would leave Corbyn unable to reshuffle reactionary colleagues possessed of their own (albeit limited) personal mandates.
In short, then, shadow cabinet elections would simply gift anti-Corbyn MPs a foothold from which to launch their next inevitable stab at a coup. Thus the PLP’s demand in its current form is utterly unreasonable, especially when one considers that Corbyn has already proffered ‘olive branches’ to former members of his front bench.2 It amounts to nothing more than yet another bad-faith attempt at political manoeuvring from those who are convinced of Corbyn’s ‘unelectability’ but are, evidently, at least as ‘unelectable’ themselves.
Writing in today’s Observer, Chuka Umunna does us all an immense favour by appearing to clarify the definition of ‘unelectability’. Comparing those on the right of the party to Tories, says the self-described Blue Labourite, ‘hardly sends the right message to the millions of people who voted Tory last time whose support we need to form a Labour government’.3 In implying that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’ because he doesn’t appeal to Tory voters in Middle England, Umunna strikes upon the very crux of the ‘fight for Labour’s soul’: it seems that there is one sprawling faction within the PLP whose electoral strategy, inherited from Tony Blair, is to court a sliver of swing voters at the expense of Labour’s traditional base; and another far smaller one — on and of the left, and of which Corbyn is a part — whose fidelity to the party’s original values makes it a natural ally of the 35 to 40 per cent of the electorate which doesn’t usually vote in general elections.
Many middle class liberals have long since decided which side they are on. They’ve been denouncing Corbyn for months for having rendered Labour ‘unelectable’ at a time when the poor and vulnerable ‘need the party most’. Is their definition of ‘unelectability’ the same as Umunna’s? Are they seriously advocating that Corbyn, a lifelong champion of the poor and vulnerable, should track rightwards now and appease Tory-leaning swing voters? To do so would be to regress to the ‘soulless triangulation and focus-group politics’ of the Blair years, and there is no appetite among the public for that.4
Two things ought to be understood by these liberals, and indeed by the likes of Chuka Umunna, now that Corbyn has been re-elected. Firstly, Labour’s standing in the polls plummeted as a result of this summer’s ‘chicken coup’, which even the most rabid critics of Corbyn must acknowledge was a grave political misjudgement. The coup attempt was launched — with malice aforethought5 and on the basis of a lie6 — by elements within the Labour Party establishment that were and remain hell-bent on ousting Corbyn for reasons other than his competence. In supporting it, ostensibly left-leaning critics of the leader have unwittingly or otherwise aligned themselves with that establishment, which — let’s remind ourselves — made sure that Labour was ‘unelectable’ in 2010 and again in 2015 (among other deficiencies). Corbyn’s critics must accept that such disunity as now exists within the wider party is for the most part traceable to the treachery of his opponents within the PLP and to their apparent distaste for democracy.
Secondly, academic reports have demonstrated that Corbyn is systematically vilified, ridiculed, misrepresented and delegitimised by the press in a way that ‘no other political leader is or has been’.7 This is because his views — moderate though they may be — are anathema to the corporate media, which is largely beholden to state-corporate elites and acts to preserve the status quo. It is disappointing in the extreme that supposedly progressive people are not wise to the fact of, or reasons for, such wall-to-wall hostility. Instead they swallow with abject readiness every single smear put forth in hypnopaedic articles and opinion pieces, in the Guardian and elsewhere. (The reality of course is that many of the pernicious narratives congealing around Corbyn’s leadership are utter garbage, and can in fact be explained in terms of projection. For instance, it is the 172 — not Corbyn — who have shown themselves to be intolerant bullies, and it is Progress and those inspired by it — not Momentum — who are the true entryists.)
At any rate, all of this is to say that it’s surely incumbent on anyone who claims to identify with ‘Labour values’ to accept the party’s democratically reached decision and throw their full support behind Corbyn, rather than demand — whether out of bad faith or some kind of masochistic disbelief — the ins and outs of every policy initiative, or otherwise collude in the transparently perfidious struggle to overthrow him. For the moment, the Labour leader and his team remain the only force in British politics capable of making the case against Tory rule with the ardour and sincerity it deserves — if only we would let them.