Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The far left needs the near enemy

The whole Corbyn project has started to look frayed around the edges. Not surprisingly, the defeat in Copeland, dire polling, constant scrutiny and media questions have taken a toll on the leader. He has always been tetchy and reluctant to answer critical questions, but his performance in Scotland bore all the hallmarks of a man cracking under the pressure.

Comedian Sarah Pascoe was talking about the Corbyn effect on the New Statesman podcast this week. She had never heard of Corbyn before he stood for leader. Like many of his early supporters she projected onto him all of the hopes of a better way of doing politics. Anyone who pointed out the truth of what he was, what the left in Britain is, was met with a plea not to be so mean to poor Jeremy. But now it's over. When sensible people said his ideas were nonsense, they were right. When they said he was unelectable, they were right about that too. And as Nick Cohen said in the Observer at the weekend - don't say you weren't warned.

But even with a government reeling over a budget U-turn, distracted by Brexit and terrified of upsetting the Daily Mail, Corbyn has been abjectly useless even by his own low standards. The non-rally against a Bill he ordered MPs to vote for represented everything that is chaotic, incompetent and hollow about the whole circus. Losing key members of his staff, as well as the fading support of Owen Jones and George Monbiot, should represent a final fracture. But this is the new politics.

Frankly, Corbyn has been given a free pass by MPs since his re-election. Disappointingly, they are either playing the long game and hoping something turns up, giving him enough rope, or have literally given up. Some MPs have agreed to serve, others to hope for the best and pick attack lines on the government from the backbenches, and it has to be said far more effectively than the front bench. 

But even as his supporters peel away as they realise all of this, along comes a lifeline. Like a parasite feeding off a host, the far left needs the animated form of a Labour Party prepared to contemplate a different future. And so as deputy leader Tom Watson steps up to the plate to speak out against the organisation Momentum and its attempts to game the system, so they spring to life again, emboldened. 

There isn't actually a challenge to Corbyn, but they wish it was. Just as I wish the circumstances were such that there could be, and that we could win, but instead attention is focusing on the time when he gives up. For me, never again can a major political party in this country ever have a leader so at odds with the elected members of parliament. It goes against the very definition of what the party is there to do. The so-called McDonnell amendment to reduce the number of MPs required to nominate a leader would be a travesty, a perpetual threat that whomever the leader is, a small clique of Labour MPs could vote against him or her and mobilise a coup, a real coup, electing a left wing Prime Minister against the wishes of the public. It would kill the party forever.

Now there is even talk on the left of a challenge to Tom Watson from the ludicrous Emily Thornberry. Just what Labour needs to win the country, led from Islington North, deputy from Islington South. It speaks volumes about the priorities of the far left that this is what excites them - taking over a party, not paying a blind bit of attention to what a Conservative government is getting away with. But here is the fact, they don't have a plan to take control of the country through the winning campaign of a General Election. They can barely win a safe seat on a parish council. But to exist, to function and to have a strategic goal they only have one goal, control of the leader's office, propping up "Jeremy". To do that they need perpetual warfare, they need their enemies in Labour, or they have nothing. It will be protracted and long, but it can't last. They must be defeated.

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